I now move on to atheist objection #7 as outlined and defended by Bob Seidensticker over at Patheos. I have had a chance to interact with Bob over the last few days and in my assessment, he is a run-of-the-mill nothing special kind of atheist. In other words, so far, I have not come across anything terribly interesting in his claims. That said, I move on to objection #7 of 10 from Bob.
The gospel doesn’t make sense: God was mad at mankind because of sin so he decided to torture and kill his own Son so that he could appease his own pathological anger. God is the weirdo, not me.
Aside from the abusive adjectives, Bob’s argument can be summarized as follows: The gospel is irrational. Everything else Bob says in this objection is, well, to put it bluntly, nasty rhetoric. He uses the adjectives pathological and weirdo. All this is little more than a tactic to shame people for believing such things. So, don’t be weak-minded.
Now, there is an apologetic method, specifically, classical apologetics, that would take the approach that Bob’s view is an obstacle to belief and my goal as an apologist is to try and remove that obstacle so that he may proceed to belief in Jesus Christ. Let me state this as plainly as I can: Christian apologetics is nowhere defined in Scripture as removing obstacles to belief. The only obstacle to belief is sin. Only God can remove sin. Therefore, only God can remove obstacles to belief. Apologetics is about proclaiming the gospel, answering questions where appropriate, and refuting the claims of those who contradict the truth. And we are to do this in the manner prescribed in Scripture for the glory of God out of love for our neighbor. It really is that simple.
Does the gospel make sense? The best place for the apologist to look when answering this question is 1 Cor. 1:18: For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. Here, the word of the cross is the gospel. Notice that the experience of the gospel is described in two ways: it is folly and it is the power of God. The Greek word moria is where the English word moron is derived. It means quite simply, foolishness. It is used most often for mental dullness and its cognates always have that sense. The word appears 22x in the NT and 9x in the OT. Because the lexical data from the OT is minimal, the best path for understanding this word is the lexical data from the NT. It falls within the sematic domain of understanding and the subdomain of lack of capacity for understanding.
Paul not only tells us that the word of the cross carries two different experiences or meanings, he attaches those meanings to two different kinds of people. To the perishing ones, the non-Christian, the unbeliever, for purposes of this blog, to people like Bob, the gospel is moronic. It is foolishness. But to the ones being saved, the gospel is the power of God. So, Bob is right when he says that for him, the gospel is foolishness. But Bob does not really say, “to him, the gospel is foolishness.” He makes a more absolute statement: the gospel is foolishness. And in that regard, Bob is dreadfully misguided. He is, in fact, deluded, self-deceived. To the unbeliever, the gospel is foolishness. Paul could have not been clearer. Paul goes on to say that the unbeliever does not come to know God through his own wisdom. Now this word wisdom, from the Greek, sophia, in this context means the capacity to understand and function accordingly. It is not within the natural capacity of the unbeliever that they come to know God. The unbeliever does not have the capacity to remove obstacles to belief with or without our help. Paul goes on to say that God considered it good and right to save unbelievers, sinners, through the moronic concepts of the preaching of the cross. Now, the ultimate purpose for God’s design is his own glory. The immediate purpose for God doing things in this way is so that no human being can boast about being in Christ. It is because of him that we are in Christ, not because of our own intellectual abilities to examine evidence and arguments. The way into Christianity is not the use or exercise of natural human reason. It is the power of God in the gospel that saves and it is because of God, not me or you, or any other Christian. Atheists like Bob do not understand this. In fact, atheists like Bob cannot understand this. Something in them has to change before they understand this profound truth. That is why Jesus used the language, “born from above.”
