Archive for January, 2017

Given that this year is the 500 anniversary of the Reformation, this post by Kenneth Samples is timely:

Reflections

Martin Luther

Martin Luther is famous for posting his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church at Wittenberg and for attempting to reform the Catholic Church, but what exactly did he believe, and what else did he contribute to Christendom? Here’s your crash course on the life and accomplishments of Martin Luther—and why he still matters today.

Who Was Martin Luther?

Martin Luther (1483–1546) was born in Eisleben, Germany, just as the Middle Ages were coming to an end. His plan was to become a lawyer, but while experiencing the terror of being caught in a thunderstorm, he vowed to become a Catholic monk if St. Anne would rescue him. Serving as an Augustinian friar and priest, Luther was often insecure about whether God would truly forgive him. He wondered whether he could ever be assured of salvation by following the church’s practices of confession, repentance, and performing good works…

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screen-shot-2017-01-27-at-11-41-48-amI have notice several posts about getting a degree in apologetics or not.  I find the discussion very interesting.  For clarity, I do not have a degree in apologetics (see my CV here).  I have a degree in history, education, philosophy, and theology.  There are now a host of schools that offer degree in apologetics, so there seems to be a demand for them.  But, several posts have discouraged getting the degree in apologetics.  Interesting debate.  Here are some of posts with a short taste from each:

Don’t Get a Degree in Apologetics by Glenn Peoples

Dr. Peoples is adamant on his blog Right Reason that one should NOT get a degree in apologetics.  He and Max Andrews (who he started this discussion about a degree in apologetics at his blog Sententias Blog which is now dead link), Andrews is a doctoral student in Edinburgh, both discourage a degree in apologetics.  Since Max Andrews site is down, here is a bit of Peoples thought on the subject.

Seriously, don’t get a degree in apologetics.

These are thoughts that I have been dwelling on for many months now. Then Max Andrews told me that he was going to say it (and he did), so I was happy to offer a brief comment in support of what he was saying. And now I’m going to say it too. Don’t get a degree in apologetics. You shouldn’t do it. Could I be wrong about that? Absolutely, but at this point I’ll need to be persuaded of that. Getting an apologetics degree appears to be something of a new development in Evangelical academia, one that is being embraced with zeal, particularly in the United States. That fact alone means that even if I am dead wrong, it is only healthy that there be a good strong push back against this for the young and enthusiastic to consider before they commit to something like that. But I don’t think I am dead wrong at all.

His reasoning that someone should NOT get such a degree is illustrated by a list of great apologists who DON’T have a degree in apologetics:

Think for a moment about your favourite published defenders of the Christian faith of the 20th century or later, if you have any. Think about those who have reputations as being the best apologists out there (whether they use the word “apologetics” or not). Everyone’s list will be slightly different, but the list will probably include names like C. S. Lewis, Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, Ravi Zacharias, William Lane Craig, John Lennox, Peter Kreeft, Richard Bauckham and others. Do you want to be a great apologist? Great. Do you think these people are / were great apologists? I agree. OK, now ask yourself what all of these people – along with probably every other person you might add to this list – lack. They probably lack a whole lot of things, but one of the things they lack is a degree in apologetics.

Why Would Anyone Get a Degree in Apologetics? by J. Warner Wallace

Wallace, author of two excellent books on apologetics (Cold-Case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene) using his training as a cold case detective, differentiates between expert witnesses and case-makers.  Expert witnesses specialize in a particular field such as the New Testament or philosophy, while a case-maker make expert testimony accessible.  His article is reacting to Glenn Peoples post above and to Max Andrews post which is not available anymore.  He elaborates on the role and function of each:

