Book Plunge: Why Christianity Is Not True Chapter 3

Do we have a problem with evangelism? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We’re going through David Pye’s book again and looking at chapter 3 on evangelism and eternity. I consider this chapter to be a weak argument for what it sets out to prove, but hard-hitting for the content. I am still really considering sharing this in some Christian groups to get us all to remember why we do what we do.

At the start, Pye says that Christians believe someone is either a Christian or lost by default. I think it is more likely they are, but there is the question of those who never heard and Christians have different answers to that. My answer is that God will judge us based on the light that we have. The judge of all the Earth will do right.

Pye goes on to say about evangelism that

Both the evangelistic crusades of the past and the Alpha course of today are, I believe, significant evidence against Christianity being true. If Christianity were true we would expect to see Christians integrating into their lives what they say they believe – sharing the Gospel with their relatives, friends, neighbours and work colleagues. In which case neither the Evangelistic crusades of the past nor the Alpha course of today would have been necessary.

This is a giant non sequitur. Let’s consider how we could put this in a logical form.

Christians are supposed to evangelize.
Christians do not evangelize like they should.
Therefore, Jesus did not rise from the dead.

There are any number of reasons why Christians do not do this, many of them bad. Also, keep in mind that knowing what it is we should do doesn’t seem to lead to us doing it many times. Many of us know about diet and exercise from our doctors, but we don’t do it. Many of us know that we are to treat our neighbor better, but we don’t do it.

If you want to show Christianity is not true, you have to show that Jesus did not rise. You can show Christians aren’t following their marching orders, but that only says something about Christians. It doesn’t say anything about Christianity. Keep in mind that Pye bases this on what he sees in the U.K. There is nothing about data in third world countries, especially those where doing evangelism can lead to execution.

From here, Pye goes through a list of reasons why people don’t evangelize. One of the first ones is that they want their lives to be the witness. I agree that this is a flimsy excuse. Some people do that and no one ever asks them anything. You have to lead a radically, radically different life for this to work.

Generally, in face to face relationships, I try to get to know the person first and then try to weave my way into any openings. I’m not as good at face to face which is why most of my work is done on the internet. There is a fine line. You don’t want to be obnoxious where people think you shove Christianity down their throats, but you don’t want to be totally silent so people have no clue you’re a Christian.

The second reason is that some people say God hasn’t called them to evangelize. I think this is weak as well. Do you have the Great Commission in your Bible? That’s part of your marching orders. I agree with Pye that it is tiresome to hear people talking about doing what they feel called to do or led to do, this without any Scriptural warrant.

I used to attend a church and when the offering would go around, the pastor would say “Give as you feel led.” Part of me wanted to be sarcastic and put a penny in and say “That’s what I felt God was leading me to give.” I suspect I would have been told I wasn’t listening. Just because we have the Holy Spirit doesn’t change that we are to follow wisdom, such as in Proverbs. If you want to know about giving, read a passage like 2 Cor. 8-9.

It’s also amazing how often these “signs” that people follow coincide with what they already want to do. This is not to say God cannot do something like this, but we should not expect it to be normative. I agree with Pye. This is often an excuse and giving divine authority to our feelings is dangerous.

A third reason is that God is in control. After all, if God wants them saved, He’ll do it. Even many of the staunchest Calvinists today would say God will do it, but He’ll do it through evangelism. I also wonder if Christians will do this in other areas. Need food? Don’t go to the grocery store. God will give you food if He wants you to eat. Don’t put on your seat belt when you drive. God will keep you safe if He wants you to live.

Pye shares a verse from a poem about this.

Christ has no hands but our hands to do His work today
He has no feet but our feet to lead men in the way
He has no tongue but our tongue to tell men how He died
He has no help but our help to bring them to His side

There is also the adage that goes back to Augustine of to pray as if everything depended on God and work as if it all depended on you. It would be wonderful for an Arminian to have the confidence in the sovereignty of God that many Calvinists do. It would be wonderful if many Calvinists thought they absolutely had to do evangelism like Arminians do.

The fourth is about the leading of the Holy Spirit and identical enough to the second that we need say nothing more.

The fifth is that people already know the Gospel. Many of them do, but many who think they do also misrepresent it and not necessarily intentionally. We should not presume that someone does.  Many Christians I think don’t even really know the Gospel.

A final reason is that it’s better not to have heard than to hear and reject and be lost. I consider this quite flimsy. I don’t think it even deserves a response if a Christian treats this seriously.

There are other reasons though. Sometimes people don’t know what to say. Sometimes they don’t know what could turn a person off. For this, I honestly think the church needs some classes on evangelism.

Finally, we end with some questions on Hell. Now my perspective on Hell is different from many others. I also think there are degrees of suffering in Hell and degrees of reward in Heaven. This is a complex question and simple answers won’t do.

I also agree with Pye that we should take no delight in people being in Hell. If it weren’t for the grace of God, it would be us. Moody is once said to have said that if you speak on Hell, you’d better have tears in your eyes. I sometimes see Christians say eternity is a long time to be wrong. If someone says that, they’d better think about what that means.

Pye presents two scenarios then:

(i) A 65 year old Christian, Clive, is retiring from the job he has been in for the last 30 years. On his final day there is a presentation to him and he is shown a great deal of warmth and affection. Likewise Clive feels a deep love for his colleagues who he’s spent so much time with and with whom he’s been through many good times and bad times – challenges, disappointments, joys, successes. None of these colleagues are Christians.

