In this episode, Seth Baker, filling in for Kurt, talks about the importance that apologetics (the defense of the Christian worldview) plays for evangelism.
Seth: Good day to you and thanks for joining us here on another episode of Veracity Hill where we are striving for truth on faith, politics, and society. So not just a good day to you, but also a very happy Thanksgiving weekend. I hope you have got the opportunity to eat some delicious food and spend some time with loved ones. I know I definitely did, and that’s exactly what your producer Kurt Jaros is doing right now. He is away with family so he asked if I would fill in on the show this weekend and I happily obliged. My name is Seth Baker. I am a regional associate with Defenders Media and have been for about a year now. My experiences with Defenders Media have been awesome and I am certainly excited to see its growth in the future.
Today, the topic for our podcast is going to be apologetics and its role in evangelism. We’re gonna answer some questions like, “What is apologetics exactly?” and “Why is it needed in today’s world? Why can’t we just share the gospel and that be the end of it? Why bog the message down (according to some people) with the intellectual side of Christianity? Maybe just the pure undiluted gospel is what people need?” I think that is correct in maybe one way, but I think it’s also misguided in another, but before we jump on into that topic, if you’d like to have your voice heard, there are a couple of ways you can get in touch with us. You can text the word VERACITY to the number 555-888 and you can also text Kurt your comments, your questions, and your share requests, and you can also reach out via Twitter or Facebook by just searching for Veracity Hill. Let me just start off by giving you a little bit of my history with evangelism.
For the last four years, I was at the very prestigious University of Eastern New Mexico. Just kidding. Almost nobody knows where that is. I was there for the last four years and weekly I would go out and share the gospel with students and staff with Dr. Dag Sewell, who is the director of Eastern’s Baptist Student Union, so pretty much every week for the last four years, we went out and shared the good news with students and staff at Eastern and had many many very interesting conversations and got to see many people come to the Lord as well which is, of course, such a joy.
So on campus, as you might expect, there are a lot of different philosophies and worldviews. It’s because of that fact that many Christians consider their college campus to be maybe off-limits or too scary to really engage in serious evangelism there because it’s just kind of like a warzone of different ideologies. I think that’s why it’s so important for Christians to have a witness on campus. In particular, Eastern had orthodox Christians, Muslims, Hindus, agnostics, atheists, I could go on, but it just seemed like Eastern had people of every different persuasion, so it was definitely an interesting place to go to school.
Some of our questions that we would ask students at the beginning of the process of sharing the gospel were “Have you ever considered spiritual things? What do you think God is like?” Questions like that. We were often met with what Christians would definitely consider eccentric answers, not biblical or theologically sound answers, and there was definitely never a dull moment in any of our conversations, so there was definitely a host of different ideologies, however the vast majority of students had a mindset that was dominated by one certain perspective. I’m going to break that down in just a second, but I’m going to give you some examples of responses that we heard that kind of demonstrate that perspective.
We, of course, talked to many professing believers and a lot of the times we would hear responses like this. I’m going to give three here. “God, in my opinion, is love. He isn’t judgmental, wrathful, or anything like that. He’s just perfectly loving and wonderful.” Here’s another one. “It’s my belief that God is going to let everyone into heaven no matter what they believed about Him while on Earth.” And here’s another one again. “Don’t get me wrong. I believe in Jesus, but I don’t think that it’s my place to tell someone that they’re wrong about God. People have their views and I have mine.”
Looking back at those three responses, I want you to notice the subtle or perhaps not so subtle qualifications that are present in these answers. They all had qualifications like this. “In my opinion”, “It’s my belief”, “It’s not my place.” The expressions that followed the qualifications in the minds of these believers were merely their subjective opinions about God and nothing more, hence those qualifications. Of course, we also talked to non-believers and some pretty vehement in their atheism and we would hear things like this.
“It’s impossible to prove God’s existence.” “Believing is just a matter of blind faith and I, quite frankly, think that that’s just fanciful.” Or we’d hear something like, “There simply is no evidence for God. If there were, then I’d perhaps be open to believing in Him. Sadly, however, that’s just not the case.”
So while the answers we received on the one hand from the believers and on the other hand from the non-believers seem quite different from one another, in actuality, precisely the same conviction underlies both of them. What is that conviction exactly? Many are tempted to say that it is a postmodernist conviction about reality and postmodernism is the view that there is no such thing as absolute truth. If you think back at those answers from the Christians, it seems pretty clear that they have some sort of a position of relativism or subjectivism so one might, as many are, be tempted to say that the underlying conviction is, therefore, a postmodernist view of reality, but that would not be correct, I don’t think, because I’m pretty well convinced that there really is no such thing as a postmodernist.
