Jesus and Theism

Nietschze is an interesting, and tragic, example of someone who loved Jesus, but due to naturalism could not believe in Jesus’ divinity, and ended up claiming God is dead and that Jesus was a Jewish trick to subdue the ubermensch.

So, although Biola apologetics may not always be the best approach, there is something very important about well done apologetics and philosophy. Nancy Pearcey writes a great deal about how many Christians unknowingly adopt the ways of the world due to not understanding the impact of worldview. Dallas Willard the same. Jesus claims to be the Truth, after all, and that knowing truth will set us free.


I agree that the utterance “Jesus” can become a man-made concept as malleable as God. Just look at all the depictions of a European Jesus in art to be convinced of this. More broadly, there is a secularized version of Jesus that is nothing like what we find in Scripture. There is actually a history of this here in the enlightenment, and it is clearly a man-made version of Jesus.

I’m making a different point here about the person of Jesus, the historical and present reality of him, not our conceptions of Him, which might also bear the label “Jesus.” I make a strong distinction between our concept of Jesus and Jesus Himself.

I agree. There is an important place for philosophical apologetics. It seems, however, this has a privileged place over more commonly important forms.

In particular, look at this point of yours, that I read as a non-sequitor…

Jesus does not say that apologetics is truth. He does not say that philosophy is truth. He does not say our conceptions of Him are truth. RatherJesus says that He Himself is Truth incarnate. I cannot see how this could possibly be used as in support of apologetics as you use it here.

How are those positions mutually exclusive? Jesus is the Truth incarnate, and thus all sources of truth lead people to Jesus. Blocking off truth blocks off paths to Jesus.

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That is the place I disagree. Why should we think that all sources of truth lead to Jesus?

Rather I read that the truth we rightly find in Jesus is greater that truth we find by other means. There is a question man’s wisdom versus God’s Revelation here. Even the best phisolphical arguments for God are merely human effort. God’s work through Jesus is not reduscible to human arguments, and I find greater confidence in God’s work of self-revelation that the effort of man.

Seems like a good operating assumption and simplest reading of the Bible until evidence to the contrary emerges. Otherwise, we then have to solve the meta problem of the truth about which truths lead to Jesus. Then we have to worry about whether that truth leads to Jesus. And so on, ad infinitum.

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I suppose I am challenging that assumption and putting forward a different view.

Certainly it is true that divine revelation trumps man’s reason, and we can never reason out all divine revelation. But, man’s reason is also in touch with the divine, due to the image of God in all of us. If it was not, then we’d be in great trouble, since just about all of divine revelation comes to us through human reason and effort.

This is why Nietzsche said there would be no Christianity without intellectuals, and probably his loss of faith in Christ is tied to loss of faith in reason, which could well trace back to nominalism during the middle ages and Luther’s rejection of human reason.

On the other hand, Aquinas said reason and conscience are God’s most direct methods of communicating with us. Plato seemed to have had a similar thought.

At any rate, getting skeptical about reason seems to introduce more problems than it solves.

I’ll let @Philosurfer respond to this first. Tell them about the God of the Philosophers and the God of the Cross maybe?

As for me, I do trust God’s revelation more than human reason, even though I still do trust human reason. Paradox anyone?

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Which interpretation of God’s revelation do you trust: Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, humanist, atheist, other?

You’ll probably say none, but I’m sure your view is mostly in line with Protestant theology, even though it is not the understanding of most Christians throughout history.

Let’s start by saying I strongly dispute this. It is more likely that the Cosmological Argument of WLC and your arguments from information theory are not understandable to them. Instead, when I have some time, I show you how my position is visible in Scripture.

Nope. I trust the true parts of all of them, and engage in figuring out the hard work of what is true and what is not.

I am probably not as well read as you, but people like Justin Martyr, Augustine and Aquinas make these sorts of arguments.

I think you are saying the Bible does not argue for the existence of God, it is just a given. That’s true in the sense we don’t have Book of Craig 1:1-12 formally laying out the cosmological argument, but the Bible also states creation clearly demonstrates the existence of God. Thus, science and math, insofar as they study creation, would also demonstrate God’s existence.

