Forensic Faith By J.Warner Wallace A Review

Forensic FaithBy J.Warner Wallace

A Review

 J.Warner Wallace is a retired cold case homicide detective who has applied his unique experience to Christianity in his books Cold Case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene. In Forensic Faith, Wallace makes the case for case-making. We are not all called to be detectives, but Wallace notes we are called to be case-makers, and offers his insights as to how we can effectively make the case for Christianity.

 While apologetics has been making a comeback in recent years, there is still a lot of resistance to the idea within the church. As noted here, there are still leaders in the church who think faith that is not grounded in reasons and evidence is somehow more “pure.” Wallace’s book is part of a growing effort to correct this misconception.

Synopsis

 The book is only 224 pages, but there is a lot of insight and information in a small package. In his preface, Wallace distinguishes between belief that happens to be right and knowledge grounded in reasons. He notes that many, if not most Christians hold a true belief, but are not prepared to defend that belief. In chapter 1, Wallace lays out an argument for why Christians ought to be able to defend the faith, giving five examples. In chapter 2, training is emphasized over teaching, noting that training is what prepares you for action. Five steps for training are laid out. In chapter 3, Wallace explains the necessity for research and continuing preparation and offers five things we can do to apply this. Chapter 4 then offers five ways you can make you case like a good prosecutor. These chapters are followed by notes for further study and links to more resources.

Analysis

 Forensic Faith is yet another example of Wallace’s gift for communication. He supplements the text with useful illustrations (which he draws himself) and examples from his extensive experience as a detective. What I found especially helpful was his response to those who claim “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. For one, he notes how extraordinary the claim is when he accuses someone of murder, and how they are convicted by ordinary evidence. Moreover, the alternative claims skeptics offer are no less “extraordinary” yet they do not offer extraordinary evidence for them.

 One issue I would approach a little differently than Wallace is in his description of the answers he gets when he asks Christians why they believe what they do. I agree with him that they are unable to defend what they believe. However, I would not characterize this as belief without evidence or reasons. As Wallace himself points out, almost anything counts as evidence. When someone comes to faith, typically it is (on a human level) after they have heard the Gospel from someone they trust. If their parents, or their pastor tell them Christianity is true, and they have reasons to trust their parents and/or their pastor, then this trustworthiness counts and evidence. I realize that if this is all they have, it is of very limited value when it comes to defending their beliefs, but it is still evidence. As such, I would offer this to those skeptics who claim such people have no evidence. I would also offer it to those who think they need no evidence.

Recommendation

The structure of the book, each with an alliterated title (and the Baptists rejoiced) and five points of application (and all the apologists rejoiced) is easy to follow. This book is accessible for readers from middle school through graduate school. It is a must-read for all Christians. Did I mention it’s a good book?

Did Adam and Eve Exist? Who They Were and Why You Should Care By C. John Collins A Review

Author

 Were Adam and Eve real people? Did all of humanity really originate from these two, or a larger population? Were they created directly by God, or did they evolve from an ancestral precursor? Does it matter theologically?

C. John Collins is a Professor of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary. He received a BS and MS in Computer Science and Systems Engineering from MIT, an MDiv from Faith Evangelical Lutheran Seminary, and a PhD in Hebrew Language from the University of Liverpool. In Did Adam and Eve Exist, Collins addresses these questions.

Background

Among theologians, historians, archaeologists, others who study the Ancient Near East (ANE) there has been an ongoing debate over how much of the Old and New Testament narratives contain actual historical events. Within these discussions are further differences concerning the question of inerrancy, and what that even means, and the implications for theology for the varying views. One of the key issues is whether Adam and Eve were actual historical persons, how they came to be, and how their disobedience effects the rest of humanity.

Thesis

Questions of the origin of modern humans are of interest to those both inside and outside the church, however since the purpose of this work focus on theological and pastoral concerns, the scientific aspects, while important, are secondary. Naturalistic scientists are only interested in when where and how humanity developed. However, theologically, we seek to understand how these answers make sense of our origin, problem, and the solutions proposed by Christianity. It is Collins’ view that the relevant texts of the Old and New Testament, as well as ancient non-canonical Jewish writings, strongly suggest Adam and Eve were actual persons. Moreover, the traditional view makes the best sense of our experience, and of Christian theology.

