Thursday, December 5, 2013
The Covenant Relationship in Apologetics
“God’s covenantal revelation is authoritative by virtue of what it is, and any covenantal, Christian apologetic will necessarily stand on and utilize that authority in order to defend Christianity.” [Oliphint, Covenantal Apologetics, 49]
The quest for knowledge comes down to criteria. Ontologically speaking, something is there. Nevertheless, what justification can man provide to support his ontological claims? This is the root of apologetics. Sooner or later, we must get to the head of the stream if we want to understand its source. After all, humans are curious creatures. They desire to know and understand. Specifically, they want to know and understand what reality is all about, the purpose for our being, and how we should live. “The critical task of philosophy is to question truth claims whenever they may be put forth - to ask, so to speak, by what right this or that belief is to be accorded a place in the fund of human knowledge.” [Halverson, A Concise Introduction to Philosophy, 6]
William C. Smith insists that any attempt to completely conceptualize a religion is a contradiction in terms, for there is always more in principle in the Transcendent than a person can see and even more than he himself cay say. [Smith, Meaning and End of Religion, 128] There have always been, and there will always be, things about God and His creation that we simply do not and cannot know. God has not created humans with the capacity to accomplish omniscience. Consequently, as we interact with the unbeliever, the opportunity for humility will be obvious. However, God has not hid from us and He has not left us thoroughly ignorant. “We begin by noting that commonplace, but nonetheless remarkable, fact that we human beings have the ability to acquire some knowledge of the world in which we live.” [Halverson, 25] No intelligent human I know of has ever been able to successfully deny knowledge. This is because knowledge is presupposed in its denial. In other words, the necessary precondition to deny knowledge is knowledge. And for the Christian, the necessary precondition for any human experience whatever is God. All human experience demonstrates God.
Christian apologetics is basically concerned with the proclamation and defense of the revelation of God to humanity. The underlying presuppositions in this statement are many to be sure. I am presupposing God. I am presupposing God’s act of revealing. I am presupposing rational thought, human communication, and laws of logic. I could go on, but you get the point. “Who is this God that we seek to know? Scripture describes Him in many ways, and it is dangerous to seize on any of them as being more basic or more important than others. In seeking to summarize Scripture’s teachings, however, we can certainly do worse than to use the concept of divine lordship as our point of departure.” [Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, 11] Christian apologetics does not presuppose a generic form of theism even if this is the popular approach taken by the classical method. The Christian apologist, in order to be Christian, must remain unreservedly committed from start to finish, to the absolute truth that only the Christian God, as described and revealed in Scripture, exists. In other words, our discussion does not end with the conclusion that Christian theism is true and that the God of Christianity exists, but that is also where such discussions must begin. There is no other way to faithfully carry out the apologetic task. Alternative approaches are internally inconsistent at best, and biblically unfaithful at worse.
“God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Gen. 1:27) God has ensured that all humanity, as created in His image, possesses innate knowledge of His person. Moreover, God has also made certain that man knows that He is the source of all creation. “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” (Rom 1:20) The need to convince men that God exists simply does not exist. However, the need proclaim and defend the covenantal presence of God in the world and the covenantal relationship of God with His creation does exist.
As the creation of God, man was created in covenantal relation to God. God as Creator is Lord over all creation. As Lord, God is owed all that is entailed in being Lord. Unbelief on the part of man does not constitute lack of Lordship on the part of God. God is Lord over all whether man believes it or not. The concept of the covenant has for too long, been missing from Christian apologetics. Since Christian theism stands or falls as a system, apologetics must stand on a system of theology that reflects the Bible’s teaching on the significance of the covenant. “Our message to the world must emphasize that God is real, and that he will not be trifled with. He is the almighty, majestic Lord of heaven and earth, and he demands our most passionate love and obedience.” [Frame, The Doctrine of God, 2-3]
What modern detractors do with Christian theism and regrettably what many apologists allow them to do is adopt an autonomous epistemology, rooted in human reason or science, in order to subject Christian belief to their own standards of justification. Logic and science, employed by autonomous human minds, have become the authority by which claims to knowledge are measured. They represent the criteria by which the unbeliever will either accept or reject the truth-claims of Christian theism. Classical apologists seem to be perfectly fine to allow this sort of autonomous behavior. Essentially, the unbeliever is demanding God to justify belief in His own existence based on the unbeliever’s criteria. Classical apologists are guilty of appeasing this demand.
Returning to Paul’s words in Romans one, the unbeliever has the natural revelation of God indelibly stamped on his conscience as well as all around him. He knows that God is present and that he is himself the creature of God. Paul says in Rom. 1:20 εἰς τὸ εἶναι αὐτοὺς ἀναπολογήτους, so that they are without an apologetic. The unbeliever, contrary to the skeptic, has more than enough evidence; he has actual knowledge that God exists. His knowledge of God is so certain that the one true righteous and just God will execute eternal judgment upon every human that refuses to acknowledge His divine right as Lord to rule over all. The unbeliever, according to God’s own words, is without a defense, without an apologetic, with an excuse in rejecting God’s covenant.
When God created man, He entered into a covenant with Him. The arrangement was solidified by, and certified by, God Himself. Man would either, enter into a relationship of absolute and complete submission to His Creator and experience eternal delight in the presence of His King, or he would enter into a relationship of complete autonomy, demanding independence from God and as a result, experience alienation, cursing, bitterness and eternal damnation. All men live in a covenantal relationship with God. They either relate to God as a covenant keeper or as a covenant breaker.