I’ll probably get myself in trouble for saying this, but it needs to be said. It isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last time either. But much of Christian apologetics is a joke. Not the LOL (laugh out loud) variety, but the kind that is prefaced by an underlying arrogance.
“Arrogance, what do you mean?”
An arrogance that assumes we are smarter than the God who created us, knit us together in our mother’s wombs, and has offered sound guidance and instruction for our lives. The true God, the Lord of Heaven and earth who gives us good gifts providing for our needs. “In Him we live, move and breath,” for He sustains us by the power of His Word. He has marked our beginning, and He has established our end. All things have been set in place by Him, and all history unfolds according to the purpose of His good will.
But you laugh, you smirk, you say in your hearts “if that’s the kind of God over me, then I don’t want Him. A micromanager, an overlord who plans my steps? No thank you, very much. That’s not a loving, good God in my book.”
No doubt you have heard it said, “A little honey attracts bees.” Better to speak in flowery overtones, and butter people up massaging their already inflated egos, than a smack in the face. The fact is, whether we like it or not, we sometimes need smacked:
“Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it” (Psa 141.5; cf. Prov 27.5-6).[i]
So, what is this arrogance that I speak of rooted in the hearts of many would be Christian apologists? It is found in this mantra being bled from multiple sources: Evidence, evidence, evidence.
No, they are not gathered singing this repeatedly over and over again to some enchanting melody (at least not that I am aware of). But it is the tune of the Pied Piper that they prefer.
Am I saying that “evidence is not beneficial?” Or that “evidence is a waste of time?” Or that “evidence needs to be thrown out the window like a baby’s bathwater?” No, absolutely not. “Then, how can you say it is arrogance to exalt evidence?” you ask. (Oh, how I do love an observant reader!)
The Problematic Error…
The problem is not with the evidence in and of itself, but the way in which many professing Christian apologists use it. The error is couched in phrases like these:
- “Faith is based on evidence.”
- “Given enough evidence and time and a rational person who is honest will more than likely believe.”
- “Follow the evidence and see where it leads”
- “Evidence can lead you to the truth”
“What’s wrong with those statements?” Do you mean besides the fact that they are littered with wrong assumptions and irrational conclusions?
Evidence or brute facts do not lead. Look at this rock, what does it say? Oh, right it doesn’t speak! “So how do you know where it is leading?” You don’t, well it doesn’t. It just sits there and your draw interpretations based off a variety of observations that are either real or imagined. There is not a piece of evidence, brute fact or otherwise that is not interpreted. And your interpretation is drawn from various ideas that you have already assumed about the nature of reality (the seen and the unseen).
Nor is your faith based on evidence. That is not to say that faith and evidence do not relate to one other. They are vitally related, but if you are a Christian your faith is not based on evidence. Pay Attention! Try not to get lost in the weeds of your own thoughts here. I said “based on the evidence,” which means “founded on the evidence.” The foundation of the Christian faith is not evidence: “That is not how you learned Christ!” (Eph 4.20).
“Yes, but what about Christ’s resurrection? That is a vital piece of evidence that makes or breaks the faith!” you retort.
Folly Laden Stumbling Block…
Makes or breaks the faith for who? You or the unbeliever? Let it be said that the Resurrection is a pivotal piece of evidence for the Christian faith, no two ways about it. I do not deny it! But let it also be said (and please turn on your ears for this), the Cross of Christ which entails the Resurrection of Christ is a “stumbling block” and utter “folly” to the non-believer.
If you are a Christian, do you dare deny it? If you do not deny it, do you embrace it?
Herein lies the arrogance of what I speak. Christ says, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16.31; cf. Matt 28.16). But you say, “Ah…that’s just a parable, you can’t take it literally.”
What do you mean? I can’t take it according to the literature, which is what literal means? Or I’m not to take the Lord’s words here at face value because of the figurative nature of a parable? Parable’s are taken from real life applications, but when it comes to Christ’s words here when he has refuted his enemies, I am somehow to be dissuaded from believing His argument? “Which is what precisely?” you might ask yourselves. That people who fail to believe the Word of God[ii] on spiritual and earthly matters will not be convinced even if a dead person were to arise from the dead!
Which, by the way we see happened in Jesus’ day at the raising of Lazarus (cf. John 11). Four days in the tomb and then coming out alive only convinced a small number of the witnesses, for others ran to the Jewish authorities due to their unbelief. But hey, what does the Lord of Glory really know.
The Problematic Error Up-close…
The problem with an “evidence first approach” is that it refuses to listen to what God has to say, all the while assuming that YOU know better than HE. “How so?” By denying what the Bible clearly teaches. Faith in God, in Christ, in the gospel is not an intellectual issue, but a spiritual one. These things are “spiritually discerned,” and so it makes little sense to wax eloquent with lofty speech rather than to proclaim the Word of Christ, through which faith comes. Notice that the Bible says the means (or the vehicle) for bringing faith is through the Word of God (i.e. Moses and the Prophets) and not evidence. Evidence without the proper interpretative grid leads down a road to nowhere (cf. Luke 24.13-27).
Thus, the words of the late Greg L. Bahnsen are noteworthy:
“Scripture itself should be enough to dissuade a person from depending upon evidential arguments…God’s word makes clear that man’s rebellion against the truth is morally, not intellectually rooted. The sinner needs a changed heart and Spiritually opened eyes, not more facts and reasons…The only tool an apologete needs is the word of God, for the sinner will either presuppose its truth and find Christianity to be coherent and convincing (given his spiritual condition and past experience) or he will reject it and never be able to come to the knowledge of the truth…
Although evidence has a part in the Christian apologetic, it is not the pivotal foundational part…our central defense of the faith had better be made of stronger stuff.”[iii]
Lest, it be said that I am guilty of arguing ad hominen (i.e. against the man) I will remind the reader that though this charge of arrogance is laid at the feet of the would be Christian apologist who turns a blind eye to the truth, my position is against the method of argumentation and not necessarily the individual in question. However, the shoe fits, if you continue to wear it while ignoring what your Lord has commanded.
Pride rears its ugly head when we get so puffed up with “knowledge” and “wisdom” that we go beyond what the Scriptures teach (1Cor 4.6). By the way this isn’t speaking about knowledge and wisdom that comes from humble submission to God’s Word. Rather it speaks of the person who thinks they know better than God. In case your wondering what that looks like, take a gander back at the beginning and you’ll see where that folly got us (cf. Gen 3).
Until next time, I bid you all farewell…
[i] All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).
[ii] This is what the phrase “Moses and the Prophets” refers to in Jewish thinking. There are several similar phrases found in the Bible that point the reader to the entire canon of Scripture. For the 1st century Jew this “Moses and the Prophets” would entail all that God had thus far revealed to the Hebrew nation. Similar to our modern-day expressions of “Word of God,” “Holy Writ,” the “Holy Bible,” the “Scriptures,” etc.
[iii] Greg L. Bahnsen, “The Impropriety of Evidentially Arguing for the Resurrection,” PA003 Synapse II, Westminster Seminary, (January, 1972), http://www.cmfnow.com/article/pa003.htm.