Summary of Chapter 4: THE SILENCE OF FINITE SPACE—NATURALISM (Pgs.52-73)

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            According to Sire, Deism is the isthmus between theism and naturalism.  Naturalism affirms that matter is eternal, God does not exist, and the cosmos is in a closed system (I.e., no outside forces can interfere with nature like a “miracle”).  Humans are thus nothing more than complex machines in a “monistic” framework of matter and when death beckons, human identity is forever extinguished.  This position also removes meaning from history (really all of life) and many turn to nihilism (I.e., life is meaningless) as a result.

What ends up happening, is that people become the architects of what meaning in life is; not some extrinsic being.  When this occurs, human beings are the measure of all things, thus ethics and truth become relativized and living out the implications of said state of affairs creates many inconsistencies and practical contradictions such that what is, ought to be.

As architects of what determines meaning, naturalism’s child “secular humanism” affirms human value from a physicalist worldview, but the problem is that one does not get values from the physical world; it comes from an immaterial reality.  Sadly, this problem of contradiction is ignored.

There’s also Marxism, which Sire affirms comes in varied forms be it a democratic or a totalitarian packaged worldview.  Marxism considers the meaning of life from an economic locus where people are mere subjects of their environment (Influenced by philosophers Hegel and Feuerbach).  Marxism’s goal for history is utopian, its’ atheism is reductionist, it loathes capitalism, it fails to factor in human sin, and considers the redistribution of wealth as a virtue.

The fact is humanity is much more than a brain and the desire for meaning and purpose is a relentless issue in life that always pricks the human soul.  Despite its many metaphysical, epistemological and ethical problems, naturalism holds sway for many because it’s viewed as objective and without bias, for it’s always looking for the truth with no “axe to grind”.

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Summary of Chapter 3: THE CLOCKWORK: DEISM (Pgs.40-51)

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            Deism according to Sire came about as a response to: internal strife within Christendom; and resulted in a view of reason that trumped any revelation, thus making autonomous human reason the ultimate reference point.

Deism’s God is not personal, but an unknowable architect of the universe, who wound up the creation and left it alone to govern itself.  The major tenets of Deism are:

First, God is utterly transcendent and not personal; second, creation runs itself deterministically; third, while human beings are personal, their decisions are not significant because somehow they are not self-determined; fourth, there’s a denial of the Fall and sin, so what is, ought to be.

Moreover nature tells us what we need to know about God, He does not write books.  He’s a designer but not a lover or judge; fifth, ethics reveals nature so what is ought to be, thus there’s a denial of right and wrong good and bad; sixth, the course of history is linear but predetermined at creation, thus Deist’s are not interested in history for God’s knowledge is had through nature, not any of God’s acts in the past; seventh, there’s a denial of the incarnation.

Interestingly, many religious pluralists hold to many of these tenets not least of which is the denial of the incarnation.

Summary CHAPTER 9: CONCLUSION—Developing Your Own Apologetic Approach (Pgs. 181-185)

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McGrath ends his book by encouraging the reader to only use arguments that are personally satisfying because if they are not, they lose their effectiveness humanly.  He explains the importance of knowing yourself (both strengths and weaknesses) so that apologetically you have a starting point from which to spring (E.g., he was an atheistic scientist before conversion and integrates this background in his apologetic).

McGrath points out that apologetics is done either through public speaking, authoring books, personal conversations and a life lived to God’s glory.  He further accentuates the need to learn from other apologists by scrutinizing their approach to the subject, their interaction with dissenters, etc. and reverse engineer their arguments.  Here, the “design” of apologetics is observed recalling that it’s not just a discipline but also an art.

After learning the aforesaid, the apologist must then make the arguments and approach their own by incorporating who “they are” in the interaction.  Lastly, he encourages apologists to practice in front of peers who can critique and encourage them on the journey.  Perhaps gathering a group of like-minded people who meet regularly in order to help sharpen and enhance apologetic skills would be a good start.

Above all, he explains how critical it is for apologists to be part of the Christian community where they receive and give support to the local church because (other than it being biblical) the apologetic battles are taxing on the soul and can be dangerous to it.

Summary CHAPTER 8: QUESTIONS ABOUT FAITH—Developing Approaches (Pgs. 157-179)

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McGrath argues that the times in which we live must and will dictate the questions we are asked and the requisite answers we give.  A critical key is to never answer a question that’s not being asked.  This is a pit many have fallen into and must be avoided if we desire to effectively connect with skeptics or seekers.

