Misunderstanding Faith

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A mistake made by some Christians and most skeptics is believing that religious faith, or faith in God, is blind faith.  But biblical faith is not a leap into the dark, but a leap toward the light.  As Greg Koukl nicely summarizes:

“Faith [on this mistaken view] is religious wishful thinking, a desperate lunge in the dark when all evidence is against you.  Take the leap of faith and hope for luck.  Curiously, none of the biblical writers understood faith this way.  Jesus tells his naysayers, ‘Though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me’ (John 10:38 NASB, emphasis added).  Peter reminds the crowd on Pentecost that Jesus was ‘a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs’ (Acts 2:22 NASB).

“Paul writes that the evidences from the natural world for God’s eternal power and divine nature ‘have been clearly seen,’ so much so that those who deny Him ‘are without excuse’ (Rom. 1:20).  Later he says that if we believe in a resurrection that didn’t really happen, we have hoped in vain and ‘are of all men most to be pitied’ (1 Cor. 15:19 NASB).  No religious wishful thinking here.

“So let’s set the record straight.  Faith is not the opposite of reason.  The opposite of faith is unbelief.  And reason is not the opposite of faith.  The opposite of reason is irrationality.  Do some Christians have irrational faith?  Sure.  Do some skeptics have unreasonable unbelief?  You bet.  It works both ways.”

Is God Just a Human Invention, Sean McDowell and Jonathan Morrow, Kregel, 2010, p. 30 (Kindle edition)

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The Missing Links — May 15, 2011

Opening logo to the Star Wars films

Image via Wikipedia

  • Audio of the 2010 debate between Christopher Hitchens and Dinesh D’Souza at Notre Dame.  The video is here.
  • The blog of the recently formed Christian Apologetics Alliance is up and running.  You can follow us on Twitter as well.  If you’re on Facebook and a student of apologetics, you can search for our name and request to join the Facebook group.
  • Alvin Plantinga’s recent Bellingham Lectures on the topics of  God and Evolution:  Where the Conflict Really Liesand “Does Science Show That Miracles Can’t Happen” can be viewed online here.  It’s not clear whether both lectures are included on the video or only one, but the running time of two hours, 22 minutes seems long for a single talk.
  • I love this video.  Your favorite characters from Star Wars quoting Jean-Paul Sartre. : )
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Philosophy Word of the Day – Miracles

What is a miracle? Controversy over the conception of a miracle focuses primarily on whether a miracle must be, in some sense, contrary to natural law. Must it, in particular, be a violation of natural law? Supposing that it must be, a second question arises, namely, whether the conception of such a violation is a coherent one.

Philosophers have also been concerned about what sort of observable criteria would allow us to identify an event as a miracle, particularly insofar as that means identifying it as a violation of natural law. How, for example, can we tell the difference between a case in which an event is a genuine violation–assuming that some sense can be made of this notion–and one that conforms to some natural law that is unknown to us? And given the occurrence of a genuine violation, how are we to determine whether it is due to divine agency, or whether it is nothing more than a spontaneous lapse in the natural order?

The second main issue is epistemological: Once we settle on what a miracle is, can we ever have good reason to believe that one has taken place? This question is generally connected with the problem of whether testimony, such as that provided by scriptural sources, can ever give us adequate reason to believe that a miracle has occurred.

(Via Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

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C. S. Lewis on the Nativity

Merry Christmas, everyone!  May we all see the Incarnation afresh.

The Nativity
by C. S. Lewis

Among the oxen (like an ox I’m slow)
I see a glory in the stable grow
Which, with the ox’s dullness might at length
Give me an ox’s strength.

Among the asses (stubborn I as they)
I see my Savior where I looked for hay;
So may my beast like folly learn at least
The patience of a beast.

Among the sheep (I like a sheep have strayed)
I watch the manger where my Lord is laid;
Oh that my baaing nature would win thence
Some woolly innocence!

