Friday, November 11, 2011

The Ground of Christian Apologetics

One aspect of apologetics that has been lacking in the literature, to the point of near extinction, is the ground for the discipline of apologetics itself. [Oliphant-Tipton, Revelation and Reason: New Essays in Reformed Apologetics, 1]
The apostle Peter issued what is known as the famous apologetic mandate in all of Scripture. What philosophers, theologians, scholars, and apologists miss about this mandate is that Peter was not speaking to philosophers, theologians, scholars, and apologists, not in the technical sense at least. He wasn't even speaking to people that had the wherewithal to become such. Peter was speaking to a community that had been alienated due to their religious beliefs. Specifically, they were under tremendous pressure to abandon the Christian sect and return to the fold of the world. Why then, does it seem that most apologetic training places so much demand on the average person that it nearly makes it impossible to hold down a full time job, manage the affairs of the house, fulfill the obligations of relationship and parenting and still be able to devote considerable time to church service, worship, Christian fellowship, intense discipleship, and the apologetic task? Is it because apologetics actually demands the kind of philosophical acumen and prowess that some apologists portend? At the risk of sounding overly simplistic, I think we give objections to the reality of God more credit than they deserve. Perhaps Christian apologists, philosophers, and theologians should devote more time and energy to making some of the issues in this field easier for the average person to understand. I realize that some will take my comments as an affront to scholarship, but that is not at all what I am saying. As C.S. Lewis said, we need good philosophy if for no other reason than bad philosophy exists. To extrapolate that a bit further, we need good Christian philosophers if for no other reason than to explain to the rest of us what the bad philosophers are actually saying. But what we do not need is what one famous Christian apologist apparently endorses:
Some readers of my study of divine omniscience, The Only Wise God, expressed surprise at my remark that someone desiring to learn more about God's attribute of omniscience would be better advised to read the works of Christian philosophers than of Christian theologians. Not only was that remark true, but the same holds for divine eternity. [Quoted in: Reason and Revelation, 2]

The implication is that theological studies are insufficient to help one grasp the doctrines of God's omniscience and eternality. As a theologian, I cannot help but wonder how and what philosophical inquiry adds to a doctrine that is entirely derived from Scripture, by using sources outside of Scripture. I also have to wonder what the implications of such a view are on the sufficiency of Scripture. If one follows certain critical methods without discernment, the sufficiency of Scripture crumbles. Consider social-science criticism's contention that pastors must be trained in secular psychology and study sociology in order to adequately engage in biblical exegesis. The first question that comes to my mind is, "which school of psychology should one study?" There are literally dozens upon dozens. Moreover, the clear implication is that no one who lived during the first 1980 years of Christianity has adequately understood the text of Scripture because they did not possess a sophisticated and mature understanding of the many sociological and psychological nuances of the Greco-Roman culture. Poppycock!

Contrary to classical apologists views on the necessity of evidence and logic, the only valid ground for Christian apologetics is Scripture. It is not autonomous human reason, nor is it found in the amount of evidence one may present for the resurrection of Christ or any of the other miracle claims of Scripture. I agree with Reformed Epistemology's view that belief in God is properly basic. Christian apologetics must proceed on the ground of Scripture alone. Human reason and human interpretation of historical evidence must submit to the Christian ethic. If we undertake scientific investigation and inquiry, it too must submit to the Lordship of Christ and the revelation of God contained in Scripture. I am not suggesting that reason has no role to play whatever. What I am contending is unregenerate human reason can always find a way around God unless God cleanses the mind through regeneration. God uses revelation, not reason to that end. Before you indict me, I am not setting reason over against revelation. I am placing reason under revelation.
Additionally, I am not saying there is no place for theistic evidences. What I am contending is that the ground of Christian apologetics must be Scripture itself. That is where we rest. It is where we begin. It is not merely where we end. We begin with Scripture, continue with Scripture, and end with Scripture. Is Scripture sufficient for the task of apologetics? I mean, really, when we say we believe in the doctrine of sola scriptura, do we really mean that? When it comes to Christian apologetics, do we believe that Scripture alone is sufficient to the cause?