Whether in an Islamic, rationalist, or postmodern context, the apologist must welcome challenging questions and not see them as threats but as part of the journey the questioner is on.  In other ways, these are doors to “faith” that require a person relative response, rather than a “cookie-cutter” approach.  It is one way we help people on their journey a step at a time.

McGrath thus encourages each apologist to develop their own responses to questions asked.  Under the heading Concerns and Questions he offers the following suggestions when interacting with skeptics or seekers: First, be gracious with people even though they may not be.  How powerful and foundational this is.  People don’t care about what we know, as the saying goes, unless they know how much we care.

Second, get to the real question being asked.  Often the introductory question has a motive or purpose for why it’s being asked.  Get clear on that and you’ll be more of a sniper with your responses instead of a greenhorn.

Third, be humble to learn from others.  You don’t know everything and it’s always easier to interact with one who’s not a “know-it-all”, than one who’s a peer on the learning journey.  This does not mean that what you do know is denied, but what you don’t know is admitted.

Fourth, don’t give ready-made answers.  It’s robotic, sterile, and does not humanly connect.  Instead, be a good listener where clarification of terms and ideas are reiterated to the questioner.

McGrath follows this section by providing a model of questions and answers that can be offered to the skeptics’ challenges (E.g., God’s goodness and suffering, God as a crutch, etc.) by pointing out the origins, presuppositions and problems that obtain with the objection and offers a solution.  With the “crutch” view he explains that the real issue here is truth and the nature of reality, rather than how it makes one look or feel.

He finally ends the chapter by posing several questions and offering the requisite homework for the apologist to form and re-write her own responses.  The goal here is to tighten and shorten responses so that we get to the point without losing the audience.

Summary of: The Soul in Cyberspace by Douglas Groothuis

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I just finished reading Douglas Groothuis’ book The Soul in Cyberspace and the content while troubling did not disappoint with insight.  While written in 1997, it is nevertheless relevant for today.  Groothuis considers how computer technologies in their varied forms can and succeed in damaging the soul.

This damage occurs—be it through e-mail, chat rooms, online video games, pornography, etc.—when opportunities to engage through such media serve to dehumanize people.  That is, through such mediums people learn to live in a detached reality where “information” is confused with communication as virtual simulation replaces the embodied reality.

According to Groothuis, while these technologies have many positives, he fears that they have a stupefying effect on the user when not responsibly applied.  Since writing this book, new technologies like the I-phone have revolutionized the way we communicate, study, and do commerce.  They also have become potential intruders to the “contemplative” life by the noise said gadgets bring, of which we are unaware.

Sometimes to understand where we are there’s a need to remove ourselves from our circumstance.  For example, I noticed how noisy my life is after returning from a backpacking trip.  It was early November when I went on this trip with my friend Vic to the Eastern Sierra’s in California.  The surrounding landscapes of trees, streams, lakes, tundra, wildlife, crisp air, blue skies and sound of silence utterly soothed my soul.  But the solace I came to experience was short lived.

Driving home I felt awkward.  Inwardly I was unravelling as I left behind the quiet surroundings and approached the noise of city life.  I felt like a misfit where I live and an increasing sense of sadness came over me.  After several weeks of “re-adjusting” and my wife concerned about my melancholy state asked, “What’s wrong with you?”, it occurred to me that city noise robbed me of the solace the mountains gave to me.  It’s as if I’ve lost my way in a very real sense.

The point is that I had to remove myself from my surroundings and many “technologies” in order to realize how much noise continuously bombards me.  This noise tends to retard my soul from contemplation—on what’s important in life; on the need to reevaluate, etc.,—what adjustments do I need to make now in life; or rejuvenation—how can I face the upcoming challenges of life with hope and perspective?

This is a gargantuan issue and one we “teched-out” people need to understand.  As a Christian disciple, we are to consider how Christ lived and follow his example—going to the quiet in prayer was a constant in his routine: what’s ours?  Groothuis uncovers through this book how times of solace and reflection are robbed from us and considers how we can prevent it from occurring.

The blessings of technology always bring with it a dark side that we need to understand and manage.  Must reading for learning how to wisely navigate the shoals of our 21st century idol of technology.

Summary CHAPTER 7: GATEWAYS FOR APOLOGETICS—Opening the Door to Faith (Pgs. 127-156)

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McGrath points out that the goal of Gateways to Apologetics is to help people see what they could not previously or mistakenly thought they understood about Christianity.  He chose several steps to accomplish this goal.