Philosopher and apologist William Lane Craig writes this in his book Reasonable Faith. “A postmodern culture is an impossibility. It would be utterly unlivable. Nobody is a postmodernist when it comes to reading the labels on a medicine bottle vs a bottle of rat poison. If you’ve got a headache, you’d better believe that texts have objective meaning.” To believe that there is no absolute truth as the postmodernist does is to believe in at least one absolute truth, namely that there is no absolute truth. Postmodernism is therefore a self-defeating philosophy and it saws off the same branch that it was sitting on. But more than that, postmodernism as an ideology is simply impossible to live out. Nobody is really a postmodernist because people recognize that at least some truths transcend peoples’ personal opinions. so if we had asked the students questions like this, “What is the speed of light?” or “At what temperature does water freeze?” or “How tall is Mount Everest?” Most certainly the students would not have responded with the same qualifications in their answers that they had previously. It wouldn’t be “In my opinion” light travels at 300 million meters per second, or “It’s my belief” that water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, or “It’s not my place to tell someone” that Mt. Everest isn’t 29,000 feet tall. People have their views and I have mine. It would just simply be light travels at this speed. That’s a fact. Water freezes at this temperature. Mt. Everest is this tall. Those things are facts, and that’s that. To disbelieve these propositions would be really dumb. It would be truly idiotic, but those other propositions, not so much and why is that?
It is because at least some absolute truth exists in the students’ minds. I want you to notice however the nature of those statements that all the students could say with confidence if we had asked them. They were empirical and scientifically verifiable and notice also the nature of those statements that the believing students could not say with confidence. They were non-empirical and scientifically unverifiable. This is clearly not postmodernism. Right? It’s something wholly different so continuing quoting Craig, he writes this. “People are not relativistic when it comes to matters of science, engineering, and technology. Rather, they’re relativistic in pluralistic in matters of religion and ethics. That’s not postmodernism. That’s modernism. Modernism holds that anything you can’t prove with your five senses is just the matter of individual taste and emotive expression. We live in a cultural milleu which remains deeply modernist.”
In the Western world today, in the Western world generally on the college campus specifically, religious belief has been relegated to the realm of opinions and feelings. Kept in clear distinction from the realm of facts and objective truth. There are beliefs and then there are facts so the thought goes. Under such a mindset, statements like, “God exists.” “One ought not commit adultery.” and “Jesus Christ is the only way to God.” Those are merely personal perspectives and their truth is relative to the person that believes them. This modernistic way of thinking permeates the minds of both the religious and irreligious on our college campuses and beyond and it’s against this way of thinking that anti-intellectualism, which is so incredibly rampant in the church today, is powerless. More on that in a little bit, but for now let’s take a look at some examples of modernism that exist in popular culture today.
The popularizer of science and outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins epitomizes the modernistic mindset that pervades Western culture in his book River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life where he writes this: “Scientific beliefs are supported by evidence and they get results. Myths and faiths are not and do not.” I want you to notice Dawkins implicit equation of myth and faith. The two are apparently synonymous with one another and why is that? It is because faith makes claims about the world that are not in principle open to the physical sciences and are therefore nonsensical on this view. Faith is mythical then in two senses of the word. It is mythical in that it presents an archaic idealized view of the world, and it is mythical in that the picture of reality it proffers is one of pure fiction and fantasy. In his book Against All Gods, the British philosopher A.C. Grayling, another very influential atheist, writes “Faith is a commitment to belief contrary to evidence and reason.” Harvard biologist Richard Lewontin, yet another prominent atheist thinker states that the social and intellectual apparatus science is the only begetter of truth.
People like Dawkins, Grayling, and Lewontin are extraordinarily influential in our society today, but the framework under which they operate is definitely not original to them. The roots of modernism run deep into the previous century. If we can gain an understanding of exactly how we got where we are today, we’ll be one step closer to combatting the problem and making a greater impact for Christ in our evangelism. We’re going to continue exploring this topic after a short break from our sponsors.
Seth: Welcome back to Veracity Hill. We have been discussing apologetics and its role in evangelism. Whenever we took time for our break we had just been looking at the popular culture and modernism’s influence there, so now we’re going to take a look at the historical roots of modernism because like I said previously, the thinking, the modernistic mindset, definitely is not original to those thinkers that expound it today. In the early 1900s a group of philosophers from the Vienna Circle in the attempts to exalt the physical sciences above the other academic disciplines developed what is called the Verification Principle of Meaning. A.J. Ayer, who is a 20th-century naturalistic philosopher, delineated the principle like this: “A proposition is meaningful if and only if it is empirically verifiable in principle.” In simpler words, a proposition is only meaningful if its truth can be possibly determined by using our five senses. The verification principle meaning which was quickly embraced by many in the academic sphere rendered religious, ethical, and metaphysical claims, not just false, but literally meaningless. On verificationism saying “God loves me,” or “Jesus Christ died for your sins,” is no better than saying incomprehensible gibberish for those assertions are not empirifically verifiable in principle. Just think about it for a second. What kind of scientific test could you devise to substantiate those claims? Would you find the truth of those statements through the lnes of a microscope or in a test tube? Of course not. It’s not merely that those statements are not true. They’re actually empty of any real meaning. In the words of Alvin Plantinga, “These assertions don’t even have the grace to be false.”
