Friday, January 10, 2020

Why Believe Christianity?

How can we convince an unbeliever that he should believe Christianity? An excellent book on that topic is "Why Should I Believe Christianity?" (2016, Christian Focus Publications; Fearn, Scotland, 230 pages) by Dr. James N. Anderson, who specializes in philosophical theology and apologetics at Reformed Theological Seminary.

This book is addressed to unbelievers. Its goal is to explain the Christian worldview, and to give reasons why it is the correct worldview.

At heart, the issue is one of competing worldviews. Everyone has a worldview: our most basic beliefs and assumptions about the universe, and our deepest values regarding morality, logic, and purpose. Our worldview determines our opinions on such things as science, ethics, politics, and religion.

How can we judge between competing worldviews? A good worldview should be consistent, should cohere, should explain reality, and should fit with the available evidence. As worldviews, relativism and naturalism fail these tests because they are ultimately self-contradictory. No worldview can afford to deny obvious realities such as conscious, effective human minds, and absolute truths.

The Christian Worldview
Dr. Anderson explains that Christianity is based on the Bible. The Christian worldview is theocentric, in that everything derives its existence and meaning from God. God is absolute and tri-personal. God is perfect in goodness, knowledge, wisdom, and power. 

God created the universe a finite time ago. He created it good, and for His own glory. God is sovereign over His creation, and everything that happens is according to His plan. God created man in His image to rule over the earth as His deputies.

However, if God everything God created was initially good, how do we account for the "countless things in the universe that are not good" (p.68)? They are all caused by human rebellion against God. Adam's fall brought condemnation and corruption to the entire human race. It also brought a curse on the world, resulting in sickness, poverty, war, and natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, and diseases. Thus our world bears the marks of an originally good creation that is now horribly broken (p.72). 

A key element of the Christian worldview is that God speaks to us, through the Bible, about God, us, our salvation though the God-man Jesus Christ, and our hope of eternal life with God on a renwed earth. History enfolds in four acts: creation, fall, redemption, and consummation.

Why Believe It?
Why should anyone believe that Christianity makes more sense than naturalism? Dr. Anderson gives several arguments for the existence of God. First, since everything in the universe is contingent  (in that it need not exist), naturalism can offer no explanation as to why anything does in fact exist. Christianity, on the other hand, explains the existence of contingent things in terms of its creation by absolute self-existent God. Also, only an absolute God can ground objective values, particularly for morality and reason. Furthermore, only an absolute, conscious Mind could create human conscious minds.

Indeed, science itself depends on God, since science needs objective values, purpose, and logic. Scientists must assume that the universe is orderly and rational, and that these align with the orderliness and rationality of human minds. Such basic assumptions are much better explained by Christianity than by naturalism.

God Speaks
Dr. Anderson argues that if a perfect personal God exists, then it is reasonable that He would speak to us. Hence it makes sense that there would be divine scriptures presenting themselves as verbal communication from that God.  This rules out Eastern religions (such Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism) whose sacred writings don't present themselves as coming from a transcendent, perfect, personal God. 

This leaves only the Abrahamic religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Which of these is more coherent? Anderson argues Christianity is more complete than Judaism, since Judaism rejects Jesus as the promised Isaiah; the Old Testament without the New Testament is like a jigsaw puzzle with half the pieces missing. As to Islam, Anderson argues that the Quran cannot be a genuine divine revelation because, among other things, it misrepresents what Christians actually believe (e.g., on the trinity). In sum, there are good reasons to embrace the Bible as the only genuine divine revelation. 

On the whole, this book is very good. It is well written, with clarity and humour, in a simple, chatty style. Dr. Anderson anticipates many of the questions that might come up in the reader's mind. 

Unfortunately, however, there are some deficiencies in areas relating to science. 

For example, Dr. Anderson argues, quite correctly, for the possibility of miracles on the basis that a sovereign God, who upholds natural laws, is free to modify these as He desires. 

Yet, on the other hand, Dr. Anderson appeals to modern physics to confirm that the universe had a beginning in time (p.62, 132). However, such conclusions from physics about the distant past presume the complete uniformity of natural laws: no past miracles, supernatural causes, or changes in natural laws. Given a sovereign God, Who could well have upheld the universe from eternity past, science is in no position to tell us whether or not the universe began to exist a finite time ago. Only God's revealed Word can do that. 