A few days later, alone at home, Clive reflects about the eternal destiny of these people who he worked with and loves. Can it really be that they are condemned? he wonders. Can it really be that they’re destined for hell? Surely not? He imagines himself in heaven with the knowledge that these dear people are suffering in hell.“Would I be able to enjoy heaven in those circumstances?” he asks himself. He vaguely wonders whether he should at some point have tried sharing the Gospel with any of them.

Then he reflects further: “‘For your thoughts are not my thoughts’ saith the Lord.” With a deep sigh Clive reflects “Who am I to argue against the Word of God? Who am I to think that I can judge better than God what the consequences of unforgiven sin should be?”

And with this he makes himself a cup of coffee and switches on the TV.

Clive is pathetic and might I add misusing a text of Scripture. No Christian should applaud what Clive is doing. Many of us wouldn’t, but in many cases we do act like Clive.

He then gives a second story

(ii) A man, Donald, goes through his working life employed in a factory. He is a decent man, hard-working and honest. At 20 he marries his childhood sweetheart and they go on to have 3 children. Life is hard. Donald’s health is poor but he rarely misses a day’s work. He and his family constantly struggle to make ends meet. People who know Donald see him as a devoted husband and father, a man who is kind, reliable and trustworthy. Family life is happy and joyful despite the lack of money.

Donald retires aged 65 but within a year he has a heart attack and dies. In his life Donald never became a Christian.

Pye asks how we feel about this, but really, does that matter? I don’t feel good about many things in the world, but that doesn’t mean anything about them. Reality doesn’t change depending on my feelings.

On the other hand, would Pye prefer the more Islamic system of angels recording good deeds and bad deeds and you’d better hope the good outweighs the bad? How is this system not arbitrary? Who decides how many points X is worth for good and how many points are deducted for Y? How do we know the point system?

The reality is God gave a non-arbitrary system. Perfection is the requirement. He also offers to pay it for us. Donald did do good things, but how did He treat the greatest good out there and if Christianity is true, God is the greatest good. Does one spurn God and say they will go their own way? The thing about Pye’s system is really God is irrelevant to it. That’s not a Christian system at all. Of course, Pye is not a Christian, but how could this system be compatible with Christianity?

The next chapter will be about faith. I have my concerns about how that will go, but we will see.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Turn Or Burn?

What kind of choice is that? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In my last post, I wrote about the claim that God is petty. I was told I did not say much about the turn and burn aspect often given. I thought I had, but just to make sure, let’s address that. We’re often told that God is often saying to His creation “Love me or burn!” Few of us would call that love.

I don’t think I need to say much on how few conservative scholars today think that passages about Hell being a fire and brimstone place need to be interpreted in a literalistic way. Hence, if I see someone speaking in this kind of language, I know I’m talking to someone who has not read the best material on the topic. Still, that doesn’t mean it’s all a cakewalk in Hell.

Also, most don’t think that all suffering in Hell is equal nor is all joy in Heaven equal. Everyone will ultimately get a treatment that is fair. No one will be able to legitimately say that they were wronged on the day of judgment.

The problem with this choice is it’s not really accurate. The person assumes in the argument that they have done nothing that deserves any sort of punishment whatsoever. Yet if God is real, then something has been done.

I happen to think Romans 1 is accurate and it tells us that there’s enough evidence in creation alone for us to know that God is real. This doesn’t mean that there’s evidence in creation alone that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who rose from the dead. You need history for that.

Also, the more one knows about this God, the greater the culpability one has, but there is the question of how do we respond to this evidence. Do we turn and seek the one the evidence is pointing to or do we just ignore it and take light explanations and do what we want? The people in Romans 1 chose to deny that the creator was supreme and treated things that were created like they were the supreme.

For we Christians, we should fear the judgment the most because we claim to know the most about God and have the greatest revelation of God making our sin all the worst. I have often compiled a list of attributes of God we deny when we sin. Let’s go through it again.

We deny His omnipotence when we deny He has the power to bring about judgment.
We deny His omniscience when we say we know better than He does.
We deny his love when we say He’s holding out on what is good for us.
We deny His omnipresence when we say He does not see what we do.
We deny His authority when we say we have the right to rule over our lives.

In essence, we are committing divine treason every time. This is a serious charge. Even if we don’t have the revelation of Christ, everyone knows that we do not live the way we ought. We all have ways we need to improve. Interestingly, it’s often the further we get on the path of virtue that we realize how far off we are on the path.

If this is true, then the offer is not turn or burn. At least, it’s not in the way presented. It’s not, if you do not want to be with me, then you will burn. It’s more just an offer to be come and be a part of the family of God.

In the Old Testament, there’s a story about Mephibosheth, who was the grandson of Saul and the son of Jonathan. In the ninth chapter of 2 Samuel we read about him. David wanted to show kindness to someone in Saul’s family. He was not required to. It’s not as if he was up for reelection and he wanted a good gesture to be done to win the favor of the people that the media would like. He did it just to show kindness.

Something interesting in this passage is three times you find a reference to eating at the King’s table. This is a message of grace entirely. Mephibosheth did nothing to earn this. It was all a gift.

