Can We Trust the Gospels?

Can We Trust the Gospels

Can We Trust the Gospels? The Historical Basis for the Christian Faith

Many Christians are unaware of the unique nature of the Christian faith. Since most world religions are not based on historical events, and their beginnings cannot be anchored in any verifiable history, Christianity is unusual. And among those few religions that are based in historical events, the character of the founder, the manner in which the events supposedly happened, and the lack of verified supernatural signs makes Christianity completely unique.

When someone asks why you are a Christian, your answer shouldn’t be merely because of an experience or a perceived benefit, such as joy, peace or hope. Many adherents of other religions testify of experiences and benefits. No, your answer should be something along the lines of, “I believe that Jesus lived, died, and rose again, proving that he is the Son of God as the Bible reports.” That is, our faith should rest entirely in a verifiable historical event, because that is how Paul explained it in 1 Corinthians 15. If the resurrection didn’t happen then Christianity is not true. If it did, nothing can stand against it.

The historical reliability of the Bible matters. But how does the average Christian learn the historical facts about the Bible, especially the Gospels without having to wade through highly academic works?

A new book by Cambridge University professor, Peter Williams, provides a handy reference for the multitude of verifiable historical facts in the Gospels. Can We Trust the Gospels?(Crossway, 2018) is the distillation of many years of research in New Testament studies by one of the foremost scholars in the world. This little volume of 160 pages will amaze the reader with details he has never noticed before in the New Testament. In addition to explaining the testimony about Jesus from non-Christian sources, Williams displays the many ways in which the Gospels demonstrate that they could not have been written later than the first century in another part of the Roman Empire.

Although we live in an age when we have easy access to advance information about anywhere we go, we still tend to be surprised by aspects of geography and culture whenever we travel. Now imagine if someone asked you to write a story about events in a distant place you had never visited, and you were not allowed to use the Internet for research. Even with the wonderful libraries we have today, you would struggle to get all the information together to write a detailed story that fit what a local person would know. This is because of the many aspects of your destination you would have to get right, and getting only most of them right would not make a story sound authentic. You would have to investigate its architecture, culture, economics, geography, language, law, politics, religion, social stratification, weather, and much more. You would even need to ensure that the characters in your tale were given names that were plausible for the historical and geographical setting of your narrative. All this requires effort and is not easily done.

Right down to details of architecture, culture, economics, geography, language, law, politics, religion, social stratification, weather, and more, the Gospels do not shy away from a full-orbed, comprehensive description of life in first century Palestine surrounding the events on which they are focused. Even the mention of names in the Gospels reveals that only someone who lived in that society at that time would have known the common names of the day. Williams reminds us that there was no internet to look up details of the world of Jesus. Many of the details are never mentioned anywhere else in ancient literature, so knowledge of them would have had to have been from firsthand experience.

Knowledge of the location of tax collectors, local botany, unusual customs, local languages, the personalities of characters in the Gospel accounts, and many other particulars are shown to be still further evidence of the reliability of the NT. Williams presents a kind of cumulative case apologetic to show that criticism of the historical reliability of the Gospels is laughable. It is simply too far-fetched to argue that they were written later and in another place.

This little book will be a tremendous help to the average Christian who wants to strengthen her own faith in the Scriptures and a valuable resource to put in the hands of someone searching for answers. I highly recommend it!



Doing Justice and the Gospel, Part 4: Applications

[This is the last of a four-part series on doing justice and the gospel. See parts 1-3 for context here and here and here.]

Application of Justice and Injustice

  • It is unjust to allow some people to break a just law because of their status, whether politicians or immigrants, celebrities, juveniles, or disgruntled citizens.
  • It is unjust to withhold information or tell only part of a story to manipulate the public, as the media often does, or to escape just punishment as public figures often do.
  • It is unjust to circumvent due process or the rule of law because we are outraged at a wrong.
  • It is unjust to convict an innocent person because we want someone to pay for wrongdoing.
  • It is unjust to forcibly take taxpayers’ $ for immoral purposes such as abortion, abortifacients, and sexually immoral causes.
  • It is unjust to include sexual perversion as a human rights issue alongside genuine human rights issues such as racism, persecution, genocide, FGM, human trafficking, etc.
  • It is unjust to bind the hands of law enforcement and then complain that they don’t do enough.
  • It is unjust to ask law enforcement to risk their lives, witness unspeakable horrors on a regular basis, deal with the most wicked, evil, dangerous people, endure constant harassment, hatred, and scrutiny, and then provide them with little mental health counseling and minimal pay, all the while expecting them to always make the right decision in split-second, life-or-death situations that will be scrutinized by millions within seconds of the event.
  • It is unjust to not hold law enforcement to a high standard of integrity, behavior and speech regarding treatment of those they encounter.
  • It is unjust to judge all cases of police discharging their weapons as police brutality before all the facts have been revealed.
  • It is unjust to tolerate corruption in our police, or attorneys, or politicians and to fail to prosecute them when they break the law.
  • It is unjust for men to sexually harass women, to pressure them, to make comments about their bodies, to touch them in an unwanted way, to use sexual innuendos, to intimidate them, or intentionally make them feel unsafe, vulnerable, belittled, demeaned, or objectified.
  • It is unjust for women to do any of the same to men.
  • It is unjust to place artificial standards on a woman who has experienced sexual abuse before she is believed, such as “she should have reported it right away,” she should have stopped it somehow, she should remember all the details of this traumatic event in which she thought she would die, etc.
  • It is unjust to allow our inclination to believe those who report abuse to drift into automatic conviction of the accused on the spot without due process.
  • It is unjust for us to see injustice and fail to speak up about it. God calls us to courage and a prophetic voice in this world.

