Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Putting Words in God’s Mouth

There is an English idiom that people often use when they think another person is not accurately interpreting what they are communicating. They will say, “You are putting words in my mouth.” For the injured party, the experience can be quite displeasing. It is never polite to speak presumptuously for another. It is exceedingly dangerous when you are doing so for God.

‘But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.’ (Deut. 18:20) zîd is frequently used to refer to three specific aspects of pride. One is presumption. Because a person is proud he presumes too much in his favor, especially in the sense of authority. For instance, the false prophet was one who presumed to speak in the name of God, assuming authority to do so, without having been called (Deut 18:20; cf. v. 22 for use of the noun derivative).[1]
It does not take lofty critical skills to understand very quickly where the sin rests. Moreover, if you are not immediately humbled and tremble at the realization of what this passages reveals, you should be.

When I was initially regenerated and baptized into Christ, it was in the Pentecostal Church. My spiritual leaders taught me that God still speaks inspired utterances through human beings down to the present day. This is a common Pentecostal/Charismatic doctrine. Benny Hinn made the following prophecy in 1989: "The Spirit tells me - Fidel Castro will die - in the 90's. Oooh my! Some will try to kill him and they will not succeed. But there will come a change in his physical health, and he will not stay in power, and Cuba will be visited of God." Then again: "The Lord also tells me to tell you in the mid 90's, about '94-'95, no later than that, God will destroy the homosexual community of America. [audience applauds] But He will not destroy it - with what many minds have thought Him to be, He will destroy it with fire. And many will turn and be saved, and many will rebel and be destroyed." In light of where we are on this issue and the fact that Castro did not die in the 90s, I think I am safe in saying that Benny Hinn is a false prophet. If Hinn were living in ancient Hebrew times, the penalty would have been death. No man may take the Word of God in arrogance and he certainly cannot pretend His words are God’s words without exposing himself to serious danger.

This egregious error may be difficult for some to see and easy for others. Whether or not people see it for what it is, is of little consequence. That fact has no bearing on the righteous judgment of God who will hold men accountable for their wicked deeds. While most evangelicals are not Pentecostal and can see the error in this doctrine, we still have a serious liability every time we encounter the sacred Word of God. After all, the Sacred Text is not like any other book by virtue of its nature.

Kierkegaard said, “And then the interpretations – 30,000 different interpretations.” Vanhoozer writes, “This mirror image raises what I believe to be the most important question for contemporary theories of interpretation, whether of the Bible or of any other book: Is there something in the text that reflects a reality independent of the reader’s interpretive activity, or does the text only reflect the reality of the reader?” [Vanhoozer, Is There A Meaning In The Text? 15] For many modern Christians living in American culture, Scripture is simply a reflection of our own prejudices and values. We force one anachronistic interpretation onto the text after another. When fathers should be attempting to mimic God as Father, American Christians are busy dragging God down to their versions of the ideal American father. This is one example of many, committed every week in Sunday Schools, Sermons, and Bible studies all across our land. Indeed, we have little more regard for Scripture than we do the blank notebook sitting at our child’s study desk. The text has become nearly a blank sheet of paper for us to construct whatever kind of God, Christ, and Christianity we desire. “Humankind is vulnerable to moral evil, and imagination, perception, and intention can readily be misdirected or deceived into situations of evil.” [Thistelton, The Hermeneutics of Doctrine, 263] And so we have engaged in each of these and it is against these we must set ourselves if we are to rightly handle the Word of God.

Mishandling of the Biblical text is a parlous action. The level of preparedness one takes in order to treat the text as it deserves, in a fair and ethical manner, is a reflection of the inner attitude of the individual Christian. Moreover, the attitude one has concerning the Biblical text is a replication of the attitude one has toward it’s divine Author, not to mention one’s own self. If we genuinely recognize the holy character of God the Author, and the true sinful condition of our own deceptive heart, we cannot help but approach the text with the deepest levels of humility, coupled with a passionate enthusiasm to equip ourselves appropriately for the task of receiving what God has said, not to mention communicating that message to others. “God’s Word commands our very best because, in the ultimate analysis, it is not a human word, but the Word of God. This means that our interpretive enterprise must rest on a robust doctrine of biblical revelation and a high view of Scripture – as Jesus taught, Scripture is “the word of God” and this “cannot be broken” (John 10:35).” [Kostenberger, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation, 62]

When we as human beings listen to the Bible, we are listening to God’s word. We experience his meaning, his control, and his presence. We learn specifically information and hear specific commands (meaning); we are transformed as our minds are renewed (control; Rom. 12:1-2); and we have spiritual communion with him (presence). [Poythress, In the Beginning Was the Word, 28] One express purpose for Scripture is perlocution. Scripture comes to our doorstep with the goal of not informing for the sake of informing. Scripture brings radical transformation goals with it. Scripture has a job to do on and in our hearts. Hence, if we are busy putting words in God’s mouth, not only are we engaging in a serious peril, we are cutting off our nose to spite our face. As a result, God’s work, which is performed by the Holy Spirit through the application of Scripture in the human mind, does not run its course because we delight in perverting the holy text, even if we do so out of ignorance.  We must approach the text with fear and trembling, in all humility. We must not presume that our sinful heart has no desire to blind us from the truth of God’s revelation. We must approach the Biblical text in the most guarded manner, knowing the dreadful state in which we may find ourselves should we presume upon the content therein. We must acknowledge our utter dependence upon the Spirit, who is promised to us as an ever present help in the task of understanding the divine Words of our heavenly Father. By grace, through faith, we know and are certain that God alone will aid us in our understanding of His Truth. It is when we think we can obtain a level of expertise using tools of our own devising, with human reason alone, with our own intellectual power that we expose ourselves to the peril of presumption and putting words in God’s mouth. A humble reliance on God’s grace and the aid of His Spirit, coupled with a determined willingness, an eagerness to acquire the right training, the right skill, it what the Christian must bring to the Biblical text.

For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe (I Thess. 2:13).                                                                                                     

[1] Leon J. Wood, "547 זִיד" In , in Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr. and Bruce K. Waltke, electronic ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 239.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Gay Marriage, Abortion, and The God Delusion

