Book Plunge: Seeing Through Christianity. Part 7

What does it mean to have faith? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s been awhile since I’ve done Zuersher’s book, which is mainly because having to review stuff like this after awhile feels like pulling teeth, but I think we need to get into it again. Today, we’re going to be looking at one of the favorite topics. Faith. This is one new atheists and internet atheists always get wrong. It won’t be a shock that that happens again.

We’re not disappointed. Right at the start Hebrews 11:1 is quoted and then we’re told that this is a substitute for evidence and admittance to Heaven. This is interesting because first off, heaven isn’t even mentioned in Hebrews 11:1. One could say the rest of the chapter does speak about looking for a heavenly city and such, but the notion is not equivalent to our whole going to Heaven when you die idea. Second, I faith is not seen as opposed to evidence and this is something I have written more about elsewhere.

Zuersher says the definition above means accepting something as true despite their being insufficient grounds. Of course, Zuersher could have bothered doing some actual research on the topic, but alas, that is too difficult. It’s better to just place faith in the new atheist mantra.

For Zuersher, this means faith is arbitrary. A person can have faith in anything and no one person’s would be better than another’s. Of course, this only happens to work if the claim is true about what faith is. It is not. One wonders that if this was what faith is, why do we even have the New Testament at all?

When asked what determines faith, Zuersher points to where we’re born. There’s no doubt that if you’re born in Iran, you’re more likely to be a Muslim or if you’re born in India, you’re more likely to be a Hindu, but there are also noted exceptions. Many people do convert even at the threat of death. Do they do so with no reason whatsoever?

What about what we believe scientifically? If you are born in a third world jungle that is pre-scientific, you might think the sun goes around the Earth and that evolution is bogus. You’re much less likely to think that if you are born in America. If you are born in Alaska as an Eskimo, you’re much more likely to think that blubber of sea animals is part of a healthy diet. We could go on and on.

We have the quote of Tertullian on how it is to be believed because it is absurd, but it is bizarre to think that Tertullian was opposed to evidence. His claim was rather that this is believed because no one would make up something this ridiculous. It was a turnaround on Marcion thinking that the claim was ridiculous.

Zuersher also says that according to John, Jesus was with the disciples for three years and yet needed better evidence to believe in the resurrection and asks “Do we not deserve equally compelling evidence?” Well, no. Why should you? What is so special about Zuersher that he deserves a personal appearance from the Almighty? (One is sure he’d chalk it up as a hallucination anyway.) Zuersher instead discounts the account as hearsay, despite the claim being from an eyewitness in John 21, something Bauckham makes a compelling case for in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. (Don’t expect Zuersher to go look for counter-evidence. It’ll challenge his faith too much.)

Zuersher also says faith is a problem because it elevates belief over conduct. As long as you believe, that’s all that matters. Has he never read the book of James?! Has he never read the condemnations of wicked practice in Paul, the one who would be seen as the great apostle of faith? In fact, Zuersher in this very section quotes James and yet ignores what he says about works and faith together. Zuersher paints apologists as saying that no one is good enough, which is true, but then that means that good and bad conduct don’t really matter. Where is the apologist that is arguing this please Zuersher? Please show him to me.

Zuersher then says that to turn belief into a salvific credential while denying a person’s conduct is morally repugnant. I agree. Would he please point me to the apologist who is saying otherwise? I know hundreds if not thousands of them. I don’t know a single one who would disagree.

Naturally, Zuersher does not understand Pascal’s Wager which he goes after. Pascal is not presenting this to the person as a reason to believe without evidence. He’s talking about the person who’s sitting on the fence and could go either way and just isn’t sure. Pascal says if you’re just not sure and think there’s evidence on both sides, go with Christianity! At least you have a gain there. We see he does not understand this because the wager does not tell you which god or goddess to believe in. It’s not supposed to. It’s for a specific kind of individual in a specific situation. I may not really agree with the wager, but I can easily wager that Zuersher has never read Pascal.