Lewis writes about the incarnation in Miracles. He names it as the central miracle, that, “every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this.” In other words, the incarnation is the hinge that open the heavens. And they are opened (or reopened) in a way that completes the myths of old and reimagines the relationship of God to his creation.

Jesus, God incarnate, enters nature in order to reclaim her. God, Lewis says, is part of nature like the corn-king of old and more… “He is not the soul of Nature nor any part of Nature,” Lewis explains, “He inhabits eternity: He dwells in the high and holy place: Heaven is his throne, not His vehicle, earth is His footstool, not His vesture.”

So, the incarnation is God’s claim on us, not ours on him. He is the invader, the thief, the wrestler of Jacobs. “It is not to tell of a human search for God at all, but of something done by God for, to, and about, Man,” Lewis says.

Advent prepares us to encounter The Incarnation and to turn off the noise of the Christmas racket while we point square into the face of God.

(Via the C. S. Lewis Blog)

Adoration of the Wise Men by Murillo

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Book Review – Did the Resurrection Happen?

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  • Paperback: 184 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Books (June 30, 2009)
  • InterVarsity Press (Preface and Introduction PDFs)
  • Christian Book Distributors
  • Amazon
  • “For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” (1 Corinthians 15:16-17)

    As the apostle Paul declared without hesitation, if Christ was not raised from the dead, Christianity is a deception. If Christ was not raised, His predictions of returning to life (Mark 8:31; 9:31; Matthew 27:63; John 2:18-22) are false, the preaching of the apostles (e.g., Acts 3:11-26) is an illusion, and every Christian’s hope from the first century until today is in vain. Thus, the truth of the resurrection is indispensable to the truth of Christianity, and it is the historical status of this event that Gary Habermas and Antony Flew spar over in Did the Resurrection Happen?

    For those unfamiliar with the participants, Dr. Gary Habermas is a professor of philosophy at Liberty University and a leading expert on the resurrection, while Antony Flew was, until recently, the most renowned atheist philosopher of the twentieth century. In 2004, Flew declared that he had abandoned atheism for belief in an “Aristotelian God,” and now considers himself a deist. The present debate, however, took place one year before Flew experienced this change of mind.

    The book is divided into three parts. The first part is the transcript of what will likely be the last debate between Habermas and Flew, which took place in January 2003 at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. The transcript also includes the Q&A session that followed the debate.

    Part two contains two articles that were originally published in the journal Philosophia Christi: An interview with Antony Flew conducted by Gary Habermas in 2004 that focuses on Flew’s conversion to deism, followed by Habermas’s review of Flew’s book on the same subject entitled There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind.

    In part three, editor David Baggett, professor of philosophy at Liberty University, assesses the discussion, responds to several skeptical challenges to the resurrection, and explains why he believes Flew should be more open to the evidence for the resurrection than he currently appears to be. He also includes an appendix explaining how Bayes’s theorem can be used to calculate one’s view of the probability that the resurrection occurred.

    As Baggett notes in the introduction, this is actually the third time that Flew and Habermas have debated the historicity of the resurrection. All three debates have been published (the first here, the second here). The subtitle describes this meeting as a “conversation” rather than a debate, and the description fits. It’s evident from their interaction that Flew and Habermas are friends (as they have been for 25 years), and it’s interesting to note the change in tone from the first debate in 1985, which was more aggressive. In this case, the discussion is civil and respectful, though both are clear about the points they disagree on.

    It’s clear from the debate that Habermas has a masterful grasp of the historical evidence for the resurrection, and Flew seems to be impressed by the cumulative case. In fact, in There is a God Flew admits that “the resurrection is more impressive than any by the religious competition” (p. 185; cited by Baggett, p. 155). Yet, he still retains a strong Humean bent, and also claims that “the occurrence of miracles cannot be known from historical evidence, and this discredits the claim that the resurrection can be known as a fact of history” (p. 186; Ibid.). While claiming that he could be persuaded, in principle, that the resurrection happened, it would take “overwhelming confirmation” since such an event “seems to me so wildly inconsistent with everything else that happens in the universe” (p. 45). At the same time, Flew is willing to concede that belief in the resurrection is rational for Christians, who already believe in a “transcendent God” (p. 51).