First, explain the gospel using creation, fall, redemption and consummation as hooks.  Second, use presuppositional reasoned arguments and show how justified true belief in God makes sense of reality compared to Christianity’s rival worldview.  Third, use story, personal testimony and parables in order to communicate the gospel.  Fourth, use images of the Exile or Paul’s meaning of adoption in order to point out our human desire to belong and longing for home.  Moreover, the use of the Arts helps the apologist relate popular stories as shadows of the gospel message.

The lesson I’ve taken from this chapter is that McGrath is challenging apologists to be creative and culturally sensitive in order to secure an audiences’ attention and interest to more effectively communicate the gospel message.

Summary CHAPTER 5: THE REASONABLENESS OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH (Pgs. 71-91)

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McGrath argues that through arguments and evidence Christianity’s reasonableness obtains and makes more sense out of reality as we know it than its’ rivals, thus giving veracity to Christianity’s claims.

When addressing the issue of faith McGrath for me was not as clear.  He seemed to argue that the Christian faith is cognitively true (i.e., believing “x” is true), relational and existential (i.e., trust in a person—Christ, not just an idea).  He points out that the New Atheists, as everyone else, comes at reality with presuppositions that are not argued but asserted.  I believe McGrath’s point is that like Christians, these atheists believe things they also can’t prove to be true.

McGrath then focuses on how we all know things and differentiates between mathematical certainty and abductive probability, and explains that every area of human knowledge falls into one or the other category.  He continues and holds that if Christianity’s reasonableness is not championed, people will view it as irrational and thus defenseless.  In the spirit of C.S. Lewis McGrath points out that through the reasonableness of Christianity it illumines all of reality as we know it.

He then explains how philosophy can help us apologetically by showing us how to arrive at: causal explanations, inferences to the best explanations and unificatory explanations.  There’s more.  Yet, for all the help this chapter gives, it seemed to me that McGrath lacked clarity on the use of terms like: faith, belief, etc., which left me a bit frustrated.  I guess that’s part of the writing, communicating and the learning enterprise for us all.

Summary CHAPTER 4: THE IMPORTANCE OF THE AUDIENCE (Pgs. 57-70)

51O3B1fQj-LToo often when we engage people regardless of the venue, many of us forget to consider who it is we are talking to and thus mis-communication occurs.

In this chapter McGrath argues that the book of Acts and the Gospel accounts should be used as an apologetic for non-believers and skeptics seeking faith.  The reason is because unlike Paul’s letters which are primarily addressed to the believing community (his audience) not skeptical seekers, Acts and the Gospels are.

In the book of Acts, McGrath points out three different apologetic approaches that are audience sensitive thus making the gospel presentation more impacting.  First, before his Jewish audience, Peter’s apologetic appeals to the Old Testament for his proclamation. He explained the fact of Christ’s life, death and resurrection and interpreted its meaning, namely, that Jesus of Nazareth is the long awaited Messiah.  Peter appealed to the authority for monotheistic Jews—Torah, and grounded his message in it (Acts 2-4).

Second, before his Athenian audience, Paul’s apologetic appeals to common ground on Mars Hill.  Here, Paul explains the nature of who the “unknown God” is, by appealing to creation, their poets and finally Christ’s resurrection.  Had Paul appealed first to the Scriptures, it would not have been effective (he probably wouldn’t have gotten an audience) because Torah was not authoritative to the Athenians, but their philosophers were (Acts 17).

Third, before the Roman Court, Paul’s apologetic appeals to legal terminology and reasoning.  The apostle here by using the language of the court culminates his message in Christ’s resurrection which assures God’s nearness and thus none can hide from Him (Acts 25-27).

These examples serve as a reminder to all believers that the audience does and should (generally speaking) consider the audience before a particular apologetic approach is followed.

McGrath affirms that critics and skeptics abound, thus depending on the person and the situation, our methods must change but never our message.   That’s obvious in Acts and should be in our encounters as well.  This will require loving sacrifice of our time, energy and money to get better equipped.   See pages 68-70 for general and specific examples of dealing with differing worldviews.

Mere Apologetics: Chapter 2: APOLOGETICS AND CONTEMPORARY CULTURE (Pgs. 27-40)

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In chapter two, McGrath considers how contemporary culture is to be understood and thus approached.

Our apologetics must be in touch with the culture and audience before us.  While we can and do learn from the past, it’s important to speak in contemporary terms in order to humanly connect with others.

