Development in Apologetics—George Trumbull Ladd


One of the paradoxes of human existence is that, while there is nothing new under the sun, nothing stays the same. And so it is in the world of ideas. It is no less so in the realm of religious belief, even when the object of belief is eternal and changeless.

As long as Christian belief has been proclaimed it has had to adjust to the challenges unique to each period of proclamation. And wherever it has been propagated, it has needed to respond to the immediate conditions of its propagation. Changes in circumstance call for new methods of commending Christian belief.

In an article on “Modern Apologetics,” published in 1903, George Trumbull Ladd (1842-1921) explained the need this way:

“Now, that Christian apologists should alter their methods, and even many of their claims, in order the better to defend their religion amidst altered circumstances, is no new thing in the history of apologetics. On the contrary, changes in the points attacked and in the methods of attack call peremptorily for changes in the points where the defense is concentrated and in the methods of defense. The vitality of Christianity has always shown itself in its adaptability to meet https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/9/97/George_Trumbull_Ladd_cph.3b32185.jpg/150px-George_Trumbull_Ladd_cph.3b32185.jpgthe new requirements with a reconstructed apologetics. In the time before the political triumph of the church under Constantine, the history of Christian apologetics shows it to have been constantly engaged in a vigorous and almost life-and-death struggle with a series of determined and powerful hostile forces. But both the form of these forces and the form of repelling them have long since passed away and are never to return. To defend the Christian faith against the modern scientific, philosophical, and sociological objections by recurring to the arguments of the church fathers would be as unskilful and ineffectual as would be the use of the weapons of war belonging to the same centuries in a contest with the modern rifle and modern artillery. Mediaeval apologetics was, from the intellectual point of view, a comparatively tame affair—a dialectical contest over the comparative merits of the different religions, which, however, became realistic and bloody enough when it was waged in the political field against rival heathen, Jews, and Moslems. Even the apologetics which introduced the modern era, and which consisted in a defense of the older orthodoxy against the modifications attempted by the older deism and rationalism, is thoroughly unfitted for present use. Both the attack and the defense of a hundred years ago are now largely antiquated.”

– George Trumbull Ladd, “Modern Apologetics” (1903), 523-24

Ladd was trained at Western Reserve College and Andover Theological Seminary. He was pastor in Congregational churches in Ohio and Wisconsin. He later taught philosophy at Bowdoin College for a few years and philosophy and psychology at Yale University for several more years. He served as a kind of ambassador for the United States in Japan in the last decade of the 19th century. He wrote extensively in psychology, philosophy, and religion.

The complete text of Ladd’s essay may be found at this link. Today, July 1, is the anniversary of this publication.

Simon Greenleaf on the Rules of Evidence and the Christian Religion


Simon Greenleaf died on this date, October 6, in 1853. He was an American jurist who wrote an influential three-volume Treatise on the Law of Evidence.

Greenleaf believed that lawyers have a responsibility to evaluate the evidences of the Christian religion using the standards of evidence demanded in their professional lives. Accordingly, Greenleaf detailed the results of his own investigation in an 1846 work titled An Examination of the Testimony of the Four Evangelists, by the Rules of Evidence Administered in Courts of Justice. With an Account of the Trial of Jesus.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/ee/SimonGreenleaf.jpg/200px-SimonGreenleaf.jpgFirst, he set forth the following basic principles for governing any responsible investigation:

In examining the evidences of the Christian religion, it is essential to the discovery of truth that we bring to the investigation a mind freed, as far as possible, from existing prejudice and open to conviction. There should be a readiness, on our part, to investigate with candor, to follow the truth wherever it may lead us, and to submit, without reserve or objection, to all the teachings of this religion, if it be found to be of divine origin. (p. 21)

Here, in brief, is the conclusion Greenleaf reached regarding the testimony of the gospel writers concerning the resurrection of Jesus:

