Posted in Apologetics

The Wisdom of the Babbler gives Meaning to the Cross of Christ and the Resurrection of our Lord

When Paul was in Athens (read Acts 17.16-34), as was his common practice, he reasoned from the Scriptures to prove Jesus as the Christ. The very thing he did in Thessalonica and in Berea, he did everywhere he went. Scripture tends to give brief summaries of what was said by the apostle, rather than his entire dialogue. However, what is revealed to us is that the heart of his message was Jesus.  The gospel of God focuses on, and finds its being and purpose in, the good-news of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, the Son of Man, the great I AM.

It was always Paul’s contention to preach “Christ crucified” (1Cor 2.2), and to focus on the judgment of all found in our Lord’s resurrection (Acts 17.30-31). Apart from which, the Christian faith is meaningless. However, the converse is also true—the cross of Christ and the resurrection of our Lord (i.e. empty tomb) are only meaningful to believers. This is clearly explained by the very apostle we find in Athens preaching (Acts 17.16-34), which was the content of a previous post (The Apostle Paul the Babbling Beggar).

Listen to his own testimony…

  • “For Christ… [sent me] to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1Cor 1.17-18; NIV).

Paul admits that the cross of Christ is powerless (i.e. emptied of its power) when divorced from the wisdom of God. True wisdom is sourced in God (Psa 111.10), from which all knowledge comes (Prov 2.6-8; Col 2.3). Not, the philosophy of fallen human beings.

Paul says that this idea is crazy and devoid of meaning (i.e. foolish) to those who are perishing. Who are the ones who are perishing? Those who are not in Christ. The apostle makes a needed distinction between those who are perishing and those who are not; the ones who are not perishing are the people who have been saved by the power of God.

It is not the wisdom of man that saves a man, but the power of God who saves the man.

  • “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe” (1Cor 1.21).

I know what you’re thinking, “God…saves those who believe!” Absolutely right! This is true, but before you do the victory lap, ask and answer the following question: “How?”

How is it that you believed, if the rest of the world did not? Since they view the cross of Christ and the resurrection of our Lord as utter foolishness? To the unbeliever the gospel of Jesus was not good news, but insanely moronic news. So how are you, a member of this world, a believer? Why did you find the cross of Christ and the resurrection of the Lord not foolish?

Paul answers that question if you’d keep reading:

  • “but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1Cor 1.24; italics added).

Those who have been chosen, or appointed, or elected by God—both Jews and Greeks—Paul says, identify the work of Christ, the grace afforded to us as the power and wisdom of God. The emphasis is on what has been done for us. It is by God’s power that we are saved in Christ, that we enjoy the fruits of being delivered from sin.

The very truth we find him proclaiming at the end of the first chapter, saying “God chose…so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus…Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord” (vv.28-31; summarized the emphatic points).  Our being “in Christ,” Paul explains in another place, is due to the action of God—i.e. an expression of His will and purpose—in accordance with “the riches of [His] grace that he lavished on us” (Eph 1.8a; cf. vv.3-12).

Therefore, Paul “resolved to know nothing…except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1Cor 2.2). Rather than appealing to some other standard to show the validity and veracity of the gospel, the apostle’s message was “not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirits power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power” (1Cor 2.4b-5).

Human wisdom leads up a dead-end road. This is demonstrated in Jesus’ crucifixion at Golgotha. For “none of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1Cor 2.8; emphasis added). But they did, because the message of the cross of Christ and His resurrection is spiritually discerned, and man left to His own abilities is not able (cf. 1Cor 2.14).

WHY ALL OF THIS TALK? THE RESURRECTION

A common assumption is made that all we need to do is preach Jesus’ resurrection today. If we can get people to see the truth of the resurrection of Jesus, then people will believe. Andy Stanley, who has adopted the mindset of Norman Geisler, William Lane Craig, and many other significant Christian leaders, believes that if we can tether our message to the resurrected Jesus—i.e. the empty tomb—then that is all that is really needed.

Show them this evidence historically, apart from direct or sustained appeals to the Bible (we don’t want to get in any of those unnecessary biblical questions like inerrancy, etc!), and people will believe.

Besides the fact that the cross and resurrection of our Lord are meaningless apart from biblical testimony, many Christian leaders believe they have found a better way. Even though the very Lord they profess to believe in says it can’t be done, they have convinced themselves, “Oh, yes it can!” Interesting…um, who has the authority to say what can and can’t be done? I was pretty sure calling Jesus Lord settles that issue: “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16.31; ESV).[i] “Yeah, but that’s a parable,” individuals like Stanley claim, as if that settles the matter.

“Oh! It’s a parable…Ah, I see that makes it…what less meaningful? Less true? Jesus you idiot! You taught people with parables rather than just saying it. Had you just said it, that would have been better. Then people would know that you were speaking truthfully, not figuratively.”

Is that what you think? Is that how you deal with the wisdom writings in the Bible? They use figurative language (poetic language even!) and so we can’t take them literally.

