Monday, January 20, 2014

Testimonium Spiritus Sancti Internum: The Internal Witness of the Holy Spirit - In Christian Apologetics

In the book, “Five Views On Apologetics,” William Lane Craig makes this statement: “If, by proceeding on the basis of considerations that are common to all parties, such as sense perception, rational self-evidence, and common modes of reasoning, the Christian can show that his own beliefs are true and those of his interlocutor false, then he will have succeeded in showing that the Christian is in a superior epistemic position for discerning the truth about these matters.”[1] In his work, “Christian Apologetics,” Norman Geisler comments, “What is more, an adequate test for truth is a methodological prerequisite to establishing theism.

For unless the Christian apologist has a test by which he can show other systems to be false and theism to be true, then there is no way to adjudicate the conflicting claims of various religions and worldviews.”[2] In His work, “Faith Founded on Fact,” John Warwick Montgomery has said, “Christianity does indeed offer the most comprehensive solution to the human dilemma, but apart from the marshaling of brute facts to prove this, the claim is worth no more than that of any other religion or philosophy leading to maximal comprehensiveness or coherence.”[3]

In their respective comments, it is clear that each man is looking to identify a method and standard by which the truth claims of Christian theism can be shown to accurately reflect the state of affairs as they have obtained in the present world order. Craig uses the expression, “rational self-evidence,” while Geisler points to “an adequate test for truth,” and Montgomery, references “the marshaling of brute facts.” Each man is carefully enmeshed in showing Christian theism to be true. In addition, these men have made vast contributions to Christian scholarship over the course of their respective careers and for that I am grateful. In fact, Norman Geisler was my apologetics professor several years ago at Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, NC. Nevertheless, there is a very basic difference in my perspective and their perspective concerning what Scripture has to say about apologetic method. That difference is located in the relationship between the Testimonium and the Criterion as it attaches to Christian epistemology.

The thesis of this post is that Christian apologetics is a discipline that necessitates both the force of the truth of God in its expression and the work of God’s Spirit in its function if it is to be harmonious with divine revelation. Unless the gospel of God is presented in concert with the work of the Spirit, the discipline of Christian apologetics becomes much more rationalistic, much more natural, much more the product of the human intellect.

The objective of this post is to trace the contours of the witness of the Holy Spirit in the proclamation and vindication of the gospel as it appears to us in the New Testament revelation. The particular aim is to demonstrate the nature of the ancient church’s dependence on that witness in both its proclamation and defense of the Christian gospel. The apologist must look to the revelation of Scripture for both his cadence and his model for apologetic methodology. It is there that he will find safety from error, pride, and the fruitless rationalism that has come to dominate the discipline.

My aim is to call apologists back to a reliance on the work of the Holy Spirit in the field of Christian apologetics. Christian theism is a supernatural religion from top to bottom. From its Head, to its revelation, to its members, to its message, Christian theism has a spiritual and supernatural base. In fact, there is nothing in the Christian religion that is purely naturalistic in character. Beginning with the creation of the physical universe to the divine revelation of the law, to the arrival of God incarnate, to the completion of divine revelation in the New Testament, there is no component of Christian theism that does not transcend human reason. It seems perfectly right then, that the discipline that purports to defend the claims of this supernatural religion would also be fully persuaded that its approach would require reliance on the very supernatural truth claims it seeks to defend. It is only reasonable to think that the Christian apologist would embrace, without hesitation, the supernatural witness of the Holy Spirit in the work of vindicating the Christian worldview.

“The New Testament is primarily concerned with telling the story of Jesus and with drawing the consequences of that story for belief, for worship, and for practical conduct of human life.”[4] Indeed, in his gospel at 20:31, John informs us that he wrote his gospel so that the hearer might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, the hearer might have eternal life. Kostenberger points to Matt. 16:13-20 as Matthew’s central thesis.[5] This section contains Peter’s great confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Mark begins his project by telling us this is the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He continues in 10:45 by telling us that Jesus, the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and give His life a ransom for many. And in 15:39 he records the words of the centurion, “truly, this man was the Son of God.” Luke is essentially a treatise of the historical record of Jesus Christ so that Theophilus might know the exact truth about the things, which he had been taught. The task of Christian apologetics is to provide a defense to anyone that 1) asks us to give a reason for the hope that is in us; and 2) to refute those that aspire to challenge and contradict the truth of God we have in His divine communication. This task requires the Christian to employ both the Spirit and the Word in their preparation for and their engagement in the discipline of Christian apologetics.

If one were to survey the material available on the subject of Christian philosophy and apologetics today, they would discover an astounding and embarrassing deficiency of exegesis and theology in those materials. In addition, very little space is dedicated to the phenomenon of the witness and work of the Spirit in the field of Christian apologetics. It is the primary aim of this series of posts to point out the vital role of the Spirit in the work and practice of Christian apologetics. Christian apologetics is better served when it is in the hands of the exegete, the theologian, and the elder. The philosopher seems to be continually seduced by the intellectually complex, the obscure, and the sophisticated. But the gospel and its defense is more simple than the philosopher wants it to be.

[1]. William Lane Craig, “Classical Apologetics,” in Five Views on Apologetics, ed. Steven B. Cowan and Stanley N. Gundry (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 44.
[2]. Norman L. Geisler, Christian Apologetics, paperback ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1976).
[3]. John Warwick Montgomery, preface to Faith Founded on Fact: Essays in Evidential Apologetics (Newburgh, IN: Trinity Press, 1978), xi.
[4]. Avery Cardinal Dulles, A History of Apologetics, 2nd ed. (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1999), 1.
[5]. Andreas J. Kostenberger, L. Scott Kellum, and Charles L. Quarles, The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2009), 179.

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