Quote of the Week: Michael Reeves

When you proclaim Jesus, the Spirit-anointed Son of the Father, you proclaim the triune God.

— Michael Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012), 37-38.

 

Catching the Spirit of Philosophy

Philosophy is unlike any discipline I ever studied in school. The word philosophy (from Greek: phileo, meaning “love,” and sophia, meaning “wisdom”) means the love of wisdom. My first philosophy teachers in college introduced me to the ancient Greek philosophers Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. From these three great founders of Western intellectual thought I caught what I call the spirit of philosophy.

137420111While philosophy has gone in many diverse and even contradictory directions over the last 2,500 years, the spirit of ancient Greek philosophy endures. It has remained with me as a fresh resource in living out my life. I concur with Socrates’ famous injunction: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Philosophy at its best demands a critical spirit of inquiry from its adherents.

Allow me to sketch out the three features of the philosophical enterprise that I find deeply challenging and yet also greatly beneficial.

Three Features of Philosophy

First, when people pursue a philosophical approach to living their life becomes an exciting journey in constant pursuit of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. Life is then about asking and seeking answers to the big and challenging questions of human existence. This intellectual expedition can be very difficult at times, but it also can provide meaning, purpose, and direction.

Second, seeking after wisdom involves the use of human reasoning. Thus, a philosophical life calls on people to think, reflect, and contemplate. Simply put, philosophy is about thinking carefully and critically about life’s most important issues. Developing the life of the mind is crucial. Understanding and utilizing the laws of logic and rational inference is a necessity.

Lastly, philosophy’s reward is rich and enduring both for individuals and society. The process of philosophy itself can produce a “good life” (a moral education) within a person. And, of course, diligent philosophical pursuers may encounter the great treasures of truth, goodness, and beauty, which they then may choose to share with others.

So while the philosophical task isn’t easy, it is noble. The financial rewards are few but who could put a price tag on a good life?

As a Christian philosopher I have come to view philosophy as the ancient and Medieval Christian thinkers did: as a handmaid to theology. And as a Christian apologist I’m thankful for the tools that philosophy provides to help demonstrate the reasonableness and truth of my faith.

For those who would like to consider taking the noble philosophical journey, here are three introductory resources:

Quote of the Week: Kenneth Samples

Christian apologist Walter R. Martin used to say that some people will not look up until they are flat on their back.

— Kenneth Samples, Sunday morning church class lecture

A Call to Parents, Teachers, and Pastors: Listen and Learn!

I interact frequently with parents who are looking for resources to help their teenagers transition childhood faith into adult conviction. RTB is glad to develop resources—such as the Through the Lens video series or the Impact Events study guides—that help support those efforts. However, the foundational step in a teen’s discipleship is for the adults in the teen’s life to be adequately equipped to engage in strategic conversations.

What are you (the parent) doing to prepare yourself to have strategic faith-related conversations about science? After all, you can’t pass along to the next generation what you haven’t yet sowed into your own soul.

I might address a similar question for science teachers. How can you help your students make deeper science-faith connections? While many Christian schools promote both faith and learning, the level of integration often lacks the sophistication to match the challenges students will face in college.

What about the role of pastors and youth pastors? Are you adequately prepared to incorporate the science apologetics issues of our day into your sermons? Science is a major force in our culture, but seminary seldom trains clergy with much more than a rudimentary framework to make sense of increasingly sophisticated scientific discoveries. (Listen to pastor Andrew Corbett’s call to fellow pastors to become apologetics savvy.)

462148441This need for better-prepared adults is why I’m so excited to introduce a brand new resource from RTB’s education branch: on-demand courses. This set of personal enrichment courses offer the same quality content as our traditional Reasons Institute classes without the intense time commitment. There’s no participation required and no homework assignments. Just download the lectures (MP3 files) and lecture notes (printable PDF files) and you’re ready to listen and learn.

Here are the courses that we’re currently offering as part of this new program.

General Survey of RTB’s Testable Creation Model

  • Exploring Science and Scripture, with Hugh Ross and Fazale Rana

Foundational Issues

  • Physics and the Christian Worldview, with Jeff Zweerink
  • Evolution and the Fossil Record, with the RTB scholar team
  • Examining Humans and Hominids, with the RTB scholar team

Advanced Seminars

  • Chemistry and Molecular Biology, with Fazale Rana
  • Physics and Astronomy, with Hugh Ross and Jeff Zweerink

These courses are perfect for busy people who want to avail themselves of RTB’s powerful tools in a more convenient format. (Learn more about the program through this short video introduction here.) Of course, we still offer our traditional Reasons Institute classes as well, in which you can earn a certificate in science apologetics or even college credit.