Synopsis

In his introduction, Collins lays out the issues, and explains the criteria he uses to answer the relevant questions. The three key questions he applies are(18-19):

1. How does the person or event impact the basic story line? (Basic story line here refers to the overarching story of the entire Bible.)

2. How have other writers, especially Biblical ones, taken this person or event?

3. How does this person or event relate to ordinary human experience?

Chapter 2 lays out how the entire Biblical narrative fits together. In chapter 3, Collins addresses specific Biblical and extra biblical texts that refer to Adam and Eve. Chapter 4 discusses the implications of human origins for the Image of God, human dignity, and our common experience. Chapter 5 contains an analysis of the relationship between science and the Biblical data, and how this is best approached. In his conclusion, Collins sums up his arguments, their implications, and offers a personal application. Additionally, there are three helpful appendices. The first addresses comparisons of Genesis with other ANE texts, the second is a book review, and the third dealing with the dating of the Book of Genesis.

Analysis

 Any critique of this book, in order to be fair, must keep in mind the intended audience. A non-believer in Judaism or Christianity my find this book lacking in a compelling argument for the historical existence of Adam and Eve. However, while there is a publicly accessible argument for their veracity, the bulk of the argument assumes a shared theism, and at least some reverence for the Bible. As such, the critique needs to address the argument being offered, not the ones it does not. Going back to Collins’ criteria, how well does he defend his views? Adam and Eve, as real historical individuals makes better sense of all that follows in redemptive history than a fictitious couple. Moreover, Collins shows that other Biblical writers, as well as texts outside the canon, treat Adam and Eve as real people. Finally, Collins demonstrates the explanatory power that a real couple offers for our common experience. There are aspects of the support Collins cites that are out of date. (Which Collins would acknowledge.) On page 82, Collins cites N.T. Wright from a book where he offers such support. However, Wright has since changed his mind on this.

 Not all critiques come from a position that negate Collins’ criteria, but simply dismiss their significance. In works such as Adam and the Genome, McKnight and Vennema argue that Paul believed that Adam was a real person, but he didn’t get this from modern science, so he can’t be right about that. (I realize this is a gross oversimplification, but I will address this more thoroughly in a forthcoming review.)

Recommendation

 Collins’ book is a valuable resource for anyone interested in the issues of how the grand narrative of the Bible fits together. He makes an excellent case for the historical reality of the pair, Adam and Eve, and the implications this has for theology and for life. He does so with an irenic tone, and a caution that does not go beyond the evidence. Rather than staking claims on issues such as the age of the universe, or even creation versus evolution, he simply shows what can be allowed within a faithful reading of the text in its historical and literary context. His book is accessible for a high school level reader. Did Adam and Eve Exist, as well as Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary and Theological Commentary are “must have’s” for anyone who cares about these issues.

The Case for Christ: a Review

Having seen a number of movies produced by Pure Flix, I was a little skeptical in my expectations for The Case for Christ. However, before I had a chance to see it, I saw a number of posts on social media by people whom I respect that suggested this would be worth seeing. As a fan of Lee Strobel, I would have seen it anyway, but I am happy to say that this was an excellent movie. (I suppose it helps that it was grounded in a real life story.)

For those who may not know, Strobel is a graduate of Yale Law School and is currently a Professor of Christian Thought at Houston Baptist University. He is also the author of a book by the same name as the movie, as well as eight other books.

The movie covers the story of Strobel’s (SPOILER ALERT) conversion to Christianity. He had been an atheist who was employed as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune. He was married, and up to this point in his life, his wife share his atheistic beliefs. A crisis caused her to reexamine her beliefs, leading her to become a Christian.

Strobel finds this unacceptable and embarks on a research project to debunk Christianity. He interviews scholars theology, history, archaeology, psychology, and medicine. On the advice of a Christian, he hopes to prove the resurrection never happened.

Knowing Strobel had to have had some input into the making of the movie, I appreciate his honesty in the portrayal. He was not an easy man for his wife to live with. I was also deeply moved by the scenes related to his father’s death.