“For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false.” (II Thess. 2:11)
Not so long ago, Richard Dawkins wrote a book entitle, “The God Delusion.” In that book, Richard Dawkins argues that the basis of belief in God is not grounded in science, and that there is no rationally compelling scientific evidence to support the delusion that God exists. Dawkins arrogantly details the goal of his project, “If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down.”
The purpose of this blog is not to respond to Richard Dawkins. Many good theologians have already provided Christians with a response to the irrationalism posited by Dawkins and the New Atheism. The purpose of this blog is to entertain the question of divine epistemological judgment. The word epistemology has to do with the theory of knowledge. It treats the question of how human beings know things. How do we attain accurate, truthful knowledge of the world around us, both physically and spiritually?
Imagine not existing. I know, impossible, right? Work with me. Pretend you simply, all of the sudden began to exist. One minute, you were not, and the next minute you are. You begin to look around at things, trees, grass, plants, the sky, water, insects, and animals. If you were created a tabula rasa, how would you even begin to assess the things you see in front of you? By what means would you derive your own self-awareness? How could you even know who or what you are? The Christian worldview asserts that man is a wholly, knowledge-dependent being. Human beings do not know things of their own accord. One might answer that the first man studied his observations and gained knowledge that way. However, one must know how to study and that they should study in order to study. By what means would the first person attain this knowledge of study? It is an unavoidable enigma in terms of epistemology. We assert then, that man, in order to know anything must know God. All man’s knowledge is derived from God either immediately or indirectly through divinely created and granted faculties. Since man’s knowledge is dependent wholly upon the grace and mercy of God, God is in sovereign control of that knowledge. Hence, it follows that God may choose to withhold knowledge from man or by means of His own choosing sentence man to ignorance for reasons known only to Himself. Such reasons would certainly be in accord with His righteous and loving nature. It is this truth about God that our text reveals through Paul as he addresses the Thessalonian Christians.
Paul foresees a time in the future when God will actually send a deluding influence upon men who willingly reject divine revelation in preference for wicked pleasure. The Greek construction dia touto expresses purpose and is translated “For this reason.” For what reason? We look in v. 10 and the reason is because men did not receive the love of the truth! Rather, in v. 12, they took pleasure in wickedness. We live in a culture that despises the idea of objective truth. American society wants to determine truth for itself apart from God. The whole point for this modern project, which is not modern at all, is so that men can take pleasure in wickedness. Let’s take the upcoming Super Bowl as an example. “Is there anything I can do for marriage equality or anti-bullying over the next couple of weeks to harness this Super Bowl media?” Ayanbadejo, 36, wrote to Brian Ellner and Michael Skolnik. Apparently, linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo considers the idea of gay sex, along with gay marriage virtuous enough to use the largest sports platform in the world to push for acceptance of this wicked behavior.
Americans are coming to the belief that gay sex is not only acceptable, it is actually normal. The progression has been quite rapid. Initially, gay sex was ostracized as unnatural and abnormal. Then we began to say they were born this way and cannot help themselves. Then we began to say, do what you want, but keep it between yourselves. Then we begin to think that it was the only love these people could experience. Then we began to think that it may even be natural. Now we are quickly moving to a place where we are equating gay sex with sex between a man and a woman. It is unrestrained sexual perversion of the worse sort and educated Americans are calling it normal. Can we agree, as Christians, that such thinking is clearly, delusional.
I heard a news story this weekend that reported that young women can obtain the “morning-after” pill in vending machines on a particular college campus. These young women are free to engage in wanton sexual pleasure, live a life that used to get them labeled as “whores” not so long ago, and run down to the vending machine and murder the consequences of their lewd behavior. The murder of helpless children in American culture is, in my opinion, a sign of the judgment of God on a nation that has a duty to acknowledge God in all His ways and be thankful for His many blessings. To argue that the murder of babies is a woman’s rights or health issue, is absurd. Again, for Christians it is easy to consider such thinking, delusional.
Many modern American Christians think they have embraced the God who is when indeed what they have embraced is an idolatrous idea of a god of their own making. Rather than accepting God’s right to send a deluding influence on wicked sinners, they claim that God is such an all loving God that He desperately wants to do whatever He can to get people to believe in Him. Their god tries so hard through acts of kindness, rational arguments, scientific proofs, to get people to just trust in Him. Their god’s heart is breaking at the condition of humankind. He wants only the best for his creation, for you, and for me. Their god understands that we are all imperfect sinners. He loves us all and accepts us all just the way we are. He does not care if men are having sex with men or if women want to murder their children so that they may continue in the pleasures of prohibited lewd and promiscuous sex.
The apostle Paul, writing for God, in God’s stead, says that because men do not love the knowledge of the truth and because they do love the pleasures of wickedness, this God will send a deluding influence so that certain wrath and divine justice will be directed to those who ignore God’s sovereign right to be acknowledged, obeyed, and thanked for His grace and for Who He is as our sovereign Creator.
The Christian Church has to call gay sex the perversion that it is. We have to stop calling abortion, abortion, and stop debating it as if it were a woman’s health or rights issue. We must preach and teach and proclaim that gay sex is a sin against God and a perversion of natural sex. We must declare that abortion is murder. We must, as Jesus, John the Baptist, Peter, and Paul did before us, demand repentance from wickedness and full acceptance, trust, and embracing of Christ and all that He is. Am I advocating a radical activism? I am not. I am advocating that we proclaim and preach the gospel and when these subjects arise, we call them what they are. The only campaign I am interested in is the one that proclaims the gospel and saves lost sinners from the flames of an eternal hell. I am not interested in an “anti-anything” campaign. I am interested in a pro-truth, pro-gospel campaign. I am interested in the truth, not the comfort of modern men who are so easily offended by the slightest suggestion they may be wrong or misbehaving in some way. It is not arrogance to point out wrong thinking or wrong behavior. Rather, arrogance is located in the thinking that would find fault with a man for doing so.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

America’s Favorite Pastime: Idolatry

The first mention of teraphim in the Scriptures is located in Gen. 31:19. Rachael, the young wife of Jacob and daughter of Laban decided that when she left her father’s house, she would take his idols with her. Clearly, she had an attachment to the relics. When her father caught up with Jacob’s company, he searched all Jacob’s possessions but could not find the idols. As it turns out, Rachael was sitting on them. This would indicate that the idols were very small. Both Rachael and Laban’s actions indicate that the idols were of considerable value to them.
For years, the sports world has touted baseball as the American pastime. Indeed, baseball has endeared itself to American society for decades. Despite its spread to other cultures, and its success in those cultures, baseball is an American sport. There are 162 games every year, beginning in April and ending in October. There are teams from the majors to the minors in just about every city of any size. However, America has another pastime that is much more pervasive than any sport ever has been, is, or ever will be. America is a nation full of idolaters. Of all the pastimes that we engage in here in America, nothing comes close to the prevalence of idolatry. Idolatry, both in and outside the visible Christian community is indeed ubiquitous. Moreover, our preachers, and professors and teachers seem to have forgotten all about the practice of idolatry because it is indeed a rare occasion to hear it condemned, criticized, or rebuked. This is due in part to the fact that we no longer point people up to God but rather, point them inward to God who apparently now lives in all our hearts and understands us and loves us so much, that He would hardly speak a harsh word to us regardless of how we behave. After all, we are all poor, imperfect sinners in need of grace and love. Sin is no longer an autonomous ungodly act of rebellion against a holy God who is entitled to be obeyed in all things. Rather, sin is an imperfection, and nearly a harmless one at that.  If you think about this perspective long enough, you can see the idolatry of self-worship. We care more about how we feel about ourselves than we do obeying our professed Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Most people think that idolatry is the worship of objects rather than God. We have this idea that an idol is and always has been the object itself of worship. This is really not the case. “Earlier this century anthropologists spoke of fetishism: they accepted that there were people who actually confused the sign and the thing signified. Such an interpretation is no longer favored: current theory holds that the god may be manifest in the image, but is always more than the image.” [NIDOTTE, vol. 4, 715] The physical object is merely a sign of the god behind it. There is always more to the god than the idol itself. The sign always represents a god of sorts, but is not the extent of the god it signifies. When Aaron made the golden calf, he said, “This is you god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” (Ex. 32:4) Did Aaron intend to say that the God he was familiar with was not the God who rescued Israel, or did he intend the calf to signify Yahweh? It seems more reasonable to me to hold to the latter. Yet, either way, the egregious sin of idolatry was the result regardless of how you interpret Aaron’s behavior.
Idolatry has its roots in the original sin of our parents. The serpent said to Eve, “You will be like God.” The thought proved to be irresistible to our parents and man was casted into the abyss of separation from God. The idea that we could determine morality for ourselves and that we could know things without dependence on the Creator was simply too tantalizing. Hence, Satan provoked the fall with the temptation to idolatry. Satan planted the seed of autonomy, watered it with a touch of idolatry, and indeed it spouted, took root, and like a vine, it has defaced everything it touches.

