We will sing this hymn each month during the month of May. Based on Psalm 130, this hymn is a believing cry to the Lord in the midst of trouble. It is a declaration of patient hope from a dark place, and a commitment to trust in our immutably good God whose word never fails. "More than the watchman waits for dawn, my soul waits for the Lord."
This is a list of ways pride is manifested, taken from Chris Moles’s book, The Heart of Domestic Abuse: Gospel Solutions for Men Who Use Control and Violence in the Home (50-54). Some of the points are paraphrased in my words. The numbering does not match the book’s.
1. Anger. because my rights or expectations are not being met.
2. Better than thou. The proud person sees themself as better and smarter than others. A constantly critical spirit reveals this attitude.
3. Talking too much. Proud people talk a lot because they think what they have to say is more important than what anyone else has to say.
4. Seeking Independence or Control. Proud people don’t like submitting to authority; they have to be in charge. They have to have it their way. They don’t like accountability; they won’t be told what to do.
5. Unteachable. Proud people know it all. Their opinions are always right. They don’t understand because they won’t understand.
6. Hurtful. Proud people are unkind to others. They belittle others to control or build themselves up. Very often hurtful words are guised as jesting.
7. Lack of service. Proud people don’t serve others unless they will get recognition for their service.
8. Lack of compassion. Proud people are self-centered; they are rarely concerned about others. Self-serving motives are usually behind the occasions a proud persons shows concern for another.
9. Unable to admit you are wrong. A proud person always has an excuse.
10. Blame-shifting. If the proud person is caught in a wrong, they are quick to shift the blame to someone else: “I’m sorry, but you shouldn’t have said or done that.”
11. Voicing opinions when not asked. A proud person can’t keep their views to themselves. Conversations quickly turn into opportunities for the prideful to express their opinions. These expressions usually involve putting others down.
12. Minimizing your own sin. Proud people make much of the faults of others and little of their own. Other people are always the problem.
13. Using others. Proud people view others in terms of what those people can do for them. Everything is for them and about them.
14. Deceitful. Some proud people will do or say just about anything in order for others not to find out negative things about them.
15. Using attention-getting tactics. Proud people employ various methods for getting attention. Complaining, grumbling, always talking about their problems, outbursts of anger, sulking, self-pity, bizarre behavior, etc.
16. Not having close relationships. Proud people don’t experience real intimacy or friendship. They are either too self-sufficient to invest in another or they just use people.
Guest Post by Dr. Bob McKelvey
Here is a link to Dr. John H. Gerstner's last message, "How the Saint Lives" - First time available online! It was delivered on 3/17/1996 (one week before he went on to glory at the age of 81) at a conference. "All by the Grace of God," at Westminster Reformed Church of Johnstown, PA. Gerstner taught Church History at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary as an ardent defender of not only Reformed theology but also evangelical Christianity. He is famous for his mentorship of the late R.C. Sproul, who regarded Gerstner as having the greatest impact on his life not only as a theologian but also a Christian.
Ever read a book written by a Puritan? It’s not an easy read, for sure. But if you can get past the difference in language and writing style, it’s well worth it. The Puritan paperbacks published by Banner of Truth are Christ-centered, practical-theological, and deeply biblical. If you’re interested but not sure where to start, let me recommend Thomas Brook’s, Precious Remedies against Satan’s Devices. Here’s a very brief overview.
Precious Remedies was written to identify the ploys of the devil and counter them with gospel truth. Brooks warns: “Satan hath several devices to deceive, entangle, and undo the souls of men” (26). In other words, Satan employs numerous strategies with a singular objective — to destroy men and women. The devil employs snares tailored to his target. He has “snares for the wise and snares for the simple; snares for hypocrites, and snares for the upright; snares for generous souls, and snares for timorous souls; snares for the rich, and snares for the poor; snares for the aged; and snares for youth” (28). Therefore, Christians must put on the whole armor of God (Eph. 6:11). But it’s not just believers Satan aims to harm. He wants to lead every soul away from God into eternal destruction along the pathway of sin.