As the film ended, I said, (as an apologist) “This is why I do what I do.” It also occurred to me that if he hadn’t become famous, those scholars who took so much time to talk to him might never have known how their efforts bore fruit. It can be hard to work at something if you don’t see the outcome, but that is what we are often called to do.

Kudos to Pure Flix for making a good movie.

The Shack: The Good, the Bad, and the Moinks

The Shack, by William Paul Young has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide since its publication in 2007. It has now been made into a major motion picture. Having heard and read many fine reviews of each, I thought I would see the movie for myself and get a sense of it.

Synopsis

The story surrounds the life of a man named MacKenzie Philips, (not toe be confused with the actress by the same name) who grows up with an abusive father who is an elder in his church. He later marries and has three kids. His youngest, his baby, is kidnapped and murdered. In the midst of his grief he meets God. After spending a weekend with the three Persons, he finally comes to some closure on the death of his daughter, as well as the abusive father. He returns home where he begins helping his family heal.

The Good

The way the Problem of Evil is addressed is well done, pointing out that the creation of free creatures entails the possibility for evil and suffering. Moreover, Mac is forced to admit that when he is the judge he cannot pass his own standards. Additionally, he is presented with a situation in which he must choose for one of his children to be saved and another to be damned. His response is to offer himself, and in so doing he comes to better understand the heart of God for the lost.

The love of God is portrayed in a moving way that can inspire the viewer to love God more. (More on this in the Moinks) The whole story is powerful in its emotional appeal. It is so easy to identify with Mac, to feel his pain, and to celebrate the resolution in the lives of sympathetic characters. Who doesn’t love a story where brokenness is healed and reconciliation is attained. I sure do. I won’t say too much about my own emotional reactions lest I be required to surrender my man card.

The Bad

While I understand that the book on which the movie is based is a novel, make no mistake, the author intends to persuade with the book and the movie. In fact, he has since published a nonfiction book, Lies We Believe About God. Unfortunately, what Young wants to persuade you of is that God does not judge, is not in control, and that hell does not exist, that Jesus’ death on the cross had nothing to do with sin. In fact, sin is not even a thing on Young’s view. Young would also have us believe that all are going to be reconciled to God. No need for faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  (While some have objected to portraying God as a woman, I don’t think that is such a big deal, especially considering the more serious problems.)

The Moinks

“Okay, wait a minute. What’s a moink?” I’m glad you asked. A moink is a bacon-wrapped meatball coated with a glaze. (Ok, I just had to stop typing to clean the drool off the keyboard.) What have moinks got to do with The Shack? Another great question. In the movie, Mac puts strychnine poison in his father’s booze. (The implication is that he killed him, but that wasn’t 100% clear to me unless I missed an important scene.) The point is that Mac at least tried to poison his father by mixing a toxic substance with something his father liked. Likewise, the dangerously bad theology (any theology that suggests that you have no need to be reconciled to God is dangerously bad) wrapped in such a wonderful story is like putting strychnine in moinks. You would die smiling, but you would die.

Really, the danger of The Shack is an illustration of the danger of taking any form of entertainment in uncritically. We must always think through what we consume with our minds fully engaged. The risk of well-made movies is that the viewer is invited to lose herself in the story. When you do that, ideas are presented in a way that can bypass your reasoning faculties, appealing to your emotions in a powerful way. Emotions are wonderful servants, but terrible masters. If you read the book or watch the movie, do NOT turn your mind off. Remember, we are to love God with all our minds.

 

Is Blind Faith “Pure” Faith?

I recently heard someone I respect a great deal state that faith that does not depend on reasons or evidence a more “pure” faith. Is this really the case?

Before I address this, let me state at the beginning here that I don’t think genuine faith is ever blind. I am sympathetic to what Alvin Plantinga calls “reformed epistemology” which is the idea that a person’s belief in the existence of God and the truth of Christianity are properly basic because of the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. This means they are rational in believing, even if they cannot articulate an argument for their truth. To be clear, this is not evidence it is true that is accessible to anyone else. As such, that person’s faith is not really blind.

