The Problem of Evil – Part 2

The Argument Formalized

Sometimes it is useful to formalize an argument in order to work through it. The argument we have presented already can easily be placed in such a form as follows:

a) God is all powerful
b) God is all loving
c) God knows that evil exists
d) Evil does exist
e) Therefore, God does not exist

What we can see here is that the first three premises seem to describe a being that knows evil exists, wants it to go away, and is able to make it disappear. Therefore, the introduction of the fourth premise, that evil actually exists, seems to form a contradictory state of affairs. That is, the seeming conclusion is that if evil does exist then it is logically impossible for a being described by the first three premises to exist. If this is the case then it is indeed a problem for Christians!

The Weight of the Problem

Although it should be apparent it is worth clarifying that the Problem of Evil does not simply claim that it is most likely the case that the Christian God does not exist based on the preponderance of evil. Rather, it boldly asserts that such a God as described in the Bible cannot and does not exist. In other words, since God and evil cannot both exist, and evil does exist, then God does not exist.

It is at this point that the average Christian may simply write this problem off as irrelevant. After all, for him it is clear that God does exist and so any argument which seems to dispute God’s existence must be invalid and isn’t worthy of discussion. Furthermore, this Christian may be quick to remind the unbeliever that we believe in God based on faith[1], not on logical arguments. For as God transcends everything, even our understanding, any argument that disproves God’s existence can simply be ignored as coming up short in relationship to God’s transcendent nature.[2]

What is particularly ironic about this situation is that the Christian in this example has made use of a very specific logical truth (that a contradictory state of affairs cannot exist) in order to justify a dismissal of the claim that the existence of the God of the Bible (along with evil) is a contradictory state of affairs! He has made a practical use of logic in ignoring this problem thereby implying that logic is necessary in some situations but unnecessary in others. To be consistent, the Christian must confront this issue head on in a logical manner.

Furthermore, although this Christian may be able to satisfy himself that no problem exists, it is the unbeliever (who doesn’t already believe in God) who is presenting this challenge to the Christian. Therefore, it is the unbeliever who can rightly[3] say that God logically cannot exist, based on this line of argumentation. In fact, it is very possible that the Problem of Evil, if not properly dealt with, may be all it ever takes to keep an unbeliever from coming to Christ.

Next time we will look at the most common solution to the Problem of Evil and see why it fails.

— BK

[1] It is indeed the case that our belief in God is one that is based upon faith – the Bible itself is very clear about this. However, Christians must pay attention to and deal with claims that even a faith-based belief in God is illogical.

[2] I recall a slogan that a local Christian College used to tout. It said “Don’t Think Logically, Think Theologically”. Now although there is benefit in some sense to this catchy phrase, there are too many believers today that take it literally, choosing to ignore reason entirely, and cling to the Bible purely on faith alone (something the Bible doesn’t even tell us to do.)

[3] By way of clarification, I do not mean that the unbeliever is objectively warranted in continuing in his or her disbelief based on this argument. Rather, I am saying that this argument makes sense to the unbeliever, based on their existing assumption that God does not exist. It provides them with enough reason to cease from adopting a belief in God.


Zoroastrianism, Part 2

The contributors to http://www.choosinghats.org/ make an apparently radical claim: People cannot know anything if God has not revealed Himself to them. Certainly then, people cannot know God without revelation. Our epistemology is revelational; we start with the presupposition that God has spoken and stay there throughout our thoughts and actions. Finite, fallible, sinful humanity can know nothing of God apart from His revealing Himself to us, hence Christian apologists who desire to move from some would-be autonomous position to the conclusion that God exists engage themselves in futility. Likewise for those who wish to prove the existence of some non-existent god like Ahura Mazda of Zoroastrianism. We therefore set forth the challenge to religious unbelievers to prove to us the existence of their gods while noting that they have not the slightest opportunity to get anywhere if they do not start from something which claims to be a revelation of their god. Framing the challenge in this way significantly narrows the field of what people may consider “competitors” by virtue of their alleged revelational epistemologies. There are few world religions that even claim to have anything like what the Bible is to Christianity. Zoroastrianism might be counted among the few, but the claim is easily shown to be incorrect.

