Reaching Roger

What’s it like reaching someone with questions? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

My friend Roger Maxson has written about his experiences of almost losing his faith and then coming back to it. Part one is here and part two is here. You can also hear the story in my interview with him here and watch it on YouTube here. I figure prominently in the story so I figured, and he liked the idea, that I would write about what it was like on the other end. It might be interesting to some of you to see what this process is like from the end of the apologist.

When I was in Bible College, I found out about apologetics and it quickly became a passion of mine. Most people who knew me knew about it. It’s not a shock that when I go to a workplace I’m told one of my co-workers is also a ministry student and goes to another Bible college. I won’t mention it’s name, but this college was fundamentalist to the core. This ministry student was Roger Maxson.

Roger and I had our share of disagreements and kidding, but we had a good friendship. With our third friend Jeremy, we would often go out into town and visit bookstores or things of that sort. Roger would have probably considered me quite a liberal back then. I mean, I read Harry Potter books! How much more liberal can you get?

Roger and I did have other similar interests. We talked about video games quite often, particularly the Legend of Zelda. We also played Smash Brothers regularly together. (REMATCH AVAILABLE FOR YOU ANYTIME!) Our differences didn’t change our friendship and we would talk about faith matters, but he just wasn’t interested in apologetics like I was (And am).

Eventually, I moved to Charlotte to study at Seminary. We kind of lost touch. I don’t know how. I figured wherever Roger was, he was doing fine. He was a strong Christian after all.

So my shock was strong when I got an email from him and he had a lot of questions and was doubting his faith big time. Many of his questions to me looked like they came straight out of Richard Dawkins. Now on my end, these were simple questions, but I knew Roger well and I knew he wasn’t trying to poke holes in Christianity. He was asking honest questions and no doubt, was hurting.

So I answered them. As he says, I didn’t give one-liners, but I also didn’t give complete answers always. Why would I do that? Because I want to see Roger doing some of the work too. I want to guide him in the right direction. I want him to learn what it means to study. People who really want answers will study. People who don’t, won’t. It’s a simple principle.

Sometimes also, it can be tiring. You open up your email in the morning and see that email from someone and think “Here we go again.” Sometimes you can see that message show up on Facebook and think “Okay. Guess I gotta answer a question again.” Still, it’s what you do and you do it because it’s the right thing to do and if you’re going to work on restoring someone, it requires a serious time investment.

I spent my time then pointing Roger to the great scholars that I had read and he could learn from. I chose to avoid pop apologetics books. I pointed him to the writings of Thomas Aquinas. Like many, Roger did not understand the arguments well and had misconceptions. I was gentle with him on that end. I also never condemned the questions. We should never condemn someone for questioning Christianity. We can condemn how they do it and their motives if we know them to be bad ones, but questions should be welcomed.

This was not a week long effort or something either. I don’t remember how long, but I am sure it was a few months. Sometimes we’d even talk on the phone. Roger could call me if he needed help and I’d answer. If there ever was something I had to take care of, I’d tell him that I’d get back to him or another time he could call.

I still remember one day very well that I went to my email and I opened it up and I saw an email from him with the subject line “Jesus of Nazareth.” I was getting set to answer a bunch of questions. I opened it up and I only found one that wasn’t a question so much as a statement.

He really did walk out of that grave didn’t He?

When you see something like that, it is one of the happiest moments you can ever have. It was also a good reminder for me. Yes. Yes He did walk right out of that grave.

Today, Roger is highly involved in the apologetics community. He is a strong Christian and he is raising his children to be a strong Christian. We communicate regularly still to this day. There are times I’m struggling with something and I turn to Roger and we just talk together. Like Paul with Onesimus, I was separated for awhile but now we have each other in our lives together better than ever before.

Roger ends his post with some matters of application. I’d like to do the same.

