Essentials of Apologetics - Lesson 18

Seven Tough Questions

The lesson identifies seven common objections that people raise and aims to provide brief responses to each. The first objection addresses the apparent conflict between a loving God and the existence of hell. Sean engages with this objection by questioning the source of the moral standard used to judge God's actions and challenging the notion of inherent human goodness. The discussion also goes into C.S. Lewis's perspective on those who end up in hell, emphasizing individual choice. The second objection revolves around the fate of those who have never heard about Jesus, with the instructor asserting that God's judgment is fair based on individuals' responses to the knowledge available to them. The third objection concerns contradictions in the Bible, with the instructor acknowledging tensions but defending the overall coherence of scripture through contextual analysis. Other objections covered include the misconception that God hates gay people, the concept of the Trinity, and the problem of natural evil.

Sean McDowell
Essentials of Apologetics
Lesson 18
Watching Now
Seven Tough Questions

I. Introduction to Apologetics

A. Overview of Course Depth

B. Topics Covered

II. Top Seven Common Objections

A. Question 1: How could a loving God send a good person to hell?

1. Moral Charge Against God

2. The Concept of a "Good Person"

3. C.S. Lewis' Perspective

B. Question 2: What about those who've never heard?

1. Basic Awareness of God

2. God's Revelation through Dreams, Visions, and Near-Death Experiences

3. God's Judgment

C. Question 3: Contradictions in the Bible

1. Apparent Contradictions

2. Importance of Context, Culture, and Language

3. Plausible Explanations

D. Question 4: God's Attitude Towards Homosexuality

1. Christian Ethic on Human Value

2. Balancing Love and Truth

E. Question 5: Understanding the Trinity

1. Unity and Diversity in God's Character

2. Scriptural Basis for the Trinity

F. Question 6: Natural Evil

1. Connection Between Moral and Natural Evil

2. Effects of Sin on the Natural World

3. Role of Natural Phenomena in God's Design

G. Question 7: Jesus as the Only Way

1. Authority of Jesus' Claims

2. Importance of Acknowledging Jesus' Claims

III. Audience Engagement and Responses

A. Recognizing Borrowed Capital from Christian Worldview

B. Addressing Questions Step by Step

IV. Q&A Session

A. Discussing the Trinity with a Jehovah's Witness

1. Starting with the Person of Jesus

2. Addressing Scripture and the Concept of the Trinity

B. Understanding the Role of the Holy Spirit

1. Holy Spirit as a Person and Divine

2. Scriptural Basis for the Holy Spirit's Role

C. Exploring the Impact of Sin on Natural Evil

1. Pain as a Gift and Navigational Tool

2. Increased Pain Post-Fall

V. Conclusion

A. Addressing More Questions Than Answers

B. Encouraging Critical Engagement with Objections

  • Gain a comprehensive understanding of apologetics, the theological discipline of defending the Christian faith, through a personal mall encounter that highlights the importance of being prepared to provide reasoned defenses, with a focus on biblical foundations, addressing objections, and fulfilling a ministry to those with questions.
  • This second lesson on apologetics, highlights the importance of understanding worldviews, using practical exercises and examples to illustrate how our minds shape beliefs, categorizing worldviews based on their answers to fundamental questions, and exploring Christianity's unique perspective on creation, the world's problem, and the solution through Jesus.
  • This lesson explores Antony Flew's shift from atheism to recognizing Christianity's uniqueness. Dr. McDowell provides four reasons why a spiritual quest ought to begin with Christianity: testability in history, free salvation, a livable worldview, and Jesus' central role beyond religious boundaries. The lesson includes a Q&A time reviewing Islam's view on Jesus and Darwin's evolution.
  • Debunking the myth of blind faith, Sean counters with a scriptural foundation, using personal encounters and anecdotes. Examining biblical narratives, especially in Exodus and the New Testament, reveals a pattern: God provides evidence, imparts knowledge, and calls for faith and action. The story of doubting Thomas underscores that belief aligns with evidence, not against it. The lesson closes by emphasizing faith's dynamic nature, which can be fortified through evidence-based study.
  • In this session, you'll delve into the speaker's exploration of truth, gaining insights into its multifaceted importance in various life aspects. The session highlights three key reasons for the significance of truth, introduces the correspondence theory, and underlines the implicit connection between Christianity and truth, offering a comprehensive understanding of the topic.
  • You gain a deep understanding of the distinction between subjective and objective claims in this lesson, illustrated through relatable examples like ice cream preferences. Sean communicates that subjective claims rely on personal beliefs, while objective claims are based on the external world. Overall, you will develop a nuanced perspective on truth, specifically in differentiating between subjective and objective claims, with a focus on moral values.
