Category Archives: Apologetics

Is the God of the Bible a Genocidal Maniac?

I love the stuff they’re putting out on this channel.  Reformed Wiki has good, solid teaching on Reformed apologetics, both the theory and practice.  This one fits with the latter category.


C.S. Lewis and Apologetics — A Reformed Assessment

Many Christians admire C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) and enjoy his writings.  I was introduced to C.S. Lewis through my Grade 4 teacher who read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe out loud to us.  I was hooked.  Shortly thereafter I went out and bought my own set of the complete Chronicles of Narnia.  That just got me started.  I’ve long enjoyed his imagination and literary style and I’m by no means alone.

But his influence goes further.  He was a well-known and persuasive advocate for Christianity.  Many people claim to have become Christians through the writings of Lewis.  Books like Mere Christianity and Miracles are still widely-read and touted as powerful tracts promoting Christian truth.  He was one of the most influential Christian apologists of the twentieth century.  But what should a Reformed believer think about his method?  Can we make use of his writings in Reformed apologetics?

Some Background     

Lewis was born in Ireland, but spent most of his life in England.  He was a professor of English at Cambridge University.  He wasn’t trained as a theologian, but did study and briefly teach philosophy.  He’d been an unbeliever for much of his young adult life.  He writes about this in his spiritual autobiography Surprised by Joy:

I was at this time living, like so many Atheists or Antitheists, in a whirl of contradictions.  I maintained that God did not exist.  I was also very angry with God for not existing.  I was equally angry with Him for creating a world.[1]

In the early 1930s, Lewis abandoned his atheism and professed to be a Christian.  He became a member of the Church of England.

Today many Christians believe C.S. Lewis to have been an orthodox, evangelical believer.  However, it’s important to realize that Lewis had some serious theological problems.  For example, he didn’t hold to the inerrancy of the Bible.  In his book Reflections on the Psalms, he insists that the imprecatory psalms (like Psalm 137) are “devilish.”  In Mere Christianity, he affirms the theory of evolution.[2]  In the same book, he writes about the possibility of Buddhists belonging to Christ without knowing it:  “…A Buddhist of good will may be led to concentrate more and more on the Buddhist teaching about mercy and to leave in the background (though he might still say he believe) the Buddhist teaching on other points.”[3]  There are more such issues.  On the basis of some of his statements, one might even wonder to what extent C.S. Lewis really understood the biblical gospel of Jesus Christ.  For myself, I’m not sure.

One thing that is certain is that Lewis has had a huge influence.  In the last few years, this is definitely because of the Chronicles of Narnia books being made into films.  As mentioned earlier, there are many people who claim to have become Christians because they read a book by C.S. Lewis like Mere Christianity or Miracles.  Let’s briefly look at those books and the method Lewis uses.

Mere Christianity 

Mere Christianity was originally a series of radio talks.  It was an attempt by Lewis to argue for a basic (‘mere’) form of the Christian faith.  Early in the book, Lewis uses the moral argument for the existence of a deity.  He says that because there is moral law, there must be a law-giver.  That law-giver must be a deity.  At that point, he wasn’t arguing for the Christian conception of God, but only a generic divine being.  His method becomes clear in what he says here:

We have not yet got as far as the God of any actual religion, still less the God of that particular religion called Christianity.  We have only got as far as a Somebody or Something behind the Moral Law.  We are not taking anything from the Bible or the Churches, we are trying to see what we can find out about this Somebody on our own steam.[4]

Lewis was thus trying to reason to God apart from any revelation from God.  He was asking readers to independently judge the existence of God on the basis of the arguments presented.  This method is found elsewhere in Mere Christianity as well.

Lewis tries to build up his case bit by bit.  Eventually he gets to the question of what should his readers think about Jesus and his claim to be God:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him:  “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.”  That is the one thing we must not say.  A man who was merely a man and said the sorts of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell.  You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.  You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.  But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher.  He has not left that open to us.  He did not intend to.[5]

That’s a brilliant piece of writing, often quoted.  You’ll sometimes hear it condensed down to the idea that people have to decide whether Jesus was Lord, liar, or lunatic.  Yet note again that people are called to judge.  You have to judge the claims of Jesus.