That is great. Is God directly revealing to you which are true, or are you using human reason to do that?

I trust human reason too. I just trust Jesus more. What is so hard about that to grasp?

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How does one explain that to someone who is not a Christian? For example, how would you respond to a Muslim saying he trusts the Qur’an more than human reason?

Maybe I’m misunderstanding you. And maybe I shouldn’t get into this :slight_smile: Don’t misunderstand me. Devil’s advocate is helpful sometimes.

However, human reason is a necessary common denominator that helps us critique our (sometimes fallible) interpretations of God. Thanks.

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I think you are saying we put too much emphasis on apologetics, believing they are the silver bullet. I can agree with that. At the same time, learning about the congruence between Christianity and all truth has been of great help to me personally. And truth itself is a beautiful thing, and there is beauty in the notion we are perceiving something of Jesus through this truth. But, everyone is on their own journey in this matter.

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Yes. I think what has just happened is what I sometimes refer to as the “Two Types of Minds” problem. When speaking about the concept truth, one must keep in mind that metaphysical and epistemological concerns will drive the conversation. The problem is that certain people are always more concerned with metaphysics, while others are more concerned with epistemology. @Eddie has just declared, for at least this thread, that he is more discussing a metaphysical point. He is also suggesting that @swamidass is more concerned with epistemological ordering. Am I correct in this assessment?

I think this is correct as well, but then we are living in a time where we cannot rely upon a general theism as background belief. So, @swamidass and @dga471 are working in environments where the epistemological question is much more acute than say @Eddie or @Philosurfer who work with religious institutions where the theistic metaphysics is standard background to all conversations.

If I may step into a question directed at somebody else… It isn’t that anybody is denying that Jews, Muslims, and others do not have confident beliefs in god(s), but that once the question of metaphysical pluralism gets raised, then the epistemic question becomes important. So, the Jews are trusting in their prophets, the Muslim is trusting in Mohammad, and the Christians are trusting in Jesus. The metaphysical question becomes secondary to the epistemological question of why trust prophet Judaism versus prophet Muslim versus prophet Jesus. I’m not sure that you @Eddie would disagree with this as I’m getting to know you on the forum, however, it seems that you and Josh have bumped up into the epistemic/metaphysical ordering tension…

Umm… yes.

I’m with you on this Eddie. I’ve never “joined” a forum, because when I’d wade into the comments it never seemed worth it. I’m sure gems exist, but the work to extract them didn’t seem worth my time. Things ARE different here and the question will be whether it is maintained. I’m optimistic and that is pretty good for a pessimist!

I don’t know Nietschze that well, but do you have any citations for this precise view? It does seem to concur with a bit of tension Wittgenstein held with being drawn to Jesus, but not quite able to “accept” him due to his philosophical mind.

I’m not familiar with this line of reasoning. Do you have any citations or articles that connect the dots a bit more carefully?

Again, this is like saying Darwin led to Hitler… what are the connecting pieces? On the Luther point, he only rejecting reason in terms of making a judgment about salvation. In a different thread, I posted key excerpts from Luther’s “Disputation Concerning Man” that defends reason as man’s highest gift from God!

From another thread…

This may be what they said, but the most direct is the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God. Of course, we need “reason” to be able to read; but, that would be a ministerial use of reason. My denomination also baptizes babies, because we don’t think that forgiveness is understandable to reason like Aquinas and Plato suggest under your interpretation. However, this doesn’t mean that we reject reason as we think we have good arguments for baptizing babies. It is just that reason is not part of the salvation equation.


I thank Philosurfer for his comments on the discussion so far. I agree with much of what he says.

I am not disputing the claim that many people are hostile or indifferent to the idea of God until they encounter Jesus, e.g., as portrayed in the Gospels or as interpreted to them by a Christian informant, and that their acceptance of God comes in the wake, so to speak, of their embrace of Jesus. I agree with Daniel Ang and Joshua that this can happen, and often enough does happen.