Zoroastrianism teaches that Zarathustra received revelation from Ahura Mazda to be given to humanity. Thus, we understand the nature of the challenge to Christianity stemming from this religion. Unlike most other religions of the world, Zoroastrianism claims to have divinely inspired texts. Discrepancies between secondary literature on the subject of Zoroastrianism abound, likely due to a lack of information pertaining to the history of the religion. Zoroastrianism is often presented as having so many parallels to Judaism, Islam, and Christianity that it is considered by many to be the predecessor of the “big three”. The “many” just mentioned may especially include students sitting in history and religion classes. Special mention may be made of a messianic figure called Saoshyant, an “Armageddon-like” final battle, a bodily resurrection, a final judgment, and a heaven and hell. Again, many historians of religion believe Zoroastrianism to be the source of other religions sharing these themes. However, it should be pointed out that parallels amongst religious literature are often exaggerated and disappear upon closer inspection. In any event, parallels do not prove borrowing, and even if they did, the direction of the borrowing would not be clear. Attributing the origin of other belief systems to Zoroastrianism is a difficult move to defend as may be inferred from the aforementioned discrepancies in secondary literature stemming from a lack of knowledge regarding the religion in its historical context. Zoroastrianism is certainly not monolithic and has changed over time. Likewise there have been various sects of teaching within the religion. Zoroastrian doctrine is full of complexities, and questions about the origin of particular doctrines is extremely unclear. That is, we simply do not know enough to make judgments about when the specific doctrines listed above actually appeared in Zoroastrianism. They may very well have been borrowed from Christianity, for example.

The lack of information discussed above is apparent in current accounts concerning Zarathustra, the “prophet” of Zoroastrianism who is said to have delivered a unique revelation from Ahura Mazda to his people. Zarathustra, or “Zoroaster” in the Greek, is considered to be Ahura Mazda’s prophet. “Zara” means “yellow” and “ushtra” means “camel”, however “ushas” means light and hence later followers of the teaching of Zarathustra referred to him as the “Golden Light” or “Shining Star” rather than the earlier “yellow camel”, which would likewise have carried a sort of sacred significance because of the status of the camel in Zarathustra’s time and culture. (Camels were considered a necessary and significant part of everyday life and sacred.) Traditions concerning the life of Zarathustra are contained in the Pahlavi Denkard and the Zatspram. Both documents came into existence long after the death of Zarathustra, the former being contained in late commentaries and the latter being written in the ninth-century AD by a high priest of the religion.

Sometime between 2000 and 1500 BC mass numbers of Aryans brought their ancient polytheistic religion to present day Iran (“land of Aryans”). These religious teachings involved the worship of divine beings (daevas) and rituals, most all of which were opposed by Zarathustra, who acted as a kind of religious reformer. For a taste of what the Aryan religious practice may have been like one need only look to India, the present day home of Hinduism, a religion which was early on based largely upon Aryan religion once the Aryans moved to northern India.

Zarathustra lived between 1500 and 500 BC, probably about 1200 BC in Azerbaijan province in Northwest Iran, although he may also have lived on an oasis in Eastern Iran near Afghanistan. This second possibility is brought to our attention by linguistic and archaeological evidence. The later traditions about Zarathustra’s life already mentioned claim that he began his reformation of religion when he was thirty years old after he had visions of Ahura Mazda and received the god’s message for humanity in its entirety. No one believed Zarathustra for ten years, with the exception of his cousin, who converted. At some point the supposed prophet managed to anger religious leaders enough to be thrown into prison where he somehow was able to convert King Vishtaspa, who is known as Hystaspes in Greek. This was accomplished through healing the king’s horse upon spiritual or religious conditions being fulfilled by the king. Most of what has been retold here is according to the late tradition mentioned already.

Let us not forget that the details of this alleged prophet’s life are at best exceedingly unclear. In fact, what we know the most about are the teachings he left behind (at least according to legend and tradition), which we will examine in future entries. Zarathustra primarily promoted Ahura Mazda as the supreme god and condemned all of the other deities or daevas worshipped by the Aryans and company. Likewise the people themselves were condemned along with their rituals; with the exceptions of the drinking of haoma juice and rituals involving fire. A dualism of good and evil was also given a major role in Zarathustra’s teachings.

