Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Apologetics and the Atheist's "Unbelief"

I am currently reading Clifford McManis's book, Biblical Apologetics: Advancing and Defending the Gospel of Christ. I find it to be breath of fresh air as one of the best books on Christian apologetics I have read in years.

I am just a quarter way through its 600 plus pages and already I have had my thinking about Christian apologetics fine-tuned. I hope to have a review up sometimes in the future, but I can tell you now: if you're a person who wants to think soundly about biblically based apologetics rather than the mushy popular stuff heard on radio and found in Christian bookstores, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. The Ratio Christi crowd would do well to avail themselves of it.

The opening chapter of the book contrasts biblical apologetics with the traditional classic apologetics. I appreciate this one section that speaks to our apologetics in defense of God's existence.


One of the greatest Christian apologists of our generation, Norman Geisler, says that the first goal of apologetics is "reasoning for the existence of God." He also asserts that "God is what is to be proven and we cannot begin by assuming his existence as a fact." Similarly, Moreland conjectures, "Genesis 1 does not merely assume the existence of the God of the Bible."

Biblical apologetics says the exact opposite: Genesis presupposes, or assumes, the existence of God. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." The Bible never tries to explain, justify or rationally prove to the unbeliever that God might exist. It is declared ipso facto as a given. The only thing the Bible has to say about atheists is the following: "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God'" (Ps. 14:1). In other words, atheists are fools.

Just about every apologetics book written since the time of Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) majors on long-winded, complex, philosophical delineations of the theistic arguments trying to prove or vindicate the possibility or undeniability of God's existence. Reading modern day evangelical apologists one would think that the super-majority of people in the world is atheistic. Just the opposite is true: the super-majority of the people in the world is theistic. With over one billion Muslims, one billion Hindus, nearly one billion people calling themselves Christians and another billion identifying with some kind of theistic religion, there is no shortage of theists in the world. Over ninety percent of Americans say they believe in God.

The atheists are the super-minority in the world. As such, biblical apologetics does not assume everyone is atheist. Just as Scripture makes plain, unbelievers in general believe in God, "holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power" (2 Timothy 3:5). And similarly Paul says that although unbelievers "knew God, they did not honor Him as God" (Romans 1:21).

The biggest critics of Jesus were religionists - the Pharisees - not atheists. Those who opposed Paul at Areopagus were not atheists, for they worshiped an "unknown god." The great OT apologist, the prophet Elijah, opposed religionists at Mount Carmel, not atheists (1 Kings 18). When Moses the apologist confronted Pharaoh's priests in 1,400 BC, he was dealing with religionists of the first order, not atheists (Exodus 7). As such, biblical apologetics distinguishes itself by addressing people first and foremost, a priori, as religious beings, not as those with a religious tabula rasa, sterile of any religious belief. [McManis, 53-55]



Blogger Bill Honsberger said...

The oldest enemy of the faith is paganism - and Paul confirms in Romans 1 what the OT clearly shows by numerous examples. I would argue that the present enemy of the faith is still paganism - I agree that atheism is statistically a loser and likewise barely referred to in the Bible. This is one thing that has frustrated me with many of our better known thinkers, Plantinga, Craig, and others is that their focus has been on atheism - primarily because of the american University setting I believe. But it is in the area of paganism where others like Corduan, Mangalawadi, and Zacharias shine and are so helpful. May the Lord increase their number. I serve as a missionary to pagans of all sorts - Muslims, Mormons, Hindu's, Buddhists, garden variety wiccans and new agers and it is my hope that many many more thinkers, apologists and missionaries join in this huge task - to reach a pagan USA and world.

8:53 AM, May 16, 2012  
Blogger Sir Aaron said...

"Over ninety percent of Americans say they believe in God. "

Honestly, I had the same thought. We spend a lot of time trying to prove God exists...but in reality, most Americans I've run into believe there is a God despite the contradictory belief in evolution.

12:32 PM, May 16, 2012  
Blogger C.L. Bolt said...

"Similarly, Moreland conjectures, 'Genesis 1 does not merely assume the existence of the God of the Bible.'"

I would like to see the context for this statement, as I recall Moreland claiming that Genesis *does* assume the existence of the God of the Bible, but not *merely* doing so, which is to say, it sets the God of the Bible over against pagan conceptions of god. But my copy of the book is away right now. :(

And yes, atheism is a waste of time for most Christians, but then, some of us preach almost exclusively to atheists, though it is not always by choice.

One more thing. I don't think you meant to identify belief in the god of say, Islam, with belief in the God of Christianity. The same would be true with respect to the strange concept many Americans have in their mind when they think of God. But I do of course agree with you that everyone believes in God.


7:50 PM, May 16, 2012  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Thanks for dropping by bud. I appreciate it.

The comment about Moreland is taken from his "Scaling the Secular City," pg. 11. I don't have that book, but all I know is that he represents the vast body of popular apologists I have encountered who seem to intentionally drive their apologetics away from the authority of scripture. They build it upon this notion McManis points out where the apologist begins his endeavor having to "prove" the existence of God.

I don't think you meant to identify belief in the god of say, Islam, with belief in the God of Christianity.

No, no. The point simply is that atheism is a rare thing. Cultures and societies are "theistic" or maybe better, "religious." (And I would even say for an atheist, his atheism serves to fulfill his religious need).

Like the first commenter noted, they're pagans. We engage pagans for the most part, not raw atheists. Even my dear acquaintance, Sye TenBen, who is probably the most notable internet apologists engaging college style atheism today, is speaking with individuals who come from a "churched" background. So they could better be described as apostates than just atheists.

5:37 AM, May 17, 2012  
Blogger Les said...

Thanks for the recommendation! And for those that haven't followed the Amazon link the Kindle version is 3.99.

I appreciate your work on this blog Fred. Keep up the hard work.


6:40 AM, May 17, 2012  

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