William Beauchamp—On the Urgency of Christian Apologetics for Our Time

Here are some words of exhortation that have special application to the events and conditions of our present tumultuous age:

At a time like this, when the principles of depravity operate with so much violence, as to throw the world into a state of high fermentation; when the scum of human society, and the dregs of corruption, are thrown up to public view; when the sense of moral rectitude is so lost, that even this scum and these dregs, instead of being seen with abhorrence, have become objects of public admiration; when so many false doctrines are advanced, and infidelity, libertinism, vice and impiety make such a bold stand against truth and righteousness; when the judgments of God are collecting from almost every quarter, and bursting on the earth from almost every direction; when the last plagues designed to exterminate the mystery of iniquity are poured out; when revolutions, greater than have ever taken place in the world, are apparently at hand; at a time like this, how necessary the study of the Christian Religion! Danger seems increasing every moment: caution should keep pace with it. But whence, in this eventful day, can we draw the principles of caution, prudence and wisdom, if not from the Gospel of Jesus Christ? And can we with diligence seek these principles, and with confidence exercise them, unless we have firm faith in the truth of our Holy Religion?

This is from the author’s preface to William Beauchamp’s classic work Essays on the Truth of the Christian Religion, published in 1811. Beauchamp was born on today’s date, April 26, in 1772. He died in 1824. For the complete text of William Beauchamp’s book, click here. Others born in 1811 include:

  • Horace Greeley
  • Robert Bunsen
  • Henry James, Sr.
  • Harriet Beecher Stowe
  • William Makepeace Thackeray
  • Franz Lizst

1811, and those leading up to and following in succession, was a year of worldwide unrest and disillusionment. Not unlike our own times. The first decade of the century marked the unofficial end of the Enlightenment. Thomas Jefferson’s presidency ended in 1909. He was succeeded by James Madison, who would preside over the War of 1812. This did not go well; the British would set fire to the White House in 1814. Charles Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802), had published his famous work Zoonomia from 1794 to 1796. The mood began to shift gradually toward those doctrines of natural selection and survival of the fittest that would be make the grandson famous some fifty years later. But the spirit of evolution was not strong or threatening enough to elicit treatment in Beauchamp’s apologetic. There were notable advances in culture. To name just one, Beethoven was hard at work composing his symphonies.

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Other posts in this series . . .


Remembering Edward John Carnell—Some Reflections of a Great Apologist

On this date in 1967, the church lost a great Christian philosopher and apologist named Edward John Carnell. He was almost 48 years old. Today marks the 48th anniversary of his death. He was a graduate of Wheaton College and of Westminster Theological Seminary. He later earned doctoral degrees in theology and philosophy, at Harvard Divinity School and Boston University, respectively.

E. J. Carnell (1919-1967)

E. J. Carnell (1919-1967)

E. J. Carnell, was an ordained Baptist minister and one-time president of Fuller Theological Seminary. He authored numerous books, including four major works in Christian apologetics. All of these are in my personal library, well-marked and much-appreciated. He was intellectually rigorous and pastorally sensitive, a rare combination among defenders of the faith. His chief work in apologetics is the book An Introduction to Christian Apologetics. In the preface to the 4th edition (1952), Carnell asked, “If Christianity is not worth defending, what then is?” Here are a few of my favorite quotations from that book. On philosophy, logic, and experience:

Philosophy may not bake bread, but it has a strange power for making people do things. (32) We cannot choose between logic and experience. Without logic our experience cannot be normative; without experience our logic cannot be relevant to the human situation. (39) Coherence cannot stop with a segment of our experience; it must go on to embrace it all. (95)

Speaking of truth, he wrote:

The true is a quality of that judgment or proposition which, when followed out into the total witness of facts in our experience, does not disappoint our expectations. (45)

On faith he said,

Too often faith is used as an epistemological device to avoid the hard labor of straight thinking. (65)

I often ask students who are tempted to abandon their Christian faith, “But what will you believe instead?” Carnell made a similar point:

In considering Christianity, then, one must pay attention not only to the implications which flow from it as a given hypothesis, but also those which flow from its denial. (97-98)

Carnell sought to develop a full-orbed apologetic, one that is realistic about all dimensions of human aspiration and sensitivity:

The mind is drawn by the true, the will by the good, and the feelings by the beautiful.

I especially like his take on the necessity of special divine revelation:

The fundamental reason why we need special revelation is to answer the question, What must I do to be saved? Happiness is our first interest, but this happiness cannot be ours until we know just how God is going to dispose of us at the end of history. . . . Until we have definite information on the subject, we have no sure guarantee that He who made us will not also destroy us. (176)

On atheism he said,

A man must be everywhere at the same time to say there is no God, which is nothing but a short way of making himself God. (186)

What about science versus the mysteries of Scripture?