  • In this lesson, you will gain insights into the moral argument for the existence of God. Sean draws from a personal debate experience, emphasizing that God provides a solid foundation for moral values. Three key points are highlighted: the need for a transcendent standard for right and wrong, the role of free will in moral accountability, and the requirement for divine grounding of human value. The lesson challenges naturalistic worldviews, asserting that they fail to offer a satisfactory explanation for objective morality, ultimately suggesting that living in accordance with God's design leads to true freedom and fulfillment.
  • Explore the Christian view on the soul, diving into its significance through moral law and beauty. Analyze arguments supporting its existence, like its role in free will, using analogies. Address contemporary debates on gender and transgender issues, suggesting a dual human nature. Incorporate biblical references, evaluating flawed arguments and introducing stronger ones. Discuss practical implications for personal well-being. This lesson explores the soul's concept from a Christian standpoint.
  • Gain insights into the intricate relationship between science and faith, exploring arguments for God's existence, the concept of fine-tuning in cosmology and biology, and the conclusion that the fine-tuning of the universe and DNA's information complexity point towards a fine tuner and an author of life, offering compelling evidence for the existence of God.
  • In this exploration of miracles, the lesson shifts from discussing God's existence to questioning divine revelation, challenging skeptics to reconsider their worldview and illustrating the philosophical underpinnings of miracles, ultimately emphasizing an open-minded investigation and hinting at a compelling case for theism and Christianity with overwhelming evidence for miracles.
  • You will gain a comprehensive understanding of near-death experiences (NDEs) and their potential as a compelling apologetic tool, exploring evidentiary aspects, transformative impacts, objections, and the significance of information unattainable by natural means in supporting the case for an afterlife and the soul.
  • Dr. McDowell reviews the overwhelming evidence of the resurrection and the significance of the resurrection.
  • In this lesson, you will gain insight into the historical evidence supporting the resurrection of Jesus, including the crucifixion, discovery of the empty tomb by women, early and multiple accounts of Jesus's appearances, and the transformative impact on the disciples, ultimately challenging alternative explanations and asserting the resurrection as the most reasonable conclusion based on historical facts.
  • Exploring the Bible's trustworthiness through the character and copy tests, this lesson establishes the reliability of the New Testament by highlighting the writers' honesty, the disciples' willingness to endure hardships, and the exceptional proximity and quantity of early manuscripts.
  • In this lesson, you will gain a thorough understanding of the New Testament's reliability through an exploration of its extensive manuscript evidence, addressing skeptics' concerns about variations, and highlighting corroboration from external sources such as historical records and archaeology.
  • In this lesson, you will gain an understanding of the problem of evil and suffering, exploring its intellectual and emotional dimensions, drawing on personal experiences, historical perspectives, and a philosophical approach, and laying the groundwork for a more in-depth exploration in the next session.
  • In this lesson, you will learn of the logical problem of evil, exploring the philosophical challenge to God's existence posed by the coexistence of omnipotence, omnibenevolence, and evil, while examining the limitations of God's power, the compatibility of free will, and the unique Christian perspective emphasizing the redemptive nature of the incarnation and the cross in addressing the problem of evil.
  • Gain insights into responding to objections in apologetics, including addressing conflicts between a loving God and hell, defending the Bible against contradictions, clarifying misconceptions about God's stance on homosexuality, explaining the concept of the Trinity, and attributing natural evil to the brokenness of the world due to sin.
  • Gain insights into a personal and relational approach to apologetics by understanding that everyone is an apologist and theologian, as the lesson, through anecdotes, underscores the importance of discerning underlying questions, emphasizing active listening and probing inquiries to address the genuine needs and heartaches beneath surface-level queries.
  • Gain insights into effective spiritual conversations by asking four key questions: understanding beliefs, exploring reasons behind them, finding common ground, and navigating areas of disagreement, with an emphasis on listening and fostering genuine understanding.

