A Christian Philosopher’s Thoughts On “God’s Not Dead”

A Movie I Should Love

I am, by the grace of God, a Christian.

I am also, by the grace of God, a Christian philosopher.

I have, by the grace of God, survived the rigors of a non-Christian education in philosophy.

Finally I have, by the grace of God, participated in a number of public moderated debates on the existence of God with professing atheists.

The movie God’s Not Dead seems to be right up my alley. A lot of people have suggested I go see it. I probably will.

But I am not looking forward to it. In fact, the trailer alone really concerns me. Here is the movie trailer followed by some reasons why the trailer concerns me.

 

 

To Me, It’s So Postmodern

If you want to make what you say really palatable to society at large just add two little words to the beginning of everything you say. Those two words are “to me.”

You see, as soon as you preface your statements with the words “to me” you make the truth of those statements relative to you. Let me explain.

If you say, “God exists,” then you have stated, quite simply, that God exists, and that God exists out there, outside of you, and that He exists for everyone as it were, and not just for you.

But if you say, “To me, God exists,” then you have stated something quite different. You have stated that God exists, but not that God exists out there, outside of you. You have said nothing about whether or not God exists for everyone. Rather, you have only claimed that God exists for you.

Another way to put it is that you have said, in the second instance above, that your truth is that God exists. Other people may have other “truths” about God’s existence, but for you,God exists.

This is postmodern thinking pure and simple. Postmodernism is a pervasive anti-Christian philosophy. In postmodernism, truth is relative. Truth depends upon our beliefs. But that’s crazy. Just because I believe I can fly does not mean I can actually fly.

Moreover, in our society truth is often thought of as subjective. This means that truth depends upon our emotions. Truth has nothing to do with whether or not a statement is factual. If something feels good, then it is true. Sound familiar?

At least three instances of postmodern thinking loom large in the trailer.

At the 10 second mark in the trailer, a woman stands in front of the Christian Contemporary Music group Newsboys. She mockingly says, “In a few minutes you guys are going to go out there and sing about God and Jesus as if they are as real as you and me.”

Much to my disappointment, Michael Tait, the lead singer for Newsboys, replies, “To us, they are as real.”

No Mike! Truth does not depend on your feelings. Truth is not relative to you. “God and Jesus” are not just real to you. God and Jesus are real, period. (By the way, I am not sure why, but the phrase “God and Jesus” is used throughout this trailer in such a way that it sounds as though Jesus is not God.)

At the 1:30 mark in the trailer, the main character, “Josh Wheaton,” referring to God, says, “To me, He’s not dead.”

No Josh! Truth does not depend on your feelings. Truth is not relative to you. God is not just alive to you. God is alive, period!

At the 2:12 mark in the trailer, the Newsboys sing, “God’s not dead, He’s surely alive. He’s living on the inside, roaring like a lion.”

No Newsboys! Truth does not depend on your feelings. Truth is not relative to you. God is not just alive inside of you. God is alive, period!

God is Never on Trial, We Are

At the 1:40 mark in the trailer Josh boasts, “We’re going to put God on trial.” The great Christian author and apologist C.S. Lewis was spot on in his description of this mixed up methodology.

The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man, the roles are quite reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock. He is quite a kindly judge; if God should have a reasonable defense for being the god who permits war, poverty, and disease, he is ready to listen to it. The trial may even end in God’s acquittal. But the important thing is that Man is on the bench and God is in the dock.

Not only is this approach to defending the existence of God methodologically problematic (for reasons I will not get into here), but it is exceedingly arrogant. Romans 9.20 comes to mind. “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?” God is not to be judged by us. We are to be judged by Him. God is not on trial. We are on trial.

But I Can’t Judge a Movie by Its Trailer

Or can I? The two methodological concerns I have pointed out above are significant concerns. They are, in and of themselves, enough to destroy the apologetic value of this movie. Based on the trailer, I would have a hard time recommending this movie to young, impressionable Christians. Perhaps the movie will change my mind, but I doubt it. I have three other comments not mentioned above. I discuss them below.

First, what is the target audience for this film? The Christian? The non-Christian? The academic community? The target audience is not immediately clear to me.

Second, those who believe the statement “God is Dead” is some sort of rallying cry that atheists run about and spout (or require on student “papers” for a passing grade) need to do a bit more research into the origin and meaning of the phrase.

Third, at the 2:27 mark in the movie trailer Josh claims, “Science supports His existence, so why do you hate him?” If this line indicates anything about the philosophical substance of the movie, then the movie is awful. Aside from the fact that Josh is talking about science in a philosophy class, and aside from the suspicion that Josh has not actually provided solid scientific evidence to “support” the existence of God, why does Josh think his question about the professor’s supposed hatred of God has anything to do with scientific support for God’s existence? Plenty of scientific reasoning supports my existence, but that does not prevent people from hating me. (For example, if you liked God’s Not Dead, then you probably dislike me at the moment.) More importantly, why does Josh feel it necessary to physically move toward the professor in a threatening manner, screaming at him as he does so? If a student were to approach me the way this “Christian” approaches his philosophy professor in this movie trailer, I would promptly dismiss class and call campus security. (Then again, I’m no Hercules.)

