Driving home from work on the 405 freeway can be a vexing experience especially if you despise traffic like I do. A remedy I find is listening to classic rock stations that play my favorites and when I’m done with that I’ll “station surf”. This brought me to an interview where apologist and public speaker Frank Turek was answering questions about his new book, “Stealing From God: Why Atheists Need God to Make Their Case”, by the host Michael Sontag.
Sontag asked Turek to speak to the Christian that fears not having answers to questions nonbelievers may ask them—(this is not verbatim but the gist as I recall is…)—“Believers need to study and learn apologetics…life’s hard, marriage is hard, work is hard, raising children is hard, so why would learning about the apologetic issues be any different? While we can simplify the concepts and core issues, one must do the hard work of studying”. I almost fully agree.
That is, Christians do need to give priority to the life of the mind as part of loving God and neighbor. But (and I don’t think Turek would disagree from what I did hear, he just did not mention it when I was listening to the show), knowing the issues, the philosophical arguments and having strategies to counter false arguments is limited in scope and power. Let me explain.
When I was working on my master’s degree in apologetics at Biola University, I noticed many students (from all walks and ages) were biblically illiterate. They knew how to give arguments for God’s existence but not for Christ’s atonement.
My response to Sontag’s question would be, “If believers want to obey God’s command in (1 Pet.3:15; Jude 3; Mt.28:18-20) then they must understand the Big ideas of the little Book—Bible, and the Big ideas of the Big Book—Creation. That is, Christians need to understand the big ideas of creation, fall, redemption and consummation and be able to understand the philosophical thought which has shaped our civilization. Both are important, but if the former is not in place, I don’t see how we can faithfully be salt and light as Christ’s ambassadors. So while I’m all for thinking well and knowing the issues, we fail the Master as ambassadors for Christ when we are weak in our Biblical knowledge.
This leads me to explain why I chose Carson’s book, “The God Who is There”. Of the many stalwarts in thinking Biblically and critically I have had, D.A. Carson is at the top of the list. His biblical, theological, philosophical and practical acumen is rife in anything he writes. This book in particular is an amazing example of writing a “salvation history” tome in terms a high school student can grasp without forfeiting theological rigor. This book is the fourth I want to commend for Christians who are serious about the life of the mind and the heart.
OS Guinness’s Fools Talk helps the reader understand from a biblical venue how to engage in speech those who are indifferent or hostile to the faith. Allister McGrath’s Mere Apologetics gives the reader insight into the big apologetic issues and challenges believers to make the responses their own, not someone else’s. Lastly, James Sire’s The Universe Next Door helps the reader understand how to think in worldviews as a means to engage the culture. Now, D.A. Carson is about to take us through the big ideas of the Bible. May you truly be strengthened in the faith, or may you become clearer as a searcher of what true life really is.
CHAPTER ONE: THE GOD WHO MADE EVERYTHING (Pgs.11-26)
Carson begins this chapter by pointing out that the Bible is the foundation documents of Christianity, made up of 66 books, written over a span of 1500 years. These books vary in length, are mostly written in Hebrew, some Aramaic, and in Greek. These documents have very different genres. Some are written in letters, others poetry, laments, genealogies, oracles from God, and some are apocalyptic in nature. This diverse nature makes the Bible more accessible in certain places to 21st century people than in others because of its’ context, language and customs.
As the foundation documents of Christendom, believers insist that here is where God has disclosed Himself. Thus, Carson’s goal for the reader is to allow the Bible to sketch out what Christianity says, what it means, and what it looks like. Lamentably, writes Carson, too often Christians have abandoned these foundation documents and have betrayed their heritage. He points out that this Bible actually discloses the “God Who is There” and argues that it’s broken down into chapters and verses.
Genesis: the first Book. Carson considers how the book of Genesis should be approached. He says that in light of 20th century thought it’s assumed that Science and the opening chapters of Genesis are incompatible. Nevertheless, the following obtains.
First, there’s more ambiguity in the interpretation of these opening chapters than some Christians recognize.
Some are convinced that when read responsibly, these chapters reveal that the world is no more than four thousand years old (Young Earth Advocates) and that the days are literally twenty four hours in Genesis not symbolic. Others hold that these chapters reveal and support that the world is vastly old (Old Earth Advocates) and that each day represents an age, rather than a literal twenty four hour day. Still others insert a big gap between verse one and verse two.
