Category Archives: apologetics

Rex Murphy and Tolerance

Rex Murphy is one of my favourite Canadians. Since I was a teenager I’ve always appreciated his wit, his insight, and his rhetoric; I use the latter in the best sense of the word. While I didn’t always have the categories to understand what he was saying, I knew I loved his commentaries that closed The National news program on CBC. Canadians everywhere felt their rage channeled after he so worthily vilified the rioters in Vancouver after the playoffs last season. I dare say that Canadian Christians now love him even more for this piece in the National Post: “What the Tolerant Must Tolerate.” This is, to put it plainly, awesome.

Here’s just one snippet, it’s the opening paragraph:

To be a serious Christian in modern Western culture is to be the favoured easy target of every progressive thinker and every half-witted comedian. It is to have your sensibilities and your deepest beliefs on perpetual call for taunts, mockery and desecration. At a time when all progressives preach full volume for inclusivity and sensitivity, for the utmost care in speech when speaking of others with differing views or hues, Christians, as Christians, are under a constant hail of abuse and disregard. There is nothing too low or too vulgar.

Someone, please, shake this man’s hand.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under apologetics, cbc, rex murphy

Presuppositionalism Resources

Tomorrow I have the privilege of giving a talk on presuppositional apologetics at the People’s Christian Academy; Tim Challies is speaking at their chapel tomorrow as well, so I have big shoes to follow! For those students who want to delve deeper into the subject, this post gives a collection of resources that I think are very helpful.

Cornelius Van Til (1895-1987)

– An audio interview done by the “Office Hours” online radio program of Westminster California with John Van Til, a nephew of Cornelius: “Cornelius Van Til: Father, Friend and Pastor

– A good, and short biographical piece is by Van Til’s friend Robert Den Dulk, who helped published a number of Van Til’s works: “Cornelius Van Til

– The guys from the Reformed Forum online radio show talk to John Muether [click here], author of this excellent biography of Van Til–it’s very informative (check out my review of Muether’s biography)

– By far the most helpful internet resource on all things Van Til is the Van Til Info website, run by James Anderson (a noteworthy Van Tilian himself!)

Presuppositionalism 

– Michael Butler was a student of Greg Bahnsen, he wrote this recently for Faith For All of Life magazine; it is a good intro to presuppositionalism: “The Pulling Down of Strongholds

– I wrote an essay for an apologetics course at Toronto Baptist Seminary taught by Stephen Wellum, I then morphed it into an article for the journal Hope’s Reason: A Journal of Apologetics (of which I am the review editor). The title isn’t very creative: “An Introduction to Presuppositionalism

– Greg Bahnsen, author of this excellent book on Van Til, was one of the most well-known Van Tilians. These are some audio lectures he did on “Van Tilian Apologetics

– S. Joel Garver wrote this “A Primer on Presuppositionalism” where, at the end, he gives some potential objections to the method and his replies

Transcendental Argument for God’s Existence (TAG)

– After Bahnsen died, a number of theologians came together and honoured his memory with a book. This article from the book is by Michael Butler, and is on TAG: “The Transcendental Argument for God’s Existence

– John Frame, a former student of Van Til, and author of an important book on Van Til’s thought, wrote this: “Transcendental Arguments: An Essay

Debates

– By far the most enjoyable debate I’ve ever listened to, this is between Greg Bahnsen and atheist Gordon Stein, held at the University of California (Irvine) in 1985. Bahnsen uses presuppositionalism to utterly demolish Stein (wait for the moment when the whole audience realizes that Stein has been obliterated–they all laugh). Here’s the MP3 (free) and here’s the transcript PDF

– John Frame used his brand of presuppositionalism in an online debate with the atheist philosopher Michael Martin

– Bahnsen also debated atheist Edward Tabash where again he used TAG to devastating effect (you can buy the DVD here, and actually watch them debate, instead of just having the audio):

– Finally, Bahnsen also did a radio debate with atheist George Smith:

2 Comments

Filed under apologetics, cornelius van til, video

Rob Bell Resources

Tonight I had the pleasure of giving a lecture called “Rob Bell and the Cultured Despisers: The Liberalism of Love Wins” for Chinese Gospel Church in Chinatown, Toronto. As you can tell by the title, it is a critique of Rob Bell’s recent book Love Wins, where I locate him in the history of theology, particular theological liberalism.

