Justin Martyr—Apologist for Today


Justin Martyr Stained GlassToday is the Feast Day for Justin Martyr (ca. 100-165 AD), considered by many to be the first great apologist of the Christian church. The apostle Paul is surely a better candidate for that distinction. But Paul was an inspired author of Scripture. This is not true of any of the other great Christian apologists. And Justin apparently was the first of these. Certainly, he is the first whose writings have survived and are available in English translation.

Justin is mentioned with admiration by many of the ancients. Tatian, his pupil (according to Irenaeus), was fond of Justin. We learn from Tertullian that he was martyred for his advocacy for Christianity. Eusebius of Caesarea, the first church historian, who was himself an apologist, has much to say about Justin.

We have an account of Justin’s conversion in chapters 7 and 8 of his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew. What he recounts sounds like the story of a stranger’s witness to the truth of Christianity by various evidences and the stranger’s persuasion of an open-minded philosopher—namely, Justin—by these evidences. With the word of the stranger’s testimony, says Justin, “my spirit was immediately set on fire.”

Justin’s meditations, in addition to further study, led him to conclude that Christ had revealed “the only sure and useful philosophy.” Though the authenticity of this account is uncertain, Justin’s zeal for Christ and perseverance in defense of the faith are incontestable. Chapter 2 in the Second Apology reflects a debt to the faithful testimony of other Christians in his movement from Platonism to Christian belief (see also Second Apology, chapter 12).

His chief works in Christian apologetics include Dialogue with Trypho the Jew; First Apology; and, Second Apology. There is much that is admirable and worthy of fresh consideration in all of his writings. As to the first, the following understatement, from The Oxford Classical Dictionary, very nearly says it all: “He seems never to have been attracted to Judaism.”

Here are a few nuggets from Justin’s First Apology:

Criteria for Rational Belief

Early in his First Apology, Justin set forth a controlling principle, which we today might call a basic intellectual virtue.

Reason dictates that those who are truly pious and philosophical should honor and love only the truth, declining to follow  opinions of the ancients, if they are worthless” (chapter 2).

He invited scrutiny of the evidence and did not expect an irrationalist response to Christian preaching. And he urged his audience to weigh the evidence and resist any temptation to accept what is less reasonable because it is more palatable.

The Possibility of Resurrection

David L. Edwards relates that “as a young man he [Justin] had been a Platonist, until he had ceased to believe that souls could, if they tried hard enough, remember their pure life before birth.” This belief gave way to Christian hope in a future resurrection. For anyone who thinks it laughable that a dead body, dissolved into its constituents and diffused into the earth, might be raised physically from the dead, Justin makes an interesting observation. He asks them to imagine that they had no knowledge of the means of procreation, and to consider how they would react if they were shown both human seed and a picture of a mature human person, and then were told that from such a seed the man was produced. This would exceed anyone’s capacity to believe. And yet it would be true. As it is by the power of God that this thing comes to pass, so it is no less possible that God clothes the soul again in the future with the same body of the person who has died. He then recites Matthew 19:26 and Matthew 10:28. (See chapter 19.)

Common Ground in Reasoning with Nonbelievers

Justin also took pains to seek common ground with nonbelievers in his proclamation of Christian doctrine. The details of his method cannot be developed here. But students of Justin have examined his appeal to ancient philosophers (e.g., Socrates and Plato) in drawing out the truth of Christian belief. He held that many vital elements of God’s truth—shown forth more fully and in greater glory through the Old Testament prophets, Jesus Christ, and the New Testament writers—are latent in ancient pagan philosophers.

This point served at least two purposes. First, it pointed to the incompleteness of secular philosophies; second, it suggested such a connection with the complete truth realized in Christ that this would count in support of the Christian philosophy. (See chapters 20-23). Still, whereas “we say things similar to what the Greeks say, we only are hated on account of the name of Christ” (chapter 24). Christ’s philosophy goes beyond the classic creeds of the pagans, and this is a point of resistance for many.

Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

I find especially interesting a passage in chapter 28. Speaking of God’s delay in bringing final judgment on on Satan and his minions, Justin writes:

For the reason why God has delayed to do this is His regard for the human race; for He foreknows that some are to be saved by repentance, and perhaps some not yet born. In the beginning He made the human race with the power of thought and of choosing the truth and of acting rightly, so that all people are without excuse before God; for they have been born capable of exercising reason and intelligence.

Observe, first, Justin’s doctrine of divine foreknowledge and human freedom. He is not altogether explicit here, but he intimates that God knows in advance what men and women, including perhaps those who do not yet exist, will freely do when presented with the opportunity to repent. His mention of those who have not yet been born invites curiosity about how he might regard the Molinist doctrine of divine middle knowledge. Second, he stresses the accountability of men and women for believing what is true, on the grounds that they are created with the capacity for “exercising reason and intelligence.”