So what reason might a Christian have for thinking faith without arguments and evidence is more pure than faith supported by reasons and evidence? In Luke 18:17, Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”  Does this mean that since children don’t need evidence and argument, then we shouldn’t either? In the context of this short passage where children are brought to Jesus, the emphasis seems to be on humility, rather than credulity. As Darrell Bock points out, “What is commended in children is their inherent dependence, for they bring nothing but themselves to the feet of Jesus.”1  However, why would children come to Jesus? The text says they were brought to him. A child would come to Jesus because someone they trusted brought them to him. So it would seem that this passage (and its parallels in the other synoptics) do not support the idea that child-like reception of the kingdom is a faith without reason.

Another passage sometimes used to argue against arguments (can’t escape them can you?) is John 20:29, “Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.'” In this passage, “doubting Thomas seems to be getting castigated for demanding evidence that Jesus rose from the dead. (Note the link. I deal with this incident there.) In the context, Thomas was making demands in spite of the testimony of people he knew were trustworthy. In fact, if you go to the next verse, it says, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” Jesus did miracles because they gave evidence of his claims. He made claims about himself of things you could not see, and supported them with acts you could see. If this is unclear, read Matthew 9:2-8, Mark 2:3-12 or Luke 5:18-26. Each of these tells the account of the paralytic brought to Jesus by four of his friends. Jesus declares the man’s sins forgiven, and heals him for the expressed purpose of proving his authority to do so.

Plantinga’s idea refers to Romans 8: 16 where Paul writes, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God…” As such, a Christian can have assurance of his salvation even if he cannot articulate it. However, this assurance can be difficult to articulate to someone who has not experienced it. Moreover, how does the Christian respond to the Mormon who claims a “burning in the bossom” as evidence of the truth of Mormonism? Moreover, when faced with the challenges of skeptics, your children will need the support of reasons why their faith is well grounded.
In 2 Corinthians 10, Paul writes, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God…” This is done by, as Peter tells us, “…in your hearts honor(ing) Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…” (1 Peter 3:15)

Faith that is grounded in nothing more than the inner witness of the Holy Spirit is real faith. It is even rational faith. However, faith bolstered by arguments and evidence is faith that is more stable, and arguably, more Christ-like, and it is more obedient to God’s word.

 

1 Bock, Darrell L.; Bock, Darrell L. (2009-08-19). Luke: The NIV Application Commentary from Biblical Text to Contemporary Life (pp. 462-463). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Is Jesus a Nigerian Prince?

 Why You Need to be Able to Show that the Bible is No Email Scam

            If you haven’t gotten the email, you probably know someone who has:

“I am Mohammed Abacha,the son of the late Nigerian Head of State who died on             the 8th of June 1998… I have secretly deposited the sum of $30,000,000.00 …I am proposing a 20% share of the fund to you for your kind assistance…contact me at once via email with following details:…”

The email then asks for various pieces of information. It is a well-known scam. Everybody knows that responding to the email will not result in a 20% share in this fortune. So, what does this have to do with Jesus?

For many people in today’s culture, when we share the gospel with them, they see it as just another version of the Nigerian Prince scam. If they will only give Jesus their lives, they will receive their “share” of the “fortune.” (Eternal life.). To them, the offer has the same credibility.

“That’s ridiculous,” you may say, “the Gospel is not the same as the Nigerian scam.” I know that, and you know that. However, they don’t. In the culture in which many of us grew up (those of us 40 or over) it would have been enough to show that the Bible supports our claim. However, in the climate of skepticism in today’s culture, to appeal to the Bible is no different than appealing to the email. This is where apologetics comes in. You need to be able to show the reliability of the Bible. Issues we need to be able to address include:

  • Is the Bible we read the Bible that was written?
  • Is what the Bible says true?
  • Why should I live according to the Bible?

 

I address the first issue here.  Unlike Mr. Abacha, for whom we have no background information or witnesses to his character, we have multiple sources for the authors of the Gospel. Furthermore, we have a number of historical facts that only make sense if what they wrote was true.

With respect to the other two, if what the Bible says is true, it follows that we ought to live as such. This is another point in which the Bible is not the same as the scam email. There is no obligation to do what you are asked in the email, even if it was true.

