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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Apologetics is a necessary discipline for the Christian faith. Jesus and the apostle Paul regularly defended their beliefs through rational arguments. The apostle Peter tells us to be ready to give a reason for the hope we have in Christ (1 Pet. 3:15). This lost world needs to hear and believe the gospel of God, so, when unbelievers ask questions about the truth and rationality of Christianity, we must be ready with sufficient answers, trusting in the Holy Spirit to apply the message to their souls (Acts 1:8). - Douglas Groothuis

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Sarah Geis, MA, an Affiliate Faculty Member at Denver Seminary, will join me for the question-answer time after my lecture on "Spiritual formation and the life of the mind," to be given at Denver Seminary tomorrow at 7:00 PM. This event is sponsored by The Gordon Lewis Center for Christian Thought and Culture. This event is free and open to the public. A five page outline will be provided as well as other free materials.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Renew Your Mind

Decide for Yourself: A Community Course at Denver Seminary

Are you interested in deepening your understanding of the Christian worldview? Sign up for our eight-week class on the fundamentals of Christian theology and philosophy. The class will run from 6:45-8pm on Tuesday nights, and will be held on the Denver Seminary campus. We will use Dr. Gordon Lewis's excellent book, "Decide for Yourself: A Theological Workbook." This course will be taught by a hand-picked group of some of our very best seminary students, alumni, and professors. The learning level will be geared toward adults, but will also be suitable for mature high school students. If you can think of someone who may benefit from this course, please let them know soon. We have 20 seats available. 

Dates: Tuesdays, February 11th through April 1st
Time: 6:45-8pm
Cost: $15 per person (textbook included)
If you or someone you know will have difficulty paying the $15, ask us about scholarships. 

To register, please email The Lewis Center director Douglas Groothuis ( or associate director Sarah Geis ( with "Decide for Yourself" in the subject line. 

Upcoming Event: Spiritual Formation and the Life of the Mind

Join The Lewis Center for our first event of the spring semester. On Mondaynight, February 3rd, Dr. Douglas Groothuis will explore how philosophy, theology, and the Christian spiritual life relate. There will be a question and answer time after the lecture. We hope to see you there! 

Cost: Free
Time: 7pm 
Location: Room 100B on the Denver Seminary campus (6399 South Santa Fe Drive, Littleton, CO, 80120)

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Teach as if what you said counted for Eternity. It does.
Teach as if your students were eternal. They are.
Teach as if God were your audience. He is.

About ten years ago, a prospective student recently wrote to Denver Seminary. He was alarmed by our vision statement, which speaks of defending “absolute truth” in our postmodern world. Being favorable to postmodernism (through reading Brian McClaren’s book, A New Kind of Christian), he was wary of believing in absolute truth. This view would stifle our witness to non-Christians and hinder Christian growth, since those who believe in absolute truth think they have it all figured out.
This reveals that postmodernism is seducing the church as well as the world. Christians authors tell us not to emphasize biblical truth as objective and absolute. Instead, we should underscore the life of our community and tell the Christian story. According to McLaren, it is wrongheaded modern view to try to prove other religions wrong. We should rather try to be good and not worry so much about being right. (However, McClaren is concerned throughout the book to prove supposedly “modern” Christian are wrong.)