The Hebrew word, pasas, פצר located in 1 Sam. 15:23 is compared with the sin of idolatry. It means to push, or to press. In the professional world when we are floating an idea or making a suggestion and someone rejects it, we call it “push back.” It is translated insubordination in I Sam. 15:23. This behavior is rooted in human autonomy, which the writer classifies with idolatry. When we reject God’s design, His order, we push back on God. As independent thinkers living in a culture of radical individualism, not only is this behavior prevalent, society often extols it as a virtue. This can be expected of a godless culture that has perverted nearly every shred of truth God ever gave it, but for it to be commonplace in the Christian community is utterly contemptible. We being disrepute and shame to the name of the God we worship when we not only engage in such practices, but just as well, when we tolerate them without a word of protest to leadership.
America idolizes science, reason, and experience as the means by which we can know truth. Rationalism, empiricism, and existentialism have displaced revelation to pave the way for unimpeded idolatry. We live in a culture where so-called experts will speculate if Brent Musburger should be fired for calling a college beauty queen ‘beautiful’, but then in their next meeting, extol the merits of gay sex as if it were love, and consider the murder of babies to be a woman’s health issue. A great philosopher once said, “Stupid is as stupid does.” Yes, the arguments are exceptionally stupid because they attempt to explain reality, and establish a morality apart from and contradictory to God. We expect such wickedness from depraved humans. It testifies about the holiness of God by pointing us to the consequences of the fall. Autonomy and idolatry are indeed pervasive in American society. In fact, a culture built on the idea of radical individualism could never ever be a culture with God at the center, not really. Perhaps in her early beginnings when the pilgrims came to these shores, their intentions were in the right place. The idea of practicing one’s religion without persecution is indeed an attractive one. However, I cannot resist the urge to point out that we should at least ask if it was the right motivation from the start. I am not claiming that it was or that it was not. I am urging, at a minimum, that we maintain a willingness to ask the question and enter the discussion. I digress.

What does idolatry look like in our hearts? Are Christians, genuine Christians shielded from the temptation to practice idolatry? Is it possible for you and I, with Christ in our hearts, to commit acts of idolatry? “Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.” (Col. 3:5) In short, it appears we can. If we can be tempted with lust and greed, we are tempted to commit idolatry. When we attempt to abuse grace in hopes of being lax on sin, we commit idolatry. When we refuse to commit to Church membership, this is a sign of autonomy which is idolatry. The idea that you can exist in the Christian community without accountability to the Church is a modern American phenomenon anchored in godless individualism and autonomy. Rejection of Scripture as the authoritative word of God is idolatry. Divorce against Scripture’s command is idolatry. Leaving the Church because we don’t get our way can be an act of idolatry. Refusal to submit to your elders is idolatry. “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’” (Mk. 12:30)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Why Young People Leave the Church

NPR did a fascinating story on this phenomenon, interviewing six young adults in Washington, D.C. They came from Jewish, Muslim, and Christian traditions. One was raised Jewish; she still loves going to synagogue but describes herself as having an "agnostic bent." She goes to be quiet with her thoughts, but states, "I don't think I need to answer that question [about God] in order to participate in the traditions I was brought up with."
The Muslim considers the account of Abraham offering his son to be "crazy" and became an atheist because he couldn't believe such stories. The Catholic left her church because she disagrees with its beliefs on homosexuality. The Seventh-day Adventist couldn't understand why God allowed the suffering his family has endured. One young woman, raised by a Jewish mother and Christian father, lost her brother to cancer and "realized the purpose and meaning of his life had nothing to do with heaven, but it had to do with how I could make choices in my life that give his life meaning."
The sixth person interviewed has a tattoo on the inside of his wrist that says "Salvation from the cross" in Latin. He now says, "I don't [believe in God] but I really want to. . . . I think having a God would create a meaning for our lives, like we're working toward a purpose – and it's all worthwhile because at the end of the day we will maybe move on to another life where everything is beautiful. I love that idea." [The Christian Post - Why Are Young People Leaving Religion? Jim Denison]
I have argued for a few years now that original sin can be summed up in one word: autonomy! Autonomy is at the root of every other sin. As the song goes, "I had it my way." It is either my way or the highway for religion, for God, for Christ, and for Scripture. Many pastors have learned this lesson the hard way. Autonomy is put on display in ancient and modern idolatry. We carve out a god we can live with. It is displayed in the ancient Greek pantheon. Autonomy is the root of the enlightenment. Unaided human reason is the unrestrained and unashamed desire for rational autonomy. The same is true of empiricists. Science is their god. Science is a god they can live with. This is fundamentally true, literally true, of every unbelieving heart! Autonomy shows up in numerous Christian churches so-called who distort and deny Scripture either overtly through liberal theology, secular philosophy, and humanistic psycholoy or through a hermeneutic that not only corrupts the actual meaning of the text, but in many cases suggests that the very idea of meaning is metaphysical nonsense.
Autonomy is really quite bold in the world, denying God, killing God, destroying truth, replacing it with a false hope of a wicked and perverse heart and a woefully corrupt and degraded mind. This is the state of American society, politics, philosophy, psychology, and in far too many cases, the American church. When a high contributor thinks his or her level of contribution ought to correspond to the weight of their opinions on matters, that is autonomy. It may be cleverly veiled as having the best interest of the church at heart, but nevertheless, in back of it, it really is about me having my way in silly issues even. In issues of chair styles, carpet colors, and even music style. Divorce is autonomy in relationships. When we divorce for ungodly reasons, it is a brazen act of autonomous rejection of God and His word. When we refuse Church membership, that is a form of autonomy. Most the time, though not always, but most of the time, when we leave one church for another, it is an ungodly act of autonomy. We don't like something someone did, or the music does not suit us or the youth program is not entertaining enough, etc.
"Modern scholars and writers, in their never-ending quest to find somethig new to advance daring theories that run beyond the evidence, have either distorted or neglected the New Testament Gospels, resulting in the fabrication of an array of pseudo-Jesuses." [Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels, Craig A. Evans]
Why is it that we are hearing so many new things about Jesus and his earliest followers these days? Has someone struck the mother lode and found all kinds of new information about Jesus and first-century Christianity? [What Have They Done With Jesus? Ben Witherington III]
These two books are examples of godly men who have decided to address the fundamental issues of autonomy, not just in Christianity, not just in ministry, but in Christian scholarship so-called. While I don't agree with everything these men write, I do think both of these projects are worth having in your library if you are a pastor, elder, or teacher in the Christian community. These works deal with methods scholars employ to weaken the integrity of historic Christianity. However, they do not deal with motive so much. Nevertheless, the books show how the motive cannot be based on the evidence because the evidence points in an opposite direction from where most of these scholars live. The motive is autonomy. Scholars are sinners too. As such, the bent toward autonomy reveals itself in the presuppositions and method employed in their work.