I do not agree with the classical apologist's view that men honestly have no rational sensation that God exists. Nor do I think that men arrive at the truth claims of Christianity by autonomous human reason and the weighing of evidence in traditional theistic arguments. That does not mean that I find reason and evidence useless. Not at all! I simply argue that both reason and investigative methodology must be redeemed and cleansed from the hopelessly damning effects of sin on the human intellect. There is no neutral starting point. Human reason is biased against God from the beginning. So too is the inductive method. There are no brute facts, only interpretation of those facts insofar as human knowledge is concerned. Since the human method for gaining knowledge is fatally infected by sin, we cannot have much confidence in its ability to produce the desired fruit of truth we so desperately seek. We must turn outward, to the Creator who knows the facts as they are for He is the one that created them to be what they are.

I believe Kelly Clark is wrong when he says,
Christian apologists often wave theistic arguments around as if the truth were obvious and the proofs simple. But these sorts of fundamental truths are neither obvious nor simple. [Clark, Kelly James. Reformed Epistemology in Five Views on Apologetics. 283]
I believe the claims of Christ truth regarding the fact of God are obvious. I believe the phrases use by Paul in Romans 1:19 are unambiguous: φανερόν ἐστιν ἐν αὐτοῖς and ὁ θεὸς γὰρ αὐτοῖς ἐφανέρωσεν. The word phaneros, according to Moulton and Millgan means clear, manifest. Louw-Nida says the word, in this context means, pertaining to being clearly and easily able to be known, easily known, evident, plain, clear. The word appears 18 times in the NT. Six times it is translated evident. In Gal. 5:19 Paul uses it to tell us that the works of the flesh are "evident." He uses it in 1 Tim. 4:15, instructing Timothy to be absorbed in these things so that his progress will be evident to all. Space prohibits a more detailed discussion of the meaning and use of this work in the NT as well as the LXX. It is used in Deut. 29:28 (29 NASB) where Moses says the secret things belong to the Lord but the things revealed belong to us. Therefore, it seems clear by the NT usage of this word in the context of the question of the truthfulness of God's existence, that such existence has been made plain to unbelievers and they know it.

The second half of v. 19 says "For God made it plain to them." This is a different form of the same word. The reason that men clearly and plainly know that God is, is that God made it a point to make sure they knew and not only that, but that this knowledge was plain, easy, and simple for men to grasp. When men say, "I do not know if there is a God," or when they say, "I do not believe God exists," or "There is no God," they are not being intellectually honest. At this point, we have one of two options: we can disagree with God and agree with men, giving them the benefit of the doubt. On the other hand, we can refuse to set aside the revelation of Scripture on the matter and confront the unbeliever with the knowledge that screams loud and clear to them through revelation. The sensus divinitatis and the fact of the material world serve as witnesses on the divine witness stand damning and rebutting the fairy tales of men who perjure themselves under oath in the divine courtroom of the triune God.

I do not wish to impugn reason or evidence. I merely wish to bring both methods under the epistemic authority of faith. The logician and the scientist must always actively submit their methods to faith, to the Christian ethic, to the authority of divine Scripture. There is much use to made of redeemed logic and inductive method, not to mention historical inquiry. We only encounter problems when we attempt to revamp the order of priority in methodology. When we attempt to displace Scripture with modern critical methodology as is often the intellectual temptation for so many in academia, then we begin to encounter unnecessary problems in the field of apologetics and theology. When adjectives like "plain, simple, and clear" are ipso facto pejorative terms, it is time to reexamine the reason for our efforts at their foundation.

The ground of Christian apologetics and theology can only be divine Scripture. Our starting point and ending point is the self-attesting, authoritative revelation we have in the pages of God's sacred writings. These are they that testify to us of Christ and His marvelous grace. It is this Christ who has descended into earth to explain to us all that the Father wanted us to know of Himself. That is what we proclaim to a lost and dying world and it is what we defend against the attacks of the critics, cynics, and skeptics of the world who have proclaimed themselves, to varying degrees, "enemies of faith" as expressed in true biblical Christianity. If the ground of Christian apologetics begins anywhere other than Scripture, it is doomed never to arrive at Scripture as its sole authority for informing us of the nature reality, epistemology, and ethics. Wherever Christian apologetics begin, this will be the authority that it is doomed to serve forever. It is my hope that apologists, theologians, scholars, and pastors will wake up to this truth sooner than later.

"Reason that does not begin with God can always find a 'reason' not to end with God"

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