C.S. Lewis wrote another book entitled God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics.  In that book he gets to the heart of the problem with his own approach in parts of Mere Christianity.  He writes:

The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge.  For the modern man the roles are reversed.  He is the judge: God is in the dock…The trial may even end in God’s acquittal.  But the important thing is that Man is on the bench and God in the dock.[6]

That’s exactly what Lewis did in Mere Christianity.   He allowed man to judge God.  He flattered the unbeliever.  Lewis gave him a position of authority over God.  That method was and is not unique to C.S. Lewis.  Many others before and after him have done exactly the same thing.  I should also note that it can sometimes be persuasive.  These types of arguments can work to get people thinking about the Christian faith, and maybe even convince them.  However, just because they work doesn’t mean they’re right or pleasing to God.

Miracles

In his book Miracles, we do find Lewis using a different method at times.[7]  He discusses the philosophy of naturalism, the idea that nothing exists besides nature.  Against naturalism is supernaturalism, which allows for the existence of other things outside of nature, and therefore also allows for the existence of miracles.

Lewis starts off by rightly noting how the disagreement between the naturalist and the supernaturalist over miracles is not merely about facts.  One needs to spend time considering the philosophy of facts held by each side.  Lewis is saying that presuppositions matter.  He writes,

The result of our historical enquiries thus depends on the philosophical views which we have been holding before we even began to look at the evidence.  The philosophical question must therefore come first.[8]

That could have been said by Reformed theologians like Herman Bavinck or Cornelius VanTil.  Lewis recognizes that people have pre-existing philosophical commitments which must be exposed and discussed.

So when it comes to naturalism, Lewis does exactly that.  He does an internal critique of this philosophy and how it fails to account for logic, morality, and science.  To illustrate, let’s just briefly look at what he says about naturalism and logic or reason.

Lewis demonstrates that the naturalist cannot consistently hold to his position without undermining reason itself.  His philosophy cannot account for reason and cannot support reason.  Even though the naturalist tries to talk highly of reason, he actually destroys it.  This is because our reasoning powers are not explainable with naturalism.  Naturalism is materialistic – all that exists is matter.  But what is reason?  Is reason material or non-material?  Because reason is non-material, naturalism cannot account for it, we have no way for knowing whether it’s true, and our reasoning has no legitimacy.  Lewis writes:

A theory which explained everything else in the whole universe but which made it impossible to believe that our thinking was valid, would be utterly out of court.  For that theory would itself have been reached by thinking, and if thinking is not valid that theory would, of course, be itself demolished.  It would be destroyed by its own credentials.  It would be an argument which proved that no argument was sound…which is nonsense.[9]

Naturalism collapses under its own weight when it comes to reason.  Later in the book, Lewis shows that naturalism also collapses when it comes to morality and science.

Instead of naturalism, Lewis argues that supernaturalism can account for everything.  While he doesn’t get to the point of affirming that only the Christian worldview’s supernaturalism can account for everything, he comes close.  Elsewhere in his writings, he did reach that conclusion.  There is this famous quote from his book The Weight of Glory:

Christian theology can fit in science, art, morality, and the sub-Christian religions.  The scientific point of view cannot fit in any of these things, not even science itself.  I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.[10]

That is very well said — completely in line with Psalm 36:9, “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.”  Indeed, only Christianity can consistently account for everything.  Christianity is true because of the impossibility of the contrary.  Lewis didn’t always consistently work with this method, but when he did, he used it to great effect

At the end of the day, Lewis is worth reading, not only to see some wrong ways of doing apologetics, but also to learn to use some right ways — and brilliantly.  Moreover, if you have non-Christian friends, reading Lewis with them might be a great way to bring Christian truth to bear on their lives.  If you do that, I’d recommend Miracles over Mere Christianity.

******************

[1] C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, New York: Walker and Company, 1955, 170.

[2] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, London: Fontana Books, 1952, 181ff.

[3] Lewis, Mere Christianity, 173.

[4] Lewis, Mere Christianity, 35.

[5] Lewis, Mere Christianity, 52-53.

[6] C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, ed. W. Hooper (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 244.

