Some of you live in bubble.
You live in a country in which most people would probably claim to be some sort of Christian. And if you are like me, and live in the “Bible Belt,” (Charlotte, NC) you live in a world in which many of your parents, siblings, friends, neighbors, and coworkers are probably Christians.
But this is changing.
According to a recent Gallup Poll, the number of “nones” (people not claiming any religious affiliation) has doubled in the past 20 years. Now, more than 20% of the population identifies as atheist, agnostic, or simply not having any religious identity whatsoever.
We live in a world that is skeptical (or at times hostile) to the claims of Christianity. Those outside of Christianity often see our faith as something that isn’t based on reason or anything factual or real. Some people believe God is a pure fantasy, and that our religion is no different than all the ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman myths, and one day will be treated as such.
Consider the Following Quotes
Karl Marx: “Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opiate of the masses.”
Voltaire: “Every sensible man, every honorable man, must hold the Christian sect in horror. Christianity is the most ridiculous, the most absurd and bloody religion that has ever infected the world. Nothing can be more contrary to religion and the clergy than reason and common sense. If we believe absurdities, we shall commit atrocities.”
Fredrick Nietzsche: “God is dead and remains dead, and [I] have killed him…”
Stephen Hawking: “Heaven is a fairy tale invented for people afraid of the dark.”
I believe more than ever, the world is asking many questions, and demanding answers. As Christians, we need to be prepared to respond to people.
1 Peter 3:15 “but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense (apologia) to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;” (NASB)
What is “Apologetics?”
The word apologetics doesn’t mean to apologize. It comes from a Greek word “apologia” which means to “offer a reasoned justification, or to speak in defense” of a position.
As Christians we believe our faith is factual and true. And as a result, it is worthy of offering reasonable intellectual explanations and defenses of what we believe and why we believe it. As Christians we need to wrestle with these things. You don’t have to be doctors of theology, and you don’t have to be able to answer every question or objection in the world, but you should understand what you believe, why you believe it, and be prepared to offer reasonable coherent explanations to people about our faith.
It’s like in mathematics, it’s not just enough to solve a problem, you also need to be able to show the proof of how you solved a problem. In apologetics, we are essentially “showing our homework” regarding our faith.
Some rules for the road…
First, it should be noted that when we discuss our faith with people about what we believe and why we believe it, we must make sure we speak to them respectfully and with humility. Even if they don’t believe in God and say all sorts of blasphemous things, they are people created in His image, and are worthy of love and respect, even if they show hostility to you and our faith.
Secondly, you’ll never convince someone to believe what we believe by calling them a butthole or treating them like a jerk. Once you do that, people will be constantly on the defensive, and never hear a word you say. How you say something is just as important as what you say.
Third, please don’t feel afraid to ever tell anyone that you don’t have all the answers or to admit when someone has a valid point. Be intellectually honest and curious. Always be willing to grow in your knowledge of truth. Ask hard questions yourself, and seek hard and solid factual answers. Don’t be a lightweight whose answers are no deeper than the first page of a Google search or information merely repeated from Wikipedia.
General “Philosophical Proofs” of God’s Existence
God is not a physical being that is subject to empirical scientific scrutiny. You can’t put Him under a microscope and perform tests on Him to test his existence. God is too big for any science lab, and debates over His existence are, by nature, outside the realm of scientific inquiry.
Therefore when we talk generally about the existence of God, we are talking about the world of philosophy, and in particular, a branch of philosophy known as “metaphysics.”
The following are some philosophical arguments I believe reasonably defend the existence of God:
“The First Cause”
Everything comes from something. God is the unmoved mover from which all things created originate. He is before all things, and the One who set all things into motion. He is an un-created being from which all of creation originates.
Our universe is extremely complex and organized, subject to numerous laws that causes it in many ways to function like a clock. The complex laws by which the universe operate shows evidence of design.
If the universe were not “intelligently designed,” then everything that exists today randomly evolved from a massive explosion that created the universe. And this universe now miraculously contains conscious beings are now able to reflect not only on their own existence, but to look back in time and explain how they came into being by a random series of events.