My only point – and remember, I entered this discussion when I gave a qualified defense of the poster “Greg” – was that belief in Jesus makes no sense without belief in God. That is, if there is no God, then all traditional Christian claims about Jesus – whether Lutheran, Catholic, Reformed, or any other – fall to the ground. If God-talk is nonsense, then any view of Jesus that goes beyond thinking of him as a maverick 1st-century rabbi, or as a person with unusual healing gifts, or as a teacher of non-violence, or as a Jew with Messianic delusions about himself, is without any basis in reality. One has to believe that God exists to believe that Christianity is true. Belief in God is logically required by anyone who claims to be a full-blooded, orthodox, Christian. This point strikes me as so obvious that I am surprised it would meet with any resistance.

What I hear Joshua saying is that people don’t need to first establish the existence of God, without any reference to Jesus, and only then proceed to think about Jesus. And I agree with that. For many people, God and Jesus are accepted together as a “package deal”; God is understood through Jesus, and Jesus in light of his relationship to God.

I’d like to comment on this passage:

There is a good point being made here, but I need to make my own position clearer in relation to it.

Yes; in ancient times, with the exception of a few philosophical atheists such as the Atomists, most people, Jewish or Gentile, believed in God or gods. The debates in ancient times, then (aside from those held by a small philosophical minority) were focused not so much on the question “whether God exists” but “which God exists” or “what is the correct characterization of God”. It made a religious, moral, and social difference whether you accepted YHWH or Baal, and it made a similar difference whether you accepted Christ or Diana of the Ephesians. So religious debate tended to be more about showing why one God was better (more loving, more forgiving, caring more for the poor and downtrodden, etc.) than another, or more sustained by evidence (testimonies of miracles, etc.) than another. But in modern times, due to the “Enlightenment” (a self-flattering term whose accuracy can be questioned), and due to mass education of a certain kind, it is no longer the case that the masses uniformly believe in God or gods; many have been led to think that belief in deities is a sign of intellectual backwardness and lack of scientific education. So now, in a mass-educated society (which was unknown as a social model in the ancient world), the question whether any God exists has become a topic discussed more often, even among the common people, and therefore is a question that must be dealt with.

For a good number of modern secular people, people who have little to no religious upbringing, and live their lives mostly without much conscious wrestling with religious questions – and this includes a good number of the members of the successful middle class in North America (businessmen, accountants, lawyers, dentists, engineers, bureaucrats, journalists) – it is absurd to even ask the question whether a particular man – Jesus, or Zoroaster, or Mohammed, or whoever – had any special relationship with God or insight into God, or taught truths binding on us as coming from God, until one first establishes that such a being as God exists. If no God exists, then all the famous religious figures were just normal mortals with delusions. So they want to see, if not a proof, at least some strong circumstantial evidence that God exists, before they will even open a Bible and read long, tedious genealogies, or laws about what foods one can eat, or tortuous arguments about justification that are of no interest to any human being except one who already grants the existence of a God who judges, condemns and absolves.

How do I know this? I know it because I grew up among such prosperous, educated middle-class people. Most of my friends and relatives are of this class, and most of them aren’t Christian, and most of them don’t believe in God, either. Also, most of the university faculty I have dealt with fall into this class, which I know having spent so many years in and around universities. So when I think about these questions, I think with this large (and socially and culturally influential) body of people in mind.

I know from experience that if I start a conversation with these people by talking about Jesus, I will lose 95% of them right away. When they hear the word “Jesus,” this is the set of impressions that automatically comes to their minds (as it used to come to mine): phony TV evangelists, narrow-minded Moral Majority zealots, aggressive, rhetorical preachers who turn red at the neck and practically foam at the mouth as they deliver their histrionic sermons, people who are against drinking even in moderation, people who are against dancing, people who are against playing cards, the Inquisition, the European wars of religion, opposition to science and to higher education, mechanical literalism in Biblical interpretation, etc. So right away, defenses go up, and the opportunity for communication is lost.

It’s not that all of these people blame Jesus personally for the abuses committed by Christians and Churches in his name. Many of them are aware that historical Christianity does not fairly represent, say, the Sermon on the Mount. But emotionally speaking, as opposed to rationally speaking, Jesus-talk calls up all these odious associations, and it is hard for many of them to give a fair hearing to Jesus, the Bible, or Christianity.