  • Person 1 says, “Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink.” And then explains to Person 2, “You can’t drink the water fella, its no good. Either its poisoned by minerals or by decaying bodies, by either way its not safe to quench your thirst.”
  • Person 2 responds, “Well, you spoke figuratively there, so you must be wrong. I can’t take that literally.”

Now you may think I’m being a bit ridiculous, but the truth is many use those type of arguments all the time to get around what the Bible teaches on a given subject. It is true that figurative language is symbolic. But it is equally true that if you understand the symbols you can derive the true meaning of what is being said.

Jesus’ meaning is pretty clear: If people refuse to repent when they have heard the Word of God—by the way “Moses and the Prophets” is a figure of speech meaning the O.T.—then they will not believe even if someone has risen from the grave. It is not until the power of God has been demonstrated in the life of the individual in question by the Holy Spirit’s regenerating activity that spiritual truths make sense and are, consequently, embraced.

LETS HEAD BACK TO ATHENS

When Paul was in Athens, he proclaimed the cross of Christ and our Lord’s resurrection. The intellectually wise, the best that Athens could offer, called him a gutter-sparrow; a moronic babbler of strange deities. In so doing, they claimed he was a fool and they were wise. He didn’t understand the nature of reality, the truth of things, but they did. And yet, they were the ones confused over the truth. They were the one’s demonstrated to be steeped in ignorance[ii], though they mockingly laughed in derision at the apostle’s claims (Act 17.32).

However, what is laid out before us in Acts 17:16-34 is a demonstration of the power of God at work in the hearts of fallen people. For as Paul was seen leaving (Acts 17.33), some followed: “But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them” (Acts 17.34; ESV).

On that day God called (chose/elected/appointed) one of the members of the Areopagus to new life, even a woman of evidently some repute, as well as others who were not named nor numbered. Paul was wiser than the wisest men that the world had to offer, and he expressed this wisdom not by appealing to men with evidences divorced from Scripture, but evidences rooted in Scripture from which their true meaning is derived.

Had the approach from popular Christian apologists, pastors, theologians, etc. of which Stanley is an advocate, been advanced by Paul two things would have occurred. First, he would have denied what he had set out to prove in 1Cor 1-2 that faith in the cross and resurrection of Christ is spiritually discerned. Belief is brought about by a demonstration of God’s powerful wisdom, not man’s. Second, he would have dishonored Christ and His Word by assuming that some other standard would have been on par with the Spirit’s testimony.

Notice that I didn’t say faith in Christ wouldn’t have come about as a possible result. While, our methods may at times dishonor our Lord, His divine purposes still see the light of day. Our God can strike a straight blow with a crooked stick, just look at how He used sinful men and women in the past to bring about what He had formerly intended.

That truth, however, does not remove our responsibility to using His wisdom and knowledge instead of our own.

ENDNOTES:

[i]       When Jeff Durbin tried to prove his point to Andy Stanley in their debate on “Unbelievable” Stanley’s go to was “well, that’s a parable….” This a common rescuing device used by those who desire to skate by uncomfortable passages of Scripture that infringe upon their own preconceived ideas.

[ii]      Before the Areopagus—the gathering of the intellectually elite in Athens—Paul points out their ignorance. They had mocked him in the market saying, “You ignorant fool.” And yet, when he begins his defense of the Christian faith, he points out that they are in fact the ignorant ones, “What therefore you worship as unknown [i.e. in ignorance], this I proclaim to you” (Acts 17.23b).  How often have we read this passage and passed over this gentle rebuke of Athenian wisdom by Paul?

Posted in Apologetics

Debate over the use of Evidence in Christian Witnessing: the Cross and Resurrection of Christ

Not too long ago (sometime back in May) Andy Stanley and Jeff Durbin, two notable pastors with their own perspective ministries, had a dialogue on the Premiere Christian radio program Unbelievable, with Justin Brierley (here). One of the primary focuses of the discussion dealt with apologetic methodologies. At one point during the interchange Stanley challenged Durbin with the following statement: “I’m tying this [i.e. the Christian faith] specifically to the resurrection…why do you believe what you believe?” Durbin’s response was immediate: “Because of the Word of the Living God.” If you watch the video you will notice that Stanley distorts his face a bit. It appears he didn’t appreciate Durbin’s rationale.

For Stanley (and others who share his mindset), the Christian faith stands or falls in regards to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. William Lane Craig admits as much in a debate he had with Gerd Ludemann, agreeing with his opponent that “the resurrection of Jesus is the central point of the Christian religion.”i

I have listened to this approach many times, and a constant refrain is given to Paul’s statement in 1Cor 15 about the vanity of the Christian faith if Christ has not been raised:

  • And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith…if Christ has not been raised, our faith is futile…” (1Cor 15.14, 17a).

What Paul says in 1Cor 15 is absolutely true. If Jesus did not rise from the grave; if He did not ascend to the Father’s right hand; if He is not seated on His throne in Heaven ruling all creation; then, our faith as Christians is utterly meaningless. “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead…” (1Cor 15.20a), as Paul states.

