The new atheism has been in the picture for about 15 years now. It came on the scene thanks to books like Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation, among others. There truly is nothing new in the atheistic belief system itself or the arguments they are presenting, since most of them are naturalists, what seems to be new, is that these preachers of atheism have become much more dogmatic in their stance. Many of them are even preaching doom and gloom if we do not eradicate religion and belief in God. Many of them claim that they only want to know the truth instead of buying into myths and fairy tales, and that this is what everyone ought to be doing.
The idea that everyone “ought” to be doing this raises a problem. Putting aside the question for a moment of whether or not there is a God; let us look at this claim of “oughtness” from within their naturalistic worldview. As Ravi Zacharias has so aptly pointed out, “wherever one finds “oughtness,” it is always linked together with a believed purpose in life. Purpose and oughtness are inextricably bound.”
What he is getting at is that the only way we can ever say that something is not as it ought to be is if we know its purpose and proper function. For example, the only way anyone can say that a watch is not working correctly is if they know how it is supposed to work in the first place, or in other words, what it was designed to do. If the watch has no purpose or proper function assigned to it, then there is no way to say that it is functioning incorrectly.
This logical conundrum, however, is precisely the naturalist’s problem. Since naturalism cannot account for mankind’s purpose or proper function, it has no way of saying how it ought to act. Within the naturalistic worldview, mankind was not designed for any specific purpose; we are the product of a “blind watchmaker” which has no purpose in what it is doing. This lack of purpose makes any real statement of what ought to be absolutely groundless.
The new atheist, with their strong focus on reason and being logical, seem to be making a blind leap of faith from a purposeless creation to what they think ought to be. Without design, you can never get from what is, to what ought to be.
The millennium is specifically mentioned in Rev. 20. In fact, it is the only place were it is explicitly stated. Its theme, however, seems to run throughout scripture. There are three primary views held regarding the millennium. These views deal with its timing in relation to Christ’s second coming and its nature; is it literal or figurative.
The three most common understandings of the millennium may be defined a little different depending on who you talk to, but can be broken down into three categories; premillennialism, postmillennialism or amillennialism.
Today, the most predominant view is premillennialism. This view holds to the idea that Christ’s second coming will precede the millennium. According to Henry Virkler in his book Hermeneutics, premillennialists believe that “He (Christ) will descend to earth and set up a literal 1000-year earthly kingdom with its headquarters in Jerusalem” (Virkler, 201). It is important to understand that not all premillennialists agree on all the details. There are two major camps of premillennialists; traditional premillennialists and dispensational premillennialists. When it comes to the actual details of the millenium, there will be a lot of disagreement on its nature and purpose, but to be a premillenialist, a person must believe that Christ’s second coming will take place before the millennium (pre-millennium).
Postmillennialism, according to Virkler, “is the view that through evangelism, the world eventually will be reached for Christ. There will be a period in which the world will experience joy and peace because of its obedience to God. Christ will return to earth at the end of the millennium” (post-millennium) (201). It must be clarified that postmillennialists do not believe that everyone will be a Christian during this time, but that society as a whole will be Christian.
Amillennialism, according to Virkler, “is conceptually a form of postmillennialism. The millennium, in this theory, is symbolic and refers to the time between Christ’s first and second coming. During this time, Christ rules symbolically in men’s hearts. Christ’s second coming will mark the end of the period.” Amillennialists believe the Christ will never have an earthly rule (a- or no-millennium)” (201).
The terms postmillennial and amillennial are sometimes used interchangeably depending on who is speaking. I will use the definition provided by Virkler. The major difference between the two is that postmillennialists believe that Christianity will spread across the globe and usher in a time of peace. Amillennialists do not believe that Christianity will usher in this time of peace universally, except in the hearts of believers. In the history of the Church, variant forms of these two positions have been the dominant view. Charles Hodge in his Systematic Theology explains the most basic understanding of postmillennialism: “The common doctrine of the Church stated above, is that the conversion of the world, the restoration of the Jews, and the destruction of Antichrist are to precede the second coming of Christ, which event will be attended by the general resurrection of the dead, the final judgment, the end of the world, and the consummation of the Church” (Hodge, 861).
This was the view of many of the reformers, the puritans, and some suggest that even though the terms were not used, the bare bones of this doctrine shows through in Augustine’s famous work City of God. Postmillennialism seems to carry the worst stigma because of the fact that the liberals had hijacked this doctrine early in the twentieth century and turned it into a naturalistic and modernist’s doctrine. For a while, if you were a postmillennialist, you were considered to be on your way to becoming a liberal—if you were not already. Though this was an actual concern, it was based on a misrepresentation of what postmillennialist’s actually believe. In fact, the puritans were postmillennial, but not commonly considered liberal. Consequently, postmillennialism cannot automatically be linked with liberalism.