Young people and old alike leave religion because, at the foundation of their worldview is the wicked, evil desire for autonomy. They reject God's order, God's design, God's judgment, in essence, God's world in an attempt to create their own order, design, judgment, and world. The bottom line is that people leave religion, they leave the church because they want it their way. They want autonomy.
19 They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us. 1 John 2:19


Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Philosophy of Jesus

John the apostle, author of five books found within the New Testament documents, in his record of the gospel of Jesus Christ recorded the summary of Jesus’ view on the three main branches of philosophy: metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. This pericope in John is located in 8:30-36. In this section of Scripture Jesus speaks about truth, epistemology, and ethics in the most profound manner. Despite the crispness and the clarity of Jesus words, theologians and scholars alike have failed to appreciate the reverberating consequences and the profundity that emerges within this text. First, and foremost, we should be clear about how Jesus was characterized by His closest followers. Jesus was a great teacher, a great Rabbi, and this fact is beyond dispute. His followers were firmly convinced that He was divine, God in the flesh. They were certain that He was the promised Messiah. However, next to His status as the divine Son of God, God of very God, Jesus was not celebrated for being the greatest theologian to have ever lived. He was not esteemed to be one of the fine doctors of religion. He wasn’t even revered as the grandest of philosophers. More than all these things, Jesus was viewed by his closest and most trusted disciples as the great shepherd. He was the Bishop of bishops, a pastor with a pastor’s heart.

Jesus and Metaphysics
Most Christians never bother with terms like metaphysics and epistemology. We are too busy living, working, relating, and watching Hollywood productions like ‘American Idol’ to waste our time on such brain-stretching concepts. While I am a firm believer in keeping things as simple as possible, it is simply impossible to keep everything simple. Some things are naturally and unavoidably more complicated. Of course, the less familiar a person is with a subject, the more complex it will appear. Therefore, I strongly suggest that Christians become more familiar with at least the basics of some of these terms, if for no other reason that such familiarity will aid you in having conversations with unregenerate people who are familiar with the terms and who actually build their worldview around them.       

Most Christians are not terribly acquainted with the term ‘metaphysics’. Ordinarily, I like to provide a working definition for any term that might contain nebulous elements or that might not be as widely distributed to my audience. In the case of metaphysics, that custom proves to be more difficult than it should. Allow me to provide just one example of this problem.
“It is not easy to say what metaphysics is. Ancient and Medieval philosophers might have said that metaphysics was, like chemistry or astrology, to be defined by its subject matter: metaphysics was the“science” that studied “being as such” or“the first causes of things” or “things that do not change.” It is no longer possible to define metaphysics that way, and for two reasons. First, a philosopher who denied the existence of those things that had once been seen as constituting the subject-matter of metaphysics—first causes or unchanging things—would now be considered to be making thereby a metaphysical assertion. Secondly, there are many philosophical problems that are now considered to be metaphysical problems (or at least partly metaphysical problems) that are in no way related to first causes or unchanging things; the problem of free will, for example, or the problem of the mental and the physical.” [Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy]

The area of metaphysics addresses the idea of being. Essentially, when we talk about metaphysics we are dealing with the reality of well, reality. Metaphysics is the attempt to say something truthful about the physical world. It deals with the origin, or cause of the physical and the reality that lies behind it. It is concerned with the first cause, the source of all reality. The question is indelibly related the question of the being of God. Furthermore, how we see God and think of God will determine, to a large degree, how we interpret reality. Fundamentally, there are two basic schools of metaphysics: Christian metaphysics and non-Christian metaphysics. The area of metaphysics is indeed a complex branch of philosophy. However, all the Christian really needs to know is fundamentally how the non-Christian perspective differs from biblical metaphysics and this will help equip them to encounter non-believers and skeptics who take an ungodly perspective toward the subject.
Heidegger wrote, “Do we in our time have an answer to the question of what we really mean by the word ‘being’? Not at all.”[1] According to one of the greatest minds of modern times, humans do not have an answer to the question of being, of reality, of how things actually are. The regrettable facts are that many modern philosophers and philosophies have been constructed on the foundation of views of men like Heidegger. Worse still is the fact that many theological systems have been tragically affected by this paradigm as well. Painting the desperate situation vividly, Gadamer wrote, “So we are led to ask with increasing urgency whether a primordial falsity may not be hidden in our relation to the world; whether, in our linguistically mediated experience, we may not be prey to prejudices or, worse still, to necessities which have their source in the linguistic structuring of our first experience of the world and which would force us to run with open eyes, as it were, down a path whence there was no other issue than destruction.”[2] Man’s quest for the truth about reality, about being, about our existence, apart from God has proven to be beyond our greatest philosophers’ reach. The picture is much different in the Jesus paradigm.

“Meaning, that pivotal term of every theory of language, cannot be treated without a satisfactory theory of signs.”[3]
The referent of a word necessarily precedes the word. Why would man need a symbol for nothing? The Christian view is that God is the author of both the symbol and the referent to which it is related. Jesus says as much in John 8:31-32. “When listening to discussions in this subject, sometimes one gets the impression that the term “metaphysical” has lost any objective meaning, and is merely used as a kind of professional philosophical invective.”[4]

“To mean is both what the speaker means, i.e., what he intends to say, and what the sentence means, i.e., what the conjunction between the identification function and the predicative function yields.”[5] That both of these ‘meanings’, what the speaker intends and what the sentence says, from an ethical point of view, remain the responsibility of the interpreter.
“What is required for a given illocutionary act, in addition to the utterance of an appropriate sentence, is not that certain environmental conditions actually hold or even that the speaker believe them to hold, but only that he take responsibility for their holding. In other words, what is required is that he recognize that what he is doing is governed by rules requiring that the conditions hold.”[6] It follows then that ethics govern the area of communication, the use of words and symbols to express and convey meaning from one person to another. Words are indeed a powerful tool in the human cache, created by God, not invented by man, for the specific purpose of displaying God’s glory in His handiwork of creation specifically in the area of relating to His creation. “Linguistic behavior, like most other forms of behavior, is subject to moral rules and rules of etiquette.”[7]

“So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”[8]
Syntactically speaking, we are dealing with a conditional statement. Jesus’ statement is a third-class conditional clause, meaning that the statement is uncertain but likely. What is likely? It is likely they will continue in His word! If in fact, they do continue in His word, then and only then are they true disciples. Jesus then says, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free! This statement raises many questions for theologians and philosophers alike. From a linguist’s perspective, what does Jesus mean with His use of λόγος in this statement? In one utterance, Jesus mentions word, truth, knowing, and a mysterious metaphysical state of freedom. Continuing in the Word of Jesus is synonymous with walking in truth. In His prayer in Jn. 17:17, Jesus said, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.”[9] According to Jesus, truth and His word are one, and the same. To continue in His Word is to continue in truth. Modern metaphysicians would take Jesus to the philosophical woodshed for this statement.