So when I approach such people, I make no attempt to “convert” them directly to belief in Jesus. Rather, I slowly, gradually, put questions into their minds about the cultural axioms they hold which block them (as they formerly blocked me) from seriously considering either Jesus or God. One of those cultural axioms is: “Science has proved there is no God” or “No scientifically educated person could believe in God.” They were fed this in earlier generations by people like Russell, and they have been fed it recently by people like Hitchens, Dawkins, Coyne, Atkins, etc. So, given that this generation respects science, and respects the findings of scientists, whereas they don’t respect ancient religious texts, I tend to point them to, say, the statement of Hoyle that it sure appears as if some superintelligence was monkeying with the cosmos to fine-tune it for life, and to all the many writings on fine-tuning that have come out in recent years. Especially I like to use authors who are not Christian but still think fine tuning is a reality – that scientific evidence points that way.

Because such arguments don’t require belief in Jesus, or in the Bible, and still less require signing up with TV evangelists or odious religious extremists who use the name of Jesus, the secular sort of person is less reactive against them. Generally speaking, while they have a lot of hostility to religious organizations, dogmas, preachers, evangelists, Genesis literalists, etc., they tend to have less hostility to the idea of God – whom they would regard as an all-right sort of fellow, if they could be persuaded that he existed. So if I can get them to say, “Hey, you’ve a got a point there!” and then maybe induce them to read something by Denton or Paul Davies or whoever, I may well have planted a seed (of doubt in the self-sufficiency of materialist, atheist thought) which down the road may bear some fruit. A guy who moves from “God does not exist” to “Maybe I as an intelligent person could believe that God exists” may one day move to “It seems more likely that God exists than that he doesn’t” and from there to, “If it’s possible or probable that God exists, then shouldn’t I be examining these various claimed revelations – Christian, Jewish, Hindu, etc. – to see if there is anything to them?” They might even one day pick up a dusty old Bible they received at Confirmation 40 or 50 years ago (perhaps the last time they were in a church other than for weddings or funerals), and read a bit of it.

In other words, I play the long game, rather than for the quick victory.

Others may choose a different approach, and I don’t object to this. I know that for a different sort of target audience – say, the audience I once saw go up to the front at a Billy Graham Crusade, people who had beaten their wives, cheated on their husbands, gambled away their family’s substance, been prostitutes, lost their minds and income-earning capacity to drugs or alcohol, and now hated themselves and were crying for a second chance – another approach entirely would be the best one. Some people are ripe for a quick conversion to both Jesus and God, given their emotional and social conditions. Talking to them about Fred Hoyle and fine tuning would be worse than useless. But I’m dealing with people with layers of hardness, accumulated by intellectual pride, social prestige, and success in worldly terms, who don’t see themselves as bad people or in need of inner change, who don’t see themselves as under condemnation for sin and needing God’s forgiveness, who don’t feel the need for religion the way those folks at the Billy Graham Crusade did, and who even if they did feel some need, would be socially embarrassed to be seen among “Bible-thumpers” and therefore wouldn’t be inclined to pursue their religious questions. For such people, the approach usually has to be different, and much more indirect.

I say, let a thousand flowers bloom. If some people believe in God first, then Jesus, and others come to faith in both at the same time, what difference does it make? To use a traditional image, is St. Peter going to say at the Pearly Gates, “I’m sorry, you came to faith in Jesus and God in the wrong order, so you don’t get in”? I don’t think so.


Looks like a couple good quotes in this article:

Well, Nietszche didn’t even believe in truth, at least not in the way we think of it. He thought what we call ‘truth’ is us forcing a point of view on the world in order to gain power.

This article looks pretty good:

Darwin did lead to Hitler, check out Weikart’s book “Hitler’s Ethic”.

And what does this look like in actuality? It is the Holy Spirit convicting our conscience. So you are saying the same thing.

The big difference between the Aquinas’ and Luther’s view of reason is whether there is ultimate congruence between human and divine reason. Aquinas says yes, there is never anything divine that is truly at odds with human reason. Hence he sought to reconcile the best philosophy of his day with scripture. Luther says no, divine reason ultimately makes no sense to human reason, especially when it comes to salvation. Calvin takes this further and says human reason is corrupt to its core.

