Tag Archives: C. S. Lewis

Book Review: Know Why You Believe

Know Why You Believe, K. Scott Oliphint.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017.  Softcover, 221 pages.

There’s a need for different types of books on apologetics.  We need the books on theory – and there are plenty of them.  Several efforts have been made over the years to write books specifically addressed to unbelieving skeptics.  However, so far as I’m aware, there haven’t been too many books written for believers at a popular level.  I’m talking about the kind of book you could give to your teenage son or daughter when they start asking hard questions about the Christian faith.  This is that book.

As a professor of apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary, Dr. Scott Oliphint is well-qualified to write this kind of work.  He has a great grasp of the background philosophical and theological issues – and this is evident in his more scholarly apologetics books.  Yet he also has a track record of accessible writing for popular audiences – for example, some years ago I reviewed his great series of biblical studies entitled The Battle Belongs to the Lord: The Power of Scripture for Defending Our Faith.  He’s done it again.  Except for a couple of more technical sections, most of Know Why You Believe should be comprehensible to the average reader from young adults upwards.

The book launches with this profound quote from C.S. Lewis at his best:  “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.”  That really sets the tone for everything following.  One of the reasons I really love this book and can highly recommend it is because it takes God’s Word seriously.  It takes Psalm 36:9 seriously:  “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.”  God’s light especially shines forth in his Word.  If you want to see clearly, you need to see things God’s way.  This is also true when it comes to the reasons for believing the Christian faith.  The best and most trustworthy reasons come from God himself – the faithful God who never lies.  That’s the basic approach undergirding Know Why You Believe – a biblical, Reformed approach to apologetics.

Oliphint covers 10 questions we might struggle with:

  • Why believe in the Bible?
  • Why believe in God?
  • Why believe in Jesus?
  • Why believe in miracles?
  • Why believe Jesus rose from the dead?
  • Why believe in salvation?
  • Why believe in life after death?
  • Why believe in God in the face of modern science?
  • Why believe in God despite the evil in the world?
  • Why believe in Christianity alone?

Each chapter deals with one of these questions.  It explains the reasons and then also addresses responses or objections that might arise.  There are also “Questions for Reflection” and recommended readings with every chapter.

Just touching on one chapter, the second last deals with the problem of evil.  It describes the problem and then explores two ways in which Christians have tried to address it, albeit unsatisfactorily.  Instead, Oliphint attempts to offer biblical reasons as to how evil can co-exist with a good God.  He points out that God has recognized the problem of evil from before creation.  Furthermore, God created human beings in his image as responsible agents.  When Adam and Eve fell, God rightly judged their sin.  The real blame for evil is on them, not God.  He then points out how God himself has dealt with, is dealing with, and will deal with the problem of evil through his Son Jesus Christ.  This is a good explanation, but Oliphint might have said more.  For instance, he could have added that because God is good, he must have a morally good reason for allowing whatever evil there is to exist.

Not every Christian ponders the deeper questions of why we believe what we do.  But if you or someone you know does, this will be a great read.  It would also make a great gift for consistories to give to young people who make public profession of faith.


Essential Latin for Reformed Christians: Sensus divinitatis

English has many Latin roots.  Many Latin expressions can therefore be intuitively decoded without much effort, even apart from a working knowledge of the language.  Sensus divinitatis shouldn’t be too hard to work out as “sense of divinity.”  The idea is sometimes found with a synonymous expression:  semen religionis or “seed of religion.”  The concept behind both is the biblical teaching that all human beings have some sense that God exists.

The key biblical passage is found in Romans 1:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.  For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.  So they are without excuse.  (Romans 1:18-20)

The Holy Spirit says here that God has shown certain things about himself to all people.  His “eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived.”  This obviously includes the awareness of his very existence.  God does not believe in the existence of atheists, and neither should we!

When you encounter someone who claims to be an atheist, you are meeting someone self-deceived.  They have deceived themselves into a position they actually know not to be true.  And according to the Holy Spirit in Romans 1, this is not a person with an intellectual problem, but a moral one.  This suppressing of the truth is done in “unrighteousness.”  It is wicked to have the sensus divinitatis and then not acknowledge the Deity.  It leaves unbelievers “without excuse” — literally without an apologetic, without a reasonable defense for what they’re doing.

