Friday, December 13, 2013

The Christian’s Reply: Biblical Apologetics versus Craig's Philosophy

As one examines 1 Peter 3:15 outside contemporary culture, the question of defending the faith takes on far less complexity than modern Christian philosophers and apologists lead us to believe. That being said, I do not wish to lead you to imagine that such an endeavor is undemanding or exceptionally uncomplicated. What I am going to argue is that the actual task of apologetics is much more bound up in the word “reply” than most apologists realize. The key to being a good apologist is not philosophical shrewdness. Rather, the key to being a good apologist is twofold: you should be a levelheaded exegete of the text, and a capable communicator. Notice that both of these skills are associated with language. Language is the medium of the gospel. Language is the medium of truth. Language is the medium of apologetics. If you will persistently devote time to understanding human language, you can develop the skills that are necessary to become a very effective apologist.

If it is true that a Christian does not need philosophy in order to be an effective apologist, does that mean we should ignore it completely. I do not think ignoring philosophy entirely is the best approach. I think it is useful to understand the basic concepts of philosophy so that you can speak the language and understand where people with a bent toward philosophy are coming from as you teach them about the Christ. That being said, most people are not philosophers and have little interest in devoting themselves to the goal of acquiring even a modest knowledge of the subject. It follows then that our purpose for acquainting ourselves with philosophical language and concepts only proves helpful for more personal reasons than it does for apologetical reasons. For example, it is useful to understand the basics of epistemology if you intend to read a publication that deals with philosophical concepts. It makes for a slow and tedious read when you have to break at every other sentence to search for a definition. Philosophers are characteristically infatuated with capacious vocabularies, or I should say lots of really big words. I suppose it makes them feel especially cerebral. In other words, it makes ‘em feel really smart.

Now, you may ask why I believe that philosophy is unnecessary for biblical apologetics, even if I think it can be useful. Just because something is useful, that does not make it necessary or essential. I want to make certain you catch a glimpse of that distinction. The reason I suppose this is true is because Scripture teaches me that Scripture alone is sufficient for the task of biblical apologetics. I do not need anything outside of Scripture to be able to honor God in being prepared to provide a reply to everyone that asks me to account for the hope that is in me.

Paul, in writing to Timothy said the following: “…and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16) Note first that the “sacred writings” are able to give one wisdom that leads to salvation! Literally the language reads, to make you wise for salvation. The Scripture changes a person from being a fool to being wise. There is no two-step process here. Scripture does not merely make one wise so that they are now better informed to make a good decision to follow Christ. Such a view has no exegetical grounding in this text. The goal of Christian apologetics is to persuade men to fear God and obey His commandments. It is not to convince men that theism is true.

Paul went on to inform Timothy that all Scripture is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. Scripture, if put on diligently, if weaved into the very fabric of our living and thinking, equips us to always be ready to reply to those who would ask us to give an account for the hope that is in us. This hope of course is the blessed Christian hope, the hope that we so long for which is the coming of our long awaited King.

To the Corinthians Paul writes, “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor. 1:18) As long as the sacred writings have not made one wise for salvation, they remain a fool. And as long as they remain a fool, they will hold the view that the most blessed and sacred message ever given to humanity is nothing but utter foolishness. The Greek language here is where we get our word moron. The unbeliever thinks that only a moron would believe what genuine Christians actually believe. No amount of philosophy will change this fact. The nature of the unbeliever (metaphysical reality) is that they have no way to account for autonomous knowledge (man-centered epistemology). What changes the unbeliever is the very thing that they will not accept, regardless of how one presents it. The power of the Christian message to persuade men that Christ is Lord is not located in the form of the argument or the sophistication of words. The power that is contained within the gospel message transcends human reason. God does not change hearts via Aristotle. God’s work is supernatural.

Peter gives us all a command to reply to those who would ask us to give an account for the hope that is in us. He does not command us to go out, find every form of unbelieving thought that exists, and figure out the best way to refute it and if you do this, you will be a more effective apologist and stem the tide of unbelief. Stemming the tide of unbelief is the work of our sovereign Lord, not extravagant apologetic arguments immersed in pagan philosophy and Aristotelian logic. The command is that we be ready at all times. And that requires weaving Scripture into the very fabric of our lives and especially into our thought process. Scripture, not philosophy, is how the Christian replies and refutes every speculation of man that objects to Christian truth.

It is not the power of philosophical argumentation that places men in the Christian community. The Apostle Paul tells us very clearly what places us within the Christian community:   For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:26-31)

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