Disclaimer: All of the answers you’re looking for are in the bible. I, a pastor, or any well educated theologian can tell you all about what we believe, why we believe it, and what we know about history that corroborates with it, but you have to know Jesus and place your faith in Him as the mediator of your sins to be saved (see Romans 10:9-10). The pharisees, that is, the church elders of His time, knew the scriptures so well that they could recite them verbatim. Even so, they did not recognize that those sacred texts were talking about Him (see John 5:39-47). Frankly put, their knowledge did not save them. What you know will NOT give you good standing with God.
Apologetics – An Introduction
This is my meager attempt to provide a very basic and introductory level of Christian apologetics. Many men more brilliant, educated, articulate, and respected have undertaken this venture before me. I’ll be directing whoever reads this to their books, lectures, and debates to get a more indepth look into the answers I’m going to attempt to explain. Some of this material is available for free and I’ll provide those links whenever I can. Some of it will cost something, but I’ll stick to referring to relatively cheap or free resources as they come to mind.
Providing a good apologetic, a defense of the faith, is something some Christians struggle with. Some may not know why they believe what they believe. Some may know why they believe what they do, but aren’t able to clearly articulate it. This can be frustrating for the skeptic that has questions, but this is important to God as well (See 1 Peter 3:15). Knowing what you believe, why you believe it, and properly expressing your faith isn’t just a useful conversation starter. It’s a command from God.
What you know may not redeem your soul, but knowledge is still important. When questioned about the greatest commandment, Jesus addresses this (see Matthew 22:34-40). God wants you to love Him with your mind. A Christian that’s failing to do this is in sin. You may have been lead to believe that you have to turn your brain off to believe in the word of God, but the bible is a very intellectually rigorous text that contains some of the thoughts, feelings, and motives of God. We are limited in our capacity to fully understand God (see Deuteronomy 29:29), but He has given us the capacity to understand what we need to know about Him in order to be saved.
If you are serious about gaining knowledge, even wisdom, you should pray for it before reading scripture (see James 1:5). If you humble yourself and truly seek to know Him, God will give you all the wisdom you need (see Jeremiah 29:13). If it’s still not abundantly clear that using your head is an act of worship, there are plenty of other verses that reveal that it is so (see Job 12:12 / Psalm 37:30 / Proverbs 3:7 / Proverbs 4:6-7 / Proverbs 13:1 / Ecclesiastes 2:26 / 1 Corinthians 1:25 / Colossians 2:2-3 / James 3:17 / 1 Corinthians 1:30 / Proverbs 29:11 / Proverbs 14:1 / Proverbs 15:12 / Proverbs 19:20). These verses are all snapshots of what God has to say about wisdom. To gain a more robust understanding, I’d suggest reading all of the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament and James in the New Testament.
The verse I want to emphasize the most is Proverbs 1:7. It’s one of the verses I look at as a knowledge lynchpin. If Christ be true, any supposed wisdom that does not flow out of Him is a lie. This is leaning into the realm of presuppositions, a place I couldn’t do the proper justice to, but the claim is that God is the source of truth. Christ even claimed to be the embodiment of truth (see John 14:6). In our time, people speak of truth in terms of relativity, but Jesus does not speak this way.
Entire books have been written on aspects of knowledge I’m scratching the surface of, so it makes sense to pass further study on to one of those well studied theologians.
Part One: The Image of God
It’s important to know who God is and what he requires of us. It’s also important that we get the order of creation right so we can know with absolute certainty where our standing is. Are were here for animals or are they here for us? What does it mean to be human? How should we relate to one another as men and women? What does God say about all this and what is the cultural consensus? Which one of these views comports with reality?
What God says about us in every stage of life is in conflict with what man says about us every step of the way. He Himself tells us directly that if we are not with Him, we are against Him (see Luke 11:23). For a few contemporary examples, all the distinctions new age spiritualists and progressivists are pushing to do away with are drawn out clearly for us in scripture. They claim men and women are not different. They say that gender is fluid. They’re not only contending with basic biology that everyone can see, they’re contending with what God has made plainly visible.
God says that the creation of man and woman was done with intent and purpose. This is true of every man, woman, ethnicity, and what we understand as race. We are different, yet we have the same value as image bearers of God. Being created in His image, we share something that’s distinctly different from the rest of creation (see Genesis 1:27 for all these claims). Men that oppose God will instead say things like we’re stardust and we’re the product of chance acting on matter over time with no rhyme or reason. If what God says is true instead of what man says, what does it mean to be made in His image?
