Common Sense Apologetics: One God, One Book, One Way

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In other places, such as the following passage, Van Til distinguishes between good natural theology, as taught by the authors of the Reformed Confessions, and bad natural theology, which misinterprets reality in anti-Christian categories, with the Greek view of diversity and unity being his example here:.

There is the position of the Confession. For all its vaunted defense of reason, the natural theology of Aristotle and his modern followers destroys reason. The autonomous man cannot forever flee back and forth between the arid mountains of timeless logic and the shoreless ocean of pure potentiality. In particular for Van Til, it means to be aware of your first principles of knowledge, the ultimate source of knowledge in your worldview.

Van Til argues that Christians and non-Christians share the same knowledge concerning many things, but not the same philosophy of knowledge in terms of what the ultimate source of knowledge is God, for the Christian; and something impersonal for the non-Christian. As he explains in Common Grace and the Gospel again, a relevant quote that Fesko never acknowledges :. We conclude then that when both parties, the believer and the non-believer, are epistemologically self-conscious and as such engaged in the interpretative enterprise, they cannot be said to have any fact in common.

On the other hand, it must be asserted that they have every fact in common. Both deal with the same God and with the same universe created by God. Both are made in the image of God. In short, they have the metaphysical situation in common.

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Metaphysically, both parties have all things in common, while epistemologically they have nothing in common. As an added benefit to this discussion, Van Til updated his original book from which this quote comes, Common Grace , and commented in the material added to the subsequent edition on an objection that a reviewer raised to it:. Why did Dr. Masselink, in presenting my views, omit this obviously all-important qualification? There is antithesis in terms of ultimate philosophical commitments, and this antithesis is most manifest when non-Christians are self-consciously trying to be consistent with their anti-Christian ultimate commitments.

But when non-Christians are not self-consciously trying to be consistent with their anti-Christian presuppositions, there will tend to be a great deal of common ground between them and Christians. That universe without the absolute God of Scripture cannot be the real one where Christians and non-Christians can communicate because rationality would not be possible in that universe. Thus, in terms of the second reason, Christians and non-Christians have no fact in common because there would be no intelligible facts if the non-Christian view were true. All true facts are God-created facts, and logically, there could be no others.

Individual men would have no common notions with other men, they would not even be able to distinguish themselves from other men. Observation of facts would be impossible because the idea of a fact is, on this basis, unintelligible. When I was a student, I wrote a paper quoting and criticizing what seemed to me to be rather extreme expressions of antithesis in his writings.

After having received this clarification from the author himself, the only criticism that Frame should have made against Van Til on this issue is to say that Van Til meant for these qualifications to be understood but he did not make the qualification as clear as he could have.

See a Problem?

In the following passage, Fesko claims that Van Til is inconsistent, both denying and affirming common notions between believers and unbelievers:. At face value, the reader should at least see that metaphysical and psychological common ground between believer and unbeliever that Van Til acknowledges should allow for some point of contact between them. And when The Atlantic ran a piece last year entitled Study theology, even if you don't believe in God , Jerry Coyne, the atheist blogosphere's Victor Meldrew , called it "the world's worst advice.

My modest New Year's wish for , then, is that atheists who care about honest argument — and about maybe actually getting somewhere in these otherwise mind-numbingly circular debates — might consider reading just one book by a theologian, David Bentley Hart's The Experience of God , published recently by Yale University Press.

Not because I think they'll be completely convinced by it. I'm not, and I'm certainly not convinced by Hart's other publicly expressed views, which tend towards the implacably socially conservative. They should read it because Hart marshals powerful historical evidence and philosophical argument to suggest that atheists — if they want to attack the opposition's strongest case — badly need to up their game.

The God attacked by most modern atheists, Hart argues, is a sort of superhero, a "cosmic craftsman" — the technical term is "demiurge" — whose defining quality is that he's by far the most powerful being in the universe, or perhaps outside the universe though it's never quite clear what that might mean. The superhero God can do anything he likes to the universe, including creating it to begin with. Demolishing this God is pretty straightforward: all you need to do is point to the lack of scientific evidence for his existence, and the fact that we don't need to postulate him in order to explain how the universe works.

Mere Apologetics

Some people really do believe in this version of God: supporters of 'intelligent design' , for example — for whom Hart reserves plenty of scorn — and other contemporary Christian and Muslim fundamentalists, too. But throughout the history of monotheism, Hart insists, a very different version of God has prevailed.

God is what grounds the existence of every contingent thing, making it possible, sustaining it through time, unifying it, giving it actuality. God is the condition of the possibility of anything existing at all.

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  • God, in short, isn't one very impressive thing among many things that might or might not exist; "not just some especially resplendent object among all the objects illuminated by the light of being," as Hart puts it. Rather, God is "the light of being itself", the answer to the question of why there's existence to begin with. In other words, that wisecrack about how atheists merely believe in one less god than theists do, though it makes a funny line in a Tim Minchin song , is just a category error.

    Monotheism's God isn't like one of the Greek gods, except that he happens to have no god friends. It's an utterly different kind of concept. First, it must be established that all human beings have by nature a desire for something that transcends the whole of creation. According to Lewis, it is a secret desire that needs to be discovered, but one that each human being can discern by careful introspection. No earthly happiness can fully satisfy our hearts.

