Sunday, March 31, 2013

A Response to Richard Howe’s Criticism of Ken Ham’s Apologetic

The Illegitimate Dichotomy of Apologetics and Evangelism


Recently, James White had a round table discussion at SES. I wrote about how that discussion carried on. In that post, I admitted that I was unable to discern the identity of a particular professor who had been, in my opinion, less than gracious in remarks he made about Ken Ham’s apologetic. The mystery has been solved thanks to some work of a couple of brothers behind the scenes. That professor was Richard Howe. In that discussion, Dr. Howe mentioned that he had written a blog criticizing a particular lecture Ken Ham had recently delivered on how to defend the faith. I cannot say if Ken Ham is a consistent presuppositionalist. I have not read all his materials. What I can say is that I have never read or heard Dr. Ham say anything that would contradict the presuppositional method of apologetics. Therefore, I am comfortable saying that from what I have heard and read Dr. Ham seems to take a consistent presuppositional approach to defending Christian theism. Admittedly, however, Dr. Ham is not a philosopher. He is a Christian scientist. And most of Dr. Ham’s work is in the area of science, specifically, the defense of the Christian claim that God created the world and all that is in it in six literal days, contrary to modern philosophies and the unproven hypotheses of contemporary science. Dr. Ham’s work, in my judgment, in this field is pristine. Now, I want to turn your attention to Dr. Howe’s criticism of Dr. Ken Ham’s apologetic method.

Dr. Howe titles his article, “It’s Worse Than I Thought”. In his introductory remarks, he refers to a colleague, whom he apparently respects, but who is also an old earth creationist. This is not a fact that should go unnoticed. It just so happens that Ken Ham is highly critical of old-earth creationism and he is right in his criticism of this view. Howe begins with a “strong objection” to how Ken Ham approaches the task of apologetics. He goes on the call the method “bankrupt, if not self-defeating.” One thing is certainly clear; Dr. Howe has little regard for Ken Ham’s apologetic approach.

Howe’s first objection is really quite puzzling coming from an apologetics professor with years of experience in the field. Howe’s first objection concerns Ham’s assertion that there are only two ways of understanding reality. We either understand reality according to God’s word or according to man’s word. Howe launches into a number of questions as to what it could possibly mean to understand reality according to Scripture. Howe seems to infer that Scripture provides no dogma of ontology. I must confess that I find Howe’s questions puzzling. Surely he understands what Ham means when he says that we can either understand the created order in accord with God’s word, or in accord with man’s word, which is worldly wisdom, philosophy according to how the worldly man reasons. In other words, there are only two standards by which we arrive at truth about reality: one is right and the other one is the product of man’s vain philosophical investigations. Howe implies he is familiar with Van Til and Bahnsen, but one is hard-pressed to understand exactly why Howe would characterize Ham’s view on this subject as far removed from presuppositionalism. In this simple form, taken at face value, it most certainly accords with the presuppositional approach. Van Til and Bahnsen both would agree that there are fundamentally two ways of looking at reality and that a distinctly Christian metaphysic would demand that Scripture would serve as the self-attesting authority by which every Christian should see the world. Howe seems confused as to what presuppositionalism affirms in terms of metaphysics.

Howe argues that by making God’s word the starting point, Ham is reasoning in a vicious circle. Howe drives home his point:

And if we are able to understand the part of reality that is God’s word without any appeal to another (antecedent) part of reality, then why can we not do that with the other parts of reality? In other words, if we need that part of reality which is God’s word to understand the rest of reality which is not God’s word, then how is it that we are able to understand the part of reality that is God’s word in the first place? Why should the part of reality that is God’s word be understandable by us if the rest of reality that is not God’s word needs another part of reality (viz., God’s word) to understand it? It gets worse.”

 In other words, where is the entry point? If we need God’s word in order to understand reality, and God’s word is part of that reality, then what from reality do we need in order to begin to understand God’s word? What is the necessary antecedent? If we can understand that God’s word is part of reality without calling on God’s word, then it follows that we do not need God’s word to understand reality. At first glance, Howe’s argument almost makes sense. However, the problem rests in our ability to understand and make sense out of anything apart from God’s word. It is only due to common grace that fallen men can reason at all. All unbelieving systems lead to indefensible irrationalism. What is the answer to Howe’s assertion? The answer is the work of the Holy Spirit and the supernatural revelation that is the word of God. Howe makes no mention of the work of the Holy Spirit in the project of helping men arrive at a metaphysic that is in accord with the truth of God’s word. That is more than a little puzzling. To answer Howe as directly as possible: the antecedent to understanding God’s word, which is our metaphysical starting point, is the work of the Holy Spirit. His role is essential to all Christian ministry.

“Second, Ham never even acknowledged the issue of how does one interpret the word of God? From where would one get one’s principles of hermeneutics (i.e., principles of interpretation)? He cannot say that we get these principles from God’s word, because we would need to be able to understand God’s word in order to get the principles. But then, if we are able to understand God’s word in order to get our principles of hermeneutics, then that would mean that we were able to understand God’s word before we got our principles, which would mean that we wouldn’t need the principles after all. This is a contradiction.”

 Howe seems to ignore entirely the reformation principle that Scripture interprets Scripture. Howe confuses the universal laws of human communication with some authoritative set of principles that exist outside of Scripture by which we are to interpret Scripture. No such set of authoritative principles exist. Howe is not far from the Roman Magisterium in this specific point. It seems he has no idea that he is so close to Rome that I can almost hear the whisper of Pope Francis from where he stands. For Aristotle, the key to knowledge was asking the right question. It was the question of first principles. For moderns, however, the key is being able to justify one’s beliefs. It is not hard to see Howe’s demands that justification for belief in the self-attesting Scripture is antecedent to accepting it. The discussion at this point concerns the relationship between God and Scripture; understanding Scripture within the context of reality and how Scripture informs our view on that part of reality that is apart from Scripture. Vanhoozer remarks,

“I submit that the best way to view God and Scripture together is to acknowledge God as a communicative agent and Scripture as his communicative action…it follows that in using Scripture we are not dealing merely with information about God; we are rather engaging with God himself – with God in communicative action.” [First Theology, 35]

The close proximity of Howe and SES with Aquinas and Rome is hard to miss and perhaps this explains his position better than any other factor. The answer is located in the concept of the hermeneutical spiral. We begin with the first principle that God is, and that He gave us His word and language as gifts so that He could communicate with His people. Our view of God informs our view of language and His word, and this moves us down the path to biblical investigation, which helps refine our understanding of God and His creation, and even the gift of language, which serves to inform our hermeneutic. With each movement, the spiral moves deeper into an understanding of God and His revelation all through the agency of the Holy Spirit’s work on the human heart beginning with the miracle of regeneration. Without regeneration, it is absolutely the case that we have no starting point.