McGrath writes about modernity and post-modernity.  Modernity (M) viewed human reason as universal, available to all, able to unlock the mysteries of life, and argument was reasons tool for the task.  During this era, Christian apologetics mainly focused on reason and rational arguments to commend the faith, but neglected the relational and creative side of being human (pg. 28).  This moreover minimized the mystery of the Faith (E.g., the Trinity was not used as an apologetic) and in order to win arguments some gave over too much real estate and assumed the opponents worldview and ended up losing the heart of the matter.

Post-Modernity (PM) is not easy to define but is easier to describe.  It saw (M) as a failure needing correction.  Of course not all of (M’s) ideas are bad.  Thus (PM) attempted to combine the best of (M’s) and that of Classical Tradition (CT) while removing their undesirable aspects.  Among these undesirable aspects was uniformitarianism—a kind of reductionism that has a “total-scheme” of reality like Marxism.  PM’s see this as a “straight-jacket” that essentially infringes on human freedom.  Now PM’s reject several things.

First, they reject the notion that there’s only one right or wrong way to live.  Second, they see “sameness” as belittling to human freedom, thus diversity is to be celebrated.  Therefore any metanarrative is to be rejected as a way of looking at the world.  Third, they see reason not as universal but rather contextual and relative.  Fourth, they have a suspicious view of truth and hold that it’s used by the powerful to justify their oppression and to maintain their positions of power and authority.  Fifth, they reject the idea that history has some kind of telos (E.g., Jesus of Nazareth).  Sixth, they refuse the view that the “self” has some point of reference, but instead the “self” is a fluid way of seeing ourselves.

PM’s contributes at least two appreciative qualities.  First, it’s a secular worldview that does not define what’s “right/wrong” and is neither pro/con Christianity.  Second, this movement in culture presents an opportunity for a new apologetic approach focused not merely on reason and arguments but also on story, imagination (I.e., the parables of Christ) and an incarnational approach.

How are we to reach our culture and do apologetics in this milieu?  We must first start by knowing the Gospel, secondly understanding our times and thus tailor-make our approach accordingly, third, so that the content of the message remains faithful to the /Master, while the methods adapt to the audience for human connection.

Summary–Mere Apologetics: How to Help Seekers & Skeptics Find Faith

 

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I trust that Os Guinness’ book Fool’s Talk, informed, stirred, and challenged your thought and practice as a Christian disciple. It focused on the dynamics of effective communication toward those who are indifferent or even hostile to the Christian faith.

Alistair McGraths’ Mere Apologetics is an introductory resource focused  on helping seekers and skeptics find faith. As with the Guinness’ book, I’ll provide weekly summaries aimed at gripping you such that you’ll read his book, and not just ingest my summaries. My desire for all who read this material is that Christ would be seen as objectively superior to all other competing treasures, and that subjectively an intimacy with the living God would be truly experienced.

CHAPTER 1: GETTING STARTED (Pgs. 11-25)

According to McGrath, our mandate has been given by Christ in the Great Commission both with content for teaching and power for execution.  Christ’s word is what we teach and God’s presence is what Jesus promised.  That’s why when we are about doing the Masters business never are we to think we’re alone.

We are to understand apologetics as the reasoned defense of the Faith which must be practiced with gentleness and respect toward outsiders—even those who are our persecutors (Pg.16 see section).  Apologetics defends, commends, and translates the Faith to seekers and believers.  When defending we must answer honest questions and be person relative.  When commending we must show the wonder and splendor of the kingdom. And when translating, we must do so exegetically, hermeneutically and humanly explain terms so that a child can understand our meaning.

Christians wanting to grow in their faith need to and must find answers to their questions.  They must mine the riches of the faith and get proficient at explaining it creatively without losing the substance of the gospel.  How desperate we are for church goers to be gospel proclaimers, not just attendees to hear a message.

The distinction between Apologetics and Evangelism is important and not so easy to distinguish.  The former explains the Faith and removes barriers to hearing its proclamation, whereas the latter proclaims the gospel and calls sinners to repentance.  Sometimes these two are neglected—apologetics (pg.22) and evangelism (pg.22).  Either one is not considered as important or it is held that unless one is gifted in said areas, it will not be done

Nevertheless, apologetics and evangelism are necessary conditions for real conversions to obtain, but not a sufficient condition until the Holy Spirits’ activity manifests in the souls of dead people to bring them to life.