I reference a number of helpful sources in the paper, so I thought I’d link them here for further information if anyone who attended the lecture wanted to check them out.

Kevin DeYoung: God Is Still Holy and What You Learned in Sunday School is Still True

Carl Trueman: Easy Virtues and Cruel Mistresses (on Martin Luther)

Michael Wittmer: Christ Alone site (first book length critique of Love Wins)

J. Gresham Machen: Christianity & Liberalism (foreward by Trueman and opening chapter)

Francis Chan and Preson Sprinkle: Erasing Hell 

 

 

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under apologetics, books, carl trueman, hell, liberalism, rob bell

Review: Through Western Eyes (Letham)

Here’s my review of Robert Letham, Through Western Eyes: Eastern Orthodoxy: A Reformed Perspective (Fern, Ross-shire: Christian Focus Publications, 2007). It is in the new issue of Hope’s Reason: A Journal of Apologetics.

Christians in the West have little understanding of Eastern Orthodoxy. Though at odds, Roman Catholics and Protestants have a fairly good take on each others’ faith and practice. Both, however, are largely ignorant of their Eastern brethren. All three Christian expressions share in the rich theological tradition of the patristic period and look back to fathers like Athanasius, the Cappadocians, and the early creeds for their Christology and doctrine of God. After the split between East and West, precipitated by differences in Greek and Latin, the two streams diverged with little confluence. While the West underwent theological growth influenced by medieval and Reformation cultures, and had to undergo the challenges of the Enlightenment, the East was largely untouched by these cultural shifts. As a result, the two sides of the split look very different and often have different ways of expressing their Christian faith.

Robert Letham’s Through Western Eyes goes a long way to helping Protestants, especially those conscious of their Reformation heritage, understand the theological development and appearance of the East. Letham was a Presbyterian minister in the U.S. A., and has held teaching positions at Westminster Theological Seminary and Reformed Theological Seminary. Currently he teaches at Wales Evangelical School of Theology. He has authored important works on the Trinity and Christology that deal well with patristics and is an expert in post-Reformation history. He is more than qualified to write a book of this nature.

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under apologetics, books, eastern orthodox, hope's reason, reviews

New Hope’s Reason Journal

Here’s the latest issue of Hope’s Reason: A Journal of Apologetics. It is both an online and print journal, this is the online bit. The print will be available some time soon.

Articles

“An Apologetic Church”
Stephen Bedard

“Apologetic Testimony from an Unlikely Source”
Mark Eckel

“The Witness of the Spirit: Developing a Pentecostal Approach to World Religions”
Jeffrey K. Clarke

“The Christian Doctrine of God Explained and Defended for Muslims”
Luis Dizon

“The Resurrection, Two Scholars, and Historical Method”
J. Steve Lee

Reviews

Ravi Zacharias, Beyond Opinion: Living the Faith We Defend by Stephen J. Bedard

Carl R. Trueman, The Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind by Fred G. Zaspel

Tom Wells, The Priority of Jesus Christ by Fred G. Zaspel

Andreas J. Kostenberger and Scott R. Swain, Father, Son and Spirit: The Trinity and John’s Gospel by Fred. G. Zaspel

Paul R. Williamson, Sealed With An Oath: Covenant In God’s Unfolding Purpose by Fred G. Zaspel

Norman L. Geisler, If God, Why Evil? A New Way to Think About the Question by Stephen J. Bedard

Michael Rydelnik, The Messianic Hope: Is the Hebrew Bible Really Messianic? by Fred G. Zaspel

Rob Bell, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived by Stephen J. Bedard

Daniel C. Dennett and Alvin Plantinga, Science and Religion: Are They Compatible? by Josiah J. Batten

Drew Dyck, Generation Ex-Christian: Why Young Adults Are Leaving the Faith by Jeffrey K. Clarke

Paul Hughes (ed.), Think and Live: Challenging Believers to Think and Thinkers to Believe by Stephen J. Bedard

James Hannam, The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution by David Rodriguez Jr.

