By / Mar 4

On Jan. 9, 2019, Christianity Today published my review of Peter Williams’ excellent new book, Can we trust the Gospels? Williams makes a compelling case for the trustworthiness of the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ life, and I was eager to commend the book. But when CT posted the review on Twitter, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science took aim, and fired: 

“You cannot trust the gospels about anything factual. Just like how we don’t use Harry Potter books to teach physics we don’t need the Bible for morality (or anything else). It’s a quaint, ancient book displaying the (understandable) ignorance of our ancestors.”

The comment was a charged grenade, thrown over the Christian/atheist fence. In such a situation, our instincts shout, “Fight back!” We feel the illegitimacy of the comparison and the insult to our sacred text. We want to honor Christ and defend his name. And, if we’re honest, we feel the insult to ourselves: we are not dumb, clinging to quaint fictions. But following Jesus means curbing our instincts. 

What does the Bible say about how we should engage with our opponents?


First, we must listen to Jesus’ unsettling words in the Sermon on the Mount: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:43). Before we open our mouths to defend our faith, we must ask ourselves, “Am I loving my enemy here? Or am I just seeking to slap them down?” If we think our aggression is justified because it’s in Jesus’ defense, let’s remember how Jesus responded when Peter drew a sword to protect him. 

The King of the universe wondrously calls us to speak for him. If we keep silent, the stones will cry out. But he does not need us to protect him from opponents any more than a lion needs protection from the claws of a mouse.

Gentleness and Respect

Second, we see in Scripture that honoring Jesus in apologetics is tied to two qualities for which apologists are sadly seldom known. “In your hearts,” writes Peter (having learned much since the sword-drawing incident), “honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15).  

Honoring Jesus before those who disbelieve in him is a vital task to which we are all called. We must give reasons for the hope we have, and not wallow in intellectual laziness. But those reasons must be given with gentleness and respect.

What does that look like when someone is comparing the Bible to Harry Potter? Truth be told, I felt the temptation to go in guns blazing. I can often feel frustrated in conversations with people who hold beliefs that I know to be indefensible—especially if they are claiming an intellectual high-ground. There’s a piece of me that wants to take them down, to feel the satisfaction of conquest. Too many times, I’ve let that instinct lead. But I know how little anyone is persuaded by attack, and that love is both the scriptural response to our enemies and the best way to win them for Christ. 

A loving attempt at online civility

My best attempt at love on Jan. 9 was to affirm what I could of my opponent’s jibe, sidestep the name-calling, and return to the main point of the book: 

“The Gospels are certainly ancient! But @DrPJWilliams point is that if you subject them to the same kind of analysis as you would other historical documents from the ancient world, they actually stand up remarkably well—better, indeed, than many texts we take to be authoritative.”

Of course, the Dawkins-fan responder disagreed, and we went back and forth. At every stage, I tried to see the best in his or her comment, while also offering a counter case. My interlocutor claimed that Jesus never actually existed: a claim that most dyed-in-the-wool atheist historians would laugh at. But mocking and shaming them wouldn’t be loving my enemy. Nor would failing to tell them the truth. So, gently, I noted that few atheist historians would take that view and said (sincerely): “I’d be very interested to read a careful, skeptical review of @DrPJWilliams book that took time to evaluate the evidence he presents.” 

 Love is both the scriptural response to our enemies and the best way to win them for Christ. 

He or she responded, “Secular scholarship already exists in this matter. Don’t need review of a book. You need data and analysis. You can find all the info online. Acedemic [sic] journals are superior to book since the formal [sic] attempts to eliminate bias—books do not or at least aren’t required to.”

I replied, “Agreed! Can you point me to the academic journal articles you have in mind? If they are recent and published in leading journals, I’d be quite curious to read the best skeptical scholarship on this question.”

I could have added the sarcastic phrase, “I’ll wait.” But I didn’t. I wasn’t there to own this person, but to win them.

Meanwhile, other Christians had started weighing in, like spectators at a boxing match, cheering their champion, and adding their own punches to the fight. In the end, the Dawkins-fan retreated from the field. This person had no answer to my gentle question. But I fear the Christian pile-on had also not left him or her feeling loved.