Fulfilled Prophecy

Justin put much stock in the evidence of fulfilled prophecy to support the Christian verdict about Jesus Christ. He lists many prophecies of the Hebrew prophets and reasons that they are fulfilled in Jesus. He notes that the work of Christ was predicted even by Moses (see Gen. 49:11). He appeals to Isaiah 7:14 as a foretelling of the virgin birth of Christ (see Luke 1:32 and Matt. 1:21), and to Micah 5:2 regarding the place where Christ, as Messiah, would be born. He sees in Jesus fulfillment of such  prophecies as we find in Isaiah 52:2, 58:2, Psalm 22:16, and Zechariah 9:9-10. (See chapters 30-53.)

This method in Christian apologetics is nothing new. Justin even addresses the objection that the alleged fulfillment of prophecy is evidence for fatalism (see chapters 43 and 44; see also Second Apology, chapter 7). And he mounts an inductive argument, from the fulfillment of past prophecies to the reasonable expectation that those that remain will also be fulfilled. This claim serves both as a confirmation of Christianity and as a warning not to neglect the philosophy of Christ. (See chapter 52.) Justin even rebuts the objection that the Christian doctrine of salvation is compromised, since those who, living before Christ, could not have obeyed Christ for salvation (see chapter 47).

The Second Apology

If the First Apology is a more general treatise in apologetics, the much shorter Second Apology addresses more practical concerns due to the experience of Christians under pagan persecution. He touches on the problem of divine wisdom in the permission of suffering. He includes a note about why persecuted Christians do not commit suicide (chapter 4).

Extensive Source List for the Study of Justin Martyr

  • L. W. Barnard, Justin Martyr: His Life and Thought (1967)
  • L. W. Barnard, “Justin Martyr in Recent Study,” Scottish Journal of Theology 22 (1969): 152-64
  • L. W. Barnard, Justin Martyr: The First and Second Apologies (Engl. trans.) (1997)
  • L. W. Barnard, “The Logis Theology of Justin Martyr,” Downside Review 89 (1971): 132-41
  • A. Bellinzoni, The Sayings of Jesus in the Writings of St. Justin Martyr (1967)
  • R. M. Berchman, From Philo to Origen: Middle Platonism in Transition (1984)
  • A. Bery, Saint Justin: Sa vie et sa doctrine (1911)
  • A. W. F. Blunt, The Apologies of Justin Martyr (1911)
  • L. R. Bush, Classical Readings in Christian Apologetics: A.D. 100-1800 (1983), 1-29
  • H. Chadwick, Early Christian Thought and Classical Tradition (1966)
  • H. Chadwick, “Justin Martyr’s Defense of Christianity,” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 47 (1965): 275-97
  • F. H. Colson, “Notes on Justin Martyr, Apology,” Journal of Theological Studies 23 (1922): 161-71
  • F. L. Cross, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church
  • J. Daniélou, Message évangelique et culture héllénstique (Eng. trans. 1973)
  • I. J. Davidson, The Birth of the Church: From Jesus to Constantine (2004)
  • A. J. Droge, “Justin Martyr and the Restoration of Philosophy,” Church History 56 (1987): 303-319
  • D. L. Edwards, Christianity: The First Two Thousand Years (1997)
  • M. J. Edwards, “On the Platonic Schooling of Justin Martyr,” Journal of Theological Studies 42 (1991): 17-34
  • A. A. T. Ehrhardt, “Justin Martyr’s Two Apologies,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 4 (1953): 1-16
  • M. S. Enslin, “Justin Martyr: An Appreciation,” Jewish Quarterly Review 34 (1944): 179-205
  • S. Hornblower and A. Spawforth, eds., The Oxford Classical Dictionary (2003)
  • N. L. Geisler, “Justin Martyr,” in Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (2006), 395-97
  • B. L. Gildersleeve, The Apologies of Justin Martyr (1877)
  • E. R. Goodenough, The Theology of Justin Martyr (1923, 1968)
  • R. M. Grant, “Aristotle and the Conversion of Justin,” Journal of Theological Studies 7 (1956): 246-48
  • R. M. Grant, Greek Apologists of the Second Century (1988)
  • R. M. Grant, “A Woman from Rome: Justin Apol. 2.2,” Church History (1985): 461-72
  • A. Harnack, Judentum und Judenchristentum in Justinus’ Dialog mit Trypho, Texte und Untersuchungen 39 (1913)
  • H. S. Holland, “Justinus Martyr, St.,” in Dictionary of Christian Biography 3:560-87 (1882)
  • R. Holte, “Logos spermatikos: Christianity and Ancient Philosophy According to St. Justin’s Apologies,” Studia Theologica 12 (1958): 109-168
  • Justin Martyr, “Apologia,” in The Anti-Nicene Fathers, edited by A. Roberts and J. Donaldson, volume 1
  • Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho the Jew (various editions)
  • Justin Martyr, First Apology (various editions)
  • Justin Martyr, Second Apology (various editions)
  • Justin Martyr, “Fragments of the Lost Work of Justin on the Resurrection,” in The Anti-Nicene Fathers, edited by A. Roberts and J. Donaldson, volume 1
  • P. Keresztes, “The Emperor Antoninus Pius and the Christians, Journal of Ecclesiastical History (1971): 1-18
  • P. Keresztes,”The Literary Genre of Justin’s First Apology,” Vigilae Christianae 19 (1965): 99-110
  • P. Keresztes,”The ‘so-called’ Second Apology of Justin,” Latomus 24 (1965): 858-69
  • M. J. Langrange, Saint Justin, Martyr (1914)
  • C. C. Martindale, Justin Martyr (1921)
  • H. Musurilla, The Acts of the Christian Martyrs (1972)
  • E. F. Osborn, Justin Martyr (1973)
  • G. T. Purves, The Testimony of Justin Martyr to Early Christianity (1988)
  • J. S. Romanides, “Justin Martyr and the Fourth Gospel,” Greek Orthodox Theological Review 4 (1958-1959)
  • W. A. Shotwell, The Biblical Exegesis of Justin Martyr (1965)
  • O. Sarksaune, “The Conversion of Justin Martyr,” Studia Theologica 30 (1976): 53-73)
  • O. Sarksaune,The Proof from Prophecy: A Study in Justin Martyr’s Proof-Text Tradition (1987)
  • C. I. K. Story, The Nature of Truth in the Gospel of Truth in the Writings of Justin Martyr (1971)
  • D. Trakatellis, The Pre-Existence of Christ in the Writings of Justin Martyr (1976)
  • C. J. de Vogel, “Problems Concerning Justin Martyr,” Menemosyne 31 (1978): 360-88
  • J. C. van Windon, An Early Christian Philosophy: Trypho 1-9 (1971)
  • C. M. Watts, “The Humanity of Jesus in Justin Martyr’s Soteriology,” Evangelical Quarterly 56 (1984): 21-33
  • P. R. Weis, “Some Samaritanisms of Justin Martyr,” Journal of Theological Studies 45 (1944): 199-205
  • D. F. Wright, “Christian Faith in the Greek World: Justin Martyr’s Testimony,” Evangelical Quarterly 54 (1982): 77-87
  • J. E. Wynne-Morgan, “The Holy Spirit and Christian Experience in Justin Martyr,” Vigilae Christianae 38 (1984): 172-77