Peter Hitchens, The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me To Faith by Ian Clary

Tim Challies, The Next Story: Life and Faith After the Digital Explosion by Michael Plato

William Edgar and K. Scott Oliphint, Christian Apologetics: Past & Present: A Primary Source Reader: Volume 1: To 1500 by Ian Clary

Robert Letham, Through Western Eyes: Eastern Orthodoxy: A Reformed Perspective by Ian Clary

Leave a comment

Filed under apologetics, articles, atheism, books, hope's reason, islam, journals, reviews, science

Innocent Smith’s Modern Proposal

If you haven’t read G. K. Chesterton’s brilliant Manalive you need to stop everything, go out and buy it (if you live in Toronto, Crux Books has it in stock!). You’ll be in for a hilarious, but incredibly insightful read. If you know anything about this book, it is likely the story of the character–in a flashback scene–when he was in university. This character, Innocent Smith, was a philosophy student who sat through a class taught by a professor who declared that there was no meaning in the world (or something to that effect). The not-so-innocent Smith meets this professor in his room one night and produces a pistol with the aim of pushing the limits of this professors philosophy. You must read the scene for yourself to soak in all its brilliance.

As it turns out, screenwriter and theologian Briand Godawa has redone this Chestertonian scene for a modern audience. While it may not have the wit of the great writer, it paints the meaning of a meaningless worldview in crystal clarity. Check out “Cruel Logic” here {HT: Steve Bedard}:

3 Comments

Filed under apologetics, books, brian godawa, chesterton, philosophy, video

Review: “The Rage Against God” by Peter Hitchens

We’ve updated the articles and reviews at Hope’s Reason: A Journal of Apologetics. My review of Peter Hitchens’s The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith is there. I reprint it below:

Atheism in the twenty-first-century is a facile form of its counterpart from a previous generation. The abandonment of atheism by Antony Flew before his death in some respects marks the closing of an age of disbelief that at the least offered well-framed arguments against the Christian faith. With the ascendancy of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and others who follow in their procession, arguments against Christianity are often superficial and presented with a force that is unwarranted in light of the weakness of the proposition.

Admittedly, there are aspects of recent arguments that have popular appeal. In the case of Christopher Hitchens, his rhetorically-gifted appeals to throw off the shackles of a totalitarian God; to free the mind from the limitations of religious thought and to reclaim the right to make autonomous moral decisions have a certain ring to them in the opinions of many. The attraction to him amongst the sixties generation and their progeny can be accounted for because Christopher embodies the spirit of that movement—indeed, he was and remains a key figure in that lingering cultural revolution.

Hence why The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith by his brother Peter Hitchens is so utile; it strikes at the heart of Christopher’s arguments from a common perspective. The two Hitchens’, though often at odds with one another, share similar experiences: each went to a respected Cambridge boarding school; both are former Trotskyists who made loud breaks with the Left; are journalists who have reported from conflict zones around the globe; are masters of English prose; are trenchently forthright with their views and are committed to independent thinking. In a sense, The Rage Against God is like Hitchens battling Hitchens; not in the sense of brother against brother, rather of Christopher against himself.

While Christopher has garnered significant attention with God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Peter Hitchens remains relatively unknown outside of Britain. He is somewhat notorious as a conservative thinker in England where he writes a column for the Mail on Sunday and is a frequent contributor to politically-oriented talk-shows. As a journalist Peter has reported from Communist Russia and was a correspondent in Washington for the Daily Express. He has written a number of  books, including The Abolition of Britain, a sociological look at the rapid changes taking place in British society due to the replacement of a Tory worldview with that of New Labour. As well, he has famously taken on high-level British politicians including Labour’s Tony Blair and the Conservative’s David Cameron, the current English Prime Minister. While a Conservative, Peter is just as scathing in critique of his own party as he is of those of the Left.