Sometime soon we will return to Zuersher. As one can see, it is difficult to read someone like this who actually thinks he’s informed enough to write a book on the topic.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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

Deeper Waters Podcast 3/26/2016: Gary Habermas

What’s coming up the day before Easter? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

This Easter, churches will have their usual overflow of people who have come to church to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Many will celebrate it, but few will think about it. It’s a shame because the resurrection is not just any event. It’s the most important event of all and if it happened, it is definitely world changing. On the other hand, if it didn’t happen, that is also, unfortunately, world changing. Everything stands or falls on the resurrection.

This Easter then, I decided to see if a good friend of mine would be willing to come back to the show to talk about the resurrection. He was more than willing to. In fact, he told me he was going to study this topic just in preparation for being on my show. That’s so nice. This Saturday, I will be again interviewing none other than Gary Habermas. Who is he?

Habermaspic

Gary Habermas (Ph.D., Michigan State University) is Distinguished Research Professor and Chair of the Department of Philosophy at Liberty University. He has published 40 books, half of them on the subject of Jesus’ resurrection, plus more than seventy chapters or articles in other books, plus over 100 articles for journals and other publications. He has also taught courses at about 15 other graduate schools.

Gary Habermas is considered the leading authority on the resurrection and he is also the personal mentor of Mike Licona, who he wrote The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus with. He has written more on this topic quite likely than any one else out there and for those interested, he is currently writing a massive magnum opus on it. His Ph.D. was done the topic as well.

Not only that, for those who are doubters, Habermas is the guy to go to for you as well. Habermas has done extensive work on the topic of doubt and helping Christians who find doubt so troublesome. This isn’t just doubt of “Is Christianity true?” but also the doubts that Christians can have about their relationship with God. “Did I really say the right words?” “Am I really a Christian?” “How do I know I’m not just fooling myself into thinking I’m a Christian.”

Habermas will be my guest for a two-hour interview so expect me to go everywhere I can with the resurrection and try to ask the hardest questions that I can about it. After all, there are a lot of attacks on this one and indeed, there should be. This is the point where Christianity stands or falls and this is where our defense needs to be the toughest. I tell Christians to not marry their Christianity to anything else except the resurrection of Jesus. That is where it stands or falls.

Please be watching your podcast feed for the latest episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast. I hope you have a wonderful Easter Sunday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. He is risen! He is risen indeed!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Some Thoughts On Doubt

What’s a Christian to do with doubt? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out?

Recently, my father-in-law Michael Licona had an article show up where he was interviewed about doubt. Mike has been a very upfront person about the doubt that he has in life. We’ve had many discussions on visitations around times like Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’ve also known him to be very helpful when I meet people who struggle with a very deep doubt. He’s learned well from his mentor, Gary Habermas. I’d like to share some of my own thoughts on doubt to go along with his.

First off, Mike and I are very different people. Mike is a constant second doubter and I would not doubt he is much more emotional than I am. It takes awhile for me to be emotional, but when I am, it is intense. There are many people who think I am just cold, which is not really accurate. My wife would be the first to testify otherwise that I am a very sensitive fellow in many ways. Of course, this is important because there will be varying ways that people experience doubt.

Second, one mistake I think many Christians make in the area of doubt is that they think they have to have an answer for everything. Well in reality, you won’t. Mike and I could both defend the resurrection, but if it had to be one of us doing it, I’d hand it over to him. If it came instead to something like the arguments for the existence of God, he’d let me handle that one. Too many Christians think they have to have an answer to every question and know everything about every subject, but if you try to be a jack-of-all-trades, you’ll wind up being a master of none and just have a shallow knowledge that is easily exposed.

Third, one of the ways to better deal with doubt is to not run from it. It is to face it head on. This is often what we try to do with negative feelings. We try to suppress them instead of trying to face them head on. Now of course, when dealing with really negative feelings, you might need the help of a good therapist. When dealing with doubt, you might want to get the help of those who know more than you do. (You essentially will in any case since that will require that you read the best books that you can.)