All this goes to show that JUSTICE IS DIFFICULT AND COMPLEX, because we are not God, who knows all things and who judges impartially. We should continue to pray and advocate for justice whenever we hear of injustices.

Doing Justice and the Gospel, Part 3: Principles to Guide Our Practice of Justice

[This is the third of a four-part series on doing justice and how it relates to the gospel. See the first and second parts here and here.]

church diversity 2

Principles for doing justice and the gospel:

  1. Hermeneutically, we must make distinctions between the combined political/religious institution of OT Israel and the Church today as a counter-cultural entity in a secular nation. The church is given to make disciples, which includes personal transformation leading to social transformation, but the church has not been given the task of cultural transformation apart from the gospel.
  2. Social justice, as the world proclaims it, can divide us from one another by setting types of people against one another, destroying our unity in Adam as fallen, and our unity in Christ as redeemed, where there are to be no more distinctions. In the church, masters stood next to slaves, Jews next to Barbarians, men next to women. At this foundational level, hatred and separation were transformed by their unity in Christ. Identity politics will necessarily continue to fragment until there is no shared experience at all. Feminist v Womanist thought. Feminist v. Transgenders
  3. The gospel frees us from false guilt, such as “You are guilty because you are white, or male, or middle-class, or educated, or tall.” It also frees us from false gospels, which say that you can never escape your guilt, or that you must denounce yourself and make unspecified reparations to make atonement. The gospel does not call us to conviction about who we are or how God made us, but for words, thoughts, and deeds that are clear and specific violations of his commands. The gospel says I am guilty because I have sinned against God and I can be forgiven because Jesus, the just one, was punished on my behalf. If God convicts you of a specific act of injustice, then repent and God will graciously forgive you.
  4. The implication of the gospel is that in my personal life I should be the Good Samaritan who sacrifices significantly and materiallyto help others in need when my life intersects theirs. I should seek out those in need around the world and do what I can individually and as part of the community of the church to do justice and love mercy. This will look somewhat different for each person and church. Exodus 23:4–5 reminds us of our responsibility to love our neighbor: “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him. If you see the donkey of one who hates youlying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him.
  5. Addressing matters of injustice is a powerful means to demonstrate the love of Christ and open doors for the gospel. Churches in America that ignore injustice cut themselves off from reaching their communities! Doing good is mentioned 12 times in 1 Peter as a way to deal with suffering in a hostile culture. One way wealthy, suburban churches can do justice is to support churches in the inner city who are faithfully reaching their communities.
  6. The goal of doing justice is to glorify God by bringing Shalom to people’s lives. As a former pastor in an urban church, I witnessed firsthand the way the gospel transformed, individuals, then families, and even neighborhoods. When God transforms hearts and changes families, communities are blessed as a result. The church is supposed to be a foretaste of the justice, mercy, love, compassion, truth, and care we will experience when Christ returns.
  7. When justice cannot be obtained, Christians must have a robust theology of suffering to be able to live triumphantly (1 Peter). We are called to follow the example of Jesus who suffered the greatest injustice, and yet did not revile his persecutors. If justice cannot be obtained, there is the reassurance that God will eventually bring justice (2 Thess. 1:5-7; Rom. 12:19). We are called to dojustice, but not to bringjustice—only God can do that. Our hope should not be in fixing the world, but in the return of Christ, who will restore all things. God will justly judge every person at the end of time. To do away with Hell, for example is to remove the reassurance of final judgment on the wicked.
  8. Social Justice, as is practiced by those who reject Christ, is almost completely devoid of New Testament Christianity, and has the power to distort the gospel from a deliverance from the guilt of sin through repentance in Christ, to a deliverance from guilt for mere existence through activism. It reduces Christianity to an ethic of ambiguous love, where Jesus is merely incidental. American Christianity walked this path 100 years ago, and it proved impotent and disastrous.

In the final post of this series, I will make some specific statements about injustice in our country and our world today.

Doing Justice and the Gospel, Part 2: Justice According to Leviticus 19


[This is the second of a four-part series on doing justice and how it relates to the gospel. See the first part here .]

The laws that God lays down in Leviticus contribute to the overall picture of justice in the Bible. Let’s take a look at one passage that is rich in instruction about doing justice. There are many passages in the Bible that address justice, but Leviticus 19 touches on a number of concepts related to justice that are especially pertinent to doing justice in our world today.

One thing to notice about Leviticus 19 is that it is set in the context of commands forbidding Israel from walking in the customs of Canaan or do as the Canaanites do (18:3, 30 and 20:23). In other words, Israel was not to take its cues regarding justice from the surrounding culture. So, while we may be made aware of social ills and injustices by unbelievers, we will not be able to agree fully on the interpretation, causes, and solution for the problems. The unbeliever’s solution will not contain the gospel, and so will be only partial at best and destructive at worst.