The first major section of the book describes twelve schemes the devil uses to draw people into sin. After stating each device, Brooks explains specific biblical remedies. The various ploys of the devil prove he deserves the name “deceiver.” He lures people to sin by “presenting the bait and hiding the hook,” by “presenting God to the soul as One made up all of mercy,” by “persuading the soul that repentance is easy,” by focusing peoples’ attention on the supposed benefits of living in sin and the sure suffering of living for God, and by entreating people to compare themselves to others regarded as worse sinners in order to justify themselves.
The next section identifies the strategies of Satan for keeping believers from trusting and obeying the Lord. Satan dresses up the world in glamorous garb and struts it before the believer; he presents the “crosses and losses” of Christian discipleship; he presents the challenges of living the Christian life; he highlights the humiliation of believers; he tempts the saints to trust in their religious performance as grounds for pardon and acceptance with God.
Many will find the following section particularly insightful and helpful. It outlines the various ways Satan keeps Christians in a “sad, doubting, questioning, and uncomfortable condition.” In other words, Brooks helps the reader understand how Satan works to diminish the assurance and joy of believers. Some of the strategies of Satan include: tempting the believer to fixate on their sin instead of the Savior of sinners; leading believers to false and despairing conclusions from hard providences; suggesting that a Christian’s graces are counterfeit; reminding the believer of his “relapses into sin formerly repented of and prayed against.”
The next two sections deal with Satan’s devices to destroy all sorts of people — the rich and poor, powerful and weak, wise and foolish. Christians will want to give due attention to Satan’s device against the saints in the section. One of the primary ways Satan attacks the church is by “dividing them and causing them to bite and devour one another.”
In an appendix, Brooks describes five more devices of Satan, seven characters of false teachers, six propositions concerning Satan and his devices, and a conclusion with ten special helps for fighting against the wiles of the devil. The five devices mentioned in the appendix are common spiritual struggles which every pastor encounters in ministry. How should pastors counsel people who says things like: “I’m too great a sinner to ever go to Christ,” or “I need to reach a certain level of remorse and repentance before I’m fit for Christ,” or “I don’t believe Christ desires to save someone like me,” or “I’m uncertain I’m elect.” Brooks equips readers with gospel truths to overcome these ploys of the evil one.
This brief overview focused on Satan’s devices. Brooks would encourage us to go on now to meditate on Christ and the precious remedies he supplies so that by the grace of the Lord Jesus, God will crush Satan under our feet (Rom. 16:20).
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The Missions and Outreach Committee (MOC) exists to serve and equip the congregation to be involved in the work of local outreach and worldwide missions. To that end, MOC has been discussing how we can effectively encourage congregational involvement in the work of the Great Commission. We have established several concrete goals we’d like to share with you. We have also developed practical plans for meeting these goals by God’s grace.
Regarding local outreach, our goal as a committee is to encourage and equip the congregation to reach their friends, family, and neighbors for Christ. The steps towards reaching the goal are: (1) Familiarize our church with Christianity Explored (CE) in an Adult Sunday school course; (2) Begin annually hosting CE courses, ideally in a church member’s home. Each year we would like to host a CE Bible study in a different neighborhood in the Johnstown area. CE is a reliable curriculum which leads people through the Gospel of Mark. Other congregations have found it to be a helpful tool for local outreach. Using CE annually is one small step we encourage taking together as we move towards being more proactive in the work of evangelism.
Another goal the committee established is to promote regular and earnest prayer for missions and outreach among the congregation. To reach that goal, a member of MOC will begin regularly updating the missions prayer list printed in the bulletin to help you pray for our missionaries. Secondly, we will begin devoting some corporate Sunday evening prayer times to praying for our missionaries, the work of missions, and local outreach. A member of MOC will create a prayer guide for those occasions to help everyone participate. The work of missions and evangelism is the work of the triune God through his people; therefore, we must be earnest in prayer, asking God to bless the work of his people.
