What is a biblical method for defending the Christian faith (apologetics)?

Christianity Cross

(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

On Christian Forums, I asked this question, ‘What do you consider is a biblical framework for a ministry of apologetics? If Bill Craig is wrong, what would be a biblical method of apologetics? Any thoughts?’[1]

One response was:

Have you ever noticed that none of the Biblical writers ever put the existence of God into question, or speak as though God probably exists, more likely exists. An apologetic which is faithful to the God of the Bible therefore, should never start on the promise of neutrality, or anything to the effect of “let’s see where the evidence takes us”, as though the evidence were neutral. All of the biblical writers were biased, and did not question the existence of God, nor speak of God in terms of probability.[2]

This was my reply:[3]

Is there a need to provide evidence for the existence of God?

I agree that the Bible writers don’t question the existence of God, but they provide something that you seem to be minimising.

Have you ever noticed that the Bible does provide evidence for the existence of God?

Psalm 19:1, ‘The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship’ (NLT).

Psalm 50:6, ‘Then let the heavens proclaim his justice, for God himself will be the judge’ (NLT)

Romans 1:19-20, ‘They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. 20 For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.’ (NLT).

Romans 2:14-16,

‘ Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it. 15 They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right. 16 And this is the message I proclaim—that the day is coming when God, through Christ Jesus, will judge everyone’s secret life’ (NLT)

Acts 14:17, ‘but he never left them without evidence of himself and his goodness. For instance, he sends you rain and good crops and gives you food and joyful hearts’ (NLT).

Acts 17:24-27,

“He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, 25 and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need. 26 From one man [or from one, or from one blood] he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries.27 “His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us (NLT).

I agree that the biblical writers did not question the existence of God or speak of him in terms of probability. However for the doubters in my culture, we have biblical evidence that these writers provided evidence for God’s existence, as the Scriptures above demonstrate.

I wish you lived in an antagonistic western culture like mine in Australia. Then you would understand the necessity of providing evidence for the existence of God, for which we have scriptural precedent.

What’s a biblical method of apologetics?

This was another response to my question:

It’s really simple, a biblical method of apologetics begins and ends with the authority of Christ over every area of life (sanctify the Lord God in your hearts). That means we presuppose the absolute certain truth of Christianity in our defense. However, that does not mean we cannot assume an opponents presuppositions for the sake of the argument to show them the foolishness of their worldview. We should because everyone has a worldview with basic presuppositions. However, it is a delicate process, which should be done with meekness and fear (of God) and a good conscience.[4]

I responded:[5] In my hostile culture, that would be a recipe for disaster in an apologetic ministry. Presupposing Christ’s authority, the absolute certainty of Christianity, would lead you into a brick wall in my secular culture?

I often find it helpful to examine a person’s presuppositions with them to see why they are valid or not. Of course, for me the authority of Christ and the truth of Christianity are my foundations for personal belief. However, that’s not where I begin with secular Aussies. That’s where I pray to finish.

Why don’t you take a read of Appendix B, ‘The self-revelation of God in human history: A dialogue [with Antony Flew] on Jesus with N. T. Wright’. It is on pp. 185-213 in Antony Flew’s book, There is no/a God: How the world’s most notorious atheist changed his mind (2007). That could enlighten you on an appropriate apologetic by an evangelical with one of the world’s leading atheists.

Secularists love to repudiate this book. One example is, ‘Antony Flew’s passing’ (The Secular Outpost, 16 April 2010). Another was, ‘Evangelicals and the death of Antony Flew’ (The Incredible HallQ, 20 April 2012). See this BBC assessment by William Crawley, ‘Antony Flew: The atheist who changed his mind’.

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(image courtesy Crossway Books)

Antony Flew’s response to Tom Wright’s defense of Christianity was:

I am very much impressed with Bishop Wright’s approach, which is absolutely fresh. He presents the case for Christianity as something new for the first time. This is enormously important, especially in the United Kingdom, where the Christian religion has virtually disappeared. It is absolutely wonderful, absolutely radical, and very powerful (Flew & Varghese 2007:213).

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Antony Flew (image courtesy HarperCollins)

Isn’t that an amazing statement about N T Wright’s presentation of the truth of Christianity to someone who was a leading atheist and who was not yet Christian! ‘It is absolutely wonderful, absolutely radical, and very powerful’.

Yet Tom Wright’s presentation to Antony Flew is radically different from the one you are proposing. Wright presented evidence on, (1) How do we know that Jesus existed? (2) ‘What grounds are there for claiming, from the texts, that Jesus is God incarnate?’ (3) ‘What evidence is there for the resurrection of Christ?’ (Flew & Varghese 2007:187-213)

Wright did not take your kind of presuppositions as his foundation, i.e. your beginning with the authority of Christ and the absolute certain truth of Christianity. Wright demonstrated these with evidence and Flew found the evidence to be ‘absolutely wonderful, absolutely radical, and very powerful’.
Tom Wright is pursuing a model that is consistent with the biblical revelation – provide evidence for the doubters and antagonists for the existence of God, Christ and the reliability of the biblical tradition.

