Friday, June 28, 2019

Apologist Interview: Tyler Vela

Topic- Pre-Suppositional Apologetics
TB: How did you become a Christian?

Vela: Only by the sovereign grace of God and his providence in knowing me, dying in my place, calling me, and bringing me home. As the saying goes, I added nothing to my salvation except the sin that made it possible. However I’m sure you are looking for the testimonial aspect of it. In that regard, I was born in a non-Christian home with no religious upbringing at all. I grew up entirely unchurched and was an atheist for my teen years. It was actually in college during an undergraduate philosophy program that one of my professors, an atheist, was going through arguments for the existence of God in a metaphysics course. He was forthright enough to admit that some of them posed strong challenges to non-religious and naturalistic worldviews. Of particular interest to me was a version of the moral argument in which the responses from my own naturalistic worldview seem inadequate to the task of grounding any meaningful theory of moral values and duties. From that time on, a slow dismantling of my naturalistic worldview was underway and I became more open to theistic explanations for philosophical concepts such as morality, logic, intentionality, rights, personhood, mind, etc. Shortly after I began dating a girl who took me to church several times and I absolutely….hated it. I now have the categories in place that looking back I realize it was a rather waspy, evangelical, seeker focused, kind of subcultural expression of the church. It was not until I began going to a different college aged service that appeared to not apologize for the hard questions and was no so steeped in “Christianese” that I heard the gospel afresh for the first time under the preaching of Dan Kimball. I went home one night after what was probably my 3rd service, and woke up in the middle of the night undone. That is the best way I can describe it. I felt, unraveled, provoked, unclean. Sinful. For the first time I realized what all those preachers had meant about my need for God and his grace of the cross. I prayed for the first time in my life, with the words of someone unchurched without any of the right terms or concepts to do so, but it was a moment of repentance and submission to the God who is there. I have grown in my worldview, my theological and philosophical beliefs and convictions, and my devotion to my Savior over time, but it was at the moment when God brought me to new life.

TB: Can you tell us a bit about your ministry?

Vela: The Freed Thinker Podcast and blog was born out of my ongoing discussions with my friends after my conversion. I was a philosophy major and so what did I do when I converted? I debated and dialogued and discussed and read and worked out ideas and concepts and formed arguments and abandoned arguments and so forth. My faith from the very beginning, because of my background, has been one submerged in the task of apologetics. Many of my friends could not fathom anyone becoming religious after being trained in enlightenment philosophy and thought. I was instantly the outcast, the weird one moving from liberalism to conservativism, from freedom to bondage, from free thinking to institutionalism. Growing up in one of the deepest blue areas of one of the deepest blue states and one of the most liberal state schools in one of the departments dedicated to the philosophical defense of the fortress of secular reason, it was anathema to go to religion. I was viewed as abandoning science and reason and embracing backwards morality and the patriarchy. So the discussions were fast and furious and frequent. I started contributing to discussion forums to practice how to respond to objections and “think out loud” with people who weren’t sitting right in front of me expecting an immediate answer. This was before Facebook and Twitter rules of decorum and shorter comments were expected, and so often my discussions would involve walls of text. After a time, people watching and friends reading asked me to start saving my comments to send to them, or turn into articles and so the blog was born (though originally under the name Logical Theism). A few years later, after podcasting became a thing, demand for audio versions of my articles or of my Sunday school classes were being requested. I started scripting out podcasts and trying to put out as much content as my busy life could handle. Though the podcast and blog have become more of a public record of my personal intellectual interests- which vacillate from apologetics against atheism and naturalism, philosophy, Jesus mythicists, Biblical, exegetical, systematic and historical theology and studies, and even church history- the purpose has always been to build up the intellectual life of the Christians who listen, and to challenge the notion of a irrational or anti-intellectualist church held by those unbelievers who may listen in – to help those who have been freed in Christ to think freely, and to help free thinkers be freed indeed.

TB- You are a presuppositional apologist. Can you summarize the presuppositional approach and what led you to adopt that methodology?