A third goal relates to our long term plans and international missions. While we are eager to support mission works around the world, MOC is taking steps toward adopting a particular part of the world as a place where we will intentionally seek to advance the gospel. We want to concentrate the resources of Trinity to further the work of the Great Commission in an area of the world where there is urgent need for church-planting and discipleship. The committee is in the early stages of identifying an area of the world where we can get involved. Once a mission partnership is established, we would like to begin sending members of Trinity onto the mission field for short-term visits to support, encourage, and help our long-term missionaries. This will also enable our members to report back to us on the progress of the work. We will keep you informed as the committee continues to take steps forward to meeting this long term goal.
The work of the Great Commission isn’t finished! God has placed us together in Johnstown to reach others for Christ. God has also called us to participate in and support the work of sending ambassadors to the ends of the earth to proclaim Christ and summon people to enter into his kingdom by faith and repentance. May the Lord enable us to be a disciple-making, church-planting church.
For Christ and His Kingdom,
The Missions & Outreach Committee
At Trinity we are committed to singing psalms and Bible-based hymns and songs. We love to sing the God-inspired psalms, and we delight in singing biblically saturated hymns and songs.
Historically, psalms have been central to the prayers and praise of God’s people. Sadly, psalm singing has fallen on hard times in recent years, but that’s changing. Christians are realizing afresh the joy of singing psalms. The psalms point us to Christ and describe the Christian life. The psalter is also the hymnbook Jesus grew up singing. And before that, these are the songs believers in the Old Testament sang together in worship. When we sing the psalms, we stand in line with that great tradition going back thousands of years.
Another reason to appreciate psalm singing: they express the full scope of the Christian experience. John Calvin called the psalms an anatomy of the human soul. Contained in the psalms are songs of praise, thanksgiving, repentance, lament, and more. There are songs for every occasion and every emotion. There are psalms of praise and rejoicing as well as songs for broken-hearted, lonely, victimized, and depressed Christians. In the psalms, God has given his people words to express our joy and delight in God as well as the deepest pains and disappointments in the context of worship. If the biblical psalms are to be seen as normative for the Christian life and worship, then there is surely an unhelpful and unhealthy imbalance in many churches where songs of lament have virtually disappeared. As someone recently asked, “What can miserable Christians sing?” The answer is the psalms, a divinely inspired hymnbook.
The hymnal portion of the TPH is also a tremendous resource for singing. It is a slimmed down version of the Trinity Hymnal. Whereas the Trinity Hymnal contained 742 hymns, the TPH has 424. The goal was to keep the best hymns of the past as well as add many newer, contemporary songs. 65 new hymns have been added that were not in the Trinity Hymnal. Because of our commitment to singing the psalms and the best Bible-based hymns from the past and present, the TPH is a ideal resource for our worship.
This is why I am delighted to introduce the Trinity Psalter Hymnal (TPH). It will give us opportunity to sing the Bible’s own hymnbook along with many old and new hymns we enjoy singing together. On Sunday we begin using the TPH in worship. My hope is that we will quickly come to appreciate this resource for worship. May the Lord use this Psalter-Hymnal to help us worship our triune God together!
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
- Colossians 3:16
For an upcoming course, one of my assignments is to summarize my philosophy of preaching in less than two pages. I was to write it as if addressing another pastor. Here's my attempt.
Philosophy of Preaching
The preaching of the Word is an ordinance of God for the gathering and perfecting of the saints. Faithful preaching is marked by the following characteristics.
Prayerful Preaching. Preaching is spiritual labor. You ought to prepare and preach in reliance upon the Spirit. Every sermon should be bathed in prayer.
Studied Preaching. “Preaching requires much study, meditation, and prayer, and ministers should prepare their sermons with care, and not indulge themselves in loose, extemporary harangues, nor serve God with that which costs them naught.” Pastors should also keep their studies in the study. Hearers do not need to hear every detail about the pastor’s exegetical labors. When baking bread, the ingredients and cooking are done in the kitchen (the pastor’s study); the sermon should be presented as the baked bread served fresh to the people of God.
Consecutive Expository Preaching. By consecutive I mean systematically working through a book of the Bible verse-by-verse, chapter-by-chapter. This should be the ordinary method of preaching because over time it sets before the people the whole counsel of God. It sets forth God’s character and the person and work of Christ in all of Scripture. It forces you to deal with the hard parts of the Bible. It gives a healthy variety to preaching. It sets your preaching schedule. It keeps you off your hobby horses.