J.P. Moreland writes,

  • We see examples of apologetics everywhere in Scripture. In Acts, Paul argued, reasoned, presented evidence, and tried rationally to persuade others to become Christians (Acts 14:15-17; 17:2-4, 16-31; 18.4) …[Likewise,] Jesus Christ Himself regularly engaged in logical debate and rational argument with false, destructive ideologies in His culture, and on several occasions He told people to believe in Him, not simply on the basis of His Word, but because of the evidence of His miracles.”ii

In other words, don’t just take our word for it. In fact, don’t just take what we claim is God’s Word as the basis for truth (i.e. the Bible), but listen to the evidence. Look at the evidence. Follow the evidence. And as Moreland argues, Jesus and Paul were just following the methodology of the prophets. They “regularly…appealed to evidence to justify belief in the biblical God or in the divine authority of their inspired message….”iii

LIMITED REASONABLENESS

Evidences are important, but they are limited in their usefulness. The Achilles heel of all evidential approachesiv is the standard one uses to interpret their meaning. You may have heard it said, “Follow the evidence,” “Let the evidence speak for itself,” etc., but the truth is evidence must always be interpreted. How one interprets the evidence is determined by the authoritative standard they submit to.

I find that many Christians I speak to have a hard time understanding this. The reason is that they have had encounters where evidence was presented by party “A” to party “B,” and party “B” who are formerly in disagreement has been persuaded to take the position of party “A.” Let me give a quick illustration to help you see what I am saying.

The Pricing Debate…

Sally comes over to your house and says, “Hey, you wanna grab a bite to eat?” Your stomach has been growling for about a half-an-hour, so you don’t need much convincing. You’re starving, but your funds are limited, so you say “Sure, what place did you have in mind?” Sally, who has been craving a nice juicy cheeseburger and fries says “What about Five Guys”? I hear they have really good food, and I’ve been wanting to try it for a while now.” “Five Guys! Man, I heard they are really expensive…you know, a’ la carte and all. I really don’t have much money. Why not McDonald’s?” you respond.

A debate then ensues between You and Sally. How can Sally set Your mind at ease? If we were Sally we’d probably get a copy of the menu offline, and then compare prices. If she told you that a cheeseburger at that restaurant was the same size and price as the Quarter Pounder at McD’s, and then presented the evidence to you, you’d probably change your mind. Isn’t that a wonderful example of the presenting the evidence to win over an unbeliever? Seems like it doesn’t it.

Let’s think this through…

Now take a step back a minute, and think about why this approach worked. You changed your mind when Sally showed you the menu from Five Guys and compared with McDonald’s. You saw the evidence and adopted Sally’s position. Why? Because you both accepted the standard. You both looked at the menu from the restaurant as authoritative on prices. You were able to come to the right conclusion because you submitted to what was presented to you.

The problem is that approach does not work with spiritual truths, of which the resurrection of Jesus Christ is one. That is precisely Paul’s point in 1Cor 1-2, which we I shall address in my next article. But, for a moment consider the Christian claim regarding the resurrection. Are we able to separate it from the rest of the Christian system of faith? Not if we want to make sense of it!

As powerful a piece of evidence that the resurrection of Jesus truly is, it is utterly meaningless apart from the biblical testimony. What do you prove, if you can show that Jesus was raised from the grave historically? What have you done if you can show that a supposed majority of scholars accept your claim, other than ride dangerously close to the fallacious appeal to majority? Not much.

THE GLAZED OVER PROBLEM

There is an inherent problem with this popular apologetic approach. Where one points to Christ’s resurrection, and then attempts to prove it on mere evidential grounds (historical, psychological, etc.). The cross of Christ and the resurrection of our Lord are absolutely meaningless divorced from the context in which these truths have been formed.

Apart from Scripture, the claim that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, was crucified on a Roman cross and physically raised from the grave is nonsensical. Every statement that Christian’s profess about this man and His ministry is steeped in theological content. Just look….

Take for instance the name Jesus (Yeshua), that is not just a name but a name with profound meaning: “Yahweh saves” (cf. Matt 1.21; Isa 45.21-22). Or, what about the name of his city (Nazareth), which appears to come from the Hebrew word for branch an allusion to Isa 11:1 (cf. Matt 2.23). Christ (Christos) is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Messiah (mashiyach) and it means the anointed one of God—prophet, priest, and kings in the O.T., a general reference, but a specific reference to the rightful ruler of all (cf. Gen 49.10; Matt 2.2-6; Mic 5.2; 1Sam 2.10). The Roman cross also has weighty significance in that it represents the curse of God upon the one who hangs upon it; necessary, since Jesus is said to take the curse of His people upon Himself as a substitute (cf. Deut 21.22-23; Gal 3.13; also see Isa 53). And let us not forget the resurrection, of which Paul refers to and gives true meaning to Christian hope in Acts 17:16-34 (cf. Acts 2.24-32; Isa 26.19; Hos 13.14).

How can one preach Christ crucified, proclaiming the cross and the resurrection apart from biblical truths that give contextual meaning to the extraordinary event that Stanley and those like him speak about? The answer? You can’t, not consistently at least. The popularity of the approach does not make it biblical.