We read this text and ask, from what does knowing truth free us? Moreover, what does this word “knowing” in the text mean? The idea in this Greek word is to know, recognize, or understand something. In this case, that something is ten aletheian, the truth! Jesus obviously believed that the metaphysical conditions necessary to make this statement actually obtained. He presupposed truth about reality without ever attempting to prove it.
The Christian is interested in Jesus’ theory of reality or metaphysic. He or she is concerned to know and understand a biblical metaphysic. Truth about reality, as God has created it, is revealed in Scripture. “This metaphysic is so simple and so simply Biblical that non-Christian philosophers would say that it is nothing but theology…So I point out that the Bible does contain a theory of Reality.”[10]

Jesus and Epistemology
Not only does John 8:31-32 inform us that Jesus presupposed the existence of truth about reality, that he had a well-defined metaphysic in his philosophy, it also informs us that He believed we could know this truth about reality. Modern theories of epistemology are all over the map in how humans know anything at all. The most popular among modern atheists appears to be empiricism. This view holds that all knowledge comes through the senses. All truth claims must pass through the scrutiny of science and scientific investigation. However, not all truth claims possess the nature required to undergo this type of scrutiny. That is to say that some truth claims cannot be subjected to the scientific method. You cannot prove love using the scientific method. There are numerous things we cannot prove using science. We cannot prove that logic exists using the scientific method. We cannot prove that other humans have minds using the scientific method. In fact, the claim that truth exists is not a proposition that can be proven validated empirically. Hence, we required to conclude that there must be more than one way to validate truth other than the scientific method. Hence, it follows that our basis for rejecting truth claims cannot rest solely on a claim’s inability to show validity using the scientific method.

“For ‘I know’ seems to describe a state of affairs which guarantees what is known, guarantees it as a fact. One always forgets the expression ‘I thought I knew.’”[11]
Wittgenstein is right. To know something describes a state of affairs which guarantee what is known. In our case, what is known is truth. This is truth about reality, about how things really are, about the cause and source of all that was, is, or ever will be.

“When we first begin to believe anything, what we believe is not a single proposition, it is a whole system of propositions. (Light dawns gradually over the whole.)”[12]
The idea of ideas is based on, not many beliefs about one reality, but on one belief about one reality. The ideas of every worldview begin with one idea at the foundation and move up the tree from its base, the root. This is true regardless of how philosophers describe reality. The statement “you shall know the truth” implies but one truth, not many. In addition, every belief system contradicts that one truth is necessarily is false. Belief systems are like trees with branches. You do not begin with the twig at the top of the tree at the end of a branch. We begin with the root of the tree that serves as the life of the rest of the branches. If the root of the tree (belief system) does not correspond with Scripture’s teaching on reality, on truth, on how humans can and do know things, we cut the tree down. This is because every branch on that tree, to one degree or another possesses what is in the root. In this case, a belief system cannot avoid contamination of error in its branches if error is at its base.

For the Christian, Scripture must serve as the root of our belief system. Every belief must be anchored in the root of Scripture. Christ is our foundation. It is The Christ that is at the center of Scripture. His view must be our view. His presuppositions must be our presuppositions. We glean Christ’s views and beliefs from Scripture. If, however, we prefer another method, we unavoidably encounter a crisis of authority from which we shall never recover. Authority can only rest in one seat. For many American pastors, theologians, Christians, and philosophers, that seat is unfortunately human reason, science or experience. For true Christians, it is Scripture alone! Is it okay to respond to the skeptic’s claim that we cannot know, by asserting that we can know because Jesus said we could? I will answer that question with a question: is it wrong to say you believe something simply because Jesus taught it? Is it anti-intellectual to say that I believe we can know truth about reality because Jesus affirmed truth about reality? Are the words of Christ, of God Himself justification for me to make claims? Must we engage every godless philosophy conjured up by sinful men in order to refute their claims if those claims, while being different at the end of their twig beliefs, are basically the same at their roots?

“A biblical theory of knowledge proclaims the absolute requirement of God’s revealed truth as the tacit foundation of understanding and knowledge.”[13]

Jesus and Ethics
For many theologians, scholars, and Christians, knowledge has as its goal, expansion. That is to say, many people desire to increase their knowledge of subjects for the mere sake of intellectual renovation. They seek more knowledge in order to possess more knowledge. They are not unlike the rich man who wanted to build larger barns in which to store his wealth. Many intellectual Christians, theologians and scholars have the same problem with knowledge. Some wish more for the sake of more. Others acquire knowledge in order win arguments and debates. They want to be viewed as an excellent debater in their particular subject, be it theism or whatever. These individuals expend a great deal of energy to that end. However, when we survey Jesus’ philosophy in the area of metaphysics and epistemology, that is to say, how He views reality/being and how we can know truth about them, His end is fundamentally different.

Jesus says that our knowledge of the truth is freeing. From what does knowledge of the truth free us? In v. 34 Jesus tells us it is sin. The knowledge of the truth frees us from sin. Knowledge of the truth means we are slaves to sin no longer. Hence, we see that Jesus also has a very well-defined view of morality. Sin is violation of God’s moral law. Hence, Jesus believes in absolute morality. He presupposes that absolute reality, morality, and certain knowledge of these things exist when He says you will know the truth and the truth will set you free from sin.
So we see Jesus through the lens of philosophy. We recognize that Jesus believed in absolute reality that was knowable. Ultimate reality of course is God, who is the source of all truth. He is the very essence of truth. To know truth is to know God. To know God is to keep His word. To keep His word is to be free from sin, to walk in divine favor. It is to love what is right, what is holy and to eschew what is evil.

Jesus reveals in this one statement that He believes in the metaphysical certainty of truth and asserts unashamedly that we can know it. Nowhere does Jesus or any of His closest disciples wrangle about whether or not being is, or if it is possible for us to know it. Jesus presupposes the existence of truth as well as the human capacity to know it, contrary to most modern philosophers and even many if not the majority of modern theologians and scholars.
As Wittgenstein said, beliefs are necessarily part of an overall belief-system. Rather than critique individual beliefs, we should focus on the simple task of criticizing the root of the system. Christians demonstrate a belief to be false when they show that it contradicts the revelation of divine truth, the Scriptures. Let the word of God be true, and every competing philosophy a lie.

