The Pastor As Scholar

What is the link between the academy and the pulpit? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I have been reading the works of J. Gresham Machen for a class and last night, I was reading some of his sermons and was noticing how in-depth they were. He comes from a Calvinistic perspective so I didn’t agree with everything, but I knew he was working to substantiate his points. The sermon was rigorous and yet Machen spoke with a pastor’s heart.

I went to bed that night wondering why that was and I decided ultimately that there is a need for pastors to be scholars. If not a scholar, at least training in higher education to give the best of your mind to the church. Many people think that all that is needed to be an effective pastor is to just have a lot of passion for the things of God.

However, Scripture tells us in the epistles especially about the qualifications of a pastor. A pastor must be equipped in sound doctrine and be able to refute those who contradict. While some of these are said for deacons and elders, surely if they apply to the lesser offices of the church, they apply to the greater.

If you don’t have a strong background of information, you will more often than not draw from your own experiences and your own life to preach a sermon. How many times can a sermon end and you know a lot about the life of the person behind the pulpit, but you don’t know as much about Jesus? That doesn’t mean that you can never talk about your life experience, but it shouldn’t be your main source.

After all, if you have to speak sometime, you will draw out of whatever you have. If all you have is yourself, then you are going to have a shallow sermon. If you have a deep reservoir of theology, Christology, apologetics, church history, philosophy, Scripture, etc. then you will have plenty to draw from.

Years ago I attended a church where we had the educational hour before the sermon, which was like our version of Sunday School. There was more than one Sunday when two minutes or so before class began, no exaggeration, they didn’t have a teacher, and they would ask me to get up and suddenly speak on something, for an hour. No problem. I remember one Sunday I said, “Not a problem. We’ll talk about the five ways of Aquinas.”

If you have this kind of background, you can do this kind of thing. Whatever you think of Tim Keller, and I don’t say this as endorsement or condemnation, he did say something once that someone knew when he hadn’t prepared a lot for his sermon because he would talk a lot more about C.S. Lewis. That is an example of what is being talked about here. Many a pastor could have talked about himself and his own life, but Keller saw himself as well enough acquainted with Lewis, and he might be, that he could speak about him instead.

Every pastor in church needs to have either gone to seminary and got an education or is going to seminary. We are training up our people to fight a war and we don’t need just people who feel good. We need people who know what they’re fighting for and why. We need pastors who are scholars to equip laymen to be warriors.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Atheists Who Don’t Care About Arguments

What does it take to convince an atheist? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

A friend of mine on Facebook started a thread asking for a quote by someone indicating they need an experience to believe God exists. This is not knocking experience. It happens many times that experiences that are a divine encounter change someone’s mind. My problem is with saying that has to be the requirement.

Also, not all atheists are like this. Some of them are people who have reasonable discussions and look at the evidence. However, if you are an atheist who says you will only change your mind if you have an experience, then you are not a reasonable person. You’re just not.

After all, if you engage in a debate with me with that kind of attitude about the existence of God, what you are telling me right at the start is that your mind is not open to being wrong. If evidence cannot convince you that you are wrong, it is not evidence that your position is based on.

You also should not deny any Christian who is a Christian based on their experience. If an experience is a valid argument for you, it is a valid one for them. You can question the experience happened or their interpretation, but you should be consistent and let it be a valid basis for them.

So what kind of statements do I have in mind?

How about a start with Jerry Coyne and keep in mind, he says this evidence is tentative. One wonders what conclusive evidence would look like.

“The following (and admittedly contorted) scenario would give me tentative evidence for Christianity. Suppose that a bright light appeared in the heavens, and, supported by winged angels, a being clad in a white robe and sandals descended onto my campus from the sky, accompanied by a pack of apostles bearing the names given in the Bible. Loud heavenly music, with the blaring of trumpets, is heard everywhere. The robed being, who identifies himself as Jesus, repairs to the nearby university hospital and instantly heals many severely afflicted people, including amputees. After a while Jesus and his minions, supported by angels ascend back into the sky with another chorus of music. The heavens swiftly darken, there are flashes of lightning and peals of thunder, and in an instant the sky is clear.

