Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christian Arguments: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

One Amazon Reviewer writes:

Hi, Just want to make the point that while many Christian apologetic arguments are weak and badly thought out, the same can be said of atheistic ones. Some arguments in the book are mirror images of ones Christians use and thus many of the criticisms of Christianity can be turned back. The argument that we can't trust our brains leads to futility for atheists and theists. Also, atheists are [rightly] offended when Christians accuse them of publicly denying their own inward awareness of God, but they don't think it offensive to suggest that Christians are generally deluded and too stupid to change, that the only reason they continue to believe is that they have not understood atheist arguments, rather than that they have understood and found them wanting.
The basic problem in apologetics is that most arguments for Christian theism are far too influenced by enlightenment theories of human reason or the arrogance of postmodernism. In other words, just as atheism lives off the borrowed capital of Christian theism in its attempts to preserve some semblance of a rational defense of its views, so too, many modern Christian apologetic methods borrow from views whose presuppositions do not themselves cohere with basic Christian belief. When they attempt to weave together an internally consistent and persuasive argument, they trip over themselves. This is because they depart from orthodox Christian views of God, ultimate reality, the role of revelation in epistemology, the relationship between faith and reason, and the clear teachings of the impact of sin on the human mind. Unless apologists begin with the clear teachings of God in Scripture and proceed along those lines, they are likely to come off as strikingly incoherent and even inept in their presentation and defense of Christian theism.

A sound argument is a valid argument with true premises that result in a true conclusion. By definition then, there are no sound arguments against the truthfulness of Christian theism. Why? Because Christian theism is true. Did Jesus or any one of the Apostles EVER pretend that Christianity was false for the sake of argument? To do so is not only irrational for those who truly do purport to subscribe to the Christian worldview, it is without question a violation of Christian ethics to pretend that views which blaspheme the Creator could possibly be true, even for the sake of argument. As Aquinas once said, "A small error at the outset can lead to great errors in the final conclusion."

As Edward Leigh said, "The weightiest testimony only that can be brought to prove that there is a God, is to produce the Testimony of God speaking in his own word. None other in the world can have equal authority." God speaks to all men through His speech-act of Creation along with the sensus divinitatis not to mention Scripture! God testifies of Himself and His testimony is so clear, so pronounced that it leaves all men culpable. (Rom. 1)

"We are given to know the divine attributes or essential properties by revelation and rational reflection on revelation in such a way that God's nature is truly known by means of the revealed attributes."
-Francis Turretin


  1. I think your reasoning can be summed up as follows:

    "God exists and Christianity is true because the Bible says so."

    I thought this was just a caricature which is popular with the atheists online, but it does appear that you're an example of a Christian who really does think like that, even if you do try to make it sound intellectual.

  2. I admit to needing no other authority than the self-attesting Scripture to make belief in God and the truth of Christianity rational. The implication of your statement is the Bible is insufficient reason to believe that God exists and the Christian worldview is true. If the Bible is not enough, what is? Whatever "it" is, then it must be greater than God's word. Since God is His word, then it must be greater than God! Your presuppositions, whatever they are, certain are not within the bounds of the Christian worldview.

  3. As Van Til once put it, "We accept this God upon Scriptural authority. In the Bible alone do we hear of such a God. This frank acceptance of authority is, philosophically, our very salvation. [Van Til, Common Grace, 8.]

  4. Ed, well said. As Ps 119 speaks of God's word over and over. God's word is elevated in the bible.

  5. Just as a point of clarity for Kevin's comment, the Bible is the word of God. I am sure Kevin agrees, but I will let him chime in should I be wrong in my assumption.

  6. "I admit to needing no other authority than the self-attesting Scripture to make belief in God and the truth of Christianity rational."

    How exactly do you reach that conclusion? It is not immediately obvious that the scriptures are reliable or divinely inspired until they have been examined and shown to be so. Saying "the scriptures are true because they say so" is nothing more than begging the question. If you said that to a non-believer they would be within their rights to ask you to support the assertion.