First off, I think it’s important to note that Roger and I lived in different states and yet he chose to contact me. Why? Could it be no one in his area could help him? He had to reach into his distant past to find someone? Surely Roger was surrounded by churches everywhere. Why was it so hard to find help? Could it be because the church has neglected this?

Second, we all can rejoice that this story has a happy ending, but what if someone like me hadn’t been in Roger’s life? The thing is, I can’t be everywhere. No apologist can. All Christians should know someone like this that they can turn to. What happens if someone like me isn’t around when a Christian is in need? Would Roger be a fundamentalist atheist today leading your children away from the faith?

Third, don’t give pat answers please. Don’t give one liners. Don’t post a meme as if that’s an answer to an argument. Really work through. At the same time, help the other person think through it. If you want to teach a child math, you don’t tell them the answers. You help them work through the answers so they can get them on their own. Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how and you feed him for a lifetime. Give a man an answer and you save his faith today. Teach him how to find them and you save them for a lifetime.

Fourth, it will require personal investment. If you have the time to address crowds and speak to them, but you don’t have the time for one-on-one questions, then you need to rearrange your time. That one person is immensely important. Sometimes it will wear you out, but it needs to be done.

Fifth, keep in mind Roger was in a Bible College and Seminary program and he had his doubts. If someone like this can have their doubts, how much more your children growing up in Sunday School? Apologetics is not optional today. It is essential. Don’t think good moral teaching and knowing how to exegete Scripture will be enough (Never mind most people after years of Sunday School won’t even know what exegesis is). Young people will need to know why. It’s far better to reach them before they have objections than reach them after they get them.

Sixth, you have to be doing the work beforehand. Roger was able to benefit because I’d been reading all this material for years. Roger knowing that I knew this material well and could answer would show him confidence that I had faced the questions he’d asked and in fact was able to question his doubts a lot more.

Seventh, be patient. Sometimes like I said it is exhausting. We all know times we’ve been talking to people and they can’t seem to see something and we wish we could just grab a sledgehammer or something and beat it into them somehow. It’s not going to happen. Give them time to get there.

Eighth, focus on the essentials. So many of us spend time wanting to defend inerrancy or a young Earth or a global flood or something like that. No. Just start with what is essential. The resurrection. Let anything else be secondary. I worked to keep Roger on topic and not going off on these side issues. They are important, but not essential.

Finally, friendship is a wonderful thing. If you have it, use it. I am sure Roger and I would be friends regardless, but it’s even better being friends in Christ. Do we still have our disagreements and such? Yes. Absolutely, but they don’t matter in the end.

You have Roger Maxson’s all around you. Are you going to be the apologist to reach them?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Science Delusion

What do I think of Curtis White’s book published by Melville House? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

White is really tired of the arrogance of the scientists today. He loves the science, but his big problem is that many times scientists think that they’re doing science when really, they’re not. They will make statements such as Hawking’s that philosophy is dead, then make philosophical statements and not even realize it. Often this is done without a look at all at the great philosophical stances. (Consider how Krauss redefines nothing from the definition understood for some 2,500 years by theologians and philosophers and then blames them for changing the terms.)

One of his favorite examples is when he talks about how scientists say science is beautiful and amazing. White doesn’t argue against this, but what does it even mean? Are these scientific statements? Certainly not. These are statements of a personal opinion that can’t be objectively measured.

I have personally seen this. When I lived in Charlotte, Richard Dawkins came to nearby Queens university and gave a talk on his book The Greatest Show On Earth. His last chapter was all about the beauty of the universe and science. Now I am not denying the beauty of the universe or of science, but I got in line for the Q & A. When I got up, I asked Dawkins about that chapter and asked if he had any metaphysical or scientific basis for beauty.

I suspect most of the audience consisted of atheists at the time who had been throwing softballs and this time, he was flummoxed. He gave an answer that went on various tangents for about three or four minutes and then finally ended with “We don’t really know.” So here we have Dawkins telling an audience about this beauty and he hasn’t really even thought about how this beauty is known.