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Other posts in this series . . .

Crossing the Heath with William Paley (1743-1805)


On this date in 1805, the Christian church lost one of its ablest and most-remembered defenders. William Paley—Anglican minister, professor, and author—is permanently associated with the analogy of a watchmaker and the God of personal theism. He wrote that “the contrivances of nature . . . are not less evidently mechanical, not less evidently contrivances, not less accommodated to their end or suited to their office, than are the most perfect productions of human ingenuity” (Natural Theology, 1802). Paley mined the riches of biology for samples of such contrivance. In his day, the state of scientific knowledge in the field of biology permitted comparatively easy inference to the appearance of teleology in the natural world. Critics today forget this. The

William Paley, Natural Theology

William Paley, Natural Theology

“demise” of Paley’s design argument for the existence of God is credited especially to a development that was to happen some 60 years later—the emergence of the new theory of evolution, beginning with the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1859). Paley’s major work—Natural Theology; or, Evidence of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity. Collected from the Appearances of Nature—enjoyed a pretty good “survival” record itself. His work was considered essential reading at universities for a hundred or more years. Also, some critics maintain that David Hume dealt a decisive blow to Paley’s argument. Never mind that Hume’s Dialogues concerning Natural Religion appeared posthumously in 1779, that Paley was thoroughly familiar with the Dialogues, that Paley developed his argument in express response to Hume’s critique, and that Paley was thought to have bested Hume by many of Paley’s contemporaries. He was not entirely unsuccessful in this endeavor, though some, like John Stuart Mill, believed that they had detected formal weaknesses in his argument. Here is the famous passage from Paley’s Natural Theology:

In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there; I might possibly answer, that, for anything I knew to the contrary it had lain there forever: nor would it perhaps be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place; I should hardly think of the answer which I had before given, that, for anything I knew, the watch might have always been there.Yet why should not this answer serve for the watch as well as for the stone? Why is it not admissible in the second case, as in the first? For this reason, and for no other, viz. that, when we come to inspect the watch, we perceive (what we could not discover in the stone) that its several parts are framed and put together for a purpose, e.g. that they are so formed and adjusted as to produce motion, and that motion so regulated as to point out the hour of the day; that if the different parts had been differently shaped from what they are, of a different size from what they are, or placed after any other manner, or in any other order, than that in which they are placed, either no motion at all would have been carried on in the machine, or none which would have answered the use that is now served by it.