The Rage Against God is a refreshing and accessible alternative to the dismissable arguments of God is Not Great. As well, it shares reflective similarities with Christopher’s recent Hitch-22: A Memoir. There is overlap between books as they recount stories of life in middle-class twentieth-century England. One could learn a lot about the decline of religion in Britain and the resultant change in culture from reading the three together. They are also an introduction of sorts to twentieth-century literature; the writings of T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, Evelyn Waugh, George Orwell and other recent additions to the western canon loom large in the lives of the Hitchens’.

Peter’s book is divided into three sections. The first is autobiographical where he reflects on his upbringing; the failings of a theologically liberal Christian education; the demise of traditional English values; and his embrace of atheism and Trotskyism. In some ways this reads like a summary of The Abolition of Britain and one sees that the British subtitle, “Why Faith Is the Foundation of Civilisation,” is appropriate. Hitchens excoriates the Left for leading England away from its traditional cultural milieu that once made it a great nation and he chides the Right for its withering and useless class-structured governance. Both are to blame for the relativist mess that has changed Britain, according to Hitchens, for the worse. In the midst of this, Peter explains how he lost his faith, memorably demonstrated in the burning of a bible when he was fifteen years old. The chapter on his rediscovery of faith is an especially good part of the book. Peter’s conversion involves him being awakened to the reality of his own immanent judgment by God as he contemplated the painting The Last Judgment by Rogier van der Weyden in the Musee de l’Hotel-Dieu in Beaune, France.

The second section is apologetic where Peter takes on what he calls “the three failed arguments of atheism” against religion: conflicts fought in the name of religion; morality without God; and atheist states not actually being atheist. Each argument is dismantled using examples from history and common sense. For instance, it is demonstrably reductionist to claim that all religious conflicts are always about religion. In the case of Northern Ireland, says Hitchens, religion is less a factor than the ownership and control of territory.

The third section looks at some of the defenses of atheism, in particular those of Christopher in God Is Not Great. This is the part of the book that Peter sees as “the foundation of the answer to my brother’s position” (164). Christopher denies that the atrocities committed by atheist states are a result of atheism, even going so far to argue that Stalinist Russia was actually religious. Peter, again using history and common sense, clearly shows that such arguments fail. Not only is Christopher’s failure in view, but socialism’s as well. One of the final sections of the book highlights the “totalitarian intolerance” of the New Atheists, which is especially true of Christopher, and is an unfortunate and unnecessary correspondent to his critiques of religion.

There are many good things to say about The Rage Against God. It is very well-written. Both Peter and Christopher are wonderful writers and this makes reading their books delightful, even if one disagrees with their final conclusions. It has been said that both brothers are great respecters of the English language, and this is borne out in Peter’s writing. The tone of the book is noteworthy for two reasons. First, Peter observes the fundamentalist streak of the New Atheists that manifests itself in vitriolic screeds. Instead of fighting fire with fire, Peter writes circumspectly and never deteriorates into personal attacks, even though he makes good use of wit and satire. Second, Peter’s columns and television appearances are often devastating in terms of argument and tone; he brooks no quarter with those whom he disagrees. The tone of this book is noticeably different.

Peter also has an excellent grasp of the issues and explains them with clarity. He is not fooled by the rhetoric of the New Atheists and sees past the non sequitors, the ad hominems, the generalizations, the redundancies and the euphemism of their arguments. He demands honesty from atheists who critique his religion and offers it in turn, even if it hurts.

The book is also a helpful commentary on the role of beliefs in the shaping of national ideologies. Due to his experience in Russia, he can offer first-hand accounts of the devastation wrought by Communism and its atheist hand-maiden. His insights into the cultural changes in the West, that mirror certain aspects of Communist Russia, is a sound warning to those who want to pursue a similar agenda.