The great truths which the apostles declared, were, that Christ had risen from the dead, and that only through repentance from sin, and faith in him, could men hope for salvation. This doctrine they asserted with one voice everywhere, not only under the greatest discouragements, but in the face of the most appalling terrors that can be presented to the mind of man. Their master had recently perished as a malefactor, by the sentence of a public tribunal. His religion sought to overthrow the religions of the whole world. The laws of every country were against the teachings of his disciples. The interests and passion of all the rulers and great men in the world were against them. The fashion of the world was against them. Propagating this new faith, even in the most inoffensive and peaceful manner, they could expect nothing but contempt, opposition, revilings, bitter persecutions, stripes, imprisonments, torments and cruel deaths. Yet this faith they zealously did propagate; and all these miseries they endured undismayed, nay, rejoicing. As one after another was put to a miserable death, the survivors only prosecuted their work with increased vigor and resolution. . . . They had every possible motive to review carefully the grounds of their faith, and the evidences of the great facts and truths which they asserted; and these motives were pressed upon their attention with the most melancholy and terrific frequency. It was therefore impossible that they could have persisted in affirming the truths they have narrated, had not Jesus actually risen from the dead, and had they not known this fact as certain as they knew any other fact. (p. 53; italics added)

Suppose it were possible that Jesus’ disciples could have persisted in their public claims concerning Jesus and his resurrection even if Jesus had not risen. What seems most unlikely is that they would have persisted in this if they did not believe with grave conviction that Jesus had indeed risen. And this fact of their belief surely demands some plausible explanation, given their readiness to endure such persecution.

Greenleaf’s book still makes for stimulating reading. Its arguments deserve the attention of sincere inquirers today.

An Examination of the Testimony of the Four Evangelists is in the public domain. It can be read online here.

St. Ephraem—Syrian Apologist of the Fourth Century?


Students of the life and work of Ephraem the Syriac agree that he died on this date in 373 A.D. He wrote hymns, poems, sermons, and biblical commentary. His style and the tenor of his theology was a blend of the mystical and the intellectually staid.

In Theandros, the online journal of Orthodox Christian theology and philosophy, Mary C. Sheridan recounts his huge significance for the Syriac church. Her essay is interesting both for its insight into the life and work of Ephraem and for its discussion of the historical context of his activity.

In my series of posts on Christianity and its tradition of apologetics (see links below), I’ve introduced lesser-known figures and highlighted their contributions. I’m pleased to add this brief post about St. Ephraem (ca. 306-373). In his case, we find a fascinating reflection on apologetic themes in ancient poetry. I don’t know much about his work. But Mary Sheridan includes in her article a sample of his poetry where he acknowledges the value of nature as a source of revelation and places it in relation to Scripture as revelation. The medium of poetry may here be specially valuable for showing how natural theology draws men and women into contact with special revelation.

Ephraem considered both nature and Scripture the “twin sources of revelation.”

Once Nature and Scripture had cleaned the land
–they sowed in it new commandments
in the land of the heart, so that it might bear fruit,
praise for the Lord of Nature
glory for the Lord of Scripture.

He called Nature, the Old Testament, and the New Testament three lyres used in singing the Word of God. He says:

The Word of the Most High came down
      and clothed himself in
a weak body with two hands.
He took up and balanced two lyres,
one in his right hand and one in his left.
A third he put in front of him,
to be a witness for the other two;
for it was the middle lyre corroborating
that their Lord was singing to their accompaniment.

I encourage you to visit Sheridan’s page for more about St. Ephraem.

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Conrad Emil Lindberg—On God and Revelation


On this date in 1852, Lutheran theologian Conrad Emil Lindberg was born at Jönköping, Sweden. In 1871, Lindberg (1852-1930) moved to the United States to attend Augustana College and Theological Seminary. In due course, he was ordained and appointed to ministry in American churches serving Swedish immigrants. Later he returned to Augustana College where he was professor of theology. At Augustana, Lindberg taught systematic theology, hermeneutics, apologetics, dogmatics, ethics, liturgics, and church polity. Lindberg’s Christian Dogmatics (published first in 1898 in Swedish, and in English in 1922) includes material of interest to the Christian apologist.

Conrad Emil Lindberg

Conrad Emil Lindberg

Concerning the Existence of God

Inasmuch as it cannot be proved that man and the world are not eternal, they must have had a beginning and in such case necessarily a cause. The concept of causality has therefore great weight in proving God’s existence. . . . In accordance with the concept of causality as a proof of God’s existence we consider God as a cause by reason of the fact that we know ourselves as causes. We know ourselves as causes because we are conscious of our will. To will is to cause. (19)

The Value of Theistic Arguments

Generally speaking, a Christian needs no such proofs, but in the hour of doubt and spiritual assault they become of great value and help. (20)

Arguments Without Force

In presenting arguments to prove the existence of God the following methods must be rejected: 1) When men essay to prove God’s existence as they would that of a material object; 2) when proofs are asserted to be based on direct or intuitive experience; 3) argumentum a tuto, which implies that it is doubtful whether or not God exists, but that it is safer to assume His existence and does no harm, while it may be dangerous to deny His existence, if He does exist; 4) argumentum ab utili, which sets forth the great benefit of faith in a personal God.