But it was soon discovered after its birth that the verification principle of meaning was self-defeating, much like the postmodernist view of reality. Exposing the falsity of the principle philosopher Steven Cowan and James Spiegel write this: “Is it possible even in principle to empirically verify the verification principle of meaning? No. It is not. There are no conceivable physical circumstances that would allow us to verify that statement. So the verification principle fails at its own criterion. If the principle it is true, then it is meaningless. It is self-defeating and thus false.”
Paul Copan, another Christian philosopher echoes their sentiments and he writes this: “Verificationism is self-refuting in that we can’t scientifically prove that everything must be scientifically provable. The challenge ‘Prove that scientifically’ shows us that our challenger believes he’s an exception to his own rule. The rule that everything must be scientifically proven.”
So while verificationism is obviously false and not just false, but necessarily false and its been abandoned in the university for over half of a century, its impact on the Western world cannot be overstated. The vast majority of Westerners, religious and irreligious, whether they realize it or not, operate within this philosophical system, hence the answers, if you remember way back, we received from the students we spoke with. Now you’re probably thinking to yourself, “Okay. Why did I just listen to all of that information? What does it have to do with evangelism? When are we going to talk about apologetics?” Those are all very good questions.
The point of me sharing all of that information is to provide for you the background against which the gospel is heard in our section of the world today. The news of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection is not heard in a vacuum. People bring baggage to the table which effect their perceptions and even preclude them from accepting certain points of view. If we are to make a legitimate impact for the Kingdom of God in the West, then we’d better have an understanding of what we’re up against. We’d better know how worldviews and mental frameworks affect the way the Christian message is heard. If we disregard the culture’s intellectual considerations, which the church has largely done for the past 100 years, then we will find that the culture has disregarded us.
In short, when it comes to evangelism, context is crucial. Everybody has a lens for viewing reality and it should be our goal to shape our culture’s lens into one that is friendly and open to the Christian faith. Before talking about how we are to go about shaping our culture’s lens, and that’s when apologetics comes to play, let’s take a quick look at how the church responded, or rather failed to respond, to these intellectual challenges. How did the church at large respond to modernism?
Sadly, in all truth, it did not really respond at all. Rather than calling into question the faulty foundations of modernism and verificationism, the church sequestered itself into the closet of anti-intellectualism. Many people, and this is a result of many different factors, came to hold the view that belief in God was not so much an issue of the mind, but of the heart. It isn’t about understanding but feeling. God wants your heart. He doesn’t want your brain. That seemed to be the new philosophy in the church.
So rather than saying, “Maybe God wants both the mind and the heart,” there was a division made and it was a rejection of the academic side of the faith. Shortly before the church’s full-on descent into fundamentalism, the great theologian J. Gresham Machen wrote this warning in the Princeton Theological Review and I quote, “False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel. We may preach with all the fervor of a Reformer, and yet succeed at only winning a straggler here and there, if we permit the whole collective thought of the nation or the world to be controlled by ideas which prevent Christianity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless delusion.”
Unfortunately, very unfortunately, Machen’s warning was disregarded and we are now eating the bitter fruit of the failure of generations past. False ideas, these greatest obstacles to the gospel, as Machen called them, must be cleared in order for the good news to receive a hearing. If not, then we can be pretty assured that almost no one will be open to taking the Christian faith seriously.
In his book, Love Your God With All Your Mind, philosopher J.P. Moreland writes of the terrible effects that were wrought by the decline of the Christian intellect stating that, “This withdrawal from the broader intellectual culture and public discourse contributed to the isolation of the church, the marginalization of Christian ideas from the public arena, and the shallowness and trivialization of Christian living, thoughts, and activism. In short, the culture became saltless. In a relatively short period of time Christian came to be seen as an outmoded worldview whose influence was to be constrained entirely to the church. As a result, a little over a century, the West went from a bastion of Christian intelligence to its current dark state of fundamentalism. Europe which was one a haven for Christian scholarship, has seen a sharp decline in Christianity in the last century and religious skepticism is rampant. The population of people identifying as non-believers skyrocketed from virtually 0% to 22%, and America, while not as secularized as Europe is following closely behind.”