A drawback of the book is its lack of theological depth. Hitchens is a journalist, so it would not be fair to expect him to delve into intricate dogmatic issues. However, more interaction with Christian thought is not unreasonable. There is very little mention of Jesus Christ or the gospel message, which is the book’s biggest failing. If Hitchens has even the slightest hope that someone would be converted to Christianity as a result of reading the book, he has severely limited the possibilities.

Also, his method of critique follows tit-for-tat responses against popular atheism, but it would have been more effective if he had examined some of atheism’s—and his brother’s—philosophical underpinnings. For instance, Peter rightly points out that the problem of conflicts in the name of religion are actually problems of human nature. Instead of leaving his answer at this juncture, another step could be taken: what is the atheist’s standard for evaluating the value of religious conflict? Given atheism, objective, universal, immaterial moral standards are illusive. An even further step could be taken by pointing out that when an atheist makes a moral statement, he must abandon his precommitments in favour of another that makes sense of morality; in this case, Christianity. In almost every section of the book one wishes that Hitchens went further. While this does not lessen the force of his arguments, he could be more effective if he took this more thorough apologetic approach.

Be that as it may, Peter Hitchens has done a good job at giving answers to the puerile claims of his brother, and basically makes Christopher’s book on religion look foolish. It is a shame, because Christopher is an intelligent man and the open flaws of his book, so well pointed out by Peter (and others) is a blight on his otherwise commendable literary reputation. The Rage Against God is a good book to give to atheists who trumpet the arguments of Christopher Hitchens as though they posed a real problem to Christianity. It is also good for those who have doubts about their faith; Peter Hitchens demonstrates the importance of Christianity to a well-ordered society which, in a way, is a proof for its truthfulness.

Leave a comment

Filed under apologetics, atheism, books, christopher hitchens, peter hitchens, reviews, richard dawkins

The Pugnacity of the New Atheists

A couple of years ago I was given the opportunity to drive Alister McGrath to a speaking engagement. He gave an excellent lecture on Luther’s theologia crucis, a subject of which is he an expert. On the drive back to his hotel I asked him about his debates with various leading atheists. I asked him if debating the overtly arrogant Richard Dawkins was a frustrating experience. He said no, that Dawkins wasn’t actually that bad on a personal level. Rather, it was Christopher Hitchens who was much more difficult. “You see him with a glass of water on the lectern in a debate,” McGrath said, “Only it is not water in the glass.” Apparently as Hitchens imbibes he becomes more and more cantankerous, making the debate a less-than-pleasurable experience.

My perceptions about the New Atheists, however, are different. Because of his demeanor, I have very little time for Dawkins; his prideful tone is a complete turn-off. But I do enjoy Christopher Hitchens, even though I think his arguments against the existence of God are beneath his own intellectual abilities. Hitchens uses ravaging rhetoric when he skewers his Christian opponents, yet I don’t get the same visceral disgust as I do with Dawkins. Why is that?

The reason for this is that—at least as it appears to me—Dawkins’ arrogance is of the “How dare you question me??” variety, while Hitchens’ is more “How dare you question what I perceive to be self-evidently true?” In the latter case, Hitchens is vitriolic in the name of truth, whereas Dawkins is revolted at the idea that anyone would challenge him in is Oxford-donness.

Of course I don’t doubt that Christopher Hitchens can be just as conceited as Richard Dawkins. But at least his concern seems to be for the argument more than for his reputation. If that’s the case then I can respect that, even though I disagree with the content of his arguments (and think they’re weak and shallow).

1 Comment

Filed under alister mcgrath, apologetics, atheism, christopher hitchens, richard dawkins

Ignatius and Papal Succession

I wrote on the problem that Ignatius of Anthioch’s letter to Rome poses for the doctrine of papal succession. Check it out at the SSMI blog: “Ignatius and Papal Succession.” I actually brought this up to Michael Coren when I met him a few weeks ago; he transparently admitted that he hadn’t an answer–I didn’t expect him to off the top of his head–but that he knew someone who would. It’d be great, from a purely historical perspective, to see an answer.