Premillennialism, being the less commonly held view, began to gain momentum about 300 years ago. This was around the time that dispensationalism came onto the scene, but it did not find its origins at this time. In fact, Charles Hodge states, “In opposition to this view (postmillennialism) the doctrine of a premillennial advent of Christ has been extensively held from the days of the Apostles to the present time.” Two world wars also led many people to reconsider the idea that the world was getting better, which helped premillennialism become the new majority view.
Repentance is the tear of love, dropping from the eye of faith, when it fixes on Christ Crucified.
Repentance begins in the humiliation of the heart, and ends in the reformation of the heart and of the life. Sincere repentance is never too late, but late repentance is seldom sincere. The thief on the cross repented, and was pardoned in the last hour of his life. We have one such instance in scripture–that none might despair; and only one–that none might presume.
Still, however, the probability that apparent repentance which comes at a dying hour will be genuine, is very small. The following fact will furnish an affecting illustration of this sentiment, and a solemn warning against the too common delusion of deferring the work of repentance to a dying bed:
The faithful and laborious clergyman of a very large and populous parish had been accustomed, for a long series of years, to preserve notes of his visits to the afflicted, with remarks on the outcome of their affliction, whether life or death, and of the subsequent conduct of those who recovered.
He stated, that, during forty years, he had visited more than two thousand people apparently drawing near to death, and who revealed such signs of penitence as would have led him to indulge a good hope of their eternal safety if they had died at that moment.
When they were restored to life and health–he eagerly watched if they should bring forth fruits fit for repentance. But alas! of the some two thousand death-bed professions, only two people manifested an abiding and saving change! The rest, when the terrors of eternity ceased to be in immediate prospect, forgot their pious impressions and their solemn vows, and returned with new avidity to their former worldly-mindedness and sinful pursuits.
-Gorham Abbott, 1833
“Forgodly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death!” 2 Corinthians 7:10
The following is Henry Scudder’s reasoning from Scripture as to why Sunday is a day set apart for the Lord. What are your thoughts?
Put a difference between this and the other six days, even as you put a difference between the bread and wine in the sacrament, and that which is for common use. And that because it is set apart for Holy use, by divine institution. For as the seventh day, from the beginning of the creation, until the day of Christ’s blessed resurrection; so our Lord’s day which is the day of the resurrection, is by divine institution moral.
Now it appears, that it was the will of our Lord and Savior Christ, that we should, since his resurrection, keep for our Sabbath that first day of the week; forasmuch as he arose on that day, (John 20:1-19), and appeared divers times on this our Lord’s day to his disciples before his ascension; and did on this day, being the day of Pentecost, (Acts 2:1-4), fill his disciples with the gifts of the Holy Ghost, then being assembled together; all which gives a pre-eminence to this day, and a probability to the point.
But inasmuch as the apostles, (1 Cor. 11:1) who followed Christ, and delivered nothing but what they received from Christ, (1 Cor. 11:23 and 14:37), did observe this day as the Sabbath, (1 Cor. 16:1-2); what can this argue but a divine institution of this day? The apostle Paul might have chosen any other day, for the people to assemble to hear the word, and receive the sacrament: but they assembled to receive the sacrament, and to hear the word, upon the first day of the week, which is our Lord’s day, (Acts 20:6-7). Now the approved practice of the apostles, and of the church with them, recorded in Scripture, carries with it the force of a precept.
Moreover, the Spirit of God honors this day with the title of the Lord’s day, (Rev. 1:10) as he does the communion Supper of the Lord, (1 Cor. 10:21 and 21:20). What does this argue but as they both have reference to Christ, so they are both appointed by Christ.
“Then they began to argue among themselves about who would be the greatest among them.” Luke 22:24
We see in this passage how firmly pride and love of preeminence can stick to the hearts of Christian men. The strife was one which had been rebuked by our Lord on a former occasion. The Lord’s Supper which the disciples had just been receiving, and the circumstances under which they were assembled–made the strife particularly inappropriate.
And yet at this very season, the last quiet time they could spend with their Master before His death, this little flock begins to argue among themselves about who would be the greatest!
Such is the heart of man–ever weak, ever prideful, ever ready, even at its best times, to turn aside to what is evil!
The sin before us is a very old one. Ambition, self-esteem, and self-conceit–lie deep at the bottom of all men’s hearts, and often in the hearts where they are least suspected! Thousands imagine that they are humble, who cannot bear to see an equal more honored and favored than themselves. Few indeed can be found who rejoice heartily in another’s promotion over themselves.
