Interview with James N. Anderson, author of WHY SHOULD I BELIEVE CHRISTIANITY?

Published on November 1, 2016 by Joshua R Monroe

Christian Focus, 2016 | 240 pages

Why should you believe that the Christian message is true? Is it just a blind leap? Or does it really make sense? And for that matter, do the alternatives make sense?

Hi, I’m Fred Zaspel, and we’re talking today to Dr. James Anderson of Reformed Theological Seminary and author of the really excellent new book, Why Should I Believe Christianity?

Welcome, James, and congratulations on your new book.

Anderson:
Thank you, Fred; good to speak with you.

 

Zaspel:
Before we talk about your book, this is part of a series of books, right?

Anderson:
Yes, that’s right. I am the co-editor of a new series. The other co-editor is Greg Welty; he is a philosophy professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and a friend of mine. We are co-editing a series of 10 books for Christian Focus Publications that are designed to focus on common questions that skeptics ask about the Christian faith. Each of the books focuses on a particular question such as, why is there suffering and evil in the world? Hasn’t science disproven the Bible? And so forth. They are pitched at a lay level so they try to avoid technical discussions and Christian jargon; and they are addressed to skeptics. So unlike many apologetics books that are written for Christians so that they can then be equipped to share their faith or defend the faith, these are actually written in such a way that they can be put into the hand of an unbeliever and address their questions directly.

 

Zaspel:
How many books in this series are available at this point?

Anderson:
There are two. The series is called The Big Ten: Critical Questions Answered; that’s the title, and of course that means they’re going to be ten, Lord willing. We have ten planned out, and the goal will be to see two books released every year. The first two have been released and that’s my book, Why Should I Believe Christianity? And also one by William Edgar of Westminster Theological Seminary. His book is entitled, Does Christianity Really Work?

 

Zaspel:
I’d like, if I can, to give our listeners a brief taste of your book so they can know what to expect. You call your book a “summary introduction” but not a comprehensive case for Christianity. Tell us what it’s all about.

Anderson:
Sure. Well, my book is a little different than the others in the series. The other books address quite focused questions such as the relationship between science and Christianity or whether Christianity has been good for the world. And they take a more defensive stance, but we wanted one book in the series that would put forward a positive case for Christianity and that’s this book that I’ve written, Why Should I Believe Christianity? Answering what is really the most important question. At the end of the day, why should anyone believe this? Particularly in a culture that is increasingly skeptical about traditional religious claims. So the book aims to explain a Christian worldview and to give positive reasons for believing it; to make an intellectual case for it. Now the limitation is that there’s an awful lot that you can talk about if you’re going to defend a Christian worldview, and this is meant to be an introduction; a sort of first, baseline argument for the core claims of the Christian worldview which then subsequently are going to need further explanation, development, and defense. But just laying out what are the basics of the Christian worldview; what are the basic reasons why it makes sense of the world in a way that no other worldview does.

 

Zaspel:
I’ve got to say that I really loved the book, reading through it, and I love that you’ve pitched it at the lay level. It genuinely is very accessible; and I thought it was great.

Maybe you could give us just a brief overview of the book – is there a 60 second version?

Anderson:
I don’t know if I can do 60 seconds, but I’ll do my level best to make it brief. Basically it has eight chapters and the first three are really setting things up. I don’t actually start making the argument until chapter 4. The first chapter is dealing with the question why you should believe anything at all. If you’re going to ask why should I believe Christianity? Well, why should we believe anything at all? And it talks about truth, the objectivity of truth, the fact that our beliefs should aim for truth and that we look for reasons to believe something is true. So it’s just laying down what we would call technically, epistemological foundations. Of course I don’t use that word, but that’s what it’s doing; it’s just laying down some epistemological tracks to explain how we’re going to approach this question. Then I talk about worldviews and why I am taking a worldview approach to Christianity, how we need to look at Christianity as a worldview in order to evaluate it. And then the third chapter is setting out that worldview. Giving an introduction and overview of the Christian worldview. What exactly it is that we are defending in this book. The remainder of the book is laying out arguments. Chapter 4 makes a case for the existence of the God of the Bible from six different features of our world in our experience that we take for granted. Chapter 5 makes a case for the Bible being a verbal revelation from God. Chapter 6 focuses on the identity of Jesus. Who did he claim to be, and why should we believe that he was who he claimed to be? Chapter 7 focuses on the resurrection and deals with some of the common objections or reasons people have for dismissing the idea of a miraculous resurrection; and explains why it actually makes sense within the context of this Biblical worldview to believe in the resurrection. Then chapter 8 is a kind of a wrap up, concluding chapter, summarizing the argument and then laying down a personal challenge, saying, “this is the case that’s been made, but if you don’t believe this worldview then what is the alternative?” There has to be some other worldview that makes sense of things, so what’s your alternative? You can’t sit on the fence here. You need to align yourself with some worldview and think about why that worldview would make more sense than the Christian worldview if that’s what you believe. So it does lay down quite a direct challenge at the end of the book.