McLaren’s thinking issues the death sentence for apologetics: God’s call to defend our faith as true, rational, and compelling in the face of intellectual objections (1 Peter 5:15-17; Jude 3). One leading challenge to Christian faith—and to the idea of truth itself—is postmodernism itself.
Postmodern philosophies claim that truth is constructed by communities and shaped by language and social structures of power. There really is no truth “out there” above us.  Richard Rorty claims that no “vocabulary” (or worldview) is any closer to reality than any other—although he presents his own view as an improvement over opposing views. Truth is merely what his colleagues let him get away with. Few Christians make such bald claims, but one Christian writer recently published a chapter called, “There is No Such Thing as Objective Truth and It’s a Good Thing, Too.” Other Christian leaders join the chorus and instruct us to leave a strong emphasis on truth and apologetics behind. 
Yet without a clear view of the nature of truth and a rational defense of Christianity as true our witness will be paralyzed. We should tell our stories and invite people to join our communities. But Mormons, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, New Agers and others in our pluralistic world will tell their stories and beckon souls into their communities, too. What makes us different? As apologist Francis Schaeffer often said, the purpose of Christian community is to serve the God of truth with all our being. Truth should constitute our identity as Christians, individually and corporately. Jesus prayed to the Father, “Sanctify them by the truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:17).
The Hebrew and Greek words for “truth” in Scripture have deep meanings, but they all center on the idea of factuality and accuracy. To put it more philosophically (but not unbiblically), a true statement corresponds with reality or fits the facts. Christian faith must fit the great facts of the Christian story or it is false and hopeless. Paul said that if we hope in Christ and his resurrection and Christ is not risen our faith is in pointless and misleading. It must be historical, factual, and reliable (1 Corinthians 15). Our confidence in the gospel is based on objective facts. We believe these them because they are true; our believing them does not make them true. Christians do find their faith to be subjectively compelling. However, these beliefs are existentially gripping only because they lay rightly claim to realities about our selves, our world, and our God.
But can we say that Christianity is absolutely true? Many professed Christians get philosophical cold feet at this point. Recent polls show that upwards of sixty percent of “Christians,” like our prospective student, deny the existence of absolute truth.

An absolute has no exemptions or qualifications. Jesus affirmed an absolute truth about himself: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6; see also Matthew 11:27). Paul echoes this when he claims that there is but one mediator between God and humanity, Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:4). Peter preached that salvation is found in Jesus alone (Acts 4:8-12). This absolute truth gives us a trustworthy point of reference, Jesus Christ, who is he same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).  It is no arbitrary pronouncement, but a claim based on good evidence from the incomparable life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and found in historically reliable documents (Luke 1:1-4; 2 Peter 1:16).
Defending and living in accord with this objective and absolute truth does not imply we have absolutely mastered all the truth or all biblical truth. We bear witness to the absolute truth, but we are not absolute! No church or denomination perfectly captures biblical truth, but that is the goal.  Nor does belief in absolute truth mean we can easily convince doubters of this truth, but we should try. Nevertheless, we must marshal truth-claims and humbly present the arguments and evidence given for the uniqueness and finality of Jesus Christ—as well as for all the defining doctrines of Christian faith. Otherwise, we fail to be true to the truth that sets the captives free.
--Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D., is Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary and the author of several books, including Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against the Challenges of Postmodernism (InterVarsity Press, 2000) and Christian Apologetics (InterVarsity Press, 2011).

