Here are notes from some of the talks that I benefited from during my time in Oxford.
Notes from Dr. Tayna Walker’s talk: “How can we know?”
Tanya received her undergraduate degree was in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from Christ Church, Oxford University, an MA in Islamic Studies and a PhD which considers the implications of Islamic law in the West, both from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.
A Biblical view of faith does not deny truth and reality. It is not based on wishful thinking. If the resurrection didn’t happen, “we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19).
To know something it must be:
2. Actually Believe it
3. Have justified reasons for believing it.
Postmodernism says that because of the plurality of voices, truth is relative. We often hear statements like “There’s no such thing as truth.” We can respond: “Is that statement true?” Or “That’s true for you, but not for me.” We can respond: “Is that an absolute statement?” Or “You can’t know anything about the truth.” A response: “Do you know that you can’t know?”
However, these are not abstract concepts. Without truth we lose meaning and therefore hope.
For something to be true it must:
1. Correspond —> Truth corresponds to reality
2. Have Coherence —> Does the system contract within itself?
3. Be Pragmatic —> For truth to be true it has to play out in real life.
Jesus shows Thomas evidence. Then Thomas believes.
Christian faith is evidence based. Sometimes we doubt because we are influenced by philosophies that limit what counts as justified evidence.
These philosophies include:
Logical positivism championed by A.J. Ayer which held that all human knowledge could be reduced to only that with could be verified by science and logic. (A.J. Ayer later rejected this philosophy).
Scientism – the only truth that counts is based on evidence, and the only evidence that counts is that based on science.
However, even this statement fails its own test!
Christianity holds to different lines of converging evidence that show that it is a justified belief system. These include the following:
- There is something rather than nothing.
- The fine-tuning of the universe.
- The moral law.
- The historical reliability of the Bible.
- The historical evidence for the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ
- Life transforming impact of a relationship with Jesus.
If evidentalism is true, then to know anything at all, we need evidence. However, we do not have evidence for everything. We all hold to beliefs that are properly basic without evidence. For example, that I exist and am conscious, the things I see in front of me are actually there, that other people have minds, and that the universe wasn’t created five minutes ago with the appearance of age.
Professor Alvin Plantinga says that belief in God is properly basic, in that no further justification is needed for it to be considered a rational belief. (That if God exists we should have experiences of him that are just as real as the above properly basic beliefs). In other words, experience is rational, it is knowledge.
We are saved by knowing God, not by knowing about him.
The invitation of the Christian faith is to know Jesus Christ.
Notes from Simon Edwards’ talk: “Relational Evangelism.”
Simon is an Apologist for RZIM and Assistant Chaplain of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics. He holds separate degrees in law, economics and education from the University of Queensland, Australia. He also recently completed post-graduate studies in theology at the University of Oxford.
When we look at the book of Acts in the New Testament, why did Christianity grow so quickly? 1. Prayer 2. Took the Great Commission seriously. 3. They talked about Jesus wherever they went – Acts 8:4 – the gospel spread through relationships.
Why is hard to talk to people about Jesus?
Ephesians 6 – spiritual battle.
Satan’s plan: 1. For people not to hear the gospel. 2. For people not to receive the gospel. 3. If people receive the gospel, for them not to share -to be a private Christian, and to keep quiet.
Secularization and cultural pluralism influences why Christians keep the gospel to oneself. 1. At best – outdated. 2. At worst – intolerant, bigoted, etc.
There is an inner instinct for self-preservation. We don’t want to be misunderstood, look strange, etc.
Our biggest fear is that God isn’t going to show up. However, we are called to be public Christians.
We create opportunities through relational evangelism.
It is all about being genuinely interested in people. Getting to know them, asking questions, knowing their story, background, their likes, and dislikes. William Wilberforce was described as interesting because he was interested.
We need to be interested, to be intentional, and to ask questions. Questions such as what helps you get through hard times? Do you pray? etc.
We need to be inviting people to various things, to give people as much opportunity as possible. 77% of people come to church because they were invited by a friend.
Half of the reason we are nervous to share is that we have forgotten that the gospel is good news.
The West is post-Christian in attitude, but pre-Christian in understanding.
The gospel is good, beautiful, and full of hope. Jesus came not to condemn, but to rescue. People think that Christianity is moralism, condemning, etc. There are many lies, distortions, and half-truths that are believes. Truth needs defending in all of life. Decisions made on lies have disastrous consequences.
The New Atheist writers teach that Christians are people who believe despite the evidence (blind faith). Apologetics is therefore needed. Not saying sorry, but reasons for (Grk: ἀπολογία, apologia). 1 Peter 3:15: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer (apologia) to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
The message can be undermined by the way the message is communicated, and by the way the communicator lives. We need integrity.
To paraphrase Pascal, we want people to wish the gospel is true and then show them that it is. Not only is it good, but it is true, factual.
Commending —> Evangelism Defending —> Apologetics -John Stott
Argument does not create belief, but creates a climate where belief can flourish.
Unchurched people do not enter into spiritual conversation with the same presuppositions as us.
Why should I trust the Bible?
How do you know God exists if you can’t see him?
Paul reasoned with people from their starting point. The goal is not to win arguments, but to win people. Persuasion is not the same thing as manipulation.
Paul in Acts 17 explained, reasoned, and proved.
Everyone of us can grow. The best way to grow is to talk to people about Jesus.
When you are asked a question that you don’t know affirm the question: “That is a good question. Let me get back to you.” This communicates to the person that you care. It also communicates that you have confidence that there are compelling responses to their question.
When someone asks question, we should ask what question could I respond with. Behind every question is a questioner. It is a mixed bag of struggles, doubts, etc. We need to affirm the person and affirm the question. It takes a risk to ask a question. Jesus liked to questions. Over 150 questions in the NT. A good question to ask in response is: “Why is this question important to you?” A good question like this helps to uncover the person’s assumptions.
Here are some other good questions you can ask:
Why do you think all religions are essentially the same?
How do you know that science has disproved God?
It sounds like you really value inclusiveness, but does not your view that all religions are the same exclude me from my belief that they are not?
Do you think that only that which can be demonstrated in a science lab is true?
You obviously don’t believe there is a God, what are your thoughts as to how the universe came to be here?
You say I can’t prove God exists. Leaving that challenge aside for the moment, can I just ask this – what sort of proof would it take for me to satisfy you that there is a God?
Do you think its possible to remove evil and suffering from the world without violating human freedom?
Are you saying that its impossible to be, say, a world-class philosopher and a Christian at the same time?
It sounds like freedom of choice and freedom of expression are really important values for you. I agree. But tell me, what do you mean by freedom. Is freedom nothing more than the absence of any physical restraint?
It sounds like equality and diversity are really important values for you. I agree with you, But tell me, one what basis do you think all people are equally valuable?
It seems that you think that this particular Christian teaching is immoral. Tell me, what in your view makes anything immoral.
Do you think anything in life is sacred? Why?
In what sense do you think miracles are impossible?
Why do you think atheism should be the default position?
You ask how I know Christianity is true. Let me ask you first, how do we know anything is true? How for example, do we know that Julius Casar and the Roman Empire really existed.
If I were to answer that question to your satisfaction would you give your life to Christ? 9/10say no. -) what then is your issue?
Connect with people where they are at. Build bridges. God is already working. God is the gospel. This person is already looking for what God alone can satisfy.
Start with common ground. Be affirming. Make the gospel connection. Then challenge