The offer is really great. Not only does God forgive us, when we have done nothing to deserve that forgiveness, but He makes us a part of His royal family and allows us to eat at His table and we’re given all the rights of a son. It is a horrible misrepresentation from atheism and the exact opposite of the real scenario.

The problem presented is a false one. Of course, there are other issues and those could be dealt with. For now, turn or burn just doesn’t work. Present instead the real offer of grace.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Seeing Through Christianity Part 8

Is there a problem with judgment? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

The next chapter of Zuersher’s book is about the judgment. Zuersher starts by saying that few people will make it into Heaven and more will go into Hell. For this, he cites Matthew 7:14 with the gate being small that leads to eternal life and only few will find it.

In the interest of fairness, it’s understandable that people go here, but I don’t think it makes the case. There are some going back, and I think this even includes B.B. Warfield, who contended that this was a response to Christ’s immediate teaching. Few of the Jewish people living in Israel would respond positively to the message.

He also goes to John 14:6 with Jesus saying no man comes to the Father but through me. Again, this is a true text, but I wonder about the interpretation. All that is said here is that in essence, Jesus is the doorkeeper. If we compared it to a bar, Jesus is the bouncer and no man gets in unless He gives the okay.

Does that mean that one has to explicitly know the name of Jesus to be saved? No. Consider if we went to the text that says whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. What that means is that if you call on the name of the Lord, that is sufficient for you to be saved. What it does not say is that only those who call on the name of the Lord will be saved. While I do hold that God could admit many who have never explicitly heard of Jesus in the pagan world today based on what they do with the light they have, we know of many people already saved who did not know the name of Jesus. They are Old Testament saints.

Zuersher says that even if we accept the existence of an afterlife, an eternity where few will be saved and most won’t be is unfair. I question that that is what will happen, but even if it was, what is unfair about it? Does God somehow owe certain people an eternal bliss? If so, on what basis?

Zuersher also says that if his argument is true, those who lived before Jesus and those who live in places where they cannot know of Him and places where other religions dominate are all automatically lost. The problem is as I have shown, one can hold to the truth of the text and still think Zuersher is wrong. Zuersher again shows the case of not doing any study to realize there are multiple viewpoints.

Zuersher also regularly acts like people who are consigned to Hell do so through on fault of their own. Why should anyone think this is true? Romans 1 and 2 both tell us that there is sufficient reason to know that God exists and to know right from wrong. Someone will be judged not because of what they didn’t know about Jesus, but because of what they didn’t do right in their lives. A Christian like myself just says God will give everyone what is right. God does not owe anyone anything, but He is also going to be just and righteous in His judgments even if I do not understand how that works out and no one will be able to say “It wasn’t fair.”

Zuersher replies to this point and says that it is actually reasonable. (Of course, it brings me great joy beyond expression to know that Zuersher thinks the argument is reasonable) What Zuersher wants to know is why can’t God judge everyone on this basis? If knowledge of Jesus is not needed, then Jesus died for nothing.

That last part doesn’t follow. Just because one might not need to explicitly know about Jesus doesn’t mean Jesus’s death did nothing. Jesus’s death is what made it possible for people to have their sins atoned for. Having someone make a huge donation to a college makes it possible for people who do not know the person to go to that college, but that going would not be possible had it not been for the donation.

I also don’t think Zuersher would really want the idea of judging everyone based on their actions. This is the case in much of Islam and it can lead to living in a state of fear. It’s also rather arbitrary. Suppose each good action had a point system and gave so many plus points and each evil one took away so many points. Would that not be a totally arbitrary system? Instead, God has the same standard for everyone, perfection, and yet has provided a way to meet that standard.

We conclude again that Zuersher doesn’t really know what he’s talking about. He has only taken a surface level look at the claims and not gone any deeper than that. Sadly, this seems to be common in many circles, both atheist and Christian, and it leads to people arguing cases they think they understand, but that they really don’t.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Does Jesus Make A Difference?

Why should anyone trust Jesus? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As readers know, I’m all about here establishing the truth of Jesus’s resurrection and Christianity. That is important and needs to be done. My concern today is that we are too often not showing any reason for anyone to even bother to take Christianity seriously. Many Christians are indistinguishable from their non-Christian neighbors, which should be disappointing if Scripture tells us we are a peculiar people and about how we are to live among the pagans. While we don’t have many pagans today, though there are a few, we do still have people who we can say are unbelievers.

For too many Christians, the reason that this is so is that they just don’t really know much about Christianity. Why should they? Too many churches have it just as if Christianity is self-help that gives good advice to help you in your life, instead of about the radical announcement that God is reclaiming this world and building His Kingdom. If we were really to go to church in appropriate dress, it would be combat fatigues realizing we are on a mission to reclaim the world.

Too many Christians are what I call regurgitating Christians. They go to church and hear what their pastor says and when the time comes, they just puke it right back out again. They may have the right answers to the questions, but they don’t know why those answers are true. Your pastor could very well be a great guy, but he is not infallible. Scripture is, but his interpretation is not. Check out what is said.

We also have a view in our lives that the purpose of Christianity is that we can go to Heaven when we die. You can hear an altar call that doesn’t say a single thing about the resurrection of Jesus, serving God for life, or the Kingdom of God, but it will sure mention going to heaven when you die. Yes. The very purpose of Jesus coming to Earth and defeating sins was just so you could be happy for all of eternity. Surely God would not expect something bizarre from us, such as lifelong service.