    "The implication of your statement is the Bible is insufficient reason to believe that God exists and the Christian worldview is true."

    When examined, it provides excellent evidence for that.

    "If the Bible is not enough, what is? Whatever "it" is, then it must be greater than God's word. Since God is His word, then it must be greater than God!"

    That's rubbish. Having evidences and reason which testify to the existence of God and divine inspiration of scripture does not make those evidences greater than God. In answer to that I will take an argument and analogy from J.P Moreland. Moreland argues that presuppositionalists confuse the order of knowing with the order of being. He used the analogy of a map showing how to get to the city of Atlanta. In the order of being there would have to be a city called Atlanta before there could be a map showing how to get there. In the order of being Atlanta is first. However when it comes to finding Atlanta the map is first. That there is a map to help people find Atlanta in no way detracts from the reality of the city's existence. It would be ridiculous to say that looking to the map is to deny the reality of the city. In the same way, God is first in the order of being. For there to be theistic arguments for Him, He must first exist. Theistic arguments from evidence and reason provide a "map" to Him. Appealing to such evidences in no way detracts from the reality of His existence, especially since those evidences were placed there by Him. Do you really want to say that there is any part of God's creation which does not attest to His existence and therefore cannot be appealed to? Such a suggestion seems blasphemous to me.

    "Ed, well said. As Ps 119 speaks of God's word over and over. God's word is elevated in the bible.


    Of course it is. That doesn't mean you shouldn't demonstrate why it should be thought of as supreme to a non-believer.

  7. There's a question that was put to you on Theologyweb which I would really like an answer to Ed. A few years ago a Christian friend of mine was exposed to the pagan parallel nonsense that some atheists like to promote (this happened before I knew him). He encountered such claims as pagan gods like Mithra and Horus were born of a virgin on December 25th, had 12 disciples, were crucified and resurrected etc and that the story of Jesus was clearly based on the stories of such deities. This seemed very convincing to my friend at the time and it caused him to have a serious crisis of faith. He could not see how Christianity could be true in light of it.

    How would you have helped my friend if he had come to you with his crisis of faith?

  8. One more question if you don't mind. I have seen you refer to "the Christian ethnic". Would you mind defining that for me please and explain what you are basing it on?

  9. The Scripture nowhere attempts to get others to accept their authority and reliability. Everywhere the Word of God presents itself as it is, as it can only be, the self-attesting, authoritative Word of God. The unbeliever will always find the word of the Cross scandalous and offensive until God changes his heart. Oddly enough, God does that through the preaching of that very Word! The Atlanta analogy doesn’t hold. How do you convince someone that there is an Atlanta in the first place? And even if you did, how would you convince them that that map is actually a map that leads to Atlanta and not LA? How are they supposed to trust the map? Moreland makes the mistake that reasoning takes place on neutral ground. It does not. There are no brute facts. Sin does affect human reason. To deny this is to deny Scripture. Presuppositional apologetics does not deny the use of evidence at all in apologetic method. The difference is that reason takes a ministerial role rather than a magisterial role. In classical and evidential apologetics, reason takes a magisterial role.

  10. Concerning Mirthaism I would argue that one should expect religious beliefs to have commonalities and this can be explained by the image of God in human conscience. Mithraism, however, was more of a military cult and it is highly unlikely that Christians would borrow their concepts. Moreover, the Old Testament contained all the NT doctrines concerning Christ and Christianity had no need whatever to borrow from pagan religions. The believer's faith is upheld and preserved by God, not human reason. We are kept by the power of God, not the power of the human intellect or libertarian freedom.

  11. Concerning the Christian ethic, I am referring specifically to the norms of Christian behavior as revealed in Sacred Scripture. The Scriptures reveal those behaviors that are considered normative within the Christian communinity. God has not left us without a witness. Moreover, He has given us the gracious gift of the Holy Spirit to help us conduct ourselves accordingly. You might do well to study to phrase "axios peripateo." You will find it both enriching and very enlightening.


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