Again, some see this as a literary device where the creation week is symbol laden, while others devote their energies to viewing it as one of many creation accounts in the world (e.g., Enuma Elish).
Carson rightly points out that Genesis is a mixed genre of history and symbolism. There’s some historical details offered which take place in space and time, even though they were written after the actual events. Then there’s the symbolism which is often difficult to distinguish between the symbolic and the actual.
Second, there’s more ambiguity in the claims of science than some Scientists recognize. Carson unfolds how the New Atheisms’ resources are based on philosophical materialism which holds that whatever exists is confined only to matter, space and time. This means that anything outside that box is immediately disregarded, ridiculed, and seen as superstitious which moderns can’t tolerate! Yet, there are many top notch scientists, mathematicians and philosophers who reject the foundation of naturalism. Many of these scholars are Christians (certainly not all) which tend to be Math and Science teachers, rather than Psychology or English teachers. The point being, these instructors use logic and reason to practice their disciplines, hence they’re not superstitiously bent.
Recent books written by scientists such as; Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, Uncommon Descent, Darwin’s Black Box, etc., point out core problems the Darwinian evolutionary model of reality faces in light of the latest science and philosophy and can’t just be brushed off as “superstition”. Then there’s Big Bang cosmology that fits better in a theistic view of origins than a naturalistic paradigm. Carson rightly notes that to say matter, “came out of nothing” (as naturalist’s hold) is an absurdity because we know that “some-thing” can’t come from “no-thing”.
Then there’s the noteworthy Intelligent Design Hypothesis which offers an alternative scientific theory to naturalism, and discusses an organism’s irreducible complexity which statistically makes chance mutation virtually an impossible hypothesis for a Darwinian naturalistic approach to intellectually hold sway.
Third, Carson notes the contribution Francis Schaeffer offers for understanding the opening chapters of Genesis. Schaeffer argued that to make sense out of the Bible, the Genesis account must minimally be saying certain things.
First, the Genesis account assumes God’s existence rather than arguing for it. This entails that He’s the measure of all things because of His self-existent. But if humans are the measure of all things, than we determine what is and what is not. And as we relate to God, we are then positioned to become His judges. Yet, Genesis reveals that God is not an object that we evaluate, but the Creator who we are to worship.
Second, the Genesis account reveals to us that God is a talking/communicating being. This means that any idea we have of God, can only result from His self-disclosure. What we know about Him must therefore come from God. This means that He’s not an abstract unmoved mover, or a mystical experience, but the Creator who chose to disclose Himself in language that human beings can understand. And the foundational message the Bible reveals to us is that God is good, despite all the evil the world contains.
Fourth, the Genesis account reveals there’s a Creator and creature distinction. This means that God is independent of everything and everything else is dependent on God for its existence because unlike the Creator, everything else has had a beginning.
Fifth, the Genesis account reveals that human beings—and they alone are made in the image of God. This does not mean that we don’t share some characteristics with other creatures (we do and know this from genetics). For example, a percentage of our genes we also share with the chimp/piglet, because we both die and return to the dust. But, unlike animals, only humans reflect God in speech, knowledge, creativity, capacity to work (e.g., we tend gardens, buffalo do not), and to rule as faithful vice regents who are to properly steward God’s resources.
Sixth, the Genesis account reveals that human beings image God as male and female. Here differences and sameness are emphasized. Through sexual union families procreate, two individuals become one (we’re not just animals just doing it), thus woman are not chattel to be owned, but are equal image bearers to be cherished.
Seventh, the Genesis account reveals that human innocence was lost. That is, our first parents nakedness points to the shame rebellion wrought when God’s holy command was not trusted. This is seen in chapter three, where The Fall of man is recorded. It’s this backdrop that explains the New Testament meaning of a New Creation. While Adam is the progenitor of the human race, Jesus is called the ‘Second Adam” of a new human race revealed in the Gospel.
Eighth, the Genesis account reveals the difference between monotheism and polytheism. Monotheism is the belief that there is only one God, whereas polytheism is the belief in many gods. The god’s of the Nations’ only have authority over certain domains—the highest pleasure here is Hedonism. But the God of the Bible is ruler over everything—where the highest pleasure is God Himself.
Ninth, the Genesis account reveals that human beings alone are morally responsible and accountable. The reason God should be obeyed is because He made us, designed us, owns us and thus is owed everything. When we image bearers direct our lives contrary to God’s design, we don’t optimally exist. Our contrariness reveals a false belief that God is a bully rather than our maker to whom we owe everything.