I really recommend trying to read both sides. When you come across an objection that’s a really good one in your eyes, look into it. Also, try to avoid just looking on the internet for answers. In the age of the internet, anyone can be seen as an expert just because they have a blog or a web site. Now does that mean you should treat me seriously? Well that’s your choice, but certainly not like a scholar at this point. Please definitely avoid a web site like Wikipedia. One of the best tools you will find for your situation is really just going to a library and doing the research there.

Fourth, while you deal with your feelings, it’s best to try to not focus on them. Mike talked in his interview about not feeling the presence of God. This is another way where we’re different. I cannot describe my own Christian walk as one of regularly feeling the presence of God. This seems to be normative to many Christians that you’ll find in a church service, but I do not think I am alone in my own way of thinking. The great danger is that if this is made to be what every Christian is to experience, then what happens to the Christian who through no fault of his own and no lack of devotion to God does not experience such a thing?

The reality is you cannot make yourself feel something. If we could, we would make ourselves feel happy all the time. We can’t. What we can do is try to think things that could bring about a sensation of happiness. I often get the concern when we want freedom from anxiety or just a good feeling, we come to God and want Him to do that for us, but we don’t come to know Him for Him at those times. It is what is known as morally therapeutic deism. This is like a man who consistently comes to his wife because sex feels really good for him (As it does for any husband), but he just isn’t interested in coming to her for her. This is something we must be careful about in our Christian walk.

Fifth. as hard as it can be, try to not listen to your emotions. This is one reason you talk to people outside of yourself. They can see past issues that you might not see past because you are too busy listening to your emotions. You could also try writing down your arguments you are experiencing mentally and asking if B really follows from A. There are many cases where we think A, and then we just jump ahead to Z from that point on.

Finally, it’s important to note that we usually want absolute certainty and that can rarely be found in anything. When I meet someone who cannot be wrong in anything that they think, I often wonder why I should think they are right in anything that they think. Doubt should not be seen as a disease, but rather a chance to get further growth and a natural part of our learning cycle. In fact, I have more concerns about a Christian who never doubts what they believe. If you do not doubt it, you are not seriously thinking about it and if you are not seriously thinking about it, you’re just not taking it seriously.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Defend The Faith Day Three

What happened at the third day at Defend The Faith? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Today was the last day of the conference for us. Not because it’s a bad conference or we just want to go home. Not at all. Allie just has a women’s retreat that she had booked months ago before we ever heard about the conference and she has to be home so we can take her to that. Still, I will make tomorrow’s post and Friday’s about the conference. Unfortunately, my guest for Saturday on the show had to cancel and I figure it’s both my Mom’s birthday and I have to pick up Allie from the retreat, so why not just have some time of rest?

The day started with David Calhoun giving a version of Lewis’s argument from reason. This one has some points that are not exactly found in Plantinga. It also doesn’t depend on your stance on if evolution is true or not. The only one it says is not likely true is purely naturalistic evolution. If you have a theistic evolution of sorts, then your position is still safe.

The next session was one of Tom Gilson speaking on a new twist on the quadrilemma he has come up with, according to Dan Wallace. His approach is to look at Jesus as the person of impeccable moral character and also all-powerful and asks how hard it would be to imagine the typical illiterate fishermen created such a character. My description cannot do the argument justice so I recommend you click the link and check it out for yourself.

After a lunch, Allie and I went to a breakout session of Tom’s again. Let me mention at this point to please be praying for Tom with a foot injury he has. In this talk, he talked about missions and apologetics. This was one of the best sessions I attended as we talked so much about what the average college student believes today. They have misconceptions about love, sex, they’re relativists, they’re naturalists, they are experiencing freedom for the first time, they lack a sense often of obligation or responsibility, and usually they rely on Google scholarship.