There are very few (and I mean very few) expert witnesses in the Christian community who are also popularly accessible case makers. Let’s be honest about that. Some of these great thinkers are friends of mine, and I think they would acknowledge their role quite happily. Richard Bauckham’s incredibly important work, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, has not been nearly as successful as Lee Strobel’s Case for Christ. In fact, many of these amazing expert witnesses would still be largely unread (and unknown) if they hadn’t appeared in Lee’s work. Case makers make expert testimony accessible and show how the limited evidence offered by these experts fits into the larger case. That’s what Lee has done so brilliantly over the years. It’s no coincidence we’re experiencing a renaissance in apologetics simultaneous with the success of Lee’s books. Great case makers amplify the work of great expert witnesses. In fact, you could take the book sales of everyone mentioned by Andrews and Peoples combined (with the obvious exception of C. S. Lewis and Ravi Zacharias) and they wouldn’t come close to the book sales of Lee Strobel or Josh McDowell alone. Lee and Josh are great case makers (neither has an advanced degree in a specialty area by the way); both are relying on the testimony of great expert witnesses.  . . .If you’re better suited as an expert witness, interested in specific fields of study and focused academically, get the degree in biblical studies, history, historiography, theology, philosophy, physics, or chemistry as Andrews and Peoples would suggest. God will use you powerfully to establish the foundation from which a case can be made. But if you’re more interested (and gifted) in communicating the overarching, cumulative case for Christianity (constructed from the testimony of many experts), feel free to pursue a degree in case making (apologetics). The church needs expert witnesses and case makers and these are usually two different sets of people.

Wallace make a great point for the need for both expert eyewitnesses (specialization in a particular field) and excellent case-makers (apologists).  I thought this was a nice even handed understanding both the benefits and limitations of a degree in apologetics.

Should I Get A PhD in Apologetics by Travis Dickinson

Dr. Dickinson serves as Associate Professor of Philosophy and Christian Apologetics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary which offers a MA in Christian Apologetics.  I guess since he argues against a PhD in Apologetics, the program that he teaches in that offers the MA in Apologetics does not incongruent with his thesis in the article.

The short answer is “no.” The longer answer is “for almost everyone, still no.” The even longer and needlessly provocative answer is that “any PhD gained by a Christian has (or should have) Apologetics in it.”. . . My advice: don’t get a PhD in Apologetics since the field is just simply too broad and too interdisciplinary.

How Can You Make a Career in Apologetics? by Sean McDowell

Sean McDowell, who has  PhD in Apologetics from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, lists several career options for those “degreeing” in apologetics in the context of Biola’s M. A. in christian apologetics:

Part of the vision of our Biola M.A. Christian Apologetics program is to train apologists to be a resource for the local church. In fact, our dream is that churches would consider the need for a “Pastor or Apologetics” as important as a men’s ministry leader or a youth pastor. Until this dream becomes a reality, here’s a few ways to make a career in apologetics (If you think I have missed any, please let me know): [1. Professor of Apologetics. 2. Ratio Christi. 3. Author. 4. Blogger. 5. Speaker. 6.Christian School Teacher]

I do four out of the six (3, 4, 5, 6) that McDowell lists.

Should I Get a Degree in Apologetics? by Josiah Batten

Josiah Batten, who completed an MA in Apologetics at Luther Rice College and Seminary, makes the excellent point that our goals should help inform us on whether to pursue a degree in apologetics.

In pursuing any degree, we should align our education with our goals, and our goals should be informed by our calling. For the person called to teach at the university, they obviously should pursue one specific discipline and earn a PhD (or the equivalent terminal degree) in that field. I have no argument against that. However, not everyone is called to do that, and so we should not become ensnared into thinking this is the only possible route for apologists.

While a professor should obviously specialize in their field, other goals such as a campus minister for Cru, Ratio Christi, etc. might be perfect for a degree in apologetics.  He concludes:

I am quite ready to admit that not everyone should get a degree in apologetics. Yet for many people, such a degree will prove extremely useful. And for some, it will even be the ideal means for pursuing your calling. As with any degree, we need to weigh the advantages and disadvantages. Yet, the fact that an apologetics degree is not tailored to helping one earn a PhD does not mean that it is not tailored to helping one do a great many other things which constitute worthy work in advancing the Kingdom of God.

Apologetics Training – Advise to Christian Apologists by William Lane Craig (part 2 here)

William Lane Craig, who is the model par excellence in apologetics and needs to introduction, has provided some helpful advise to Christian apologists: select an area to specialize and get a PhD.

Some popular Christian apologists make the mistake of trying to be a jack of all trades, and so they are master of none. As a result, their knowledge of the field may be very broad, but it is not very profound. While they may be able to present an initial argument for Christian truth claims, they soon wilt under the pressure of critique, especially on the part of specialists. Speaking on a university campus, they may find themselves ridden with anxiety lest a non-Christian faculty member should show up in their audience and raise an objection they are at a loss to deal with. If that does happen, they may not only embarrass themselves but also injure the credibility of the Christian faith. A merely generalized knowledge of Christian apologetics is fine for certain contexts, and certainly better than nothing, but it will limit the horizons of your ministry.