If this were all witnessed by others and documented by video, and if the healings were unexplainable but supported by testimony from multiple doctors, and if all the apparitions and events conformed to Christian theology—then I’d have to start thinking seriously about the truth of Christianity.” Faith vs. Fact p. 118-119

Or Peter Boghossian. In his¬†Manual For Creating Atheists he says that if all the world went outside at night and saw all the stars in the sky spell out something like “I am YHWH. Believe in me,” that could be suggestive. He doesn’t rule out that we could all be experiencing a mass delusion.

Bill Maher is reported to have said that if he thought he heard God speak to him, he would check himself into a mental institution and so should you. If this is accurate, then we have someone who argues that God does not exist. When he has an experience that could be evidence, he denies it.

Richard Dawkins in this video starting around 12:30 is asked what would it take to convince him God exists. In the end, he says nothing. There is always some other explanation and he admits this goes against the grain because he has always paid lip service to the idea of following the evidence where it leads.

Note that it’s lip service.

Now Christians can be sadly just as resistant to evidence, but it’s often atheists that are priding themselves as being people of reason. The problem with this is that if reason does not change your mind, your mind is not based on reason. Again, this doesn’t apply to all atheists, but if this is you, you’re not a genuine debater or reasoner. You are debating with a Christian wanting them to change their mind based on your arguments, all the while saying you will not change your mind based on their arguments.

This is just a small sample of quotes. I have no doubt that if I wanted to do a more in-depth project of this, I could find many more quotes. If you have some, feel free to share them with me.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Should God Appear To Me?

What if an atheist requires a personal appearance? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Many times when I ask someone who is an atheist or an agnostic what it would take to get them to change their mind, they tell me that God would need to appear to them. This sounds like something that makes sense on the face of it. After all, doesn’t God want people to come to know Him? Why wouldn’t He do this?

Unfortunately, the problems with this are legion. First off, when I encounter someone like this, they are telling me that an argument would not convince them. It would take a personal experience. Therefore, any arguments that I make are ineffective to them. Somehow, these people expect me to be open to argument at the same time, which I am.

Second, God owes us nothing if He is real. It is a presumptuous height to think God owes anyone a personal experience. God could do it, but He could just as easily strike someone with a lightning bolt. That doesn’t mean that He would do it or that He should do it.

“But doesn’t God want to see me saved?”

Yes. That doesn’t mean that God will do anything to cater to you. It doesn’t mean that God treats His existence like the answer to a question in Trivial Pursuit. God is not looking for people who will believe that He exists. He is looking for people who are willing to believe the truth about Him and want to know the truth about Him not just to answer an academic question, but because He really matters.

If you are a wife, imagine a husband who says he loves you, but when he does so, he is just going through the motions. It doesn’t really mean something to you. If you are a husband, you want your wife to want to have sex with you, but husbands don’t really enjoy duty sex. They’ll take it because some sex beats no sex, but what they want the most is to be wanted.

God is looking for disciples. Disciples are people who care about truth claims. They are willing to investigate. If someone is not willing to investigate, then they are not willing to be a disciple.

Also, this would ultimately lead to chaos. For one thing, it would destroy much of free-will en masse. Not only that, imagine any number of people wanting to claim something because God told them in their personal appearance. What would a dictator do with this kind of claim? We have enough denominational differences without these appearances. How many more would we have with? Would we become an even lazier culture?

“But Nick. You believe that in eternity, we will all have a personal appearance of God and this won’t go on.”

Right. We will also be living in a world where we do not have sinful natures. As long as we have those, we will often twist everything we can to our advantage. This includes the truth of God. We have abundant evidence of people using anything to their own advantage today. How much more so with personal appearances of God being known around the world and the fact of personal appearances not in dispute?