Howe then criticizes Ham’s argument saying, “Instead of trying to defend his faith by claiming that it only is according to God’s word, he should be claiming that the Christian faith is true. By ‘true’ here I mean that the claims of the Christian faith correspond to reality.” Apparently, Dr. Howe thinks it is more appropriate to argue for the truth of Christian faith by claiming that it corresponds to reality than it is by claiming it is what God says is true. Does Howe think that everyone’s view of reality is the same? Are the atheist and the Christian in complete agreement on the facts of reality? To ground apologetical argumentation in ontological interpretations seems to me to be the worse way to try to make the case for Christian theism. Ham grounds his argument in the immoveable, unshakeable, self-attesting word of God and Howe thinks a better place would be in the subjective interpretations of reality, naively assuming that we all have the very same understanding of what is real. Apparently Howe has failed to notice the competitors to his correspondence theory, to name just three, the coherentist, pragmatist, and verificationist. Howe prefers to anchor the immoveable, unshakeable, self-attesting truth of Scripture in the ground of fallen, sinful, subjective interpretations of reality. I find this approach alarming to say the very least.

Howe fails to recognize that reality is not something that is simply there for humanity to know and to understand without the necessary process of interpretation. There is an indelible relationship between epistemology and ontology that Howe seems disinterested in admitting. In other words, there is no such thing as uninterpreted reality in the world of finite beings. Contrary to Howe’s premise, there are no brute facts. Finite beings are forever relegated to the ground of interpretation. That is, our knowledge of reality is derivative. Derivative of what, you ask. That is exactly the issue! There is only one way for humanity to truly know their world and that is by divine revelation.

Howe closes his criticism of Ham with this final point:

“The unbeliever can be made to understand and apprehend the claims of Christianity. Apologetics can serve to demolish skeptical arguments and demonstrate the truths of much of the Christian faith (e.g., the objectivity of truth; truth as correspondence to reality; sound principles of hermeneutics; the existence and attributes of God, the historicity of the Bible) even if it cannot demonstrate the truths of other claims of Christianity that must be taken by faith (e.g., Christ died for our sins, Christ is coming again).”

Two things are wrong with Howe’s argument: first, his view that unregenerate men can be made to understand and apprehend the claims of Christianity is in serious opposition to the clear teaching of Scripture. For instance, Col. 2:2-3 tells us that true knowledge of God is only in Christ, and that all wisdom and knowledge have been hidden in Christ. Without Christ, understanding and knowledge are impossible. John 6:45 informs us that everyone who has learned from the Father comes to me. There is no unbeliever who really learns the truth of Christianity, who gets it, and rejects it. Eph. 4:17-18 teaches that all unregenerate men walk in the futility of their mind. Their minds are useless, futile, and empty concerning the things of God. Paul goes on to say, they are darkened in their understanding, and excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them. No unregenerate person can escape this description. They are consigned to this state by God’s decree. Yet they willingly embrace it, loving darkness rather than light. John 1:12-13 informs us that men only understand and receive Christian truth as a result of being born of God. John 3:19 tells us that men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil. Men are not just blind and ignorant, they are willingly blind and ignorant. 1 Cor. 4:4 says that the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving. All unbelievers are blind in their minds. 1 Cor. 2:15 says that the natural cannot understand or receive the things of the Spirit of God. He is both unable and unwilling to do so. Rom. 8:6-8 tells us that the natural mind is fixated on the flesh. It is not neural toward God. The unregenerate mind is hostile toward God in every way. It will not and cannot do anything to please God. Eph. 2:1 says that men are dead in their trespasses and sins. Being dead, how can they understand, evaluate, or comprehend God’s truth? Rom. 3:10-18 describes the spiritual condition of men as bereft, contemptible, and rotten. Here man is described as being totally depraved and unrighteous in every part of his being. Rom. 1:28 informs us that God has turned them over to a depraved mind. Howe is simply wrong to claim that the unbeliever is in a position to evaluate the truth claims of Christian theism in an objective sense and understand those truths when he sees them.

Second, Howe is wrong when he attempts to separate apologetics from evangelism as if apologetics comes prior to evangelism. Nowhere in Scripture is this true. In fact, apologetics, the defense of Christian claims always follows evangelism. When Peter issued his famous apologetic imperative, it is clear that this imperative followed from previous claims of the hope that is in us. Everywhere we see apologetics taking place in Scripture it is always, always, always a response. In Acts 17, Paul’s Areopagus address was a response. I would challenge Dr. Howe to prove his contention that apologetics and evangelism are recognized as different according to Scripture. There is not a shred of exegetical support for such a claim. Finally, 1 Cor. 1:17 tells us that the preaching of Christ is not done in sohia logou, cleverness of speech, or in wise words. This sort of method voids the cross by emphasizing the intellectual and focusing on our persuasive abilities. Men convert to the Christian religion because it is intellectually and philosophically impressive, but not because of heart-change rendered by the work of the cross. Hence this is why Paul says it nullifies the work of the cross. But this is precisely what many in American Christianity have done. Paul says in v. 18 that the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. He says in v. 19 that God has destroyed the wisdom of the philosopher. In v. 20, Paul points out that not very many at all from the intellectually elite have been chosen. Rather, it is the simple, the poor for the most part, the uneducated that God has called to Himself. In v. 23-24 Paul says our gospel is a scandal, a roadblock to Jews and absolute folly to Greeks. Nothing can change this.

Clearly, the gospel is intellectually offensive to the unregenerate. In what sense could they understand it, could they really know it? Who could ever really understand the beauty and power of the gospel and still find it scandalous and offensive? To really know it and to really understand it is to embrace it, to love it, and to proclaim it. Paul says the world does not come to God through its wisdom. They do not evaluate the evidence using their philosophical methods and then decide that Christian theism is the way. Paul tells us that God intentionally, deliberately has chosen the weak, the poor, and the simple, passing over most of the intellectuals, the rich, and the philosopher. In v. 30, he says it is by God’s doing that we are in Christ Jesus. It is not by our own decision or intellectual abilities. We are born into the Christian community. We do not join it.

Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 2:1-4 that he came to the Corinthians, a Church not far from Athens that his preaching was not with persuasive words of philosophy and rhetoric. His preaching was in demonstration of the Spirit and of power. The gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation to all who believe. But to those who are blind, ignorant, and hostile to God, it is utterly ridiculous.

It is completely illegitimate to drive a wedge between evangelism and apologetics. I recognize that many in the Church view this approach as acceptable. The idea finds no support in Scripture. Moreover, biblical apologetics is not doing philosophy while evangelism is preaching. Biblical apologetics is the defensive proclamation of the gospel to those who ask, challenge, or even accuse us.

Eph. 2:8 informs us that faith is a gift of God. It is not given through sophisticated philosophical argumentation or clever rhetoric designed to warm the unbeliever up to hearing the real gospel. If we want unbelievers to change their mind, to change how they think, there is only one way: the gospel of Jesus Christ. Cliff McManis wrote, “Proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ is the most potent, lasting, penetrating, life-changing, liberating thing a Christian can articulate to any unbeliever, under any circumstances.” [Biblical Apologetics, 91]

It is tragic to hear lettered men like Dr. Howe, men are who supposed to be firmly committed to the Christian worldview, prefer the views of worldly philosophy to those of the simple, certain, stable truths of Scripture. Yet, this is mostly the case in modern, American Christianity. Today is resurrection Sunday. Rather than write paragraph after paragraph trying to prove that the resurrection actually happened, because of the glorious work of the Holy Spirit in Scripture and in my heart, I am delighted that I can simply declare, He is risen! He is risen indeed!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Responding to Triablogue on Abolish Human Abortion


Introduction

The brothers at Triablogue pointed out that I had not bothered to link to their reply to my first article. They are correct to do so. This was an oversight on my part. Here is the link to Triablogue's response to my initial post.