If we make any profession of serving Christ, then let us live on our guard against this great evil. The harm that it has done to the Church of Christ, is far beyond calculation. Let us learn to take pleasure in the prosperity of others, and to be content with the lowest place for ourselves. The rule given to the Philippians should be often before our eyes, “In lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves.” The example of John the Baptist is a bright instance of the spirit at which we should aim. He said of our Lord, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
If you publicly express your faith in Jesus, you will undoubtedly face challenges to your beliefs. This should not surprise us because Jesus told us this would happen. Thankfully, for those of us in the United States, most of these challenges are only verbal in nature. Many of our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world face threats to their property and lives. Wherever we find ourselves, Scripture calls us to be prepared to give an answer for the hope that is in us, and that answer is always, Jesus.
The context in which we must give that answer will vary. For those of us facing intellectual challenges to our faith, we must be ready to expose fallacious arguments as well as give them the gospel. With that in mind, here are 11 common self-refuting arguments. I will break them down into three categories
Truth is relative.
Whenever someone claims that truth is relative, it is important to remember that that would apply to their statement as well. The statement, “truth is relative” would also be relative. This would make their statement about the relativity of truth just as true or false as any of your statements. Thus they lose all authority to speak. Here are a few ways this argument presents itself.
Postmodernism has taken root, not only in secular society, but in more liberal denominations as well. About 10 years ago, it was called the emergent church. Though that name has died, these ideas are still infiltrating many churches. Postmoderns argue that language is an invention of man and therefore cannot communicate truth, but they always try to communicate it using language.
The idea with this argument is that experience is truth, not words. This is a clear attack on the word of God. The funny part is, they often try to use the word of God to defend their point, which, of course, would only work if the word of God can communicate propositional truth.
This idea that truth is relative leads them to believe that there are no metanaratives. There is no one story that controls all other stories. There are no universal beliefs through which all people should be viewed like creation, fall, and redemption. They believe all metanarratives are a masked play for power. This, of course, is the one overarching story they use to control all other stories. It is the lens they universally apply to everyone else.
Their belief in the subjectivity of truth leads them to downplay biblical doctrine. From here, they argue that Christians should not disagree about doctrine. The problem is that this is a doctrinal disagreement they are having with you. Let’s not be naive, doctrinal disagreement can go too far, but to censure all doctrinal discernment leaves the arguer with only one option: to close their mouth and nod in agreement to everything you say.
Finally, you will sometimes see another self-refuting argument in the way they try to justify their belief that truth is relative, but every argument comes back to haunt them. Every time they use the fact that man can err to make everything untrustworthy, they make themselves untrustworthy.
Do Not Tell People How to Live
A second area were people often refute themselves is when they argue that morality is relative, and that we ought not tell people how to live. What they fail to realize is when they say “we ought not tell people how to live” they are telling people how to live.
The “Do not judge” argument is probably the most common version of this argument. Of course, if you misinterpret Jesus’ words to mean you have no right to tell people when they they wrong, you refute yourself because you are telling someone they are wrong.
Everything Must be Proven with Science
There are people who take the benefits of scientific inquiry and try to make it the sole source of truth, but they fail to realize that there is a philosophy of science which must under gird all scientific endeavors. Here is how a few of these arguments present themselves.
When someone says you should only believe in things that can be experienced with the five senses, realize, their theory cannot be experienced or proven with the five senses.
Never forget, science itself depends upon immaterial realities like the laws of logic, mathematics, time, and space.
This one is a little more sophisticated, but it suffers from the same problem. Metaphysics, according to the dictionary, is the study of first principles. These first principles include abstract concepts such as being, knowing, substance, cause, identity, time, and space. Often, as a Christian, when you begin delving into these topics, you will hear this argument from naturalists. The problem, for them, is that they make this statement because of there naturalistic metaphysical pre-commitments to these questions.
Finally, let us not forget that the naturalist often considers themselves free thinkers because they do not buy into “superstition,” but their own views of a closed system of cause and effect means that their own thought is the product of a closed system of cause and effect just like everyone else’s. The only conclusion that can be drawn from a closed system of cause and effect is determinism, and determinism leaves no room for freedom.
As Christians, let us be aware of fallacious arguments, but more importantly, let us stay close to our Savior and His word. The goal of apologetics is to help clear the intellectual impediments to the gospel, but if we never give them the gospel, or if we are not living close to our Lord and His word, we might as well not do apologetics at all. Though apologetics is helpful and important, it does not save the soul. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
We first looked at J.I. Packers description of the Restless Experientialists. Now we move on to the entrenched intellectualist. May we avoid both extremes.