In an increasingly aggressive public square, it’s easy to think that what we need is more attack. And in one sense we do. If we Christians do our homework, we’ll find we hold the cards of reason in our hands, and we must be prepared to play them. We need more scholarly, rigorous, accessible books—like Peter Williams’—to train our team. We need to raise our intellectual game. And we need to find the thousands of Christian professors whom God has raised up in the secular academy and learn from them, so that our arguments are drawing from the best of Christian thought, and we’re not guilty of recycling half-truths and indefensible claims—like the atheist claiming Jesus never existed. 

But when we go on the offense with our apologetics, it must have love at its heart, and gentleness and respect on either hand. People like me, who are prone to intellectual point-scoring, must fight this temptation just as we would fight lust or laziness. 

This does not mean we should not clearly disagree and marshal every neuron to the fight. We must. Indeed, Christ’s love compels us. But if we are truly seeking to draw people to Christ, our gentleness must be evident to all (Phil. 4:5). And if we are truly following Jesus, we’ll seek to win non-Christians, not to own them.

By / Sep 23

Imagine a future where we have convinced ourselves that everything we know and experience can be reduced down to some chemical process or explained away as ultimately insignificant. In this world, there is nothing truly unique about us, our families, or the world around us. We are merely highly-evolved sets of matter, and everything including our emotions, spirituality, and desires can be explained away as a chemical reaction in our brains. Our minds and bodies are not intricately connected; our mortal bodies simply serve as containers for our minds, which can be transferred from one place to another via a technique called “mind uploading.”

A couple of weeks ago, The Wall Street Journal published an excerpt from a new book by neuroscientist and psychologist Michael S.A. Graziano, who teaches at Princeton University, titled Rethinking Consciousness: A Scientific Theory of Subjective Experience. Graziano argues that we are much closer to the ability to upload a human mind than many might think because we have already been able to create artificial brains, albeit on a small scale, and are now trying to overcome the second hurdle of scanning a human brain. 

Old questions with a new twist 

In this excerpt, Graziano asked some of the most fundamental questions about the nature of man and philosophical questions about the real “you” in a world of digital copies and simulations produced through mind uploading. Lest we think this conversation is for doctors and ivory-tower academics only, the questions being asked are the same types of questions that humanity has always wrestled with. The difference now is the perceived possibilities that have arisen in light of advanced technologies like artificial intelligence and robotics.

From the beginning, man has sought to challenge God by arguing that we know better than the creator of the universe. In Genesis, we read that God created everything, including us as his unique image-bearers (Gen. 1:26-27). But by Genesis 3, humanity had already sought to resist the created order and question the goodness of God. Questions of “Did God really say?” and thoughts of I know better than God originated in the garden, where we exchanged the truth of God for the lie that we must know better.

From the beginning, man has sought to challenge God by arguing that we know better than the creator of the universe.

In the early Christian church, there was a popular belief, known as gnosticism, among many that our minds and souls were much more valuable than our bodies. Gnosticism is the belief that the material world is inherently evil and corrupt, but souls are inherently good. This led many to treat the body as less than, thus viewing death as freeing us from the container that held us for so long. In modern-day belief, this segmentation of humanity takes a new form where the mind is seen as the real “you.” The body is only valuable as the hardware that’s holding the software of the real you. And it’s believed that our minds can thus be uploaded to the “cloud” in order to live in a digital afterlife without the shackles of the fleshly body.

Downgrading our dignity

The Bible teaches something very different from the heresy of gnosticism. We see throughout Scripture how the body is to be valued and honored, not viewed merely as a container for our minds but upheld as an integral part of who we really are. The best example of this is seen in the person and work of our Savior. Jesus Christ took on human flesh, became man, and dwelt among us (John 1:4). Jesus lived the perfect human life in full obedience to his Father and demonstrated the value of the soul and body as a connected whole when he was murdered and raised from the dead. The resurrection shows us that the flesh that so many disregard in light of modern technology is actually an integral part of who we are. We are not fully human without our bodies. Christ was not raised from the dead in some spiritual sense (1 Cor. 15:20-21). He is still and will forever be the incarnate Son of God who told Thomas to touch his wounds and know that he is real (John 20:27)

Christianity teaches that our flesh is indeed broken. And the desire to want to escape our bodies is understandable in a world of so much suffering. But the hope that we have as Christians is that our bodies can and will be redeemed by the finished work of Christ on the cross (Rev. 21:4-5). We will live in eternal communion with our Savior in resurrected bodies. So to answer the question that Graizano asked throughout his essay, the real you is the embodied you. While we may be able to make a copy of our brains in the future, our minds are not who we really are. We’re much more than some materialist version of the self.