Leave a comment

Filed under apologetics, catholicism, church history, patristics, ssmi

Review: Why Catholics Are Right by Coren

In an earlier post I mentioned that a number of us had the privilege of spending some time with Canadian television personality Michael Coren who discussed his book Why Catholics Are Right. I have written a fairly critical review of this book for the Credo Magazine website. I confess to a little fearfulness in publishing this review, because Michael Coren deserves much respect for the political work he has done over the years. But there are such important errors in the book that I thought it best to point them out.

Many thanks to Matthew Barrett, the editor of the excellent Credo Magazine for being willing to publish the review. I thoroughly enjoy this publication and am happy to be a part of it; even if notoriously!

5 Comments

Filed under apologetics, books, catholicism, credo magazine, michael coren, reviews

Prof. Ditchkins on Science

Check out the devastating arguments renowned atheist Prof. Richard Ditchkins proffers for science and reason:

Leave a comment

Filed under apologetics, atheism, christopher hitchens, richard dawkins

Hope’s Reason Podcast

Stephen Bedard, editor of Hope’s Reason: A Journal of Apologetics, has started a related podcast. In the first episode Steve shares his testimony and the reason for doing the journal and podcast.

Introducing Hope’s Reason

Leave a comment

Filed under apologetics, audio, hope's reason

N. T. Wright Critiques Hawking on Heaven

When the world’s most famous physicist weighs in on the question of heaven people surely listen. Unfortunately, when he gets the question wrong, let alone the answer, then he screws a lot of people up in the process. Stephen Hawking, in a recent interview in Britain’s Guardian newspaper, declared that there is no longer any use for believing in the afterlife or heaven (he called it “a fairy tale”), he unwittingly bought into a caricature that many hold of the Christian faith. Of course, Hawking is no theologian (or philosopher as others have noted), so for many of us his words ring hollow.

Thankfully N. T. Wright, one of the world’s leading biblical scholars, has set the record straight. In an article in the Washington Post, Wright corrects the misunderstanding and puts forward a proper Christian view of heaven. Wright is a good source as he has written a definitive study on the resurrection and another on life after death. He’s no theological light-weight. His resume includes stints at Cambridge, Oxford and McGill. He was for a long time the Bishop of Durham and is currently a professor at St. Andrews in Scotland.

Here’s an important quote:

Hawking is working with a very low-grade and sub-biblical view of ‘going to heaven.’ Of course, if faced with the fully Christian two-stage view of what happens after death — first, a time ‘with Christ’ in ‘heaven’ or ‘paradise,’and then, when God renews the whole creation, bodily resurrection — he would no doubt dismiss that as incredible. But I wonder if he has ever even stopped to look properly, with his high-octane intellect, at the evidence for Jesus and the resurrection? I doubt it — most people in England haven’t. Until he has, his opinion about all this is worth about the same as mine on nuclear physics, i.e. not much.

Leave a comment

Filed under apologetics, eschatology, new testament, stephen hawking

Etcetera

Peter Hitchens, in his book The Rage Against God, tells us what he thought he knew about the Christian faith before he believed it:

I was convinced that a grown-up person had no need of Santa Claus fantasies or pies in the sky. I knew all the standard arguments (who does not?) about how Christianity had stolen its myths and feast days from pagan faiths, and was another in a long line of fairy stories about gods who die and rise again. Since all the great faiths disagreed, they couldn’t all be right. Jesus was curiously similar to Mithras, or was it Horus? Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, easy as pie, not in the sky, and made still more facile by the way such youthful epiphanies are applauded by many teachers and other influential adults, and endorsed by the general culture of my country, which views God as a nuisance and religion as an embarrassment or worse.

2 Comments

Filed under apologetics, atheism, books, peter hitchens, quotes

Hope’s Reason Available at Amazon

The new apologetics journal Hope’s Reason is now available to order in its print edition from Amazon.com. The first issue, which I contributed to, has articles on Muhummad and the incarnation, presuppositional apologetics, the relation of Paul with the gospels, book reviews (I am now the review editor) and more. You can order it here for $15 {HT: Down By the Bay}.