And, if Earth were only 2-3% closer to our sun, then the world would be too hot to be inhabitable, and life as we know it would not exist. Yet life does exist, and it exists in great abundance, and our planet contains life capable of reflecting on its own existence. Such is nothing short of amazing if all of the universe just randomly came into being. Such seems highly improbable, so much so that I would dare call it absurd.
“The Moral Argument”
We have a sense of things such as moral goodness and perfection. We may disagree on the specifics of morality and ethics, but we all still have a very real sense that there is something such as moral perfection, goodness, justice, etc.
I like what C.S. Lewis said on this issue. He said “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.”
This argument is less philosophical per say, but seems common to basic human observation and experience, based an an intuitive knowledge that seems fundamental to humanity everywhere. We look at the world and the universe, and in spite of all its chaos and destruction, we find great beauty and feel like there is something that exists “outside” of us that is bigger than we are, yet connects us all together. We identify this common transcendent like experience to be God, and it seems like we can find God in the beauty of every day things like a sunset.
Scripture makes this argument as well:
Psalm 19:1: The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.
Romans 1:19–20 …that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.
The Proof of Jesus Christ’s Resurrection from the Dead
Make no mistake about it, in my opinion, the best proof of God’s existence isn’t abstract philosophical arguments, but the actual bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. This event was witnessed by over 500 people who testified of this event, and some even went so far as to record their eyewitness testimony in the historical record as individuals that claim to have seen Jesus Christ alive from the grave.
About the Eyewitness Testimony
The best source of this eyewitness testimony is the New Testament.
Some may discount the idea. But when you understand what the New Testament is, it simply cannot be dismissed because contains biased “religious writings.”
Of course the New Testament is “biased.” It is written by people who claim to have either seen Jesus, or been the associates of individuals that claimed to have seen Jesus. It’s as biased as anyone claiming to be an eyewitness would actually be.
And we must understand, the New Testament isn’t just one part of the Bible. It consists of 27 independent books and letters that originated in the first century, many written within 2-3 decades of Jesus’s ministry. And it was written by individuals claiming to have seen Jesus, or to be the associates of those who were early eyewitnesses.
Their writings were preserved and copied and passed down to subsequent generations. It was only centuries later when these writings were officially bound together as one volume of documents known today as the New Testament. But prior to such, they were books and letters that existed independently of each other, and circulated among the churches as authentic accounts of what they had all come to believe. Today, we have over 5000 ancient manuscripts that have been preserved, all which claim that Jesus Christ was raised from dead.
If you wish to research on how these documents came together and were circulated and eventually put together as one volume, I highly recommend the writings of the late and great New Testament scholar, F.F. Bruce, and his book “The Canon of Scripture.”
These are real writings written by real people in the first century claiming to be eyewitnesses, or associates of the first eyewitnesses. Considering the following verses in which the early followers of the risen Christ, and consider their claims:
1 John 1:1 What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life—
2 Peter 1:16–18: For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.
17 For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased”—
18 and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.
These witnesses all claim to have seen Jesus risen from the dead. They saw, they heard, they touched.
These texts cannot simply be dismissed because they are the Bible. They are claims by people reporting to have seen, heard, and touched Jesus Christ. And we must take these claims seriously. For either they happened in history as these eyewitnesses claim, or these were lies or mass delusions that the earliest followers of Jesus Christ invented.
The Empty Tomb and Christian Persecution
If the early witnesses were liars or delusional, it’s been 2,000 years, and we still have an empty tomb, and nobody has yet to produce the corpse of Jesus Christ.
If Jesus wasn’t raised, the religious and political leaders that were trying to refute the claims of early Christians could have easily produced Jesus’s corpse, and silenced their testimony. They knew where His tomb was, and never produced His body, because it simply wasn’t there. Instead they contrived their own story, and said the disciples stole His body even though it was under armed guard, guards who would have been executed for failing to protect Jesus’s body.
Instead of producing a body, the Jewish officials and the Romans that refused to believe decided to persecute the early Christians, by throwing them in jail, beating them, and even killing them.