Of course, this is a generality, but much of it applies in various degrees to American college students. This is our mission field. We are no longer living in the 1950’s. It was the discussion in the classroom that made this one so great. Tim McGrew and Tom were usually together and Tim was sitting in the audience for this one and he had a lot of good things to say.

Next we went to a talk by Sarah Ankemann on morality and making a case for absolute morality. Might I say at this point also that it’s great to see more women getting involved in apologetics? It’s usually a man’s field, but we need both sexes to be involved. A lot of interesting discussion came about in this one as well and we do plan on having Sarah come on the show in April to discuss autism since she has a son on the spectrum.

Then came my time to speak. I spoke on Gentlemen, We Are At War. I had a full classroom so much so that some people came in and left. The audience was entirely receptive and I pointed out the dangers that are usually faced on the internet. More people need to learn how to deal with popular internet skeptics and various theories like Christ mythicism and the pagan copycat idea. Many people in the audience thanked me for the talk which was incredibly warming to hear and humbling at the same time.

After a dinner, Tim McGrew and I again spent some more time working on Bayes’ Theorem together. I’ve said before what a great figure Tim is and I mean it. In fact, when I saw him last tonight, I had to give him a hug again, and I think it was a sad moment for both of us. I think we’ve both enjoyed getting to connect with each other and it will always be a special memory. We’re both hoping we can do it again next year.

But you need to know the final talk was Gary Habermas. He spoke on emotional doubt and while it’s a talk I’ve heard several times before, I always hear something new in it. If you struggle with doubt, I really urge you to go to this web site and listen to his talks on the topic and also download two books he has for free on the web site. They will be a great help if you apply them.

That’s all for now. Tomorrow Allie and I head back, but it’s been a great time here in New Orleans. We really hope we can come back again next year!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Blessed Assurance

What do I think of this book by Pastor Eric Douglas? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

blessedassurance

Eric Douglas sent me a copy of his manuscript “Blessed Assurance” for a review. It’s a work meant to help the Christian out who struggles with the question of if they are truly “saved” or not. The book is a relatively short read. You could probably read it in a couple of hours and it depends on exegeting select verses from 1 John to make the case.

I do think Douglas is in the right with much of what he says. I do agree that there are many people who have several good actions, but they have no commitment to Christ. These are the kinds of people who are talked about in Matthew 7.

On the other hand, there are too many people who “prayed a prayer” and their life shows no devotion to Christ whatsoever and they just want to look back at an event and say “Yeah. I’m good” and then move on from there.

This situation unfortunately happens in many of our churches where we have placed an emphasis on conversion and have not placed one on discipleship. In fact, dare I say it, but if we placed more emphasis on discipleship, it could be that books like Douglas’s wouldn’t need to be written. I am glad that they are. I am just saddened that they need to be.

I do think Douglas has a sound approach to 1 John, though I probably wouldn’t hold to the same views as many evangelicals, such as I do think apostasy from Christ is possible. I’ve seen too many ex-Christians to think otherwise.

I also do think that Douglas does get right the kind of worrying that people in this situation go through, with a fear of Hell, and of course, it’s usually in this case a strong fundamentalist interpretation of Hell. (To which, again, more discipleship is the ultimate answer overall.)

I also agree that doubt should not be seen as an enemy. I like how Douglas in the book stresses that we need not run from questions like “Does God exist?” or “Is the Bible true?” or “Did Jesus rise from the dead?” Douglas is certainly right to say this doubt can lead to a greater commitment to Christ when we follow through and do the research!

So where do I think improvement needs to be made?

I think there could be more said in response to passages like the Matthew 7 “Depart from me. I never knew you.” People in the position of doubting salvation usually see themselves as the exception to the rule. They might say “Well Pastor Douglas, I think you’ve certainly made your case, but you know, if Jesus will say that to anyone, it’s going to be me.”

The first way I’d deal with this is getting people to realize that while their feelings and emotions play a role in the Christian life, they are not a determiner of if one is saved or not or even if one has the love of God or not. In fact, I would contend that the true Christian is often one who serves not only when the feelings are not there, but when the opposite feelings are there.