The Ethico-Theological Proof for God’s Existence It is not Lindberg’s aim to advance arguments for God’s existence, but only to present brief statements of the basic thrust of each of the main “ordinary” arguments. Here is his statement of the ethico-theological proof;

The will of man cannot be ethically determined by any human will, nor in the last instance can it be determined by impersonal nature. The human will points to a personal God by whom it is materially determined so that the formal freedom receives its proper content. This proof has two forms or names: 1) Argumentum ad conscientia recti or the proof of conscience, which implies that conscience is aware of the moral law and that man perceives an inner voice which convinces him of the existence of a higher being. 2) Argumentum morale or the moral proof by which man, conscious of the union of virtue and blessedness, draws the conclusion that a higher being must exist who shall reward the virtuous and punish the unrighteous. (24)

Lindberg attributes arguments of this general form to Cicero and Seneca, Abelard and Raimund of Sabunde, and Immanuel Kant. On General and Supernatural Revelation Lindberg asserts that “if a God exists, He must reveal Himself in some way” (28). There are two main modalities of divine revelation, the “general,” or revelatio generalis, and the “supernatural,” or revelatio speciales.

Revelatio generalis . . . is that natural revelation of God through which He reveals Himself in the conscience of man, in the kingdom of nature, and in history. (28) Revelatio speciales . . . is that external act of God by which He reveals Himself to man through the Logos, the personal Word, and through the Holy Scriptures, so that all men may receive saving knowledge of Him. (30)

Lindberg’s discussion of supernatural, or special, revelation is divided into four sections: (1) the possibility of revelation, (2) the necessity of revelation, (3) the reality of revelation, and (4) the relation between reason and revelation (pp. 31-34). The conditions for the possibility of revelation are set forth. Objections come from deists and pantheists. Deists interject that for God to reveal himself by some external means would disturb the natural order of things determined by the Creator. In addition, it would reflect negatively on the supposed power and intelligence of God to create a universe that reflects his genius. Lindberg answers that:

All nature is permeated by spiritual power and God is ever active in sustaining the universe in never-ceasing creational activity. (31)

The Necessity of Special Divine Revelation Lindberg’s two paragraphs on the necessity of revelation are especially good:

The necessity of a special revelation was recognized even by the heathens, such as Plato. The history of religion clearly demonstrates this necessity. The founder of every religion has claimed a special revelation. The history of philosophy itself reveals the need of a special revelation when we consider the contradictions and conflicts that have arisen on all the most important subjects. The necessity of a special revelation is grounded in the need of salvation, the occasion for it being the Fall into sin. This revelation was accidental on the ground of sin as a presupposition, but it was not accidental in the sense that it could have been inhibited after sin had entered the world. Revelation was necessary from the divine viewpoint in order that the design and purpose of creation and salvation might be realized. Revelation was necessary for man because he was powerless to save himself from the power and condemnation of sin. (32)

I concur with this general statement of the need for revelation. A complete Apologetic should include a description of the need for revelation. If revelation is possible, as it seems easy to establish, then we should first consider whether to expect any further special revelation in the interest of determining whether God has in fact produced a revelation of himself that goes beyond what is learned from general revelation. There is strong independent support for the claim that God has produced a revelation, and for the specifically Christian revelation claim. But remembering (a) what is revealed about God by natural means, (b) the probability this lends to the supposition that God both could and would produce a revelation, and (c) the independent human need for revelation, does two things for us when we ask whether God has produced further special revelation. First, we are made to expect additional revelation from God; second, we are provided some means of identifying appropriate criteria for (a) recognizing what should be included as content of any revelation claim, and (b) confirming the authenticity of a particular revelation claim by means of a suitable miracle. With these elements in place and logically-ordered, presentation of evidence for the Christian revelation claim should enjoy a more positive reception.