As a child, I always thought that this concept just meant that we have a form like His. Because of Christ entering into His own creation, that’s partially true, but it means a lot more than that. It means we are created to reflect God’s characteristics in a finite way. We love art because God is creative (see the creation account). We are wrecked by suffering and sorrow because God is good and there is no darkness in Him. (see James 1:17). We love to share and bless others because God is the giver of all things. We love to love one another because God is love.
God is above us setting the standard for us and the beasts of the field are below us, placed here to accompany and help us. Unlike us, they do not bear that precious image. A chicken does not ponder what it means to be a chicken. It won’t marvel at a painting by Vincent Van Gogh and be amazed by its beauty. It won’t be breath taken by the greenery of countryside areas, large waterfalls, the Grand Canyon, or pictures of the vastness of space. It won’t listen to Frederic Chopin and be moved by how well he was able to capture emotions with his piano. It won’t be stirred to applaud a masterful performance of a Shakespearean stage play. A creature such as that couldn’t fathom what joy the good humor of Charlie Chaplin once brought. It’s a simple beast, and simple beasts don’t have a concept of meaning, value, beauty or purpose.
We do not hold beasts to the same standards that we hold one another. Think about it this way: when a beast is doing something you don’t like, would you chastise it the same way you would a person? Some small beasts like to steal and hide things. No one in their right mind is going to attempt to have the animal prosecuted. No one says that a violent beast murders another beast after a clash between animals. Beyond the animals, what obligation does a tree have to grass? Why are these questions important? It’s because we have a standard to live up to that’s indwelled in us. We are made in the image of God.
Think about your own dignity. If someone tried to catch you in a private moment, say for instance, getting out of the shower or changing clothes, your instinct is to cover up. Why is that? Why do we react as if we have some inherent dignity to protect? Why is there something in us that is displeased with others that ignore the calling to protect said dignity? It’s because we’re made in the image of God.
No one in their right mind will say that a beast is walking around naked. No one in their right mind says that a beast is homeless when it’s wandering it’s own habitat. No one accuses beasts of being lewd when they mate whenever and wherever. No one accuses a beast of assault when it attacks another beast or even a human. However, you and I are held to a different standard.
This leads us to our inherent problem: we are broken mirrors that couldn’t hope to accurately reflect the image of God. God’s standards of righteousness are so high, that harboring anger towards a brother is the same as murder and looking at another person lustfully is the same as adultery (see Matthew 5:21-30). It’s not just what we say or what we do, it’s what’s in our hearts that fail time after time to reflect the glory of God the way we were intended to. With the bar set so high, how could we possibly even dream of living consistently with who God is? We can’t.
This is why we have convictions and guilt. This is why we want to see justice when a crime is committed. This is why want to protect the weak and marginalized. This is why we reward the honorable and despise the dishonorable. This is why we march for life or whatever cause stirs our hearts. We know without a doubt that there are things that should be and things that should not be because we bear the image of God. This is so indwelled in what we are, that there’s no escape from this idea that there is an absolute standard that we all inherently know about and that we should all strive to live up to.
There is much to be said, but let’s consider the alternative. Let’s say that there is no God and we’re not made in His image. Let’s say all that exists is chance acting on matter over time. The reality of our existence is strictly material. All that exists can be tested or observed and there is some empirical evidence for it. What happens to everything that’s immaterial about our experience? What happens to meaning? What happens to purpose? What happens to truth? What happens to good? What happens to evil? What happens to justice? What happens to beauty? What happens to love?
“The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.” – Richard Dawkins in River Out of Eden (see the full quote here).
Think about the repercussions of a world in which what Dawkins says is true. When someone’s daughter is kidnapped and sold into sex slavery, something evil hasn’t happened. It’s just what is. When someone is suffering from cancer, something bad isn’t happening. It’s just what is. When someone’s son is murdered in cold blood, something detestable hasn’t happened. What has happened is simply what has happened. Your weeping, your cries for justice, your very life all amount to absolutely nothing.