By expository I mean “preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2). Preach the Bible from the Bible. What is preached should be drawn from a specific text. Therefore the sermon should ordinarily be tethered to a specific text of Scripture. The goal is to expound that pericope and apply it to the hearts and lives of hearers.
God-centered Preaching. Major on the greatness and majesty of God. Preach what has been called a “big-God theology.” Common to preaching today is an emphasis on man and man’s problems. We need to hear more about God and see ourselves and our problems in light of who he is.
Christ-filled Preaching. The person and work of Christ is the substance and goal of Scripture. Every sermon should point and lead to, set forth and exalt the Lord Jesus Christ.
Didactic Preaching. Preaching and teaching are not synonyms. But faithful preaching includes instruction. Teach people the doctrines of the Christian faith. The need for sound teaching is urgent in our time. Positively to equip the saints with the truth; negatively to guard against false teaching within and without the church. People need to learn how to think Christianly, with a biblical worldview.
Plain Preaching. Plain isn’t simplistic. Plain, clear preaching is not easy to achieve, but it’s what people need. Aim to be understood. Don’t obsess over theological debates or fads. Don’t use the pulpit to show off your learning. Focus on the fundamentals of the faith. Devote yourself to clarity. Proclaim the gospel in language that can be understood by all. That’s not to say you shouldn’t use theological terms (i.e., justification, sanctification, union with Christ, etc), but strive to ensure the people understand what those words mean.
Expectant Preaching. Believe that preaching is a God-ordained means of grace. Trust that the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword. Speak with the conviction that by the power of the Spirit the gospel saves and transforms lives.
Experiential and Transformational Preaching. The last course I took in the DMin program was taught by Dr. Joel Beeke. He argued that the greatest weakness in Reformed preaching today is a lack of experiential preaching. Experiential preaching aims to apply biblical truth to all of the Christian life and experience as well as the unbeliever’s life and experience. The goal of experiential preaching is the conformity of believers in all of life to Jesus Christ. Experiential preaching is drawing back the arrow (God’s word) and aiming for the heart. It’s applicatory preaching — bringing home the truth of God to the lives of the people of God. Experiential preaching is motivated by the conviction that doctrine is for life. It aims for authentic Christianity lived out through the saving power of the Spirit, not a false Christianity in mere religious forms and empty words.
By transformational, I mean Spirit-wrought change worked through the ministry of the word, evidenced in us through lives of faith and repentance, mortification and vivification. God intends to conform us to Jesus, and a chief way he accomplishes that purpose is the Word rightly preached, faithfully heard, diligently applied and worked out.
Evangelistic Preaching. Salvation is the work of God, and he is pleased to use preaching to save sinners to the praise of his glorious grace. Preach for the conversion of men and women, boys and girls. Call people to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. Set forth and offer Christ freely to all.
Grave Preaching. There ought to be a weightiness to preaching. Matters of life and death, eternal blessing and eternal damnation are before the congregation. Preach earnestly and urgently. When John Bunyan depicted the minister in The Pilgrim’s Progress,
Christian saw a picture of a very grave person hanging on the wall. This is what the man in the picture looked like: he had eyes lifted up to Heaven, the best of books in his hand, the law of truth upon his lips, the world behind his back. He stood as if pleading with men, and a crown of gold hung upon his head.
Supported Preaching. Your life, in full reliance upon the Spirit of Christ, ought to commend what you preach. In public and private, the preacher’s conduct should be consistent with his preaching. This includes modeling repentance in the home and church.
How should this philosophy of preaching impact pastoral ministry? Preaching must be a priority. You cannot be a faithful minister without faithfully ministering the Word. Other necessary pastoral responsibilities and unrealistic expectations placed on the pastor should not distract from this great task. You must be committed to feeding the flock (John 21:15). Faithful preaching leads the flock each Lord’s Day to the green pastures of God’s Word where the sheep are fed with the life-giving Word of God. It is God’s Word that gives life to, sustains, and nourishes the flock of God.
Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, First Mariner Books, 2006.
The God Delusion (2006) is a passionate diatribe against religious faith, particularly the Christian faith. Richard Dawkins begins by attempting to show that the traditional arguments for the existence of the Judeo-Christian God are “vacuous” and “infantile.” Next, he offers his own kind of proof for the non-existence of God. His main argument against the existence of God is that “any God capable of designing a universe…tuned to lead to our evolution, must be a supremely complex and improbable entity who needs an even bigger explanation than the one he is supposed to provide.” The assumption made in the argument is that a being capable of creating a complex universe is at least, if not more, complex than the universe itself. Furthermore, complexity is related to probability – the more complex, the less probable. Therefore, God almost certainly does not exist. After making his case for a godless universe, Dawkins offers a purely natural explanation for the origins of religion and morality. Dawkins then critiques the (im)morality of the Christian Scriptures. Finally, Dawkins dedicates a chapter to justifying his overt hostility toward religion. Hostility is warranted, even required, because religion is dangerous; it is the cause of widespread ignorance, pernicious evil, blatant bigotry and grotesque violence. The book concludes by arguing that implanting religion into the mind of an innocent child is a grievous wrong, tantamount to child abuse.
Evaluating the Moral Argument Against the Existence of God
The book is full of moral claims. Dawkins aims to refute Christianity on a scientific level in other books, but the arguments of this book are primarily moral arguments. Therefore, this brief review will narrow the focus to some of the moral assumptions and accusations found throughout the book. Basically, Dawkins articulates a two-pronged moral argument. First, we don’t need God for morality because the origin of morality can be explained by Darwinian evolution. Second, the morality of the Bible and therefore Christianity is primitive, abhorrent, and evil. It’s past time for it to go.
Let’s begin with the first part of the argument – God isn’t necessary for morality because our convictions about right and wrong originate in our evolutionary past. Admittedly, Darwinian evolution appears unfit to explain moral virtue. Natural selection and the so-called “selfish-gene” would seem to work against admirable moral behavior. However, closer examination of how these principles work evidences how humans developed a sense of right and wrong. Here are three Darwinian reasons that explain the roots of morality.
The first reason is “kin altruism.” This means that genes have programed certain organisms to care for similar organisms for the sake of their own survival. Dawkins writes, “Genes ensure their own selfish survival by influencing organisms to behave altruistically” (247). We behave for self-preservation. Secondly, there is reciprocal altruism: “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” (247-48). Do good to others because then they will do good to you; harm others and they will harm you. Third, a good reputation has survival value, especially among a species that has developed the ability to communicate verbally. Having a bad reputation makes for a hard life. Therefore, being morally “upright” has social benefits. According to Dawkins, then, we have been programmed by evolutionary processes to be moral for the sake of survival. These Darwinian reasons for moral behavior explain the origin of morality, and so he concludes: “We now have...reasons for individuals to be altruistic, generous or ‘moral’ towards each other” (251).
In summary, morality is hard-wired into human nature by evolutionary process. Therefore, God and religion are unnecessary to explain morality. Dawkins cites research to tighten his argument. The research indicated that there is no substantial difference in the way individuals of varying religious backgrounds, including atheists, react to moral dilemmas. The similar moral responses are explained by our genetic disposition to act a certain way, not religious belief.
Below are four counter-arguments from a Christian perspective.
First, a hard-wired morality is consistent with a Christian worldview. An inner sense of moral obligation, instead of a product of Darwinian evolution, is the result of every person being made in the image of God. We are moral creatures by nature, though our sense of what is right and wrong has been distorted sense the fall. Nevertheless, every person has a God-given conscience and the moral law of God is written on their hearts (Romans 2:15). This explains why people of varying religious backgrounds may act in a similar way; all human beings have an innate, undeniable sense of morality, whether or not they believe in God.
Second, the Dawkins-Darwinian model of morality doesn’t have a basis for real moral obligation. Surely, Dawkins would affirm that we should be kind and do good to others, but how do you get moral obligation from impersonal evolutionary processes? Even if we grant for the sake of argument that morality is the product of Darwinian-evolution, there is still no ground for moral obligation. Moral “ought” does not exist in Dawkins’s world.