In this day and age, it is critical that followers of Jesus know how to think clearly and biblically about their faith and how it intersects with and often contrasts with how the world thinks. These areas include one's worldview, the fact that faith is not blind, why the truth matters, why seeing design in creation points to a designer, and evidence for the soul, resurrection, and the Bible. How can God allow evil, and how do we talk with skeptics? Dr. McDowell discusses these topics and others in this easy-to-understand course on apologetics.

Seven Tough Questions About God and the Bible

Sean McDowell
Lesson 18
Essentials of Apologetics

In our course, in some ways we've gone into a lot of depth, but it's really an introduction to apologetics. There are so many topics like archeology or intelligent design for which we could do full courses and some. Now, there's a few topics that tend to come up, what you might say are some of the most common objections that people have that I think would be helpful for us to give brief responses to. So here's some of the top seven questions that people ask. You've probably thought about these and asked these. We'll take them one by one and then see what questions you have specifically about these. So here's the first question. How could a loving God send a good person to hell?

I was speaking at a skeptical group and one of the heads of the group took me aside. He goes, "I got a question for you." He goes, "What if somebody," and this was his example, "like Bill Gates lives a life giving so much to the poor, caring for people, stands before God and is not allowed to get in heaven just because he doesn't believe in Jesus. How is that fair?"

And I said, "Well, for starters, this is a good question, but you don't believe in God, you're an atheist. I'm curious where you get this standard and this requirement of fairness and justice from and human value. If you can tell me why within your worldview you are able to ask this question, then I'll tell you what I think."

You'll notice a pattern that I use oftentimes engaging people. So many times people ask questions and they don't realize that they're borrowing certain capital from a Christian worldview to even be able to answer that question. I'm not punting on the question. I'll get there, but I want to point out that they have to answer certain things first before that question makes sense. So this is a moral charge against God. I want to know where you get objective morality and justice if there is no God.

But a second thing about this is I'll often say, "What is your standard of what it means to be a good person?" There's people who do good things, but I think the Bible is very clear that there is no such thing as a good person. Romans 3, Mark 7 makes it clear, and I won't make a case for that here, but I think history makes it very clear, the 20th century alone that human beings are not naturally good, reflect upon your own heart. Now we think we're good. Why? Because we compare ourselves to other people. But if we compare ourselves to Jesus for a perfect standard, we all fall short.

Somebody lies. They say, "Well, at least I didn't steal something." Someone steals something says, "At least I didn't physically harm somebody." Someone physically harms someone says, "Well, at least I didn't kill someone." Somebody kills someone says, "Well, at least I didn't kill a lot of people." Somebody kills a lot of people that says, "Well, at least I'm not Hitler." And I don't know what Hitler says. But if we would compare ourselves to Jesus, all of us would realize that we fall short. So God doesn't send any good persons or people to hell because there is no such thing as a good person. One other thing I would say, and again this deserves so much more unpacking, is it really true that God sends people to hell? Jesus said... I'm sorry, although this is close in the minds of many evangelicals. C.S. Lewis said, certainly don't mean to imply that C.S. Lewis is Jesus, but he's probably quoted second to Jesus by Christians.

C.s Lewis said, "In the end, there's two kinds of people, those whom say to God, thy will be done. Those to whom God says, thy will be done. People who are in hell choose it."

Now, so much more could be said, but I think he's onto something worth raising and talking about when people raise the subjection. By the way, what's interesting is people say, "Why is there evil and hell? These are flip sides of the same coin. The problem of evil is why doesn't God step in and stop it? The problem of hell is, well, God has stopped it, but in a way I don't like." You can't have it both ways. You can't say God hasn't done anything, but God has done too much. It doesn't work that way. If he's really God, he's going to judge in a different way than we understand.

A second question is somewhat related to this. What about those who've never heard? Now one question when people ask this, I'll say, "Okay, that's really interesting. Let me ask you a question. Have you heard?"


"So I would encourage you to not allow how God might judge those who haven't heard to stop you from responding to the message that you have heard."