For instance, in marriage, when we feel a great love for our spouse, it is very easy to serve and adore our spouse, but when our spouse has done something to really annoy us, it is very difficult to love and serve them, and yet that is what we are required to do anyway.

In our Christian walk, we are guaranteed to go through all the phases. There will be times where we delight in serving Jesus and there will be times that that is the last thing we want to do. The question is not how we feel, but what is our duty, what are we called to?

The second way is I’d point out that 99.9% of the time that when I meet someone who is worried about their salvation, I can rest assured they already have it. The reason that they care so much is because of the purpose Christ has in their worldview. A lot of times people want to debate the question of eternal security. I say just make it simple. Just trust Christ and you don’t have to worry.

In conclusion, I think Douglas has taken care of the Scriptural side, but I think in a future addition, I’d add in a bit to deal with the side of the emotions running away with the reason as that is the root of the problem. An excellent resource on this can be found in the work of Gary Habermas on doubt. You can get two of his books for free on the topic at his web site of GaryHabermas.com.

I do think this work can help those who are struggling as I’ve said. I’d just like to see more expansion on dealing with the emotional turbulence that such a person is going through at the time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 7/13/2013

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

I’m not a Calvinist. I hope none of you stopped reading at that point, though I suspect some might. I have many Calvinists who are good friends of mine and we never make it an issue whatsoever. There has never been a debate about it. On the other hand, I have known some Christians in the public eye who are Calvinists and make everything be about that and have a high air of superiority about them.

However, there are also some who, like my friends, are incredibly humble and Christlike in their demeanor and I am proud to call them a friend. That’s why I am especially honored to get to have one such friend be my guest on the Deeper Waters Podcast this Saturday.

Some of you might be familiar with Credo House ministries. My guest is C. Michael Patton from there. He writes also at the Parchment and Pen blog. It is a Calvinist blog that I as a non-Calvinist am happy to say that I feel just fine posting in and not having to be on the defensive with my position.

What I like so much about Michael is that he is a very down to Earth individual. You don’t get any nonsense from him. He is often a voice of reason in any debate and has a real heart for helping people who are struggling with theological issues.

When I have read a post from him on a controversial issue, even if I have not agreed with everything in it, I have found it to be a fair outlook. For instance, I have been pleased to see a post that he has done on the subject of Halloween and how he thinks that Christians should be responding to it.

The approach one gets from Michael is that he seeks to be a real Christian but he also seeks to be a real human. He’s all about bringing the issues down to the man on the street and giving an objective look at them and isn’t just going along with the crowd.

A more recent work that he did that I was quite happy with was on issues that don’t make or break Christianity. There were a lot of people disagreeing with him when he wrote about inerrancy and the inspiration of Scripture not being essential. Michael has held his ground. He talked instead about meeting an atheist and telling them he was going to forget about inerrancy and just went to 1 Cor. 15 instead and the approach was quite effective.

Michael will be joining us then to talk about what goes on in Credo House and to deal with these kinds of issues. We will also be discussing the issue of doubt as Michael has a real heart to help people who are struggling with doubts concerning the Christian faith and about their experiences as Christians.

I urge all of you to listen in to this podcast with my guest and friend, C. Michael Patton. The link to where the show is broadcast from can be found here.

Call in number to ask Michael your question live is 714-242-5180. Show time is 3-5 PM EST this Saturday!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Why Do You Doubt?

What makes people doubt Christianity? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

A friend recently sent me an article by Peter Enns where Enns talks about the question of doubt and wants to know why Christians doubt. Doubt is a topic I’ve experienced a lot of familiarity with and take seriously. Most people know about my relationship with Gary Habermas and Mike Licona, both of whom have been very forward about their experiences in dealing with doubt. Both of them are also excellent scholars in their field.