Testing the spirits

In our modern world of technological wonders and advancements, it’s easy for us to get caught up in the hype of what’s coming around the corner. We see new marvels almost every day that shatter what we believed was possible. We grow accustomed to these advances and often take those with credentials at their word when they dream of what might be. But Christians are people of the book. 1 John 4:1 tells us that we are not to believe every spirit in this world, but are to test the spirit to make sure they are of God. It’s tempting in our technology-rich society to be swayed from the truth of God, and we will be if we aren’t anchored to the Word of the everlasting God.

Even as many like famed computer scientist Ray Kurzweil, technologist Elon Musk, and Graziano promote the idea of uploading our minds and escaping the confines of our fleshly existence, we must seek to test the theories they promote against the truth of Scripture and what God has already spoken. Our faith demands it. Furthermore, much of what is considered settled fact in science takes massive steps of faith on the part of those who hold to these beliefs. Many problems with this line of thinking still exist such as the question of consciousness, simply knowing you exist or “thinking about thinking,” as well as the foundation of morality and ethics in a materialistic world. I look forward to Graziano’s full work on consciousness and how he deals with these questions.

We must engage in honest dialogue with one another about these pressing issues and perennial questions. It’s easy for us to outsource deep reflection to others with advanced degrees because we don’t feel equipped to pose the tough, but needed questions. But the Christian life isn’t one of shallow faith or belief. Throughout the New Testament, we see leaders like Paul, John, and Peter challenging the Church to rise up and engage the philosophical debates of the day with the truth of God’s Word. May we take up that call to engage the world around us as it is rather than how we wish it to be. Let’s step out in faith, asking the hard questions, and ultimately find our hope in the One that took on flesh and dwelt among us to save us from our unbelief.

By / Feb 1

Christians in the United States face a challenging and unwelcoming cultural context. As we set apart Christ as Lord in our hearts, how do we prepare to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have in Christ Jesus? How do we rightly approach questioners and skeptics? How do we offer an apologetic for the Christian faith and life that remains faithful to the gospel while also attentive to the cultural changes that confront true belief, challenge the validity of Christian teachings, and complicate reasoned communication?

In Apologetics at the Cross, Joshua Chatraw and Mark D. Allen offer answers to these kinds of questions, presenting a gospel-centered introduction for Christian witness. Chatraw, the executive director of the Center for Apologetics and Cultural Engagement and associate professor of theology and apologetics at Liberty University, and Allen, chair of biblical studies at Liberty, draw from Scripture, history, philosophy, theology, and practical experience to build a comprehensive and integrative apologetic measured by the climatic event in the biblical narrative and human history—Christ’s life, death, and resurrection (61). Defining apologetics as both an appeal for and defense of the Christian faith, Chatraw and Allen construct an apologetic house that is built to withstand the winds and waters of cultural trends in late modernity (17).

The authors divide Apologetics at the Cross into three parts. Part one lays a foundation using the Bible and significant people, movements, and apologetic approaches in Christian history. Part two builds on the foundation a methodological structure for apologetics, and part three decorates and furnishes the structure with the authors’ own apologetic touch—an “inside-out” approach that engages the cultural challenges, skeptical objections, and earnest questions of people living in late modernity (24).

Laying a foundation

In part one, Chatraw and Allen use an inductive approach to biblical texts to glean 15 apologetic performances, thus demonstrating how the Bible does apologetics. These biblical performances include, for example, general revelation in creation, polemics against idolatry, miracles, eyewitness accounts, personal testimony, raising questions to disarm false belief, addressing the problem of suffering, and so forth (27-61). Vital to each of these apologetic approaches, however, is the grand story that culminates in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The cross remains central to apologetic appeals and for shaping the way Christians practice apologetics. For Chatraw and Allen any “apologetic should be measured by the degree of clarity with which it points to and functions in light of the most important event in human history,” the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (61, italics original).