The commands for justice and mercy in this passage are also set in the context of the repeated phrase, “I am the LORD.” Sixteen times this phrase is included to remind readers that the ultimate authority in matters of justice is God. Justice is done by God’s people for Him and according to his revealed directions. Justice is an act of worship to God, just as injustice is an act of rebellion and rejection of God’s authority.

I will focus on five principles of justice in this text, even though there are others. First, justice includes material concern for the indigent (v. 9-10). The poor referenced here were landless people and so had no means of survival apart from the mercy of others. They were not people who refused to work and just wanted a check in the mail. When we talk about issues of justice related to poverty, we must define who are the vulnerable poor.

In the United States in 2015 about 6% of the population had an income-to-poverty ratio that put them in the category of extreme poverty, which is a combination of inadequate food, clothing, and shelter, little or no healthcare, and inadequate education for children. Another 7% were moderately poor, with only slightly better conditions. This amounts to around 42 million Americans who live on less than $17.00 per day. When we look globally, approximately one billion people live on $1.00 per day, and another one billion live on $2.00 per day.

God’s heart for the truly poor is evident in his instructions not to harvest all the produce in their fields or vineyards to give the poor an opportunity to survive. But this act of charity was not a do-nothing handout. The indigent had to work to obtain these resources. They had to go to the fields and vineyards and harvest the remaining food. God does not diminish the created order of work for people in need. Because work brings dignity and fulfills the Creation Mandate to cultivate and subdue the earth, it is a positive and productive requirement for the needy to do what they can for themselves when receiving charity. If a poor person does not like the kind of work required to receive charity, he may be motivated to seek greater opportunities to provide a better life for himself. “The appetite of laborers works for them; their hunger drives them on” (Prov. 16:26 NIV).

Second, justice requires complete, absolute honesty in every dealing (v. 11-12). Stealing, cheating, and lying were all forbidden. That means that deception, exaggeration, or misrepresentation should not be tolerated in a just society. This is especially true, because those who are weak (socially, economically, and educationally) are the most hurt by dishonesty, as they often have no recourse. Complete honesty benefits everyone, except the deceptive person. All these sins are rooted in greed—they get a person some benefit in an improper way, often by defrauding them. As a teenager I worked for my father who was a stone mason. I remember the fury I felt when we finished a job that took us months, and the homeowner refused to pay the last half of the bill simply because he knew my father couldn’t afford a lawyer to sue for the money. It was nothing more than theft and fraud, and God warns wealthy employers not to withhold the pay of their employees for any reason (James 5:1-6). Such an action is abhorrent to God, and he will exact justice from the wicked.

Another injustice mentioned here is swearing falsely on God’s name (taking God’s name in vain), God is clear that he will not consider a person who takes his name in vain to be innocent (Exod. 20:7). These laws equally applied to government officials, employers, civic and religious leaders, as well as employees, students, immigrants, and citizens.

Third, justice refuses to take advantage of others (v. 13-14). Exploitation, extortion, bullying, manipulation, oppression, and blackmail of any kind are forbidden. Most of us may not consider ourselves to be in a position to do these things to anyone, but there are applications of this principle that are more common. Tormenting, mocking, belittling, and name-calling reveal a cruel heart that does not fear God, and thinks that no one sees or will help. Abraham Kuyper, the Dutch theologian and later Prime Minister of the Netherlands, promoted a robust view of justice when he defined a just society as one that pursues for others security from drastic imbalances of power in their basic relations. Again this is important because the weak are most often exploited in an unjust society. Proverbs 23:10–11 reminds us, “Do not move an ancient landmark or enter the fields of the fatherless, for their Redeemer is strong; he will plead their cause against you.”

Fourth, justice includes judging everyone by the same standard (v. 15-16, 35-36). This is true regardless of their economic, ethnic, educational, gender, or national stations in life. We should never let a person’s social or economic position influence a decision, whether in personal dealings, or in the legal system. No favoritism or partiality is allowed. Further, I should see anyone accused of wrongdoing as a neighbor, not as an enemy. Justice is rooted in love for neighbor, even if the just penalty for his wrongdoing is severe.

Finally, justice requires loving your neighbor as yourself (v. 17-18, 33-34). Hatred of anyone because they are male or female, black, white, Asian, Latino, Middle Eastern, Native American, rich or poor, educated or not, older or younger, American or foreigner, law-keeper or law-breaker, etc. is forbidden. So is ill-treatment of vulnerable people in society.

Embracing and empowering those who are truly in need and truly vulnerable reflects biblical justice and compassion. Defending those who are harmed by those more powerful is a just act to perform. And there is no greater injustice in society than abortion.

In the next post We will look at 8 principles derived from the biblical teaching on doing justice related to life in the 21st century.

Doing Justice and the Gospel

cup cold water

The question of the role of social justice and the church is one of the hottest topics of the day among Christians. Recently I had 30 minutes to address the issue in chapel at Lancaster Bible College. In the next four blog posts I will unpack my chapel talk.