    In his review of the debate, Baggett makes the point that now that Flew does believe in a transcendent God, he should be much more open to the evidence of the resurrection in light of this new background information. However, in addition to his Humean concerns, Flew is also greatly troubled by the problem of evil and has considerable reservations about the doctrine of hell and human freedom in Christianity (in light of biblical texts that teach predestination) (p. 165).

    Did the Resurrection Happen will prove beneficial to anyone looking for a well-reasoned and up-to-date defense of the resurrection (covering both historical and philosophical issues) and also provides a fascinating glimpse into Antony Flew’s transformation from an incorrigible atheist to a believer in God, who still struggles with God’s intervention in the world and the doctrinal claims of Christianity.

    Many thanks to Adrianna at InterVarsity Press for this review copy.

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    C. S. Lewis on Metaphors of the Incarnation and Atonement

    Another fine piece from the C. S. Lewis blog, this time describing some of Lewis’s metaphors for understanding the Incarnation and Atonement.  David C. Downing (Professor of English at Elizabethtown College in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania) writes:

    “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself.” That concise statement by the apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 5:19a) has kept theologians busy for nearly two thousand years, trying to understand what exactly is being affirmed in the Christian doctrines of the Incarnation and the Atonement.

    C. S. Lewis never lost his sense of wonder about either one of these central Christian teachings. Referring to the Incarnation as “The Grand Miracle,” Lewis said he could not conceive how “eternal self-existent Spirit” could be combined with “a natural human organism” so as to make one person. He added, though, that every human embodies the same enigma to a lesser degree, an immortal spirit inhabiting a mortal body (Miracles, chap. 14).

    In one of his most extended comparisons, Lewis compares Christ to a pearl-diver, a passage so elaborate that it borders on allegory:

    “One may think of a diver, first reducing himself to nakedness, then glancing in mid-air, then gone with a splash, vanishing rushing down through green and warm water into black and cold water, down through increasing pressure into the deathlike region of ooze and slime and old decay; then up again, back to colour and light, his lungs almost bursting, till suddenly he breaks the surface again, holding in his hand the dripping, precious thing he went down to recover. He and it are both coloured now that they have come up into the light: down below, where it lay colorless in the dark, he lost his color too” (Miracles, chap. 14) . . . .

    In a more mystical vein, Lewis describes God as an infinite ocean of light, able to absorb all shadows: “The pure light walks the earth; the darkness, received into the heart of the Deity, is there swallowed up. Where, except in uncreated light, can the darkness be drowned?” (Letters to Malcolm, chap. 8).

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    Philosophy Word of the Day – Reductionism

    A philosophical strategy by which one set of facts or events is thought unnecessary because of the existence of another, more fundamental, set of facts or events.

    The term is often used in a pejorative sense; that is, a position will be described as “reductionistic” because it tries to make things more simple than they really are by reducing what should be a complex phenomenon to only one of its components.

    But not all reductions are bad—for example, reducing chemistry to physics.  A contentious reduction is the claim that the existence of immaterial mental entities (minds) is an unnecessary postulate.  Eliminative materialists believe that all mental events could be explained in terms of events about material states (brain waves, neural processes, etc.).

    Christian theology has also been guilty of various reductionist strategies—sometimes reducing the miraculous to the natural (Bultmann), or reducing revelation to inspiration (Schleiermacher), or reducing revelation to divine dictation.  Given the complexity of creation, Christian theology should expect our theoretical accounts of the world to honor this creational complexity rather than oversimplifying it.

    Excerpted from 101 Key Terms in Philosophy and Their Importance for Theology, Kelly James Clark, Richard Lints, James K. A. Smith (Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 80-81.

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