What about Hebrews 11:6?

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

Hello, Eric. Thanks for your question. However, I think I would rather let Joshua give his own interpretation of the Hebrews passage, rather than guess how he might interpret it. Since I was discussing Joshua’s view, and you have offered the passage in order to get him to clarify his views, it is only fair to give him the floor.

  1. You are right that we can never be sure from a scientific point of view. But this precisely illustrates how science is limited in assessing the truth of falsity of some propositions. In the event that science finds a way to resurrect dead bodies, it’s very likely that that would require special equipment and conditions which we can’t verify as present during the time of Jesus’ resurrection (other than the historical details we already know now). So that event is likely forever inscrutable from a scientific point of view.
    That being said, if I were around at the time and Jesus freely submitted himself to an examination, as a scientist I would be obliged to ask for proof. (In that sense, Thomas was acting as a scientist when he asked for proof of Jesus’ wounds. But note that being the best scientist does not necessarily mean being the best Christian!) This is also my response to Wittgenstein.
  2. It seems that you are forgetting that the miracle of the Resurrection is not only that a dead man was raised, but that the man specifically predicted that God would raise him in 3 days, and that a host of other OT prophecies were fulfilled by it, as well as by the Passion and Jesus’ life in general. Miracles are called miracles (i.e. a “sign”) not only because they seem be contrary to the natural order of things, but also that they occur within a specific revelatory context. We apply the same principle to OT miracles: even if one could explain the parting of the Red Sea as a combination of tidal forces and wind, it would still be a miracle because of the surrounding context, that is, Israel being delivered from her enemies by it. Once again, science is not equipped to take into account the revelatory context. Thus science alone is not equipped to handle miracle claims. At most science can illuminate on how likely or not something could occur naturally, which would be merely one consideration for the overall theological reasoning.
  3. Most ID arguments that people have a major problem with are those regarding the evolution of things we can examine today, not the origin of all life itself. The origin of life is a separate issue that is widely regarded as an open problem. I am not familiar with ID arguments regarding the origin of life (probably because they are much rarely put forward).
    In addition, I think the origin of life does not have nearly as much revelatory context as the Resurrection. Up until the late 19th century with the experiments of Louis Pasteur, in my knowledge it was common to believe that life could come from non-life (spontaneous generation). I think Aristotle assumed this idea and dealt with the philosophical implications of that, as did Aquinas. As far as I know this was not used specifically as a proof of the existence of the Divine, any more than other features of nature (you can correct me if I’m wrong). So if science finds a way to get life from non-life, we would just simply be going back to that frame of mind.

My premise 1 refers to any sort of God or Higher Being(s) which would satisfy both X and this hypothetical person’s sensibilities. Monotheism is not implied. It could be an advanced alien civilization, yes, but one could also imagine other reasons why a person might view that hypothesis as more complicated, inelegant, and thus less plausible. I have never met any person who would insist that if a person was raised aliens must have done it. We could refine premise 1 such that it is more general:

1a. If someone does X, the supernatural exists.

And similarly with premise 2.

If all what you mean by “logically prior” is “some awareness of a concept of God or the supernatural”, then I would agree. But such a concept of God or the supernatural is so ubiquitous even among agnostics, atheists, Hindus, Muslims, animists. All you need is some awareness that “X is the normal, natural order of things, and Y would be going against that such that that would raise serious questions” and that would be enough to get to Premise 1a. How significant would this sense of logically prior be then? You might as well argue that the concepts of self, other minds, rationality, etc. is required before assessing Christianity (or any other system of thought).

My point is that one does not need to establish that God exists, one only needs to establish that if X happened God would exist, which I think only the most militant atheists would not agree with.

No one is arguing that there could be Christianity without God. I think @Philosurfer’s demacation of epistemological vs. metaphysical priority is a more helpful one than the general concept of “logical priority”. Both epistemological and metaphysical reasoning use logic, which is why I object to the term “logically prior.” Metaphysically prior, I would agree.

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