This is the second part of the introduction to the CHIPS model of Christian case-making. Read the first part here.
All aspects of apologetics - every positive case and every objection - essentially asks one or more of the following five questions: Is the Bible sufficiently…
“Is it something I can comprehend?”
“Is it an accurate reflection of historical events?”
“Is it a proper interpretation of what the author meant to say?”
“Is it an adequate preservation of the original composition?”
“Is it significant for my own life?”
SO WHY FIVE?
How can we be so sure every case made in favor of Christianity and all challenges fall into these five categories? Could there be more? The way we can be confident in this is by familiarizing ourselves with the adventures of Christianity over the last 2,000 years. We know these five categories are sufficient because those are the only ones that have been raised. It’s certainly possible for a new critic to come up with a challenge never thought of before, but it’s not likely. As much as the “new atheists” trend gives it a fresh face, critics of Christianity are nothing new and neither are their arguments.
In this paper when I refer to critics (skeptics, doubters, or unbelievers, etc) I’m describing people who are simply unconvinced of the truth of Christianity. It would be unfair to lump everyone in this group together since there are at least three main types: 1) non-Christian religious believers, 2) atheists, 3) agnostics. These can then be subdivided even further but this distinction should suffice for our purposes.
We all come to the table with a unique perspective, bias, and belief system. Christians are called to share and defend the gospel message to all. If we were to try and list every objection we would have a fantastic index to reference. That may be fine when we have access to a binder or electronic device, but more often than not we’re called to defend our faith when we have little more than our own minds.
The best way to remember how to handle objections is to organize the data in advance. The bad news is there’s a lot of data. But if I’m right that all of it can be boiled down to one of five categories, by organizing the data we’ll have a better chance of using it effectively.
LEARNING FROM OTHERS
Looking back in my own mistakes, I would usually err in my approach in one of two ways. Either I would make things too complicated or too simple. I would overcomplicate by giving too much information in response to a skeptic's straight forward question. It’s as if I was throwing spaghetti at the wall hoping some would stick. Other times I’d be overly simplistic by assuming my audience would be blown away by just one piece of knock-down-drag-out evidence. If I found a particular argument so convincing, so would everyone else! Or so I thought. Given the law of averages I may have eventually succeeded, but there's a better way.
The method I’m suggesting is similar to how William Lane Craig prepares for debates against Christianity’s biggest critics. Although his subjects are different (i.e. first cause, moral, design, resurrection, and personal testimony), he prepares a cumulative case for Christianity by organizing his arguments and preparing for objections in advance. He frames his argument in a powerful way and then prepares for possible objections within the specific categories relating to his arguments. He never veers off course. If his opponent brings up a red herring that’s irrelevant to the issue, he quickly sidesteps it and keeps the conversation on the topics at hand. Surely Dr. Craig is a brilliant and well read scholar, but he always sticks to the same game plan in every encounter. Download the audio or transcript of any one of his many debates and you’ll see it works extremely well. It works because he’s organized and prepared for the encounter.
CRAIG’S THREE STEPS
Here’s how Dr. Craig does it:
Step #1: Identify Relevant Categories
Dr. Craig knows what makes a good case for Christianity. He has two doctorates in fields that are arguably the most useful in Christian apologetics: philosophy and biblical studies. Specifically, his dissertations in each field strike at the heart of central Christian claims. His work in philosophy focused on the cosmological argument while his New Testament work centered on the resurrection of Jesus. There are perhaps no issue more central to Christianity than the creation and resurrection events. Accordingly, the Kalam cosmological argument and the evidence for the resurrection are almost always two arguments in Craig’s quiver on the debate stage.
Next time you view one of his debates, notice how Dr. Craig enters the stage and seats himself at a large table with an array of documents. Dr. Craig’s experience allows him to memorize much of the data, but he still relies on notes that provide him with quick responses to objections he’s prepared for in advance. He keeps them organized by category based on the arguments he’s presenting. During the debate, you’ll also find him writing notes while the other speaker is talking. Here’s where Dr. Craig prepares his response. While listening to his opponent, he carefully lists everything that challenges his case. He categorizes these challenges by the specific argument under attack. This way, Craig’s next chance at the podium will allow him to address these quickly to leave the fewest questions unanswered.