Preliminary Statements:

  1. No one can escape their bias regarding these issues, so it is impossible to be neutral. Neutrality implies that I can set aside my personal feelings or experiences. It is, however, possible to be objective. I acknowledge my personal bias and you should too. And anyone you hear, or read, or watch should also acknowledge their bias. Everyone’s desire when addressing a topic as important as this one ought to be objectivity. What I say here today represents my best attempt to address the massive and complex issue of justice like a pizza delivery—in 30 minutes or less. Therefore, the views I express are my own and do not necessarily represent those of the Bible and Theology faculty or Lancaster Bible College.
  2. What God reveals in the Scriptures ought to be for Christians authoritative and definitive for understanding any issue. If we do not have an unchanging and objective foundation for our thought, we can ultimately have no shared meanings or experiences, and what we call evil and unjust today could be considered good and normal next week.
  3. Right and wrong, justice and injustice, are not determined by what I or anyone else perceive to be the quantity of harm done by an action, but rather are determined by God, who has revealed his character and commands, primarily in the Bible. We should not judge ourselves according to how the world evaluates us, but how God evaluates us. The world will often hate Christians and slander us regardless of what we do.
  4. We need to define our terms:
    • Biblical justice is the faithful exercise of power in the community, doing the right thing in relation to other people. This ties justice to mercy and compassion (Rom. 13:8—owe no one anything except love). Justice means treating people equitably, acquitting or punishing every person on the merits of the case, regardless of ethnic, economic, gender, or social status. Justice also means giving people what they are due, whether punishment, or protection, or care.
    • Righteousness denotes virtue, uprightness, moral rectitude—godly character. This message today is primarily about doing justice, rather than “social justice,” which is a nebulous term.
    • When referring to social justice, I will use the definition of Innosanto Nagara, an Indonesian intellectual, author of the children’s book, “A is for Activism,” and founder of the Design Action Collective in Oakland, CA. He writes that “Social Justice Work is work that we do in the interest of securing human rights, an equitable distribution of resources, a healthy planet, democracy, and a space for the human spirit to thrive (arts, culture, entertainment).” While we can sympathize with some of these commitments, they do not correspond to biblical concepts of justice and righteousness. The danger of the gospel of Christ being reduced to a social gospel is a real danger. It happens all the time.
    • More specifically, the U.N. defines social justice as “the fair and compassionate distribution of the fruits of economic growth.” Social justice is not possible without strong and coherent redistributive policies conceived and implemented by public agencies.
    • Michael Novak’s book, Social Justice Is Not What You Think It Is, notes that Social Justice typically refers to: state redistribution of wealth, equality of outcomes, and a collectivist notion of the common good, which becomes an excuse for total state control.
  5. The fundamental reason for injustice in our world is human depravity.
    • Systemic depravity where corrupt governments use power to enrich themselves or treat people unfairly based on any number of factors.
    • Institutional depravity where corruption, greed, discrimination, and exploitation are protected to advance the institution or cultivate a biased ideology.
    • Individual depravity is the source of the other forms of depravity, and is the primary reason for broken families, poverty, violence, ignorance, hatred, greed, etc.
    • The Christian understanding of depravity prevents us from believing what I call the “magic of socialism”—the belief that when individuals act on behalf of the government, they magically become honest and wise, so they can redistribute the wealth of others without greed and corruption.
  6. Many of the concerns expressed under the name of social justice can be shared by Christians who are seeking to love their neighbors as themselves, but too often the interpretation and solution for those concerns are antithetical to the Christian gospel. Therefore, as Christians we cannot naively join with those who oppose the tenets of our faith, if doing so requires our endorsement of unjust and immoral solutions. Proponents are often seeking to establish a social order with no reference to the one true God.
    • For example, “intersectionality” refers to the compounding of experiences that can render some people significantly more vulnerable in society than others. A good example are the Greek widows in Acts 6, who were not only vulnerable because they were widows, but in the early church were overlooked in the care of widows because culturally they were outsiders, compared to the Hebrew widows. The church’s response was to appoint six deacons like them (with Greek names) to make sure they were cared for. Empathy for their situation resulted in a remedy that appropriately corrected the vulnerability. But when the ideology of intersectionality turned toward Freud and the reduction of humanity to feelings, concepts like “dignitary harm” arose, and the concept was corrupted (Rosaria Butterfield, “Gay Rights, Hate Speech, and Hospitality” .
    • The #MeToo movement has rightly exposed sexual harassers and predators, and what has happened so far may just be the tip of the iceberg. My guess is that the vast majority of women have been the recipients of inappropriate statements, physical contact, and more. Yet, the broader culture seems to take no responsibility for the rejection of God’s standards of sexuality 50 years ago that set the stage for widespread exploitation of women. #MeToo can be misused to summarily convict anyone against whom an accusation is made.
    • The concept of “privilege” is indisputable if we take it to mean that in certain circumstances or locations, some people are free from fear, while others are at a disadvantage or in potential danger. The solution, however, is not to heap guilt and blame for society’s ills on people perceived to be privileged. Nor is it to silence anyone who is perceived to be privileged, because they have allegedly “had their turn” or can’t possible speak into a situation they have not experienced. The biblical answer is for people who have “privilege” in any given situation to use their advantage or strength in the service of others. Moses, Nehemiah, Esther, Daniel, and Paul all had privilege and used it when appropriate.
  7. It is easy to get focused on American issues, when global issues of justice are significantly greater. When we consider the global scene it significantly reshapes our ideas of where the greatest injustices lay.  Human trafficking, corrupt governments, lack of basic healthcare, education, clean water, and food is widespread.
  8. The fruit of the gospel is not the gospel. The implications of the gospel are not the gospel. “Preaching Christ crucified will transform society. Preaching transformed society will transform nothing” (Douglas Wilson, “American Vision and the Word that Justified”). Do you care deeply about justice? Which issues? Only the culturally acceptable issues such as racism, the environment and child labor, or also the unacceptable issues, too, like abortion and pornography? Do you care as much about the message of the gospel and the saving of souls as you do social issues? It is easier to march and demonstrate and protest than it is to tell someone they are lost and need Jesus. Mark 8:36—”For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?”