Forthcoming: The Wisdom of the Babbler gives meaning to the Cross of Christ and the Resurrection of our Lord

ENDNOTES:

iPaul Copan and Ronald K. Tacelli, Jesus’ Resurrection Fact or Figment: A Debate between William Lane Craig & Gerd Ludemann (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 31.

 

iiJ. P. Moreland, Love Your God With All Your Mind: the Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul, Rev. ed. (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress [1997] 2012), 149.

 

iiiIbid, 149.

 

ivThis includes Classical and Evidential uses of evidences in apologetic dialogue. All methodologies that start with the evidence in a fashion that cuts ties with biblical revelation are guilty of this approach.

Posted in Apologetics

The Apostle Paul the Babbling Beggar

“There is no wrong way to share your faith.”1 Is that accurate? Does the Lord look down from His throne in heaven and say, “I don’t care how you do it, just do it!” If the Holy Spirit commands that we are to “eat” and “drink” for His glory, and these are everyday activities that at first glance don’t seem like real spiritual issues, then it most certainly follows that whatever we seek to do, we are to do it for God’s glory (1Cor 10.31). Wouldn’t Christian witnessing fall under this umbrella?

The Lord is concerned with how we share our faith. There is a right and wrong way to represent Christ to the world. And, if you want plenty of examples of how it should be done, I would suggest you start studying your Bible’s. First look to Christ, then examine the apostles and prophets of old. There you will find exemplary models that need re-imaging.

However, this does not ignore we have difficulties before us doing so.

Christian Witnessing in our day…

We live in a post-Christian world. Our generation no longer sees or accepts the teachings of the Holy Bible as authoritative.  Our society is pluralistic and so it is wrong to assume that people will recognize one authority over and above all others. If we are going to reach people today with the truth, then we need to use other means to get them to that truth; rather than appealing to the truth from which we say we have obtained life.

Christian witnessing in the Apostles day

Paul lived in a pre-Christian world. Paul’s generation did not see or accept the Holy Scriptures (Tanakh) as authoritative over and above all others. The society he witnessed to—the Greco-Roman world—was pluralistic. But, what method (or means) did the apostle use to appeal to those he was witnessing to?

Two Choices…

For all the talk about how different our circumstances are in comparison with the 1st century apostles, an honest examination/reflection over the biblical texts and the historic context of the period reveal what we are seeing today is NOT a new thing. Now there are at least two options laid before the Christian witness2 at this point. First, pragmatism is believed to be the best method. That is to say, “What we did in the past no longer works, and so new innovative approaches are needed if we are going to reach people.” Second, an attempt at integrating the apostolic method is deemed the wisest. From the material that I’ve read on Christian evangelism/apologetics the latter approach is considered extreme naiveté.3

Now you may want to chop these categories up a little finer than I have done. That is fine, but I’ll leave you with the burden of doing so. I believe that there are sufficient grounds for labeling the two distinct approaches as I have done; realizing that the underlying issue is theological. In other words, the manner in which one pursues Christian witnessing is based upon their basic presumption about the current state of mankind.

If people are essentially good and their minds are relatively unharmed by the noetic effects of the fall (i.e. original sin), then some variant of pragmatic witnessing is inevitable. However, if the view is the opposite. If the human condition has been radically corrupted by the sin of our fore-parents (Adam and Eve), and this entails our mental faculties, then an attempt at applying biblical principles when witnessing to the lost will be the goal. With those things in mind, let the reader now approach Acts 17.

The Setting…

Paul enters Athens awaiting the rest of his ministry team (Acts 17.16). He has been to various places teaching/preaching Christ from the Scriptures; in particular Thessalonica and Berea (Acts 17.1, 10). Each time he arrived at a location it wouldn’t be long before he was driven to the next. Everywhere he went “he reasoned with them from the Scriptures” (Acts 17.2; cf. v. 10) that “Jesus [of Nazareth] …is the Christ” (Acts 17.3). Those who opposed Paul and his gospel complained to any and all that he was “turn[ing] the world upside down…saying that there is another king, Jesus” (Acts 17.6, 7), and they followed him doggedly until he finally found himself alone in Athens.

How Does Paul Appeal to the Athenians?

To identify Jesus as the Christ—the Anointed One of God—is synonymous with claiming His kingship. This bothered the unbelieving Jews, and it also negatively stirred the hearts of the Greeks. Only those who believed in Jesus as the Christ, understood that having Him as Lord is necessary and good. If Jesus is Christ and rightful King over all, then fealty to Him is absolutely necessary. Such truth will work differently upon the person in question, depending upon their inward disposition towards God.

If we are attentive to what we are reading here in Acts 17:16-34, we will notice the reason for Paul’s initial reaction in the city, the content of his message at the Areopagus, and the response of those in attendance that day. Here’s what I mean.