Paley then produces examples of these components in a watch:

To reckon up a few of the plainest of these parts, and of their offices, all tending to one result: We see a cylindrical box containing a coiled elastic spring, which, by its endeavour to relax itself, turns round the box. We next observe a flexible chain (artificially wrought for the sake of flexure) communicating the action of the spring from the box to the fusee. We then find a series of wheels, the teeth of which catch in, and apply to each other, conducting the motion from the fusee to the balance, and from the balance to the pointer; and at the same time, by the size and shape of those wheels, so regulating that motion, as to terminate in causing an index, by an equable and measured progression, to pass over a given space in a given time. We take notice that the wheels are made of brass in order to keep them from rust; the springs of steel, no other metal being so elastic; that over the face of the watch there is placed a glass, a material employed in no other part of the work; but in the room of which, if there had been any other than a transparent substance, the hour could not be seen without opening the case. This mechanism being observed (it requires indeed an examination of the instrument, and perhaps some previous knowledge of the subject, to perceive and understand it; but being once, as we have said, observed and understood), the inference, we think, is inevitable; that the watch must have had a maker; that there must have existed, at some time, and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers, who formed it for the purpose which we find it actually to answer; who comprehended its construction, and designed its use.

This truly economical and accurate description of a watch and its function is impressive. It is described in meticulous detail for a reason, to bring it into comparison with “contrivances of nature”:

For every indication of contrivance, every manifestation of design, which existed in the watch, exists in the world of nature, of being greater and more, and that in a degree which exceeds all computation. I mean, that the contrivances of nature surpass the contrivances of art, in the complexity, subtilty, and curiosity of the mechanism; and still more, if possible, do they go beyond them in number and variety: yet, in a multitude of cases, are not less evidently contrivances, not less evidently accommodated to their end, or suited to their office, than are the most perfect products of human ingenuity.

An astonishing array of natural objects are observed and described next. The inference, of course, is that, there being an analogy between (a) an artifact of the sort that a watch is and (b) objects in the natural world such as the ones he has cataloged, there is an “artificer,” or designer, of the natural world. Darwin was not impressed. He was convinced that the natural phenomena in Paley’s inventory could be accounted for by a process of purely natural selection. But it was not clear when Darwin introduced his thesis, and it is not clear even now, that the full range of natural phenomena are best explained in terms of natural selection. There isn’t space here to defend Paley in detail. But it is key to his argument that close observation and deep understanding of an object may be needed to pick out what is best explained by the design hypothesis. Darwin’s theory entails that fully formed organisms that function in complex ways are the by-products of a long, slow, unguided process. And yet, for many organisms under observation today, at various stages in their developmental history, they lack functional utility. On the Darwinian hypothesis, nothing draws them toward functionality. And for some such organisms, nothing is extraneous to their function once they reach a capacity for function. This is Paley’s basic insight. It has been exploited more recently by Michael Behe, author of Darwin’s Black Box, where the human “contrivance” he uses to make the same basic point is even simpler than a watch; it is the common mousetrap.

William Paley

William Paley

While Paley is best known, and most commonly chastised, for his teleological argument, he made other important contributions to the cause of Christian apologetics. His earlier work A View of the Evidences of Christianity, investigates the special evidence that supports apostolic testimony concerning the resurrection of Jesus Christ and defends the historicity of their accounts of Jesus in the Gospels. Those who follow the work of today’s apologists in defense of these claims will recognize the influence of William Paley. (See, for example, William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, chapter 8.) Paley’s critics have been altogether too dismissive of his extraordinary achievement. I feel sure that most have never examined his two major works for themselves. These skeptics are as likely as not to have rendered a negative verdict on the basis of brief snippets of Paley’s teleological argument, lifted from context and reprinted in some classroom anthology, or on the basis of hearsay, which is guilty of the same. And many Christian apologists today have neglected the riches of William Paley’s methodical and systematic work. I commend fresh consideration of his writings. Who knows what a ramble in the heath with this great thinker might turn up?

***

Notes:

  • Paley’s Natural Theology (Oxford World’s Classics series) is avaliable at Amazon here.
  • A free Kindle edition of Paley’s A View of the Evidences of Christianity can be obtained here.

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Other posts in this series . . .

Chinese Version of Four Views Book


Imagine my surprise when I received in the mail yesterday a book published in Chinese. Often I do get complementary copies of new books. But in Chinese? This does not happen every day. On close inspection it turned out to be a Chinese translation of the book Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World, a Zondervan publication. Years ago I co-authored one of the four views for the original English edition of this book, never expecting that it would one day reach a nation with over 1 billion people! How strange to see my name written in Chinese characters. I didn’t know that was possible.

 

IMG_0863

Chinese Edition of Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World—Published by CCLM

If you’re more proficient in Chinese than in English, I commend this edition book to you!

 

Book Cover-Four Views on Salvation

 

A useful summary and review of the book by Michael J. Vlach can be found here.

 

 

 

Secularist Faith and College Football


There’s an interesting story in the Chronicle of Higher Education this week. It reports on the football program at Clemson University, where the coaching staff is openly Christian. They have prayer meetings for students and baptize those who come to faith.

Apparently, this is controversial.