Now, here's a question. Is there anybody who hasn't heard? On one sense the answer's no. If God has revealed himself in creation, in beauty, in morality, everybody has a basic awareness that there is such a thing as a God and we live in a moral universe. You say, "But everybody doesn't have knowledge of Jesus." That may be true. My question is if God has made himself sufficiently known to people and people reject the knowledge that God has given, why is he bound to give further revelation beyond that?

I think God knows people's hearts and if there were those who were seeking after him and willing to respond, I think he would in fact make himself known. Now, there's questions about how many actually seek God that we could explore as well, but clearly God is not bound by our modern technology. He's appeared in dreams to people. He appears in visions. He appears in near-death experiences. In some ways, it is God's job to judge. If God is God, he will judge fairly and nobody will be able to stand before him and say, "Oh, if I just had this, I would've responded." I have a hard time believing that's the case.

Third, what about contradictions or apparent contradictions in the Bible? Notice I qualify that with a term apparent. When you have multiple authors, multiple books, multiple genres, of course there's going to be certain tensions that are in the Bible, but let's ask if there were contradictions in the Bible, what would follow from this? When I hear an objection, I often ask myself, what follows even if this were true? So if there were a contradiction in the Bible, would this mean that Christianity is false?

I don't think that it would. What would make Christianity false? Finding the body of Jesus. If Jesus was not the God man who resurrected Christianity would be false. Now, if there were contradictions in the Bible, this would raise significant questions about what it means that the Bible is inerrant, how God inspires his word. These are considerable theological questions, but I would not give up my faith entirely. I would have to rethink certain things if there were a contradiction. But with that said, I'm not convinced that there actually are contradictions. There's tensions, but not necessarily contradictions. Well, what do you do when you hear about an apparent contradiction? Go to the context, go to the culture, go to the language and consistently over and over again, very plausible scenarios can be raised for explaining why there's a tension between the two perspectives.

What's interesting is a friend of mine who I've mentioned in this course, Jay Werner Wallace, cold case detective, who deals with eyewitness testimony has said, "If everybody agrees on something, there's collusion, but there's also a level where there's so much disagreement, you can't trust it. When you have certain eyewitness testimony, there should be agreement on the facts, but differences over some of the details because the perspective and angle and depth by which people report." When you look at the Gospels in particular, that's exactly what we see. Agreement on the whole, but some differences and kinds of tension that when we look in the culture and the context and language, again more often than not can plausibly explain away. So when you hear an objection, you might say, well, which contradictions do you have in mind? Let's go to the context. Let's go to the culture. Let's do some research. And I'm telling you, when you do that, you can find very plausible explanations.

A common one today people might say is that God hates gay people. God hates gay people. Now the reality is some people feel this way because they've been mistreated by Christians, and there's probably times we've given the impression that God hates gay people. So instead of getting really defensive when we first hear this, we might ask ourselves, how well have I loved my neighbor? How well have I treated other people who see the world differently? Now, with that said, are gay people made in the image of God? That's the easiest, obvious question I've asked you in this entire course. The Bible makes it very clear, male, female, black, white, your sexual orientation is irrelevant to you being made in God's image and having value as a human being. That's a Christian ethic. On top of that is also a Christian ethic that says we're supposed to love our neighbors.

That doesn't come from Ancient Greece, doesn't come from Ancient Rome that comes distinctly through the Christian faith. When Jesus tells the story of the good Samaritan and talks about loving your neighbor, if we've fallen short, let's repent and let's love our neighbor. But one of the difficulties here is sometimes our culture assumes that affirming a certain behavior is what it means to love. That's where Christians day time out. I will love you and care for you despite your behavior, but sometimes the loving thing to do is to speak truth because it's the truth that sets free. Let's make sure as we engage this issue that we don't have hypocrisy and a double standard towards this issue we have towards others. I was speaking with a agnostic college student one time and he goes, "The hypocrisy of Christians is always bothering me."

I said, "What do you mean?"

He said, "I have a friend who's always railing against gay marriage who's a Christian while he's drunk."

Well, let us not pick and choose which sins we talk about and we address, but let us also stay faithful to what the scripture teaches because God's design for sex and marriage is built in our bodies, built into the universe, and it's actually when we follow his design that we're set free.