The foundational sacred writing of Zoroastrianism is the Avesta, which as far as we can tell was comprised of roughly 22 books on history, medicine, law, and liturgy. These pieces were written in Avestan, the rare, archaic language related to Sanskrit but written in modified Pahlavi characters. This language is extremely rare…so rare in fact that the Avesta is the only example of it we have. Add to this that only a small part of this work survived; the rest is believed to have been destroyed by Alexander, a rather plausible part of Zoroastrian legend. A portion of the Avesta is called the Yasna, which contains 72 chapters of prayers and liturgy. In the middle of the Yasna is what is what is really significant for our purposes, the Gathas. Here one will find hymns written in an even older dialect of the strange Avestan language. These hymns are believed to have been written by Zarathustra himself and make up about fifty pages. There were later Zoroastrian texts written in a much more modern Persian language. One example is the Sad Dar, which means “One Hundred Doors”. It was the first Zoroastrian text known to the West through its being translated into Latin, which did not transpire until 1700 AD.

Is this really the story of a prophet of the true God? I should think not,

a

nd I hope the reader would agree. The religious scholar and the historian are always running up against a thick darkness which encircles this ancient religion. Little is known about it as far as specifics go. Alleged parallels with Christianity could have been added in at virtually any time. While a divine inspiration of sorts is claimed for the Avesta, we know little to nothing about the so-called prophet who delivered this message, and worse yet, we know virtually nothing about the message itself! If Ahura Mazda exists, and if the god intended to deliver a message to all of humanity, he did a horrible job of it. There is nothing like preservation in Zoroastrianism, the texts have been destroyed with the exception of one book. Ahura Mazda is apparently incompetent. Remaining texts of the religion are commentaries and such and are not considered divinely inspired like the lost books of the Avesta. At best we possess about 50 pages of hymns written in an obscure language that may have been originally composed by an Iranian man whom we know almost nothing about!

If Ahura Mazda was the one true god, then he failed miserably in accomplishing what he set out to do, for humanity cannot know what he had to say to Zarathustra. Later interpreters and commentators are our main source of information regarding tenets of Zoroastrian belief and practice. As the series continues we will look at some of the specific teachings of Zoroastrianism and why they spell doom for the truth of this unbelieving, anti-Christian system of thought.

Scriptures of the World’s Religions
James Feiser, John Powers
McGraw Hill, New York, NY 2004

Patterns of Religion
Schmidt, Sager, Carney, Muller, Zanca, Jackson, Mayhall, Burke
Thomson Wadsworth, US, 2005


The Problem of Evil – Part 1

The Problem of Evil

One of the most common complaints against Christianity is the Problem of Evil. This particular complaint has plagued Christian apologists for literally thousands of years. For as long as evil has existed in the world, mankind has questioned why a God who is seemingly able to rid the world of such pain and suffering, does not choose to do so.

It was the18th Century Scottish philosopher David Hume who popularized the Problem of Evil to the world as “proof” that God does not exist; at least the Christian God of the Bible. But even if Hume had not popularized this issue within philosophical circles, it would still be a problem for Christians to deal with, for no one who has been a Christian for very long has avoided being cornered by a non-Christian who is looking for a solution to this problem.

Why is the existence of evil considered to be a problem for the Christian? To understand, we must first consider the attributes of God – attributes which, when combined with the existence of evil, seem to create a contradictory state of affairs.

The Omnipotence of God

First, God is claimed to be all-powerful, or omnipotent. This is not only a view that is held by a great majority of Christians, but it is one that is easily supported from the Bible. An omnipotent God is one who is able to do anything [1]. This is the very God who is described for us in Jeremiah 32:17 –


“Ah Lord GOD! behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee …”

If God were truly omnipotent, then he would be able to get rid of evil if he desired to. If God actually has creative and providential control over the universe (more specifically, the world we live in where evil exists), then he would have been able to create a universe where no evil existed, or he could choose to rid the world of the evil that most certainly does exist. The fact that he does not logically moves us on to consider another attribute of God – his omnibenevolence.

The Omnibenevolence of God

Next, God is claimed to be all-loving, or omnibenevolent. He is, in fact, claimed to be love itself. Again, this is a view that is held by the majority of Christians, and that can be supported from the Bible without difficulty. By way of example, we find the following claim in 1John 4:16 –

And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.

If God were truly omnibenevolent, then he would want to get rid of evil if he were able to. If God truly were loving in all that he does, and we assume that evil is not something that a loving being desires, then the logical conclusion it would seem is that God would want to make sure that no evil existed. But evil does exist, and so we are once again drawn to another attribute of God – his omniscience.