[1] Martin Heidegger, Being and Time (New York: Harperperennial Modernthought, 1962), 1.
[2] Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method (New York, NY: Continuum Publishing, n.d.), 546.
[3] C.K. Ogden, The Meaning of Meaning (New York, NY: HBJ Publications, 1923), 48.
[4] A.P. Martinich, The Philosophy of Language (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, n.d.), 99.
[5] Paul Ricoeur, Interpretation Thoery (Fort Worth, TX: Texas Christian University Press, 1976), 12.
[6] Wallace P. Alston, Philosophy of Lanuage (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc, 1964), 42-43.
[7] Ibid., 44.
[8] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Jn 8:31–32.
[9] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Jn 17:17.
[10] Greg Bahnsen, Van Til's Apologetic (Phillipsburg, NJ: Press & R Publishing, 1998), 58.
[11] Ludwig Wittgenstein, On Certainty (New York, NY: Harper Torchbooks, 1969), 3e.
[12] Ibid., 21e.
[13] Greg Bahnsen, Always Ready (Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Press, 1996), 37.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Gay-Marriage Proponents Expand Fight to the South

An article appearing in the USA Today on January 16th indicates that gay-marriage proponents have deliberately focused their efforts on expanding this fight to the southern states. After all, the southern states have been known for years to be “the Bible belt.” The movement has taken a different strategy. Rather than debate the issue or dialogue about the subject of gay marriage, gay couples have descended on clerk’s offices thoughout the southern states applying for marriage licenses.

According to the article, responses have “touched some and angered others.” Agree or disagree, at first glance, the strategy appears remarkably brilliant. Take the abstract out of the debate and make it real, make it experiential, make it emotional. After all, Americans have become more and more removed from the theoretical and much more influenced by experience.

As Jasmine Beach-Ferrara (called a Rev. in the article) says, "The action is intended to shine a light on what happens when a discriminatory law is enforced and how that impacts real people in their hometowns." This is the gay movement’s way of making it real! However, one has to ask if this same strategy might be employed to turn the gay movement upside down on its head. Ferrara also said, "The message you get in the South is that it's not safe to be completely out as a gay person." I cannot help but wonder what she means when she says “safe.” Are homosexuals in physical danger in these southern states? By the way, the targeted states include Virginia, North & South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi.

Once more, the homosexual movement, resorting to emotional manipulation, refuses to consider how their actions affect the state employees of these local offices. In their demand that others care about their feelings and emotions, they feel completely justified in ignoring the feelings of others. One example of this is the notion that people “should not” find homosexual displays of affection offensive or grotesque. Heterosexuals are expected to view gay sex and gay affection the same as we do heterosexual affection. But no one can tell us why our natural inclination is to recoil when we see two people of the same sex kiss and even more so when they kiss passionately. No one can explain why the homosexual urge for perverted sex is a natural part of DNA while others’ recoil toward that behavior is not a natural part of our DNA. It is even more puzzling when one considers the sheer number of humans engaged in homosexual sex compared to the number who experience this internal recoil phenomenon. Hence, irrationalism enters this discussion masquerading as love. If we have evolved from nothing at all, into complex beings, and survival of the species is the primary purpose of human existence, then it follows that homosexual behavior, since it does nothing to propagate life and much to shorten and weaken it, should be purged from the species, not promulgated and encouraged.

What if we exposed American culture to the truth about the homosexual lifestyle? I don’t mean the biblical truth about the morality of such behavior. I mean the actual truth about the large numbers of promiscuous sexual encounters that occur within that community and the health consequences that follow. For example, one study revealed that over 70% of homosexuals admitted that over half of their sexual encounters were one-time events. Another study indicates that homosexuals have a range between 20 and 106 partners each year. One study indicates that 43% of homosexuals admit to over 500 partners in a lifetime.

The homosexual agenda has three fundamental strategies: desensitize the public to gay sex, affirm the lifestyle as being natural, and isolate biblical Christianity by painting it as a hateful and bigoted religion. They carry out this strategy by infiltrating sitcoms where they are portrayed as normal, loving, fun individuals no different from the rest of society. Studies on the homosexual community present a much darker world than the one most Americans are privy to, however. In addition, Secular Christianity, which is the brand that most Americans are familiar with, has long ago abandoned anything remotely resembling genuine Christian beliefs or values. Hence, secular Christianity is a friend and proponent of gay-marriage, but an enemy of God. This brand of Christianity is a tool in the hand of the homosexual and it is used to counter biblical Christianity and will be utilized a great deal as this fight is expanded into the southern regions of the United States.

Civil employees have the right to do their job without suffering harassment from a group of obnoxious and sexually perverted homosexuals. That these perverse individuals and groups would resort to this sort of tactic is an indication of their values. They have no regard for the taxpayers who are paying the increased expense that their tactics produce by way of wages and inefficiencies in that area. Their behavior speaks for itself. As I said earlier, the strategy is really quite effective. That is why I say quid pro quo is in order. The conservative segment of society, if they wish to counter the homosexual movement, should respond with a similar tactic. They should allow the public to really get to know the homosexual lifestyle and what it is really about. The American public has no idea what the facts really are. The only thing they know about homosexuality is what the liberal media and Hollywood wants them to know. The conservative component has to be more honest and more direct about the facts if they wish to stem the tide. The radial sensitivity and fear of offense has overtaken any sense whatever of stating and admitting the facts.

As for the Church, what should she do in light of this new expansion of the homosexual war on Christianity and conservative values? The Church should remain engaged in the culture through the gospel message, through living her values before the culture, through making disciples, and through good deeds when there is opportunity. She should continue to love homosexuals and every other sinner equally. She must love all sinners enough to rebuke godless behavior with honesty and with all humility. We were all alienated from God, enemies of the faith, blind despoilers of truth, and perverse in our behavior when the Hound of Heaven found us, gave us a new heart, and applied the blood of the precious Redeemer to our decrepit souls.

The Church must speak the truth in love without fear of repercussion. She must assert that homosexual behavior is a sin against God and an egregious perversion of nature. That kind of sex is not only unlawful before a holy God; it is an unnatural perversion of human sexuality. Homosexual sex is unhealthy and abnormal. Those who engage in the practice are not only vile sinners like the rest of human kind, but they are also obdurate in their desires, desperately in need of rescue, redemption, and regeneration. This is precisely what the homosexual hates about Christianity. Christianity does not teach that homosexuality is natural, sexual sin. In other words, homosexuality is not men engaging in sexual behavior against God’s law alone. It is men engaging in a very vile and corrupted form of sex, which is also against God’s law. This truth must remain part of the Christian prohibition against this behavior. Christians are responsible for disseminating and preserving the purest and fullest expression of truth known to them. What is more, that expression comes to us in Scripture as it reveals the person and work of Jesus Christ!  In Romans, Paul informs the Roman Church that God gave men over to these passions as a consequence of His wrath. Gay sex is the result of God’s righteous curse on men who insist on rejecting a righteous, holy, loving Creator!