The very presence of mystery in the Bible is prima facie evidence for the fact that it is dealing with, not avoiding, reality. (208-209)

He held that our verdict regarding Jesus is worldview defining:

What a man thinks of Jesus Christ, therefore, determines his entire view of God and man. (212)

I agree. And that is why I have every confidence that settling the question of Jesus’ identity, in relation to ourselves, is the most important task any of us will be asked to consider. What about science? It is useless in dealing with the human situation:

What scientific experience can change the vile heart of man? What chemical formula can prevent man from plotting that last war which shall destroy all life? Man, as ever, needs God to give his moral life direction and reason. (229)

On the believer’s hope in the resurrection, if it never happened:

If a miracle—which never occurred—can be the basis for a real spiritual hope, then the time has come at last when we can put a square peg into a round hole and make it fit snugly. (245)

Carnell’s other great work in apologetics, called Christian Commitment, is truly original. From this book, I will allow myself only one quotation. It captures what is fundamental to any prospect of coming into Christian conviction—a willingness to be willing to obey God, come what may:

But how do we explain the fact that the Psalmist loved the law of God? The answer is, he loved the law of God because it was the will of God. (289)

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Other posts in this series . . .

Can You Judge a Book by Its First Line?

You can’t judge a book by its cover, right? How about judging a book by its first line?

In recent weeks I’ve read four novels by different authors, all of them mysteries. In chronological order these books were first published in 1989, 1995, 1999, and 2002.

The Mystery BookshelfIf you were to decide to read just one of these books this year, based on the first line only, which would you pick? Here are the first lines for each, in random order.

#1: “A blizzard raged on the glacier.”

#2: “Three days before her death, my mother told me—these weren’t her last words, but they were pretty close—that my brother was still alive.”

#3: “God, I hate air travel.”

#4: “When they ask me to become President of the United States I’m going to say, ‘Except for Washington DC.'”

If you can identify the author and title for all four of these quotations, you deserve a free copy of each. Of course, we don’t always get what we deserve.

Maybe you can match quotations with year of publication?

Or maybe you can guess which of these books I liked most . . .

The irresistible image used here is from a Twitter site called “Mystery Bookshelf,” username @themysteryblog. Check it out.

[In two days, I’ll connect the dots.]

Novel Quotation—What University Professors Do

This quotation comes from the novel A Novel Bookstore, by Laurence Cossé. It speaks knowingly of the professor’s vocation.

‘That’s the way they are, those university professors,’ said Madame Huon, ‘they work one day a week.’ ‘One day!’ echoed Madame Antonioz. ‘You need at least two hours to get to Chambéry. If you take off an hour for lunch, that leaves half a day.’

We have been found out, I’m afraid!

First Lines: On Not Knowing the Answers to Questions Raised by Knowing

Who wrote this?

Human reason has this peculiar fate that in one species of its knowledge it is burdened by questions which, as prescribed by the very nature of reason itself, it is not able to ignore, but which, as transcending all its powers, it is also not able to answer.

ImageImmanuel Kant, of course. Except Kant wrote in German . . . and was no more perspicuous for doing so. He meant, of course, that some of the knowledge we actually have generates additional questions which are both insistent and unanswerable.

Here, for example, is a question for Kant’s claim, a question that is itself insistent: How did Kant know such a thing? As far as I can tell, the question is unanswerable.

Note: The above quotation is the first line in the Preface to the First Edition of Kant’s frequently impenetrable book Critique of Pure Reason, in the translation by Norman Kemp Smith.

Not many people…

English: W. Somerset Maugham British writer

English: W. Somerset Maugham British writer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not many people know how much bitterness, how much bargaining, how much intrigue goes into the awarding of a prize or the election of a candidate.

From the Preface of W. Somerset Maugham, A Writer’s Notebook

This is true regardless of profession, and it shows up even among Christian leaders. Perhaps no one is above campaigning on his own behalf for something he thinks he deserves from his constituency or the general public. This includes authors, public speakers, and university professors.

Face the Fear—Peter Bregman’s Advice for Procrastinators

“Failure in a long-term project isn’t just a work issue; it’s an identity issue. Is it any wonder that we procrastinate?” This simple insight lies at the heart of Peter Bregman’s excellent counsel for those who have trouble getting started on BIG PROJECTS. You know who you are:

  • first-time book authors
  • second-, third-, and fourth-time book authors
  • PhD candidates confronted with writing a dissertation
  • public speakers
  • athletes
  • those who aspire to developing a new hobby
  • parents
  • generals of armies
  • book keepers
  • bloggers

Yep. Pretty much anyone who ever wanted to do something of value.

Bregman recognizes that the salami technique is useful, but he notes that it doesn’t deal directly with our “issues” as procrastinators on large undertakings. (The salami technique consists in slicing the biggies into smaller, more digestible sizes, then acting on each, one at a time, gradually making forward progress until the end is in sight.)

No need to repeat what Bregman says. Just visit his post for the Harvard Business Review here.

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