As God would have it, I am stuck in the Detroit airport for the better part of my day. While I was hoping to be close to Charlotte by now, here I am, trying not to go crazy with boredom. Since this is where God has me, I thought it would be a good use of my time to read and respond to the Triablogue criticism of my post on the coalition known as Abolition Human Abortion (AHA). I literally thought it would take a couple of weeks to get to that project. What do I know?            

You can read my initial article here under February posts. As a bible believing Christian, I hold that abortion is murder and should never be considered a viable option to manage an unwanted pregnancy. The biblical attitude toward pregnancy is indelibly related to the doctrine of divine sovereignty. However, that subject is beyond the scope of this post. The entire premise of my argument is really quite simple: it is not the place of the Church to abolition human abortion in our society. The Church, believe it or not, has a higher calling. She is charged with preaching the gospel, baptizing those whom God converts, and turning those converts into disciples. She extols Christ’s values before the world community. Hence, the Church is not an institution that should focus her time and attention on social transformation or political reform. She has a higher calling. It is likely that if we in the Church did a better job turning converts into disciples, we would have fewer John Wayne Christians running around rebuking pastors and elders for not getting on board with their personal agendas and pet projects. 

The purpose of this post is to respond to a criticism offered by Triablogue on my thesis that AHA is wrong about the role of the Church in its relation to human abortion. While I do not think the TB post offers anything new that I have not already criticized here, I will indulge them with a response.

Triablogue Point One
Dr. Dingess is entirely incorrect to say that "(t)here is no necessary connection between this coalition and the Church of Jesus Christ". Abolition is a work of the church of Jesus, the invisible church, for it is a work that God demands from each human being, and those who are born again and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God will unfailingly desire to do the will of God during our lives.
 
Response
The author fails to recognize that a necessary connection between the church and AHA would equate to a divine imperative to adopt the views and practices of AHA. I reject such a notion as nonsense and outright legalism. The Church can legitimately exist as the Church without complying with and adhering to the views and practices of AHA. AHA is not a necessary part of the Church of Jesus Christ. The author seems to insist that opposition to human abortion requires that we adopt the views and tactics of AHA. That insistence, which shows up throughout the website is without merit. In short this method of reasoning is related to the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. There are a variety of ways to oppose abortion and to love unborn children. To insist on one specific standard is tantamount to legalism.

Triablogue Point One (A)
Of the Two Great Commandments, one is "Love your neighbor as yourself." Right now in this country, 3500 of the smallest and weakest of our neighbors are being murdered every day. If Dr. Dingess or anyone else can find a greater destruction to our neighbor than abortion in the culture to which we have access, we'd certainly like to know about it, that we may turn our attention to abolishing it
 
Response
This argument commits the fallacy of accident. It illegitimately applies the command to love one’s neighbor to the unborn and it also equivocates on what it means to love. On the one hand, even if the command can legitimately be applied to the unborn in this way, it does not follow that AHA is correct in that their specific practices are THE ONLY WAY to love them and no other methods meet the definition of love. The argument fails due to fallacies of accident and equivocation.

Triablogue Point One (B)
We'd like to ask Dr. Dingess to consider carefully what sort of oversight men like William Wilberforce, or William Lloyd Garrison, had in their pursuits of abolition. 

Response
This argument involves argumentum ad verecundiam, or an appeal to inappropriate authority. This is defective induction at its finest. It also begs the question on the issue of slavery assuming biblical condemnation of the practice without showing any concern for the need to prove that thesis. Where is the exegetical support that teaches us that all slavery is a sin? I am not advocating slavery. I am asking for an exegetical argument that demonstrates with great clarity that such a practice was evil and should be outlawed. Moreover, I am also requesting exegetical proofs that such action falls within the scope of the work of the Church. I do not approve of slavery. But that is not the point. My reasons for disapproval are apparently far from those of Triablogue. If anyone will lay mandates on the Church, I am well with my rights to demand that all such mandates be shown to be the product of sound exegetical practice. Otherwise, those who issue the mandates are guilty of asserting “thus says the Lord God,” when the Lord God has not said! And this, indeed, is a most serious issue, far more than many in the modern American watered-down Christianity realize.

Triablogue Point One (C)
Yet we fail to see in Scripture where every "ministry" must be under the "authority" of "the pastor" and elders of a local church. Who is the authority over the work of AHA? It is simply Jesus the Messiah, the King of the universe and of His Church. If we are not being led by Jesus through the Holy Spirit, then we have no business being involved in this work. Jesus alone will direct the building and advancement of His Kingdom.

Response
More than any other criticism of AHA I find this one to be the most serious. Namely, I find AHA's existence and governance outside the authority of the Church to be more than a little disturbing. The attitude in the author’s argument demonstrates a seriously defective ecclesiology. Christ authorizes ministry through His Church and only through His Church. Moreover, godly leaders recognize the significance of formal structure and the importance of humble submission to their spiritual leaders. They do not adopt the typical American cowboy Christian idea that they are just going to go take care of business themselves. In addition, these cowboy Christians as they are so prone to do, due to their personality, will often turn around and make demands of the Church and her pastors and elders, accusing them of apathy, being misguided, not caring, in need of revival, etc. In other words, the men who are supposed to be their leaders will often find themselves the target of criticism, and much of it from a distinctly uneducated vantage point. These men are sinning when they engage in such egregious and divisive tactics. All leaders and ministries must come under the authority and guidance of God’s ordained leaders, under the Church. Legitimate Christian ministry begins with the spiritual leaders of the local body and moves under the supervision and guidance of that body.
 
Triablogue Point Two
But why would we tell people who want to work with us to go away? We want to be around non-Christians! There are those of us who resort to going out to the party district of their city late at night when they'd rather be in bed after a long week at work, or take vacation time off work to go onto the university campus, so as to share the law and the Gospel with lost people, and does Dr. Dingess think we should be intentionally telling those who want to be around us to take a hike.

Response
Regrettably, the author has introduced a red herring. I will direct you to my previous post and challenge anyone to find an argument that makes anything of the fact that there are unbelievers in AHA. The point I made in my article goes to their claim that there is some necessary linkage between being adopted by God and being involved in AHA. The cause of me being involved in my local church is not being adopted by God. I could be involved in some other Church. This is another defective induction, specifically, non causa pro causa, or argument from false cause. My point was exactly that adoption by God is not the actual cause of involvement with AHA or even agreement with their views and methods. That was my point. If you have questions, I direct you to my post here in February. You can read it yourself. In addition, if AHA is a ministry of God, then darkness has no place in it. And if AHA permits the ungodly and the deceived to partake of Christian ministry, that is a entirely different problem deserving more serious attention. In addition, there is the question of females preaching at abortion clinics as well. When you peel the onion, there are more thorny issues than one realizes. This is precisely why submission and supervision by pastors and elders is indispensable.

Triablogue Point Three
One of the biggest problems with Dr. Dingess' article is the representation that we somehow equate being a "member of AHA" with being a Christian.
 
TB Offers clarity
We never state that all Christians must self-identify with AHA. Again, if that is what people come away with when they visit our About Us page, we want to correct it, so this is another chance for us to sharpen our website.

