Posts Tagged ‘apologetics’



I recently re-visited a fascinating account in Scripture of the apostle Paul that presents a great example of apologetics! Paul is put on the spot to defend his actions in front of the powerful authoritative figures of Festus and king Agrippa. Here’s what happens…

Acts 26:24 “As [Paul] was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, ‘Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.'”

What an interesting thing to be accused of! It seems today that it’s precisely the opposite brush with which we, as Christians, are often painted. We are seen as un-educated and un-sophisticated and un-reasonable. While there is certainly a simplicity in the basic Christian message, there is also a depth and mystery to it that has engaged some of the greatest minds of history, including Blaise Pascal, Rene Descartes, Isaac Newton, C.S. Lewis, Johannes Kepler, John Polkinghorne, and Thomas Aquinas among many others. Aquinas, probably the most powerful intellect of his day, even claimed that his voluminous writings about God were “As straw” when compared to a single mystical vision he experienced later in life. Quite the humble admission from a towering intellect!

The beauty of Christianity is that a child can understand the basic message of the gospel (we are sinners in need of saving, and Jesus saves us), but the details of that message continue to spark debate among the great intellects of our day. Oh, that we might once again be accused of too much learning!

Acts 26:25 “But Paul said, ‘I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but am speaking true and rational words.'” 

Today, we are often considered irrational at best, and deluded at worst. The fact that the Bible contains miracles is often enough to illicit scoffing from the more “enlightened” in our culture. Consider this statement from atheist Sam Harris: “It is time that we admitted that faith is nothing more than the license religious people give one another to keep believing when reasons fail.”

So, is Christianity unreasonable?

Paul made clear that the words he spoke were both true and rational. He was not making up stories, but recounting historical events. Indeed, it would serve him little to speak crazy-talk in front of authorities who could inflict serious harm on him. What purpose would that serve? Listen to what he goes on to say…

Acts 26:26-27 “‘For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.'”

Paul argues his case from empirical evidence. The reason he has confidence is because the very things he is speaking of solidly took place in history and were observable. These events had not taken place “in a corner,” but rather in Jerusalem, the central hub of the Jewish world. People were talking about it, and it was gaining momentum, against all opposition.

It seems that Paul is on to something with Agrippa. It’s not so much that the Christian message was against reason, truth, or history. Rather, the evidence was in front of Agrippa just as it was in front of Paul. The issue seems to be belief. Paul is appealing to the king’s will. As is often the case with all of our beliefs, we don’t come to them because they are the most reasonable. No person, regardless of how rational they claim to be, has accepted each of their beliefs because of close examination. Rather, we tend to make up our minds first on emotion and intuition, and only later try and justify them through rational examination. How many people have you seen change their mind after witnessing or engaging in a debate with someone of opposing viewpoints? No matter how rational the conversation, the fact remains that reason is not the ultimate determiner of our beliefs. Although it does play an important role, it is typically used to justify our beliefs, rather than form them. Such seems to be the case with Agrippa. Paul is appealing to something deeper than the outward conversation going on. He encourages Agrippa to search his own heart, the center of his belief-making self. And Paul has his suspicions that Agrippa already believes…

Acts 26:28 “And Agrippa said to Paul, ‘In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?’ And Paul said, ‘Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.'”

Here is Paul’s big “sell” moment! He has the boldness to be up front and honest about his intentions. He is not looking for a crowd to preach to in order to inflate his own ego. Rather, he passionately believes that his message is true and good, and therefore wishes that those who hear would not only admit it but also accept it as such.

The end goal of apologetics is never to win an argument or a debate. It is not just about changing peoples’ minds but transforming their heartsIf we believe our message is true, and if we believe that our message is good, then we should be compelled to share this message in an engaging way to those who do not yet share our acceptance of it. May we, as Christians, take Paul’s example and use every opportunity given to us to eloquently, passionately, and clearly engage our culture on these fundamental issues of life, and may we do so with boldness.


Easter is a time for Christians to celebrate and recognize the core of our faith: The Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. While I love Cadbury cream-filled eggs just as much as the next person (probably more), Easter is obviously about something much greater. In fact, Paul went so far as to say that if the resurrection didn’t happen, then the rest of our faith is in vain (1 Cor 15:17). So are there good reasons to place our hope in this event?

This Easter season I came across an article written by professional atheist and editor of Skeptic magazine Michael Shermer (read it here He’s not a fan of the resurrection. Let me be clear: I like Shermer. I follow him on Twitter, I find his personality winsome, his writing is clear (I disagreed with the theses of The Moral Arc and The Science of Good & Evil, but I thought they were interesting and helpful reads), and his approach as a public atheist is engaging (he is a former Evangelical, so he understands us 328476 times better than someone like Dawkins, who probably couldn’t find 2 Corinthians if he started in 1 Corinthians). That being said, I found his arguments against the central event of the Easter narrative unconvincing. Here’s why…

He first points out that “Jews and Muslims, along with the world’s other four billion religious people, do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus.” While he admits that the truth of an event cannot be authoritatively determined simply by how many people believe it, he offers little else to support this argument. He basically says if there was good evidence for the resurrection, then more people would believe it. First of all, he’s assuming that all these other religious believers have heard about the resurrection and the evidence for it (arguably, most Christians haven’t even heard the best evidences for the resurrection). Many of these religious believers have not had the opportunity to hear the gospel at all, and you cannot actively reject what you’ve never heard. Second, since when have people believed true things based solely on the evidence? Shermer of all people should understand this. It is to his own great frustration that many people seem to believe things despite the lack of evidence. As fellow atheist Jonathan Haidt claims in his book The Righteous Mind, people mostly believe things on intuition, and later use their reasoning to justify what they had previously accepted on emotion.