The Omniscience of God

Finally, God is claimed to be all knowing, or omniscient. Although fewer Christians ascribe this attribute to God than those who believe in his omnipotence and omnibenevolence, it is a view that still seems to be held by the majority of Christians. [2]

If God were omniscient, then he would know for certain that evil exists. Although most mainstream Christians hold this belief, it is actually not necessary for the formation of the Problem of Evil. Although this view would indicate that God is aware of every single evil action that takes place, he would only need to be aware of one such action in order to be placed in the position of deciding whether or not he will take action to stop future occurrences of such evil. Although a belief in God’s omniscience seems to make him all the more culpable, it is not necessary to the argument of the one who is condemning Christianity.

(continued in an upcoming post …)

–BK

[1] More specifically, an omnipotent God is one who is able to do anything consistent with his nature. It is not a being who can do just anything at all. The favorite puzzle that is leveled against God’s omnipotent is the question of whether God can create a rock so large that he cannot move it. The answer to this is no, but such an answer does not negatively impact God’s omnipotence. Rather, it is consistent with the fact that God is unable to actualize a contradictory state of affairs. By way of another example, God is unable to lie (Num. 23:19). This does not reduce God’s omnipotence – rather, it is indicative of the fact that God is constrained to his truthful nature.

[2] Whether or not omniscience can be supported from the Bible is a view that is currently being discussed in many articles and books. It is specifically the view of Open Theists that God does not know all future contingent events (events based on the choices of man). Supporting God’s omniscience is well beyond the scope of this paper, but as we will see, is not even necessary to believe in omniscience in order to be forced to deal with the Problem of Evil.


A Conversation with “Blast”

The other day I had a very interesting conversation with an unbeliever in an IRC discussion room I frequent. I wanted to share it here because I think it is a fairly good representation of how to put the presuppositional method of apologetics into practice.

The conversation lasted about an hour. There was no repentance – no conversion – nothing remarkable like that. In fact, I heard later that the individual “Blast” might not have even been genuine in his side of the discussion. No matter, I think that God was glorified as the gospel was shared and it was demonstrated to “Blast” (albeit in a rather limited manner) in a presuppositional manner, that God is the foundation of morality.

Click HERE to read the conversation

— BK


The Myth of Neutrality

Is it important to be taught in a distinctively Christian way? Does it make a difference to know Christ first before knowing the “facts”? Our first study in the Always Ready Study Group (ARSG) was focused for the most part on the idea of “neutrality.” This is easy for Christians to accept when it comes to “spiritual” issues: as a sinner either you trust in the work of Christ, or you accept the full wrath of God as punishment for your sins, but when it comes to mathematics, history, and science that’s different…right?

Truth: Correspondence or Coherence?
In Van Til’s book A Survey of Christian Epistemology, he talks about the theory of truth. On the one hand, you have those who claim that we can know a fact is true when we can verify that it matches reality “out there.” This is the Correspondence Theory of Truth.

On the other hand, you have those who claim that we know a fact is true when we understand and can explain that fact in relation to all other facts. Van Til uses the example of a “cow.” What is a cow? It is an animal. And what is an animal? It is a living thing, and so forth. We can follow this train of reasoning to see that we don’t understand a cow, an animal, life, and inanimate objects, unless we understand them all together and in relation to each other. This is the Coherence Theory of Truth.

Those are the non-Christian understandings of Correspondence and Coherence anyway. As Christians we can say that we hold to a theory of truth that has elements of both of these theories, and is closest to the Coherence Theory, but the Christian understanding of “coherence” is different. We see the problem raised by the Coherence Theory of Truth to mean that we cannot understand a cow, an animal, life, or indeed anything in the Universe unless we understand everything, and this means that only God can fully understand any fact. We then conclude that a fact is true and justified if it corresponds to God’s knowledge, and if we understand it in the way that God understands it in coherence with all other facts.

So, Christian School or Not?
Let’s come back around to our original question. Do mathematics, history, science, etc. need to be taught in a distinctively Christian way? The answer is: Yes. There is a qualitative difference between a Christian and non-Christian understanding of the same fact, and it comes down to the Christian understanding of the Coherence Theory of Truth. A non-Christian understands the War of 1812 as a random conflict that occurred when the will of one nation rubbed against the will of another, and sees nothing more to it.