But then retreats right back into ambiguity
Make no mistake, however. We question how it is that someone can call himself a Christian and yet take virtually no action on the issue of abortion. What other social evil is occurring at a level of 3500 deaths per day? Not all Christians need belong to AHA, but all Christians should have an abolitionist spirit and be engaging their culture in some fashion, because the culture is dark and evil, the people are lost and dying, and we have the light, the cure, the solution

Response
Out of one side of his mouth, the author denies equating being AHA with being Christian, and then virtually takes it back. It has nothing to do with membership and everything to do with like-mindedness. Is it any wonder that people would see this language as reflective of a judgmental attitude toward those who are not involved in the same activities in the very same way that AHA is? The message from AHA seems to be that you MUST adopt our attitudes toward this issue and you MUST satisfy our DEMANDS in opposing abortion using the SAME methods we do or else, we may question your faith. If you don’t oppose abortion in exactly the same way we do, or in a similar way that we define, then you are simply NOT doing enough. That much is clear. When men make claims that place these kinds of specific demands on other Christians, they trample under foot sound principles of biblical exegesis and ignore godly attributes required of Christian leaders. These kinds of claims amount to the view that, “we are doing it right, we really care, our way is the only way to obey the second greatest commandment, watch us do it if you really want to learn how to do it correctly, etc. Or worse, if you don’t do it our way you don’t care, or more subtly, you don’t care like we do if you are doing it differently than we are. We are setting the standards! Such claims are arrogant, boastful, self-righteous and legalistic. 

When you add to this equation the fact that we cannot find a local body of elders and pastors who are actually the spiritual supervisors and leaders of this coalition, it becomes quite disturbing. Who authorized these men to engage in the kind of correction and rebuke of the Church they put forth? Can anyone who wants to just decide that “THIS ISSUE” is the most important issue and then proceed to claim it is God’s work, and then move to rebuke those who do not share their passions or think the same way about the issues as they do?

We all agree that a lifestyle that ignores the divine commandments is indicative of one who knows not God. If AHA is correct, and you must do as they do and think as they think in order to obey the second commandment, then unless you are at least in harmony with them in thought and practice, you are in violation of the second commandment. And if you are in continual violation of that commandment, your faith is not genuine. And if your faith is not genuine, you are not saved. Hence, it must follow that unless you do it the way AHA says you do it, you really aren’t saved. 

Now, if that is not the message, the alternative argument is valid. We all agree that we must love our neighbors. We also agree that abortion is murder. We all confess that there are a variety of ways in which we may express love for our neighbors. And we also confess there is more than one way to oppose abortion and demonstrate we care about this very important issue. When we see our neighbor in need of help, we help them. That is an expression of love. Giving our neighbor the gospel is an expression of love. Volunteering to counsel pre and post abortive women is an expression of love. Informing your neighbor who is considering abortion that such a practice is immoral and helping them with alternatives along with and more importantly, giving them the gospel is loving our neighbor and showing we care about the issue. Pastors who preach and teach the truth about abortion are showing they care and are concerned about the issue.

Now, if doing these latter activities meets the biblical definition of loving our neighbor and opposing abortion, then AHA activities are reduced from their claim of biblical mandate to a matter of personal preference. And if it is a matter of personal preference, it follows that it is highly inappropriate for AHA to assert that it is a divine command and to use pressure and manipulation to intimidate others to get on board or else.

These pragmatic knee-jerk reactions are contrary to the doctrine of divine sovereignty. Why is it that every time an evil grabs our attention, the first thing some men do is indict the Church? Why is it the Church's fault that women are killing their babies? Why is the Church's fault that godless men do ungodly things? Why is it the Church's fault that aggressive homosexual activists hate the message of Christ? Did not Christ warn us that the world would get worse, that wickedness would grow worse, and that the world would hate us? Why then, do these men think that when Scripture actually proves to be true an evil gets worse and worse and men apostasize, do they blame it on the Church? The assertion that legalized abortion or the impending legalization of gay marriage is somehow the fault of the Church has no basis in Scripture and very little, if any support, logically speaking. The Church does have plenty of things she needs to work on, but they have nothing to do with godless men behaving ungodly, and far more to do with living, defending, and publishing the truth and keeping her membership pure from the idolatry of worldly thinking.






Sunday, March 24, 2013

James White and Southern Evangelical Seminary:

Sola Scriptura, Hermeneutics, and Biblical Authority in Apologetics
I recently had the opportunity to listen to the James White’s dividing line episode in his round table discussion with Southern Evangelical Seminary. I have made some effort to determine who the other contributors were without any progress. If you listen to the discussion, there is a professor of apologetics or philosophy who lives in Atlanta and commutes to Charlotte during the week that takes several opposing positions to Dr. White. This professor makes several interesting and revealing comments that I want to address because I think his remarks provide some clues as to why evangelicalism is drifting in a sea of current theological confusion.

The professor admits that several graduates of SES have converted to Catholicism after graduating from the seminary. He then states that he does not understand this, but hints that it could be due to the high esteem placed on Thomas Aquinas by SES. In addition, he admits that the seminary takes no stand on Genesis 1-3. This permits young earth and old earth proponents to work together in harmony. In addition, he does not pass on the opportunity to disparage Ken Ham’s apologetic, which I thought was unprofessional, discourteous, and misplaced given the setting. He does not simply say he disagrees with Ham, but that he actually says that Ham’s apologetic is awful. Without providing any examples, his tone was one of disdain and remarkably arrogant. I wonder if Ham simply doesn’t use enough philosophy for the good professor. Perhaps Ham’s insistence on a grammatico-historical reading of Genesis 1-3 and his tenacious position on the age of the earth could be one reason why the professor finds Ham’s simple apologetic so objectionable.
Finally, this professor repeatedly (and unwittingly I presume)attacked the doctrine of sola scriptura, saying things like, the only way to get to sola scriptura is if there are rational antecedents in place to begin with. And, of course, those rational antecedents are located in the area of philosophy. Therefore, at the end of the day, when it is all settled, the entire protestant system of theology rests not on sola scriptura, but the philosophical construct that leads us to the conclusion of sola scriptura. With one statement, the apologetics professor at SES has destroyed the entire reformation.

Since we do theology only by exegesis of Scripture (or at least that is how it is done correctly), it follows that the only way to examine theological arguments is by Scripture. Since this unnamed apologetics professor at SES is arguing that sufficiency of Scripture requires philosophy of language at a minimum to get going, it is this proposition that I want to examine. For example, would Paul, or does Paul agree that the common use of everyday language ipso facto equates to doing secular philosophy? Since Paul used everyday language to condemn the use or integration of secular philosophy among Christians, I think the answer is clear.
So what exactly is wrong with the professor’s argument? For starters, he is engaging in equivocation. To infer that rules for human communication are parallel with secular philosophy is confusing two very distinct disciplines. The presuppositional method argues that Scripture is entirely sufficient to bring men to saving faith. This experience is not merely intellectual. God saves men miraculously by the preaching of His word. Scripture is the means by which God regenerates fallen sinners. The classical approach is not content to give men a gospel proclamation. I have had numerous classical apologists tell me that the unbeliever may not be ready to hear the gospel just yet. Classical apologetics seeks to prepare the way. The classical method asserts that we must show the unbeliever that Christian theism is true before they can know it to be so. In addition, some have argued that such the presuppositional approach is overly simplistic, naïve and even anti-intellectual. In the classical approach, you must demonstrate that theism is true using rational argumentation and evidences before you given them the gospel. In other words, apologetics is the antecedent to Scripture. Once this work is accomplished, the classical apologist can finally preach the gospel. The presuppositionalist objects to this method because it contradicts Scripture by necessarily assuming the view that men are neutral in how they evaluate theistic proofs, be they rational arguments or historical evidence. Presuppositional apologetics will drag the sinner before the courtroom of God’s gospel and show him not only the irrational position of his own views, but more importantly, the divine wrath that hangs over his head, and it will not leave off the discussion without demanding repentance of the unbeliever in accord with Scripture, which is precisely what Jesus, John the Baptist, Peter, Paul, and the rest of the apostles did.