“Think now of the entrenched intellectualists in the evangelical world: a second familiar breed, though not as common as the previous type. Some of them seem to be victims of an insecure temperament and inferiority feelings, others to be reacting out of pride or pain against the zaniness of experientialism as they perceived it, but whatever the source of their syndrome the behavior-pattern in which they express it is distinctive and characteristic. Constantly they present themselves as rigid, argumentative, critical Christians, champions of God’s truth for whom orthodoxy is all. Upholding and defending their own view of that truth. Whether Calvinist or Arminian, dispensational or Pentecostal, national church reformist or Free Church separatist, or whatever it might be, is their leading interest, and they invest themselves unstintingly in this task. There is little warmth about them; relationally they are remote; experiences do not mean much to them; winning the battle for mental correctness is their one great purpose. They see, truly enough, that in our anti-rational, feeling-oriented, instant-gratification culture conceptual knowledge of divine things is undervalued, and they seek with passion to right the balance at this point. They understand the priority of the intellect well; the trouble is that intellectualism, expressing itself in endless campaigns for their own brand of right thinking, is almost if not quite all that they can offer, for it is almost if not quite all they have.”
In the next two posts I would like to quote J.I. Packer speaking of two different kinds of Christians we find in the church today because he does such a good job describing their key characteristics. They are two sides of a spectrum and both are problematic. My hope is that by looking at these, we might examine ourselves to see if we lean too heavily to one side or the other and find the balance that is found in the word of God.
“Those whom I call restless experientialists are a familiar breed, so much so that observers are sometimes tempted to define evangelicalism in terms of them. Their outlook is one of casual haphazardness and fretful impatience, of grasping after novelties, entertainments, and ‘highs’, and of valuing strong feelings above deep thoughts. They have little taste for solid study, humble self-examination, disciplined meditation, and unspectacular hard work in their callings and their prayers. They conceive the Christian life as one of exciting extraordinary experiences rather than of resolute rational righteousness. They dwell continually on the themes of joy, peace, happiness, satisfaction, and rest of soul with no balancing reference to the divine discontent of Romans 7, the fight of faith of Psalm 73, or the ‘lows’ of psalms 42, 88, and 102. Through their influence the spontaneous jollity of the simple extrovert comes to be equated with healthy Christian living, while saints of less sanguine and more complex temperament get driven almost to distraction because they cannot bubble over in the prescribed manner. In their restlessness these exuberant ones become uncritically credulous, reasoning that the more odd and striking an experience the more divine, supernatural, and spiritual it must be, and they scarcely give the scriptural virtue of steadiness a thought.”
They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them. – Romans 2:15
The principal means which God uses in conversion, is that of conscience; and indeed without this, all the rest are in vain. Outward afflictions are of service—only as they tend to awaken the conscience from its lethargy to a faithful discharge of its duty. It is conscience which makes the sinner sensible of his misery and scourges him. The lashes of a guilty conscience are intolerable; and some under them have chosen strangling and suicide, rather than life.
Conscience is a serpent in his breast, which bites and gnaws his heart; and he can no more avoid it, than he can fly from himself!
Let not such of you as have never been tortured with its remorse, congratulate yourselves upon your happiness, for you are not innocents! Your conscience will not always sleep! It will not always lie torpid and inactive, like a snake benumbed with cold, in your breast!
It will awaken you either to your conversion—or condemnation!
Either the fire of God’s wrath flaming from His law will enliven it in this world—to sting you with medicinal anguish; or the unquenchable fire of His vengeance in the lake of fire and brimstone will thaw it into life—and then it will horribly rage in your breast, and diffuse its tormenting poison through your whole frame! And then it will become a never-dying worm, and prey upon your hearts forever!
If you find yourself being tormented by your conscience and in need of forgiveness, never forget, you can find your forgiveness in Jesus.
It is sad to see how many preachers in our days make it their business to enrich men’s heads with lofty, empty, airy notions, instead of enriching their souls with holy truths.
Fix yourself under that man’s ministry who makes it his business, his work, to enrich the soul, to win the soul, and to build up the soul; not to tickle the ear, or please the fancy. This age is full of such light, vain souls–who dislike everything but what is empty and airy.
Do not judge a minister: by his voice, nor by the multitude who follow him, nor by his affected tone, nor by his rhetoric and flashes of wit; but by the holiness, heavenliness, and spiritualness of his teaching! Many ministers are like empty orators, who have a flood of words, but a drop of matter!
Some preachers affect rhetorical strains; they seek abstrusities and love to hover and soar aloft in dark and cloudy expressions, and so shoot their arrows over their hearers’ heads, instead of bettering their hearers’ hearts.
Mirthful things in a sermon are only for men to gaze upon and admire.
He is the best preacher, not who tickles the ear–but who breaks the heart!
“My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power!” 1 Corinthians 2:4-5