Moving from a biblical foundation, the authors trace in broad sweeps a history of Christian apologetics. Along the way, Chatraw and Allen note challenges to the faith and provide portraits of notable defenders such as Irenaeus, Tertullian, Augustine, Origen, Thomas Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Pascal, Butler, Leibniz, Schleiermacher, Kuyper, Warfield, Lewis, Barth, and Newbigin. The historical survey is more than informative. It reveals both positive and negative examples: “Positively, the church has a rich history of developing biblical concepts to create different kinds of apologetic appeals appropriate for the need of the day. Negatively, history warns us of the danger of allowing extra biblical frameworks and a desire for relevancy to rule over Scripture” (105). Chatraw and Allen apply these lessons and warnings to their methodological construction.

Building a theological structure

Chatraw and Allen begin part two by building a theological structure for apologetics at the cross, using four common approaches—classical, evidential, presuppositional, and experiential-narratival. The authors propose that context should determine methodology. In other words, anchored on the biblical and historical foundation, contextual information gleaned from the situation and cultural setting should disclose which particular form of apologetic to use. Practitioners should be students of not only the craft but also the context in which they practice the craft. They should hold biblical, time-tested methods “softly” and charitably, apply methods holistically to “concrete individuals,” and practice apologetics with humility before God and toward others (106). Above all, the goal is to take people from where they are to the gospel through both words and deeds, speaking and acting as individuals embedded in local churches and shaped by the Word of God

Putting apologetics into practice

In part three, with the foundation and structure completed, Chatraw and Allen put into practice an apologetic at the cross. Relying on the insights of philosopher Charles Taylor, they first describe characteristics of the current cultural context—late modernism. The characteristics of late modernism most significant for the apologetic task are the autonomy of the individual and personal freedom, an imminent frame of reference suspicious of the supernatural, and a skepticism and distrust for any opposing viewpoints. An effective apologetic should avoid “spinning” the content of the gospel message and should take people where they are, starting with their assumptions, to create opportunities to call false beliefs into question and invite people to consider the plausibility of Christianity (ch. 10).

This inside-out apologetic begins with an attempt to discern people’s understanding of reality, affirm some aspects of their position, and ask a series of diagnostic questions to locate points of transition to the claims of Christianity: What can we affirm, and what do we need to challenge? Where do their assumptions and beliefs lead? How are their beliefs consistent? How are they inconsistent? In some ways, the inside-out method is similar to how Francis Schaffer takes false beliefs to their logical conclusions, or how Greg Koukl utilizes questions in his Columbo tactic to enhance and manage conversations with unbelievers about the Christian faith. The means is to get people to think about their own beliefs, and then the goal is to get them to consider the claims of Christianity and to hear and respond to the gospel.

To demonstrate the inside-out method, Chatraw and Allen set aside one chapter (ch. 11) to survey four significant features of late modernism that open the door for apologetic engagement. Modern pluralism, self-authorizing morality, religious lethargy, and the therapeutic turn provide opportunities and challenges to the Christian witness. If these cultural assumptions are understood, the Christian can work from inside an individual’s framework and help that person see how the strange message of the gospel makes sense of the world, fulfills the deepest human longings, and is more consistent and livable than any competing options (250). When moving the conversation to Christian convictions, however, the witness must be prepared to address tough questions about Christianity, what Chatraw and Allen call “defeaters.”

In perhaps the most practical chapter in the book, Chatraw and Allen address eight defeaters commonly used in conversations about Christianity (ch.12). Using the inside-out method, they address questions about individual freedom, sexuality, hypocrisy, reason and science, the problem of evil, God’s judgment and wrath, reliability of the Bible, and the doctrine of the Trinity. For each of these defeaters, the authors show how apologists can engage questioners graciously and craft responses. Their goal is not, however, to provide wooden answers to memorize and recite for every question in every circumstance; rather, the goal is for the apologist to keep the inside-out approach as the broader backdrop and to personalize answers to a particular set of challenges to Christianity. In other words, an apologist should know answers to questions but also discern the best strategy to answer questions within particular circumstances so that the conversation moves naturally to the gospel.

In the final chapter, Chatraw and Allen make a turn to the gospel by offering a survey of reasons why Christianity makes sense. They do not offer “coercive ‘proofs’ for God, stating that Christianity cannot be proven in that sense, though it can be justified. It can and should be trusted. Instead of ‘proof,’” Chatraw and Allen provide “signposts” for which the Christian faith “provides the deepest, richest, and most coherent view of reality” (292-93). Signposts include why can we make sense of the universe; why the universe appears to be fine-tuned for life; what makes the best sense of the consensus that the universe had a beginning; how moral realism can be grounded; and what is the best explanation for the numerous eyewitness accounts of miracles. True to form, in the end they turn to a defense of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the goal of all apologetics.