If you’d like to take one of our on-demand courses for a test drive, we now offer Exploring Science and Scripture for free. Just add it to your cart and enter the coupon code “FREECOURSE” at checkout. Once we’ve processed your order (usually within 1 working day), we’ll send you the link to download the audio lectures.

Remember, we are called to “tell the world how glorious he [God] is.” Our prayer is that these lectures and notes will enrich your faith and prepare you to fulfill this calling with not only the teens in your life but the skeptics as well.

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By Krista Bontrager

Krista Bontrager is the dean of online learning at Reasons to Believe. She is a teacher at heart and enjoys teaching the Bible to all ages. She has an MA in theology and another in Bible exposition from Talbot School of Theology.

Quote of the Week: Lawrence Krauss

Religious belief that the universe is the handiwork of an all-powerful being is not subject to refutation. This sort of reliance on faith may itself have an evolutionary basis. There has been talk of a “god gene”: the idea of an early advantage in the struggle for survival for those endowed with a belief in a hidden patrimony that gives order, purpose and meaning to the universe we experience.

— Lawrence M. Krauss, “Science and Religion Share Fascination in Things Unseen,” New York Times, November 8, 2005.

 

Islam and The Middle East Crisis

skd285135sdcLike many people, I have been paying careful attention to the religious and political events transpiring in the Middle East for the past several years. As a student of Islam, I am very interested in this religion’s relationship to radical ideologies that foment violence and terrorism.

But today I have a question. How many wars or conflicts or political tensions are presently at work in the Middle East? Given the complexity of the region and its fluidity this isn’t an easy question to answer. Nevertheless, here’s my attempt at a calculation (some may overlap). This is based upon news reports and the opinions of specialists in the region.

  1. Egyptian government military vs. Muslim Brotherhood
  2. Civil war rebels vs. Syrian dictator Assad
  3. Sunni vs. Shi’ite (major divisions in Islam) in general conflict
  4. ISIS (radical Islamic ideological group) vs. Syrian rebels
  5. ISIS vs. Syrian dictator Assad
  6. ISIS vs. Iraq
  7. ISIS vs. Iran tension
  8. ISIS’ persecution of Christians
  9. USA vs. ISIS
  10. Israelis vs. Palestinians tension
  11. Hamas vs. Israel
  12. Iran vs. Saudi Arabia proxy war (over who will control the region)
  13. Israel vs. Iran tension
  14. USA vs. Syrian dictator Assad tension
  15. USA vs. Iran tension

Christian end-times enthusiasts undoubtedly see this situation as a sign of an impending Judgment Day. In my opinion, these tensions and wars actually have more to due with how certain Muslims view the supposed end of the world than it does with actual biblical prophecy. In fact, it appears that apocalyptic end-times interpretations of certain Islamic leaders fuel radical Islamic ideology. (If you are interested in cautious thinking about Christian eschatology, I recommend you review my latest book, Christian Endgame: Careful Thinking About the End Times.)

The current volatile events of the Middle East should lead people in the West to ask some tough questions about the religion of Islam. For example,

  1. Do all Muslims think alike about religion and politics?
  2. Are there moderate voices within the religion of Islam?
  3. Does the Qur’an justify killing non-Muslims in the name of Allah?
  4. Are al-Qaeda and ISIS political ideologies that have attached themselves to the religion of Islam or are these groups the logical extension of Islamic theology, specifically its eschatology?
  5. Is Islam compatible with Western forms of democracy?
  6. Why are people attracted to Islam, given all the violence connected to the religion?
  7. How can the West respond effectively to radical Islam?
  8. Is the battle against radical Islam merely a military fight?
  9. In the marketplace of ideas, what does Christianity have to offer that Islam does not?

If you would like to hear my answers to these provocative questions then listen to the latest episode of Straight Thinking, where some of my colleagues and I confront these topics head on: http://www.reasons.org/podcasts/straight-thinking/winning-the-war-of-worldview-ideas.

 

Quote of the Week: Francis Crick

Our highly developed brains, after all, were not evolved under the pressure of discovering scientific truth, but only to enable us to be clever enough to survive and leave descendants.