“In science we have to be particularly cautious about ‘why’ questions. When we ask, ‘Why?’ we usually mean ‘How?’ If we can answer the latter, that generally suffices for our purposes. For example, we might ask: ‘Why is the Earth 93 million miles from the Sun?’ but what we really probably mean is, ‘How is the Earth 93 million miles from the Sun?’ That is, we are interested in what physical processes led to the Earth ending up in its present position. ‘Why’ implicitly suggests purpose, and when we try to understand the solar system in scientific terms, we do not generally ascribe purpose to it.” – Lawrence Krauss in A Universe From Nothing
Science cannot tell you why, which is why Krauss is cautious about the question. A strictly materialist universe can’t tell you why anything is because there is no reason for anything. There is no meaning, no value, and no purpose. He will say things like this, but on the other hand, he will attempt to prescribe meaning and value to life (see him talk about it here). He talks about the universe having no purpose and in the same breath talks about human purpose. If you let him talk long enough, he’ll tell you all about the “shoulds” and “oughts” of life, when according to his worldview, there is no ultimate standard for how anything is “supposed to be”.
“Religious faith, on the other hand, erodes compassion. Thoughts like, ‘this might be all part of God’s plan,’ or ‘there are no accidents in life,’ or ‘everyone on some level gets what he or she deserves’ – these ideas are not only stupid, they are extraordinarily callous. They are nothing more than a childish refusal to connect with the suffering of other human beings. It is time to grow up and let our hearts break at moments like this.” Sam Harris on human suffering.
We should be beside the broken hearted and weeping with those that weep (see Romans 12:15). Amen and amen. It’s true. But why is Sam speaking this way? He’s accusing believers of not being compassionate about the suffering of other human beings, almost as if they had some intrinsic value. It’s almost as if he believes we have a duty to love and support one another simply because we’re human beings. Every time Sam rallies on about what wrongdoing people of faith are supposedly responsible for, he’s turning his back on his on worldview. He believes there are things we should do and things we shouldn’t. He might deny it with his mouth, but he does not truly believe everything and everyone is here by some random purposeless cosmic accident.
“Who are your favorite heroines in real life? The women of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran who risk their lives and their beauty to defy the foulness of theocracy. Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Azar Nafisi as their ideal feminine model.” – Christopher Hitchens in Hitch-22: A Memoir
Where does Hitchens get the idea of beauty? By what standard did he measure such a concept? What of foulness? Anyone can claim that there is no God and convince themselves that their stance is the right one, but no one can escape being made in the image of God. No one truly believes the love we experience is strictly chemical processes. No one truly believes there’s no inherent meaning or value in anything. No one truly believes that there is no such thing as justice. Though many will say they really do believe these things are true, not one of us can truly live that out consistently because we are made in God’s image.
“Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another.” – Carl Sagan on Cosmos
Needless to say, these men are all educated, sophisticated, and respected in their fields. They represent the face of skepticism in public view. They will all deny a creator and an ultimate standard that we should aspire to, but their suppression of that reality causes them to walk in constant contradiction of what they claim to be true. Hitchens especially was an interesting case.
Christopher Hitchens opposed abortion, racism, feminism, and the list goes on. He wrote an entire book that contradicts the ground he stands on called God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. By what standard does he make these value judgements? What is right or wrong about poisoning everything if there is no such thing as right or wrong? What Hitchens was guilty of, and what all skeptics are guilty of, is suppression of the obvious truth.
We have inherent value. There is a such thing as absolute truth. Justice and mercy are important (see these points debated between a pastor and the vice president of a skeptic club here). There is much more to be said about being made in the image of God, but I’ll close with some rhetorical questions. What moral obligation does highly evolved bacteria have to other highly evolved bacteria? If everything is meaningless, purposeless, and the future is miserable as Lawrence Krauss says, what solace is there for the person that’s whaling in agony? How does such a cold, vast, and uncaring universe produce men that weep to begin with?
The First Three Chapters of Genesis (Free Online) – Moses
A Universe From Nothing (video or book) by Lawrence Krauss & Richard Dawkins
What Does It Mean to be Human? (streaming video) by Ravi Zacharias
Subjective Moral Reasoning (streaming video) by Ravi Zacharias
Objectivity & Morality (Debate Clip) (streaming video) by Jeff Durbin
Skeptic Morality (Debate Clip) (streaming video) Eddie Tabash vs. Greg Bahnsen
Worldviews in Conflict (streaming video) by Greg Bahnsen