Norman Geisler says, “If we can establish that all nontheistic views engage in unaffirmable statements germane to those views, then we can reject them as false. If we can show that theism is the only affirmable view or that it is undeniable, then it will be established as true.” [Geisler, Christian Apologetics] There are two fundamental problems with these statements. First, Christian theism has already been established as true, and therefore, all non-Christian views have been established as false. Paul clearly informs us in Romans one that God has made Himself undeniably known to all of humanity. The work that Giesler talks about has never been necessary. Secondly, fallen sinners, even though they know God exists, they will deny this truth, suppressing it everywhere they turn. Rational argumentation and proofs will not dissuade men from loving their sin and hating the God who hates their sin. The reason is that both our argumentation and our proofs have characteristics that fallen men find highly objectionable. Their standards for divine proofs are absurd and their arguments are fatally flawed with the noetic effects of sin. God is not duty-bound to provide the sort of proofs they demand.
Paul tells us in Col. 2:2 that true knowledge of God is Christ Himself. The only way to have true knowledge of God is through Christ. The knowledge of God men have by natural revelation is filtered through the perverse reasoning of wicked intellects. The mind is depraved. Man knows God is there, but he distorts, and perverts and suppresses that knowledge, that truth that God has graciously given him. This leaves man ignorant, blind, and foolish in terms of his understanding of God and the world around him. Paul goes on to say that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are not just found in Christ, but they are hidden in Christ. In other words, it if is wisdom and knowledge you seek, you will not find them outside of Christ. True knowledge and true wisdom are veiled from men who are outside Christ. The Greek word is apokruphos. It pertains to not being able to be known and thus is secret. In other words, outside of Christ, man is resigned to not being able to possess true knowledge and understanding of God nor is he able to possess true reasoning abilities.

Paul then mentions two more things I want to add. First, he says that the reason he is saying these things is because he does not want anyone to delude them with pithanologia. This is an interesting Greek word. It means plausible, but false, speech resulting from the use of well-constructed, probable arguments—‘convincing speech, plausible language.[1] There is no question that Paul was dealing with secular, hostile philosophy at Colassae. No doubt, these philosophers were used convincing rhetoric. Paul issues sober warnings to the Colossian Church about such foolishness. He goes on in v. 8 to point out that secular philosophy founded on the tradition of men and the stoicheia of this world, rather than according to Christ. This word means the basic principles that serve to underpin something. This is the very basic ideas of the secular worldview. We would say that autonomous human reason would be one of those very basic principles. That man is able to discover truth on his own apart from God is a basic principle of worldly and unbelieving thought. By these things, the Colossian Church was in danger of being seduced and deceived. The Church existed in a culture that was highly philosophical to being with and hence, Paul was right to be on his toes. Contemporary apologists are negligent for not taking the same kind of precaution in their own thought and work.
The classical apologist operates under the assumption that the power of logical arguments and the weight of evidences and proofs will convince men of the truthfulness of Christianity and pave the way for evangelism. They operate under the assumption that men reject Christian theism because they simply don’t have enough evidence or they have not heard a good argument for it. This assumption is out of step with biblical descriptions of metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. It ignores the noetic effects of sin and fails to grasp the significance and true nature of the curse.

The professor’s inference that we all must do some work outside of Scripture in order to even argue for the sufficiency of Scripture or to hold to the doctrine of sola scriptura is equivocation at best and a red herring at worse. Human communication is a phenomenon of human experience and as such is general revelation. Hence, it falls into the same category as the sensus divinitatis. Man’s knowledge that God is, is innate, properly basic knowledge. Just as we do not have to present evidence that God is, we also do not have to defend the idea of communication, word meanings, literary devices, etc. We know intuitively that such devices are at play. However, due to the sin nature, the gift of human language has also been corrupted and therefore must be subject to rules that are derived from the nature and character of God Himself. Many of these very rules can be arrived at inductively by serious study of how Scripture employs human language and literary devices in the divine communication and revelation of God to His creation.
To respond specifically to the professor’s challenge, I will turn to the text he used as an example. Gen. 3:8 tells us that Adam and Eve heard the “sound” of the Lord God walking in the garden. The good SES professor infers from this that we must engage in something external to Scripture in order to understand Scripture in this case. He argues this is a literary device and that such devices are no actually explained in Scripture nor are there rules given in Scripture itself to guide our understanding. He is correct. However, the fact that no such rules exist do not open the floodgates to the use of secular philosophy in the area of gospel presentation or biblical apologetics. First of all, the text does not actually say walking. The Hebrew word is הָלַךְ and it can mean walk, go, to move, etc. To fixate on the specific movement of walking is exegetically without warrant. We understand that this verse conveys the sense that Adam and Eve heard the sound of the Lord God moving in the garden. Where should our focus be? And for most normal Christians who read the text with the right purpose in mind, sanctification, what do we focus on? We focus on the fact that Adam and Eve just sinned and now they hear the sound of the Lord God moving in the Garden of Eden and that sound must have been incredibly frightening. God is holy, they have sinned, and consequences are sure to follow. That Scripture employs literary devices like anthropomorphisms without providing express rules for them is a sure indication that human beings are created with the natural ability to recognize such devices just as we can recognize the many other wonderful phenomena that are God’s natural revelation in creation. For an apologetic professor to resort this sort of argumentation is unnecessarily distracting on the one hand, and/or equivocation on the other hand.

It is easy to miss the implications of this approach on such issues as biblical authority. It Scripture is not sufficient to bring men to God, then how can we truly refer to them as authoritative, inspired, inerrant, and self-attesting? The sufficiency of the Scripture to bring men to Christ and keep men in Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit is not ground that any God-fearing, Bible believing apologist should be willing to give up. After all, it is the Scripture and only the Scripture that is able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 3:15).

[1] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, vol. 1, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains, electronic ed. of the 2nd edition. (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 392.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Rob Bell Affirms Gay Marriage: The Collapse of Biblical Authority Continues

Rob Bell has finally gone where Rob Bell has wanted to go for quite a long time now. On his current book tour, Bell said he is for marriage, for love, whether it's a man and woman, a woman and a woman, a man and a man. This should come as no surprise to anyone. Bell has wanted to say this for a very long time now.

Bell contends that part of Jesus' message was "what do you with the people who aren't like you? Bell takes Jesus' statement to be all-inclusive. We are wrong to exclude those who are not like us. But is this really even close to Jesus' intended meaning? My first problem in answering this question is that I am not at all clear about the text Bell is referencing. I wonder how Bell would feel if we took him literally. I mean, what about swingers? If sex is love, then swinging is now an acceptable form of sharing your love with others in the most intimate way. Of course, Bell would say that such a lifestyle is not one of fidelity. But he would be wrong. So long as both partners know, then what is the problem? And certainly both partners would know. And if sex is love, why not have an open relationship where the husband and wife can share their love with whomever they please so long as the other spouse is informed?