In Part 2 we will look at Leviticus 19 to see what it says about justice, and how it can challenge us about our part in doing justice.

3 Final Logical Fallacies to Avoid (and How to Tell When Someone Else is Committing Them)

[This is the final post in the series on Logic and Apologetics]

  1. Begging the Question—assuming a conclusion to be true without proving it. If I am trying to prove that people have lost the ability to distinguish between right and wrong by citing increase numbers of adulterous affairs and abortions, I am assumingadultery and abortion to be wrong, when I should have to arguethat they are wrong. Even though adultery and abortion are wrong, rising incidents of each does not necessarily prove that people have lost the ability to distinguish right and wrong.

How Christians do this:

“I believe the Bible is the Word of God because I just know it to be so.”

“Evolution cannot explain the origin of life on earth, because it is not true.”

How unbelievers do this:

“Science has disproved the existence of God because there is no scientific evidence for God.”

“Jesus cannot be the only way to be reconciled to God, because that would mean all other religions are wrong and most of the world would be condemned.”

  1. Faulty Analogy—making a comparison between two things that are not similar. An analogy allows us to explain one thing by comparison to another. But every analogy breaks down at some point and some things bear no similarity with other things. If I compare the gentleness of a mother with her baby to a nuclear explosion, there is little chance that the analogy will be helpful in any way.

How Christians do this:

“The Trinity is like an apple (or an egg, or water, or a three-leaf clover).”

“If a person is spiritually dead then I won’t bother sharing the gospel with him because dead people don’t hear you when you talk.”

How unbelievers do this:

“Christians used the Bible to support slavery and they were clearly wrong, so when they use the Bible to condemn homosexuality, we can clearly see they are wrongly using the Bible again.”

“Our genetic code is ‘selfish’ and blindly strives to reproduce itself for survival.”

  1. Equivocation—when a word or phrase is used in more than one sense or its meaning changes in the middle of an argument, a dialogue descends into confusion. If I ask my teenager to clean his room and we have two different ideas of what “clean” means, the communication will fail.

How this confusion happens:

Skeptics love to define faith as “belief despite the lack of evidence,” but that is not what Christians mean when they use the word. By “faith” a Christian means trust in God’s revelation. If a skeptic says, “I have evidence and you have faith,” I must correct his erroneous understanding of faith or we will never get anywhere in the discussion.

Similarly, evolutionists often use the word “science” when in fact they believe in scientism(the only things that exist are physical objects and natural, not supernatural, forces guide everything apart from a divine intelligence). If we do not expose the difference, we will find ourselves arguing against science when we have no misgivings about real science.

Hopefully this explanation on logical fallacies has helped you notice some fallacies in your own thinking, as well as building discernment for identifying in the arguments of unbelievers. Skill in detecting logical fallacies takes time and much practice. If you are thinking carefully and critically, however, you will begin to spot fallacies and be able to dismantle them in order to help another person see the truth more clearly.

A Little Note on Logic

Logic is not the final arbiter of all things true, for several reasons. First, flawed and finite people use logic. That means that while logic may help to ensure we arrive at consistency, the premises upon which logical argumentation are built are sometimes disputed. Two rational people can disagree about a premise because even statements of fact are often values-laden. That is, we don’t have a God’s-eye-view of reality without having to interpret what we see. Our own biases, limitations, and errors can creep into our thinking.

Second, logic flows form the character of God. Logic does not stand over God, and therefore some things will not seem logical, even though they are true. 


Christians do not need to resort to logical fallacies, because the Christian faith is the summit of wisdom and rationality. To believe and argue logical fallacies demeans and diminishes the true logic of the gospel. Paul states this clearly in 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 where Jesus is presented as the wisdom of God:

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of Godin the face of Jesus Christ.

Everything pursued by the major cultures of the first century Western world was found in Christ. The Greeks sought the light of wisdom, Jews sought knowledge, and the Romans sought glory, and yet each of these is embodied in the message of Jesus. To seek these things apart from Christ is futile, and to claim to have obtained them apart from Christ requires irrationality and contradiction.