This is what is meant when we say Christians need to able to argue for the Christian faith. It doesn’t mean getting in people’s faces and yelling. It means making your case and presenting your evidence, something that Mr. Apacha fails to do.

 

The Story of Reality by Gregory Koukl: a Review

The Story of Reality hits the market on January 10th. I received an advanced copy.

Author

Greg Koukl is the founder and president of Stand to Reason, a ministry that “ …trains Christians to think more clearly about their faith and to make an even-handed, incisive, yet gracious defense for classical Christianity and classical Christian values in the public square.” Koukl has master’s degrees in Christian Apologetics and Philosophy, and is the author of Tactics: a Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions and co-author with Francis Beckwith of Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air.

 

Synopsis

The Story of Reality is arranged in six parts, for a total of twenty-five chapters. Following an introductory section, the next five parts follow the broad outline of the Christian worldview according to Koukl: God, Man, Jesus, Cross, and Resurrection.

In the Introduction, Koukl argues that Christianity is more than a mere religion, but a full worldview, touching all areas of reality. If a worldview is like a jigsaw puzzle, you can only make sense of it if you use the pieces that belong, and only put them where they belong.

Koukl goes on to note that a coherent worldview tells a story. Like all good stories, the story of Reality tells you what the setting of all of reality is, how we got here, what went wrong, how it gets fixed, and how it all works out in the end, or as the subtitle say, “How the world began, how it ends, and everything important that happens in between.”

Since the claim is that Christianity has the true story, then if this is true, if follows that competing stories are false. Koukl notes two common objections, the Problem of Evil and Christian exclusivism, but that evil is only a problem if the story is true, and likewise, if the story is true, so is the solution in the story.

In Part 1, Koukl tells us the story starts with God because it is about God and his kingdom. God made the world and all that is in it, therefore it is his to do with as he pleases, and is distinct from his creation. Part 1 also addresses the “Who made God?” and miracles objections, and refutes materialism and idealism.

Part 2 deals with Man as a body/soul unity made in God’s image, who then rebelled against God. The problem of evil comes up again in this context, and divine justice.

Part 3 explains how God became man in Jesus Christ, defends his historicity, his nature and his mission.

In Part 4, Koukl explains God’s rescue mission, culminating in The Trade. He then explains how we come to benefit from this.

Part 5 includes a brief, “minimal facts” defense of the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus, and how this gives us hope that we too will be raised to life at the end. This is the hope that helps us deal with the long battle in between. Koukl also presents a defense of the doctrine of Hell as eternal conscious torment. In other words, perfect justice and perfect mercy.

In the Epilogue, Koukl recaps the whole story.

 

Analysis

As a long-time listener to Koukl’s STR broadcast, I was quite familiar with his views on these issues, and his gift for communicating them. This book is like a snapshot of the best of his show with respect to the basics of the Christian faith. Listening to Koukl speak sometimes feels like talking with a favorite uncle, or an old friend. His warmth comes through in this book as well. (Though I can imagine the audio book, which he reads himself, will be even more enjoyable in this respect.)

Koukl is also a very careful thinker, as one might expect from someone with an MA in Philosophy. I have benefitted greatly from his teaching over the last 20 years or so. However, this is what makes a small detail of the book more troubling. (Just an oversight, maybe?) On page 43, Koukl writes “…(the story) begins with a person.” I know Koukl is a strong believer and defender of Trinitarian theology. He later gives a good introductory level explanation of the Trinity. In light of this, it seems odd that he would put this here, leaving the story open to the charge that it is incoherent, believing God is one Person and three Persons. It would seem like a less confusing way to say it might be “…(the story) begins with a personal being.”

That such a small detail stands out so much is an indication of just how good this book is. The Story of Reality is engaging, and well suited to the task of helping people see the big picture of the Christian worldview. Believers can benefit from learning how all the elements of the story fit together. Non-believers can get a sense of the story they are invited to participate in. It is accessible for high school level readers, but robust enough for those with higher levels of education. I cannot recommend this book more strongly.

Get it, read it, and share it.