    The crux of the argument is the premise that no natural desire can be in vain. This proposition was accepted as self-evident by Aristotle and the entire Scholastic tradition, which subscribed to a teleological view of nature, but is rejected by empiricists, who protest that we lack sufficient materials to make this induction.


    Without delaying on the objection, Lewis draws the conclusion that God must exist, for otherwise the desire would be in vain and would have no attainable object. In his autobiography, Surprised by Joy , Lewis designates this longing by the German name Sehnsucht and analyzes it in highly experiential terms.

    This unsatisfied desire, he remarks, is more desirable than any earthly satisfaction. For a while he so enjoyed the desire, he confesses, that he almost lost sight of the divine Object, but he overcame this subjectivism with the help of the idealist philosopher Samuel Alexander. Lewis was convinced that his arguments, especially when taken in convergence, established the existence of a personal God who is the source of morality, rationality, and spiritual joy. God stands above and beyond the whole of creation as its eternal ground. This idea of God, he claims, is far more plausible than pantheism, which so intermingles God and the world that God could not exist unless it did.

    After having dallied for a while with a kind of Hegelian pantheism, Lewis came to realize that a God indistinct from the world could not be unconditionally true and good. The proofs we have summarized establish the existence of a God who is untouched by evil. Lewis does not extensively discuss non-Christian religions.

    Once the option for religion has been made, the only serious alternatives are pantheism and monotheism. Hinduism, which represents pantheism at its best, fails to satisfy Lewis. Buddhism he writes off rather casually as a Hindu heresy. Other religions can be true only to the extent that they are compatible with it. Christians are not bound to regard other faiths as false except at those points where they conflict with Christian faith.

    To establish the fact of Christian revelation, Lewis pursues two lines of argument. His first approach is from the claims of Christ. In a trilemma borrowed from G. Chesterton he asserts that anyone who claims to be God must be a lunatic, a liar, or, in fact, God; since Jesus, who made divine claims, was neither a liar nor a madman, therefore he was God.

    C.S. Lewis makes Christianity seem a common sense solution to the world's most basic questions

    Lewis knows, of course, that the argument is not that simple. Nearly everyone will concede that Jesus was neither a lunatic nor a deceiver, but Lewis wants to make the adversaries explain why, after asserting that Jesus was sane and good, they deny his divinity.

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    • The main difficulty, of course, is to establish that Jesus in fact claimed to be God. In a number of sayings Jesus clearly implies that the Son preexisted with the Father, is equal to the Father, and will return in glory at the end of time to judge all nations. Jesus also claims to forgive sins in his own name, an act admittedly reserved to God alone. The book is a very successful answer to authors such as Hume, who denied that historical accounts of physical miracles could be credible.

      Lewis in a long discussion of the laws of nature shows that such laws, far from precluding miracles, are necessary conditions for their possibility.

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      If there were no regular laws of nature, miracles could not be recognized as exceptions and would lose their function as divine signs. Miracles are possible provided that such laws exist and provided also that God is not absolutely bound by the laws He has established. True, it would be unreasonable for God to suspend laws of nature in an arbitrary way, but it would make sense for Him to suspend them on occasion for adequate reasons such as the manifestation of the new order of salvation. If miracles were haphazard events, reports about them might not be credible. But the biblical miracles, generally speaking, fall into a meaningful pattern, exhibiting the beneficent designs of God.

      After a survey of the miracles of the public life, Lewis devotes a chapter to the resurrection. As a sign and anticipation of the final Kingdom, the resurrection is eminently meaningful. All efforts to explain it away as hallucination or fabrication fall to the ground.

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      Lewis is well aware that his arguments from the claims of Jesus and from the biblical miracles presuppose the general reliabilty of the Gospel accounts. Although Lewis does not claim to be a specialist in New Testament criticism, he maintains that he is well qualified as a literary critic to distinguish between history, legend, and myth.

      The Gospels clearly belong to the genre of history.

      Common Notion Confusion: Part 1 of a Review of J.V. Fesko’s Reforming Apologetics

      The skepticism of radical New Testament critics like Bultmann, he contends, has its roots in their philosophical commitments, not in the character of the texts. In the opening pages of The Problem of Pain he poses the problem of evil in starkest terms. But he argues that the experience of evil as a problem rests upon a prior awareness that there exists a higher order of justice. This inbuilt sense of what ought to be cannot be explained except as having been implanted in our hearts by a divine power. Lewis does not pretend to give a rational solution to the problem of evil. The Book of Job reminds us that with our finite minds we cannot provide a theoretical solution.

      But for apologetics it suffices to show that the fact of evil does not positively disprove the existence of the biblical God. Lewis begins by refuting metaphysical dualism, which would hold that good and evil are equally primordial. From Augustine he takes the insight that evil is a parasite, not an original reality. All the things that enable a bad person to be bad are in themselves good things. An evil deity, if it existed, would have existence, intelligence, and will, and to that extent be good. Evil, therefore, is the perversion of a goodness prior to itself.

      In a universe of finite things, Lewis maintains, some degree of evil is normal. Often enough, one entity achieves its proper good at the expense of another. The lion gets the meat it needs for its diet at the expense of the sheep. Does the sheep suffer?

      What appears to be animal suffering may not be suffering in any real sense. But such suffering, endured with patience, can make for spiritual growth. It is good that we may attain some degree of happiness on earth. The impossibility of attaining complete happiness here below is good in the sense that it helps us to keep our hopes concentrated on God and the life to come. God could of course prevent any given mishap by a miracle.