If you want to know if God exists, God could show Himself to you, but it’s not to be expected. Granted, it has been happening to Muslims in dreams and to people like Paul, but if God isn’t appearing to someone, if He is real, He has a good reason for it. It doesn’t invalidate the arguments at all.

In Christ,
Nick Peters



Atheism and the Case Against Christ Chapter 11

(We do hope to have something soon on Saturday’s guest.)

Does McCormick have faith right? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

McCormick’s eleventh chapter is all about the f-word, which for him is faith. As I came here, I was expecting more of the same. No actual interaction with scholarship on the concept of faith. No bothering to find out what the Biblical authors would have meant by the word. Just the same usual old canards about faith that have been trotted out time and time again.

McCormick did not disappoint in that area.

As expected, he starts wondering about how many believers would have made it this far through the book. I can understand it. It’s not because the arguments are so good but because they’re so bad that pushing myself through this was a labor of love at times. (Meanwhile, at other times it was so outright hysterical I wanted to see how much more he could get wrong.)

Unfortunately, McCormick has hit on one important note here that many new atheists like to hit on. Faith. There is a great misconception about what faith is in the world today and sadly, Christians give that false impression. It’s quite problematic that atheists who love to go back sometimes and see what a text means when it’s convenient to them and show how Christians don’t understand what they’re talking about at this point don’t bother to go back to the text to see if Christians even have faith right. Hint. They don’t.

McCormick gives a definition that says “To take something on faith or to believe by faith is to believe it despite contrary or inadequate evidence.” Of course, this is a false misunderstanding of the word held by Christians today and atheists do themselves no favor if they justify their mistake by pointing to the mistakes of Christians. If McCormick wants to knock it down, let him, but treating it as the true position with inadequate evidence or despite contrary evidence is an action of faith.

Naturally, McCormick quotes Martin Luther about reason being the greatest enemy faith has. Again, McCormick doesn’t go to the primary sources. When Luther speaks about reason, he’s not speaking about the thinking capacity. He’s speaking about a mind unaided by the Holy Spirit and regenerate and seeking to go about and follow its own desires. Has McCormick done any investigation into Martin Luther and his understanding of reason? No. Instead, he just found a quote he liked and put it up assuming it meant everything he thought it did.

Of course, I should in all of this give my view of faith. That can be found here. This also applies to areas today where we have faith. Those are areas where there is good reason to believe the proposition under question, but there is some element of risk. Such a proper use would be an airplane for instance. Statistics show that air travel is safe, but we all have an element of risk when we get in. There’s no guarantee the plane will land safely.

McCormick says we do not invoke faith for something we don’t want to happen. Indeed, we don’t. That is because faith is when we put trust in something and we often can combine it with hope. Again, none of this shows an interaction with the Biblical material. McCormick has simply condemned the Christians for thinking foolishly yet kept up the act by thinking foolishly himself.

McCormick tells us that many believers have said it is faith and evidence. McCormick says this is a mistake based on what he said earlier, but pointing to mistaken evidence does not make a valid conclusion. McCormick could have asked why they think the way that they do, but he does not. He says that if there is sufficient evidence to justify the conclusion, then faith is not needed, but it can be. Faith is needed in order to act on the proposition. Knowledge is not enough.

People with phobias like myself understand this. When it comes to my phobia, all the knowledge in the world doesn’t seem to faze it. Instead, what is needed is to be able to act. That is then when faith comes where I say “I believe the knowledge I have is sufficient to justify doing something I think is risky.” In the case of Scripture, it’s trusting myself to the risen Christ.

In fact, this all leads to a great irony. Most of McCormick’s criticisms of faith in this chapter I would agree with. If he wants to destroy this kind of faith, more power to him. I want him to do that. I agree that Christians need more than just “faith” to justify the most important question of all. I agree that Christians should have evidence for their beliefs or at least know where the evidence is. (For instance, I would point to a specialist on Islam for instance while I have sufficient reasons for believing the resurrection of Jesus.)