— Francis Crick, The Astonishing Hypothesis (New York: Touchstone, 1994), 262.

Use It or Lose It: Intellectual Exercise Can Save Your Mind

The mind can atrophy, like the muscles, if it is not used. Atrophy of the mental muscles is the penalty that we pay for not taking mental exercise. And this is a terrible penalty, for there is evidence that atrophy of the mind is a mortal disease.

— Mortimer J. Adler1

Mortimer Jerome Adler (1902–2001), one of my intellectual heroes, was a philosopher, educator, writer, and editor of the Encyclopædia Britannica series Great Books of the Western World. It’s no wonder, then, that he was broadly educated and one of the best read persons of the twentieth century. Even up to the time of his death at age 98, it appears that he retained his intellectual prowess—no doubt through the sort of mental exercise he encouraged others to practice.2

Medical science substantiates Adler’s warning regarding the necessity of cognitive exercise in preventing mental atrophy. For example, a recent Mayo Clinic study found that “Lifetime intellectual enrichment might delay the onset of cognitive impairment and be used as a successful preventive intervention to reduce the impending dementia epidemic.”3

In a report on the Mayo Clinic study, Pacific Standard writer Tom Jacobs asks, “For most of us, avoiding cognitive impairment—or at least holding it off as long as possible—eventually becomes a high-priority concern. So what can we do to keep sharp as we grow older?” He observes, “The best medicine is living a life of the mind.”4

But how do we sufficiently challenge ourselves in order to get the great brain-mind benefits offered in the pursuit of the life of the mind? Online brain training sites like Lumosity.com seek to help people achieve this preventive maintenance through challenging games and puzzles. Let me offer three additional suggestions.

  1. Reading the classic literature of Western civilization.5
  2. Learning a new language or brushing up on languages previously studied.
  3. Learning to play a musical instrument.

A sharp intellect is its own reward. But now we can add a longer and more enriched life to the list of great benefits that stem from rigorously pursuing the life of the mind.

Endnotes

  1. Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren, How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972), 345. This book revolutionized my entire approach to reading.
  2. I had a joyous email exchange with Adler via one of his associates near the end of his life.
  3. Vemuri et al., “Association of Lifetime Intellectual Enrichment with Cognitive Decline in the Older Population,” JAMA Neurology 71 (August 1, 2014): 1017–24.
  4. Tom Jacobs, “A Lifetime of Intellectual Stimulation Staves Off Dementia,” Pacific Standard, posted June 23, 2014, http://www.psmag.com/navigation/health-and-behavior/lifetime-intellectual-stimulation-staves-dementia-84088/.
  5. A good place to start is with the works catalogued in Great Books of the Western World. Adler and Van Doren also include a recommended reading list in appendix A of How to Read a Book.

Quote of the Week: David Naugle

There are three marks of a great person:

  • One who is a great thinker;
  • One who is a great lover;
  • One who is a great doer.

— David K. Naugle, Reordered Love, Reordered Lives (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 202.

Interview with Dr. Travis Campbell

TravisCampbell2014Through RTB’s Visiting Scholar Program, we often have the pleasure of hosting and working with experts in various fields of study. This summer theologian Dr. Travis Campbell spent two months at RTB headquarters penning articles and recording podcasts. Dr. Campbell received his PhD in philosophical theology from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia) in 2004, and currently serves as a history teacher at Deerfield-Windsor School in Albany, GA.

RTB editor Maureen Moser sat down with Dr. Campbell to discover what books, people, and experiences have shaped his approach to Christian apologetics.

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Outside of the Bible, what are the two most important books that shaped your Christian theological and apologetics perspective?

It’s hard narrow them down, but looking back right now, I’d say the two books that had the most impact on me were Hugh Ross’ The Fingerprint of God and Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange’s God: His Existence and Nature.

When I first read that latter book I was wrestling with the existence of God and I found that Gerrigou-Lagrange laid out the case for God’s existence so clearly. He also convinced me that Molinism is untenable.

Who is your favorite Christian thinker from the past and why?

Well, I have three. Jonathan Edwards may be my all-time favorite theologian because he had a huge passion for God, but he never wanted to bypass the mind to get to the heart. John Calvin is another favorite because of the impact Institutes of the Christian Religion had on the Reformation. I also like Thomas Aquinas for similar reasons. I think Aquinas is the most intelligent Christian that ever lived.