Third, Dawkins has no way of defining right and wrong, good and evil. Just ask the question: On the basis of Dawkins’s worldview, would it be it morally wrong for me to harm others if it preserved my gene pool? If morality arose from unguided genetic programming for the sake of survival, is anything immoral if it’s done for the sake of kin preservation? We instinctively say “Yes!” but that’s because we are image bearers of God, not meat machines just trying to survive.
Fourth, Dawkins’s explanation of morality undermines moral virtue and altruism. When someone does good or shows love to another, in reality, according to Dawkins, that person is acting selfishly. All good acts are ultimately selfish acts. All love is ultimately self-serving. Dawkins anticipates this objection: “Do not, for one moment, think of such Darwinizing as demeaning or reductive of the noble emotions of compassion and generosity” (253). But such Darwinizing is demeaning and reductive because it reduces all virtue to self-preservation.
Take altruistic acts as an example – making costly sacrifices for the sake of others. Some readers will have seen the image of the brave man who used his own body as a human shield to protect a woman during the recent Las Vegas mass-shooting. How does Darwinian morality explain such an act? Answer: it’s an evolutionary misfire. Kin altruism – a genetic disposition which developed while man was a clan creature – took over, as it were, but it was misdirected to a stranger. Thus, the man in Las Vegas was motivated by an evolutionary mistake.
Can we explain morality without God? It depends on what we mean by “without God.” We can intellectually reject the existence of God but still have a sense of morality because we live in God’s moral universe and we remain moral creatures made in his image with an innate, God-given sense of right and wrong. But without God, in Dawkins’s world, there is no basis for moral obligation, no way of objectively defining right and wrong, and the moral virtue which we praise and admire is reduced to self-preservation or evolutionary misfires.
In recent years, the worldview Dawkins argues for has gained plausibility, at least among certain groups living in the Western world. However, its moral implications are often ignored. Could that be because its moral implications are undesirable and, in fact, unlivable? This is not to suggest that Dawkins is wrong just because we don’t like where the worldview leads. Rather, it is to argue that people intuitively know that morality is more than self-preservation and that altruistic acts are more than evolutionary misfires. That human intuition is not an evolutionary illusion; it’s a God-given awareness. We perceive that there is more to morality than kin altruism, reciprocal altruism, and maintaining a good reputation. And even if we deny it on the intellectual level, we at least live as though there are moral obligations, objective moral norms, and self-sacrificing moral actions that cannot be reduced to evolutionary mistakes.
What about the other side of the moral argument that Christian morality – based on the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments – is primitive, abhorrent and evil? Many responses can and should be made, but one will have to suffice here.
A Christian apologist by the name of Cornelius Van Til once wrote, “Anti-theism presupposes theism.” Dawkins illustrates the point Van Til so economically stated. Notice, when Dawkins argues that Christian Scripture is immoral, he presupposes certain things are true in order for his argument to even make sense. He presupposes some kind of objective moral standard and the reality of good and evil. But how can Dawkins account for objective moral norms and the moral categories of good and evil on the basis of his own worldview? He can’t. Darwinism can’t provide objective moral standards, nor can it define good and evil. It can only give us a genetic disposition to survive. Therefore, Dawkins has no ground to stand on when he makes a moral argument against Christianity. He must unwittingly rely upon the Christian worldview which has grounds for objective moral norms in order to make his argument. Put another way, Dawkins presupposes God to argue against God.
We can state this differently. For the argument that Christianity is absolutely immoral to mean anything at all, then a personal, moral, absolute God must exist. Why? Because absolute moral standards do not arise from impersonal processes (i.e., evolution); they can only arise within a personal universe. Someone might respond and say we can ground moral standards in non-absolute persons, collectively or individually. That is to say, morality can be grounded in a culture or an individual’s personal opinions. However, if moral standards are grounded in non-absolute persons, whether subject to a culture or person, they are merely subjective standards. And subjective standards lack necessity and authority because they are not absolute. For morality to be absolute it must be grounded in a Personal Absolute. That Personal Absolute is the true and living God. Therefore, while Dawkins makes absolute moral claims about the God of the Bible, he unwittingly depends on God in order to make his argument in the first place. If God doesn’t exist, his argument is non-sense.
