Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Faith We Defend

In his book, Covenantal Apologetics, Scott Oliphint lists what he calls the ten tenets for defending the faith. The objective of this post is discuss the first tenet: “The faith that we are defending must begin with, and necessarily include, the triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – who, as God, condescends to create and to redeem.” [Oliphint, Covenantal Apologetics, 55]

Christian apologetics cannot get underway unless the apologist understands the nature of his enterprise, which is the defense of the revelation of God in Scripture. Christian apologetics has no interest in proclaiming and defending some theory of general theism. Far too often, the apologetic discussion fails to make progress because we have not properly defined precisely what it is we are defending. We must do a much better job proclaiming and defending the biblically revealed God as opposed to one of the many false conceptions or versions of God that exists in the world today. Unregenerate men have constructed more versions of God than one could possibly know. It is only by knowing the true God that the Christian apologist can proclaim and defend Him.

This concept points us up to the fact that Christian apologetics is not apologetics at all unless it has a theological foundation. In order for us to understand the God that we endeavor to proclaim and defend, we must study theology. Moreover, a study of theology requires some familiarity with exegetical process. In addition, exegetical process rests upon certain hermeneutical presuppositions. Just in case you were wondering, yes, these processes and presuppositions also rest upon theological foundations. The entire enterprise takes on a significantly spherical shape. Not to fear, every epistemological model ever developed in the history of humanity has been and will always be spherical in nature. This is one characteristic of epistemology we are not obligated to secure even if we do wish to illustrate how and why it is so.

What Oliphint is not saying is that every apologetic encounter must involve a theological discussion of the trinity. “Rather, we are saying that we must never assume that we are defending anything but what God himself, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, has accomplished in creation and redemption.” [Ibid. 48-49] Two things emerge in this statement: Christian apologetics begins with an understanding of the nature and the acts of God. What we see in many apologetic systems at best is an imbalanced approach stressing one more than the other or even ignoring one altogether. However, you cannot overemphasize one without detriment to the other. If you overstress the love of God you will surely struggle with theodicy when the objection is raised. In addition, if you focus all your time on the resurrection of Christ, you will struggle when the objection of open theism presents itself. Christian theism comes to us in a complete package, not in bits and pieces put together as theologians and apologists react to attacks and challenges over time. Christian theism, while containing a biblical philosophy is not philosophy per se.

The Philosopher has created systems in search of truth that are in large degree modifications due their successive failure, over time, to deliver on their promise for knowledge. The evolution of philosophy will never end because it is the unregenerate quest to discover truth, to know, and live life apart from the Creator. Secular philosophy is the fruitless evolution of man’s quest for knowledge apart from God. At the end of each theory is the inevitable agnostic conclusion regarding why things are the way they are. The answer is simply that the philosopher does not know. In secular philosophy, the true quest for knowledge ends in mystery, and is as unsatisfying as it is empty. For Christian theism the case is quite the contrary. Moreover, when taken as a whole, as it is revealed in Scripture, Christian theism provides the only satisfying answer to man’s most basic questions. That answer inescapably begins, and ends with God and God’s acts in redemptive history.

Hence, all the websites, books, and even degree programs allocated to a philosophical methodology in Christian apologetics have worked to confuse and obfuscate the apologetic vocation far more than they have facilitated in making the task unpretentious. Does this mean we ignore the study of philosophy? I don’t think that is the right answer. I think it is helpful to understand how these systems are constructed. That understanding proves encouraging to the believing because we can clearly see the epistemological failures one after another. However, I do believe there is a balance to such an approach and one has to use wisdom, spending their time wisely in such endeavors. Believers should study the basics of secular philosophy. It is important to be able to speak their language and understand how they think. However, as with anything there is the danger that we allow ourselves to become so obsessed with secular philosophy that we ignore other, more important subjects, such as the biblical languages. There is also the danger of chasing every unbelieving rabbit that pops its head out of the hole and that is simply not in keeping with godly wisdom. In fact, that behavior is due more to the fact that some men simply turn the intellectual pursuit into idolatry while others turn an anti-intellectual bent into idolatry.

I think the point that Oliphint is getting at in his tenets is that Christian theism rises or falls as a unit. By its very nature, like God, it cannot come in bits and pieces. In similar fashion, Christian theology does not come in pieces either. The parts make up the whole and without the whole the parts would be unintelligible. Hence, a Christian apologetic, built upon the diverse and unified system of Christian truth must itself employ a methodology that faithfully expresses the unity and diversity observed in the divine revelation of the one true God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

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