Vela: Presuppositionalism is an angry tiger. It has several different ways people conceptualize and discuss it from different views (Van Tillian, Clarkian, and whatever you call Frame and Bruggencate), and people are passionate about their one view. You could ask 15 different Presuppositionalists to explain it, and because it is so vast, they will emphasize different focuses of it, different aspects, and different applications. And in fact, there are different methodologies associated with it so you may have a Van Tillian Presuppositionalist who is in favor of theistic proof while another will ridicule them in practice. I readily admit this is a downside of the subculture of Presuppositionalists.

However, what I think we all have in common is this – God is God. It sounds weird and almost trivially true but it is vital. God is God, the Creator and sustainer of all things. Nothing would exist if God did not exist. Like the moral argument above (which is a kind of transcendental argument), there is an argument for logic that could be phrased the following way:

1. If God did not exist, then the laws of logic and rationality would not exist.

2. But the laws of logic and rationality do exist.

3. Therefore, God exists.

The argument is valid and the defense of #1 involves tactics like the impossibility of the contrary and a challenge for the unbeliever to ground logic and rationality by their own worldview. I’m not going to defend the argument here, but imagine what it would mean for the atheist to try and overcome the argument by using the very logic that they cannot ground on their own worldview. They quite literally need to presuppose the truth of the Christian worldview, in order to help themselves to the logic and rationality that is only possible on that worldview, in order to say that the Christian worldview based on the existence of the God of the Bible is false. They quite literally need to sit on God’s lap in order to slap God in the face. It is utterly irrational.

Now most Christians could (and should be) convinced of this. However they do not identify as Presuppositionalists. Why is that? Well, Presuppositionalism says that the Bible shows all men are made in the image of God, and that because of the fall, sin has affected their entire constitution – their emotions, bodies, wills, and minds. As Romans 1 tells us, they know the truth but suppress it in unrighteousness. And so the Presuppostionalist believes, unlike the Evidentialist or the Classical apologist, that the unbeliever knows that God exists in virtue of being made in the image of God, and yet is actively (though unwittingly) suppressing that truth. It is not that they cannot reason (they can because they are made Imago Dei), but rather  when they reason, they are doing it in a sinful, broken, and unwarranted way that blasphemes God. They are, by their very attempt to use their literally God-given reason, committing an act of blasphemy every time they try to be rational. Therefore, when they are trying to dispute the existence of God or dishonor his word, the Presuppositionalist simply says that we will not take part, in their attempt to blaspheme God and exert their autonomy while trying to put God in the dock (as C.S. Lewis wrote). They are trying to make themselves the standard and the judge and jury of God, rather than simply admitting that they are the creature and God is the creator. So the Presuppositionalist is not opposed to classical arguments for God’s existence. In fact, I appreciate many of them. The issue is that in order for them to work, logic already must be presupposed; for logic to presupposed, God must be presupposed; and not only by the Christian but by the cultist, the heretic, the unbeliever, and the atheist. There is no other way. So we simply say, that before we will discuss the objections of the atheists, we must first get on the table that the only way we can have a reasonable discussion, is if, and only if, the Christian God revealed in Jesus Christ and displayed in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, necessarily exists.

TB: In the book Five Views on Apologetics, philosopher and theologian William Lane Craig argues:

”Presuppositionalism commits the informal fallacy of begging the question, for it advocates presupposing the truth of Christian theism in order to prove Christian theism. It is difficult to imagine how anyone could with a straight face think to show theism to be true by reasoning, ‘God exists, therefore God exists.’ A Christian theist himself will deny that question-begging arguments prove anything.” (William Lane Craig, Five Views on Apologetics, 233)

How would you respond to Craig’s criticisms?

Vela: I admire Craig and have enormous appreciation for his work in advancing the cause of Christ. I am not as ambivalent to his work as many Presuppositionalists are, despite my often pointed disagreements with his theological and philosophical commitments. However, Craig’s objection is a common one but makes one major flaw. In order for his objection to work, logic must exist to be employed so that he can attempt to rationally present his criticism. For that to happen, God must exist. And thus, for him to make the critique of the Presuppositionalist position, he must first help himself to the conclusions of Presuppositionalism. If you review the argument I listed above (a rather crass version of the Transcendental Argument), you can see quite clearly that it is not formally question begging – no premise of the argument contains the conclusion. If it were, then Craig would need to abandon his moral argument as well since it is quite literally the exact same conceptual and logical structure. However, the soundness of the argument does have one major entailment – that in order for the argument to be sound, we must already presuppose the conclusion to be true in practice in order to even have the tools at our disposal to state, defend, or object to the argument. If it is true, it is necessarily true that we could not even reason about reasoning, we could not be logical about logic, if we did not already presuppose that God exists. And conversely, if we want to deny that presupposition, then we also, necessarily, abandon the very tools of logic and rationality that would be needed to make the very demand that we must not, nor cannot, beg the question and be logical or rational.