It seems to me that American culture will eventually accept and embrace gay marriage. The values of American culture continue at a pace of degradation that most churchmen would not have predicted even twenty years ago. Therefore, the focus of the Christian community must be on the mission that has been clearly handed down to her from Christ Himself. The Church has the witness of Scripture as the ancient holy apostles carried out Christ’s commission from the beginning. God has provided us with an inspired and perfect history of the message, method, and mission of the Church. There is nothing abstruse about Christ’s instructions to His Church, nor in the historical record about how the apostles went about getting on with it. A lack of focus on the mission of the Church has led to all sorts of problems within the Christian community. We mix secular psychology with biblical discipleship and call it Christian counseling. We mix humanistic philosophy with theology and call it philosophy of religion, or worse, philosophical theology. We intermingle Gadamer and Heidegger with biblical hermeneutics and exegesis and wonder why people’s view of Scripture is what it is.

What is the church to do? “Depart, depart, go out from there, Touch nothing unclean; Go out of the midst of her, purify yourselves, You who carry the vessels of the Lord.” (Isa. 52:11) “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I will dwell in them and walk among them; And I will be their God, and they shall be My people. “Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord. “And do not touch what is unclean; And I will welcome you. “And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” Says the Lord Almighty.” (II Cor. 6:14-18) From what I can tell, the Church has completely ignored the clear antithesis that exists between her values, her reasoning, her morality, her state of being and that of the world’s values, reasoning, morality, and state of being. It is one of light and darkness, life and death, righteousness and unrighteousness, morality and immorality. Nothing will change that! God has said it is so and it will be so until the end. We must start acting like it and stop pretending that unregenerate human beings have something to say to us about how things are or should be. We begin with loyalty to God, they begin with hostility to God. Is it any wonder we will not agree on matters like gay marriage?

Should Christians spend tons of time and money fighting gay marriage? I don’t think so. I think we should spend our time preaching the gospel, condemning all sin wherever it is found, making disciples, baptizing believers, and doing good to all men where possible.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Tragedy of Classical Apologetics: Christian Theology or Worldly Philosophy

In his rudimentary approach to apologetics, William Lane Craig proposes that human reason relates to the truthfulness of the Christian worldview in two fundamental ways. Craig says, “The methodological approach which I shall defend in this essay is that reason in the form of rational arguments and evidence plays an essential role in our showing Christianity to be true, whereas reason in this form plays a contingent role in our personally knowing Christianity to be true.”

I do not write this post for the sake of theological or philosophical dispute or disagreement. I write it because I firmly believe, as do many others, that classical apologetics has hi-jacked Christian evangelism. When the men at Triablogue admit that the gospel is not enough, that the Bible is simply not a sufficient tool in and of itself to effectively proclaim and defend the Christian worldview, then something is dreadfully wrong. When Paul Manata can accuse me of anti-intellectualism because I contend that we should spend more time training believers how to deliver a succinct presentation of the gospel rather than spending ludicrous amounts of time on arguments from philosophy and human reason, then you know that even in our most conservative circles, the sparks of compromise are finding a home. It can’t be long until the brush fires of a skewed gospel are upon us. Indeed, the breeze is pushing the flames in our direction with the passing of each twilight.

Contrary to the teachings of classical apologetics (and some others), one does not have to attain a graduate level understanding of philosophy in order to proclaim, and effectively answer questions concerning the hope of the gospel that is within them, in a way that honors and glorifies God. It is not necessary to defeat every complex and sophisticated argument that ungodly skeptics construct in their attempt to suppress the knowledge of God that is within them as they futilely distort and intentionally misinterpret the evidence that is all around them. To the contrary, rather than spending time moving from one absurd complex philosophical question to the next, Christians must focus on the basic presupposition upon which the more complex strain of the argument depends. If you have ever observed the demolition of a large building, then you know that explosives are place, not at the top of the build, but at its foundation. That is, it is the foundation of the building that has to come down in order to take the whole building down. The same is true in discussions about truth, reality, and theology. It is the substance of the objection that we must focus on. We take the complex, identify the simple foundation upon which is it  build and explode it with God’s truth. Our method for answering inquiries concerning the hope that is in us must be aimed, first and foremost, to honor and glorify God. That is the goal. Classical apologetics, I will show, has a considerably different goal in mind. Christian evangelism seeks to proclaim truth in hopes of winning a soul. Christian apologists all too often seeks to parade intellectual acumen in speaking truth in hopes of winning a debate. Far too many Christian apologists are far too impressed with the human intellect for their own spiritual health.

Natural Theology and Neutrality

Clifford McManis, in his book, “Biblical Apologetics,” defines natural theology, “also called philosophical theology, speculative theology or natural religion, is the practice philosophically reflecting on the existence and nature of God independent of divine revelation or Scripture; thoughts about God developed through discursive reasoning and ratiocination without the contribution of the Bible.” [1] According to some philosophers and theologians the existence of a supreme and supernatural being can be reasonably inferred from the data of observation and experience.[2]

Natural theology deals with man’s knowledge of God apart from divine revelation in Scripture. In essence, it deals with man’s knowledge of God as revealed in general, in the natural order. As such, natural theology is an epistemological issue. What is the nature of man’s knowledge of God as it comes through natural revelation? “A biblical theory of knowledge proclaims the absolute requirement of God’s revealed truth as the tacit foundation of understanding and knowledge.”[3]

Fundamental to a distinctly Christian epistemology is the view that knowledge has an entirely revelational nature. Since that is the case, we must examine Romans one in light of the fundamental premise of natural theology. Does creation and conscience provide irresistible evidence sufficient for reasonably concluding that God probably exists? On the other hand, does God deliver actual knowledge of his existence in creation and conscience? What does Paul say about this in Romans one? How one understands Paul in this text is critical to the formation of their view of natural theology and the possibility of neutrality in human reasoning. Moreover, we must do our best to purge ourselves of philosophical and undue theological biases as we approach this question. In other words, our perspective should be informed by a sound exegetical inquiry resting on sound hermeneutical principles. Is Paul saying that men possess knowledge or is he saying that they should possess knowledge of God vis-à-vis natural revelation?

Natural theology demands epistemological neutrality. It demands neutrality of the human intellect. In fact, it demands that the human intellect, in terms of capacity, remain unaffected by sin. Natural theology begins with the concept of brute facts, couples that concept with the view that human reason is unaffected by sin and concludes that we can and should do our best to use these facts, so-called, to appeal to the unbeliever’s reasoning capacity to convince them that God probably exists. “To compromise with unbelieving standards or methods in the world of thought is to do grave disservice to the needs of those with whom we speak: to be willing to assume a position of neutrality would be conducive to anything but spiritual health in our hearers.”[4]

What does Scripture reveal?

What does Paul say in Romans chapter one and what are the consequences of his remarks for Christian evangelism and apologetics? To answer that question, we must turn to the exegetical process. Paul says in Rom. 1:18 that God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness of men who suppress the truth of God in unrighteousness. Notice the words “all” and the phrase “suppress the truth.” That the language is universal is clear from both the immediate context of chapter one, not to mention the book of Romans in its entirety. Romans 2:1 points up to a universal condition of all men using the conjunction dia which is a logical inference from what just followed and is translated “therefore.”

