Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Elder as Apologist

(And Why Young Men Should Listen Attentively)

In his letter to Titus, the apostle Paul lays out his qualifications for elders within the newly founded Christian group. Apparently Paul had left Titus in Crete for the specific task of appointing elders in every community. Hence, the idea of a plurality of elders is present in the Church from its inception. It follows that the need for the role of an elder would naturally lead to the need for some criteria around the qualifications for the person entering that office. In Titus 1:6-9, Paul lays out these criteria. In addition, he lays out the reason for the role of elders in the community in vv. 10-11.

In this post, I want to focus your attention on those responsibilities of the elder that are apologetic in nature and point you to Paul’s philosophy on how and why a godly elder must be a good apologist. What is the one skill, according to Paul, and hence, to the Holy Spirit, in which godly elders must demonstrate proficiency in order to carry out the two basic duties of 1) exhorting in sound doctrine, and 2) refuting those that contradict Christian truth? If you listen to some academicians, especially from the growing field of Christian apologetics, even in conservative circles, you may be tempted to begin with something like, “training in philosophy.” While I am not opposed to the elder having some training in philosophy that would not be the answer that Paul provides young Titus in this pericope. It is the field of theology, not human philosophy, to which we must turn in order to find the answer to the question I posed above. And it is precisely this question that Paul was concerned to treat in Titus 1:9-11.

The final qualification of an elder as far as Paul was concerned was his that he be entirely given over to and devoted to the faithful word which is in accord with “the teaching.” This phrase appears in Romans 16:17 where Paul warns the Roman Christians to keep on eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to “the teaching.” It appears again in 2 John 10 where John warns the Christians that they are not to receive anyone into their home if they do not bring “this teaching” with them. This teaching is a reference to “the teaching of Christ” in the previous verse. It seems clear that Paul was referring to the teaching, or the faith that has come to us through the revelation of Jesus Christ. It is to this teaching that the elder must demonstrate an uncompromising and unwavering devotion. So much for the empty and foolish notions propagated by many that doctrine is no important or worse, irrelevant in the life of the Christian. Paul would have taken such men to the metaphorical woodshed.

The reason the elder must be devoted to, immersed in, and absorbed with the faithful word which is according to the teaching is given in vv. 10-11. Paul says “For there are 1) many rebellious men, 2) empty talkers, and 3) deceivers present in the Church.” Because there are contradictory views and opposing teachers to which the Christian community will undoubtedly gain exposure, they must be equipped to see these false teachings and teachers for what they really are: ministers of Satan. You see, it isn’t just atheism, agnosticism, and skepticism that the Christian must engage in his/her defense of Christian theism. It is the religious heretic, the Muslim, the moralist, the deist, and others that are much greater in number that Christians must learn to skillfully refute. For Paul, this was especially true of the contradicting Jews of his day. This is because they were the most likely, of all religions, to be the ones the Church would have to refute.

Now, in order to preserve and protect the flock, the Church needed elders who were entirely devoted to the faithful word, which is according to the teaching. This skill, according to Paul was sufficient to the task of doing two things: exhorting the Christian in sound or healthy doctrine and refuting false teachers that contradicted the teaching. Regrettably for many young men, philosophy is well on its way to displacing theology as the discipline to be studied. Skilled philosophers are replacing theologians and exegetes at an alarming rate among pastors, elders, and especially in the academy.

The results so far have been disastrous. One prominent Christian philosopher writes, “If the Christian worldview can be restored to a place of prominence and respect at the university, it will have a leavening effect throughout society. If we change the university, we change our culture through those who shape the culture.”[1] Clearly, Craig has elevated philosophy to a place far beyond any NT writer. Jesus informed His followers and closest disciples that the world would hate them, slander them, and manufacture lies against them, all for His name’s sake. Craig’s idea appears to be a complete reversal of Jesus’ own words. Paul is oblivious to the need for sophisticated training in philosophy and Greek rhetoric. He has a completely different idea in mind. Paul places Scripture, the teaching of Christ at the center of the skillset necessary for the elder to engage in the refutation of those who contradict the truths of Christian theism. And this by no means indicates that Paul has an anti-philosophical bias. It simply means that Paul understands the relationship between theology and philosophy far better than Plato, Aquinas, or Craig. The biblical elder would do well to follow recognize Paul’s emphasis on sound theology and its place in developing the necessary skills to be an effective and biblically sound defender of Christian dogma.