The Reaction…

When Paul enters Athens, we are told that “his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols” (Acts 17.16). Paul was loyal to Jesus, and these idols were an affront to his Lord’s lordship. Idols demand fealty, loyalty, reverence and worship, everything that is to be given to God alone. Paul was intensely irritated by what he saw, his inner heart was angered by such foolishness, and this prompted him to open his mouth.

Therefore, we find that he did in Athens as he had previously done in other Greco-Roman cities:

  • “…he reasoned in the synagogues with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there” (Acts 17.17).

In other words, Paul argued for Christ in the synagogues and in the marketplace every day. It is an interesting admission that he did this “with those who happened to be there,” for the marketplace in Athens was the societal nexus of the people who lived there. The marketplace drew not only the common rabble, but the intellectual giants, the sophisticated philosophers of Athens. While, it is true that at this time Athens had lost some of its luster as the crown intellectual dynasty of the world, the truth remains that it had retained a significant portion of that notoriety.

Paul’s preaching eventually caught the attention of the elite men in Athens, the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. They too “conversed with him” that is “reasoned with him,” “argued with him,” “debated with him,” and it is here that we ought to notice their frustration. “Because [Paul] was preaching Jesus and the resurrection…” (Acts 17.18c) these Greek philosophers, when they could not gain any ground in their conversation resorted to ad hominem tactics. That is to say, they began attacking Paul mockingly by calling him a “babbler” or a gutter-sparrow. One that picks and chooses from this piece of trash or another in order to tie together their own private teaching. Therefore, “they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, ‘May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting?’” (Acts 17.19).

The Areopagus is often thought of as a location—i.e. Mars Hill—however, a better understanding is the premiere officials of the city, the ruling counsel if you will. The Areopagus was made up of the intellectual best, who weighed all things taught in the city, and made various judgments concerning them. They are the ones that killed Socrates for teaching strange doctrine many, many years before. They are the ones that will now hear the apostle of Christ speak.

The Grounds of Paul’s Appeal

It is here that many unwarranted assumptions are smuggled in by Christian leaders today (i.e. apologists, philosophers, theologians and ministers). The common assertion is that when Paul spoke to the Areopagus he did not appeal to these Greeks with Scripture, but chose more reasonable grounds. Rather he offered them natural proofs for God, even quoting their own poets to buttress his position, in order to prove the resurrection of Jesus. Some assume that Paul erred because he was laughed off the stage so to speak (when he got to Jesus), and so never really finished his gospel presentation.

Is it true that Paul quotes the Greek poets? Is it true that Paul leaves the Bible out of the discussion, because the Greeks do not “accept” Scriptural teaching? Is it true that Paul reasoned to them with evidences alone in order to prove Christ Jesus?

First, the answer is yes. It is true that Paul quotes Greek texts written originally in support of Zeus.  Here is what he said:

  • “…for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring’” (Acts 17.28).

If taken at face value, I can see why some would presuppose that this is a validation of using “whatever means necessary” in order to witness to the unbeliever. However, this verse does not sit in isolation.  Paul cites these Greek poets with a specific point in mind, which we shall see in a few moments.

Secondly, the answer is no. It is not true that Paul left the Bible out of his message to the Areopagus. Just because one does not make direct references to the biblical text does not necessarily mean that they are not starting, working out, and ending their argument from the Word of God. I find that many Christian’s are often confused over this point. What good does it do me to cite verse and text, unless my audience is familiar with those specific reference points? Eventually, those things will be drawn out in the conversation. However, my faith is drawn from God’s Word and it would be impossible to account for the hope within me apart from what is written.

The first thing that Paul establishes in his speech, after the cordial opening (i.e. “men of Athens), is a correction on the Athenian worldview. These philosophers claimed to know enough about the truth, about reality, to call Paul a “babbler,” but what he immediately shows them is their own ignorance.

  • “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you” (Acts 17.23).

He then goes on to explain that this God is the Creator of all things (v.23-24a), the sovereign ruler over all things (v. 24), including all mankind whom He made from the blood of one man, namely Adam (vv.25-26), even going so far as determining the time and place of their dwelling (v.26b). Paul says, that none of us have anything to boast in because this God alone provides our very lives and being. He points out the foolishness of their idol worship (v.24b, 29), calling an end to this former period of ignorance (v. 30a).

Thirdly, the answer is yes. It is true that Paul used evidence to preach Christ, the chief among them being the resurrection. However, it is likewise false that this evidence is divorced from the teachings of Scripture.

**(Since that is the subject of my next post I am not going to defend that position now, only state it).

Paul tells the Athenians that God has commanded them to repent (v.30b), to turn from their sinful ignorance towards the one righteous man “whom [God] has appointed”; of whom “he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (v. 31). Three responses were given: “some mocked,” (v. 32a) others said they’d “like to hear more,” (v, 32b) and some “believed” (v. 34).

The Apostolic Position of Paul: Begging the Question

Careful exegesis of Acts 17 reveals to the observant reader the presuppositional method of Christian witnessing. When Paul was in Thessalonica he reasoned from the Scriptures. When Paul was driven to Berea he reasoned from the Scriptures. And, when Paul found himself in Athens, his inner-heart stirred because of the blatant idolatry in the land, he reasoned from the Scriptures. This is how the apostle of God proved Christ.