The aim here is not to respond to the examples cited by Dawkins of the alleged immorality of Scripture. Others have already ably done so. The point here is that Dawkins doesn’t have grounds to make his argument without presupposing certain things that are true only if Christianity is true. He relies on Christianity while trying to deny it. Objective moral standards only exist if a personal and absolute God exists. If Dawkins wants to reject the existence of that Personal Absolute, then he needs to come to terms with his own worldview and its implications: If morality is rooted in Darwinian evolution, you cannot have moral standards, and therefore you have no basis to argue against the supposed immorality of the Bible.
Apologetics: Giving a Reason for Our Hope
Adult Sunday School
What do you think of when you hear the word “apologetics”? Maybe you think of someone saying they’re sorry. But that’s not what we mean by the term. Or perhaps you’re more familiar with the word, but in your experience it involves technical and sophisticated arguments that don’t relate to the people you talk to every day. Sometimes apologetics is perceived as an academic discipline for the scholarly and intellectual types. But this, too, is a misconception of Christian apologetics.
The Bible defines apologetics as giving a reason for the Christian faith, and it involves the application of Scripture to unbelief. Peter commands every believer to be prepared to make an apology, that is, a defense (1 Peter 3:15). Therefore, all Christians are called to do apologetics to honor Christ the Lord.
Join us this fall as we prepare to give a reason for our hope, and learn how to expose the futility of every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God.
- Introduction to Apologetics
- What Is Apologetics?
- Why do Apologetics?
- Biblical Foundations for Apologetics
- Understanding Worldviews
- Approaches to Apologetics
- The Reformed-Worldview Approach
- Principles and Practice
- Major Issues in Apologetics
- The Existence of God
- The Inspiration and Reliability of the Bible
- The Resurrection of Jesus Christ
- The Problem of Evil and Suffering
- The Sexual Revolution
- Science and Faith
“Why would an all-powerful and all-good God allow natural disasters?” asked Peter. “If God is powerful and good, he is surely at fault for the devastation and deaths caused by earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes wildfires and so on. But how could a good and powerful God ever allow such evil to occur? That’s why I do not think the Christian God is real.”
Before responding to this objection, let’s notice something important. Peter’s objection actually depends on a Christian worldview for it to make any sense. In other words, the question of how a good and sovereign God could allow natural disasters only makes sense if Christianity is true. The irony pervading the question of how a good and powerful God could allow natural disasters is that such a question would never even occur to a conscience that has not in a profound way been determined and shaped by the moral universe created by God.
So for natural disasters to even be a problem, Peter is already showing his dependence on the Christian truths of good and evil. Take away Christianity, and you take away the basis for the objection. If Christianity is false, the objection rings hollow. For instance, if Peter rejects the existence of God and says that the natural world is all there is, what basis does he have to argue that a deadly natural disaster is evil? Such events are simply the outcome of blind, impersonal natural processes, according to his own worldview. You see, to even make the argument, the objection relies on Christianity because without it, there is no basis for good and evil. I’ll put a point on it and say that for this objection to be made, the God Peter wants to disprove must exist, otherwise the question is meaningless.
Let me mention an important qualification that is often neglected. We need to remember that human actions can and often do play an important role in disastrous events. Human injustice, foolishness and greed can turn a natural event into a disastrous event.
For example, thousands of people who died from the tsunami in Sri Lanka in 2004 lived along the coast in areas zoned by the authorities as unsuitable for housing. After the tsunami, some survivors said they lived along the coast because it was the only place they could live. Good government should have attempted to work out a solution for such a housing crisis. Many lives could have been spared. That same year, another deadly tsunami struck Indonesia. Warnings were sent to government officials, advising them to clear the area, but in several regions these warnings were not made public. And of course it doesn’t help that in many of these areas there are no building regulations or builders cut corners which vastly increases the risk of injury and death.