Anne Laurie Gaylor is co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. She asserts that “a culture of evangelizing on a football team has got to stop.” She adds that a state-funded institution is an inappropriate place for repeated religious messages.

This is ironic and hypocritical. It is ironic because the university exists for the purpose of influencing impressionable young men and women. Ms. Gaylor knows this. It’s what she does when she advocates for “freedom from religion,” and trains her powers of influence on young adults to persuade them to adopt a liberal, religiously pluralistic, and secular, perhaps even atheist, perspective. Her agenda is threatened by the presence of equally vocal religious believers on turf where she and other secularists have staked a claim and are used to getting their way.

Advocacy of a religious point of view or another is not equivalent to “pushing religion” on others, any more than Ms. Gaylor’s secularist advocacy amounts, in principle, to pushing her religion on others. I say “in principle” because her tactics are exclusivist. She has no tolerance for ideological competition. Her basic outlook on life is her own take on religious questions. It defines her religion. And her religious outlook is reflected in her advocacy. Her organization exists principally for advocacy for this religion.

A football program differs from a religious advocacy group like the Freedom from Religion Foundation. A football program prepares young men for leadership through discipline and sport. At Clemson, the leaders of this program happen to be Christians who, exercising their own freedom of conscience, are openly Christian and interested in the souls of their players. The Freedom from Religion Foundation is all about pushing a set of ideas on impressionable students. Their ideas are overtly secularist and anti-Christian. Apart from that, they have nothing to contribute. They do not even advocate for vigorous public discussion and comparison of Christian and non-Christian perspectives, including their own. They do not invite scrutiny of their agenda, nor do they submit their own worldview commitments to examination suited to university life. They are preachers and missionaries. They expect to exercise the freedom that they insist should not be allowed to others in the university world.

Ms. Gaylor herself probably was an impressionable young student at one time; she, too, probably was influenced by people she wished to please. It is likely that she fell under the spell of an ideology that she now seeks to promote, because she thinks that what she believes is true and that others should believe as she does. She has beliefs about what counts as religion, what it means to be free from religion, what it takes to be free from religion, and how freedom from religion can be fostered through her organization. And she expects others to believe this, too. It is peculiar that she expects religious believers like those on the coaching staff at Clemson to agree with her. She claims that what they believe is their own business. But they should not “evangelize.” They should, in other words, keep their faith to themselves, while she and her kin promote a secular agenda in the resulting vacuum. How convenient for her.

Secularists seek enforcement of the privatization of Christian belief. They do this publicly and generally without censure. But Christian belief is compromised when it is privatized. So the effect of Ms. Gaylor’s missionary enterprise would be the privatization of a faith that is essentially interpersonal and the social advancement of a cult of irreligion that she would not keep to herself.

For the article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, click http://chronicle.com/article/With-God-on-Our-Side/143231/?cid=wb&utm_source=wb&utm_medium=en.

 

Doug on Day of Discovery Broadcast/February & March 2013


Day of Discovery is re-airing a couple of programs that included Doug’s participation. The programs are “What Jesus Said About God: Is There a Higher Power?” and “What Jesus Said About Life After Death.”
Following is the upcoming broadcast schedule:
 
Sunday, February 24, 2013         “What Jesus Said About God”
Sunday, March 3, 2013               “What Jesus Said About Life After Death” 
 

As a reminder Day of Discovery can be seen on Ion TV Sundays at 7:30 a.m. Eastern and Pacific, and 6:30 a.m. Central and Mountain time. A listing of local station air times can be found by visiting the website at www.dod.org and following the “Where to Watch” link in the left column. Additionally, the program is available to view at no cost via the Day of Discovery website.

If you watch and have comments or questions, feel free to return to this post and use the Comments box below.

Radio Interview: The Janet Mefferd Show


Beginning at 11:00 a.m. CT today, Doug will be interviewed on the Janet Mefferd Show.

Christians Who Behave Like Atheists


Augustine

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In my recent post Are Atheists Haunted by the Possibility of Being Mistaken?, I suggested that it may be common for atheists to entertain severe doubts about their atheism, and contemplate the possibility that God does exist and is worthy of belief and even worship.

It would be easy for Christians to explain atheistic belief in terms of rebellion against a God whose existence is only too obvious and personally offensive. But I would encourage Christians to consider that something resembling this may be found among believers, as well.

Any refusal to face the facts about God in the light of ample evidence is rebellion and idolatry. So one may believe that God exists, but refuse to believe certain things about God. Or one may believe certain things about God but then act in defiance of such a God. And one may assert the existence of God, even argue vehemently that God exists, and yet remain indifferent toward God on the personal level.

A believer, then, should be careful not to apply a double standard in comparing himself with nonbelievers. He should reflect on the possibility that he is like the typical skeptic in fundamental ways.

There are varieties of triumphalist apologetics. One form chastens nonbelievers for attitudes that one would find in oneself if one simply looked closely enough.