This suppression of the sensus divinitatis has been compared to a jack-in-the-box.  For those who have no idea what such a thing is, I’ve included a picture at the top of this post.  “Jack” has to be stuffed down into the box.  “Jack” does not cease to exist.  He is still there, but has been pushed down into the box, out of sight.  Our calling as Christians is to turn the crank, so to speak.  Our calling is to bring the truth out into the open, so that the unbeliever might acknowledge God for who he is, and submit to him with faith and repentance.

The concept of the sensus divinitatis is therefore important for defending and promoting our faith, for apologetics.  At the heart of biblical apologetics is the notion that the unbeliever already knows God is there, but is suppressing that truth in unrighteousness.  The unbeliever is sinfully living in self-deception.  Biblical apologetics equips us with the tools to expose this fantasy world of the unbeliever for what it really is.  Through apologetics, we learn how to demonstrate that, while denying God with their lips, unbelievers show with their lives that they are self-deceived.   To use the words of Proverbs 26:4,5, through apologetics we learn both how to “answer not a fool according to his folly” (to lay out the truth), and to “answer a fool according to his folly” (to expose the foolish fantasy of unbelief).

In his spiritual autobiography Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis comments tellingly about his life before acknowledging God:

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.

You see, the sensus divinitatis is real, found not only in the words of Scripture, but also in human experience.  So remember the next time you’re speaking with an unbeliever that not everything is as it seems.  Your unbelieving friend actually knows God to some degree, but wickedly pushes that truth down.  Pray that you can be God’s instrument to pull the truth up and out into the open.


The Art of Prophesying

What does a pastor (or aspiring pastor) read for personal edification?  Well, if you follow the advice of C. S. Lewis, you’ll be making sure that at least some of your edifying reading comes from older writers.  Most of my favourite older writers are Puritans.  Those godly Reformed men blended great learning with passion and commitment to Christ.  My friend Chris Gordon is big on William Perkins (1558-1602), often regarded as the first of the English Puritans.  So last week I was at Reformed Book Services in nearby Brantford and I picked up Perkin’s The Art of Prophesying.  It’s published in the Puritan Paperbacks series put out by Banner of Truth and includes another little work by Perkins, The Calling of the Ministry.  This edition has been revised by Sinclair Ferguson and is very readableThe Art of Prophesying is a little homiletics handbook.  The Calling of the Ministry features expositions of two passages (Job 33:23-24 and Isaiah 6:5-9) with an eye to the bearing of these passages on pastoral ministry.  This is an excellent little book — unfortunately, I don’t think the text of the book is available online.  Of course, you can purchase it from the usual sorts of online retailers.


Read the Puritans

I believe it was C.S. Lewis who promoted the reading of old books and authors; something to the effect that we should read one old book for every four new books.  That is sage advice.  There is so much to be gained from going to those who’ve gone before us.  Unfortunately, when it comes to our own Reformed tradition, there’s not a lot of old stuff in English.  However, we do have close relatives to whom we can turn.  Joel Beeke has an excellent article entitled “Why You Should Read the Puritans.”  You can find it here.   I concur for the most part.  It’s nothing new under the sun, but not all Puritan authors are equally worthy of our time and effort.  For some, their obscurity is history’s judgment on their prolixity and obfuscation.  For others (like Thomas Watson), the fact that they’re still being republished bears witness to their effectiveness in communication and the timeless message they held forth.

I know what some of you are thinking:  the Puritans spoke and wrote an English that’s hard to understand.  Sometimes that’s true.  But I say, “So what?”  Are we afraid of having to work a bit to understand an author?  Are we so narcissistic and lazy that we can’t put some effort into our reading?  But having said that, I would highly recommend beginning with Thomas Watson and his All Things for Good.  Give him a try.  You might be surprised.

(reposted from 07.21.07)


Lewis: God is Not Fond of Slackers

“God is no fonder of intellectual slackers than of any other slackers.  If you are thinking of becoming a Christian, I warn you that you are embarking on something which is going to take the whole of you, brains and all.  But fortunately, it works the other way around.  Anyone who is honestly trying to be a Christian will soon find his intelligence being sharpened:  one of the reasons why it needs no special education to be a Christian is that Christianity is an education itself.”

C.S. Lewis

(Reposted from Yinkahdinay, 01.29.07)