Yet in a great bit of irony, at 3603, McCormick says the following:

The difference is that we often approach the world with a preformed conclusion already in mind. Then, as we consider new information that is relevant to that cherished doctrine, we are receptive to the arguments, evidence, and reasoning that corroborate it and are hostile to arguments that run counter to it. Sometimes we are not aware of it, but our real purpose is to defend the preferred belief. Our faculties of reasoning get put into the service protecting a belief instead of seeking the truth.

This is in fact a great description of McCormick’s book. Now if someone wants to say to me “Maybe you’re guilty of the same” then I say “Maybe I am. If you think I am, present the evidence. Show it.” We should all always be open to being wrong.

McCormick also asks an important question at 3650. He wants to know if there is anything that would dissuade you of the existence of God and the divinity of Jesus. This is a good question. Of course, McCormick couldn’t answer it for us since we must give the answer, but I’d be glad to.

For God, you could show a necessary contradiction in the essential nature of God. Not a paradox mind you, but a contradiction. That would defeat the idea of God. If not that, then you could also refute all the arguments given for the existence of God. This at this point would only show agnosticism. It could be God exists and we just had stupid reasons for believing in Him. You still need to put together a categorical disproof to get to atheism.

For Jesus, it’s quite simple. Some people say the bones of Jesus. I don’t go that route since we have no guarantee that they would have survived had no resurrection taken place which puts us in an unfair position. I just ask people to provide a better scenario that explains the data we have other than the one the church gave.

Next I would ask McCormick what it would take. Unfortunately, what I usually see from this is something like this piece from Jerry Coyne.

The following (and admittedly contorted) scenario would give me tentative evidence for Christianity. Suppose that a bright light appeared in the heavens, and, supported by winged angels, a being clad in a white robe and sandals descended onto my campus from the sky, accompanied by a pack of apostles bearing the names given in the Bible. Loud heavenly music, with the blaring of trumpets, is heard everywhere. The robed being, who identifies himself as Jesus, repairs to the nearby university hospital and instantly heals many severely afflicted people, including amputees. After a while Jesus and his minions, supported by angels ascend back into the sky with another chorus of music. The heavens swiftly darken, there are flashes of lightning and peals of thunder, and in an instant the sky is clear.

If this were all witnessed by others and documented by video, and if the healings were unexplainable but supported by testimony from multiple doctors, and if all the apparitions and events conformed to Christian theology—then I’d have to start thinking seriously about the truth of Christianity.¬†Faith vs. Fact p. 118-119

Please note that this is “tentative” evidence. Boghossian says similar with saying he’d borrow from Lawrence Krauss that he wants all the stars in the sky one night to say something like “I am YHWH. Believe in me.” This would still not be conclusive enough. We could all be experiencing a mass hallucination.

If McCormick gives something similar in answer, what does this mean? It means no reasoning in philosophy or historiography would convince him. Instead, only a personal experience that we could not give would convince him. By the way, this is all the way while complaining about Christians who go by their personal experience. If McCormick says historiography and philosophy can convince him, I want to know in advance. I want to know he’s not expecting a personal miracle. If he is expecting a personal miracle, then dialogue to convince him is ridiculous. It is only relevant for a watching audience.

We conclude then that McCormick still sadly buys into the same atheist myths that you can find anywhere. One would think a Ph.D. in philosophy would do better. Alas, we are disappointed.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

McCormick’s Gaffe

Book Plunge: Core Facts

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

Braxton Hunter is a professor of Christian apologetics who holds a PH.D. in the same field. He’s recently written a book called “Core Facts” written to not just give a good start to apologetics, but it also is a kind of teaching guide to help others learn how to do apologetics.