On May 31, 1889, the city of Johnstown in Pennsylvania was destroyed by a flood after the South Fork Dam broke. Over two thousand lives were lost in the span of a few minutes as a towering wall of water crashed through the city. Rain levels were abnormally high before the flood, but research has shown that the fault of this catastrophic event lies primarily at the feet of wealthy members of the South Fork Hunting and Fishing Club who neglected to repair the earthwork dam. Water levels also rose at a dangerous pace because hillsides were heavily deforested, causing rainfall to gather rapidly in the Little Conemaugh River.
These are just a couple of examples of how a natural event can turn into a devastating disaster because of human injustice, greed, negligence, and foolishness. One senior scientist who has studied this topic carefully concluded that “the deaths caused by natural disasters can often be attributed almost in their entirety to actions taken by people, which turned a natural process into a disaster.”
And so we need to be more restrained in our conclusions about disastrous events. We should remember that some disastrous events are largely caused by the choices and actions of people. Sometimes disaster results directly from human greed, foolishness, injustice, or abuse of the environment.
The Problem of Good
Peter is absolutely right that Christians believe God is good. The Christian worldview says that God is good and does good to all. His abundant goodness is revealed in all of creation. We live because God gives us breath, and everything we enjoy comes from him (Acts 17:25). He causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall (Matthew 5:45). All of creation depends on God for provision. Psalm 104 celebrates God’s comprehensive care of creation, reminding us that our lives are moment-by-moment pervaded by his goodness.
The question Peter asks relates to the problem of evil, but what about the problem of good? What about the good we experience? If we interpret disaster as evidence against God, why shouldn’t the good we experience every day be interpreted as evidence for God? And yet that’s not how we are prone to think. The human heart is quick to find reasons to say, “There is no God,” but slow to recognize the many reasons to say, “There is a God, and he is good!” Why do we want to blame God for disaster, but not recognize him for the good that we experience every day of our lives?
Creation, Fall, Redemption
Now let’s try to respond to the question. Christians do not presume to know all the reasons God has for allowing natural disasters. To know something like that, one would have to see the beginning and end of all things, one would need to have a divine vantage point upon all of time. But no Christians claims such knowledge. Our understanding is limited to what God tells us in the Bible.
We can summarize what God says in Scripture with the Christian doctrines of creation, fall, and redemption. If you understand what is meant by these three words, you can understand how the presence of natural disasters does not require the denial of God’s goodness and power or existence.
Let’s unpack that. First, the doctrine of creation teaches that God made the world and it was good. There was no death, no natural disasters that suddenly and tragically blotted out human life. God created man to reflect his own character and rule over the creation, but man rebelled against God and brought ruin and corruption into the world.
And so we have what Christians call the “the fall.” That’s when our first parents sinned by rebelling against God. Sin ruined mankind’s relationship with God and brought a curse upon creation. Creation remains good, but now everything is subject to frustration, futility, and death because of sin. In short, the origin of natural disasters is mankind’s moral rebellion against a good and gracious God.
The fall does not mean that God lost control of the world he made. Even natural disasters are under his rule. Nor are they without a purpose. Again, we don’t know the hidden purposes of God, but such events do serve as a reminder that life is not guaranteed, that we all deserve death, that we all face the judgment of God and therefore while it is still day we should seek after God and turn to him (Luke 13:1-5). In other words, natural disasters tell the living it is time we turn from sin and trust in Jesus Christ.
That leads to the final word, redemption. The fall is not the final word of Christianity. Redemption is. God did not abandon humanity or the world to the curse even though that’s exactly what was deserved. In the fullness of time, God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, into this fallen and cursed world, and Jesus overcame the world. He overcame sin by taking sin’s guilt upon himself and bearing in his own body the curse of God upon the cross. He overcame death by being obedient unto death and on the third was raised. And the risen and reigning Christ has promised to return and make all things new. Death, pain, and natural disasters shall be no more.
 David Bentley Hart, The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami?
 David McCullough, The Johnstown Flood.
 Christopher Ash, Where was God When that Happened?, 42.