In a more casual way, we can apply this strategy to our own interactions with unbelievers. What's the person really concerned with? Is it a matter of comprehension, history, interpretation, preservation, or significance? If she questions your reasoning, clarify what you meant and how you came to your conclusions (comprehension). If history is the issue, explain your evidence and methodology (historicity). When a skeptic challenges the transmission of ancient documents, textual criticism is the subject to focus on (preservation). Does your friend have another way of understanding a disputed text? Biblical hermeneutics will help get at what the original author meant to say (interpretation). And when someone doubts the authority behind it all or doesn’t even care to explore the truth, it’s time you show them why it’s personally important for us all (significance).
Step #2: Know Each Category (Facts and Methodology)
Each subject area has its own way of operating. For every topic, there are experts who rely on standard practices to either affirm or reject their hypotheses. Each field has a unique goal in mind with different ways of getting there. A general working knowledge of how experts debate the issues is all that’s needed to get started. Dr. Craig is not only familiar with the methodology in the relevant fields, but also communicates them as necessary to educate his audience and further support his points.
It makes sense to rely on expert methodology. By analogy, a general contractor may have the resources to build a house from the ground up. To do this, he relies on the best practices of professionals who conduct plumbing, masonry, framing, electrical, flooring, roofing, HVAC, and painting. It would be foolhardy to attempt building the entire house with plumbing methods alone. Rather, the entire project is only successful when each expert follows the rules of his trade. Likewise, the most productive examination of Christianity is through methodology used by the experts each of its scholarly disciplines. Unfortunately, too many people rely upon one or two areas that relate to the study of Christianity and ignore the rest.
Familiarize yourself with the facts for each field of study. This is the part that takes the longest. There’s really no short cut around good old fashioned education. Dr. Craig urges anyone interested to get a PhD because he strongly feels that influence trickles through to the churches from the academy. While that may not be an option for you, try to learn how to identify reliable resources. Read as much as you can reasonably absorb focusing mostly on what you’re interested in so you don’t get burned out. Get together with others who share the interest in studying an area of Christianity. Once equipped, lead a small study or teach a church class on the topic, or write a blog. Making your views publicly accessible forces you to be precise. It also will help reinforce or challenge your ideas like nothing else can.
A comprehensive study of all five categories is beyond the reach of this project. But to aid you here, I hope to write more on each of the five categories by summarizing the works of reliable experts and listing references for further study. While not always practical, special effort will be made to incorporate material from experts in their fields who are also committed non-Christians.
Step #3: Appeal to your Audience
No matter your level of apologetics experience or debate mastery, you will fail to convince anyone if you don’t appeal to whom you’re speaking. You can be right about what you say, but your message will fall on deaf ears if your audience doesn’t like you. Dr. Craig does well here too. He always remains calm and courteous of his opponent (and audience members during debates with Q&A). To appeal to your audience, you have to know them. Craig does an incredible amount of research into his debate opponents and is also mindful of the crowd he’s speaking in front of. While we won’t often find ourselves in front of a crowd, we must do our best to understand our hearers before we offer them an answer. This should come across naturally if we love others as Jesus loved us.
Volumes through the centuries have weighed in to the reliability the Christian worldview from various angles. This new approach is intended to build upon previously established work and arrange it in a new way. Ultimately, the goal is to equip Christians with a more effective way of presenting and defending the reliability of the Bible.
I owe thanks to my professors, pastors, and friends I’ve come across in my apologetics journey. Ironically, my inspiration behind this new approach is also credited, in part, to Christianity's greatest critics. Views popularized by critical scholars today like Richard Carrier, Bart Ehrman, Robert Price, and John Dominic Crossan as well as liberal pastors Brian McLaren and Rob Bell, who present serious challenges to traditional Christianity. Their ideas span the spectrum of biblical scholarship so a one-dimensional response simply won't do.
Despite my enthusiasm behind this new approach, it's not likely any method will settle the debate. After 2,000 years, the battle goes on. There are billions of people in the world who have heard the gospel while nearly that many have rejected it. You may encounter resilient skeptics who constantly jump from issue to issue without resolving anything. Our calling is not to convince the unconvincable but to share what we believe is true.
Nevertheless, there are honest spiritual seekers out there who deserve to hear a comprehensive case for the reliability of biblical Christianity. If we can't support the central issues of our belief system, perhaps we shouldn't be sharing it at all. The Apostle Paul concurs when he says without the central truth of the gospel, our faith is "worthless." It’s my hope this method helps you identify the issues, anticipate objections, and give targeted responses to those who ask you to "give a reason for the hope that is within you."
Next month I will post about our first category: Comprehension.