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THE YOUNG CHRISTIAN'S SURVIVAL GUIDE: Common Questions Young Christians Are Asked about God, the Bible, and the Christian Faith Answered Kindle Edition
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- File size : 879 KB
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 148 pages
- Publication date : July 18, 2019
- Language: : English
- Publisher : Christian Publishing House (July 18, 2019)
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- ASIN : B07VFR66Z4
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Page numbers source ISBN : 1949586898
- Lending : Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #718,136 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
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The first seven chapters are concerned with the evidence for the resurrection and the reliability of the NT documents. The book relies heavily on evidential and rational argumentation. It avoids the common pitfalls of circular reasoning, which stems from a confusing of methodology with worldview assumptions in the case of many presuppositionalist aplologists on the one hand, and also the inadequate approach of the minimal facts case on the other. The latter approach limits itself to scholarly consensus as a criterion, thereby greatly weakening the force of the cumulative case for the resurrection, and it completely neglects the historical veracity of Scripture unnecessarily. The bible cannot be used as a starting point without smuggling in our worldview a priori and begging the question, but Donald Williams also understands the importance of using all the evidence at our disposal to establish the probability of the resurrection, not just the agreed upon facts of which there are very few amongst scholars in the guild.
The foundational argument for Christianity in the book combines the evidence of the resurrection with the arguments for the Gospel’s as historically credible testimony. Space cannot permit a thorough presentation of all the relevant data in a book that is not devoted solely to this topic, of course, but interested readers can find further resources in the foot notes to pursue it further. This includes such evidence as the proximity of the Gospel writers to the time period and place described (all have intimate familiarity with pre-70 A.D. Jerusalem); multiple attestation or independently reported events which corroborate each other in significant ways, examples of which we find a great deal of across all four evangelists; consistency in reportage but also differences that can serve to further authenticate the testimony as arising from the memories of eyewitnesses and reinforce the fact of some degree of independence for each Gospel author’s account; all of which lines of evidence, when taken together, make a rather strong case for why these are documents that cannot be dismissed as the products of either clever fabrication or later legendary development.
The resurrection, though obviously a central pillar of faith, is hardly the only doctrine that is indispensible to a Christian worldview, but the other doctrines on which a fully fledged orthodoxy rest can be shown to be eminently reasonable, even if we cannot assess them directly, based on the testimony of the one who rose from the dead. If Jesus really did claim to be the Son of Man of Daniel 7:13-14 or the great “I Am” revealed to Moses in the burning bush as St. John attests, and he vindicated such astounding claims by rising from the dead, then the authority of the Scriptures which he set out to fulfill becomes an almost necessary conclusion. They demand to be taken seriously. The fact that many of these events surrounding Jesus were foreshadowed centuries, if not millennia, beforehand in the law and prophets only lends further credence to their authenticity. As Donald Williams puts it, “This is a man whose coming had been prepared for two thousand years. This is a man whose friends kept asking themselves, “What manner of man is this?” and being compelled to answer that question in theistic terms. This is the reassertion of a life that had already shown itself to be sovereign over life and death. If ever there was a man about whom we could believe such a thing, it is this man: Jesus of Nazareth.” There is thus ample reason to answer Jesus’ question put to his disciples at Caesarea Philipi concerning his identity in accord with St. Peter: “Though art the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matt. 16:16).
The evidence for Jesus’ resurrection and the inspiration of Scripture naturally is followed by a very fine discussion of the formation of the cannon. Someone may well grant that the Scriptures are not explained by human ingenuity alone, but how do we know which books are inspired and which are not? Donald Williams gives an excellent summary of the sorts of criteria that went into the formation of the cannon as we know it today (both old and new testaments), demonstrating that this was anything but an arbitrary selection and that consensus over the Gospels and the majority of St. Paul’s letters as Scripture was never in question. The fact that a few epistles were questioned seriously by church fathers is indicative of the high standards with which they were operating, and it is not hard to see why smaller epistles that did not receive as much attention or those not obviously connected to an apostle (Hebrews) might be subject to greater scrutiny. 2 Peter 3:16 makes mention of a collection of Paul’s letters that were already given the same status as the OT Scriptures before the close of the first-century, showing that a proto-cannon of sorts was already in the works very early on. The fathers would not just accept any writing that cropped up claiming to be by an apostle. It had to have great antiquity, sound doctrine, and be in widespread use for it to even be taken seriously, and those orthodox congregations that were fooled by forgeries were doubtless corrected by Bishops or elders (see Bishop Serapion of Antioch’s letter concerning the Gospel of Peter for instance). Such rigorous scrutiny on their part indicates there was nothing careless or haphazard concerning the process of the formation of the cannon. Williams also clears up many common but profound misconceptions—dismantling for instance, wild conspiracy theories about Constantine, which are not entertained by any remotely credible scholars, but remain endemic in popular culture and thus deserve to be addressed.