However, a Christian understands (and seeks to understand) the War of 1812 as an act sovereignly decreed by God as He providentially guides history for His purposes, and must do so to understand it fully and correctly. If we’re missing that piece of the story, then we misunderstand the whole thing.

Similarly, the non-Christian struggles to explain how the abstract world of mathematics makes contact with the concrete world of reality. Why is it that we can use mathematics to build bridges and skyscrapers? The Christian sees mathematics as part of the whole orderly creation designed by God, and held together by the power of His word. Again, we see a fact in relation to all other facts in the Christian framework.

So we see that even if we set aside differences in the content of knowledge (i.e. the Christian knows the fact of the trinity, but the non-Christian does not) and method (i.e. the Christian understands the Bible as truth and the standard of truth, but the non-Christian does not), there is still a qualitative difference between the way a Christian and non-Christian understand the same fact. This is what we mean when we say there is no neutrality, and this is why we must say that a distinctively Christian education is necessary.


A Study of “Always Ready” – Part 1

Yesterday afternoon (or yesterday evening, depending on whether you live in Norway or not) the four of us here at Choosing Hats conducted our first Study of the book “Always Ready” by Dr. Greg Bahnsen. For those unfamiliar with the book, this is really the seminal work in presuppositional apologetics. Although the book doesn’t go down too far into the details, it definitely gives enough to get started with.

We thought we would try out a little experiment with this study, and so decided to record our conversation. Since we all live in different parts of God’s great big world, we relied upon “Skype” to bring us together into a virtual room for this study. We will eventually make a podcast out of this, but for now, just click on the link below to hear our study.

Skype-recorded Audio of Study

By the way, please feel free to leave any comments or questions you wish after listening to the audio. We would love to hear from you!

— BK


In the Church but not of it…

Sometimes it is as if no matter where I go, I cannot cease to be in the world.

Duh.

Where else would I be? Now, certainly I could lock myself up in my house or my closet…maybe move to Phoenix, Arizona and be an ascetic (oh wait, people actually LIVE out there!), but for the most part I am going to be in the world. That is not the difficult part of the little cliche, “We are to be in the world, but not of it”.

Being in the world does not mean living ungodly, saying stupid things, mutilating your body, becoming a pragmatist, accepting the world’s standards, or any other such nonsense. It is not that difficult to be in the world, really, unless you are a complete hermit.

As Christians, we are not to be of the world. We are of Christ. All throughout Scripture we find two diametrically opposed views of the world: Christian, and Non-Christian. Read it for yourself and see. There is enmity between the woman’s seed and the serpent’s seed. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, fools despise it. You either hear Jesus or you are of the devil. The cross is wisdom and power or folly and weakness. You are saved from the wrath of God or you are condemned. There is no middle ground.

The sad thing I see happening in the best of churches and in Christian institutions is Christians rejecting the only standard we have to make sense out of anything, the Word of God. Now, I realize you are becoming bored reading this, for it is nothing new. There is nothing new under the sun, this is true. I am nevertheless shocked to hear the sorts of things which will follow coming from Christians who have been in the church for years and in some instances are leaders of large ministries and schools that are supposed to be orthodox.

Apologetics has been known to bring awful heresies into the Church in the past, and things are no different now from what I have observed. I am wearied by poor apologists, who will not simply give the Word of God its place.

For example, I listened to one discussion between the head of a Christian school and an atheist organization. The minister started the discussion with the idea that it is possible God does not exist and that it is possible that the Bible is not God’s Word.

Just think about that for a moment. Guess what? It gets much worse.

He called this “common ground”. Now, if you share “ground” in “common” with someone, then I would presume you are both on it, that there is something there which both parties believe. Is that not what the analogy is intended to convey? So what was the “common ground”? It was that the Bible is not inerrant. How can it be common to both parties if this man believes differently? This makes no sense!

Now I brought this to the attention of a student of this man. The replies I received almost knocked me out of my chair.

“But, you also cannot assume that a non-believer is going to use a believer’s text to believe.”

“You cannot use Christian ideas to persuade an Atheist to become or at least even see logic in being Christian. You have to use Atheistic ideas to show them how there is a possibility that there can be a God.”

“The problem comes when trying to get others to believe your beliefs.”