I’m sure there are some people that are listening that are thinking, “Hey. This is a Christian nation. That’s never going to happen here.” Those people are mistaken. It has already happened here. Our slide into secularism will continue with greater intensity if we maintain the course set by the last several decades. In an address given at the dedication of the Billy Graham Center, the former Lebanonese ambassador Malik stated, “I must be frank with you. The greatest danger confronting American evangelical Christianity is the danger of anti-intellectualism. The mind in its greatest and deepest reaches is not cared for enough. The result is that the arena of creative thinking is vacated and abdicated to the enemy. This abdication of the mind to the enemy is evidenced very clearly by the result of several recent polls targeting winning Christians and the deconverted in America and Europe.”
Out of the fifty people that he interviewed who had left the Christian church, the American sociologist Brad Wright found that 42 left because their doubts were not handled well. That’s 84% of the people that he interviewed left the faith because their doubts were not handled well. And a survey of nearly 15,000 people in the United Kingdom revealed that 73% pin their reduction in church attendance on the fact that they had received either bad answers or no answers to the questions that they had been struggling with.
What are we to do now exactly? Within the church we see an abandonment of the intellect and outside of the church we see a viciously secularized modernistic culture. These are two huge problems and we surely can’t stay where we’ve been. There’s some serious changes that we need to make if we’re to be engaged and effective evangelists. I think that this is especially true in regards to our young people, our college students, our young adults, but let me propose two solutions that I think extend past that audience.
First of all, we must teach Christians to love God, not just with their hearts, but also with their minds, something that has been neglected in the recent past. Just as we saw the new philosophy, it’s a matter of heart, not mind, faith, not the intellect, and that’s definitely a false dichotomoy. We must love God with our whole being and that is a Bibilcal command from Christ that we see in the Gospels.
Secondly, we must show the world that there are excellent reasons for becoming a follower of Jesus. Both of these goals are captured by what is known as apologetics. Apologetics, in the words of Douglas Groothuis, is the rational defense of the Christian faith as objectively true. It comes from the Greek word, apologia, which means to give a defense as in a court of law. I’m convinced that Christian apologetics is necessary for the modern day evangelist.
People want to know what good reasons there are for being a Christian, not just emotional stories. Every religious tradition has emotional stories. Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and all the rest could sit here and tell you about the subjective happiness that their worldviews bring them, but that wouldn’t make them all magically true. We see that. Don’t get me wrong. I think Christianity is objectively more satisfying as a narrative than all other religions, but the primary reason that people should become Christians is because its message corresponds to reality, and that’s what people really want to know. Is Christianity true? Does it hold up to scrutiny? Whenever we put it under a microscope, does it fall apart, or does it show its veracity? Does it correspond to reality?
In order to answer this question, Christians must know what they believe. That is, the essential doctrines of the Christian faith, and why they believe. That is, their reasons for believing in Christianity. If we can present a convincing case for the truth of God’s existence, the Bible’s reliability, and the resurrection of Jesus, and combine it with a personal testimony of God’s work in our lives, then God will be pleased to use us as witnesses for His kingdom. If we neglect either part, the rational justification of the faith, or our experiences as people forgiven in Christ, then we hinder our witness.
My own experiences with apologetics, it has been tremendously beneficial to my faith. I can remember being on break at KFC in high school whenever I was working there and there was an atheist co-worker of mine who I would talk to and he had a knack for bringing up very difficult questions about the faith and I really was just kind of dumbfounded. I didn’t know how to answer him. I didn’t know what to say, and so I just came to the realization that I needed to stop asking him questions. I needed to stop trying to share the gospel with him because as a result my faith was going to be destroyed.
I was on break and I was scrolling through Facebook and I found a video by the apologist William Lane Craig on the Kalam Cosmological Argument and I don’t mean this, I’m not trying to be cliche, but it was really life changing. I was just amazed that there was a rational justification for belief in God and it was just amazing. I had this feeling of awe that, wow, there are good reasons to be a Christian, and that emboldened to share the gospel and what a great thing it has been in terms of evangelism as well. I don’t have to worry about running into an objection that I can never answer. Of course, there are things that I don’t know the answer to as it stands right now, but what a catalyst it is, in sharing the gospel with people on campus, and not being so incredibly worried that I’m going to be asked a question that I won’t be able to respond to.
To end our conversation today, I want you to listen to this quote from Blaise Pascal: “Men despise religion. They hate it, and are afraid it may be true. The cure for this is first to show that religion is not contrary to reason, but worthy of reverence and respect. Next, make it attractive. Make good men wish it were true, and then show that it is worthy of reverence, because it really understands human nature, attractive because it promises true good.
That does it for our show today. We are very grateful for the continued support of our patrons and partnerships with our sponsors, Defenders Media, Consult Kevin, The Sky Floor, Rethinking Hell, The Illinois Family Institue, Evolution 2.0, Fox Restoration, and Non-Profit Megaphone, and last but certainly not least, I want to thank you for listening in and for striving for truth on faith, politics, and society.