A point of contact

When Paul, the apostle, wanted to connect with unbelievers, what did he do? See his address at the Areopagus in Athens (Acts 17:22-34 NLT):

So Paul, standing before the council,[a] addressed them as follows: “Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way, 23 for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it: ‘To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about.

24 “He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, 25 and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need. 26 From one man[b] he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries.

27 “His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. 28 For in him we live and move and exist. As some of your[c] own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ 29 And since this is true, we shouldn’t think of God as an idol designed by craftsmen from gold or silver or stone.

30 “God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him. 31 For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.”

32 When they heard Paul speak about the resurrection of the dead, some laughed in contempt, but others said, “We want to hear more about this later.” 33 That ended Paul’s discussion with them, 34 but some joined him and became believers. Among them were Dionysius, a member of the council,[d] a woman named Damaris, and others with them.

Footnotes [for Acts 17:22-34 NLT]:

a. Acts 17:22 Traditionally rendered standing in the middle of Mars Hill; Greek reads standing in the middle of the Areopagus.

b. Acts 17:26 Greek From one; other manuscripts read From one blood.

c. Acts 17:28 Some manuscripts read our.

d. Acts 17:34 Greek an Areopagite.

Interviews with Antony Flew

For an interview of former atheistic philosopher, Antony Flew, by Christian philosopher, Gary R Habermas, read, ‘Atheist becomes theist’. See also a YouTube version, ‘Antony Flew’s conversion to theism’.

Death of Antony Flew

Antony Flew died on 8 April 2010. See this report in The Telegraph [UK], ‘Professor Antony Flew’, 13 April 2010. Part of this article reads:

Professor Antony Flew, the rationalist philosopher who died on April 8 aged 87, spent much of his life denying the existence of God until, in 2004, he dramatically changed his mind.

Flew always described himself as a “negative atheist”, asserting that “theological propositions can neither be verified nor falsified by experience”, a position he expounded in his classic paper Theology and Falsification (1950), reputedly the most frequently-quoted philosophical publication of the second half of the 20th century….

Flew was the author of some 23 works of philosophy, including God and Philosophy (1966), Evolutionary Ethics (1967), An Introduction to Western Philosophy (1971), The Presumption of Atheism (1976), A Rational Animal (1978), Darwinian Evolution (1984), Atheistic Humanism (1993) and Philosophical Essays of Antony Flew (1997).

Flew’s volte-face on the existence of God was all the more remarkable given the volume of his writing in the atheistic cause and his vehement denial of internet rumours in 2001 that he had renounced his atheism. His response was entitled Sorry To Disappoint, but I’m Still an Atheist! In 2007, however, he was able to publish There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed his Mind.

He was at various times a vice-president of the Rationalist Press Association, chairman of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society and a fellow of the Academy of Humanism. In addition to his permanent academic posts, he held several visiting professorships at universities around the world.

Antony Flew married, in 1952, Annis Harty; they had two daughters.

Did Antony Flew become an evangelical Christian?

I have not located any information that indicates he received Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour before his death. He remained a Deist. What is Deism? Church historian, Kenneth Scott Latourette wrote of the Deists who were prominent in the 18th century:

Deism had many variations, but in general it held that there is a universal religion which is in accord with reason. All that is best in Christianity, so the Deists were prone to say, is older than Christianity and is completely in accord with reason. This universal, rational religion includes belief in God as the great Architect of the universe. He created the world, planted reason in man, gave him the moral law, and governs the universe by laws which are in accord with reason. God is to be revered and is to be honoured by a life which observes the moral law. Religious beliefs and practices which cannot be justified by reason, so the Deists went on to say, are superstitious and, being irrational, are to be rejected. Irrational superstitions have been imposed by priests of various religions (Latourette 1975:964).

Another has put its beliefs succinctly, stating that deism

as distinguished from theism, polytheism, and pantheism, does not designate a well-defined doctrine. In general, it refers to what can be called natural religion or the acceptance of a certain body of religious knowledge acquired solely by the use of reason, as opposed to knowledge gained through revelation or the teaching of a church (Macdonald 1984:304).

The Modern Deism website states:

Deism is a reason-based faith that postulates a belief in God through a foundation of Reason, Personal Experience and Nature (nature of the universe) with emphasis on freethought rather than a foundation of Divine revelation(s) and Holy texts. Essentially, through the use of Reason, God’s existence is revealed by the observation of nature and our own personal experiences.  For the Deist, the order and complexity found in nature coupled with our rational experiences of nature leads to a belief in God.

At the death of Antony Flew, it was reported,

Despite his exodus from atheism, Flew is believed to have remained simply a deist, believing in a god who created the world but has since remained indifferent to it….

New York Times Magazine writer Mark Oppenheimer expressed his doubts over Flew’s mental capacities after meeting up with him in England, suggesting that the once great philosopher had become a “blissfully unaware” old man “just following the evidence as it has been explained to him.”