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The Weight of Glory—C. S. Lewis Speaks to “Ordinary” People


Peter Kreeft has called it C. S. Lewis’s “golden sermon.” Walter Hooper places it first in an otherwise chronologically-ordered series of addresses by C. S. Lewis, saying that “The Weight of Glory” is “so magnificent that not only do I dare to consider it worthy of a place with some of the Church Fathers, but I fear I should be hanged by Lewis’s admirers if it were not given primacy of place.” This is high praise. And the sermon rises to the high expectations created by such praise.Book Cover-CSLewis-Weight of Glory The sermon was preached June 8, 1941 and published a few months later in the 43rd volume of the journal Theology. Because today’s date is June 8, it’s fitting to recall some cherished lines from this oration that centers on the Christian conception of love and its relation to heaven’s future rewards:

. . . if we consider the unblushing nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. . . . We are far too easily pleased.

Lewis means that we settle for the satisfaction of desires that seem grand to us from the limited perspective of our current lives. Heaven’s rewards outstrip whatever else we could possibly imagine. Some criticize the Christian religion for its mercenary appeal to heavenly rewards as an incentive to Christian conversion and Christian living. But Lewis sorts out this confusion with a comparison to do with marriage. Some men marry for money; others for love. In the first instance, the act is unquestionably mercenary. Not so when a “real lover” enters into marriage. Some rewards are proper to the acts that bring them to fruition. Acting for the sake of our heavenly reward is like this. It is, in fact, the paradigm case of this. There is also this difference. When the saints’ reward is received, it will not be viewed as the effect of a bribe. It will, rather, be experienced “as the very consummation of their discipleship.” In the meantime, when the reward is an expected rather than a lived experience, disciples cannot yet know the fulfillment of the desire natural to it. We can only approximate what it is like to live in possession of our future reward if we obey the revealed will of our Lord. This, I believe, is what the New Testament means by “the obedience of faith.” The faith is rooted in a promise, already the present experience of saints past, and the obedience is a consequence of that faith, an act we perform in the here and now.

. . . longing transforms obedience, as gradually as the tide lifts a grounded ship.

Lewis can write with uncanny clarity when he wants to. And he can write with mystifying creativity when it best serves his purpose.

Now, if we are made for heaven, the desire for our proper place will be already in us, but not yet attached to the true object, and will even appear as the rival of that object.

Does Lewis mean that our highest finite aspirations—even when these are absurd, shortsighted, or inimical to the fear of God—are signs of a deeper desire we deny or believe does not exist, namely, a desire for God? In this context we come to a wonderfully disturbing paragraph:

In speaking of this desire for our own far-off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that settled the matter.

What a description of our common experience. Lewis draws out, through his close attention to the facts of our inner life, what we scarcely know to be there. When it is described with such care and accuracy, we finally recognize it. It is a kind of discovery of our true self. What do we do with this new self-awareness? Action of some kind must be proper to this realization. But what action, exactly? And how do we know that we’re not fooling ourselves when we think this very real desire latches onto what really will satisfy? Aren’t we accustomed to the disappointment of our longings? Why should it be any different with this yearning that defines our very selves? Lewis argues from the reality of this desire to the reality of the thing desired. It is a specimen of apologetics that does not feel like an argument. It is, in other words, the best sort of apologetic there is. Some paragraphs further into his message, Lewis contemplates the “idea of glory.”

Glory suggests two ideas to me, of which one seems wicked and the other ridiculous. Either glory means fame, or it means luminosity.

How simple is that? And yet, how true? Fame. A “competitive passion” among those who desire to be better known than other people. Lewis does not say that they desire to be better than other people. No, they want to be better known. This is a kind of glory. This is wickedness. What about luminosity? It is ridiculous. “Who wishes to become a kind of living light bulb?” Lewis’s exploration of the Christian ideal of glory brings together a conception of fame and the absence of vanity. For the details, you must read the sermon for yourself. But here is a morsel to whet your appetite:

Perhaps it seems rather crude to describe glory as the fact of being ‘noticed’ by God. But this is almost the language of the New Testament. St. Paul promises to those who love God not, as we should expect, that they will know God, but that they will be known by Him (1 Cor. 8:3).

To quote one of my seminary profs, Howard Hendricks, “If that doesn’t light your fire, your wood is wet!” Toward the end of his sermon, Lewis circles back round to the idea of reward and the kind of reward the disciple of Jesus can look forward to.

Nature is mortal; we shall outlive her. When all the suns and nebulae have passed away, each one of you will still be alive. . . . Meanwhile the cross comes before the crown and tomorrow is a Monday morning.

Today, the 8th of July 2015, is indeed a Monday! But the seeming dreariness of the weekly recycling of things we do and crave and pursue is overcome with hope. And what seems so routine and ordinary is ignited with purpose.

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.

