‘Defending against defeater beliefs.’ Two talks by Don Carson

Don Carson gave two talks at the FIEC (Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches) Leaders’ Conference in Torquay this year. They’re entitled Defending against Defeater Beliefs. The FIEC’s website page for the first talk is HERE; the page for the second talk is HERE.

In the first session, Dr Carson briefly overviewed seven defeater beliefs that challenge, and can defeat, our own Christian beliefs. He said, “. . . it’s become a little more difficult to do evangelism, a little more challenging, not because the gospel has changed, but because the nature of the defeater beliefs that are challenging the gospel are progressively more diverse, progressively more antithetical to . . . Christianity. So let me . . . give a survey of . . . seven [defeater beliefs] with a few comments along the line and then I’ll close by returning to this point regarding the importance of the Bible storyline.”

The ‘defeater beliefs’ that Dr Carson deals with are these:

1 “There cannot be only one way to God.”

2 “Freedom is tied to our capacity for individual self-definition, . . . for individual self-identity; we choose our own self identities.”

3 “This freedom . . . includes our right to define sin for ourselves.”

4 “What I’ve learned to call the new tolerance.”

5 “Moralistic therapeutic deism.”

6 “God couldn’t possibly send people to hell – or if there is some kind of punishment, it’s for really bad blokes like Stalin, but it’s not for nice people like me.”

7 “The God of the Bible is Himself spectacularly morally flawed.”

In his conclusion, Dr Carson said, “What is required for this and all the other defeater beliefs at the end of the day is not only some individual answers . . . [but] an alternative biblical theological framework – the Bible’s storyline. . . . Ideally you want to take people from a frame of reference in which they’re holding a whole lot of defeater beliefs, which if you tackle them one by one . . . you’re likely to get smashed down one by one . . . and present instead an alternative picture, a big story, which changes all of those defeater beliefs into something else. Now, this can be done in a lot of different ways. It can be done by one-on-one Bible study to invite people into beginning to read the Bible and find out how it clashes with their own assumptions . . . .” There are quite a few resources that cover the Bible storyline. Two that Dr Carson mentioned are God’s Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts (described HERE), and his own resource The God Who Is There. This is available as a book with a leaders’ guide, and also a video series. The videos and transcripts are available free of charge HERE; you will also find audio versions of the talks here, together with details of the accompanying book and leader’s guide for group study.

In his second talk on defeater beliefs, Dr. Carson deals with this question: how can we be sure that what we believe is true? He begins, “Yesterday I gave a brief overview of defeater beliefs and how they work and how Christians should think of them. Today I want to deal with just one such defeater belief. Someone responds to our witness by saying, “You can’t be sure of your interpretation; you can’t be sure that what you’re saying is the truth – it’s just not possible.” Now what lies behind that is a whole lot of postmodern assumptions. But sometimes when we are hit with something like that we don’t know immediately how to respond. We’ve just been sidelined. Our very dogmatism, which might be attractive to some, becomes the ground for dismissal by others. And so we need to think through how this defeater belief works, and how to begin to respond to it.”

Dr D.A. Carson is Emeritus Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois.

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