How can God be three and one? This is a common challenge. Oftentimes from Muslims will raise this and say, "You say there's one God and three Gods, contradiction. You say there's one person and three persons, contradiction." If that's what we meant by the Trinity, it would be a contradiction. Now, what's interesting about the Trinity is it's based on two words, try and unity. Kind of like the word university, unity and diversity. The first philosophical question that people start to wrestle with is why is there unity in the world and why is there a difference?

There's one cluster grapes, but many grapes. There's one family, but many members. There's one body, but many parts. What brings unity and what brings diversity? And the Christian answer is found in the character of God. There is one God in essence, three persons who share that divine essence or nature. There is one what and three who's, is how one theologian explains it. Now, why do we believe God is triune? You can't look at nature and just figure out that God is triune. Some people are like, "Yeah, look at like a three-leaf clover."

I'm like, "Yeah, you're not going to get the character of God from a three-leaf clover. It doesn't work that way." The only way we know God is triune is because God has revealed himself to be this way through the scriptures. There's one God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are each divine, but they're also distinct persons, one God in being, three persons.

Now that might go beyond our ability to grasp, which frankly the older I get and I think about the character of God, we should expect that. I used to ask my students for analogies and one student goes, "Oh, I got it. Peanut M&M. There's the shell of the chocolate and the peanut." And I thought, okay, we're talking about the character of God and we're using M&M's. Maybe we've gone somewhere astray here. We should not expect to be able to perfectly capture the character of God because God is infinite and is eternal. But what we can show is the triunity of God is consistent with scripture and also that it's not logically contradictory. The beautiful thing about it is that if God is triune, that means that relationship is built into God's character. God is relational in his very being. A challenge that comes up is what about natural evil?

Now there's debates whether we should use the term natural evil or not because is a tornado or a shark attack or an earthquake really evil? You can decide where you stand on that discussion, but nonetheless, a lot of the pain and suffering and hurt in the world results from things of nature. Well, a few things can be said. Number one, we can't perfectly separate moral evil from natural evil. Many times natural evil is exacerbated when there's say an earthquake and there's a corrupt government that has built insufficient housing. We've seen with the Covid virus, certainly many cases of human imprints all over this, causing far more evil and suffering than simply a virus alone. Famines are often brought on by corrupt governments, so we can't perfectly separate the two. The second thing is to say is, as Christians, when sin hit in Genesis chapter 3, it wasn't just in our souls, it was in our body and the natural world itself was affected and rocked because of sin.

The world itself is broken. Now, this can't explain everything within the natural world, and this isn't inventing something to explain away. This is built into a Christian understanding that the natural world has been upset, the natural world has been rocked, and even the natural world itself in some sense will be redeemed. But the third thing is, it's not that fires are evil. We need fire. It's good. It helps us survive. We also need forest fires to replenish and even get seeds of sequoias out, so to speak, and often happen with fires. So we need fires. We actually need earthquakes to have the movement of plate tectonics. Even things like viruses do many good things, such as limiting the amount of bacteria in our bodies. If we didn't have viruses, we could not survive. So when we take a step back and we look at how moral evil is intertwined with natural evil, we'll get the effects of sin and then we see how we need many of the things like even tornadoes and others are a part of the natural world God has made. We can begin to make sense of natural evil, although of course much more can be said.

Last question is how can you say that Jesus is the only way? I had a friend who's an agnostic Sadden. He goes, "How can you say Jesus is the only way?"

And I said, "I'm not. Jesus said it, take it up with him." Now, of course I was saying it, but what was my point? I don't have the authority within myself to speak about who is or who is not the means of salvation. So let's ask the question. Who actually has such authority? If I were to tell you after this class, meet me outside because I'm offering a free clinic on how to be an NFL quarterback. None of you should come. I got nothing. I got nothing. But if an NFL quarterback shows up, then you should come because that person has the authority.

Who has the most authority of anyone who's ever lived to speak about spiritual things? Well, you knew the answer to that one. But the sinless, virgin born, miracle working savior of the universe seems to have the most authority. If all those things are true about Jesus, then it seems to me we ought to take seriously his claims to be the only way to get to the Father. In some ways, my responses to these probably raised more questions than they did answers. But hopefully you'll illustrate when objections come up before read with one or two things to say. We can help people make sense of the kind of objections that are raised against the faith. Any questions or clarification or challenges specifically on the issues we are addressing here? Go.