[7] For this section on Miracles, I am indebted to an unpublished paper by Daniel R. Dodds, “Elements of Transcendental Presuppositionalism as Found in the Works of C.S. Lewis.”

[8] C.S. Lewis, Miracles, New York: Fount Paperbacks, 1947, 8.

[9] Lewis, Miracles, 18-19.

[10] C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, 1980, 92.


Why is Christianity True?

Why is Christianity true?  How would you answer that question?  A number of attendees at the National Religious Broadcasters convention were asked that question a few years ago.  Their answers were featured on a recently re-broadcast edition of the White Horse Inn radio show.  Almost all of them were some variation on this theme:  Christianity is true because it changed my life.

There are two reasons why that’s a lousy answer.

First, it’s an answer a Mormon could give.  A Mormon could say, “Mormonism is true because it changed my life.  I was once a drug addict, I became a Mormon, and my life was changed.”  Likely there are Muslims who could say the same thing.  The truth or falsity of Christianity (or any religion for that matter) has nothing to do with whether or not it will change your life.  Something is objectively true or objectively false, regardless of your subjective personal experience.  People’s lives can be changed, even profoundly so, by things that aren’t true.

Second, what happens if someone’s changed life returns to the way it was before?  Think of the Parable of the Sower.  Jesus spoke about the seed that fell on the rocky ground.  This represents someone who “hears the word and immediately receives it with joy.”  Such a one lasts for a while, but when there’s trouble, “immediately he falls away.”  In such a case, if Christianity was true because it changed that person’s life, if that person’s life goes back to the way it was, does that mean Christianity is now false?

You see, pointing to our own lives is a poor way to answer why Christianity is true.

There’s a better way.  If someone were to ask me, “Why is Christianity true?”, this is what I would say:  Christianity is true because of the impossibility of the contrary.  What I mean is that the Christian faith and worldview corresponds to reality – the world is exactly the way the Bible says it is.  And the Christian worldview truly accounts for the realities we see around us – it provides a basis for logic, morality, the laws of nature, mathematics, beauty, love, and more.  For example, objective standards of morality are grounded in the immutable character of a holy God.  So, Christianity is objectively true because it has been revealed by the God of truth, the Creator of all reality, the one in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).  Christianity is objectively true because in its light we see light (Psalm 36:9).

That’s just a short answer, of course.  There’s a lot more that could and should be said.  Books have been written to lay out that case at more length.  If you want to read one, check out K. Scott Oliphint’s Know Why You Believe (reviewed here).

1 Peter 3:15 tells every Christian always to be ready to give an answer for the hope we have in Christ.  Because we’re doing it in service to Christ, surely we’re obligated to make sure we do it in the best possible way.  That means turning away from arguments grounded in fickle and subjective human experiences and turning to arguments grounded in the infallible and inerrant Scriptures.  Sola Scriptura has to be our touchstone in apologetics too.


Want to Learn More About Apologetics?

Cornelius Van Til

Apologetics is about learning how to defend the Christian faith/worldview.  These days it’s getting easier than ever to learn about this important subject from some of the best teachers.  Just let me share three important resources:

Reformed Forum offers a free online course, Introduction to the Theology and Apologetics of Cornelius Van Til.  Taught by Dr. Lane Tipton, the course appears to be a great entry to understanding this pioneer of Reformed apologetics.

There’s a fairly recent YouTube channel that’s producing great content teaching and illustrating Reformed apologetics.  Reformed Wiki includes the famous Bahnsen/Stein debate:

Last of all, there’s a Facebook group:  Reformed Presuppositional Apologetics.  The group currently has nearly 6000 members, including some of the leading Reformed apologists of our day.  If you’re new to apologetics, it’s a great place to watch, learn, and discuss.  It’s one of the reasons I continue to find it hard to say “farewell” to Facebook.


Homosexuality, the Bible, 1946 and all that

I’m just going to say it, no holds barred:  one of the shallowest objections to traditional Christian sexual ethics is that “the Bible didn’t even use the word ‘homosexuality’ until 1946.”  I’m gobsmacked that people actually get taken in by this special sort of tomfoolery.  I know a lot has been written on this canard already, but it can only aid the cause of truth to get one more voice sharing the facts.

