We live in an era when the antagonism toward Christianity seems to be reaching levels not witnessed since ancient times. Evolution and atheism have ravaged the gospel claims from without. And today, the church finds herself in the most precarious position of having to defend a gospel that, to a large degree, has been abandoned by many of her members and leaders. I heard a person say recently, "I don't know how to witness to people who don't believe the Bible is the word of God." The grim reality is that no unbeliever really believes the Bible is the word of God. And more than that, the hostility to that very idea is increasing exponentially. This trend places the church in a position of catch-up. For years now the church has focused on social and relational issues. And this has had virtually no impact on its members either. Just look at the divorce rate in the vi sable church. While the church has been distracted by the social and relational issues, she has neglected to instruct her members in the simple defense of the gospel. In fact, she has neglected to lay that basic doctrinal foundation in the lives of those who have come to occupy her seats over the last three or four decades. This has left a gaping hole that we are now feeling the impact of, much like an Army unit feels the impact when it discovers, on the battlefield, that they are firing blanks at the enemy.
A Question of Method
When it comes to Christian Apologetics for the Believer, the question is where do we begin? If one were to survey the materials available on the subject of apologetics, the list would be daunting. There is no question as to the need for Christians to defend the gospel. We must stand up, proclaim with a loud voice, and defend the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ which alone can bring life and redemption to unregenerate men throughout the entire world. But where do we begin in this process? What is the starting point? I would argue that the two most fundamental areas of education necessary to engage in Christian apologetics are 1) Theology Proper; and 2) Anthropology. I am convinced that if you do not understand the nature and being of God, and the nature and being of man, you can never provide a defense of the gospel that fully honors God. Moreover, inconsistencies will emerge in your method that will eventually make shipwreck of your argument when you encounter the right kind of skeptical thinker. This is a well-established fact of history and is documented time and again every time a defense of Christianity is made without a biblical foundation in these two very critical areas of theology. So where does one begin the process of apologetics? They begin with the study of theology. Any attempt to divorce theology from apologetics, or to place apolgetics prior to theology is doomed from the outset. What one believes about the nature and being of God, and the nature and being of man will have far reaching conseqences for one's apologetic.
Van Til wrote, "Apologetics is the vindication of the Christian philosophy of life against the various forms of the non-Christian philosophy of life." Fundamental to the Christian philosophy of life is a correct understanding of the being of God. Without this understanding, one does not possess an accurate understanding of Christianity. This understanding is gained by a study of theology proper. Secondly, one cannot provide for a God-honoring vindication of the Christian life and worldview without understanding the true nature of man. Far too often for example, unregenerate man is given too much credit in his natural abilities and his disposition toward God. Such credit often leads to an apologetic approach that most often, and sad to say, completely misses its target. Therefore, a biblically competent view of God and man is necessary before one can engage in the vindcation of the Christian worldview that is found to be faithful to Scripture and honoring to Christ.
Thoughts on Neutrality
The most common approach to vindicating the Christian worldview makes assumptions that land it in hot water from a biblical perpective. The frist assumption is that man possesses enough natural ability to see and understand the most reasoned arguments for the existence of God, and the truth of the gospel, that he can respond favorably. The major underpinning to this approach is the assumption of neutrality. Man is assumed to possess a neutral disposition toward God and evidence and so long as you provide the right evidence in the right order for the existence of God and the truth of the gospel of Christ, man will arrive at the truth of God's existence through his reasoning powers alone, and believe the gospel, placing his faith in Christ. The problem with the approach is that it assumes a sort of tabula rasa in that man is neutral concerning things related to God. However, unregenerate men are NOT neutral concerning the things of God. In fact, man is hostile to God (Rom. 8:7). Unregenerate men do not possess the ability to understand the things of God (1 Cor. 2:14). Finally, unregenerate men cannot do anything that pleases God because they do not possess such an ability (Rom. 8:8). To add insult to injury, when we assume that men do not really believe God exists, we find ourselves in direct contradiction with Scripture. Scripture expressly teaches that all men know God exists (Rom. 1:18-32). Moreover, evidence does not stand on its own two feet. Evidence is ALWAYS, ALWAYS subject to interpretation. And since the unregenerate man has a hostile disposition toward God, he will never interpret evidence in a way that pleases God because he is unwilling to do so, and even if he were willing, he is unable to do so.
- Neutrality denies that all knowledge is the result of the revelation of God
- Neutrality places too much faith in man's power to reason
- Neutrality underestimates the effects of sin and dismisses man's disposition toward God
- Neutrality displaces the authority of Scripture as self-attesting
- Neutrality places God in the docket and man on the bench, forever displacing the self-attesting authoritative nature of Scripture
- Neutrality is a fully man-centered approach reflecting a lack of faith in the gospel, emphasizing method over truth
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