I was really glad to see a significant portion of the book devoted to cultural and ethical challenges to the bible. Donald Williams argues briefly though convincingly against the viability of ethical subjectivism in its various iterations. Ethical statements that seem obvious, such as it is wrong to bear false witness against a man or to plunder your neighbor, are best taken to be both factual in nature, as opposed to merely expressive of subjective states like emotions, and also true in most if not all circumstances we could encounter. Everyone is innately inclined to treat them as such in their dealings with others whenever their interests are at stake, but this does not seem to fit into a naturalistic paradigm in which there is no purpose or meaning behind human life, and thus no way in which life ought to function. If, however, God is the source of all goodness, and he issues commands which impose duties upon his creatures for the sake of their own good, then the ethical imperatives we all feel more or less compelled by can be understood as reflecting the unchanging truths rooted in God’s nature as the summun bonum.
Questions naturally arise, however, with respect to the content of these commands. Perhaps a person will agree in theory that the idea of God as the source of ethics makes a great deal of sense but will be tempted to ask about all those atrocities in the OT. How are they to be squared with the character of God as perfect in love and abounding in mercy? The Canaanite genocide in particular is a tough pill for many people to swallow. There are several approaches that have been put forth. Paul Copan has argued for what may be called the hyperbole thesis, which says that the problem passages found in Deuteronomy and Joshua where God is commanding the annihilation of whole people groups are best understood as exaggerated war rhetoric typical of the ANE. Part of the evidence for this is that in certain instances, people who were commanded to be wiped out appear later in Scripture living in the land of Israel. While this may be possible in some cases, it certainly cannot explain all the texts. For example, Deuteronomy 20:16-18 seems pretty clear that everyone living in the land God had promised them as an inheritance is to be completely devoted to destruction. It is clear that they are not instructed to do so with cities outside of this region, and are free to take the inhabitants captive as booty. This thus appears to be a specific command given and not just a figure of speech. Even if we allow for the possibility that the descriptions of “all” being put to the sword is not absolute in every instance, and perhaps qualified in the narrative itself, (some may have fled the city before it was besieged, for instance) this is not the same as claiming that hyperbole is used. So I find this suggestion to be very implausible. It makes no difference to the critic at that point whether these commands were successfully carried out in all cases.
Perhaps even more problematic for this view is that 1 Samuel 15:3 also uses very similar annihilation language with respect to the Amalekites, but Saul is criticized for sparing their king and taking their livestock as plunder. Donald Williams is willing to bite the bullet, however, and accept that everyone residing in the cities of the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, and so forth, were not to be spared. It is better just to take the text at face value I think. Williams is correct to not apologize for this though, and recognizes that God has the prerogative to withdraw life at any point. The wickedness of the Canaanites living in the land had reached its zenith, and they were now ripe for judgment in God’s eyes. He has the wisdom and knowledge to determine when people are beyond repentance, and no sinner has the right to protest such judgment in any case, since as such we are all in debt to God. Many forget that life is a gift, not a right that God owes us or must respect at all costs. I think Williams gets the exegesis and the theology 100 percent correct here. Much the same could be said for the chapters on slavery and homosexuality, both of which require lengthy responses.
While the discussion of egalitarianism may take us beyond a mere Christianity, it is nonetheless an important issue that is difficult to avoid completely if we are concerned with exonerating the bible from the charge of sexism so often leveled against it. Donald Williams defends a complimentarian view of the household codes and the pastorate, according to which men are to be in positions of headship or leadership and bear the primary responsibility for the wellbeing of the family. This view is highly unpopular today in much of evangelicalism, especially among young people, but not because the arguments of the other side have gotten any better I think. Part of the problem is that the culture today no longer thinks in terms of objective realities (what is the essence of a thing) so much as we do what its utilities or abilities are. C.S. Lewis spoke to this significant departure from the old metaphysic concerned with the nature of being and towards a more utilitarian driven view:
“There is something which unites magic and applied science (technology) while separating them from the “wisdom” of earlier ages. For the wise men of old, the cardinal problem of human life was how to conform the soul to objective reality, and the solution was wisdom, self-discipline, and virtue. For the modern, the cardinal problem is how to conform reality to the wishes of man, and the solution is a technique.”
In approaching these matters, many young people will express misgivings because are not women, after all, equally capable as men of being leaders, learning the Scriptures and theology, instructing the congregations, offering spiritual counseling, chaplain duties, presiding over funerals, and whatever other responsibilities are laid upon the lead pastor or reverend? They miss the boat, however, because they are asking questions about utility but not about essence. They are asking questions which pertain to what a priest does, but not what a priest is. Even many complimentarians fall into the trap of arguing that among the reasons we should not ordain female pastors is that they do not make natural leaders the way men do. Although I greatly respect John Piper for standing his ground on this issue, I think he is wrong to drag the issue of female leadership and its social consequences into the discussion over what the bible teaches. Nowhere does Scripture give such justification, and as Williams says, even if it’s generally true that men are more likely to excel in positions of leadership, that still would not preclude all women at all times from ever qualifying for such a role. Furthermore, Scripture itself has examples of women leading in competent ways. One such example is the judge Deborah, who exhibits not just great faith but courage and godly leadership. It stands as a sobering fact, however, that there are no female priests at all in the OT. It is clear that priesthood belongs to Aaron’s sons as a lasting ordinance (Ex 29:9).