Paul also reminds us that the wisdom of God is wiser than the greatest of “human” wisdom that contradicts it (1 Cor. 1:20-25). This does not mean that unbelievers are not or cannot be brilliant in many areas of human achievement. Some of the brightest scientists, philosophers, engineers, writers, and so on have rejected Christ. It does mean, however, that they can never understand the whyof the knowledge they possess. They can never know the purpose for which they and their expertise exist. They can never understand the infinitely glorious spiritual realities of God’s world until they are transformed by Christ. To make sense of the world they must devise strategies and explanations fraught with logical fallacies. These strategies “work” for them, but they are not the truth. Our prayer is that the Spirit of God will give sight to their blind eyes, abandon their resistance to the gospel built on their fallacies, and see clearly the wisdom and rationality that is Christ.

3 More Logical Fallacies to Avoid (and How to Tell When Someone Else is Committing Them)

red herring[This post continues the series on Logic and Apologetics begun in previous posts]

Logical fallacies are flaws in reasoning that superficially seem to be sound, but upon examination are found to be false. The power of logical fallacies is that even after they have been shown to be flawed, they still retain their power to convince because they are often emotionally satisfying.

  1. Red Herring—an argument that seems to support a person’s position, but in reality, has nothing to do with the question at hand. The name of this fallacy is derived from the practice of dragging a bag of red herring across a scent trail, so dogs would be distracted and lose the scent. When the question at hand is ignored and a related idea is argued instead, a red herring has been committed. This is a difficult fallacy to spot. We must always fight mental confusion and drift to maintain clarity on what the real issue is.

How Christians do this:

“It doesn’t matter that there are so many religions in the world. Christianity is still the truth. You don’t have to eat all the different kinds of cereals at the grocery store to have a favorite.”

“If the Bible is not true, then you must be saying that my grandparents were wasting their time when they read a Bible verse each day of their lives.”

How unbelievers do this:

“How can Christianity be true when there are so many more ways that the church could be helping the homeless?”

“I know God is not real, because I asked him to show himself to me in some way and he didn’t.”

  1. False Dilemma—only two choices are offered when, in fact, there are more options available. Almost always one option is too distasteful to accept, so the listener is forced into a choice he does not want to make.

How Christians do this:

“Ask Jesus to be your Savior right here, right now, regardless of your questions and objections, or you can count on the fact that you will never get into heaven.”

“Either you believe in a literal 24-hour, six-day creation or you cannot become a Christian.”

How unbelievers do this:

“Either you believe in science and reject religion, or you must remain in blind superstition and reject modern science.”

“Either God is not all-powerful, or he is not all-loving. If God were all-loving, he would want to rid the world of evil. If he were all-powerful he would be able to get rid of evil in the world. But there is evil in the world, so either God is not all-powerful or not all-loving.”

  1. Hasty (or Unwarranted) Generalization—a conclusion about everything of a particular kind based on one or a few examples. For example, when we judge all car salesmen based on our experience with one or two of them, we commit hasty generalization. We tend to believe that every individual person, thing, or idea is just like the few we have encountered, heard about, or read about online.

How Christians do this:

 “Atheists are dangerous and immoral people. I know; my neighbor is an atheist, and he has skull tattoos and yells obscenities at his live-in girlfriend.”

“Muslims will never listen to the gospel. Look at how they persecute Christians around the world.”

“Nobody wants to hear the gospel anymore. I have tried witnessing to my coworkers, and they just shut me down and refuse to talk to me about God.”

How unbelievers do this:

“Christians are dangerous to society. That last shooting was carried out by someone who went to church.”

“Churches are all about guilting people into giving their money in exchange for heaven. I visited a church once that took two offerings in one day and the pastor was preaching on money.”

“Fundamentalists are intolerant of other religions.”

In the next post we will conclude this series on logic and apologetics.

3 Logical Fallacies to Avoid (and How to Tell When Someone Else is Committing Them)

Head in Hands[This post continues the short series on Logic and Apologetics posted previously.]

So far, we have looked at the basic structure of logic. Errors in the structure of logical arguments are called formal fallacies. For the sake of brevity, we don’t cover them in this book. Rather we move on to the most common mistakes in informal logic known as logical fallacies. These are flaws in reasoning that superficially seem to be sound, but upon examination are found to be false. The power of logical fallacies is that even after they have been shown to be flawed, they still retain their power to convince because they are often emotionally satisfying.

For example, many Christians believe the following statement to be true, even though it is a fallacy, because it gives them confidence: “Millions of people around the world and throughout history have found peace and hope in Jesus, therefore he must be the way to salvation.” While it is true that becoming a follower of Christ gives peace, that truth does not prove Christianity true. People feel a sense of peace through many means—other religions, no religion, meditation, addictive substances, catching a great wave, or a hike in the woods. This fallacy is called Appeal to Popularity, an argument based on what a large number of people think or believe. It reminds us that nothing is ever true just because it is popular or the majority position.