Friday, January 18, 2013

How to Not Be an Existentialist

Gary Cox, How to Be an Existentialist. Or How to Get Real, Get a Grip, and Stop Making Excuses.  Great Britain: Continuum, 2009. 123 pages. Hardback. ISBN-10: 1441139877; ISBN-13: 978-1441139870.
HowtobeanExistentialistExistentialism, although not in its heyday, is not dead. It claims that God is dead and that man is alone, permanently alienated in an absurd universe. Recent books and articles seem to attempt to revive the philosophy initiated in post-war Germany and France in the 1950s and 1960s. Francis Schaeffer interacted with the leading atheistic existentialists of his day, such as Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and Karl Jaspers (see The God Who is There[InterVarsity, 1968] and How Shall We Then Live? [Fleming Revel, 1976]). But many claim postmodernism has taken over the helm from existentialism as the more appealing and trendy secular philosophy—at least for those not committed to philosophical materialism of the tough-minded sort. For example, Richard Dawkins would claim neither existentialism nor postmodernism as his worldview.
Gary Cox, a proud atheistic existentialist, has written a brief and punchy treatise calledHow to Be an Existentialist: Or How to Get Real, Get a Grip, and Stop Making Excuses. The subtitle may prove attractive to those tired of victimology, psychobabble whining, and the naturalistic determinism that claims we have no free will. The cleverness of Cox’s title and book is that he defends existentialism in a how-to format, a genre enormously attractive to Americans with their optimistic proclivities. But this mood comes as a bit of a shock, since atheistic existentialism typically affirms the grim story of a meaningless (because godless) universe in which there is no life after death, and no divine guidance. To cite Sartre, we are “condemned to be free,” and man exists as a “useless passion”
Unlike postmodernism, which tends to emphasize culturally-formed beliefs at the expense of individual choice (“the disappearance of the subject”) without appealing to objective truth, atheistic existentialism tries to root itself in objective truth and place the individual in the driver’s seat. There are no supernatural consolations. You are responsible for your life. Meaning is in your own dying hands. Enjoy it while it lasts. Or, as Cox, sums up his thesis in the last sentence of the book, “Life has only the meaning you chose to give it” (113). (Please do not let the aspiring pedophiles, Nazis, sadists, rapists, and their ilk know about this philosophy.)
While many existentialist works are bulky tomes suffused with technical vocabulary (often including vexing neologisms) and convoluted reasoning, Cox’s book is crisp and clear. He knows the works of the big boys (particularly Sartre), but he can bring the gist of it to the masses.
Cox is exclusively concerned with atheistic existentialism, although various theists have claimed the mantle, such Martin Buber, Gabriel Marcel; and, most influentially, S├śren Kierkegaard. But Cox spends little time attacking theism. He pronounces God dead, and then teaches us how to celebrate after the funeral.
There lies the first devastating defect. The case for theism is strong and getting stronger through scientific evidence (courtesy of the Intelligent Design movement) and philosophical argument. All the classic arguments for God’s existence have been refined and strengthened in recent decades. (See Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics [InterVarsity Press, 2011], chapters 9-17.)
However, Cox is correct that without God, everything changes. We cannot cling to uniquely theistically-based beliefs, if we deny theism itself. As Friedrich Nietzsche wrote in his parable called “The Madman” in The Gay Science, when we stop believing in God, our entire view of ourselves and the universe changes radically. There are no objective standards for goodness. There is no meaning to history.
But there is a very simple and direct critique of Cox’s program of meaning- making and personal responsibility in an absurd universe.
  1. Because there is no God, everything is absurd. (Cox takes Sartre’s position on this, as opposed to that of some atheists who try to find objective moral meaning.)
  2. Humans are simply parts of the godless and absurd universe.
  3. The part shares the quality of the whole.
  4. Therefore (a), there is no room for meaning-making or personal responsibility.
  5. Therefore (b), everything I do is absurd, including my “choices.”
This is deductively valid argument.  If the premises are true, then the conclusion must be true. Cox falls into the same philosophical trap as Sartre (his hero): They posit the radical freedom of human beings in an otherwise determined and meaningless world. As apologist Cornelius Van Til would say, this is akin to building “a ladder of water.” When Sartre was once pressed as to how meaningful human freedom could emerge from an impersonal and material world, he simply replied that it was “a mysterious upsurge of freedom.” This is hardly an explanation.
As Albert Camus said, existentialism attempts to transcend nihilism, the worldview that says everything (human choices included) is absurd and pointless. The German philosopher, Max Stirner, embraced this worldview, as did some twentieth century painters. However, this attempt to transcend nihilism misses the mark, since there is no basis on which to dignify the human person, according to atheism. Materialism leads to nihilism, and there is no exit.
Christianity, on the other hand, teaches that humans are made in God’s image and likeness, are placed into a world of objective meaning given by God, and are morally responsible to God for all their thoughts and actions. The existentialist objects that this limits human “freedom.” But it only limits autonomy from God, which is hardly meaningful freedom. This attempted autonomy from God—wherein the human will arrogantly claim supremacy—only ends in a vain attempt to transcend the prison of an impersonal, immaterial, and purposeless universe that is, in the words of Bertrand Russell, “just there.”
Therefore, however breathless or pugnacious Cox’s advice may be, it is built on sand; and, as Jesus said, the building cannot stand (Matthew 7:24-27). Or in the words of the Psalmist:
Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain (Psalm 127:1).
Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D.
Professor of Philosophy
Denver Seminary
January 2013