“You cannot get someone to see your viewpoint on an issue using your viewpoint on the issue.”

“[W]hen approaching a person that does not even believe that God exists, it would be ludicrous to present Scripture to them because it would be only words and no meaning.”

“Not everyone consciously realizes that God exists.”

“I just do not see how it is effective when the person does not believe that it is inerrant. It is hard for a person who does not consciously believe in God to believe that the Bible is His inspired Word.”

Are there alarms going off in your head? There should be. I read this sort of stuff and pray, “Oh God, what have we done? Who are we? Forgive us!”

We have left the Word of God and inserted our own. If the very Word of God cannot convince or persuade someone to become a Christian, then what can the poor words of other human beings do? What foolish thinking! I am not proposing that we become like the Mormons, telling people to only believe for the sake of believing, or that we should not have an apologetic. What I am proposing is that our “apologetic” has become an obstacle to the very things we seek to defend!

Read the Word of God Christians, and believe it!

It is not ineffective:

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4.12)

It is not ridiculous to present it to the unbeliever. Even when Paul was on Mars Hill speaking to the atheistic philosophers he used Scripture:

The God that made the world and all thing therein, he, being Lord of heaven and earth…giveth to all life, and breath, and all things. (Acts 17:24, 25)

He was paraphrasing the following passage from the Old Testament:

Thus saith God Jehovah, he that created the heavens and stretched them forth; he that spread abroad the earth and that which cometh out of it; he that giveth breath unto the people upon it…(Isaiah 42:5).

There are no true atheists, people who do not believe in God:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is *plain to them*, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been *clearly perceived*, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are *without excuse*. 21For although *they knew God*, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. (Romans 1.18-23)

Plain to them

Clearly perceived

So much that they are

Without excuse

They knew God

Scripture is clear. Our common ground is not the teaching of the world! We are not to be of the world, though in it we must be. Our common ground is that this world, not the system run by Satan, but the physical creation, is God’s, and so are we. We are created in His image, all of us. This is our “common ground” with the unbeliever. There is no other. We have His powerful Word, which is true and loud and clear. Use it.

May we not make the mistake of letting those who are not of Christ pollute our thinking with theirs, whether it be in our thinking about the Word of God or anything else.


Zoroastrianism, Part 1

At base, there are only two worldviews, Christianity and non-Christianity. There are numerous instances of texts of Scripture which give rise to this understanding of worldviews. Of course, within the realm of non-Christian thought there are many manifestations of the non-Christian worldview. For example, Islam and agnosticism are two different manifestations of the rejection of the Christian worldview. These manifestations are what people typically refer to when speaking of worldviews. This may serve to raise some interesting discussions about the terms we use when describing the aforementioned entities, but for now we will set this issue aside.

A frequent objection to the presuppositional method of apologetics is that it does not take into account the necessity of answering questions concerning other religions as opposed to atheism. There is a small bit of truth in this only because presuppositionalist apologists have traditionally focused the vast majority of their energies upon going after the “atheist worldview”. However, stating this is a long way from conceding that somehow presuppositionalism is inadequate to deal with “religious” manifestations of the non-Christian worldview. Such a concession is unnecessary not only due to its falsehood, but also because no other method is sufficient to take on the challenge of non-Christian religious worldviews. What other worldview would we stand upon? What do classical and evidentialist apologists, who speak of probability and hypotheses and “establishing some of the alleged attributes of a general concept of god” have to offer in terms of responding to religions that share the very doctrines they are supposedly able to establish through reason?

The point in bringing all of this up is to establish that we need not fear answering non-Christians of any type while standing upon our Christian worldview. We do not flee from religious sects, nor do we suddenly turn about and cease to utilize our sound methodology. Rather, we follow the same procedure of showing that our God of the Christian Scriptures alone provides the preconditions for any intelligibility whatsoever and that all manifestations of the suppression of the truth of God fail to render anything intelligible upon their own presuppositions.

Recently I was asked how I might approach the ancient religion of Zoroastrianism. Since there are only just over 100,000 Zoroastrians in the world, I presume that the question was asked primarily as a means to uncover a specific example of how to deal with false religions via presuppositionalist methodology. There are only a handful of geographical locations in the world where one might come across someone who adheres to Zoroastrianism. Such questions should nevertheless be asked in order to see our apologetic in action in more specific contexts than what is offered in most current literature on the subject. Thus, the question and answer have practical merit. Aside from this it is worth noting that Zoroastrianism has long been taught about as being strangely and strongly parallel to Judaism and Christianity and as predating the latter two religions. These assertions are sufficient to raise questions and doubts in the minds of some believers. Indeed, raising doubts would seem to be the intention of many texts and teachers of this subject as it is with so many other secular philosophies imposed upon students through allegedly innocent, neutral academics.