Christianity is not just a get out of hell free card. Christianity is a worldview that is supposed to encompass everything you believe. It’s great that many of us have the right answers, but do we really understand them. Are we just being students who study before an exam so we can know the right answers without bothering to figure out how someone can know those are the right answers and what difference they make?

So Jesus rose from the dead. Why? Was God just showing off what He could do with Jesus, or could it be He was actually showing that Jesus has conquered death? Could it be that He was showing the divine claims of Jesus were actually true and Jesus is the rightful king of this world?

What about our ethics? Too many Christians are doing what everyone else does. They will go along with the politically correct crowd. This is especially the case with sexual ethics. There are too many Christians that see no real problem with sex before marriage or even living together before marriage. Does Christianity have anything to say about sex?

If you look at your neighbor and the only difference you and your non-Christian neighbor have is that you answer the Jesus questions right and they don’t, then you have a problem. I’m not questioning your salvation here, but I am saying that you seem to have it but it makes no difference. Imagine winning the big powerball lottery and having access to all the money, but going home and living your life with your budget the exact same way and having the money just sit there. That’s what many of us are doing with Jesus.

In all of this we look at the world and ask “What has gone wrong?” It’s good to ask that, but if you want to know what went wrong, it’s us. We went wrong. We did not heed the Great Commission. We have not made Jesus the central passion of our lives. Many of us know more about our favorite TV show or sports team than we do about Jesus. I’m not at all saying don’t have any other interests and hobbies, but do prioritize.

Look at everything in your life. If people can look at how you handle things in your life and look at how the non-Christian handles things and see absolutely no difference, why should they think Jesus makes any difference to you? If they don’t think Jesus makes any difference, why on Earth would they really bother investigating?

Keep in mind, I’m not saying their skepticism is justified. Sure, the church is full of hypocrites and such, but that doesn’t mean Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. That’s established on its own. It’s my contention here that we could at times be placing an extra hurdle in front of people who could otherwise come to Jesus. Not only are we keeping them away, we are really missing out on a full Christian life that we could be having.

How do you do this? Go and get some good books on basic Christianity or go and listen to some Christian podcasts on the topic. Do more than just a couple of hours on Sunday. Christianity is not just a system of ethics for being a good person and then getting to go to heaven when you die. It’s a worldview that is meant to encompass and touch everything in your life. Many of us are sitting on a gold mine and living like paupers. There is far more for us if we will just take it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Why Does God Allow Evil?

What do I think of Clay Jones’s book published by Harvest House Publishers? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I want to thank Harvest House for sending me a copy of Clay Jones’s book. I consider him a friend and he has helped me through some personal issues of mine that I have struggled with before. I was thrilled to hear about this book and after reading it, I have to say I love it and I hate it.

This is a great book because it is a thorough look at the problem of evil. Many questions will be answered and questions one didn’t know were out there will be addressed. It is a challenge for anyone who wants to use the problem of evil as an argument against theism.

With that being said, why would I hate this book at the same time?

I hate it because this is more than a detached look at the problem of evil. This is an in-your-face look. It’s so much easier to talk about evil when it’s the people out there who are the problem. It’s easy to condemn genocide when you realize you’re not one of those people doing it. You’re a “good person” after all. It’s not so easy when you realize that many of these people we today call “good people” are people who are just as much capable of genocide. In fact, if we think we’re better than those who do commit genocide, we’ve taken the first step to being a person who will commit genocide.

Jones’s book shows that evil is not just a problem out there. Evil is a problem within. Regularly throughout the book, I would experience knowing that I contribute to the problem of evil and if I don’t in a major way, there’s not much that’s stopping me from doing so. It’s much better to talk about evil when it’s something out there, but Jones won’t leave it at that.

Jones also includes much about Heaven in this book, which is quite good. He also got me right here as I realized I don’t have the great desire for Heaven that I should. Part of this could be we just don’t know what Heaven is like. Jones says that the most common comparison between the eternal state and our world today is marriage.

This also I concur with. For a young man especially growing up, he finds that he knows two things normally about sex. First, he has never really had it before. Second, he knows that he wants it and that it’s very good. This is the same with heaven. In fact, the desire for both is enjoyable itself. Ask any husband who knows that tonight is the night. He has something to look forward to all day.

Fortunately, Jones does help someone change their outlook. He does say that if Heaven was the way the popular media depicts it, it would be understandable to not look forward to it. Heaven will not be an eternal church service nor will it be just sitting on a cloud playing a harp forever. Heaven is a place where we will be doing the work of God and some will be leading others and ruling cities. Yeah. Think about what it would be like if all of a sudden Seattle was placed under your control.

If there was something I would have liked explained more in the book, it’s natural evil. I really don’t think the fall is sufficient to explain it all. After all, if our scientific history is correct, there were earthquakes and such before the fall. There also is the case of animal predation. Why does a porcupine have quills except to defend it from predators? Dembski argues that God made the world knowing about the fall in advance, which is true, but also raises the question of what did happen there. I would have liked to have seen more from Jones on this front as natural evil is usually one of the biggest hurdles that is raised.

Jones’s book is not just good apologetics. It’s also good for Christian practice. Jones doesn’t just equip you with answers and understanding, but he also shows you where you need to develop and how the problem of evil really begins with you. He also reminds you to put your hope in the future promise of God.

I recommend Jones’s book, but be prepared when you read it. Be ready to take look at yourself. You might not like what you see. Again, evil seems easy to complain about when it comes to people outside of you. It’s not as pleasant when you realize you are part of the problem.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Why There Is No God. Part 2.

What do I think of arguments 6-10? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As we continue through Navabi’s book Why There Is No God, we find that the arguments don’t get any better. If anything, they’re getting worse. It’s as if Navabi is just wanting to go after any statement that he can find and make an argument out of it. I wonder if he just tried to fill his book up to get to twenty arguments without, you know, actually researching real arguments.

#6 “God Answers Prayer; therefore, he must be real.”

I don’t really use the prayer argument. For one thing, I find the studies on prayer to be problematic. God is treated like some machine in them where if you do X, then God will do Y. There are so many variables I don’t know where to begin. Are we to say that anyone in the hospital has absolutely no one praying for them? Do we have a method of somehow canceling out the prayers of others who are not part of the prayer experiment? These are many of the questions. I have never found these cases convincing.

What do I find convincing? Accounts such as in Keener’s book Miracles where someone is prayed for in the name of Jesus and suddenly a miraculous healing takes place. That is far more convincing. I also trust when some people tell me they have prayed for some very very specific things and got them. Of course, for that latter one, it’s something that I find curious, but not a final clincher. It’s something good that does back what I already have plenty of reason to believe.

Argument #7 “I feel a personal relationship with God, so I know that he is real.”

Definitely, this is not an argument to use. Remember the old hymn? “You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart.” Yeah. That’s what we need to get past. The lesson that should be got from this is that Christians need to stop relying on their feelings and personal testimony.

On the other hand, Navabi does say we often see what we want to see, but this works both ways. For instance, Navabi doesn’t pay attention to the really good arguments that are out there and for the huge majority, his sources are just people who agree with him. You will not find him interacting with powerful representatives of those who disagree with him. This is a problem I have with many atheist works.

Argument #8 “It’s safer to believe in God than be wrong and go to Hell.”

This is looking at Pascal’s wager and I am sure of one thing. Navabi has never read Pascal. A lot of people have this idea that Pascal was saying to just anyone, “Just believe because you’ve got nothing to lose.” Then they want to bring in the question of other religions and matters of that sort. That’s not what Pascal is saying.

Pascal had plenty of arguments in his day he could use, but he was talking to the man who was tottering between Christianity and unbelief. If you were in a sort of 50/50 position and not sure what way to go, why not just give it a try? Now does this seem like faking? Not really. If you do the behavior required, you can find the attitude follows.

For instance, some wives have a hard time having sex with their husbands because they don’t feel it. The solution given to them many times is to just go along with it. The feelings will often follow once you act. Many of us know many activities in our own lives where we don’t want to do them at first, but then we get into them when we start doing them.

People like Navabi just see Pascal as saying you should just believe anyway. That’s not his position. If you’ve looked at the arguments and you see both sides and you don’t know, why not take a chance with Christ? What have you got to lose?

Argument #9 “God isn’t defined. God cannot be comprehended or described. One must simply have faith.”

Let’s start with the bad faith argument first, as if this one hasn’t been answered ten million times already. Faith is not as is often thought, believing without evidence. Navabi says it’s invoked when a person runs out of rational explanations. In many cases, I don’t doubt that’s true, but we don’t need to see what laypeople think faith is but what the Bible and the leading scholars in the field of Biblical studies say that it is. For more on this, look at my article here.

One aspect of this argument is right.  God cannot be comprehended. Navabi says “If you cannot comprehend or describe something, you can’t possibly have a rational justification for believing in it.” This sounds good, but it’s just bogus. Many great scientific theories today are not really fully comprehended, and yet we believe in them. That’s not to down science, but to show there is always an element of human ignorance.

Argument #10 “There’s no evidence that God doesn’t exist.”

Again, this isn’t an argument I use, but at the same time, when someone does want to establish atheism, in that there is no God and not just that they lack God belief, they need to put forward an argument. The burden of proof really works like this. Whoever makes any claim whatsoever has a burden to prove it. As long as you’re just questioning an atheist without making a claim, you have no burden. Once you make a claim, you have a burden.

Still, looking at these arguments today, it looks like Navabi is dealing with low caliber information. If he really wants to make a case, let him take on the greatest thinkers in theism. Unfortunately, this will not be done.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 3/14/2015: Jerry Walls

What’s coming up this Saturday on the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out!

Awhile back, I reviewed the book Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory. As it stands, I interviewed Dr. Walls on this book last Monday. That interview will be being worked on and will come out hopefully on Saturday. We spent about forty minutes on Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory each. If you don’t know who Dr. Walls is, let me tell you some about him.

Jerry Walls

Jerry L. Walls is Scholar in Residence and Professor of Philosophy at Houston Baptist University. He has authored or edited over a dozen books and over eighty articles and reviews. Among his books are: Hell: The Logic of Damnation (University of Notre Dame Press, 1992); Heaven: The Logic of Eternal Joy (Oxford University Press, 2002); Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation (Oxford University Press, 2012); and The Oxford Handbook of Eschatology, ed. (Oxford University Press, 2008). His co-authored book with David Baggett, Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality (Oxford University Press, 2011) was named the best book in apologetics and evangelism by Christianity Today in their annual book awards in 2012. He is also a big sports fan, and has done two books about basketball: Basketball and Philosophy: Thinking outside the Paint (coedited with Greg Bassham, University of Kentucky Press, 2007); and Wisdom from the Hardwood: Defining a Success Worth Shooting For(Gray Matter Books, 2012).

I should also point out that I found out that Dr. Walls and his son (Who has written an excellent book on the Legend of Zelda) are big tea drinkers and so that definitely shows that they’re on the path of righteousness.

We started with talk about Heaven and the question we had to ask was if Heaven was boring. That was where we started. Why is it that we do not celebrate the idea of Heaven? Why is it that there is just not a lot of appeal to the topic? We talked about how our view of God affects our view of Heaven and how our view of this current world does that as well. It really does make a difference if you have a false view of creation. If all you have is a sort of pie-in-the-sky by and by mindset where you will just fly away, you will not take this world seriously nor the idea that God is really going to redeem this world.

What about Hell? We did ask the hard questions. If God knows what it will take to make me believe, why does He not just do that? What about the question of those who have never heard? Why not go with the idea that God annihilates us in the end instead? How can it possibly be that anyone will be in Heaven if they know that there will be loved ones suffering forever in Hell? These are all hard questions, but Dr. Walls was willing to take them on.

Finally, we got to Purgatory. This was an interesting one. Dr. Walls is not a Catholic, but yet thinks we should try to reclaim this doctrine. We talked about the idea of post-mortem evangelism and we also talked about the importance of sanctification. How does this tie in with the Great Commission? If there is a chance that God will reach people without our activity and even after death, does that change our motivation?

You might not agree with all Dr. Walls says, but you can be sure it will leave you thinking. This was an astounding interview and I hope you’ll listen for it when it comes out.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Heaven, Hell and Purgatory

What do I think of Jerry Walls’s new book published by Brazos Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory

In the interest of fairness, I want it to be known that Brazos Press did send me a review copy and I consider Jerry Walls a friend.

When I first heard about Jerry Walls, I thought he was a Catholic.

Not because I’m anti-Catholic! Not at all! With my philosophy, I’m a Thomist in my philosophy and a reader of people like G.K. Chesterton and Peter Kreeft. I’d just heard that he’d written a book about Purgatory and thought that was the case. I was surprised a bit when I found out he was a Protestant just as I am. I suspect with this book out, some people would be surprised to learn that this is a protestant view of the cosmic drama, as he describes it.

But yes, Walls is very much Protestant. Picking out his position I find is interesting. The book is not about soteriology per se, but yet his strong position against Calvinism is noted. It’s more really about eschatology, but he is one of those rare people that you can talk about his position in eschatology and you don’t mean the one we normally mean, such as what is the view on the rapture or the Olivet Discourse. This is all about our personal eschatology. What happens to us when we die.

Walls is familiar with this seeing as he wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on Hell, and I can hardly imagine what it would be like to have to give a defense of your view that Hell is a justifiable doctrine. While I think it is, it is not the kind of position I would want to do a Ph.D. dissertation on, yet Walls did so and it looks like he managed to defend Hell in light of some of the best antagonism, so he has something to say.

Yet this time, he rightly starts with Heaven. What is Heaven. How will it be for us? Walls rightly shows that we Christians need to spend more time thinking about this doctrine. I do want to jump ahead to something he says at the end of the book about Heaven answering the question of if we will be bored in Heaven. I do that because frankly, hearing the way some Christians talk about Heaven, I think I would be bored endlessly if their descriptions were right. Too often we make Heaven sound like an eternal church service. (Never mind other baloney claims such as we become angels when we die) There’s a reason skeptics of the faith say that Heaven would be boring and if they’re in Hell, they’ll be with their best friends anyway.

Walls gets most of his information on Heaven from Scripture going to Revelation 21. He does not take it in a literalistic sense, but he does have it that this is powerful language. God who exists in Trinity is the central focus of our eternity. He is the basis. He is the one that makes Heaven, Heaven and he is the one that makes eternity to be eternity. Our origins are found in Him and our purpose is found in Him. As has been said, if you have a “God of the Gaps” mentality, you’re not really dealing with the God of Scripture.

Wells shows that this is not just pie in the sky nonsense to escape reality, but is facing reality head on. It is saying that all of our hopes and desires do point to somewhere. He does this engaging with numerous arguments from the skeptical side, such as those of Russell or Nietzsche. Heaven is the best explanation that we have of all of the data that we have. Heaven makes sense of our world.

Yet what about Hell? Why is there Hell? Walls works to show that Hell is God giving people what they have wanted for so long and for this, he is largely in debt to Lewis, who aside from Scripture I would say is no doubt the most quoted author in the book. The gates of Hell are locked on the inside. The people in Hell are the ones who ultimately choose they want nothing to do with the God of Scripture. I would have liked to have seen something in this section that would have dealt more with the conditionalist position which is gaining popularity. Walls could have done that in another book, but it would have been good to see something here.

From there, we get into Purgatory. Now this is where some Protestants could be raising up their intellectual shields in defense and preparing to go on the attack. It is understandable, but I agree with Walls that we really need to interact with this idea and not just associate it with Catholics. Catholics believe a lot of right things too after all and just because an idea was misused is no reason to throw it out entirely.

I will not go into the details of Walls’s argument other than to say it focuses greatly on sanctification and while I cannot say I’m totally sold on it yet, and I do not think Walls would want me to change my mind entirely after reading just one book, I can say I do think Walls has benefited us greatly by starting the discussion and one aspect I will say I am sure he’d be pleased with, is that it does get me thinking more about sanctification and how seriously we need to take it.

Walls also deals with the problem of evil, including from this the speaking of Ivan from the Brothers Karamazov. While Dostoyevsky who wrote the book was a Christian, these are some of the most powerful quotes you’d hear advocating the problem of evil that he puts on the lips of his atheist character. Many atheists should learn to realize that we know the problem very well and I think Dostoyevsky places it more powerfully than any atheist writing I’ve read on it.

And yes, Walls has an answer. Of course, those interested in this need to get the book so they can see it.

We move on from there to morality and if there is a grounds for it in atheism. Walls of course argues that there isn’t and looks at some of the best theories out there attempting to explain this. Of course, if there is no ground for morality, then it’s quite difficult to raise up the problem of evil unless you want to say that it is an inconsistency for Christianity but when you abandon Christianity, lo and behold, there is nothing that is truly good or evil.

Finally, there’s a section that includes theories on the possibility of someone being reached even after they die. This is an interesting idea, but again, I’m not really sold on it. I wasn’t really sold on Walls’s approach to Hebrews 9, but I do think he’s certainly right to show that if Scripture does contradict any idea that we have, then we have to come to terms with the fact that that idea is wrong.

So while I do not agree with all that Walls says, I have to say this is an excellent book to get you thinking. It will put in you a desire for the state of Heaven and get you thinking seriously about sanctification and holiness. I do not doubt that even with that conclusion, that Walls will be pleased.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Two Views of Hell

What did I think of Fudge and Peterson’s book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out!

twoviewsofhell

My wife got me this book as a Christmas gift just going through my Amazon wish list I suppose. (And God have mercy on her since I have two just for books and one of them is completely full.) So naturally, I went through the book as soon as I could. I will admit my bias. I hold to a view of Hell that would be closer to traditionalism, although most traditionalists I think would not really hold to my view.

The book starts with the view of Fudge who holds to annihiliationism. I think Fudge would prefer it not be called that and today it’s more often called Conditionalism or conditional immortality. To be fair also, Peterson would prefer his viewpoint not be called traditionalism since it can look like one believes just because it is a tradition. I think it’s best for us as we consider the merits and problems of the book to look at the claims of the positions and not just their titles as we might just have to stick with those. Such is the nature of the beast.

The book starts with Fudge’s case. I found it in many ways an interesting look. I do agree with the criticism later on that a number of passages I do not think really are talking about what I prefer to call the after-death. I think Fudge did put forward a good argument and he did try to stay focused on the Bible. I do understand that as he went through each section of Scripture with an emphasis on the NT understandably and tried to cover as much ground as possible.

Peterson’s critique I thought of this section was good, but lacking in some areas. I do think too often Peterson had relied too much on a more futurist eschatology. I also did think it was problematic to say that Fudge went too much into the Greek. I understand the fear of writing to laymen, but the thing to do on Peterson’s side is just answer what he considers a bad usage of Greek with a good usage of it. I happen to think Peterson and Fudge neither one did well on their critiques.

Then Peterson made his case and he made his slightly different, but I understand why. He started off from a historical position. Many of the greatest minds in church history have denied annihilationism. Of course this isn’t a slam dunk. Peterson himself would not say it is. What it does mean is that if you are going against that kind of consensus, you had better have some good evidence for it.

Next Peterson makes his case from Scripture. In this, he goes to ten passages and tells the time frame and setting of each one and responds to the annihilationist interpretation, namely that of Fudge. I found this section to be quite well-written, though again there were times I think a more futurist interpretation was included in the text, but few if any texts depended on that.

Finally, Peterson shows how this impacts other doctrines and the best case was in Christology. What happened to Jesus on the cross when He died? Did He cease to exist? Did His humanity go away. These are questions that have to be answered and if Fudge holds that Jesus ceased to exist after He died, then I think that we are entering into some very serious issues at this point.

After that, we get to Fudge’s reply and honestly, this was for me the low point of the book. I have admitted my bias at the start, but when I read the text, I was trying to keep in mind that in some ways, Fudge was critiquing the view that I held. How would he do?

It didn’t help when the first sentence is “Robert Peterson now has done his best to defend the notion that God will keep sinners alive in Hell forever to torture them without end.”

Is there really any need for this? You would get the impression from Fudge that Peterson is practically roasting marshmallows watching unbelievers burn and celebrating it. I suspect Peterson would say that even if he thought Hell was a literal furnace, and he doesn’t, that he gets great sorrow from this. Fudge’s first sentence then in his reply was a let down for me and brought motives into play rather than dealing with the arguments.

Fudge also did this in pointing to how Peterson has to hold to the tradition that he is in and Fudge does not. His denomination is one that says Scripture is the final authority. That applies to Peterson as well I’m sure. If you asked him which was the final authority, he would no doubt say Scripture. The problem when we get often to just the Bible is that it is not just the Bible. It couldn’t be. The Bible is not a text in isolation. We have it translated and we have to interpret it with the works of the leading scholars. I seriously doubt Fudge has done all the textual work and linguistic study and such to translate and interpret every passage in the NT. He too relies on the minds of others. To not do this is to in many ways make us our own Popes.

This also troubled me when I read Fudge talking about Peterson referring often to uninspired writers. This is the kind of thing that I see from fundamentalists on the internet and it is troubling. What matters to me is the claims. It is not if the author is inspired or not. Jesus in his own culture used language from the Wisdom literature of the intertestamental period and some of which we find in the Dead Sea Scrolls. It was not inspired, but so what?

And of course, the claims of being influenced by pagans is something that I would like to see more research on. Color me skeptical of this since I regularly see claims about Christian ideas being influenced by pagans be it from the Christ-myth camp or be it from Christians who want to say that holidays like Christmas have borrowed heavily from the pagans. It’s too easy to just throw out the idea of “pagan.”

So like I said, I think Fudge just did not do well in his critiques of the traditionalist position. There was too much emotional content that frankly I think does not belong in a debate like this. I realize this is difficult, but it just doesn’t. Too often too many times I see the ideas presented with speculation on what is better. Conditionalists will say “We do not have God keeping people alive forever just to punish them. Unbelievers get turned away by this.”

Well if an unbeliever is going to be turned away and not look at the evidence for a claim like the resurrection just because of something they don’t like, it’s their own fault frankly. You do not say “I do not like the claim, therefore the evidence behind the claim must be false.” One investigates the claim. If one finds that Jesus did not rise, then who cares? It’s not going to change my mind if Muslims change their doctrine of the after-death concerning unbelievers. I don’t care either way.

Meanwhile, on the other hand, traditionalists can say to conditionalists that you’re just giving unbelievers what they want. They just cease to exist. It looks like they get off easy. Again, I understand the sentiment there as well, but so what? The evidence for the resurrection changes because someone gets off easy? Conditionalism is false because it is believed that someone gets off easy? We end up speculating on this point and miss going with what the text itself really says. Now if we become convinced of either view in the text, then we can ask “Why did God do it X way instead of this?” That can be a fascinating way to learn, but it should not be used as a debate point.

In looking at the book as a whole, while both sides were interesting to read about, I think the book could have been better served with a more point-counterpoint position. To have each side present their whole case and then one counter to that is a bit overwhelming. It would have been better I think to have perhaps discussion on history and then on interpretation and then on ramification. It could have been longer had this been done, but I think the content would be better.

This is still an interesting read to see both sides of the issue and I can recommend it there.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 11/29/2014: Raising Hell

What’s coming up on the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out!

We’re going to be entering new territory on this week’s episode. I’m going to be trying my hands at moderating a debate. The debate will be a Christian debate on the nature of Hell. Is it eternal conscious torment of some kind or is it rather going to be annihiliation where the wicked simply cease to exist.

Arguing on the side of annihilation is Chris Date of Rethinking Hell and the Theopologetics Podcast.

Mr Chris Date

Chris Date is the host of the Theopologetics podcast, as well as a steward of and primary contributor to the Rethinking Hell project, and co-editor of the 2014 Cascade Books publication, Rethinking Hell: Readings in Evangelical Conditionalism. A software engineer by trade, he believes theology and apologetics are for every average Joe in the pews, and not just for pastors, philosophers, PhD’s and the erudite in ivory towers. Formerly a traditionalist, he was not seeking an alternative to the traditional view of hell but became convinced by sound exegesis and systematic theology that the Bible teaches conditional immortality and annihilationism. He has since defended the view in several moderated debates and on Justin Brierley’s Unbelievable? radio program on Premier Christian Radio UK.

Arguing on the other side will be J.P. Holding.

J.P. Holding

James Patrick Holding is President of Tekton Apologetics Ministries. He holds a Masters degree in Library Science and has written articles for the Christian Research Journal and the Creation Ex Nihilo Technical Journal.

Date’s writing on this can be found in his book Rethinking Hell whereas Holding’s can be found in his ebook What In Hell Is Going On?

I will be seeking to be a fair middleman in this debate asking questions of each of the participants. Each one has also sent me various talking points. Naturally, there’s no way that we can get to everything. Furthermore, each of the participants in this debate will be allowed to dialogue with one another and ask the hard questions of the other’s position that they want to.

I consider this an important debate as it affects not only our evangelism but also our salvation in that we need to know what we are saved from and what we are saved to. (I in no way consider believers in conditionalism to be heretical or outside of salvation simply because they are conditionalists and of course the same goes for the traditionalist view) That in turn affects our view of God. We’ll be dealing with the many classical questions I hope as well. What about those who have never heard? What about the babies?

We will get into the meaning of words and concepts in the Bible. What does it mean to say that the punishment of the wicked is eternal? What does it mean when we hear of destruction? What does it mean when the text says that the smoke of their torment will go up forever and ever?

This will be the first debate I have ever hosted so I hope that I will do a good job and I hope that any biases I have in the debate will be able to be suppressed. I also want to remind everyone that a debate is a starting spot. If any listener is driven to further study of this important issue by this debate, then the goal will be accomplished.

In Christ,
Nick Peters