According to Paul, elders are in fact obligated not only to exhort the Christian community in sound doctrine, but they also have a responsibility to refute men who contradict the teachings of Christian theism. The Greek word ἐλέγχω, which means to state that someone has done wrong, with the implication that there is adequate proof of such wrongdoing—‘to rebuke, to reproach, rebuke, reproach.’[2] BDAG defines the word “to bring a person to the point of recognizing wrongdoing, convict, convince someone of something, point something out to someone.[3] The sense is that the elder must possess the skills to be able to clearly demonstrate that a particular teaching is in fact wrong. The key question we are concerned with is how the elder in question should go about acquiring this skill. Is this skill in rhetoric, philosophy, reason, theology, or what?

Paul could not be more vivid in his direction. The hina clause in v. 9 provides a clear indication that the purpose for which the elder should be devoted to the faithful word, which is in accordance with “the teaching” is so that he can exhort believers and refute the opponents. The Scripture is sufficient not only for refuting the atheist, the agnostic, and the skeptic, but it is sufficient for refuting any and all opponents of Christian theism. Hence, before he is anything else, the elder must be an able devotee of the faithful word.

Regrettably, young men, entering the ministry, are being duped by modern philosophers that seem to be more familiar with Aristotle, than with Paul, and hold Socrates in higher regard than they do Solomon. Men like William Lane Craig elevate the role of philosophy in Christian ministry and leave misleading impressions on the minds of young men entering ministry with statements like this: “One of the awesome tasks of Christian philosophers is to help turn the contemporary intellectual tide in such a way as to foster a sociocultural milieu in which Christian faith can be regarded as an intellectually credible option for thinking men and women.”[4] In stark contrast to this, young men entering the ministry would do well to read Paul:

            Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach aChrist crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness,
            but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.[5]

Contrary to Craig and others, Christian theology is still the foundation upon which any philosophy must rest. Without the magisterial role of biblical theology, modern philosophy will only find a way, in its contumacious and haughty ways, to squeeze out sound theology, replacing it with humanistic philosophy, autonomous reason, and unrestrained conjecture of all stripes. The place of the elder is to refute the opponents of Christ, to be sure. But he does so as an exegete, as a theologian, as a lover of biblical theology first and foremost. Paul often exhorted believers to be absorbed in Scripture, to be devoted to truth, to pursue the true knowledge that only comes through faith in Christ. Nowhere did he ever exhort us to be absorbed with Aristotle’s Metaphysics, or the works of Plato. Philosophy has its place, mostly because it is unavoidable. But that place is in service to a sound biblical theology and only to a sound biblical theology.

Young men, keep your philosophy on the tight leash of Greek, Hebrew, Exegesis, and the Systematics. If you do not have the time or the appreciation and respect for God’s word to acquire skill in the languages and in the systematics, you have no business pouring yourself into philosophy, that is, if full time ministry is your aspiration. If you are going to stand before God’s people and speak in God’s name, you must get your priorities straight. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle were not servants of our Lord. Know Paul in the original language. Know Moses in the original language. And if you have time, perhaps a critical reading of Aristotle and Plato might be beneficial.

[1] William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations For A Christian Worldview, (Downers Grove, Ill Intervarsity Press, 2003), 2.
[2] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 435.
[3] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 315.
[4] William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations For A Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, Ill Intervarsity Press, 2003) 2.
[5] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Co 1:20–24.

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