So how does one deal with the challenges presented by Zoroastrianism? The general answer is that we approach it in the same way we approach any other version of non-Christianity. We shall set Christianity as a whole over against Zoroastrianism and see which is intelligible on its own terms. This procedure will involve a study of the concepts of revelation, God, humanity, sin, redemption, etc. The specific answer to the original question is the content of the next few installations pertaining to this subject. I hope to see you there.


What’s in the queue?

At the suggestion of Paul (Paul seems to have a lot of suggestions), the contributors to this blog will be starting a weekly discussion of presuppositional apologetics, centered around the book “Always Ready” by the late Dr. Greg Bahnsen.

The reason I mention this here is because we are planning on recording the audio from these discussions in order to post on the site. It is our hope that the questions raised and problems tackled in our discussions might be of use to others who frequent this site.

On another note, Paul also had the idea (see what I mean?) that we should organize a conference for Presuppositional Apologetics. I completely agree. Having never organized a conference before (let alone my office), I can see this as a real opportunity for “lessons learned”. We will rely totally on God’s grace as we pursue this venture. We also would ask for your prayers as we figure out the best way to approach this opportunity.

— BK


A Study In The Nature Of God’s Word (Authority) – Part 2

The nature of faith and knowledge

Some of you might complain about my goal to demonstrate the Bible as inerrant. You might say “Brian, doesn’t the Bible speak about faith? Isn’t that how we are supposed to approach Jesus Christ – on faith? Isn’t all of this discussion about ‘proving this’ and ‘demonstrating that’ simply unnecessary, based on what the Bible says about faith?” After all, we don’t know the Bible is inerrant, we just have faith that it is, right?

Well there is no doubt that scripture speaks about faith and belief. However, are we supposed to have faith yet never give any reason for that faith? Definitely not! In fact, the Bible speaks of more than just faith – it speaks about knowing things. Let’s look at 1 John 5:13:

“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (NIV – emphasis mine)

Let me read it again, this time from the message, which I think makes the meaning that much easier to grasp

“My purpose in writing is simply this: that you who believe in God’s Son will know beyond the shadow of a doubt that you have eternal life, the reality and not the illusion.”

John is stating that the reason he is writing is so that we who believe in Jesus as our savior can know that we have eternal life. He is telling us that the words he is writing are intended to give us certainty about our future. Now catch this all important fact – John is in essence telling us that the revelation of God, the very book he is contributing to as he writes, is sufficient to turn our faith into knowledge!

Now let me say this clearly so that we don’t miss it – if the Bible is inerrant, then what John is telling us here is that the very words of God revealed in scripture are able to move us from belief to knowledge. His revelation is just that powerful!

So how is this possible? Well, we need to take a moment and talk about the difference between belief and knowledge.

Can all beliefs be considered knowledge? No, I think we know that without thinking too hard, right? I might believe that it is dark outside, but I could be wrong. I have been known to be wrong, after all!

Knowledge is belief on steroids, if you will. Knowledge is something much more powerful than just belief. Knowledge is actually true belief with a reason to back it up! Let me illustrate.

Consider the following two statements:

1) I believe that the Bible is inerrant

2) I know that the Bible is inerrant

I am sure you already recognize the difference in the “force” of these two statements. But let me make it a bit clearer for you, just to be sure.

Consider these two statements:

1) I believe that the Bible is inerrant

2) I know that the Bible is full of mistakes

Now, I think most of us realize that the second statement is much stronger in what it says than the first, especially when we see it worded in such a way as to contradict the first. The conclusion found in the first statement could theoretically be wrong, after all. To say you believe something is not to say it is necessarily true – it is only to say what you believe. However, to claim to know something is to claim that what you are stating is actually true. The first statement makes no claims about truth, but the second one does

We use the word “know” all the time in our every day conversation. In fact, we use the word very loosely most of the time. We say we “know” something when we really only “believe” it, although we might believe it very, very strongly.