Here’s the thing:  it doesn’t matter that the Bible didn’t use the word ‘homosexuality’ until 1946.  The point is completely irrelevant.  Let me illustrate with other phenomena.  Consider:

No Bible translation has ever used the word ‘evolution.’  Does it follow that the Bible has nothing to say about Darwinian macro-evolution?

No Bible translation has ever used the word ‘transgender.’  Does it follow that the Bible has nothing to say about the transgender ideology?

No Bible translation has ever used the word ‘racism.’  Does it follow that the Bible has nothing to say about that?

Christians understand that the Bible’s relevance is not bound up with the use of an exact word.  It would be juvenile to take a word designating a topic (any topic), check an online concordance and, failing to find the word mentioned, conclude that the Bible has nothing to say on that topic.  The classic example is the Trinity.  Imagine someone checking a concordance for any mention of the word ‘Trinity’ in the Bible and, not finding it there, concluding that the doctrine of the Trinity is not in the Bible.  No, the word isn’t there, but the concept or doctrine certainly is.  Christians realize that, to do the Bible justice, we have to take the totality of its witness — that goes far beyond the usage of individual words.

Language is always in flux.  During our family worship, we take turns reading from the Bible.  My wife and kids read from the ESV while I read from the KJV.  I’m always surprised at how words change over the centuries.  For example, the KJV uses the word ‘corn’ in several places.  When we think of ‘corn,’ we think of the crop developed from maize.  It’s a New World crop — it didn’t grow in Israel in biblical times.  However, the KJV simply used the word ‘corn’ to describe any type of grain.  The English language has changed and Bible translations change with it.  Today there’s no corn in modern English translations.

While language changes, biblical truth does not.  Bible-believing Christians didn’t suddenly start seeing homosexuality as a problem in 1946.  Nor did Bible-believing Christians wake up one morning in 1946 and decide that they needed to have a Bible translation that supported their views.  History matters and history testifies that Bible-believing Christians have consistently maintained that homosexuality is contrary to God’s will for humanity.  Let me give two examples to illustrate.

The Heidelberg Catechism was written in 1563 for the teaching of children in the German-speaking region known as the Palatinate.  Lord’s Day 41 deals with the seventh commandment, “You shall not commit adultery.”  Someone might read Lord’s Day 41 and note that it makes no mention of homosexuality.  But you shouldn’t conclude that Reformed churches therefore have no problem with homosexuality.  Answer 109 says that God “forbids all unchaste acts.”  One of the biblical proof-texts is 1 Corinthians 6:18-20, a passage which has traditionally been understood to refer, in part, to homosexual behaviour.  Zacharias Ursinus was the main author of the Catechism and he wrote a commentary on it — actually lectures to his seminary students.  While the Catechism addressed to children understandably avoids this subject, his commentary definitely discusses homosexuality.  He speaks of it as being “contrary to nature.”  Homosexuality, according to Ursinus, is a heinous sin and an abominable transgression.  True, he doesn’t use the word ‘homosexuality’ — he couldn’t because it didn’t exist yet!  Nevertheless, the concept is there.

You can see the exact same thing in John Calvin’s commentary on Romans 1:26-27.  Again, Calvin doesn’t use the word ‘homosexual’ and neither should you expect him to.   Yet he still speaks of “the dreadful crime of unnatural lust” and of a “filthiness which even brute beasts abhor.”  Calvin found what we call ‘homosexuality’ to be contrary to God’s will, even though he didn’t use the word itself.  Were he alive today, he would no doubt find it ludicrous that some would argue that the Bible has anything other than condemnation for such things.

What Christians need to learn today is another important word:  revisionism.  In an effort to make homosexuality acceptable to Christians, progressive sorts are constantly trying to revise our theology and history.  This revisionism ought to be self-evidently anti-biblical.  In other words, it isn’t true to the Scriptures.  However, it can appeal to those who, for whatever reason, wish for a happy union between Christianity and homosexuality.  It appeals to those who think:  “Wouldn’t it be nice if our Christianity wasn’t so counter-cultural?”  Yet:  let no one join together what God has put asunder.