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Love God With Your Mind

Our churches are filled with Christians who are idling in intellectual neutral. As Christians, their minds are going to waste. One result of this is an immature, superficial faith. People who simply ride the roller coaster of emotional experience are cheating themselves out of a deeper and richer Christian faith by neglecting the intellectual side of that faith. They know little of the riches of deep understanding of Christian truth, of the confidence inspired by the discovery that one's faith is logical and fits the facts of experience, of the stability brought to one's life by the conviction that one's faith is objectively true. - William Lane Craig in Passionate Conviction.
LoveGodMindJ.P. Moreland’s masterful book is an apt antidote to what his distinguished colleague, William Lane Craig laments in the quote above. After reading Love Your God With All Your Mind attentively (with all electronic devices turned off), one will begin to know, by the grace of the Spirit of Truth (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13), the “riches of [a] deep understanding of Christian truth.”
As a long-time Christian philosopher and apologist, when I read the first edition of this book, I was thrilled because the author, one of the most important and astute Christian philosophers of our day, developed a thorough, readable, deeply challenging spirituality of the sanctified intellect. More than that, I have used this modern classic as a textbook in many classes for many years, and I often recommend it as a tonic to the anti-intellectualism and fideism that sadly plagues much of Evangelicalism in the United States.
The spirit of the second edition does not differ from the first (published in 1997), and much of the material is repeated. However, Moreland, who is distinguished professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, has added two new chapters that give an apologetic for Christianity from natural theology and the evidence for the deity and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Although seasoned readers of Moreland (as I have been, since Scaling the Secular City [1987]), will find much that is familiar here; chapters seven through nine set forth a muscular and articulate defense of essential biblical truths. Despite having read many of the arguments before, I discovered some profound new arguments to add to my apologetic quiver. Especially fascinating was the edition of a three-page argument from natural beauty to the existence of a divine Artist (175-177). This species of natural theology has not been adequately addressed in recent literature, to my knowledge.
The book is divided into four parts: (1) Why the Mind Matters in Christianity, (2) How to Develop a Mature Christian Mind, (3) What a Mature Christian Mind Looks Like, (4) Guaranteeing a Future for the Christian Mind. It also includes a long Appendix by Joe Gorra “on recommended resources” and another on “recommended organizations.” Rather than summarizing each section, I will highlight some of the many strengths of this volume.
First, like the apologist, philosopher, evangelist, and social critic and activist, Francis Schaeffer (1912-84), Moreland has a passion for the living God, for truth, for pertinent communication to our generation, for people, and for the objective truth of the Bible. (On this, see James Sire’s noteworthy introduction to the 30th anniversary edition of Schaeffer’s landmark book, The God Who is There [1998].) While Moreland, like Schaeffer, has the spiritual gift of evangelism, he is, unlike Schaeffer, a professional philosopher of the highest caliber, having written a voluminous corpus of work in the philosophy of religion, ethics, metaphysics, philosophy of science, and more. And unlike some prolific evangelical authors (who shall remain nameless), these works are all impressive and worthwhile. But unlike most philosophers, Moreland has also written articles and books for the popular audience. For example, his book, The God Question: An Invitation to a Life of Meaning (Harvest House, 2009), is a marvelous apologetic aimed at the common thinking person. I could go on by citing The Virtue of Happiness and many more.
Second, Love Your God With All Your Mind is peppered with real-life examples from Moreland’s impressive ministry experience of over forty years. (In this, it resembles Schaeffer’s The God Who is There.) Before becoming a full-time academic, Moreland planted two churches and worked with Campus Crusade. Even after entering the scholarly world full-time, he continues to reach out to the world around him in many creative ways. This challenges the reader to not only develop a Christian mind, but to faithfully apply it to all of culture under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
Third, while intellectually fertile on a theoretical level, the book is replete with specific examples and exhortations on how to cultivate the life of the mind for the cause of Christ. Moreland spends some time on the concept of intellectual virtue, appealing (without addressing the scholarly details) to what is called “virtue epistemology”—a practice Jesus himself defends (see chapter five of my book, On Jesus [Wadsworth, 2003]). I find this practical emphasis (rooted in intellectual wealth) to be rare in books on the Christian mind and cultural engagement. For example, Moreland urges us to pay scrupulous attention to our grammar when we speak, and to hold others linguistically accountable for this as well. This is no curmudgeonly pet peeve for the good professor. As Moreland says to those who resist his advice, “Isn’t a developed intellectual love for God worth the price of an initial embarrassment at such correction. After all, the alternative is to continue to allow one another to speak incorrectly and fail to realize the intellectual benefits that come from the correct use of language” (129). Moreland also offers sagacious advice concerning adult education in the church, preaching, and outreach. For example, he rightly advises that Christian education be made intellectually rich by requiring texts, assignments, and a fee for attending. This adds weight to what otherwise is often no more than a Christian coffee and donuts clutch.
A short review cannot do justice to a book long on knowledge, reason, wisdom, and passion for the Kingdom of God. Therefore, read it—and reread it. Then apply it for the glory of God.