Not too long ago the news reported that JonBenet Ramsey’s killer had been caught. Do you remember? A man named Mark Karr confessed to her killing. I remember people saying to those who doubted the news reports “I know he killed her!” When questioned as to how they knew, they replied “because he admitted to it!” Ask yourself this question – did they really know, or did they simply believe he did it? What they should have said was “I believe Mark Karr killed her”, or maybe “chances are pretty good he killed her”. After all, a confession is not a good enough reason to convict someone of murder.

And that’s the key word here, after all –”reason.” What separates belief from knowledge is the existence of one or more good reasons. If you told a group of people that you know there is a flying saucer hovering overhead right now, you can bet they are going to want a really good reason before they accept what you are saying, right? After all, the simple assertion that there is a UFO overhead isn’t a good enough reason to accept it as true. Is it?

It shouldn’t surprise us, then, that the Bible has something to say about giving reasons for our beliefs. We have already seen that John has told us that we can know where we will spend eternity, if we believe in Jesus Christ. And we have just seen that knowledge requires a good reason, or else it is just a belief. Consider now what 1 Peter 3:15 says.

“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (NIV)

Wow, look at that! As Christians we are commanded to be prepared with an answer. What kind of answer are we to have? We are to have an answer for the reason for the hope that we have. The Greek word for “answer” there is apologia, which is where the word “apologetics” comes from. It means a “reasoned statement or argument”.

So there it is – we are to be prepared with a reason for why we believe what we believe. Why? Because giving a reason is how we demonstrate, to others and to ourselves, that we know that the Bible is true. Providing a reason is how we move from faith alone directly to knowledge about God’s word.

Where knowledge comes from

Does the Bible give us any reasons to claim it is inerrant? What possible reasons could there be in the Bible that would give us the warrant to claim that we know the Bible is free from error?

Before answering that question, we must first consider the Biblical perspective on the source of knowledge. Unless we understand the Bible’s claims about what is necessary to know anything, we can never hope to formulate any sort of argument for claiming that we know the Bible is inerrant.

First, let’s consider Proverbs 1:7a.

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (NASB)

Now if the Bible is inerrant (and we are assuming that presently for the sake of argument), then fearing God is the first step to knowledge. That is, we cannot know anything at all without fearing God.

What do we mean by fear? Well, the Hebrew word for fear in this verse is yir’ah {yir-aw’}, the most applicable definition of which means to respect and revere God. That means we must hold God up and bow our knee to him; we must respect him for who he is if we hope to know anything. In short, God must be the foundation we rest upon in giving reasons for what we claim to know. Intellectually, he must be our ultimate authority.

Next, let’s look at Colossians 2:1-3

“For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at La

od

icea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face,
2that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (NASB – emphasis mine)

Now that’s a pretty long passage, but catch what it says at the end. Jesus Christ himself is the very center of all wisdom and knowledge. Knowledge finds itself in Jesus Christ. Now that’s kind of a strange idea, so let’s skip ahead to verse 8 of the same chapter as this will help us understand a little better what is being said.

“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” (NASB)

Here we see that we are not to live our lives according to the philosophy of the world. Rather, we are to live our lives based upon a philosophy that is according to Christ.

It will be helpful for you to go back and read all of Colossians 2 at some point, including the verses between 3 and 8. For now, however, consider verse 8 in light of verse 3. Paul is telling us here to live our lives according to Christ, as wisdom and knowledge itself are found in him. That is, these treasures of wisdom and knowledge are found when we live our lives according to Christ.

Sound familiar? Remember Proverbs 1:7 from above? The starting point of knowledge is reverence for God. To put it another way, knowledge is not available to us unless we begin with God as our intellectual foundation.

Just like we are to center ourselves on God in a pursuit of knowledge, we are to center ourselves on his son Jesus Christ. Our philosophy (that is, our way of viewing the world around us) is to be centered on God and his son Jesus Christ, understanding that our very ability to know anything at all begins with putting God in the position of our intellectual authority.

This is a very important point to capture, because it answers the question of inerrancy for us.

The question of how we know the Bible is inerrant is ultimately tied to the question of how we know anything at all. The reason we can know the Bible is inerrant is the same as the reason we can know anything at all. But before we talk about what that reason is, we need to talk about the foundations of knowledge.

And we will take this up next time!