This post is not going to deal with how to deal with doubt at this point. I’d just like to talk about what the problem is. This will also go to both sides of the spectrum. It can be why non-Christians doubt that Christianity is true, but it can also be about why believing Christians doubt that Christianity is true. This will be specified more in future posts.

Doubt is very common amongst Christians and in fact amongst anyone. If someone has a worldview and they never experience any doubt of their worldview or never have before, then that person is simply not taking their worldview seriously. Doubt is not a sign of a problem necessarily, but in fact can be a stepping stone to a greater understanding of one’s own worldview and if one has a wrong worldview, motivation to change it.

Generally, doubt falls into three categories. This does not just apply to Christianity. People can doubt any worldview for these three reasons.

The first is intellectual doubt. Intellectual doubt is usually seen as the most common, but in reality, it isn’t. Intellectual doubt can often be a smokescreen. A great way to find out of if intellectual doubt is the problem is to answer the question and see what kind of response you get. If you get a response that starts with “But what if?” then you are most likely dealing with emotional doubt.

Intellectual doubt is really the simplest of all to treat. The way to answer intellectual doubt is to just get more information. It means you go to the local library or bookstore and start getting out resources and doing the necessary study so you can learn. If one is never satisfied by such study, one needs to move on and see if there is another reason for doubt.

Emotional doubt is the next on the list. This is the one I’d say is the most common and is rooted not in reason, but in the emotions, although it often takes the guise of reason. Blaise Pascal spoke of taking the greatest champion of reason and suspending him on a platform of sufficient size over a huge chasm. Watch what happens as his imagination overtakes his reason.

This is the cause of phobias. For instance, if someone is afraid of flying, it will not matter if you quote to them all the statistics in the world on it being safer to fly than it is to drive. They will not be able to see it because of their emotions. This includes myself as well until I finally took my first flight and now I simply adore flying. One aspect I enjoy of going on a long trip sometimes is that I get to fly again.

Emotional doubt happens when what one feels overpowers what they think. For instance, one could say they don’t think atheism is true because life would be meaningless without God. I by and large agree with that, but that is not a reason that atheism is not true. It could be atheism is true and life is meaningless.

This is especially problematic since emotional responses are usually the reason we believe many claims. I think of the old hymn where it says “You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart!” Such a reason will not convince a world any more than the Mormons talking about the burning in the bosom convinces you. If a Muslim tells you he knows in his heart that Muhammad is a prophet, you are not going to be convinced.

Emotional doubt also goes with false expectations. When we expect God to provide certain feelings and that the Christian life should be a certain way, we will naturally have doubt if this does not happen. We can be guilty of wanting something that God never promised. There will be more on this later.

The problem of evil definitely falls into this. Evil in itself can never prove Jesus did not rise from the dead, nor does it disprove theistic arguments. These stand or fall on their own. Evil does give an experiential basis for doubt. It hits so close to home that it is a problem that needs to be addressed. The problem of evil is often addressed intellectually, which is really as an academic subject the way it must be addressed, but when dealing with someone affected by it deeply and presently hurting from it, one absolutely must touch the emotional side. I have often told people who I have taught that if you’re ever a pastor at a church and a woman comes to you from your congregation whose son just died in a car accident and she’s crying asking why God allowed this to happen, that if you turn into a philosopher and/or apologist at that moment, I will come over and smack you. Yes. She will need that, but at that present moment, she just needs to grieve. She needs a pastor and a counselor first. When the shock has worn off, then you can handle the intellectual difficulty. (Note that it is far better to deal with that intellectual difficulty prior. All Christians need to get an answer for evil in their mind beforehand.)

The final kind of doubt is volitional doubt. I have no doubt some Christians doubt atheism and some atheists doubt Christianity for these reasons, and they are the worst. It is not about a search for truth at all or seeking to not have emotions control reason. It is about not wanting to believe.

For instance, someone could not want to be a Christian because they have a sin in their life, such as rampant extra-marital or pre-marital sex, and they know becoming a Christian means giving that up and they don’t want to. Sin is a reason a number of people can refuse to become Christians. Some of you reading might say “That’s not me!” I contend only you and God know the answer to that one. If you are doubting Christianity, at least make sure this is not the reason why.