Who am I to disagree with Dr. Craig 🙂

Academic Apologetics Programs by Jacob Allee

Finally, Jacob Allee, a teacher in the Logic & Rhetoric Schools at Christian Heritage School, writer/speaker on Christian worldview at Thinking Christianly blog and podcast, has provided a list of schools offering degrees in apologetics along with some commentary on each.  He starts with programs offering certificates and moves from undergraduate to graduate degrees.  Nice list with commentary.

The Top 10 Graduate Programs in Christian Apologetics by TheBestSchools.org

TheBestSchools.org’s list of 10 top graduate programs in apologetics along with overseas programs and other notable programs.

Three Christian Classics

Posted: January 26, 2017 in Uncategorized

Brief overviews of three classic books: Mere Christianity, Pensees, and Confusions by C. S. Lewis, Blaise Pascal, and Augustine.

Reflections

When I get a little money, I buy books. And if there is any left over, I buy food. —Desiderius Erasmus, Dutch Renaissance scholar and theologian

Reading books has been an obsession of mine since my conversion to Christianity as a college sophomore. I sensed my mind really mattered in serving the Lord; so I began a serious pursuit of the “life of the mind” to the glory of God. Today I have a personal library of between 3,000 and 4,000 books.

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My former apologetics professor, Ted Cabal who edited the Apologetics Study Bible, stated that we leave in the “golden age of apologetics.”  I believe that is so with many great books coming out this past year and more to come in 2017.  Leave a comment on what great apologetic books you are looking forward to in the comments below.  Here is a short list of five books I believe are worth reading this year for apologetics.

1.  Historical Reliability of the New Testament: Combating the Challenges to Evangelical Christian Beliefs  by Craig Blomberg (B&H Academic, Nov 2016)

historical-reliability-of-nt

Blomberg, a New Testament professor at Denver Seminary, wrote the influential The Historical Reliability of the Gospels back in 1987 and updated it in 2007.  This one expands his work to include the entire New Testament coming in at 816 pages.  Starting with the formation of the New Testament, he goes on to cover contradictions in the synoptic gospels, corroboration of the synoptics, formation and evidence for the gospel of John, and then precedes to Acts and Paul’s writing.  He then discusses canonicity and and transmission, and the problem of miracles in historical texts.  Thomas R. Schreiner associate dean of the School of Theology and James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary praises the book as such:

“I cannot think of a better person to write a book on the reliability of the New Testament than Craig Blomberg. We do not have the reflections of a novice here but of a seasoned and veteran scholar, one whose work has stood the test of time. All the virtues of Blomberg’s scholarship are on display here: he is well versed in secondary sources, he is unfailingly fair to those who hold different views, and his own judgments reflect careful assessment of the evidence. Blomberg demonstrates that trust in the reliability of the New Testament is reasonable; one doesn’t have to put one’s head in the sand to find in the New Testament writings words that are true and accurate.”

2. A Fortunate Universe: Life in a Finely Tuned Cosmos  by Geraint F. Lewis and Luke A. Barnes (Cambridge University Press, Nov 2016)

fortunate-universe

A recently produced book by Cambridge University Press was just released this month by Luke Barnes, who is a postdoctoral researcher at the Sydney Institute for Astronomy who completed a PhD at the University of Cambridge, and Geraint F. Lewis, a Professor of Astrophysics at the Sydney Institute for Astronomy and head of the Gravitational Astrophysics Group, titled A Fortunate Universe: Life in a Finely Tuned Cosmos that continues this long discussion about fine-tuning.  The foreword by Brian Schmidt of the Australian National University, Canberra, and Nobel Laureate in Physics describes the book:

My colleagues, Geraint and Luke, in A Fortunate Universe, take you on a tour of the Cosmos in all of its glory, and all of its mystery. You will see that humanity appears to be part of a remarkable set of circumstances involving a special time around a special planet, which orbits a special star, all within a specially constructed Universe. It is these set of conditions that have allowed humans to ponder our place in space and time. I have no idea why we are here, but I do know the Universe is beautiful. A Fortunate Universe captures the mysterious beauty of the Cosmos in a way that all can share.

3. Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? What We Can Learn from Ancient Biography  by Michael R. Licona (Oxford University Press, Dec 2016)

why-differences-in-gospels

Licona’s last work was back in 2010 with his magisterial study on the resurrection with The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. In this work Licona does a carefully reading of Plutarch’s Lives in order to analyze how ancient biography was written in order to compare it to the biography of Jesus in the gospels.  Here are several reviews of the book from some significant scholars:

“Anyone who has looked at a synopsis of the Gospels will have wondered why the accounts of the same events in different Gospels vary. Michael Licona breaks new ground by arguing that the writers used the same compositional devices as the biographer Plutarch employed when he reworked the same material in more than one of his biographies. This is an illuminating fresh approach to understanding how the Gospel writers used their sources.”-Richard Bauckham, Professor Emeritus of New Testament Studies, University of St. Andrews

“How worried should we be by the differences between the Gospels? Do they discredit the whole story? In an exemplary crossover of classical and New Testament studies, Michael Licona shows that the answer is ‘not very worried at all’: when we compare the techniques used in Greco-Roman literature, the striking feature is the Gospels’ consistency rather than their differences. Troubled believers will find this book as important as classicists and New Testament scholars.”-Christopher Pelling, Regius Professor of Greek, Christ Church, Oxford

4. Rational Faith: A Philosopher’s Defense of Christianity  by Stephen T. Davis (IVP Books, Nov 2016)

rational-faith

Stephen T. Davis, the Russell K. Pitzer Professor of Philosophy has been teaching at Claremont McKenna College since 1976.  I really enjoyed his work on the resurrection in Risen Indeed: Making Sense of the Resurrection.  He has written and edited a host of books in philosophy, theology, and apologetics: God, Reason, and Theistic Proofs, Logic and the Nature of God, a series of interdisciplinary symposiums on the Resurrection, Trinity, Incarnation, and Redemption, and his newly reprinted Christian Philosophical Theology.  In Rational Faith provides an accessible discussion starting with truth, God’s existence, and moves on to cover the bible, resurrection, evolution, and the problem of evil.

C. Stephan Evans of Baylor University states, “In this book, Stephen Davis offers a clear and cogent case for the reasonableness of Christian faith. In a relatively short book, Davis manages to treat just about every issue that an honest person concerned about Christian faith might want to ask, ranging from reasons to believe in God and Jesus as God’s Son to problems connected to science, religious diversity and uniqueness, and evil. Davis is fair to the critics of Christianity and careful not to claim more than his arguments warrant. This is a book that will be helpful to both believers and unbelievers. The tone is personal and down-to-earth; the reader comes away with a sense of having had an enjoyable, stimulating, and possibly life-changing conversation.”  Michael J. Murray,senior visiting scholar, Franklin & Marshall College says that “with characteristic clarity, rigor, and accessibility, Stephen Davis presents a compelling defense of the Christian faith. While taking a fresh look at traditional arguments, Rational Faith also addresses cutting-edge topics in apologetics such as the implications of evolutionary and psychological accounts of the origin of religious belief. This is a valuable resource for Christian believers and skeptics alike.”

5. Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical  by Timothy Keller (Viking, Sept 2016)

makingsenseofgod

Finally, Timothy Keller, noted pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, who wrote several years back the bestseller The Reason for Godstates that his previous book, while helpful for many, doesn’t begin far back enough.  It is described as an invitation to ” skeptics to consider that Christianity is more relevant now than ever. As human beings, we cannot live without meaning, satisfaction, freedom, identity, justice, and hope. Christianity provides us with unsurpassed resources to meet these needs. Written for both the ardent believer and the skeptic, Making Sense of God shines a light on the profound value and importance of Christianity in our lives.”  Topics include identity and self, justice, morality, evidence and the nature of faith, the relevance of religion, and hope.  Keller has the ability to make apologetics applicable and personal has he attempts to answer existential questions such as “Why should anyone believe in Christianity?” and “What role can faith and religion play in our modern lives?”

Honorable mentions include:

Taking Pascal’s Wager: Faith, Evidence, and the Abundant Life by Michael Rota

How to be an Atheist: Why Many Skeptics Aren’t Skeptical Enough by Mitch Stokes

No God but Allah: Allah or Jesus? A Former Muslim Investigates the Evidence for Islam and Christianity by Nabeel Qureshi

God Among Sages: Why Jesus Is Not Just Another Religious Teacher by Kenneth Samples

Jesus Among Secular Gods: The Countercultural Claims of Christ by Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale

What would you add to this list?  Comment below.