If God’s Not Dead teaches Christian students to fear their professors (and, gasp, philosophy professors in particular), and if it teaches them to make relative statements, and if it teaches them to think sinful students and professors are in a position to put the Creator on trial, and if it teaches Christian students to respond to unbelieving professors the way Josh approaches his atheist professor, then God’s Not Dead is just generally unhelpful. Perhaps I will change my tune once I see the movie. But I’m not getting my hopes up.

 

 

 

Historical Apologetics?

Biblical apologetics are historical apologetics. What do I mean? At least five points come to mind.

1. Apologetics are not Scripturalist.

Scripturalism is somewhat analogous to Scientism. Scientism has become a major religion in the West. Scientism is the belief that science is the only means to knowledge. (Of course, the claim, ‘Science is the only means to knowledge’ is itself unknowable through science, and hence scientism is self-refuting.) Scripturalism, then, is something like the belief that Scripture, or the Bible, is the only means to knowledge. The difficulty here is that the Bible itself rejects such a claim. Knowledge is available through God’s creation (e.g. Psalm 19, Romans 1.18ff) even outside of the Bible.

While God’s Word must be the very basis upon which apologetic encounters are carried forth, an apologist is more than warranted in using language, illustrations, arguments, and the like which are not immediately found in Scripture. In doing so, the apologist is standing between two worlds, taking the truth of God found in Scripture and applying it to his or her place in history. Apologetics are interpretive, applicative, contextual, constructive. Apologetics do not merely consist  of repeating passages of Scripture over and over again to unbelievers. They are used within one’s historical context.

2. Apologetics have been used throughout history.

They started in the Bible (e.g. Acts 17). They continued to be used in the early church. Justin Martyr is a notable apologist in history. Many others would follow. Apologetics were not always so radically divided from other theological disciplines in the past, because every discipline was a theological discipline. God was the end of knowledge. He still is, but we fail to recognize it in our modern and postmodern mindsets.

Apologetics are nothing new. Famous apologists litter every era of church history. Some of them were very bad, and others were very good. One cannot be dismissive of apologetics if one has any regard for the place of church history in current practice.

3. Apologetics assume the theological is historical.

Theological liberalism involves, among many other things, a rejection of the authority, infallibility, and/or inerrancy of Scripture. ‘Conservative’ Christians often ponder why theological ‘liberalism’ even exists. At least part of the reason liberalism exists is to satisfy apologetic concerns from an unbelieving human perspective. By driving a wedge between faith and reason, religion and science, and theology and history, liberals have attempted to ‘defend’ a version of ‘Christianity’ without really accepting it at all. In theological liberalism, the text of Scripture must be ‘demythologized.’ The supernatural is rejected in favor of a system of ethics based loosely upon the teachings of Jesus as interpreted by those who are themselves attempting to make moral determinations apart from the authority of God. Liberalism is an unbiblical form of apologetics that begins and ends with humans. It works from the ‘bottom up’ instead of from the ‘top down.’

A ‘top down’ approach to apologetics begins with the Bible and works out from there. The Bible knows nothing of a chasm between theology and history. Rather, God reveals Himself in and through the course of history, providentially guiding it and interpreting it for His glory and the good of His people. Some have understood apologetics to be the application of theology to unbelief. And so it is. But the theological is historical.

4. Apologetics assume the historical is theological.

The Bible records a great deal of history. That history is theologically interpreted. But interpreting the historical by the theological is not a practice that should end with the close of the canon of Scripture. Scripture remains the norma normans. Or, to move from the Latin to the cheesy, history is ‘His-story’ of which we are blessed to be a part. The story did not end with the Bible. Interpreting our own predicament in light of Scripture is the only way to be a biblically faithful Christian.

Recognizing that the historical is theological should give way to the prominence of biblical counseling amongst the carefully constructed and cold intellectual arguments used by many apologists. We have a place in God’s story. Since the historical is theological, apologetics are rigorously evidential in nature, but note that evidences cannot be divorced from their theological context and meaning. Cultural apologetics likewise find their home in the recognition that history does not operate in a vacuum, but in accord with the providential plan of God to bless people through following the principles set forth in His Word.

5. Apologetics are informed by historical theology.

People who believe that ‘the Bible, Jesus, and me’ is a good combination to create good doctrine are in reality setting themselves up to start a good cult. The Bible speaks of a Church founded by Jesus to help me understand the Bible. We find ourselves in a radically individualistic society. The rightful place of historical theology in the life of the Christian can hardly be overemphasized. People have read the Bible for thousands of years. They have interpreted it. They have applied its truths to their lives and societies. They have argued about it. They have debated it. They have thought through difficult subjects. God has blessed us with thousands of years of the testimony of the Church to assist us in constructive theology.

We need not jettison the aforementioned work when constructing an apologetic for the Christian faith. There is no question you or anyone else can ask regarding Christianity that has not already been raised and addressed in some form or fashion in church history. Stop being arrogant and start standing on the shoulders of giants. It is precisely because they miss the place of historical theology in apologetics that most unbelievers build such downright awful cases against Christianity. They are not actually attacking Christianity. They do not actually know Christianity. It’s not as though modern unbelievers are the first people to raise the questions or make the attacks they have. They are just generally ignorant of history. Familiarity with the God of history in church history is therefore an essential aspect of an effective biblical apologetic.