So while Craig’s objection appears to some to be a valid objection, it is reflexively destructive for it needs the very truth of the thing it denies to be true in order for the objection to be valid. That is, for the objection to be true, it must be false. Logic, and therefore God, win out yet again.

TB: What works would you recommend to those readers who want to learn more about the presuppositional approach?

There are several places that I would send people depending on their learning styles. Frames contribution to the Five Views of Apologetics put out by Zondervan is helpful but brief and many Presuppositionalists will take exceptions to some of the things said. Another book by Greg Bahnsen entitled Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended is another more academic work giving a basic outline of the theology and methodology that nearly all Presuppositionalists can agree on. One could look at the various books on Apologetics put out by K. Scott Oliphint such as Covenantal Apologetics. For audio, there is a four part lecture series by Bahnsen called “Van Tillian Apologetics 1-4” available via Westminster Seminary on iTunes. And if one would like to see Presuppositionalism in action during a debate, the Greg Bahnsen vs. Gordon Stein debate is the exemplar and gives a good impression of how a Presuppositionalist deals differently with the objections of atheism than someone like Craig would in his debates.

To learn more about Tyler Vela and his outstanding work, go here.

You can also see more of Tyler's work in his book Measuring McAfee or by viewing his recent debate with Aron Ra here.

I would like to publicly thank Tyler Vela for participating in this interview.

Courage and Godspeed,

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Wednesday, June 26, 2019

How did Judas Iscariot Die?

One of the many objections skeptics raise against the reliability of the Bible often goes something like this- "How can you trust the Bible? It is full of contradictions!"

One example that is often mentioned is the death of Jesus' betrayer, Judas Iscariot.

Matthew informs us that after Judas had betrayed Jesus and attempted to return the 30 pieces of silver he received for doing so, he hanged himself.  Matthew writes:

"And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself." (Matthew 27:5)

However, Luke, writing in the book of Acts, seems to give us a different account.  He records that Judas died by "falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out." (Acts 1:18)

Surely this is a contradiction!  Or is it?  As Norman Geisler and Randy Douglass explain, these two texts actually serve to compliment one another:

"Judas hung himself exactly as Matthew says he did.  The account in Acts simply adds that Judas hanged himself on a tree over the edge of a cliff, and his body fell on sharp rocks below.  Then his intestines gushed out just as Luke (the doctor) vividly describes."1

So, in reality, no contradiction exists.

Courage and Godspeed,

1. Norman L. Geisler and Randy Douglass, Bringing Your Faith to Work, p. 172.

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Thursday, June 06, 2019

Remembering D-Day and What Christians Believe

As the 75th anniversary of D-Day is remembered around the globe, I thought it would be appropriate to share the piece below by Hugh Whelchel, which was posted in December of 2017 by the Institute for Faith, Works, and Economics.

What Do D-Day and Christmas Have in Common?

Chuck Colson, in his 2012 book The Faith: What Christians Believe, Why They Believe It, and Why It Matters, included a chapter entitled, “The Invasion.” There he describes the most important event of the Second World War, the D-Day Invasion.
Most of us have watched in horror the scenes in movies like Saving Private Ryan that depict the sacrifices of those who stormed the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944, the largest seaborne military landing in history. Over 2,400 U.S. soldiers were killed in the first hours of the fighting.
By the end of that first terrible day, the Allied troops had established a beachhead in Normandy and, for all intents and purposes, World War II in Europe was over. Everyone, even the Germans, knew that the war would end with Germany’s defeat, yet the fighting continued for almost another year.
Between D-Day and the surrender of the Germans (V-E Day) came the Battle of the Bulge, a desperate counterattack by the German army, fought during one of the worst winters in European history. Even though the Germans knew they were defeated, the battle raged on for six weeks through the Christmas of 1944. It was the deadliest battle for American forces during the war with over 19,000 U.S. soldiers killed.