The flow of thought in this chapter is undeniable. Paul, knowing what the Athenians believe does a compare and contrast between worldviews. He argues for Christ and the resurrection from the Scriptures. He presupposes the God of the Bible, and makes various allusions to over 20 O.T. texts4 in order to demonstrate the superiority of the Christian worldview. Yes, he uses what they know but not to puff them up, but to knock them down. Not meanly, but to show them the folly of their position.

They claimed to be wise, but were in reality fools for they were worshiping what they did not know. Their beliefs are steeped in ignorance. What they did not know, Paul set about to show them with gentleness and respect. And, he did so on the grounds of Scripture, not apart from Scripture.  Paul presupposed Christ, argued from Christ’s Word in order to justify his position and nullify their own, eventually leading them to the Christ that all people shall be judged by. Then the apostle Paul the babbling beggar left the stage afforded to him.

____________________

ENDNOTES:

1 J. Mark Bertrand, (Re)Thinking Worldview: Learning to Think, Live, and Speak in This World (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2007), 196.

2 I use the phrase “Christian witness” as encompassing both the evangelistic/apologetic efforts of the disciple of Jesus Christ. To be a disciple is to be the Lord’s witness (herald), and to herald the truth means both sharing the good-news (evangelism), as well as offering a reasoned argument (apologia) for the hope within.

3 Some of those difficulties stem from individuals in their ivory towers of academia.  When you have professors with PhD’s, but no pastoral experience teaching in Christian colleges/universities/seminaries you get reproductions of critical thought and philosophical meanderings, but no grass root realities.

4 Greg L. Bahnsen, Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith, Robert R. Booth, ed. (Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Press, [1996], 2001), 224, Adobe Digital Editions.

Posted in Apologetics

Review of “Apologetic Methods” by J. Brian Huffling, PhD

Over the past few posts I have been defending the idea of circular-reasoning, when it comes to ultimate standards/commitments. Originally, I had planned on closing this section of dialogue with a review of Paul’s defense of the Christian faith in Athens. However, something has been brought to my attention that I believe will be fruitful for you the reader. Recently, a fellow blogger posted a link to an article written by J. Brian Huffling, PhD entitled: Apologetic Methods and a Case for Classical Apologetics. The article concisely describes various apologetic methodologies, and then promotes what the author believes is the best method to use.  Along the way, he offers a critique of Presuppositional/Transcendental Apologetics of which I am an advocate.

I thought the article was excellent in that it supports what I have been saying all along—i.e. it is impossible to argue your position without appealing to the standard you trust in.  In other words, when it comes to ultimate commitments people argue in a circle. Now, I do not know Dr. Huffling personally and so I want to make it clear that this is not an attack on his character or a questioning of his professed faith in Christ. But I do hope to offer a helpful critique in intermural fashion.

Similar journeys towards Christian apologetics regarding motivations, not content…

My journey into Christian apologetics was not something I had originally sought. I was first introduced to the idea of defending the Christian worldview in 2005.  I found it extremely interesting and it stirred my heart, but I figured that this was only for those really smart people. During my sophomore year at Nazarene Bible College I was introduced to the writings of the early Church fathers. Men like Polycarp and Tertullian captivated my attention. I was enamored by the courage of Polycarp in his defense of the faith, and Tertullian’s argumentation against pagan thought. I also marveled over the statement by Tertullian that the “blood of the martyrs [i.e. Christian witnesses] is the seed of the Church.”

Similarly, I want to offer a cogent argument for my faith in the hope that people might be saved in Jesus Christ. The goal of the Christian witness is to present the gospel of our Lord in all its beauty so that Christ is glorified, repentance is granted, and a new life (eternally) is received. Being a Christian witness entails both our sharing and our defending the biblical worldview to a lost and dying world.

Differences in Christian apologetic methodology…

The question is how? How do we communicate our faith so that the message gets through? What is the proper method for answering the critique or edifying the fellow believer? Christian apologetics is committed to “…contend[ing] for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1.3).  Huffling thinks that the best approach for doing this is found in Classical apologetic (hereafter C. A.) method.  He defines this methodology in the following way:

  • “Classical apologetics has been called a two-stepped method. The first step is to prove the existence of God via traditional theistic proofs (the various cosmological arguments, design arguments, ontological, etc.). This method holds to the possibility of natural theology—the ability for reason to demonstrate God’s existence…The second step is to prove the veracity of Christianity by showing, for example (but not necessarily in this exact fashion), that miracles are possible, the Bible is reliable, Jesus claimed and proved himself to be God, etc.” (par 2; emphasis added).

This two-step process is seen as superior to Presuppositional apologetics (hereafter P.A.) because 1) it is believed that it avoids circular-reasoning, and 2) steers clear of the “impossibility of the contrary” (cf. par 12) argumentation which consistent P.A.’s use. Huffling also believes that C.A. provides the necessary framework for properly understanding “evidences for Christianity in a theistic context” (par 11). He states that C.A. “before arguing for God…starts with knowing reality and the absolute nature of truth” (par 10). You may wonder how C.A. is able to do this? By appealing to “natural theology” (par 8).  This is an interesting admission and we shall return to it, but first I want to make some quick clarifications.

