Tactics


Lack of FaithHe who makes a claim bears a burden to demonstrate the truth of his claim.  Theists have a burden to demonstrate their claim that God exists, and atheists have a burden to demonstrate their claim that God does not exist.  Nowadays, however, it’s common for atheists to claim that the theist alone bears a burden of justification.  They try to escape their own burden of justification by redefining atheism from a “belief that God does not exist” to “the absence of belief in God.”  Since only positive beliefs can be defended, they are off the hook.  All the pressure lies with the theist.

While I think their attempt to redefine atheism is intellectually dishonest, let’s grant the validity of their redefinition for a moment.  Greg Koukl observed that while it’s certainly true atheists lack a belief in God, they don’t lack beliefs about God.  When it comes to the truth of any given proposition, one only has three logical options: affirm it, deny it, withhold judgment (due to ignorance or the inability to weigh competing evidences).  As applied to the proposition “God exists,” those who affirm the truth of this proposition are called theists, those who deny it are called atheists, and those who withhold judgment are called agnostics. Only agnostics, who have not formed a belief, lack a burden to demonstrate the truth of their position.

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Empty prisons2Nobody likes the idea of hell – even believers – but many unbelievers simply loathe the concept.  They think punishing sinners in hell is not befitting of a supposedly loving God, and appeal to the doctrine as evidence against the truth of Christianity.  Is hell truly a stain on God’s character?  I don’t think so, and when the skeptic examines his own beliefs about justice a bit more carefully, I think he’ll come to agree that hell is not the egregious concept he claims it is.  Here’s a tactical way to get your skeptical friend to see this point.

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Burden of ProofIn philosophy, a burden of proof refers to one’s epistemic duty to provide reasons in support his assertion/claim/position.  While listening to a debate recently, I noticed that one of the participants spoke of a “burden of justification” rather than “burden of proof.”  I thought this terminological shift was helpful since when most people hear the word “proof” they think “certainty.”  Clearly, no one has the burden to demonstrate their position with apodictic certainty.  “Justification,” on the other hand, makes it clear that one only has a burden to back up their claims with good reasons.  I am going to be intentional about adopting this terminology in the future.

We're all atheistsIn two separate posts I have addressed a common piece of atheist rhetoric that I like to call the “one less God zinger.”  It goes roughly as follows: “We’re all atheists.  Christians are atheists with respect to all gods but their own, while I am an atheist with respect to all gods, including your own.  When you understand why you reject all other gods, you’ll understand why I reject all gods.”

While this is rhetorically effective, it does not stand up to scrutiny.  While much could be said of this zinger, I only want to focus on the first two sentences.  Is it true that we are all atheists?  Can Christians be properly described as atheists because we deny the existence of all gods other than YHWH?  Not at all.

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Scott McKnight alerted me to a couple of posts by philosopher Jeff Cook on the topic of desire and reason in evangelism (1,2).  Cook contends that “the debate about God today is not about what’s reasonable—it is almost entirely about preferences and desire.”  That doesn’t mean he is opposed to using reason or providing evidence for Christianity in our evangelism of the lost.  He simply believes that this alone will not persuade most people because it is not rationality alone that causes them to reject Christianity. 

Cook proposes that if people are going to be persuaded by our reasons for Christianity, they must first want there to be a God.  In his words, “Wanting God to exist is more important than believing in God.  By ‘more important,’ I mean desire is more crucial to the transformation of a person’s heart, more helpful in moving them toward faith in Christ, and more instrumental in one’s ‘salvation’ than right thinking. … It seems then that enticing the passions and wills of those who do not follow Christ is far more important than targeting their intellect with arguments for God’s existence. Showing that God is desirable will be the primary target of the successful 21st century apologist, for wanting God to exist opens highways for subpar apologetics; yet a closed heart will not here [sic] the voice of wisdom.” 

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I have a question for my non-theist readers: Why is it that I can chop up a tomato and eat it, but I cannot do the same to a human being?

The next time you hear someone say they are not a Christian because there are too many hypocrites in the church, here are a handful of tactful ways to respond: 

  1. What do you mean by “hypocrite?” (You want to make the point that a hypocrite is not merely someone who is morally imperfect, but someone who says he believes X but purposely fails to practice X)
  2. Yes, there are hypocrites in the church.  Jesus told us there would be.  But Jesus wasn’t a hypocrite.  What do you think about Jesus?
  3. Yes, there are hypocrites in the church.  Jesus told us there would be.  But there are also genuine Christians who are following Jesus.  Why do you choose to let the hypocrites dictate your response to Christianity rather than the true followers of Jesus?
  4. What does that have to do with you?  Couldn’t Christianity still be true even if a lot of confessing Christians are bad people?  The question God is concerned with is not what others do, but what you believe and how you live.
  5. Are you saying that because other people fail to live up to their ideals you don’t have to even try?  
  6. If you can’t tolerate all the hypocrites in church, why not follow Jesus independently of a local church body—to avoid all of those immoral Christians? (This will get them to tell you the real reasons they are not a Christian) 

Do you have any more to add to the mix?

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