Henry Boynton Smith (1815-1876)


February 7

On this date in 1877, Henry Boynton Smith died in New York City, age 61. This theologian, who was born in Portland, Maine, studied at Bowdoin College and at Andover and Bangor theological seminaries. Later, he studied in Germany, getting to know Friedrich Tholuck and Hermann Ulrici at Halle, and August Neander and Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg at Berlin.

I have long had an interest in Tholuck (1799-1877) for his work in Christian apologetics as a German evangelical. Henry B. Smith lectured in apologetics at Union Theological Seminary during the academic years 1874-1875 and 1875-1876. His course of lectures was published in 1882 by A. C. Armstrong & Son.

Smith adopted a three-fold division of Christian apologetics:

  1. Fundamental Apologetics
  2. Historical Apologetics
  3. Philosophical Apologetics

His system is sophisticated and worthy of close study. He begins with the question whether the supernatural can be known (considering first general questions of epistemology) then moves on to “the proof of the Being of God” (p. 46).

Here is how he begins to address the question, “How can we know God?”

The very question implies some knowledge. Unless we had some conception of God we could and would nevermore ask, How can and do we know God? Unless man had some belief in God he would not ask, any more than an animal, Can you prove His being—can you demonstrate His existence?

The questions implies a need, a craving—seeks for an answer to a demand of our rational and moral being. This is the very least that can be said. There is a strong subjective belief—that is the starting-point; and the question is, Is there a corresponding objective reality? Are there sufficient grounds for full belief, binding on all rational and moral beings?

Hence the question is not at all about knowing some unknown thing, about proving the existence of a mere abstraction—as a theorem in geometry. It is as to the proving the existence of a being in whom, somehow, in some wise, we already believe. It is not going from the known to the unknown—but showing that there are valid and final reasons for a strong, universal, native, human belief.

—Smith, Apologetics: A Course of Lectures (1882), pp. 71-72

Later, Smith writes:

  1. As the starting-point show that man’s whole nature and man’s whole history prove the need to him of a God; that man by nature and reason is irresistibly prompted to seek for Deity, and cannot else be satisfied. This is not the proof of God’s being, but the basis of proof.
  2. That all the phenomena and facts of the universe (so far as known) demand the recognition of a God as their source and unity—a personal God, the necessary complement of the world.
  3. That man’s reason (a priori) demonstrates the existence of a real, infinite, absolute being.
  4. The combination of 2 and 3 gives is the result and proof.

In its ultimate philosophical principles the proof for the being of God consists of three arguments resting upon three ideas:

(a) The ontological argument, on the idea of being.

(b) The cosmological argument, on the idea of cause.

(c) The teleological argument, on the idea of design.

—Smith, Apologetics, p. 87

In chapter 4, Smith distinguishes between “the Supernatural” and “the Miraculous.” He develops the case for Christian miracles against pantheism and materialism, which both consider the impossibility of miracles to be an axiom. Not only are miracles possible, but on sufficient evidence, it is reasonable to believe that miracles have happened.

Smith says, “Besides having an adequate cause, miracles have also a sufficient end or object, and are never to be considered apart from, or dissociated from that” (p. 102).

Miracles are:

possible, if there is a God;

probable, if a positive revelation is needed; and

they have been [i.e., they have happened], if Christ and his apostles can be believed.

(p. 104)

Smith held that “Christian Apologetics is essentially Vindication. It seeks to vindicate, and in vindicating to establish, the value and authority of the Christian faith” (p. 118). His published lectures are a credit to his effort to do just that.

Note: It was also on this date, in 1664, that Gottfried Leibniz completed his master’s degree in philosophy.

 

Gottfried Leibniz

Oprah on My Mind


Winfrey on the first national broadcast of The...

Image via Wikipedia

Time Warner was at my house today to troubleshoot instability and speed problems with our internet connectivity. After the fix, we tested the speed at speakeasy.net and speedtest.net. The technician then suggested that I open YouTube for a real world test.

I cranked up the ole’ YouTube and the first thing that popped up was a six-minute video titled “The Church of Oprah Exposed.” We watched the whole thing.

It reminded me of a lecture I heard a few weeks ago by a Christian woman with a far more sophisticated exposé of Oprah’s religion.

Then I was reminded that I had agreed to review a book called “O” God: A Dialogue on Truth and Oprah’s Spirituality, by Josh McDowell and Dave Sterrett.

The most limited encounter with Oprah reveals at least the following few facts:

  1. The turning point in Oprah’s spiritual odyssey was when, as a young woman, she heard the preacher in her Baptist church speak of God as “a jealous God.” Until that moment, she says, she was pretty traditional in her Christian beliefs. But the idea that God was jealous offended her sensibilities, and off she went in search of a new form of spirituality.
  2. Eventually, Oprah concluded that spirituality is not about belief but about experience. You would think that she has no definite religious beliefs, but that she only expounds on spiritual technologies that bring people together. She does, however, assert that God is in everything. From this she divines many other “truths.”
  3. Oprah uses her media venues for the overt dissemination of her religious notions. Oprah is an evangelist, with an evangelist’s fervor. You might say that she’s the single most successful “television evangelist.”
  4. Oprah emphatically denies the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, and extols the wisdom of Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now and A New Earth. The Power of Now, published in 2004, just now has 1,166 customer reviews at Amazon.com, and boasts 4 and 1/2 stars and an Amazon Bestseller Rank of 263. A New Earth garners 4 stars, 1531 customer reviews, and a Bestseller Rank of 370.