Apologetics at the Cross would be a welcomed addition to any Christian’s library, especially for those interested in understanding and defending the faith. It is a comprehensive, readable, and honest look at challenges to the Christian faith. Designed to equip believers, this book does not merely deliver information to regurgitate but teaches a strategy for living as a gospel witness.

Apologetics at the Cross is an introduction, so it is not designed to say everything. It is, however, an excellent introduction, in part because it creates a desire in the reader to know more and then points to where more can be found. Throughout the book, Chatraw and Allen reference and cite sources. The practical chapters consistently include text boxes of resources for further reading. Curious readers undoubtedly will get the urge to make a wish list of other books to add to their stack of items waiting to be read. For these reasons, Apologetics at the Cross can be read for individual edification, used to equip witnesses in the local church, or adopted as a textbook for an introductory class in apologetics. In short, my recommendation is that you get a copy and read it, and then start working on that wish list.

By / Apr 14

My parents had a hardback version of Francis Scaheffer’s How Should We Then Live? sitting on a shelf in our house. It was a large, beautiful book, but I never took the time to read it. Honestly, the title never made sense to me as a child, and I had little interest in reading anything that I thought could be difficult to understand.

Years later I enrolled in a Ph.D. program and once again encountered Schaeffer’s work. An entire seminar focused on the ethics of Schaeffer, and I had the task of reading virtually everything that Schaeffer had published. That seminar changed my life and the way I think.

“Taking the roof off” of worldviews

One key element of Schaeffer’s work that I found especially influential was his apologetic method of “taking the roof off.” Schaeffer argued that a person’s worldview is similar to a house; however, there is only one blueprint that can effectively explain all aspects of life and be lived out consistently—a Christian worldview. All other worldviews are defective in one way or another.

Taking off someone’s roof involves exposing the weaknesses and inconsistencies of his worldview. This is a necessary but dangerous task. When a roof is removed, Schaeffer states that “each man must stand naked and wounded before the truth of what is.” The reality of the world in which we live comes flooding in. Therefore, we must carefully deconstruct the roof so that the house can be rebuilt with truth.

Once the roof is carefully removed and the individual has encountered reality, it is time to reconstruct his house. This is where the transformative power of the gospel comes into play. Schaeffer writes, “The truth that we let in first is not a dogmatic statement of the truth of the Scriptures, but the truth of the external world and the truth of what man himself is. This is what shows him his need. The Scriptures then show him the real nature of his lostness and the answer to it.” No longer must one live according to the course of the world. The true truth of the gospel allows us to see the world as God created it. We recognize the influence of the fall and the impact of sin upon our lives, but the believer now has the Holy Spirit to help him make sense of it all.

Changing my approach to engaging with others

Since having encountered Schaeffer’s apologetic method, my approach to engaging others in discussions about life, ethics and theology has changed. No longer do I set out to win an argument or defeat my opponent. I learned to care for his soul and engage in conversation for the sake of long-term life change. The truth of reality hurts when an inconsistent worldview is deconstructed. However, we do not leave the other individual naked and wounded. We provide the answer to building a worldview that can weather the storms—the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ alone.

Francis Schaeffer was a man ahead of his times. When evangelicals were ready to adopt the arguments of abortion-on-demand, Schaeffer was calling us to protect children in the womb. When evangelicals were questioning the veracity of Scripture, Schaeffer was calling us to biblical fidelity. Interestingly, despite the fact that Schaeffer himself was a Presbyterian, he took an interest in the battle for the Bible taking place in the Southern Baptist Convention and personally encouraged some of the key leaders of the Conservative Resurgence to stay the course.

I am thankful for the work of Francis Schaeffer in my own life and the life of my denomination. To this day, I regularly recommend his work to my students. I encourage them to start with his trilogy—The God Who Is There, Escape from Reason and He Is There and He Is Not Silent. For those who want more, they can then move to his classic work How Should We Then Live? Those who take the time to read these books will no doubt walk away changed for the better.