Verse 19 tells us that “what is know about God” is clear or evident in them. Some commentators use among as opposed to in, but when the antecedent is referring to the abstract, it is better to translate the preposition as “in.” I will come back to this later. Paul says God has also made it evident to them. The knowledge that God is there is both evident in them and has been made evident to them.

Paul goes on to say that from the creation of the world, from the very beginning, God’s invisible attributes have been clearly seen by them and that they understand that God exists through the things that have been made. Up to the point, Paul has not told us that we have to teach them this. Paul is describing the state of every human that has lived from the beginning. Paul says this serves as the basis of culpability, so that they are without excuse. Yet, it is those very excuses that apologetics seems so interested in legitimizing and then defeating from an intellectual standpoint. One has to wonder if we truly are obeying 1 Pet. 3:15 or if we are feeding an intellect that desires to elevate itself rather than walk in the humility that God demands. One thing is certain: when we begin to trust more in our ability to navigate complex philosophical arguments and say things like “the Bible is not enough” or “the gospel is not enough,” we are drifting from simple and clear truths revealed in Scripture. I can think of only one reason why we exchange the simple for the complex: pride!

Paul moves on to say that even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God. Instead, they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. This is the result of sin. This is the impact of sin on the human intellect and heart. This is the effect of sin on the human person. The mind and heart stands for the whole person. Man is totally depraved. There is no part of the human person that is not affected by sin.

Because of the consequence of sin, man suppresses the truth and knowledge of God that he possesses from the very beginning. This is due to the curse that God Himself has inflicted on man, to include the human intellect. Man has become a race of fools, exchanging the image of God for a lie, worshipping and serving creatures, created things, idols of the imagination, and images of God in the mind that are far from the image of the God revealed in Scripture. Man does this willingly, but because of sin, he does it necessarily and unavoidably. So long as man is incarcerated in sin, his intellect is incarcerated with him. He is not bound in every other way, but free in his reasoning capacities. Sin has invaded the intellect, the will, and the emotions. In one way or another, to one degree or another, sinful men distort and therefore attempt to destroy the truth of the reality of God and the truth of God’s reality.

Paul goes on to inform us that because of men’s utter contempt of the truth of God in reality that God has given men over to degraded fleshly lusts. The sexual promiscuity and perversion we witness in the human race is a display of God’s wrath. Here we are, harkening back to v. 18. Homosexual behavior is one of those “degrading lusts” that is a sure sign of God’s judgment. Paul tells us “for this reason” dia touto, God turned men over to homosexual passions and lusts to engage in behavior that is not fitting or right, in other words, immoral. Paul uses the words adokimon noun, translated depraved mind. In other words, the minds of unregenerate men are worthless in terms of spiritual truth and biblical morality.

Natural theology requires certain metaphysical conditions in order to support it’s thesis that natural proofs can be used to reason with men to accept the truth about God. It requires brute facts. It requires the human intellect to be unaffected by sin. It requires objective neutrality when it comes to the idea and concept of the God who is there. Natural theology assumes that there are men who truly do not know if God exists or who truly do believe that God does not exist. Contrary to these things, Romans one tells us clearly that men’s reasoning is hopelessly affected by the sinful condition in which he finds himself. Not only this, Romans one nowhere supports the idea that brute facts exist and that with a little help we can discover them. If anything, Romans one tells us that all men, apart from God, bring an interpretive paradigm to reality that is contrary to God’s interpretation of reality. Moreover, Paul’s description of the human mind as adokimon noun indicates that the human intellect is contaminated with sin as a result of the curse of God. Finally, Paul tells us that despite his condition, man possesses adequate knowledge of God to be morally culpable for his behavior. This is contrary to the entire enterprise of many schools on Christian apologetics.


“And as a third consequence of the fall, Christian ethics and theology cannot be built on the basis (even partially) of nature. There can be no natural theology, natural law or natural morality that corresponds to the ethics and theology of grace and revelation. This is true for ‘epistemological’ reasons (we cannot rely on natural reason or conscience to discern the good) as much as for reasons of the will (we cannot rely on natural inclination or natural powers to perform the good). Morality of the world is inextricably of the order of necessity and the order of the fall.”[5]

So let’s pretend that men like William Lane Craig and Paul Manata are correct in their interpretation of Romans one. Let’s say that Paul is saying that men do not possess the knowledge of God, but rather that given the evidence all around them, they should. If that is so, what else is Paul saying in that text? It is my contention that at the simplest of levels, Paul is saying that what all men do have is enough! In other words, we have no obligation to give the unregenerate any more than what they have already been given by God in creation and conscience. If you hold to a presuppositional approach, you think that the thing they have is actual knowledge of God that they intentionally twist and distort. If you are a classical apologist, you think “the thing” is the evidence in creation. That is fine as far as it goes. However, neither group should miss the consequence of possessing this “thing” that Paul says all men have. That is, whether you are reformed and think it is knowledge or if you are not reformed and think it is evidence, both sides have to admit that the message, at the end of the day, is that “the thing” (be it knowledge or evidence) is enough and God is not obligated to give them one ounce more than He already has.

I am not arguing that we should not be passionately involved in understanding men’s objections to God. I think we should. I think some of must because that is our function in the body. I think it is like mathematics. We should know them, albeit, a little more passionately for some of course. However, when it comes to apologetic methods, the significance that theology plays is immeasurable. If our theology is biblical, we understand there are no brute facts. We know that the human intellect is woefully inadequate to reason its way truly to the God who is there. As Greg Bahnsen says, man knows and he doesn’t know. Theologically speaking, we know that man is hostile to God, existing as a sworn enemy of God. He takes the truth God has given to him in creation and in his conscience and distorts it, perverts it, corrupts it, and hence tries to destroy it. If your theology is biblical, you know that no amount of intellectual prowess will bring men to God. Your focus is not on your ability to win a debate, but rather on issuing the truth of God accurately so that you may win a soul!

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (Romans 5:6-10)

What do you think? Is the Word of God enough to give a reasonable answer for the hope that lies in you? Is it enough to save souls from the captivity of sin and the impending doom of eternal judgment? How will we answer this question? However we answer it, this will shape our entire approach to the subject of Christian apologetics right down to how and on what we spend our time, which by the way, Jesus commanded us to redeem.


[1] Clifford McManis, Biblical Apologetcs (USA: Xlibris Corporation, 2012), 142.
[2] Carl Ferdinand Howard Henry, vol. 2, God, Revelation, and Authority (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1999), 104.
[3] Greg Bahnsen, Always Ready (Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Press, 1996), 37.
[4] Ibid., 34.
[5] David W Gill, "Jacques Ellul: The Prophet as Theologian" In , in Themelios: Volume 7, No. 1, September 1981 (United Kingdom: The Gospel Coalition, 1981), 9–10.

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