And one of those who participated in this scheme was a man by the name of Saul of Tarsus, now known to us as the apostle Paul, who would eventually have his own eyewitness encounter with Jesus, and turn from a violent persecutor of Christians, to a preacher of the faith he once tried to destroy. And men would later persecute him over that faith, leading to multiple imprisonments over many years, and his eventual beheading under Nero, at which Paul is said (according to one account) to have “run” to his execution block, as a proof of his testimony.
But even in the face of great persecution, all these eyewitnesses still maintained their testimony. If it was all a lie or mass delusion, we would expect that some of his earliest followers would have changed their story, and denied that Jesus was resurrected. We would expect that some would have had a last minute confession that supported the claim of the Jewish and Roman leaders, that the disciples stole Jesus’s body. Many could have easily recanted their faith and denied it all, and found release from the threat of death and torture. But none of them did that. They maintained their claim to the point of death.
A Unique Messianic Theology
I’m indebted to this brilliant insight offered by New Testament scholar N.T. Wright and his book “The Resurrection of the Son of God.”
In it, Wright argues that in first century second temple Judaism, all theologies about the Messiah that they developed at that time had to do with a conquering king that would overthrow the Romans by force. They expected an insurrectionist that would lead an armed rebellion against the pagan army that was occupying their land. And indeed, history shows that everyone that every claimed to be the Messiah during this period of time lived up to this theology. The Jews of this time period simply never expected or anticipated a Messiah that was peaceful, taught them to love their enemies, and that the Messiah would suffer, be crucified, and bodily resurrected. Indeed, no Jew today believes this either.
So, in this very Jewish world, there arose a group of Jews who claim their executed Messiah (of which there were many) all of a sudden was raised from the dead. Well, being that there was no theological basis for any Jew at the time to believe such a thing could happen to their Messiah, on what basis did the Jewish followers of Jesus suddenly start claiming Jesus was actually raised from the dead?
The only reasonable explanation is simple. Jesus was raised from the dead, and that became the theological basis for which first century Jewish followers of Jesus would make this novel claim.
The Jewish followers of Jesus would not have made it otherwise, just as no other Jews ever claimed any of their crucified Messiahs had been raised from the dead, as there was no basis whatsoever for them to ever claim such. It was simply outside their realm of thinking, and therefore it would be intellectually and theologically impossible for them to make this claim… unless it really happened.
The Work of the Holy Spirit
All these proofs of are fine and good.
But as great as they are, there is something we must always remember. The preaching and defending of the gospel is subject to the powerful working of the Holy Spirit. God is at work in our lives, and the inner sense of the Holy Spirit we experience is the ultimate proof and defense of the gospel, as it works in us and in lives of others.
Few of us believe the gospel because we were simply diligent students of science, philosophy, and history, and simply reasoned “hey, all this makes sense in the same way 2 + 2 equals 4.” There evidence for what we believe and why we believe it is reasonable and persuasive, but it can also be reasonably dismissed.
Therefore, when sharing our faith with others, I like to keep the following passage in mind from the writings of the apostle Paul, who said:
1 Corinthians 2:1–5: And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God.
2 For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.
3 I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling,
4 and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,
5 so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.
While the intellectual arguments for the existence of God and the defense of Christ’s resurrection are all nice and good, and are deserving of serious consideration, at the end of the day, our ability to take the “leap of faith” necessary to believe comes down to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives through the preaching of the gospel. With His working in our lives and the lives those we witness to, we will never be able to persuade anyone to believe.
In my own life, I have had moments of intense doubt as I’ve attempted to wrestle over some of the powerful arguments against Christianity. Everything from evolution to the type of “higher criticism” you read in Bible College and Seminary. And, while I can honestly say I cannot answer every objection to Jesus and the Bible, at the end of the day, I’m at the point in my life where I can say with great confidence that I believe that Jesus Christ is risen from the grave.
And, that confidence exists, not only because I’ve done my homework and looked at some pretty difficult things and wrestled with some pretty bold claims, but because I’ve had my own personal encounter with the Lord, and feel the Holy Spirit ultimately working in my life and heart.