Leave a comment

Filed under apologetics, hope's reason, journals

Evidences for Easter

Tyndale House is a study-centre located at Cambridge University in England and provides a place of refuge for biblical scholars who need time, space and resources for their work. The name Tyndale House is associated with the heights of cutting edge scholarship done for the church and to the glory of God {Info Video}.

Their Warden is Dr. Peter J. Williams, a textual critic and Old Testament scholar who came to them from the University of Aberdeen. He is an expert in early Christian origins and on early biblical manuscripts. With Tyndale House, Williams has put together some videos related to historical evidences for the trial, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth that are worth checking out. Typically at this time of year (Easter) some PBS special or Dateline exclusive will run an episode about why Jesus never lived, or why he wasn’t crucified and will truck out a load of “experts” to tell us that this is the case. Williams’ videos are a nice counter to such drivel.

Jesus’ Trial

Jesus’ Crucifixion

Jesus’ Resurrection

3 Comments

Filed under apologetics, easter, tyndale house

Heresy, What Is It?

My friend Alex emailed a bunch of us asking the question, How does one define heresy? I’d been meaning to respond with a quote from Michael Haykin’s book on early church apologetics called Defence of the Truth. Because the definition he gives in the book is a good clarification on a confused issue, I thought I’d post it here for more general consumption:

What exactly is heresy? In the ancient church, that is the church up until the sixth century, the term “heresy” became a technical term to describe aberrant teaching that undermined the fundamental truth of the Christian faith. It was deemed so serious that those who were described as heretics were considered to be beyond the bounds of salvation.

Our English word “heresy” comes from a Greek word hairesis, which, in classical Greek meant “choice.” This use of this term does not occur in the New Testament. Six out of nine occurrences of the word in the New Testament are best translated by the words “sect” or “party.” Thus, for instance, in Acts 26:5, the apostle Paul claimed that “according to the strictest party [hairesin] of our religion I lived as a Pharisee.” And in Acts 24:5, Paul is described by the Roman lawyer Tertullus as a “ringleader of the sect [haireses] of the Nazarenes.” Hairesis, though, can also have a decidedly negative meaning. Paul lists it as one of the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:20, where he has in mind factionalism, not heretical teaching.

In only one New Testament verse, however, does the word carry the full meaning of our word “heresy.” That occurs in 2 Peter 2:1 where Peter says that false teachers will “secretly bring in destructive heresies [haireseis], even denying the Master who bought them.” But even a cursory reading of the New Testament letters will reveal that although the term “heresy” is not used, this is indeed what a number of the letters are seeking to protect God’s people against. Paul, for example, had to stand against those who denied the resurrection of the body in 1 Corinthians 15 and repudiate those in Galatia who would compromise the cardinal truth of justification by faith alone. And Jude, referred to earlier, is clearly dealing with aberrant theology that we could call “heresy.”

Michael A. G. Haykin, Defence of the Truth: Contending for the Faith Yesterday and Today (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 2004), 10.

A couple of helpful resources on the issue of heresy are, of course, G. K. Chesterton’s Heretics, Harold O. J. Brown’s Heresies which are now both considered to be classic treatments of the subject. More recently, Alister McGrath has written Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2010).

9 Comments

Filed under apologetics, books, church history, heresy, michael haykin, patristics, quotes

Athenagoras and the Trinity

Athenagoras (d. ca. 185) was another early apologist whose work A Plea for the Christians is a beautifully written defense of the faith against accusations of atheism (among other things) leveled at Christians by their society. The text itself was likely written around AD 177 and shares similarities with those of Aristides and Justin Martyr; both in terms of its use of Greek philosophy and in addressing like charges. It was addressed to the emperors Marcus Aurelius and Commodus and appeals to their learning as philosophers.

What I’d like to highlight is a statement found in chapter 12, “Consequent Absurdity of the Charge of Atheism,” where Athenagoras gives us a very clear statement about the Trinity. This is a particularly useful quote against those who would argue that trinitarian doctrine is a later construct.