Additionally, Paul added to this theme just a few verses later when he said, The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. Bob is a natural person. A natural person is not able to understand the things of the Spirit of God. Therefore, Bob is not able to understand the things of the Spirit of God. Notice that the text does not say that Bob is not able to understand these things unless a sharp classical apologist can show him how to understand them. It says that he lacks the capacity necessary to understand the things of the Spirit of God. Alvin Plantinga has done excellent work in this area. He writes, “A thing’s design plan is the way the thing in question is ‘supposed’ to work, the way in which it works when it is functioning as it ought to, when there is nothing wrong with it, when it is not damaged or broken or nonfunctional.” [Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function, 21] What the apostle Paul is getting at with the Corinthians is that there is something fundamentally and radically defective in the cognitive functions of unbelievers. Their cognitive abilities have been impacted, deformed by sin so that now, in their unregenerate state they are no longer able to function according to their original design. Add to this the fact that Paul indicts, not just the cognitive function, but the volition as well. The unbeliever willingly embraces this malfunction rather than sincerely searching for a cure. There are no true seekers. The sinner loves his sin. This spiritually blind love their blindness. Bob loves his ignorance. He wallows in it like a pig in its slop. That is just downright offensive language to describe unbelievers. Indeed it is! I am not selling God! I am painting an accurate picture of the state of affairs as it has obtained.
In summary then, Bob is both right and wrong, in a sense anyways. Bob is right to say that the gospel is foolishness if he means that it is foolish so long as atheistic presuppositions about what is reasonable and unreasonable really can stand up to scrutiny. But we know that atheism has no grounding to support such absolute claims. Given the monistic tendencies of atheism, the idea of a normative standard seems to be a fundamentally implausible concept. From that perspective, it is difficult to fathom how Bob arrives at his conclusion. In short, atheistic presuppositions about justified belief cannot stand up to scrutiny. Their theories collapse because of the foundation upon which they are constructed.
Finally, Bob isn’t even attempting to interact with the Christian doctrine of atonement. He presupposes his atheism and criticizes the Christian doctrine under the assumption that his version of atheism is true. The atonement is the most profound event in all of Scripture. God creates man. Man rebels. God redeems rebellious men by sending his perfectly holy Son to the cross in our place. Jesus takes the punishment that was rightfully ours. He does so willingly. As a result, our sins are forgiven, grace prevails, mercy is extended. Because Christ died for us willingly, God’s righteousness is preserved. The only way for God to extend grace to sinners while remaining just was to ensure that sin was punished. He did that at Calvary. The cross displays divine justice and divine love together in one act. God punishes sin, God forgives sin.
Is the gospel reasonable? Is it rational? Christianity must cohere as a system if it is to be considered rational. This does not mean that we must understand just exactly how it coheres in every way. But there can be no obvious contradictions in the system because Christianity affirms a perfectly rational God. What this means is that the gospel has to cohere with all the other beliefs within Christianity. For example, if God is perfectly just, then forgiveness of wicked sinners is a problem. What does Christianity teach? It teaches that Christ, the sinless man took the punishment in our place. This preserves God’s just character while making forgiveness possible. A second problem for Christianity is the claim that only the righteous can enter into the kingdom of God. How can a wicked sinner be made righteous? Christianity teaches that God credits the righteous life of Christ to the account of those wicked sinners he has forgiven. Because of this, Christians may enter the kingdom of God, having been made righteous by the blood and obedience of Christ! But this justification is accomplished by the work of Christ alone. Christians do not possess saving faith until they are saved. Justification then is by faith alone and that faith itself is a gift that God gives to those whom he forgives, whom he calls to himself. God remains perfectly holy, perfectly just, and loving beyond anything we could ever hope to comprehend. It would be irrational to claim that God is perfectly just but that he could just forgive sin without punishment. What just judge just lets the murderer free because he says he is sorry?
Bob’s objection then that Christianity is foolish in the absolute sense is a straw man because it is not an accurate depiction of what Christianity teaches. And the reason it is not an accurate depiction of what Christianity teaches is that Bob does not possess the capacity to understand what Christianity teaches. And if that is the case, how could one ever trust his assessment? I will close with a syllogism that reflects the absurdity of Bob’s argument accurately:
- The gospel is irrational to me
- Whatever is irrational to me must be irrational to everyone
- Therefore, the gospel is irrational is everyone
It is easy to see that Bob is assuming (2) without lifting a finger to demonstrate why he is the standard for what is and is not rational. Bob is also assuming that he is not only rational, but that he is the exemplar for human rationality. Pretty arrogant I think. To say that the Biblical story doesn’t make sense, Bob, is not an argument. At best, it is an admission of your own ignorance.