Oprah enjoys enormous popularity and her influence in the lives of individuals is considerable. There clearly is a need for sober reflection on Oprah’s significance as a spiritual guru.

Even cursory exposure to her teachings is unsettling. Her claim that religious or spiritual reality is not really about believing anything is self-defeating, since the technologies she promotes are rooted in certain definite beliefs. By denying the significance to true belief, Oprah takes the important role of evidence off the table and promises a set of attractive experiences. Meanwhile, her avid disciples or “fans,” if you prefer) abandon their more traditional beliefs, or try somehow to line them up with the principles of “the power of now.”

Oprah believes that Jesus Christ was not the unique savior of the world. That’s a pretty fundamental belief. It’s no use denying that she has control beliefs. The question is whether her beliefs are adequately grounded in evidence and whether her beliefs are true.

Here are some suggested principles for evaluating Oprah’s claims, or anyone else’s for that matter (including the preacher at your neighborhood church):

  1. If she denies that beliefs are important to her spiritual outlook, she’s being dishonest, or else she has deceived herself.
  2. If experience is promoted over truth, then there is no way to gauge the validity of the experience. Does it connect with reality, or is it a counterfeit of reality?
  3. If Oprah’s entire odyssey in the direction of a New Age religion was prompted by an altogether naive understanding of the claim that God is a jealous God, then expect the rest of her perspective to be riddled with equally naive holes.
  4. If you accept Oprah’s claim that Christianity can be harmonized with Oprah’s gospel, then count yourself a convert from Christianity to something that isn’t Christianity.
  5. If Oprah has made herself wealthy and politically influential, take special care to examine her claims, lest you be snookered by a media pro taking selfish advantage of others who aren’t sure what they believe.
  6. If Oprah’s success is owing to her media skills, then understand that she is no more credible than any other television evangelist who is known solely as a public persona.
  7. If you’re going to read Eckhart Tolle’s books, check each of his claims against reasonable standards of truth and evidence.
  8. If Oprah and Tolle make statements about what Jesus really taught, or what the Bible really means, take care to examine their statements for yourself to see if their interpretations are accurate.
  9. If you’re a Christian, check the fundamental claims of Christianity against reasonable standards of truth and evidence.
  10. Whatever it is you belief about the things that matter most, check your beliefs against reasonable standards of truth and evidence.

Interview with Brian Auten


I was interviewed recently by Brian Auten. Most of Brian’s questions concern the topic of miracles. Today Brian has posted this audio interview at his website and can be heard here.

Doug’s other posts on the subject of miracles:

Twice Shattered—A Memoir by Frank Pastore


In 1970, I was playing Little League baseball for the “Sparks” in Alta Loma, California. In Upland, the next town over (not 10 minutes away from my home), Frank Pastore was the Little League pitcher for his team. We both played “south of Foothill Boulevard,” but I have no idea whether I ever faced Frank with a bat on my shoulder.

More than twenty years later, we were introduced officially. Read more of this post

Do Miracles Happen Today?


In the comments section of a post I made some months ago, I was recently asked if I believe that a severely damaged eye could be restored immediately following a Christian prayer meeting.

Here’s my reply, made more accessible with a separate and exclusive post. Read more of this post

Don’t Fool Yourself


If you think you don’t need to read this book, you’re probably fooling yourself. I Told Me So: Self-Deception and the Christian Life—by my friend and colleague, Gregg Ten Elshof—may get you thinking about all those people you know who deceive themselves. It should be obvious that that’s not the goal of the book. But because what Gregg says in his book is so on target, I’m afraid it won’t be obvious to everyone.

Forward by Dallas Willard. For more details on this new title, click here for the Amazon description.

Best Books in Systematic Theology


Everyone should read some Christian theology. And the first thing to read is a systematic theology, that is, a work that treats all the major doctrines of Christian theology in systematic fashion. (This used to be called “Dogmatic Theology.”)

Recently I’ve been reading E. A. Litton’s 19th-century volume Introduction to Dogmatic Theology. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Litton to any serious reader who has time or shelf space for only one volume of systematic theology.

Here are my recommendations for different categories. Read more of this post

BlogLogic: “Christian Fundamentalist Terrorists” Outed?


It would happen at The Huffington Post. Contributor Shannyn Moore shocks the world today with her post warning us all about “Christian fundamentalist terrorists.” Her contention is that Jim D. Adkisson is a Christian fundamentalist terrorist. He’s the scurrilous individual who killed 2 people at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church as a result of firing 76 rounds and a shotgun.