His second point is, “resurrecting someone back to life who was truly dead would be one of the most unusual events to ever happen in history, given the fact that to date approximately 100 billion people have lived and died before us and not one of them has returned to life.” Um, yeah. I don’t know any Christian who would claim that the Resurrection of Jesus is normal or natural. A miracle, by its very definition, is not a common occurrence. He is pointing to an unusual event and saying it didn’t happen because it’s unusual. But that is not a good reason to assume it is false! One might even argue that every event is unique, as it is not exactly like any other event. The resurrection is improbable, but it is only impossible if there is no God. So in the end, this point goes back to the age-old debate of 1. Does God exist, and 2. Can He do miracles? Regardless of what David Hume might have claimed, these are not closed cases. You cannot assume that the very event you are questioning is false to make the case that it’s false. If the resurrection happened, it was a miracle. So the greater debate must go back to the possibility of miracles and the existence of God.

Shermer’s third point assumes the “principle of proportionality,” which states that the more extraordinary the claim the more evidence is needed to prove it is true. While this is a good rule for a courtroom (when lives and life sentences hang in the balance!), it is not a hard-and-fast rule about the truth of any event. People might need more evidence in order to believe such claims, but limited evidence does not change the truth of the event in question. Shermer is the one claiming the resurrection lacks evidence. There are many who not only see evidence for the resurrection, they see convincing evidence (see particularly the works of Mike Licona, Gary Habermas, and William Lane Craig). In the words of Blaise Pascal, “There is enough light for those who desire only to see, and enough darkness for those of a contrary disposition.”

Fourth, Shermer claims, “there are no reliable extra-biblical sources documenting Jesus’s resurrection.” He assumes that the Romans would have made extensive records of such an event. Maybe they did. Does any historian pretend to have all the ancient accounts of common executions? Crucifixions were common in the Roman empire, and although we think the events of Jesus’ life and death are important, this does not mean that the Romans themselves thought they were any more significant than an isolated religious disagreement among the Jewish people. Also, he casually uses a word like “reliable” to dismiss the evidence that is there (such as Josephus and Tertullian). Finally, why is it that skeptics continually dismiss the eye-witness accounts of the gospels themselves by requiring “extra-biblical” sources? This is like dismissing all the firsthand witnesses of a robbery from a courtroom so that you can rely on the testimony of those who heard the news secondhand. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 (which virtually all New Testament scholars believe to be authentically written by Paul), Paul claims that over 500 witnesses, including the disciples, the skeptic James, and himself (who actively opposed the preaching of the resurrection) were witnesses who could verify the appearance of the risen Jesus.

Fifth, Shermer states, “the biblical sources we have for the resurrection are not dependable.” He notes that the gospel accounts were written several decades after the events they describe. However, people tend to remember the most significant events of their lives, even after many years have passed (ask a couple who has been married 50 years to describe their wedding day). Furthermore, the gospel accounts are not our earliest sources for the resurrection. First Corinthians 15:3-8 clearly lays out what the first believers were teaching, likely within 2 years of the actual events (Paul received this doctrinal creed sometime after his conversion and before he met with the other disciples, which means this teaching was passed down to him by those who were already preaching the resurrection immediately after the event happened). Shermer goes on to claim that perhaps the disciples (all 500 of them?) saw post-death apparitions of Jesus due to their grief. But hallucinations are not group phenomena, and Paul (who himself claims to have seen Jesus) was not in a state of grief at the time of his experience. Also, this fails to explain why the disciples, who had nothing to gain and everything to lose, would face persecution and certain death based on nothing more than a ghost citing. Finally, Shermer suggests that religious people may have added these miracles into the story years later in order to boost the credibility of their own faith. The problem is, as 1 Cor 15 again shows, these miracles were being taught immediately after the events.

Finally, Shermer notes that the Catholic Church teaches, “Although the Resurrection was an historical event that could be verified by the sign of the empty tomb and by the reality of the apostles’ encounters with the risen Christ, still it remains at the very heart of the mystery of faith as something that transcends and surpasses history.” I’m not a Catholic, so I don’t feel the need to defend their doctrine. However, all this seems to be saying (after admitting there is evidence) is that the spiritual importance of the resurrection is far greater than simply an event in history. Indeed, Christians believe that this event carries with it a significance that goes beyond a basic recollection of unconnected historical events. The resurrection is central to our faith because of what it did. It gave us peace with God, removing the guilt of our sin so as to mend our broken relationship with our Creator. The spiritual significance of the resurrection is greater than anything recorded in a dusty old history book or dug up from the sand. Our spiritual salvation, while not the kind of “evidence” Shermer is looking for, is certainly the most real to us, as we experience it every day. The resurrection is not less than historical; it’s more.

Happy Easter everyone, we’ve got reasons to celebrate.