My biggest gripe about the Christian Post is that they still referred to Bell as a "Christian author." There is nothing Christian about Rob Bell. I am reminded of John's admonition, "They went out from us because they were not of us." The only document qualified to define the term "Christian" is the Scripture. Christianity is a religion of the book, of God's divine revelation in the pages of Scripture. Destroy this book, and you destroy Christianity. Abandon this book, and you abandon Christianity. The question once again comes down to authority. The issue once again is human autonomy versus divine authority. That, without any doubt, is the heartbeat issue of Christianity versus the culture. It has always been the issue, beginning in the Garden all the down until this very day.

In addition to Bell's affirmation on gay marriage, Matthew Vines, the unregenerate pseudo-Christian is launching a new initiative designed to train gay Christians how to help Churches open their doors to those who practice the detestable lifestyle of gay sex. He is calling the project "The Reformation Project." What is going on in Christianity? What is going on is that the false Church is far more visible, and quite frankly, far more attractive and interesting than the true Church. However, to think that these issues are not creating issues even in the Church of Jesus Christ would be overly naive. One has to look no further than the Tim Keller controversy to recognize that the issue of authority is no longer far off in the distance. Like a forest fire, the flames have gone unchecked and they are now within striking distance of the ranch.

I recently had a philosophical exchange with someone about the merits of philosophy, specifically the relationship between ontology and epistemology. The discussion turned in a negative direction when I insisted that Scripture was our sole authority for reality and that revelation is our theory of knowledge. Eventually we finally arrived at our fundamental difference: his ground of authority is fallible human logic and mine is the revelation of Scripture.

What is my big gripe with all this, you ask? I am not worried about gay marriage. It is coming. Personally, I believe it will eventually force seminaries to forgo accreditation, and threaten the tax-exempt status presently enjoyed by religious institutions. There are bigger problems facing the Church than these issues. My gripe is that we Christians do absolutely nothing to deal with these internal matters forcefully and effectively. We ignore Jesus and Paul on the matter. When Christians are taken by a sin, we are to act, in love, with urgency! Our goal is twofold that can be summed up in one word: purification. In love, we seek to restore our wayward brother, knowing that we are no different and it could be us in need of correction tomorrow. We seek to purify their behavior by lovingly confronting them with Christ's word.

Second, we are concerned with the purification of the body of Christ. If we love the body of Christ, we will NOT tolerate the arrogant obstinance of those who profess to love Christ but deny Him in their works. We will love the person and the body enough to DO SOMETHING! I am convinced that you do not love the body of Christ if you sit by and allow rebellion of any kind to thrive in the life of that body. In addition, how can we love Christ if we do not love His body? Yet, here we are. We are tolerating all sorts of wickedness to exist within the community of Christianity, doing very little to engage in the battle that Scripture so often talks about. We tolerate immoral behavior, unloving and malicious gossip, division, confusion, and ungodly men who sneak in planting doubts in the minds of believers under the guise of academic scholarship. I am reminded of Al Pacino's indignation in the move, "The Scent of a Woman." He made the remark to the court that if he were a younger man, he would take a flame-thrower to the place. All I am saying is that there are times when I can completely relate to Pacino's attitude. I make no assertion that it is right, mind you. I am simply saying that I can identify.

Loving God means we also love our brothers and sisters by serving them when we see they are in spritual trouble. It also means that you love the Church more than cultural tolerance or political correctness. At a minimum, we must stop calling men who abandon Scripture "Christians." We must stop recognizing scholars who deny the Scripture as godly, or Christian scholars. The Christian community has to take the term "Christian" more seriously than ever. Otherwise, the term Christian will become forever undefinable.

One way to define a term is by Genus and Difference. Two steps are necessary in order to do this. First, the genus must be named - the genus of which the species is designated by the definiendum is the subclass. Second, the specific difference must be named - the attribute that distinguishes the members of that species from members of all other species in that genus. (Copi, Logic) The very first rule seems like a good place for the Church to start: A definition should state the essential attributes of the species. In other words, the Church needs to return to stating the essential attributes of a Christian so that we can distinguish between those who are and those who are not. Indeed, we need to start this process yesterday.
 

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Sine Qua Non of Biblical Apologetics


I am going to argue that Biblical Apologetics is characterized by a certain set of traits, the absence of which means the absence of the project itself. In other words, as one looks at the class of “biblical apologetics, one must ask what are those “class defining attributes” that distinguish it from other classes. All apologetic methods claim to be biblical, but in one way or another, they are missing some of those essential characteristics necessary to satisfy this definition.

First, I will seek to demonstrate that the definition of apologetics along with the method and manner in which we carry out this definition are all unambiguously informed by Scripture. A straightforward exegetical approach to the discipline of apologetics reveals all we need to know in order to understand the discipline, the method we must employ, and the manner in which we are to behave in order to accomplish the discipline in a way that honors God and extends the highest degree of respect to divine revelation. I would be remiss if I did not also disclose that such an approach presupposes the right use of the laws of human thought. Exegesis always involves deductive and inductive methods of approaching the text.

The truth of God, having been revealed to us in Scripture, warrants the utmost veneration. The discipline of Biblical Apologetics has a deep and profound duty to maintain an inflexible, inexorable, unyielding loyalty to Scripture. After all, the Christian worldview is a paradigm. As such, it stands or falls as a whole. In other words, it cannot be discontinuous. Biblical apologetics rests on the foundation of one message, one way of looking at reality, one way of knowing, and one way of living. Departure from this “one way” even in the smallest gradation translates to an indiscriminate retreat from Biblical Apologetics as an enterprise and exchanges it for something less than God’s remedy for how we need to respond to the unbeliever in a fallen world.

The Right Definition – Response

In order to understand the essential components of biblical apologetics, one must first acquire an accurate definition of the term. Moreover, since the term we aspire to understand is the same one used by several writers in numerous documents of the Greek New Testament, it only follows that we must confine our investigation to the documents of the GNT. After all, central fallacies arise at precisely these stages. The failure to establish a working definition of a term lends itself to unnecessary confusion and in many cases, frustration. It does little to advance the cause of truth.

The Greek words apologia and apologeomai appear 18 times in the Greek NT. Luke uses the terms 10 times and in every single instance it is in the context of a formal religious or civil trial with perhaps one exception(Lu. 12:11; 21:14; Acts 19:33; 22:1; 24:10; 25:8; 25:16; 26:1; 26:2; 26:24). In each of these cases, the idea is that a person has been charged or indicted and they are responding, or answering the indictment or charges. Paul uses the term twice to defend his ministry against false charges (I Cor. 9:3; 2 Cor. 12:19). He uses it on three occasions to reference his trial (Phil. 1:7, 16; 2 Tim. 4:16). He uses it once to refer to how the Gentile conscience defends its behavior in terms of moral practice (Rom. 2:15), and once to refer the Corinthian repentance and how that served to defend charges against the genuineness of their faith (2 Cor. 7:11). Peter uses the term in his command to all Christians to always be prepared to respond to those who would demand an account of us for the reason of the hope that is in us (1 Pet. 3:15).