Her complaint is that this Adkisson guy, who was charged with murder, “should have been charged with terrorism.” This suggests that she believes that terrorist acts are distinguishable from murder in general, that terrorist acts are in the category of worse or worst, and that perpetrators of such acts should be regarded and treated differently, i.e., more severely.

On the face of it, this is an odd thing for someone on the far left to say. Liberals on the far left are better known for rubbing out such distinctions. So it is initially heartening to see one of their own take up this cause.

It is disconcerting, on second thought, that this apparent shift is more likely an expression of the left’s characteristic animosity toward a certain brand of Christianity—the “fundamentalist” brand.

Moore thinks she’s making a sound argument for a definite position. But really she sounds angry, rather than calmly rational. In her post for today she spools out another specimen of BlogLogic. “BlogLogic” is the endearing term I use to denote digitally viral fallacious reasoning spread by bloggers and infecting unsuspecting readers who are ill-equipped to pick out the flaws.

The first problem with Moore’s argument is that her conclusion is too vague to be useful. She doesn’t define this term that she’s applying with such gusto to specific individuals: “Christian fundamentalist terrorist.” Maybe she thinks the meaning of her label is obvious—a Christian fundamentalist terrorist is a Christian fundamentalist who happens to be a terrorist; or maybe a Christian fundamentalist terrorist is a terrorist who happens to be a fundamentalist Christian.

It’s doubtful that this is quite what Moore means. She seems to be plugging for a stronger link between terrorism and Christian fundamentalism. Part of what makes this murderer, Adkisson, a terrorist is that he is a fundamentalist Christian. Otherwise, he would simply be a murderer. It’s as if he killed in the name of, or for the sake of, or out of commitment to Christian fundamentalism.

I’m not sure this is quite a strong enough link to satisfy Moore. Adkisson could be more of a nutcase than a Christian fundamentalist, and still kill in the name of, or for the sake of, or even out of (fanciful) commitment to Christian fundamentalism.

It seems, then, that Shannyn Moore deliberately employs the phrase “Christian fundamentalism” in connection with terrorism in order to shame Christian fundamentalists. And this, it has to be said, is itself shameful. Moore is simply poisoning the well against a block of conservative Christians who do not, as a group, sanction the heinous crimes of Adkisson and others. If she thinks there is something inherent in the belief system of people broadly considered Christian fundamentalists that incites the exceptional and incalculably immoral behavior of persons such as Adkisson, then she needs to demonstrate that with evidence. She, of course, cannot.

So Moore’s conclusion is vague because her use of the phrase “Christian fundamentalist terrorist” is vague—or not. If not, then her reasoning is specious and onerous, because it is maliciously ad hominem.

There are more problems with Moore’s thesis. She does not say precisely what distinguishes an act of terror from any other murderous act. There’s also a confusion in her understanding, both of the law and of ordinary application of the concept of terrorism. Clearly she believes that Adkisson should be tried as a terrorist. But one need not commit a murder to perform an act of terrorism. There are terrorists who do not commit murder, nor even conspire to commit murder. And whether or not Adkisson’s action was a form of terrorism, it was an act of murder. He can and should be tried for murder; he almost certainly will be found guilty.

Moore isn’t satisfied with the charges. They don’t go far enough. Why? Surely things wouldn’t be any worse for Adkisson if he was tried for terrorism rather than murder. So how does Moore calculate that more would be accomplished, as she seems to think? Well, for starters, it would stigmatize a large segment of the Amerian population. It would place them under suspicion. Is that really what Moore wants?

Shannyn Moore seems to confuse hate crimes with terrorism. She should consider the difference. Terrorism, as that concept is applied most broadly today, constitutes a threat to national security. Terrorist acts may be motivated by hatred, but they are not merely “hate crimes.” They usually involve conspirators whose ideology entails a denunciation of all other ideologies, and violent action against those ideologies.

Use of the term “terrorist” has evolved considerably since 9/11. Shannyn Moore would like to see the concept stretched even more broadly to encompass those she calls “Christian fundamentalist terrorists.” If she wants to make her case rsponsibly, she’ll need to tidy up her definitions of key terms, locate incentives to perform acts of terrorism within an ideology that can justly be called “Christian fundamentalism,” demonstrate that Adkisson and similar characters are appropriately affiliated with Christian fundamentalists and not lunatics who can call themselves whatever they want, and establish her generalizations on the basis of a sufficient (i.e., far greater, number of cases).

Meanwhile, she should cease and desist her use of the phrase “Christian fundamentalist” in connection with terrorism. And, consistent with the culture of the left, it seems reasonable to ask that she apologize to Christian fundamentalists nationwide for carelessness in her use of this phrase.

* * *

Note to Shannyn Moore: I’ve linked this post to the comment section of your post with a trackback. If I’ve misrepresented your position, or you wish to add the clarification that I claim is needed for your argument to work, I welcome your response.

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