We do not construct a world of “everlasting splendors” by thinking positive thoughts. It is there before us, ready to behold, if we have eyes to see.

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Great Dates in the Apologetics Calendar—June 8


June 8 is unusual for the many dates bearing some relation to Christian apologetics.

1686 – Humphrey Prideaux graduated with D.D. from Christ Church, Oxford (installed as Dean of Norwich on this date in 1702)

1809 – Death of Thomas Paine, antagonist against Christianity and author of The Age of Reason (published in three installments: 1794, 1795, 1807)

1810 – Death of William Finch, whose 1797 Bampton lectureship was titled “The Objections of Infidel Historians and other writers against Christianity” (eight sermons)

1889 – Death of Christian metaphysical poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, famous for “Pied Beauty” (written in 1877, and published in 1918) and “God’s Grandeur” (also composed in 1877); also the sonnet “Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I conted”

1894 – Birth of Wilbur M. Smith, author of the thick volume of Christian evidences called Therefore Stand

1903 – Birth of G. C. Berkouwer, theologian in the Dutch Reformed tradition, whose many books include The Providence of God (1952) and General Revelation (1955)

1941 – C. S. Lewis preached his sermon “The Weight of Glory”

1954 – Death of Kenneth Escott Kirk, bishop of Oxford who wrote in defense of Christian moral philosophy

2007 – Death of Richard Rorty, postmodernist critic of religion

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William Warburton’s 18th-Century Defense of Christianity


The 18th century produced a great many thinkers who made lasting contributions to the study of Christianity’s credentials. On the skeptical side, David Hume has been most significant. William Paley and Bishop Butler have had the greatest enduring influence on behalf of Christianity. Lesser lights from today’s vantage point were leading figures in their time. Among them, William Warburton, who died June 7, 1779—236 years ago today. Warburton’s greatest work was the nine-volume treatise with the odd title The Divine Legation of Moses. The full title was The Divine Legation of Moses, demonstrated on the principles of a Religious Deist. Deist contemporaries, who claimed they believed the doctrine of immortality, argued against the divine authorship of the “Law of Moses.” They reasoned that if the Law of Moses was divine, it would propound the doctrine of an afterlife, which it does not.

  1. Any divinely authored text will affirm a doctrine of immortality.
  2. The Law of Moses does not affirm a doctrine of immortality.
  3. Therefore, the Law of Moses is not a divinely authored text.

The argument has an odd appearance. It isn’t immediately obvious why deist writers, or anyone else for that matter, would think that a divinely inspired text must teach a doctrine of immortality. But, of course, the books of Moses were all there was of the Bible for generations of God’s people. As the source of their knowledge of God’s ways and plans for humanity, it may seem odd, if it is of divine origin, that nothing is ever said for immortality of the self in that source. Surely, if men and women are immortal, and this is by God’s design, then God’s revelation to humanity would indicate that this is so. Men and women are immortal, said these deists, but the Law of Moses says nothing about this. The implication is that the Law of Moses could not have been written under God’s own guidance.

William Warburton

William Warburton (1698-1779)

You don’t come across an argument of this sort much these days. And you don’t encounter the sort of argument Warburton made in direct response. Warburton turned the deistic argument on its head, arguing that silence on the question of immortality was actually evidence of divine authorship. The Law of Mose was the “Divine Legation,” and the absence of any direct reference to life after death is evidence of this. If the deist argument seems at all strange, Warburton’s reply seems more so. But the strategy intrigues. Ancient religions contemporaneous with the Jewish religion were unanimous in affirming an afterlife. These were, all of them, manufactured religions. The Jewish religion differed in this one striking respect: no doctrine of an afterlife. This anomaly in the history and sociology of religious belief invites explanation. For Warburton, the best explanation is that the Jewish religious system, rooted in the Pentateuch, was of divine origin. Warburton’s argument was sufficiently compelling that many critics took pains to respond. But this isn’t only because of the core argument. Into the Divine Legation, Warburton squeezed a host of other evidences for Christianity. Among them was the argument from prophecy, which he considered sufficient in itself to establish the truth of Christianity with moral certainty. Warburton was a colorful figure, with many enemies and some surprising friends. He crossed swords with the famed Conyers Middleton in public, but got on well with him personally. The story of Warburton’s life is told with candor, in the Preface to the Divine Legation, by his friend, agent, and executor, R. Worcester (signed at Hartlebury Castle, August 12, 1794). For a catalog of Warburton’s writings, available in PDF, click here.

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