What follows is a short list of some popular logical fallacies that both believers and unbelievers tend to use in support of or opposition to the Christian faith. I will explain each one,[1]show examples of how both groups argue the fallacy, and then show what is wrong with both. This exercise should help us see that we need to present our reasons for what we believe in true and valid ways. Many of these fallacies have Latin names (post hoc, ad hominem, tu quoque), but for the sake of simplicity I have listed their common English names.

  1. Appeal to Authority—a claim is defended or advanced on the basis of those who believe it. While we may appeal to the arguments of experts in a particular field, just because recognized experts advocate or deny a position does not make it true or false. Nothing is ever true because of who said it, except God.

How Christians do this:

“Einstein believed in a higher being, and he was the smartest man in the 20thcentury, so you should too.”

“Billy Graham spoke to more people than any other evangelist in history, and everywhere he went people were converted, so that shows that the gospel is the truth for every person in the world.”

How unbelievers do this:

“93% of members of the National Academy of Science do not believe in God, so it is not reasonable to believe in God”—Richard Dawkins

“Bart Ehrman is a New York Times Bestselling author, a world-renowned professor at the University of North Carolina, and a graduate of Moody Bible Institute, and he says the manuscripts of the New Testament were corrupted, so it must be true.”

  1. Personal Attack—ignore the argument and criticize its author. Accusing the other person of being unreliable, ignorant, or lacking expertise says nothing about the validity of her argument, but it can have a strong emotional impact on listeners. This fallacy is a form of dishonesty because it distracts from the real issue at hand by focusing on something that has nothing to do with the argument, whether true or false.

How Christians do this:

 “Mormonism cannot be true. Look at the life and crimes of Joseph Smith!”

“How do you knowevolution is the way the world came about? Are youa scientist?

“Bill Nye only has an undergraduate degree in engineering, therefore he doesn’t know anything about biology or cosmology.”

How unbelievers do this:

“Ken Ham only has an undergraduate degree in applied science, so what could he know about advanced science?

“If Christianity was true then Christians would not be such hateful, bigoted, racist people.”

“The disciples were uneducated fisherman, so their ‘eyewitness testimony’ about Jesus’ resurrection was nothing more than hallucination and superstition.”

  1. False Cause—attributing a cause to an event or idea that is not the actual cause. Just because it rains every time you bring Sally with you on a picnic does not mean that Sally causes the rain. Just because your favorite baseball team wins whenever you are in your lucky chair wearing your lucky socks and eating pretzels does not mean that you are causing the wins with your actions.

How Christians do this:

“Attending public school makes teens more likely to walk away from their faith in college.”

“This nation started going downhill when prayer and Bible reading were taken out of schools.”

“The reason crime is on the rise is because people have stopped going to church.”

How unbelievers do this:

“As church attendance falls, violent crime declines; therefore, the faster we get rid of superstitious notions of God, the more peaceful our society will become.”

“Schools that teach children that they are good, and not sinners, have lower rates of failure.”

“Science flies you to the moon; religion flies you into buildings”—Physicist Victor Stenger

It is clear so far that believers and unbelievers alike can commit logical fallacies. In the next post we will look at 3 more logical fallacies that can arise in an apologetic discussion.

[1]Adapted from Stephen S Carey, The Uses and Abuses of Argument (Mayfield Publishing Company, 2000).

Using Logic in Apologetics

invisibleIn a previous post we introduced the basics of logic. Here we see how logic is used in apologetics encounters.

When we apply the science of arguments to apologetics, it is clear that the arguments used against Christianity are often stated informally. The informal statement “I don’t believe in God because I can’t see him” can be written into a formal syllogism such as:

P1: I must see something to believe in it.

P2: I don’t see God.

Conclusion: Therefore, I don’t believe in God.

Notice that Premise 1 (P1) is not stated explicitly in the informal statement, but it is implied. This is where questions are so important in conversations about the gospel. I would not know the reason for someone’s rejection of God unless I asked. Once someone tells me they don’t believe in God because they feel they must see something to believe it, I am able to construct the syllogism above. I can now see his argument clearly and can address it.

In this case the informal statement, “I don’t believe in God because I can’t see him” is an incomplete syllogism. When a syllogism is incomplete, it is called an enthymeme. The challenge of identifying logical problems in an argument is the difficulty of taking the enthymeme as it is stated and filling in the missing terms, so the complete syllogism is clear. This takes time and practice, but eventually you will begin to be able to identify the unstated assumptions of a conversation partner (or yourself!).

In fact, a number of additional premises could be inferred from such a statement, depending on the context of the conversation. For example:

P1: It is not rational to believe in something that cannot be scientifically proven.

P2: I am a rational person.

Conclusion 1: I will not believe in something that cannot be scientifically proven.

P4: There is no way to scientifically prove God.

Conclusion 2: I will not believe in God.

When you begin to see more detail in the unbeliever’s argument, you can break it down and deal with the component parts.

First, we can challenge the unbeliever regarding P1: “Why do you believe that it is not rational to believe in something that cannot be scientifically proven? What about things that all rational people believe in such as the laws of logic and human memory? Where do you get your definition of rationality? What about the limitations of science, such as arriving at wrong conclusions or its inability to explain some things that happen in the natural world?”

Second, we can applaud the unbeliever in her desire to be rational (P2). We can point out that Christianity is deeply concerned about being rational and basing its beliefs on historical events.