 

Zaspel:
Early on in your book you talk about beliefs, truth, and reasons. Explain for us why you start here and how that shapes what you’re attempting to accomplish.

Anderson:
As I said a moment ago, it’s really laying down some epistemological foundations by explaining how it is that we approach the question. Why should you believe something? Why should you believe it? What I explained in that chapter is that what our beliefs ought to aim at is truth. We don’t want to have beliefs that just make us comfortable, even though they are false beliefs or beliefs that reinforce our feelings. We want to avoid that kind of subjectivity when it comes to beliefs. We want our beliefs to align with the way things really are. That’s what truth is. And the way that we get at truth is, generally speaking, through reasons. If we are asking the question, are these beliefs true, or are these claims true? We want to hear reasons for thinking that they are true. And I sort of clear away in that chapter some dead end epistemologies like relativism, relativism about truth, and skepticism that we can’t really know anything; if there is objective truth, then we can’t really access it. So I’m clearing away some of these very general dead end epistemologies so that we can open the way to giving reasons for the truth of the Christian faith.

 

Zaspel:
We hear it often today that this may be “your truth” but not necessarily “my truth,” and so on. Behind it all is the assumption that all truth claims are relative. Talk to us about that and why the claim that “all truth claims are relative” is irrational.

Anderson:
I felt that in our cultural milieu today you’ve got to deal with relativism; you’ve got to clear that out of the way. Because a lot of people do approach these issues with a relativistic mindset. It was Allan Bloom, years ago, who said that one thing you can be sure of is that the incoming college students will believe that truth is relative; or at least they will claim that truth is relative and that my truth isn’t necessarily your truth. And that was decades ago. And if anything, it is worse now. So I try to tackle that confused thinking head-on by showing that the main problem with it is simply that it is self-defeating. To say that there is no absolute truth or that all truth claims are relative is itself a claim about truth: that is itself is a truth claim. So that if all truth claims are relative, then that claim itself would be relative which means that it might be true for one person but not for another person. But when a claim is made, it is not made as a relative claim; it is made as a universal statement about truth. There are other forms of relativism, but they are all self-defeating at some level or other. The reality is that people don’t live their lives as though all truth claims are relative. Think about a claim like, arsenic is poisonous. Okay, is that true for some people and not for others? Well, put it to the test and you quickly find out.

 

Zaspel:
What about religious truth? Is religious truth objective?

Anderson:
Well, clearly, from our perspective, no. So we want to dismiss that kind of relativism as well. You can have a global relativism that says all truth claims are relative; but some people want to restrict that relativism to religious claims or perhaps to moral claims as well. They say that science gives you objective truth but religious truth is not objective. I think there are number of reasons why people think that. Partly it’s because there’s been a trend to privatize religion or to make it a matter of personal feelings. So if religion is really about personal feelings then it’s basically subjective: you can’t objectively validate it, and so forth. What I say is that religions themselves don’t treat their claims as relative. I think the illustration I used is between Christianity and Islam. Christianity claims that Jesus is the son of God; Islam denies that; one of those has to be true and the other false. It can’t be true for Christians but not true for Muslims; it can’t be relative in that way. And Christianity and Islam make many historical claims; they make claims about objective historical facts such as whether Jesus was actually crucified. There has to be a fact of the matter, you can’t just make that a matter of personal feelings or experiences. These are about objective historical facts. So maybe you could make the case that some religious claims are subjective; but the most important ones, the ones that really define a religion are objective claims.

 

Zaspel:
What is a worldview, and why does it matter that we understand what it is?

Anderson:
Right. One of the features of the book is that it takes a worldview oriented approach. What I argue is that if you’re going to evaluate Christianity fairly and thoughtfully, then you need to understand that it is a self-contained worldview. It needs to be understood on its own terms. And I define a worldview as basically a philosophical outlook or perspective on the world; an overarching framework for interpreting your experiences. A worldview will include beliefs or assumptions about what is ultimate reality, the nature of truth, the nature of ultimate goodness, what is possible, what is plausible, and so forth. So a worldview functions as a kind of intellectual framework like a pair of spectacles through which you view the world and interpret your experiences of it. So worldviews are very important because everyone has them whether they recognize that or not, but their worldview will shape the way that they interpret their experiences and the way that they interpret evidence. So if we’re going to talk about evidence for this claim or evidence for that claim, we need to, at some point, talk about the worldviews that people use to interpret that evidence. So I explain what a worldview is and why it’s important and why, if we are evaluating Christianity, we need to evaluate it as an all-encompassing worldview because that’s what it is. It touches on every aspect of reality.

 

Zaspel:
What are some of the essentials of a Christian worldview?

Anderson:
There are number of ways I suppose that you can break down the Christian worldview into particular doctrines or sets of claims. What I say in the book is that at the very center of the Christian worldview is the existence of God and not just some vague deity, but specifically the triune transcendent absolute personal God of the Bible. So that’s where I start with the Christian worldview. You start where the Bible starts, “in the beginning God…” I talk about who God is according to the teaching of the Bible, and then once you’ve explained who God is and the basic Christian view of God, then you move on to the creation – God creating the world, say something about anthropology, the distinctive Christian view of human beings; what we are, where we came from. And then I follow a fairly traditional sequence of what we call biblical theology or redemptive historical theology of Creation, Fall, Redemption and Consummation. So it’s sort of a historical summary of the Christian story from Creation right through to Consummation.

The other important thing that needs to be talked about in the midst of that is revelation, of course, because we believe not just that there is a God, but that God has spoken and he has spoken authoritatively; he has spoken clearly; he has spoken in a number of ways as Hebrews chapter 1 says; ultimately, most authoritatively, through Christ, but through the Scripture as well. Through the prophets whose words have been preserved in the Scriptures. And so I set out a basic Christian doctrine of Scripture as well. So those would be the basic elements of the Christian worldview as I laid them out in chapter 3 of the book.

 

Zaspel:
You used an illustration of your daughter’s puzzle ball. How is Christianity like that?

Anderson:
I hope it’s not an irreverent illustration, but I think it works. I had a number of people read through the book and give feedback and none of them thought this was inappropriate. What happened was, a number of years ago my daughter got a toy. I think it was a gift for some library challenge of reading books. What it was, was a ball made of colored pieces of plastic that were all separated so that when you got the puzzle all the pieces were independent and they were extremely oddly shaped. Some of them were T-shaped, some of them are H-shaped, and it said that you could put these pieces together to the ball, a spherical shape. And you would look at it and say there’s no way that’s really going to work; but if you follow the instructions, fortunately it came with a solution sheet, you could slot them altogether and when they came together they actually formed a perfect ball that was tightly integrated and held together: it didn’t fall apart once you slotted the final piece in. I use this as an analogy. I say the Christian worldview or when people hear about Christian claims they’ll often focus on a particular claim and not think about it in the broader context of that worldview. So they take one Christian doctrine like the atonement, perhaps, the death of Christ making salvation for his people, and they look at that and say that’s brutal that God would arrange for his own son to be beaten and mocked him crucified just to say people. Why was that necessary? And so forth. So if you look at just that one piece of the Christian worldview it looks odd; it looks strange; it is hard to understand. And the point I’m making is that you need to take these different elements, these different doctrines that are teachings of the Christian worldview and put them together to see their inner coherence and unity. They’re like the individual pieces of this puzzle ball that only when you put them together can you really see the truth, the inner rationality, the beauty, the compelling attractiveness of this Christian story about where we came from, who we are and what this world is all about. That’s what I’m trying to encourage the reader to do in this book. Not to consider Christian claims independent of one another, but to see what I call the big picture; and to see how they fit together and support one another.

 

Zaspel:
Okay, let’s say we’ve demonstrated to an atheist that God exists and that the Christian worldview really does make sense. How do we go from there to Christianity? What we want, of course, is to see him come to trust in Christ for salvation, but how do we get there? This is a huge question, I realize, but I’m hoping there’s a 60-second version you can give us to chart the way forward.

Anderson:
It is a big question and that’s what I’m aiming for in this book. I don’t just want readers to understand what Christianity is and say, yes, that makes sense; I want them to come to the end of it and recognize that they are sinners before a holy God and that Christ is the only way of salvation. So I basically make a gospel appeal right at the end of the book, so that’s where it’s all leading. But to answer your question, we can make a rational case for Christian worldview. What I try to do is argue not simply that the Christian worldview makes sense on its own terms, as if it were just one option. There are various worldviews, perhaps, that all make sense, and you get to choose them. Rather, I’m arguing for something stronger that, at the end of the day, only the Christian worldview makes sense of the world, and that is why we should believe it; that is why we should take it as true. And so in making that case, I am making a case for the core claims of the gospel as well. I’m making a case for who Jesus is, what he came to do, our predicament before God as sinners who are under judgment. So I’m making a case for the truth of the gospel which is at the center of the Christian worldview. Now, where it goes from there, of course, as I say, I make a gospel appeal. You can’t sit on the fence here; you need to think about whether this really is true or whether you’ve got some better alternative. But I have to leave that in the hands of the Holy Spirit at the end. I will pray that people who read this book will come under conviction. It’s not a preachy book; but it is an evangelistic book. I don’t want people to feel emotionally manipulated by it; I want them to see that I’m making a respectable intellectual case for Christianity; but, I also want them to understand what the stakes are – that this isn’t just thinking about some scientific theory or some political policy; this is a matter of someone’s ultimate eternal destiny. And I hope that people will feel the weight of the issues by the end of it whether they are converted or not. As I say, I have to leave that in the hands of the Holy Spirit.

 

Zaspel:
We’re talking to Dr. James Anderson, author of the new book, Why Should I Believe Christianity? I say it wholeheartedly – it’s an exceptionally good book; I have loved reading through it, and it really is easily accessible to virtually all Christian readers. We encourage you to get a copy and enjoy! In fact, get several copies and distribute them to your friends.

James, thanks so much for talking to us today about your new book.

Anderson:
Thank you so much, Fred.

Buy the books

Why Should I Believe Christianity?

Christian Focus, 2016 | 240 pages