It seems clear then that Christian apologetics is a response to something. In most cases, it was a response to a formal charge or indictment. However, it would be an overstatement to say that this is the predominant picture that should come to mind. On the other hand, it would also be inaccurate to describe Christian apologetics as primarily a response to an inquiry, or a simple question. While one must accept that this situation would rightly be classes as apologetics, it is not exactly the situation described in most instances in Scripture.

The Right Method – Faith Informed Reason, Revelational Epistemology, Biblical Authority.

The Acts of the Apostles, written by Luke, contain several examples of NT Apologetics. You do not need to look any further than Scripture in order to identify the apologetic model that Christians ought to employ. The very first apologetic is issued in Acts 4:8. The charge came in response to the preaching of Jesus. The religious leaders arrested Peter and John. Peter stood up and preached Jesus Christ, whom they had crucified, and whom God had raised from the dead. He reasons from Scripture to support His argument. Peter began with Christ, reasoned from Scripture, and ended with Christ. The result was a threat of serious bodily harm.

The next apologetic example is recorded in Acts 5:17-42. The apostles answer the council’s charge by thundering that they must obey God rather than men. Peter once again points to the resurrection, proclaims that they are witnesses of these things, and also confirms that the Holy Spirit is witness to these events. Christians have both the testimony of Scripture and the testimony of the Holy Spirit that the truth claims of the Christian worldview are actually true. This is how Peter and the apostles reasoned. In contemporary times, we are told, even by Christian apologists, that such reasoning amounts to little more than fideism.

Another example of NT Apologetics is located in Acts 6:8-7:60. Stephen is falsely accused by men who argued with him but were unable to gain any ground due to the soundness of his argumentation. Stephen reasoned from Scripture. Stephen stands up to defend himself at the council and he immediately begins with God, and from the start he reasons from Scripture.

One more example concerns perhaps the most popular apologetic presentations of all. In fact, this address is so popular that it so overshadows the others in such a way that I can hardly think of anyone even considering the apologetic nature of these events. Yet it is clear that each of these historical events were apologetics through and through. In Acts 17, Paul gives the most memorable of all the apologetic episodes ever recorded. And as one might image, Paul too, begins with God and reasons from Scripture throughout his defense of the Christian system of truth, the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The apostles along with Christ began with the supreme authority of the Divine in every encounter. Even when Paul gave his personal testimony of conversion, he always pointed men up to the supreme rule of God, and included that Lordship and resurrection of Jesus Christ. “Upon the rock foundation of God’s word the Christian is able to demonstrate the foolishness of unbelieving thought while at the same time vindicate the greatness of divine wisdom.” [Butler, The Transcendental Argument for God’s Existence]

Rational argumentation for the existence of God is only valuable when used in the context of reasoning from Scripture. Otherwise, all one can show is that some finite god exists and that he or she created the universe and all that is in it. The ontological, cosmological, and teleological arguments do nothing to establish the exclusive truth of Christian theism. For that, we must turn to revelation. Rational argumentation rests upon foundationalism, a system that does not make sin an essential epistemological category. A system that fails to recognize sin as such, also fails to take Paul seriously.

Apologetic method must rest upon the bold foundation of the sufficiency of Scripture. What does it say about the bride of Christ when she surrenders such sacred ground? Not only has the church surrendered the doctrine of sufficiency to psychological integration, and to the pragmatism of programs and a self-help message that is far more psychological that salvific, now it seems she wishes to give up her defense of Scripture in exchange for philosophical speculation anchored in a foundationalism that takes Paul nor any other Scripture seriously in terms of the epistemological aspects of sin. In other words, to concede to any method other than a presuppositional one necessarily affirms that which is should seek to refute; the validity of autonomous human reason.

The Right Manner – Christian Charity     

It is more than just ironic that Christian blogs, websites, and even apologists themselves can resort to name-calling, pejorative language, insults, and the like all in the name of defending the message of Christian hope and love. Still, the sad truth is that this behavior is more common than many realize. Christian apologetics begins when an unbeliever responds to the Christian message. The unbeliever’s response should always be met in the light of the character that the Christian ethic demands. Paul instructs Titus not to speak in a way that would harm or injure they’re reputation, to malign no one. Paul tells him to speak in a way that is peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men (Titus 3:2). The “men” Paul references are clearly unbelievers, given the context of this passage. The same apostle instructed the church at Colossae, “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Col. 4:6).

Peter could not have been more translucent when he said that our apologetic must be given with “gentleness and reverence.” This word gentleness is akin to our modern idea of courtesy. We must take a gentle or humble attitude toward those who would make such demands of us. The word for reverence carries the idea of profound respect. It is as much about the manner of our answer as it is about power of our argument. While prophets, apostles, and our Lord issued rebukes that were stinging and appropriate, our own disposition must be dissimilar. We are not prophets, apostles, or the Lord. They belonged to a much different class of authority while we are all on the same playing field. Stern rebukes issued by these men in divine narrative do not serve as legitimate excuses for us to engage in rude and uncharitable argumentation in our apologetic. A biblical apologetic, to be biblical, must rightly define the term apologetics, must reason rightly from Scripture, and it must be laced with Christian charity top to bottom.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Tragedy of Contemporary Apologetics

Recently I argued that the nature and character of Biblical Apologetics is, first and foremost responsive. The apologia or apologeomai is a response from the Christian to an unbeliever. The Christian may be responding to a question, a demand, a challenge, charge, or even an indictment. The flow looks like this:

Christian delievers Kerygma
>>> Unbeliever response (question, demand, challenge, charge, indictment) to Kerygma >>>Christian response to unbeliever (apologetic).

This is what it means to engage in the discipline of Biblical apologetics. The idea is that the Christian is responding to the unbeliever's desire that they provide a reason for the hope that is in them.

Notice that Biblical apologetics has nothing to do with Christians taking the offensive by going out and looking for a fight. Too many amatuer apologists, so-called, are very poor representations of the Christian worldview, not to mention the Christian message. These amatuer apologists read a book, gain some knowledge, maybe even a lot of knowledge, marry that with their insatiable lust for the intellect and for intellectual pugalism and the results are tragic and embarrasing. These are men who care far more about their own ego, about being right, about how they appear to others, than they do about lovingly and gently proclaming the gospel with respect in all humility. I am not implying that we soften the Christian message. God forbid we should ever do such a thing. However, what I witness on some blogs and some internet forums has about as much Christian fruit as the Huffington Post. Spirit-filled apologetics is always accompanied by the fruit of the Spirit.

Biblical apologetics is not about winning a debate. It is not about proving that Christianity has the best arguments. Biblical apologetics is a Biblical response from Scripture in love and humility to those who ask, or demand, or even to those who challenge and indict us in response to our proclamation of the gospel. It has nothing to do with winning a debate. It has nothing to do with having the best argument. In fact, I would venture to say that most of the time, where the unbeliever is concerned, the Christian should expect an epistemic standoff. Moreover, we should be perfectly fine with these results.

"Fearlessness toward outside detractors is to be manifested in a readiness to provide a public account of oneself, especially regarding the hope that arouses their curiosity." [Elliot, I Peter, 626]

 
This is the whole point. For contemporary Christians in America, this should be relatively painless. After all, we are not under threat of death or serious bodily injury or even serious persecution, yet. Still, for some reason, most American Christians either have a very wrong-headed idea about apologetics or are entirely clueless as to what the discipline even means. Neither of these is acceptable.