Why are men specifically marked out for the priesthood and holy orders? Donald Williams is very wise in putting the emphasis on what men represent as opposed to their level of competence or unique qualities they possess for the task. Men bear the brunt of responsibility for their families as head of the household (Eph. 5:21-23) and are called to represent Christ to their congregations as elders or bishops just as Christ represents the Fatherhood of God to us. It is not incidental that Christ became incarnate as a man. In administering the sacraments, a priest in persona Christi—functioning as the symbol of the one who is Head of the church—the man Christ Jesus. Philosopher and theologian St. Thomas Aquinas described a priest as one who “enacts the image of Christ”. The priest is a living eschatological sign of Christ the Groom who will be united to His bride, the Church. And this sign value is only communicated if the one acting in the person of the Groom is a man. If you eliminate the sign, if you change what the priest is, the meaning of the actions of the priest radically alter as well. Ontology must be seen as primary.
Another reason this view has fallen on such hard times is that people conceive of leadership within what Williams dubs the “Gentile paradigm”, alluding back to Jesus’ contrast between Gentile rulers lording it over those under them, and the contrasting paradigm of self-sacrificial servitude characteristic of His kingdom (Matt. 20:21-28). They forget that submission to Christ is prior to any other form of submission in the context of a marriage (Eph. 5:21), and that these exhortations concerning submission or hierarchy find their proper context in relation to the relationship of Christ to his Church. We cannot simply rest content with a careful study of what the relationships are and how they function. What is often ignored to our peril is the center of God in all relationships. The orderliness of our relationships matter because we want to honor God in all things, first and foremost, and not least of all in building others up in the image of his Son. The core Christian relationship is one of mutual submission in Christ. So while St. Paul was far from a feminist or egalitarian with respect to his view of hierarchies, and demanded wives submit to their husbands, children to obey their parents, and slaves to obey their masters (all of these relationships function in differing ways), accountability to God is at the center. If we lose sight of that then we are bound to fall back into the Gentile way of subjugation rather than a loving, respectful, and honest relationship that abounds in service to the other. William’s chapter on this was especially good, and offers some practical wisdom in these areas, which we would do well to heed. I think if more people were exposed to reasonable and biblically sound defenses of complimentarianism such as you will find here, they would be far less inclined to reject it. Many reject it for the wrong reasons I think.
The final chapters address the problem of the unevangelized, the problem of evil, and objections to retributive justice and the concept of hell or final punishment. I’m greatly appreciative of the clear and articulate defense laid out for the reader of these most unfashionable doctrines and teachings of Scripture. The exegetical work in this book is very cogent and informed. The only significant difference I have is that I find the annihilation view of hell to be much more plausible on exegetical and theological grounds. If this view is correct, then we avoid much of the difficulties encountered here, but still can retain a concept of retributive justice, which I completely agree with the author is essential. I think it has all of the strengths but none of the weaknesses of the traditional view. I do greatly appreciate the defense of a more particularist stance of salvation though, and the wise cautioning against making promises that extend God’s mercies beyond what Scripture promises. Not many in our day and age are willing to limit themselves to the parameters laid out in Scripture.
I would say Donald William’s book is one of the best of its kind. Its succinct, cogent defense of Christian theology and its historical foundations will no doubt do a tremendous service to young folks diligent enough to give it a thorough read and reflect seriously on its contents. If they do as much, they will easily be head and shoulders above the average person in terms of their preparedness in defending their worldview from opponents of Christianity. The rampant anti-intellectualism in the church, as well as the lack of doctrinal clarity or focus in much of today’s preaching, has left many with a superficial and highly insecure faith. Thankfully there are pastors out there like Donald Williams who are putting out quality resources such as this book which could prove enormously effective in small group settings or in classes led by our elders or pastors. I say it’s time churches get serious about equipping the younger generation with books of this sort so that they are not just able to withstand the intellectual challenges they are bound to come across in University with their faith intact, but more than that, also be energized by the truths of Christ and his Word to further advance the cause of the Gospel in a culture that is rapidly becoming estranged from its Christian heritage. We need more warriors who will contend for the faith, and books like this can function as their sword and shield, providing answers to relevant questions of great, pressing importance, and equally of value, supplying them wisdom and insight necessary to articulate the Christian alternative, such that the knowledge of God may be made known and every thought be taken captive to Christ.