Christ’s Victory: Past, Present, and Future
Christ’s first coming was D-Day. It was the decisive invasion of “the war” against sin and death, guaranteeing the enemy’s eventual defeat. Colson compares the invasion of Normandy with the “invasion” of God on Christmas Day. He writes:
In one sense, the great invasions of history are analogous to the way in which God, in the great cosmic struggle between good and evil, chose to deal with Satan’s rule over the earth—He invaded. But not with massive logistical support and huge armies; rather, in a way that confounded and perplexed the wisdom of humanity.
As we prepare to move into the Christmas season and celebrate the birth of our Lord, we must remember that this baby, born in a manager, came to change everything. Through his life, death, and resurrection, he would strike a death blow to sin, death, and Satan and establish the kingdom of God.
God’s kingdom will be consummated when Christ returns at his second coming, which will be our V-E Day. Yet as Christians today, we must remember we live in a spiritual war zone. We live our lives between D-Day and V-E Day, in the Battle of the Bulge.
We are all Christian soldiers, but our struggle is not against flesh and blood (Eph. 6:12-13). The outcome of the conflict is certain and our victory is sure, but the enemy is throwing everything at the army of God in the fiercest battle of the war. This makes the need to understand what we do in our daily work and its importance to God and his kingdom all the more critical.
We see an example of this in Daniel. Just as Daniel and his friends were captives of an enemy power as they worked for the “welfare of the city” (Jer. 29:7), through our work, we get glimpses of liberation, the way things will be when Christ returns, even though we might feel tethered to a broken world.
We must see our vocational calling within the context of pushing back the darkness. Cornelius Plantinga, in his book Engaging God’s World, talks about the struggle of fulfilling our work in the kingdom, but the victorious, enduring nature of that work in the world to come:
A Christian who goes to work for the kingdom (that’s every Christian) simultaneously goes to war. What’s needed on God’s side are well-educated warriors (warriors who know what’s going on). We are now fallen creatures in a fallen world. The Christian gospel tells us that all hell has broken loose in this sad world and that, in Christ, all heaven has come to do battle. Christ has come to defeat the powers and principalities, to move the world over onto a new foundation, and to equip a people—informed, devout, determined people—to lead the way in righting what’s wrong, transforming what’s corrupted, in doing things that make for peace, expecting these things will travel across the border from this world to the new heaven and earth.
Christmas is a story of an engagement that will end with a great sacrifice (Christ’s) and through that sacrifice a great victory (for us!).
As we sing songs of peace and joy let us not forget that, as Queen Lucy states in C.S. Lewis’s The Last Battle, “In our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.”
“In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5).

Remembering those who have served,

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Michael Reeves on the Trinity

"The unflinching boldness of the Athanasian Creed forces us to ask what is essential for Christian faith.  What would we say is the article of faith that must be held before all others?  Salvation by grace alone?  Christ's atoning work on the cross?  His bodily resurrection?  Now certainly those are all things 'of first importance' (1 Cor. 15:3), so absolutely critical that they cannot be given up without the very nature and goodness of the gospel being lost; however, they do not stand 'before all things.'  By themselves they are not what make the Christian gospel Christian.  Jehovah's Witnesses can believe in the sacrificial death of Christ; Mormons in his resurrection; others in salvation by grace.  Granted, the similarities are sometimes only superficial, but the very fact that certain Christian beliefs can be shared by other belief systems shows that they cannot be the foundation on which the Christian gospel rests, the truth that stands 'before all things.'

We need not be disturbed by such similarities.  That which distinguishes Christianity has not been stolen.  For what makes Christianity absolutely distinct is the identity of our God.  Which God we worship: that is the article of faith that stands before all others.  The bedrock of our faith is nothing less than God himself, and every aspect of the gospel-creation, revelation, salvation-is only Christian insofar as it is the creation, revelation and salvation of this God, the triune God.  I could believe in the death of a man called Jesus, I could believe in his bodily resurrection, I could even believe in a salvation by grace alone: but if I do not believe in this God, then, quite simply, I am not a Christian. And so, because the Christian God is triune, the Trinity is the governing center of all Christian belief, the truth that shapes and beautifies all others.  The Trinity is the cockpit of all Christian thinking."1

Courage and Godspeed,

1. Michael Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity, p. 14-16

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