Also, Dr. Anderson attributes all natural evil (earthquakes, diseases, etc.) as resulting from Adam's Fall. As he should well know, this entails rejecting the fossil dates of mainstream science, since these dates place natural evil (animal suffering from diseases, etc.) millions of years before the first human appeared. Therefore, his explanation of natural makes sense only in terms of some form of Young Earth Creationism (YEC).

Yet, on the other hand, Dr. Anderson claims that the universe must have been fine-tuned in order to form habitable planets and solar systems (p.132). This implies a natural origin for the earth and Sun, which fits in better with mainstream cosmology than YEC.  

Dr. Anderson tries to avoid directly addressing this issue, noting only that Christians are divided on whether the creation days are real or figurative (p.62). Yet, elsewhere, Anderson has stated that he has repudiated YEC, and now takes the creation days to refer to divine workdays not identical to ours.

But rejecting YEC undermines his explanation for natural evil.

Moreover, in his book Dr. Anderson invites the reader to read the Bible for himself, to check the claims of Christianity. Excellent advice. But how does he explain to the skeptical reader why, already in its very first chapter, the Bible doesn't really mean to say what it says?

The Big Ten 
This book is part of a Christian apologetics series, The Big Ten, edited by Dr. Anderson and Dr. Greg Welty, addressing ten commonly asked questions about Christianity. A commendable project.

Earlier, I reviewed another book in this series, on evil, by Dr. Welty. This book, too, was very good. Regarding the existence of natural evil, Dr. Welty gave exactly the same explanation as Dr. Anderson, with the same YEC implications. Yet Dr. Welty, like Dr. Anderson, also balks at endorsing YEC.

A future book planned for The Big Ten series is to be entitled "Hasn't science shown that we don't need God?". This is a good question to address, but doesn't go far enough. What this series really needs is a volume giving a solid Christian response to the very common apologetics question: "Hasn't science disproven the Bible, particularly the traditional reading Gen.1-11?".

If Christians are to engage in effective apologetics with unbelievers, then they should boldly and consistently uphold Scriptural authority. Even if that means contradicting the worldly wisdom of mainstream science.


Steve Drake said...

"Also, Dr. Anderson attributes all natural evil (earthquakes, diseases, etc.) as resulting from Adam's Fall. As he should well know, this entails rejecting the fossil dates of mainstream science, since these dates place natural evil (animal suffering from diseases, etc.) millions of years before the first human appeared. Therefore, his explanation of natural makes sense only in terms of some form of Young Earth Creationism (YEC)."

For the life of me I cannot understand the disconnect here. Is it simply definitional difference for the words 'natural evil'?

If Anderson, Welty, and others, believe natural evil (earthquakes, tornadoes, volcanoes, tsunami's, etc.) as the result of Adam's sin, then what do they define as happening pre-Fall?

Do they bifurcate these 'natural evil' events as only happening post-Fall, and assume that they were minimal at best pre-Fall, or that animal death, archaic homo-sapien death, disease, bloodshed, and carnivory are not 'natural evil' and not part of God's Curse per Gen. 3? I just don't get it. I'm truly trying to understand their mindset here, and what their answers might be. Any ideas?

Steve Drake said...

To further my questions perhaps, what if you or I were sitting down with Anderson or Welty, Grudem perhaps, with a standard chart of the geologic column, specifically one that showed the 'life forms' for each of the periods and epochs and the associated millions of Darwin years assigned to each period and epoch. We printed out two copies, one for Anderson and one for us.

We then asked them about the standard 5 mass extinction events in the geologic column, beginning with the first at the boundary between the Ordovician and Silurian some 423 million Darwin years ago where supposedly 86% of life went extinct. This was supposedly only early shelled organisms, corals, trilobites and primitive fish. What would they conclude about these deaths in the Cambrian, Ordovician & Silurian? Would they say that this was not 'definitionally' natural evil?

What about the 3rd mass extinction event between the Permian and Triassic supposedly 251 million years ago where 90% of all life at that time went extinct? This would have included reptiles, amphibians, sharks, fishes, jellyfish, land plants, and evergreen forests. What caused this mass extinction and was it 'definitionally' natural evil?

What about the 5th mass extinction event around the Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary some 65 million years ago where dinosaurs and their diseased bones are found; where carnivory from teeth marks is clearly present in these bones. Is this too not 'natural evil'?