White also notices that scientists and others regularly use other words without telling about them. It’s just assumed “Well everyone knows what that means.” Consider how Hitchens writes about the life of reason. Sounds good. I mean, we all believe in reason don’t we? Don’t we see atheists having the Reason Rally and the Christmas signs that say “This season, celebrate reason.”? Indeed we do, and yet they never seem to define this word. What exactly is meant by reason? Your guess is as good as mine because it is never stated.

In all of this, White doesn’t want scientists to stop doing science, but he doesn’t want us to lose sight of the humanities. Art and philosophy and other topics are not dead. Scientists have too long put themselves up as the pinnacle of knowledge and others should be silent because “Hey! We’re scientists!” Maybe other fields can pick up some of the scraps, but science is where the real knowledge is.

White’s book is a really good critique of this system of thought and of the scientism of our age. It is a call to not abandon philosophy and art and other fields and to not give pat answers to big questions. Those questions need to be asked even if science is not the answer to them. Perhaps there are some questions that science just can’t answer.

Oh. One more thing. Curtis White is an atheist.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 10/11/2014: Graham Veale

What’s coming up on the Deeper Waters Podcast this Saturday? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

First off, some people have asked about where the podcast is showing up on their ITunes feed. We had to switch carriers due to my last one deciding to drop the show after I disagreed with him on a secondary doctrine. We are now working with the Universal Pentecostal Network and had our first show with them last Saturday, but the process is still having kinks worked out of it and such. Bear with us. I want to get things back up on ITunes as soon as possible.

That having been said, let’s discuss what’s going on. The New Atheism has made itself known in the public square for the past decade and longer. The ideas of atheists have really gone public, but unfortunately, the new atheists have put forward a lot of heat but they really haven’t put forward very much light.

There have been many books addressing them. One such book is The New Atheism: A Survival Guide. We’ll be meeting with the author, Graham Veale and chatting with him this Saturday from 2-4 PM EST.

Graham Veale photo

The following is Veale’s information about himself:

Graham Veale is co-founder of saintsandsceptics.org, a web ministry for apologetics. A theology graduate of Queen’s University Belfast, he has been teaching religious education for 15 years in Armagh, Northern Ireland. He and his wife, Nicola, are parents of two children. With a particular interests in the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, and the design and moral arguments for God’s existence, Graham is author of the book New Atheism: A Survival Guide.

On the show, we’ll be discussing everything from science and religion to what to do about pasta. Yes. There is actually a topic discussing the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It’s quite amusing to realize that atheism has come to such a level where this kind of argument is put forward and it is supposedly seen as a valid one.

Definitely science will be a topic of discussion. Is it true that if you become a scientist, you must reject Christianity? Or on the other hand, if you are a Christian, should you avoid science? It’s my opinion that both of these are highly errant positions and when we present a dichotomy between the two worlds, we do a disservice to both of them. It ends up only feeding the false notion of a warfare going on between science and religion.

The new atheism has arrived of course, but what kind of impact will it have? Too many Christians have been unprepared for this, especially those of our youth who are going off to college. We cannot faithfully serve Christ to the fullest without being aware of the strength of the foundation upon which our worldview is built. That’s why I’m thankful to have books out like those of Graham Veale and I look forward to his appearing on my show this Saturday to talk about it and I hope you will be a part of it as well.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Book Plunge: New Atheism: A Survival Guide

What do I think of Graham Veale’s book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

newatheism

First off, my thanks to Graham Veale for having me sent his latest book and the interest of being on my podcast to talk about it. Having said that, let’s get straight to the book.

The new atheism has come, but already, it’s starting to look like a flash in the pan, which isn’t really too surprising. If anything, this has been a benefit to Christianity and an embarrassment to atheism as numerous writers have written works critiquing the new atheism which is incredibly easy to critique. If you want to see a lot of empty rhetoric with little or no research of the ideas that are being argued against, just pick up a book by the new atheists. (And yes, sadly, that does apply to some works of Christian apologetics as well. No problem saying that.)

Graham Veale has added to this and the benefit of his work is it deals with a lot of the latest incarnations that have come about. For instance, there is a chapter dedicated to dealing with the idea of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It should be an embarrassment to the new atheists that this is really considered an argument. I can’t picture writers like Kai Nielsen, J.L. Mackie, and Antony Flew before becoming a theist using arguments like this. 

The next chapter is about science and the problem with scientism, the idea that science is the only way to establish what is true and if anything is true about reality, it must be scientifically true. Veale rightly points out that it is not the case that scientific explanations and theistic explanations contradict. They can work together and for the early pioneers of science, they indeed did.

From there we go to Dawkins and the problem of a big big brain. He starts off writing about the Courtier’s Reply, which should be a reply that simply shows the massive ignorance of the person giving it. It is a result of what I call “atheistic presuppositionalism.” The idea is that we know these other stories are nonsense, such as leprechauns and fairies, and God is in the same category. But that’s the very question under discussion! Is God nonsense like the others? You don’t demonstrate that by just asserting it. You demonstrate it by interacting with the best your opposition has to offer. 

From there, we move on to design. Now I’m not going to say anything about the design argument insofar as it is the design argument. I don’t hold to it in the ID sense, but I do think it’s important to point out Dawkins’s hilarious claim that if this universe is designed, then its designer must be even more amazing and thus, He must be designed. This is the point of the big big brain in the title. Dawkins treats God as if He was a physical being with a physical brain and thus having a designer. This is certainly not the God of Scripture, nor of Aquinas, nor of most any Christian theologian throughout the centuries but hey, evidence. Who needs it? If this is what you think your opponents believe in, well you don’t need to show that they do by actually researching them. Just make assertions!

This is also one way I know that when Dawkins wrote his critique of the five ways of Aquinas, that he never read Aquinas himself. If he had, he would have known the very next chapter was on divine simplicity. Now you may think that idea is nonsense and makes no sense. So what? That is the idea that Aquinas held to and has been the traditional idea for centuries. If you want to argue against God, you must argue against the idea given you and the data given you. You don’t get to make up your own idea. (In some circles, this is known as a straw man fallacy)

The chapter after this deals with the moral argument mainly as a way that we know right from wrong. While I do not think the argument from a personal experience that’s also presented is the best argument, for some people, it does count as data. I could say it is certainly a part of our experience that needs to be explained.

We move on then to questions of miracles and who Jesus was in the eyes of His contemporaries. This is the main chapter that focuses on the resurrection which is absolutely essential. I do think Veale has done some excellent interaction with some of the latest scholarship and that includes the scholarship that is not friendly to his position. He interacts with the ideas of Second Temple Judaism using sources like Hurtado and Bauckham as well.

Next we move on with a section on the Insider Test for Faith. This is certainly a response as is said to an atheist who would love to be mentioned.

Anyway, the point of the Insider Test for Faith is asking from an internal approach if theism does explain the data well that we have. Now this would of course not prove that theism is true, but it would at least demonstrate that it is coherent and if it is to be true, then it must certainly be at least found coherent. (Incidentally, it’s hard to not read the story about holocaust denier David Irving at the start and laughing when you get to the end of it.)

The last chapter is about how the Gospel is for all people. This also deals with the problem of evil and rightly points out that the solution to the problem of evil is the Gospel. Now some might be hearing that and thinking that it means accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior answers why God allows evil. That’s not what’s being said. The answer to evil is that God is reclaiming this world and reshaping it in Christ and that includes evil.

I don’t agree with all Veale says in this book (I don’t think Jesus was honorably buried for instance) but those points of disagreement are mainly on secondary matters. I do find the style to be engaging. If you have read much on the new atheism on both sides, you might not find much new material here, but if you’re looking for an engaging one that deals with style as well as “arguments”, you should enjoy this one.

In Christ,

Nick Peters