What is meant by arguing from the “Impossibility of the Contrary?”

Huffling believes that when a P.A. argues in this fashion this is what they are doing:

  • “Those who hold to this method [P.A.] argue that we should argue for Christianity based on the impossibility of the contrary. In other words, since other worldviews and religions are show to be false, Christianity must be true” (par 4; italics added).

There are two things that immediately catch my attention when I read his definition. First, he couches the argument in a step-by-step fashion that reverses the order of our reasoning. The P.A.’s overarching position is not that we assume other worldviews are false, and therefore Christianity must be true. Rather, we assume Christ first (Jesus is not just our starting point, but our endpoint as well), and then demonstrate why Christianity is true.  This is not a unique approach as all worldview adherents do this. No one is bipartisan when it comes to their faith commitments. A position of neutrality is a false distinction that no one really believes or practices.

Secondly, he fails to accurately represent what is meant by this form of argumentation.  Apologetic debate/argument/dialogue occurs when two opposing faith-systems collide. The argument for the impossibility of the contrary is geared towards offering an internal critique of those two-opposing faith-systems.1 Asking the vital question of which worldview assumptions truly make knowledge possible.

In other words, which worldview provides the necessary preconditions that make knowledge possible? Which governing assumptions make my senses reliable? Which set provides the proper foundation for mathematics? Which makes scientific inquiry possible? What worldview provides the basis for language, communication, and logical argumentation?

A couple examples…

For example, the relativist assumes that truth is constantly influx, changing from one context to another and derived from a variety of environmental factors. They proudly assume that “What’s true for you is not true for me. You have your truth and I have mine.” The Christian believes all truth is rooted in our Creator and therefore absolute; not determined by circumstance, environment or the passing of time. By performing an internal critique of the person’s base assumptions of reality/knowledge derived from their worldview, the believer rightly points out, “If what you say is true, then it is false.” Your basis for knowing eliminates the possibility for knowing.

The same may be said of a materialistic atheist who believes that matter is all that exists. This view of reality teaches that immaterial things on nonexistent (in theory not in practice), and things that have happened in the past are products or chance, accident, or a universe in chaos.  If those things are true, then they are false. Logic, mathematics, science, the reliability of our senses, etc. are not possible based upon the presuppositional commitments of the relativist or materialistic atheist.  All that the impossibility of the contrary argument attempts to do is demonstrate the reliability or the unreliability of the person’s worldview by comparing them in light of what warrants the preconditions necessary for obtaining knowledge. If the Triune God of Scripture is in fact the creator of reality, then it will only be in reference to Him that all truth may be known.

Dreaded Circular-Reasoning

Like most Christian philosophers today, Huffling puts and “X” on circular-reasoning. This is a known sin to many Christian philosophers/apologists. But as I have been saying in previous posts, when it comes to ultimate standards there is really no way around it.

Take for example the label “Christian apologist,” what is the implication that we ought to see, but sometimes fail to recognize? The very label identifies the circular nature of the defense.  We are being challenged (either politely or impolitely) for our faith commitments. We are being asked “Why do you have hope in the Christian faith?” From the outset our defense is geared toward proclaiming the Christ of the Bible.

Peter tells the Christians he was writing to in the first century to presuppose Christ—set Him apart as Holy in your hearts (1Pet 3.15).  In other words, Jesus is our primary commitment.  The Christian apologetic is hinged on Christ, the anchor of our hearts. Contextually, this means we do not think/reason as the non-Christian does (cf. 1Pet 3.14), while identifying how we are to respond when asked for the reason of this hope we cling to (v.15).

On what grounds? Do we provide the reason for the hope we have apart from what we have our hope in? Do we lay aside our hope in order to defend our hope? I hope not. No, Scripture is pretty clear that we start with Christ, reason like Christ touching on aspects of His truth along the way, in order to reason to (lead to) Christ.

Huffling identifies circular reasoning as one of the “many problems” with P.A. (par 12). He rightly points out that we appeal to the use of logic as one example of why not all circular reasoning is fallacious (false), but then says…

  • “such is not a circular problem, it is merely undeniable that reason is unavoidable in discussions or arguments. One is not using reason to prove reason; he is simply saying that it is unavoidable and undeniable” (par 12).

I’m not sure if Huffling realizes it or not, but he has just used a form of the impossibility of the contrary argument. He has stated that using logic in our reasoning is not circular, but axiomatic (i.e. self-evident truth). Essentially, he is arguing that without using logic/reason one could not argue; therefore, it is impossible to not appeal to logical reasoning when coming to the knowledge of the truth. But, that is precisely the point!