Third, as a result of the problems with P1, we can show her that Conclusion 1 she already believes things that cannot be scientifically proven.

Fourth, P4 is not a problem, since we have already established that we can know certain things without proving them scientifically.

Fifth, now that we have challenged the premises that make up this argument, we can challenge the unbeliever to reconsider her rejection of God.

You can perhaps already see how important and powerful logic is in apologetics. Logic is how we see through the objections and challenges to the Christian faith. It is also how we dismantle the arguments of unbelievers and show them the logic of rationality of the gospel of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 10:3-5). Jesus is the ultimate logic in the universe as John tells us when he describes Jesus as “the Word” in John 1:1-4, 14. The Greek word for “Word” is logos, from which we get the word logic. The Greeks believed that the Logoswas the ultimate rationality in the universe that unified and upheld all that existed. John makes a radical statement when he says that the Logosis both God and became man. That is why it is important for Christians to think and argue logically, because when we do, we reflect the wisdom of Christ.

In the next post we will examine types of arguments in order to help us reason more clearly and with validity in our Christian apologetic.

Basic Logic for Apologetics

logic lightbulb

“Christianity is just not logical!”

A friend of mine who serves in Spain began to encounter this objection when he tried to talk about faith in Jesus Christ. He wrote to me and asked how he could respond. To commit your life to something that is illogical is a serious charge. If Christianity is truly illogical it calls into question how we can expect modern people to believe it. Even more, it raises the question of how we can believe it ourselves. Is the gospel truly against logic?

The answer lies in the nature of logic itself. Logic is one of the powerful tools of apologetics. Logic has the power to expose contradictions in both our thought and the belief systems of unbelievers. Christians are often viewed as illogical and irrational by unbelievers who put great emphasis on rationality, logic, and scientific precision. While it is true that Christians can be illogical and irrational, the Christian faith is neither of these things. The Christian faith is the only belief system that truly reflects the nature of the world and truth as it is. All other belief systems are denials or distortions of the truth.

One of the most powerful ways to defend the Christian faith is to identify and refute logical fallacies in the objections raised against the Christian faith. This requires, first of all, that our own reasoning is marked by true and sound thought. In this chapter we will learn the basics of logical thinking and how logic can help us see through the false beliefs of unbelievers we meet.

The Basics of Logic

Logic is the art and science of reasoning well. More formally, it is “the study of the methods by which the conclusion is proved beyond all doubt.”[1]In other words, logic is what distinguishes between what is not true, what may be true, and what is necessarily true, given the facts. Logic helps us avoid contradiction and irrationality. It also keeps us from allowing incidental or unimportant factors from interfering with our quest for the truth. For example, whether I like something or not, if it is true, I should believe it. Whether I like the person who is telling me a fact, if the fact logically follows from the evidence, I should believe it.

The Elements of Logical Argumentation

To ensure that our thinking is logical, we must understand the basics of logical argumentation. First, the most basic building block of logical thinking is a sentence. A sentence is a complete grammatical thought. Sentences can be short, such as, “Run!” or “Will you?” As long as a subject and verb are present in the proper relationship, you have a sentence.

proposition or statement, on the other hand, is a sentence that affirms or denies something, and can be true or false. “God exists” and “The universe is not eternal” are both propositions that can be used as part of an argument. A syllogismis a kind of logical argument in which one or more propositions are combined to result in a conclusion, or inference. When propositions are used in a syllogism, they are called premises.

An argument consists of at least one syllogism, and often several syllogisms strung together. An argument “is what results when someone advances a claim or series of claims as evidence for the truth of another claim.”[2]What we seek to present in apologetics are arguments that persuade unbelievers toward the truth.

So, to summarize, an argument is a claim for truth and consists of one or more syllogisms, in which the conclusion necessarily arises from the premises.

For example, here is an example of a famous syllogism:

Premise 1: All men are mortal.

Premise 2: Socrates is a man.

Conclusion: Socrates is mortal.

This syllogism consists of two premises that necessarily result in the conclusion (inference). In a syllogism, the truth of the premises is assumed to already be established. If it is true that all men are mortal, and that Socrates is a man, then it necessarily follows that Socrates is mortal.

Even though such words are not used in the example above, sometimes connecting words are used to show more clearly the necessary nature of the conclusion. For example, the conclusion could read, “Therefore, Socrates is mortal,” or “Because all men are mortal, and Socrates is a man, consequently, Socrates is mortal.” Connecting words such as “thus,” “because,” and “therefore” don’t always show up in formal syllogisms like the one above, but we do tend to use them when we speak.

In normal conversations people don’t speak in syllogisms.  They don’t say, “Premise 1: Ice cream costs $4.00. Premise 2: I have $4.00. Conclusion: I have enough money for ice cream.” Rather, we tend to think informally and arrive at such conclusions without working through the logic explicitly in our heads.

In the next post we will look at the value of logic for apologetics.

[1]Gordon Clark, Logic(Trinity, 1988), 1.

[2]Stephen Carey, The Uses and Abuses of Argument: Critical Thinking and Fallacious Reasoning(Mayfield, 2000), 3.