How would you discuss the Trinity with a Jehovah's Witness?

Oh, how would I discuss the Trinity with a Jehovah's witness? I don't know that I would start with the Trinity, with the Jehovah's witness. Jehovah's witnesses are directly opposed to the Trinity. I would start with the person of Jesus and Jehovah's witnesses believe that Jesus was Michael the Archangel, not the son of God. So before I get to the Trinity, which says there's three divine persons and there's one God, I just want them to get Jesus right? So I'd probably go to John 1:1 and passages throughout John, I'd go to the end of Mark. I could lay out a whole case for why I think Jesus is God and Jehovah's Witnesses get that wrong. That's where I would go. So whenever I'm thinking about engaging an atheist, I'm not going to talk about the Trinity with an atheist. I realize Jehovah's Witnesses are different.

I just want to get an atheist to believe there's a God. There's a spiritual realm. Let's move step by step. So Jehovah's witness, I'm going to go to the person of Jesus. Now, if Jehovah's Witnesses say, "I'm not going anywhere until you show me why the Trinity is not a contradiction," then I'm going to take him to the scriptures. I'm going to walk him through what the scriptures say. And I think the simplest case for the Trinity is the Bible Old and New Testament says there's one God, but also teaches the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are each divine, but they're also distinct persons. So how do you have one God but three persons? That's what we mean by the Trinity.

Now, a big Jehovah's Witness thing is to say, "Well, the word Trinity is not in the Bible." I've heard that because they've knocked on my door in the past. And I'd said, "Okay, I got a question for you. Do you believe God is self-existent?"


Well, the word aseity is not in the Bible, and the answer is it doesn't matter if the word aseity is in the Bible because the doctrine of God's self-existence is taught. So the word is irrelevant. The question is, does the Bible teach the doctrine of the Trinity? And in fact it does. It's a great question. Go ahead.

Quite often it's asked that, yes, in God we can understand Jesus, we can understand... But why and where from? Where do you bring Holy Spirit?

So Holy Spirit, we know a couple of things about Holy Spirit. Holy Spirit speaks twice. I'm in the Book of Acts. I can't remember if it's Acts 10 and 12 or 16. The Holy Spirit speaks twice in the Book of Acts, which tells us the Holy Spirit is a person. You look at the story of Ananias and Sapphira, this is one of the most powerful passages to say You did not just lie to man. You lied to God in lying to the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit is divine. You can also look at the baptism of Jesus. Baptized people in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. They're put on the same level. You don't baptize the Father, the Son and Moses. That would be heresy. So the Holy Spirit is personal, not just a force. The Holy Spirit is divine and put on the same level as the Father and the Son. That'd be the quick answer. Great question. One more. Go.

Okay, so I think you mentioned that our bodies, they decay because of our rebellion. Eden, it says here in Genesis 3 that caused curse women with pain and then he also subjected to the earth to futility causing previous storm to take hold. He also-

Let me stop you real quick for the sake of time, it doesn't say in Genesis that he cursed women with pain.

Oh, really?

It doesn't say that. He increased their pain. There was pain before the fall. Pain is a gift from God. You could not survive if you didn't have the ability to feel pain. One of the things that happens to lepers is they lose the ability to feel pain and quite literally self-destruct. How many times do you bite your tongue and then stop? What if you bit your tongue and didn't know and kept biting? What if you stepped on a rock or a nail and didn't know it because you couldn't feel it? What if you touch a hot stove and couldn't feel pain? What if you got something in your eye and you couldn't feel the pain, you would scratch and destroy your eye?

God gave us pain as a blessing to navigate the world in which we live. One of the lessons I've learned recently is to when there is pain, listen to your body. It's there for a reason. It's an alert saying something is wrong, don't ignore it. So it's not that he gave the women pain and cursed them because of it, but there is an increase in the amount of pain. So this is what we don't know the answer to. The world is cursed and it's broken. But does that mean we used to have earthquakes that are level three now we have level seven. I don't know the answer to that. I'm not sure we perfectly can. But God built in certain laws of physics, he built in pain within our body, but it's been profoundly affected by sin on some level that affects natural evil and suffering. It's a great question. Thanks for bringing that in.