“Depending on whom you ask, Antony Flew is either a true convert whose lifelong intellectual searchings finally brought him to God or a senescent scholar possibly being exploited by his associates,” he wrote.

Flew, however, released a statement rebutting the circulating allegations, saying that he would not have a book issued in his name that he does not 100 percent agree with.

“I needed someone to do the actual writing because I’m 84 and that was Roy Varghese’s role,” Flew stated. “The idea that someone manipulated me because I’m old is exactly wrong. I may be old but it is hard to manipulate me. That is my book and it represents my thinking” (Young 2010)

However, in his 2007 publication, he did make statements that indicated he was open to revelation from God and some positive statements about Christianity. These are a few samples:

  • ‘I have taken issue with many of the claims of divine revelation or intervention. My current position, however, is more open to at least certain of these claims. In point of fact, I think that the Christian religion is the one religion that most clearly deserves to be honored and respected whether or not its claim to be a divine revelation is true’ (Flew & Varghese 2007:185).
  • ‘Virtually all of the argument about the content of the religion [of Christianity] was produced by St. Paul, who had a brilliant philosophical mind and could both speak and write in all the relevant languages. If you’re wanting Omnipotence to set up a religion, this is the one to beat’ (Flew & Varghese 2007:186).
  • In early editions of his book, God and Philosophy, he stated that ‘the occurrence of miracles cannot be known from historical evidence, and this discredits the claim that the resurrection can be known as a fact of history’ (Flew & Varghese 2007:186).
  • Then in his debates on the resurrection of Christ, he made three points: (1) The most recent documents for the alleged event were written some thirty or more years after it. There is no contemporary evidence—just documents written years afterwards’; (2) We have no way of checking whether the risen Jesus actually appeared to groups, since we only have a document alleging that these extraordinary events took place’; (3) ‘The evidence for the resurrection is very limited. In fact, the first New Testament documents on the resurrection were the Letters of Paul and not the Gospels, and these Letters have very little physical detail on the resurrection’ (Flew & Varghese 2007:186).
  • However, what was his view in 2007? He wrote, ‘Today, I would say the claim concerning the resurrection is more impressive than any by the religious competition. I still believe that when historians professionally are looking for evidence, they surely need much more than what is available. They need evidence of a different kind’ (Flew & Varghese 2007:187).
  • What about atheism? Flew’s view in 2007 was: ‘If they want to discourage belief in God, the popularizers must furnish arguments in support of their own atheistic views. Today’s atheist evangelists hardly even try to argue their case in this regard. Instead, they train their guns on well-known abused in the history of the major world religions. But the excesses and atrocities of organized religion have no bearing whatsoever on the existence of God, just as the threat of nuclear proliferation has no bearing on the question of whether E = mc2’ (Flew & Varghese 2007:xxiv).
  • Historian and scholar of Christian origins, Bishop N. T. Wright, responded to some of Flew’s issues with Christianity (Flew & Varghese 2007:187-213). Flew’s response was: ‘I am very much impressed with Bishop Wright’s approach, which is absolutely fresh. He presents the case for Christianity as something new for the first time. This is enormously important, especially in the United Kingdom, where the Christian religion has virtually disappeared. It is absolutely wonderful, absolutely radical, and very powerful. Is it possible that there has been or can be divine revelation? As I said, you cannot limit the possibilities of omnipotence except to produce the logically impossible. Everything else is open to omnipotence’ (Flew & Varghese 2007:213, emphasis added).

Sadly, there is no evidence that Flew became a born again Christian. The evidence points to an awakening about the existence of God, but it had no more eternal impact than what James stated, ‘You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder’ (James 2:19 NIV). Without belief in the one Lord God Almighty, revealed in the Christian Scriptures, there can be no salvation. This is stated in Acts 4:10-12 (NIV):

then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 Jesus is

“‘the stone you builders rejected,
which has become the cornerstone.’

12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved (emphasis added).

References

Flew, A with Varghese, R A 2007. There is no/a God: How the world’s most notorious atheist change his mind. New York: HarperOne.

Latourette, K S 1975. The history of Christianity: A. D. 1500 – A. D. 1975, vol 2. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers.

Macdonald, M H 1984. Deism, in W A Elwell (ed), Evangelical dictionary of theology, 304-305. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.

Young, E 2010. Renowned atheist-turned-deist Antony Flew dies at 87. The Christian Post, 15 April. Available at: http://www.christianpost.com/news/renowned-atheist-turned-deist-antony-flew-dies-at-87-44761/ (Accessed 30 October 2012).

Notes:


[1] Christian Forums, Christian Apologetics, ‘William Lane Craig’, OzSpen #199, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7685885-20/ (Accessed 29 October 2012).

[2] Ibid., Apologetic Warrior #200.

[3] Ibid., OzSpen #203.

[4] Ibid., Apologetic Warrior #202.

[5] Ibid., OzSpen #204.

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 28 June 2016.

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