What would be their answers? How would they explain it? Could it in part answer to my question be, that as theologians, they just don't understand the geologic column?

Paul G said...

Well, don't read Dr Anderson's books, just open your Bible, and read it and believe it and preach it.
Preach Jesus Christ, that's the gospel.

Steve Drake said...

@ Paul G,

Not sure who you're directing your comment to, but if me, in my comments #1 and #2, to simply preach Jesus Christ, the gospel, is highly simplistic.

Christ's death on the cross as payment for sin is tied to the historic account of Creation, the Fall, the Curse of God on His creation, and the promise of remedy for that sin. Why did Christ die? Ans: For our sin problem. Why do we have a sin problem and where did it come from? Ans: In Adam we all sinned. We all die. In Christ we all shall be made alive (1 Cor. 15:21-22, Romans 5:12-14).

I gather that the real issue for you might be your unexamined acceptance of the false and unbiblical view of millions and billions of years of evolutionary history and a less than critical study of the theological implications this imposes.

Paul G said...

Hi Steve, yes the gospel is highly simplistic, if it wouldn't be, then it is most likely not the gospel, or perhaps a false gospel.

And I believe in a 6, 24 hour day creation, and on the seventh day the Lord Jesus Christ rested from all His work which He has done.
That is according to the Scriptures, and that excludes the millions of years of evolution of Darwinism.

I wonder why an intelligent man like Charles Darwin couldn't see that. Perhaps nobody preached the gospel to him, and for that reason he invented his own foolish speculation of evolution.

Steve Drake said...

@ Paul G,

"and that excludes the millions of years of evolution of Darwinism."

Does it exclude the billions and millions of years of geologically determined age by secular scientists? Are the universe and earth roughly <10,000 years old in your thinking?

Paul G said...

Yes Steve, that also excludes the billions of years of those scientists. I think they have an uncrucified lust for greatness so that they turn millions of years into billions of years :-)

Those blind guides ignore the oldest History Book the Bible, where it gives the dates and years and names and their genealogy right back to Adam.

I think the earth is only about 5924 years old. From Adam to the Flood 1656 years, and from the Flood to the birth of Jesus Christ 2248 years, and from the birth of Jesus Christ till now 2020 years AC. which makes it about 5924 years old.
Well, if we are wrong on the exact date of the birth of Jesus Christ, then we can add a few years, makes no difference, still under 6000 years.

And to top it off, I always make a point to the evolutionists, that the universe was created four days after the earth was formed, and then I read it out from the Bible, Genesis 1:14-19. By that time they are getting hot under the collar and spitting chips, so to speak :-)

Steve Drake said...

Hello Paul G,

Your two recent posts make the first one seem even more enigmatic. Why would you comment "Not to read Dr. Anderson's books then, and just preach the gospel?"

While I enjoy our discussion, my main point was the lack of understanding by men like Anderson of the geologic column and what it entails in regards to natural evil and how they then define "natural evil", both pre-Fall and post-Fall. Disconnect? Yes, that is the thrust of my argument. Do you have a comment concerning this?

Paul G said...

Steve, I have never read any of Dr Anderson's books, maybe I am too busy to read the Word of the Lord Jesus Christ, which is the Bible.
And I think that there was no evil before the Fall and neither natural evil, because the Lord created everything good Genesis 1:18, 21, 25, including Adam and Eve v. 31.

Why did evil enter the world and how ?

We need to look from the Lord’s perspective.
If there is only good, and we know that the Lord is good, then how would Adam know what good is ?
Adam didn’t know what good is because he had nothing to compare it to.
One without the other is meaningless, just like love without hate is also meaningless or peace without war is meaningless etc. And Adam didn’t have the knowledge of good and evil till sin was revealed, and then after he had the knowledge of good and evil.

Conclusion; the Lord said to Adam, “for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die”.
That statement from the Lord was not a choice for Adam to obey or not to obey, that was a command in order for Adam to have the knowledge of good and evil.
Not only that, the Lord Jesus Christ then paid for Adam’s sin and restored him to his former glory with knowledge and understanding, just as we have in Christ our Lord.

Steve Drake said...

Paul G,

I'm not sure what you're pushing Paul, but it is certainly not the historic orthodox Christian position. You're all over the map, and don't make much sense. Are you Mormon?Jehovah Witness?