The presentation that Hunter presents surrounds his “core facts.” The list is as follows:

C – Cause of the universe
O – Order of the universe
R – Rules of morality
E – Experience of God

F – Fatality of Jesus’s death on the cross
A – Appearances of Jesus to the disciples.
C – Commitment level of the disciples
T – Testimony of the disciples
S – Salvation taught through the Gospel.

Now granted there are some here that I would not use. At the start with the cause and order of the universe, the scientific arguments are cited, but this is something that gets me wondering at times. Is it because I am opposed to science? Not at all! Is it because I am opposed to scientific apologetics? Again, not at all! It is because I have this fear that too often we make the case scientific and I want to make sure that those of us who do have taken the time to learn the sciences not just for apologetics purposes but general purposes. This is the reason why I do not use scientific apologetics. I am not a scientist (And I don’t play one on TV) and I do not want to speak in a field that is not my area.

I also am cautious about the idea of the experience of God. The problem is that experience is not an on-demand kind of thing and to this day, when Bill Craig gives his fifth way in a debate of knowing that God exists, I still cringe.

For the last group, I think in this day and age I would replace fatal with something like “Fact of Jesus’s existence.” There are more people who are Christ-mythers today than there are people who hold to the swoon theory.

For C, I would have probably gone with the idea of conversion, such as that of James and Paul. Why is it that those who were skeptical of the faith were the ones who later on joined it? They had nothing to gain and everything to lose. After all, C and T sounded awfully similar to me at times.

And as for S, an excellent ending would have been shamefulness of Christianity. It is too often overlooked that in the honor-shame context of the ancient Mediterranean world, Christianity was a shameful belief and that that belief not only survived in the face of persecution and shaming but also came to dominate is something that needs to be explained.

Still, the areas that Hunter does present, he does very well on. I was also pleased to hear him say that evolution is not a battle that we have to fight. Very few apologists make such a statement, but I agree entirely with Hunter. I would not argue it unless one was skilled in the sciences and making a purely scientific argument for or against. I only wish he’d gone further on this point and said that we can also go with an eternal universe or a multiverse and Christianity is still safe.

A bonus also is that Hunter does have tips at the end of each section for how to transition the material to a teaching presentation. This makes this kind of book ideal for a leader to use when teaching a class. There are several sidebars as well that provide more detailed information and Hunter has indeed read both sides of the issue.

If there’s one section though that contains poor argumentation, it’s the last one where Hunter has a debate that he did with the owner of an atheist forum who simply goes by the name “Will.” To be sure, the poor argumentation is not on the side of Hunter. It is on the side of Will. As I read this section I found myself repeatedly face-palming. It is embarrassing to see the arguments so many atheists use. Will uses everything from an insistence on YEC and Inerrancy, to a lack of understanding of biblical texts (Judges 21 has God commanding rape? Please find the command from God in there! It’s in fact showing what it was like when Israel was NOT following God.), to a Boghossian understanding of what faith is, and then going so far as to be a Christ-myther. (It should sadly be for the atheist community that they would want to get the Christ-mythers to be quiet. Instead, they champion them. Reality is there are more Ph.D. scientists who hold to a young-earth than there are Ph.D.’s in ancient and NT history that hold to the Christ myth theory. I also for clarification am not a YEC.)

Hunter answer very well, but the fact that Will is a preacher’s kid shows how bad a job is being done in educating the youth of our church. That anyone would think that these are serious arguments being put forward is a travesty. Now of course there are serious arguments atheism can put forward, but many used today are ones that should not be given the time of day. (And of course sadly, the same applies to many Christian arguments.)

In conclusion, while I don’t agree with everything Hunter says, naturally, I could recommend his book as a good resource to a starting apologetics class at a local church. It will become one that can easily be taught and easily discussed and the debate at the end should show how well the Core Facts can stand up to scrutiny. It is a work I could use myself. Braxton Hunter’s “Core Facts” has my endorsement.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

%d bloggers like this: