The first of the renewed salvos were fired from the "anti-God" (a.k.a. "atheist") side, with the release of books such as The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins in 2006. Not to be outdone, the "pro-God" (a.k.a. "theist") side has returned fire with the release of books such as The Devil's Delusion by David Berlinski in 2008.1
As yet I haven't read any of the tomes from either side. There are only so many hours in a week, and from the reviews I've read the arguments look to be rehashes of ones that I am already acquainted with. But I am interested enough in the field of Christian apologetics to have watched three of the debates that have accompanied the furor. One debate was between Christopher Hitchens and Berlinski, another one between Lewis Wolpert and William Lane Craig, and one other between between Colin Adams and Ian Hutchinson.
One point that came up in all three sparked my interest, because of how the Word of God addresses the issue. Echoed by Hitchens, Wolpert and Adams -- arguing for the atheist side -- it revolved around a bromide attributed to Carl Sagan. That, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." After stating that the existence of an omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent Creator represented "an extraordinary claim," all three asserted that the needed evidence was lacking.
Notwithstanding the rebuttals by the theists, which included various teleological arguments, ontological arguments and historical arguments for God's existence -- as well as personal testimonies from the Christian debaters on the theist side2 -- in my opinion the atheists won the point in all three debates.
Of course, just because they scored a point in a debate doesn't excuse them from the truth of Romans 1:18-25 in the wider context of life. Every human being who has ever been born and reached the age of accountability, has at some point perceived the existence of God. No matter how tight the logical box may be that he or she may end up constructing against that perception.3
But what struck me wasn't so much the strength of the atheists' argument about "extraordinary evidence." What struck me was the weakness of the Christian debaters' answers to it. So weak that I may not be too far off the mark in surmising that their belief -- along with the belief of a lot of other Christians -- must rest upon various philosophical and moral arguments, buttressed by their own subjective personal experiences, and little else.
Which is a shame considering the irrefutable and undeniable "extraordinary evidence" that, according to the Word of God, God's people have personally available today.
For instance, concerning the historical basis for the resurrection. According to the principles whereby historians attempt to determine the facts of history, the resurrection of Jesus Christ can be credibly posited as a fact that is as established historically as any other. Take for example historian George Rawlinson's seventh principle of determining the relative credibility of historical testimony:4
The cumulative evidence of two or more independent witnesses to the same event increases the probability of the event, not in an arithmetical, but in a geometrical ratio.If true, a historical principle like this would make the following verses in I Corinthians stick out like a sore "thumbs-down" against anyone trying to relegate God and the Lord Jesus Christ to the status of myth on any kind of historical basis.
I Corinthians 15:3-8Say that Dr. Rawlinson's historical principle holds true. And say that the cumulative evidence of two or more independent witnesses geometrically increases the probability of an event having occurred by a factor of two for each additional witness. That would mean that -- because 1x2=2, 2x2=4, 4x2=8, 8x2=16, 16x2=32, 32x2=64, 64x2=128, 128x2=256, 256x2=512, 512x2=1024, 1024x2=2048, and 2048x2=4096 -- with just twelve witnesses the historical likelihood of the event has gone up from 1-to-1 to 4096-to-1. Which would also mean that, with more than five hundred eyewitnesses the probability of an event not having occurred is essentially nil.
I [the Apostle Paul] delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:
And that he was seen of Cephas [Peter], then of the twelve.
After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.
After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles.
And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.
Furthermore, the book of Acts describes the nature of these appearances of the risen Lord.
Acts 1:3In light of such written records, what those on the anti-God side have to refuse to concede -- lest their arguments fall apart at the seams -- is the integrity of the New Testament documents. And the fact that every attempt to do so over the centuries has proven to be a dismal failure cannot be allowed to discourage them in the efforts, either. Because they recognize what Dr. Rawlinson pointed out in his fifth historical principle:
To whom also he [Jesus Christ] showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.
Direct records, such as those which proceed from the agents in the occurrences,... deserve the very highest degree of credit and are the best and most authentic source of history.5
Salvation is a subjective spiritual transaction between the Holy Spirit and the individual who receives Christ.6 But to hear a lot of Christians talk, you would almost think that it is the sole transaction that ever occurs. Which can only mean that they remain uninstructed from God's Word about the objective spiritual transactions between the Holy Spirit and the believer. Transactions which are evidence that, from the moment of salvation forward, represents a day-by-day and moment-by-moment witness of God the Father's presence and power in us through Christ Jesus.
Romans 8:16On logical grounds alone, if God truly is God Almighty, would the witness that He bears -- the present-tense witness that we are His children -- be merely some kind of unspecified subjective personal experience? The logical answer is, "No it would not." Which also happens to be the biblical answer, although you wouldn't know it by talking to (or debating) most Christian believers nowadays.
The Spirit [pneuma, God the Giver] itself ["Himself," with the NIV] beareth witness [summartureo, present tense] with our spirit [pneuma, the gift] that we are [present tense] the children of God:
God, the Giver, is Spirit (see John 4:24). Likewise His gift, which comes at the new birth, is spirit (see John 3:6-7). And it is a gift whose coming Jesus Christ promised time and again throughout his ministry and after his resurrection.7 Including one instance found in the book of John:
John 7:38-39The Lord's depiction of the receiving of the coming spirit as "rivers of living water" hardly sounds like merely some inner feeling of wholeness, like those that often accompany salvation. Feelings that -- as wonderful as they are -- always prove to be ephemeral as the trials and opportunities of life continue to present themselves.
He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.
(But this spake he of the Spirit [pneuma, the gift], which they that believe on him should receive: for the ["the" is not in the text] Holy Ghost [pneuma hagion, "holy spirit," the gift] was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)
The biblical record of the fulfillment of Christ's promise indicates that the witness of the spirit is something more than just feelings. Although powerful and glorious feelings were no doubt subjectively experienced by those who received, the record in God's Word of the outpouring of the gift indicates something concrete, something objectively observable as well. Something akin to both "rivers of living water" and "cloven tongues like as of fire."
Acts 2:1-4Here was extraordinary evidence. Here is extraordinary evidence.
And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.
And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost ["the holy the spirit" is the text, emphasizing that this was the long-promised gift], and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit [pneuma, God the Giver] gave them utterance [in exact concordance with Romans 8:16 above].
I Corinthians 2:9-15A natural man compares sense-knowledge evidence with sense-knowledge evidence to determine what is true in the natural world. But a spiritual man, when it comes to the things of the Spirit of God, has the ability to compare spiritual things with spiritual to determine what is true.
But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.
But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit [pneuma, the gift]: for the Spirit [pneuma, the gift] searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.
For what man knoweth [eido, perceives, considers] the things of a man, save the spirit [pneuma] of man [referring to soul life] which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth [eido] no man, but the Spirit [pneuma, in context referring to the gift; cf. verse 14] of God.
Now we have received, not the spirit [pneuma] of the world, but the spirit [pneuma, the gift] which is of God; that we might know [eido] the things that are freely given to us of God.
Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost [pneuma hagion, the Holy Spirit] teacheth; comparing spiritual [pneumatikos] things with spiritual [pneumatikos].
But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit [pneuma, in context referring to the Giver; cf. verse 11] of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know [ginosko, know by experience] them, because they are spiritually [pneumatikos] discerned [anakrino, investigated, determined, judged].
But he that is spiritual [pneumatikos] judgeth [anakrino] all things, yet he himself is judged [anakrino] of no man.
All the while a natural man may not even believe in God, much less guess the existence of spiritual things that can be objectively verified as true. But in determining whether or not some particular evidence is objectively true, whether that evidence happens to explain a natural phenomenon or a spiritual phenomenon is immaterial.
Phillip E. Johnson writes about what he believes the standard in science ought to be for verifying evidence. Part of his argument can be seen on pages 147 and 148 of his landmark book Darwin on Trial (2nd Edition, 1993), where he cites a prominent philosopher of science (link and emphasis added):
Karl Popper provides the indispensable starting point for understanding the difference between science and pseudoscience. Popper spent his formative years in early twentieth century Vienna, where intellectual life was dominated by science-based ideologies like Marxism and the psychoanalytic schools of Freud and Adler. These were widely accepted as legitimate branches of natural science, and they attracted large followings among intellectuals because they appeared to have such immense explanatory power. Acceptance of either Marxism or psychoanalysis had, as Popper observed,the effect of an intellectual conversion or revelation, opening your eyes to a new truth hidden from those not yet initiated. Once your eyes were thus opened you saw confirming instances everywhere: the world was full of verifications of the theory. Whatever happened always confirmed it. Thus its truth appeared manifest; and unbelievers were clearly people who did not want to see the manifest truth; who refused to see it, either because it was against their class interest, or because of their repressions which were still 'un-analyzed' and crying aloud for treatment.... A Marxist could not open a newspaper without finding on every page confirming evidence for his interpretation of history; not only in the news, but also in its presentation -- which revealed the class bias of the paper -- and especially of course in what the paper did not say. The Freudian analysts emptied that their theories were constantly verified by their 'clinical observations.'Popper saw that theory that appears to explain everything actually explains nothing. If wages fell this was because the capitalists were exploiting the workers, as Marx predicted they would, and if wages rose this was because the capitalists were trying to save a rotten system with bribery, which was also what Marxism predicted. A psychoanalyst could explain why a man would commit murder -- or, with equal facility, why the same man would sacrifice his own life to save another. According to Popper, however, a theory with genuine explanatory power makes risky predictions, which exclude most possible outcomes. Success in prediction is impressive only to the extent that failure was a real possibility.
Acts 1:8-9This "risky prediction" not only preceded Day of Pentecost, it was among the very last words the Lord spoke while on earth. First the apostles would receive the gift, which came on that day, and then they would be witnesses of the Lord as the book of Acts subsequently records.
But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost [pneuma hagion, the gift] is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.
As a matter of fact following its record of events on that day of the initial outpouring, the book of Acts goes on to quote the Apostle Peter's address, in its entirety, to the people who were present at the event. During which Peter echoes and expands upon the Lord's "risky prediction" by making one of his own. The truth of which sounds out around the world to this day.
Acts 2:36-38 [emphasis added]In other words, Peter declared that his hearers would receive -- according to the promise of Christ -- the same gift that they had just seen Peter and the others receive. He declared furthermore that the same promise extended to "as many as the Lord our God shall call."
Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.
Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?
Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of [from] the Holy Ghost [pneuma hagion, the Giver].
For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.
I would say that, if Johnson and Popper's standard for scientific theories holds true -- and it sounds pretty good to me -- that the promise of Christ has been bolstered continually, from the Day of Pentecost down to this very day, by evidence that is as "scientific" as you can get.Many years after the "risky predictions" about the promised gift were fulfilled in innumerable of God's people, the Apostle John wrote to the called of God. Among whom there were many, by that time, who had never known the Lord during his earthly ministry.8
Nevertheless John declares, in chapter 4 of I John, what the evidence of the spirit that they had received had made them in their witness for the good news of Jesus Christ. Namely, that it made them eyewitnesses.
I John 4:12-13John's declaration that no human being has ever seen God is axiomatic, because according to what he himself wrote in John 4:24, "God is Spirit." And by definition spirit cannot be seen, heard, smelled, tasted or touched. So how do "the called of God" know that we dwell in Him and He in us? We know, according to John, by the "extraordinary evidence" that has proceeded "out from" the spirit of God since the Day of Pentecost.
No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.
Hereby know [ginosko, know by experience] we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us ["that experiential knowledge," by the figure of speech Ellipsis.9] of [ek, "out from"] his Spirit [pneuma, the gift].
That verse 13 omits something is clear grammatically. The verb "hath given" is transitive, requiring a direct object. But in verse 13, against the rules of syntax, the verb hangs in the air unattached to a direct object.
In other words, if you are going "to give," you have "to give *something*." That the reader was intended to supply "that experiential knowledge" as the *something* in his or her understanding is documented in the verse that follows beyond doubt.
Verse 14All who are called of God and have received the gift "have seen and do testify."
And we have seen and do testify [martureo; in other words, "we are eyewitnesses"] that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.
So it is not just the apostles and others who saw the Lord when he was on earth who are eyewitness. All who are called of God, beginning on the Day of Pentecost and ever since, "have seen and do testify." Based upon what? According to John, based upon our "experiential knowledge" of the spirit.
The called of God do not have to remain stuck in the rut as second-hand witnesses. Because when we receive into manifestation the promised gift -- by speaking in tongues and the other eight manifestations of the spirit listed in I Corinthians 12 -- we become eyewitnesses of the identical first-hand present-tense evidence of which the believers in the first-century church were eyewitnesses.
That is, we have received and can manifest moment-by-moment the fulfillment of the promise of Christ. Which makes us, like they were, eyewitnesses of its reality.
Now, it's a cinch that the unbelievers and skeptics on the anti-God side of the current debate are unlikely to accept our testimony about the existence of God and the resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ. But winning over the opposing side is not what is required to win a debate. All that is required is for our side is to marshal better evidence for our case than they have for theirs.
Which means that we who have received the gift of God win! Yee haw! (I like winning, don't you?) Because our first-hand, present-tense, experiential-knowledge of Jesus Christ's "risky prediction" -- verifiable before the disinterested court of universal human experience by the "extraordinary evidence" of its fulfillment dating from the Day of Pentecost down to today -- makes us witnesses of the highest order.
Eyewitnesses, that is. The whole darn bunch of us. To reiterate, Yee haw!Of all the great truths in the Word of God, I would bet all the legal tender I own that the best kept secret in the Bible, which far too many Christians remain in the dark about, is the "extraordinary evidence" which is the subject of this weblog post. Notwithstanding the great truth of God's Word, that each and every individual believer has that evidence available to him or her according to the promise of Christ.
I am aware of only one Bible teacher during modern times who stepped forward to make any kind of "risky prediction" (of the "biblical proportions" that we're talking about) regarding "how to receive" the gift of God (as have, subsequently, many who were his students).
His name was Victor Paul Wierwille (1916-1985), who as far as "risky predictions" go, once stated:
You see, learning is a process. You don't learn overnight. The holy spirit field -- that's the field God raised me up for. There's not a question that cannot be answered biblically. And there's no one I can't lead into speaking in tongues if they are Christian and want to do it.10During the 1970s there were a lot of Christians from a variety of backgrounds and denominations who became interested in the gift from the Holy Spirit, and specifically, the manifestation of speaking tongues. So many, that they collectively came to be known as the charismatic renewal movement. Personally, I believe that Wierwille's book, Receiving the Holy Spirit Today, first published in the 1950s and still in print today, was a publication that helped kick off that movement.
One reason I believe so dates back to when I first acquired the book and sat through Wierwille's "Power for Abundant Living" class, in July of 1975. Living in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I had a roommate who was a student at Oral Roberts University. Where at that time he also happened to be enrolled in the school's course on the Holy Spirit. One evening he showed me his syllabus for the class, which he had noticed followed Wierwille's book quite closely. So closely and in so many details, in fact, that technically speaking it came close to plagiarism.
When it comes to Wierwille's life and ministry, neither the controversy that surrounded them when he was alive, nor the hashing and rehashing among his former students and others of his faults and failures that came into public view after his death, remain secret. But neither does the fact that, through his books and classes, he led tens of thousands of people into receiving the fullness of God's gift. Meanwhile, in my opinion at least, the charismatic movement itself eventually ran out of steam because it got to be based too much on emotionalism, while ignoring the kind of solid biblical foundation that is laid out in pages of Wierwille's book.
With the section that covers Acts chapters 1-2, 8, 9, 10 and 19, the section that covers I Corinthians chapters 12-14, plus chapters that cover general subjects such as "Who is Qualified to Receive," "Common Fears," "What is Speaking in Tongues," and "How to Receive the Holy Spirit," Receiving the Holy Spirit Today provides abundant materials for the reader to determine for him- or herself the biblical validity, not just of Wierwille's "risky prediction," but more importantly, the "risky predictions" of the Apostle Peter and the Lord Jesus Christ himself as well.
For anyone seeking "extraordinary evidence" of their Christian faith -- such as those to whom Dr. Wierwille dedicated the volume -- I still highly recommend the book, just like I have for the last thirty-six years. And after you have read it, if you haven't received yet on your own and you'd like to come over to my place for "a spot of tea," I have a risky prediction of my own to make. You will before we brew a second pot.
Dedicated to those
have longed ... yet doubted
have hoped ... yet feared
have hungered ... yet remain unsatisfied
desire to receive today
the gift from the Holy Spirit
in all its fullness
1. Other titles on the atheist side include God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens, The End of Faith by Sam Harris, and God: The Failed Hypothesis by Victor Stenger. On the theist side other titles include Contending With Christianity's Critics by William Lane Craig, The Irrational Atheist by Vox Day, and God and the New Atheism by John F. Haught.
That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.
For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.