After all, suppose you think God is the most wicked being who ever has been. If Christianity is true, that won’t change the fact that He exists and that Christianity is true. It could mean you have a wrong view of Him and that false view of Him is blinding you from seeing Him as He is. There are some who have said they would prefer to go to Hell instead of being in the manifest loving presence of God. The sad reality is God is ready to grant them their wish. Instead, I recommend trying to see why God acts so different from what you expect. There is no doubt some emotional thinking in volitional doubt, but this kind of doubt deals more with the will. An emotional doubter can want to believe. A volitional doubter doesn’t want to, and it will require changing the will, a much harder process. Anyone who has overcome an addiction or tried to lose those few extra pounds on a diet should know this. You have to work to change what it is that you really want.

These ultimately are the broad categories of why doubt takes place. Over time, I hope to be able to look at these and give recommendations on dealing with them.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A Dude With Doubt

How can you help some real dude with doubt? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I was sent this today by someone who was hoping to see if I’d respond to it. I do aim to please. Let me state at the start that I am not a professional counselor or psychologist, but I do know that doubt is something serious and can be affected by any number of things.

For instance, if your health is not in the best state, you could be more prone to doubt. If you have just undergone a traumatic event, you are more prone to doubt. Some medications could alter your mind and make you more prone to doubt. It could be a lack of sleep or eating the wrong thing or any number of things. Of course, it could also be receiving really hard objections to what one believes.

Doubt is extremely common among all people. People who have never doubted what they believe are people who have not taken it seriously enough. I wish that more Christians were forthright and honest and saying that they were wrestling with doubt. When I meet someone who is doubting and fearful his faith is not true, I want to celebrate. This is someone who is taking his faith seriously.

Unfortunately, too many are not doing that, especially pastors. Our pulpits are filled with pastors who have not studied the reasons why they believe what they believe. Their sermons are just calls to ethical principles and feel-good messages about how much Jesus loves you and won’t it be great to get away from this old sinful world?

In the link above, unfortunately, I don’t have much information. I don’t know this guy’s medical history. I don’t know his educational background. I don’t know what he has going on in his life. Therefore, I really do not have as much to go on, but I’ll take some of what he says and see what we can gather from it on dealing with doubt.

“When you start doubting the faith, there are days when you just wake up in a state of unbelief. ”

This is certainly true, but what I’m wondering is what was this guy doing with his doubt? We are often told by well-meaning counselors “Read the Bible and pray.” This is an insult to God, the Bible, and the person being counseled. Now this is part of the process I agree, but it is not the whole deal. Prayer and Scripture are not meant to be magic cures.

For instance, let’s suppose intellectual doubt is there. It won’t help intellectual doubt to read a book that you’re intellectually doubting. This is especially the case if there’s emotional doubt. After all, emotions have a way of overpowering reason and the person in the state can interpret everything in a negative light. We’ll see that this is what happens to the dude in this story. (And I keep saying dude since the blog is “SomeRealDude.” It is not meant as disrespect.

“Usually something will set it off, but in my case, today I simply woke up unbelieving.”

Absent from this is any mention at this point of an evaluation of the evidence. I have a suspicion that this was more of a felt position than a thought position. This is my suspicion because too many people in the world today use the words “think” and “feel” as if they’re synonyms. For instance, the Christian who says “I don’t feel like God is leading me this way.” We often judge moral commitments on the basis of feeling. In our marriages, love has been seen more as a feeling than an attitude and commitment.

If this kind of change can happen just by waking up one day, then can we really see this as a case of examining the evidence and pondering it? I would not even want it to be the case that someone just wakes up and becomes a Christian. I want Christians with solid foundations.