Are, then, those who consider life to be comprised in this, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die,” and who regard death as a deep sleep and forgetfulness (“sleep and death, twin brothers”), to be accounted pious; while men who reckon the present life of very small worth indeed, and who are conducted to the future life by this one thing alone, that they know God and His Logos, what is the oneness of the Son with the Father, what the communion of the Father with the Son, what is the Spirit, what is the unity of these three, the Spirit, the Son, the Father, and their distinction in unity; and who know that the life for which we look is far better than can be described in words, provided we arrive at it pure from all wrong-doing; who, moreover, carry our benevolence to such an extent, that we not only love our friends (“for if ye love them,” He says, “that love you, and lend to them that lend to you, what reward will ye have? “), shall we, I say, when such is our character, and when we live such a life as this, that we may escape condemnation at last, not be accounted pious?

Athenagoras, “A Plea for the Christians” in Ante-Nicene Christian Library, eds., Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Edinburgh: T and T Clark, 1867), 2:388.

Leave a comment

Filed under apologetics, athenagoras, church history, patristics, trinity

Aristides on God

Aristides was an early Christian apologist, sometimes known as Aristides the Philosopher. He wrote The Apology of Aristides the Philosopher probably around AD 125, the English of which is translated from Syriac by D. M. Kay of the University of Edinburgh’s semitics department. The Apology had only been known to us in quotations by other fathers. For instance, Eusebius of Caesarea tells us that the text was presented to the emperor Hadrian at Athens. In the late nineteenth-century, however, an Armenian fragment was found and in 1889 the full-text was discovered in the library of St. Catherine’s in Sinai. The purpose of the document is to argue against Barbarian, Pagan and Jewish views of God–although Aristides writes using Greek categories of thought and is of course influenced by certain parts of the Old Testament.

Here is a sample from Aristides’ discussion of God that I thought was good:

I say, then, that God is not born, not made, an ever-abiding nature without beginning and without end, immortal, perfect, and incomprehensible. Now when I say that he is “perfect,” this means that there is not in him any defect, and he is not in need of anything but all things are in need of him. And when I say that he is “without beginning,” this means that everything which has beginning has also an end, and that which has an end may be brought to an end. He has no name, for everything which has a name is kindred to things created. Form he has non, nor yet any union of members; for whatsoever possesses these is kindred to things fashioned. He is neither male nor female. The heavens do not limit him, but the heavens and all things, visible and invisible, receive their bounds from him. Adversary he has none, for there exists not any stronger than he. Wrath and indignation he possesses not, for there is nothing which is able to stand against him. Ignorance and forgetfulness are not in his nature, for is altogether wisdom and understanding; and in his stands fast all that exists. He requires not sacrifice and libation, nor even one of things visible; he requires not aught from any, but all living creatures stand in need of him.

The full-text can be found in volume ten of the Ante-Nicene Fathers, 259-279.

Leave a comment

Filed under apologetics, aristides, church history, patristics, philosophy, quotes

Hope’s Reason: A Journal of Apologetics 2.1

Well, now that the first issue of Hope’s Reason: A Journal of Apologetics has gone to print, we are now at work on the second. What’s neat about this journal is that you can follow each issue’s progress online. As new articles and reviews go through the peer-review and are accepted, they are posted on our website. Once we have a goodly-sized collection, they are sent off to the printers and, voila!, a new issue.

Thus far our second issue has an article on Deuteronomy as an apologetic source written by Mark Eckel, Professor of Old Testament at Crossroads Bible College in Indiana. We also have a couple of reviews written by Fred Zaspel, author of the recent study The Theology of B. B. Warfield. We have some pretty good articles lined up and a tonne of reviews, so check the website periodically for updates, or follow us on Facebook for news.

We are always open to submissions both for articles and reviews. If you have an article that you would like to publish, and it fits the criteria listed on our site, then email our editor Stephen Bedard at editor@apologeticsjournal.com. If you have a review(s) then send it to me, the book review editor, at books@apologeticsjournal.com.

Leave a comment

Filed under apologetics, articles, fred zaspel, hope's reason, journals, reviews