"Curiosity - the desire to understand and to know - lies at the root of all science and philosophy. Man, as Aristotle said long ago, by nature desires to know. The desire of the scientist or the philosopher to expand the horizons of our understanding is but the mature result that original curiosity with which every human life begins." [Halverson, A Concise Introduction to Philosophy. 3]
 
There is no excuse for a Christian to be outdone by the world when it comes to natural curiosity. That we should observe all of God's creation with awe and wonder is a given. A right appreciation for God's handiwork naturally leads men to be curious. This is especially true of the study of divine revelation, and as far as that goes, all revealed truth. This curiosity should translate into the believer desiring to know and understand his Maker. While some will bear more fruit than others, nevertheless, that we will bear some fruit is a given. The question is what kind of fruit are be bearing before the unbelieving community?

I have witnessed a plethora of rude behavior on Christian blogs who claim to be reformed, they claim to love Christ, and they claim to be apologetical in nature. Few things are more difficult to deal with than the charge of hypocrisy because of one's experience with another "Christian" who was behaving poorly. Biblical apologetics is not personally offensive. That is to say, it does not argue by ad hominem.

In short, Biblical apologetics is the loving, humble, respectful, BOLD, CONFIDENT response to the unbeliever who asks, demands, challenges, charges, or even indicts. In the order of things it comes in response to an unbeliever's response to the gospel.

Finally, Biblical apologetics is not philosophy. It is not the use of unaided human reason. It is not the use of pure logic. Biblical apologetics is another presentation of the gospel, slightly nuanced in the form of an answer to a question.

This does not suggest that Christians should not study logic or philosophy as such. I believe we must study those subjects. Paul was well informed on philosophy, rhetoric, and Greek literature. However, that we all should engage these subjects at the same level is indeed a pipe dream, not to mention without exgetical warrant. There is a balance that every Christian must seek. Some of us will be more inclined to apologetics, to the languages, to textual criticism, the systematics, exegesis, and hermeneutics. Others will be more inclined in different directions. Each one has his gift. Even still, we cannot miss the fact that Biblical apologetics is not to be viewed as just a gift. Perhaps it is for some. According to Peter, it is a fact of life for every Christian to one degree or another.

The Christian must love the Lord God with all his or her being. This includes engaging in the discipline of right thinking and of Biblical apologetics. Solomon wrote, "How long O naive ones will you love being simple minded?" (Prov. 1:22) He went on to say that fools hate knowledge. The next time you hear a Christian ponding on the idea that we should study Scripture, or seek to understand doctrine and the nature of the God who is, just quote Solomon: fools hate knowledge.

Let us always be ready to give a reasoned defense of the hope that is in us to every who asks, or demands, or challenges, or even indicts. Let us do so with boldness, with confidence, not fearing their intimidation. But let us do so with respect and gentleness, always in the midst of good works, ensuring that our speech is laced with salt from beginning to end.

Monday, March 4, 2013

“Jesus Is: Find a New Way to be Human”

Judah Smith finds an Old Way to be Wrong!


The Christian Post (CP) recently conducted an interview with Judah Smith, lead pastor of The City Church in Seattle, WA. The focus of the interview is Smith’s new book. Apparently, Smith heard from God on Oct. 27th, 2007. According to Smith, it was so clear that it was almost audible. From this experience comes Smith’s new book, “Jesus is: Find A New Way to be Human.” I have not read the book, and in fact, I have no intentions of reading it. I am simply too busy reading good books to waste my time reading, what amounts to be, a really, really bad one from what I can tell.

The grand revelation of this book seems to be that Jesus is Grace. Grace is a person. Grace is not some abstract principle. Grace is not just divine favor, no. Grace is a person. Jesus is Grace. Smith’s revelation can be summed up in simple terms: John 1:17 says that the law came through Moses, but grace and truth come by Jesus Christ. According to Smith, because grace precedes truth in John’s sentence, grace is more important than truth. Jesus is grace before He is truth. Smith says that grace is always first in the biblical order. The argument would flow as follows:

Whatever is mentioned first in the biblical order is of higher significance.
Grace is always before truth.
Therefore, grace is the most significant aspect of Christ or Scripture (I suppose)
 
One does not even have to leave John 1 before questions arise as a result of Smith’s assertion. All one has to do is move from John 1:17 to John 1:1 to realize that truth has actually been mentioned prior to grace. The word is Jesus, and in John 17:17, the word is also defined as the truth, as is Jesus in John 14:6. Therefore, John mentions truth several verses before he mentions grace. Before we can even get started, Smith’s thesis has serious problems. In addition, there is no exegetical support for Smith’s claim. Word order can point to an author’s intention to emphasize that word, but to invoke a rule that this is always the case is simply a hasty generalization that has no basis in Scripture nor in sound exegetical principles.

If Smith’s principle is true, then it must hold true for every other aspect of divine truth as well. For instance, it should hold when we compare love with other aspects of Christian faith. However, 1 Cor. 13:13 would indicate this principle simply is not true. Paul says there remains faith, hope, and love and the greatest of these is love. Even though love is mentioned last, it is said to be the greatest of the three.

In John 14:6, Jesus said, I am the way, the truth, and the life. Here, Jesus doesn’t even bother to mention grace. What does this mean? It means nothing at all in terms of the relationship of grace in our salvation or in any other way. Scripture is not some toy that God gave us so that we could come up with new and clever ways to say really cool things and look hip in front of our congregations.

Judah Smith’s thesis is absurd. To be as direct as I can, there is absolutely no reason to argue that John is elevating grace over truth because he mentioned grace first in the order of things. This is sheer arbitrary nonsense. Secondly, John never called Jesus grace. Grace is an act, not a person. Grace is a disposition of the divine Patron toward unworthy benefactors. God extends grace to us. There is no exegetical warrant for Smith to personify grace. It is an illegitimate practice that should garner serious rebuke. Not one writer ever said that Jesus Christ is grace, nor did any NT author ever say that grace is Jesus Christ.

Finally, it is impossible to miss yet one more attack on truth. It is a false dichotomy to set grace up over against truth. Even the attempt to say that grace is more significant than truth is a truth claim that even Smith would argue is significant. Even if one were to claim that Smith is referring to the properties of propositions, it still holds that his statement itself is also a proposition. It is always an illegitimate practice to downgrade one part of Scripture, one part of revelation, or one aspect of God in order to elevate another.
Exegesis is an investigation of Scripture that is guided by a specific set of rules that reflect norms in communication. God has spoken to us by His Son Jesus Christ and He has expressly given to us the record of this phenomenon in the pages of a divinely inspired set of documents we call the Bible. Ethical standards demand that we approach the sacred text of Scripture with extreme care giving to it the respect and admiration it deserves. Judah Smith, along with many young and restless pastors in contemporary times, seems to take up the text with the same degree of appreciation they show to a work of fiction. To claim that Jesus is grace and to arbitrarily assert that grace is more significant than truth because John placed it first is simply false.

Debate Review: Hernandez & Zachariades v. Flowers Pritchett

There has been some attention given to the recent debate on the subject of free will between Dr. Sonny Hernandez, Dr. Theodore Zachariade...