“I was in a funk most of the day because of this and right before lunch, I had some time to quietly sit at my desk. I began to get sick to my stomach as I processed the implications of my 5 hours of unbelief. I considered the potential damage it could do to my marriage, my daughters, and the friendships I have developed with so many wonderful Christian people through the years and my eyes began to well up with tears.”

All understandable, but also largely emotional, which causes me to suspect a lot of emotional doubt behind the intellectual doubt. Note also the person is panicking about their condition. Last night, I counseled someone who was doubting and told them to not panic. Doubt is not the end of the world. Doubt is common and if all you want is truth, then what do you have to fear if you find it?

“After work, while driving home, I listened to a podcast show by Robert M. Price where he showed just how ridiculous Joshua’s long day really was. Upon briefly researching an apologetic answer to this, I found this link where the author argues that the writer/redactor of Joshua was using modern phenomenological language to describe the movement of the sun across the sky. The problem is, the Hebrews actually believed that the sun traced across the sky in the hard dome of the firmament. They didn’t believe that the earth rotated, they believed, as far as we know, the exact opposite. After Dr. Price explained this, I thought to myself, “Yep, more malarkey. Its no wonder I woke up not believing this stuff. Talking donkeys . . . sun standing still in the sky, geesh, I can’t believe I have seriously believed these ideas for so long. Man, this is the stuff of fairy tales.””

As you can imagine, I have great qualms with considering Bob Price a reliable source. I also wonder why this guy was wanting to listen to Price. Note also that in his search for an answer, no books were cited. It was just an internet source. Is the desire to save faith not even sufficient enough to go to your local library and study up on it?

Some sources on the internet of course point to books. An example can be found here. Please note that at the start of the argument, the arguer gives FIVE different explanations for this. Five of them! Our dude has heard one and deemed it insufficient. Personally, I agree in many cases. Too many apologetics arguments can be weak and contrived.

Note also something else lacking. There is no argument against miracles. There is just an assumption. Miracles are obviously ridiculous if there is nothing outside of the universe and all is the result of material interactions, but that is the point under contention. Is that the way the world is?

Another point to consider is there is nothing about the resurrection of Jesus. It’s as if to say that because I have a problem with an OT passage, that means Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. This is all-or-nothing thinking that would be unacceptable anywhere else, but people seem to think works just fine with religion.

Part of this is a hang-up over Inerrancy in our modern world. There are some Christians who think that if there is one error in the Bible, nothing in it is true. If you can prove the Bible is wrong about how many horses Solomon had, then Jesus didn’t rise from the dead! The case for the resurrection needs to be taken on its own. We are not trying to get people to believe in Inerrancy, but to get them to believe in Jesus.

“After coming home, getting a good meal and then spending time with the kids, and then briefly contemplating to write this article, I am exhausted but not as discouraged as yesterday. I almost feel as if my unbelief was exhausting and depressing during the first half of the day but quite a relief during the latter half. Yes, I know, I’m a mix of emotions; but what do you expect when you wake up an agnostic about the Bible you’ve believed, preached, defended, and formally studied and counseled others with for almost 20 years?”

How much formal study has gone on? I don’t know. How much reading? I don’t know. The author’s not mentioning of books I find problematic and his reasons for abandoning Christianity are not centered on a disproof of the resurrection. Of course he’s a mix of emotions, which is not the time to be making a decision like that. Sit back. Relax. Go see a movie and enjoy yourself. When your mind is clear, sit down and really examine the evidence. By all means, examine both sides. Then make a decision that will be rational and informed.

“Not perceiving the sustaining work of the Spirit today,

Some Dude”

And this part makes me wonder as well. What is it the Spirit was supposed to do? I see nothing that tells me the Spirit is to protect us from doubt. I mainly see the Spirit leading us in sanctification based on our own study of Scripture. Too many Christians seem to think the role of the Spirit is to make them feel good emotionally. This is not the case.

Personally, I wouldn’t mind chatting with the dude and seeing what’s going on. Naturally, this will be left on his post. If he wishes to engage, he is free to.

In Christ,
Nick Peters