Which Christian apologist today do you hold in high regard?

I think the greatest living defender of the faith is William Lane Craig.

Now, isn’t Craig a Molinist?

Yes, he is. I’ve actually published two essays on Craig’s work: one defending what he’s done and the other critiquing his position.

But despite your disagreements on that topic he ranks at the top of your list.

Yes, he has literally gone around the world and confronted the top atheistic philosophers. He’s done a heck of a job defending God’s existence in light of the criticisms from skeptics. And he’s also gone up against the top New Testament scholars in the world who deny the Resurrection.

So, he’s defended the two pillars of the faith—God’s existence and the Resurrection—better than, or at least as well as, anybody. Plus, he brings so much erudition to the discussion. He’s made major contributions to five or six areas of study. Craig is a force to be reckoned with. I don’t know why he’s not more appreciated in the evangelical community.

I’d also put Hugh Ross in my top five. I’m working with Reasons to Believe because I believe that.

What argument or fact or piece of evidence do you view as being the most probative in support of the truth of Christian theism?

The strongest argument for God’s existence, in my opinion, is the Thomistic cosmological argument.1

How does that argument differ from the Kalām cosmological argument?

The Thomistic cosmological argument assumes that the universe is eternal and still shows that God exists. That’s why I like it. Even if the universe were eternal, God still has to be there.

Thomas Aquinas, for whom the argument is named, was familiar with versions of the Kalām cosmological argument in his day. He knew that some people—especially some Muslims—were trying to argue that the universe had a beginning. He didn’t think you could do that; he thought those arguments were bad arguments. He said that as a matter of faith he believed the universe had a beginning, but he couldn’t prove it through reason. So, he assumed, as he argued for God’s existence, that the universe is eternal.

In regards to Christian theism specifically, I’d say the historical evidence for the Resurrection is the strongest proof. So, if you put the argument for God’s existence and the historical evidence for the Resurrection together, you have a case for Christianity.

As an apologist, what is the greatest sin that you wrestle with?

Self-reliance—I sometimes forget that it’s really the grace of God that wins sinners to the kingdom and not my arguments. This is one of the reasons I appreciate my Reformed convictions. I’m always being pulled back to that truth.

What important apologetics lesson has working with RTB taught you?

One of the things that was driven home to me is how important the peer-review process is.

Yes, peer-review is very important for scientists. Is there a similar process for theologians and philosophers?

The kind of peer-review you get in theology or philosophy is different from the kind you get in science. If I’m giving an argument for the Resurrection, I’m defending a core belief. If it’s false, then my faith is false. So, any argument I give for the core belief has to be grounded in a consensus argument. It’s very encouraging that the majority of scholars hold to the basic facts from which we make the case that Jesus arose from the dead.

So, imagine that in establishing one of those facts, a particular translation of the Greek had to be true—but the translation was controversial. This would mean that my case for that fact is really shaky. I don’t think that would pass peer-review. When considering core beliefs I believe it’s very important that the facts they stand on pass peer-review.

But now let’s say I want to speculate on something regarding eschatology. This field is so debated anyway and nobody—inside or outside the faith—has a clue as to what’s going to happen in the future. Thus, the fact that my eschatology might be very speculative is just not that big of a deal—as long as I’m trying to give a biblical rationale for it and as long as it’s reasonable and within the context of my Christian confession. If you come to me and say, “Wow, that’s really controversial,” I’ll respond, “Of course it is!” Everyone knows eschatology is a controversial topic. I shouldn’t be criticized for saying something debatable in this area, but I should be criticized for doing so when I’m defending a core belief.

What is your opinion on the current state of Christian apologetics?

I think it’s under attack, mainly from secularists, but I also think that the church is apathetic toward the questions apologetics addresses. The church would rather entertain students than equip them for college. Yet it doesn’t take a lot of training to answer basic apologetics questions. In my Sunday school class we’re going through Genesis using an apologetically oriented presentation. I did something similar in our study of Luke where I defended the historicity of the stories told there.

An apologetics thrust increases people’s faith in the text. I’d like to see more Bible teachers and youth group leaders going in this direction.

Endnotes

1. Another name for the Thomistic cosmological argument is Aquinas’s Argument from Contingency. Here’s one way of summarizing it:
a. Contingent beings are caused.
b. Not every being can be contingent.
c. There must exist a being which is necessary to cause contingent beings.
d. This necessary being is God.