Without logic one cannot reason logically, but in order to do so we must use logic to validate our logical argumentation—i.e. a necessary circle—because if we did not do so, we wouldn’t be able to prove anything. In other words, logic is a necessary precondition. This is true with all axioms. They must be assumed. If we did not assume them (axiomatic truths), then it would not be possible to argue at all.2 Is it not therefore, logical to assume the chief axiom of all reality, the One who makes sense of all reality, the Triune God of the Bible? Is not Christ the chief axiom of all Christian thought—the treasure trove of all knowledge and wisdom (Col 2.3), and therefore rightly assumed at the outset when we defend our faith in Him? For apart from Him our faith—including all knowledge and wisdom—loses its savor and is fit to be cast under the feet of all mankind!

The problem is that Huffling uses the very thing that he seeks to deny. First, he assumes C.A. is the superior method of all Christian apologetics, most of all over P.A.  He begins his article with the presupposition of “…the superiority of the classical method” (par 1), then touches on aspects of it along the way (cf. par 2, 4), in order to reason to (lead to) the conclusion that “…the classical model is more comprehensive than the others, puts miracles and evidences in a theistic context, and avoids the problems of presuppositionalism. Thus, classical apologetics is the strongest, most comprehensive model” (par 13). The very definition of a subtly circular argument. I do not fault him or others for this, but merely point it out because all do it.

Another Circular Assumption C.A.’s Draw From…

Moreover, Huffling makes an interesting admission about one of the key tenets of C.A.; natural theology.  Without the assumption of natural theology, C.A. falls on its head. Again, I want to remind the reader that he denies circular-reasoning as a valid form of argumentation, but I must ask from where does Huffling draw the presupposition that “natural theology” is warranted? Where do C.A.’s get their justification for using or appealing to natural theology? The Bible. He cites Romans 1:19-20, which reads

  • “…For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (ESV; italics added).

Huffling believes that “the Bible says we can know about God through nature” (par 7). Therefore, arguments from natural theology are seen as justifiable in the C.A. mindset in order to lead people to the possibility of God (cf. par 8). Moreover, he claims that C.A. provides the necessary framework for “knowing reality and the absolute truth of nature” (par 10) so that the miracles of the Bible (I assume like the Resurrection) make sense. Of course, without being coy, I must ask “on what grounds” does the C.A. truly know realty and absolute truth. Does nature teach this? If so, from where is this observation made? If it is an observation from nature (i.e. natural theology), what context is it interpreted from that makes it absolutely true for all reality?

This has always been one of the inherent problems with “natural theology” when used in this way, because nature does not “prove” anything, because nature does not “state” anything, for nature must always be “interpreted,” and this in turn raises the question of “Who’s interpretation is the correct one?” A universal standard is needed in order to verify the truthfulness of an interpretation.  Yard-sticks that are not universally three feet long will provide varying measures depending upon the manufacturer and user. And, they are fit for the trash heap.

In any event, the grounds for much—if not all—of C.A. methodology is built upon a belief that is drawn from biblical teaching. And to be quite frank not very well. Here I will close with my final criticism of C.A.’s prized method.

Misunderstanding and Therefore Misappropriating the Biblical Text

It is often stated that “we can know about God through nature” (par 7; italics added), and then references to passages like Roman 1:19-203 are given. However, I wonder how much care is given when reading the text. The text does not say that “we can know about God” as if that is somehow up in the air. The text says that all mankind does know God because He has made “it plain to them,” having “shown it to them.” These attributes of God are “clearly perceived, ever since the beginning of the world, in all things that have been made.” This text is cited as if Paul only throws out the possibility of knowing God, rather than actually knowing Him.4

However, the apostle is very careful in the use of his language. He does not say that mankind “can know,” but that they “do know.” And yet they willfully “suppress the truth” (v.18) and are before the judgment seat of their Creator “without excuse” (v.20). Or more literally, “without an apologetic.” Unbelievers are said to have no defense before God’s judgment (i.e. wrath, v. 18) because they are fully culpable about His existence as their Maker, but they would rather hold the ball under the water, than let it hit them in the face.

Herein lies the chief problem with the C.A. method of witnessing to the lost. They refuse to start with Christ in order to lead to Christ. They prefer to assume that knowledge is possible apart from God, and argue in one circle in order to get others to jump ship to the Christian circle. Which as you know is logically impossible. Circles are made of an unlimited number of points, but they are closed circuits. To assume that you can lead a person to one closed circuit from another closed circuit is an extraordinary claim, to quote Bill Nye.

But, if unbelievers are functioning on a different circuit than the believer—i.e. their worldview/standard is different—how do we get them to our circle? By presenting the truth of the Christian worldview cogently, passionately, and unswervingly committed to Jesus our Lord, and then allowing the Holy Spirit to do the one thing that we cannot hope to do…convert them to our circle by changing their heart. Or course that raises the question of having a proper anthropology, but that is a discussion best served on another day.

_______________________________

ENDNOTES:

1 Well, that is a bit of an overstatement. The argument for the impossibility of the contrary is one of the three legs that we analyze for determining whether or not the chair of the other person (the worldview and its interrelated presuppositions) is seated on can actually hold up under scrutiny. The other two legs, which work in coordination the one already mentioned, is arbitrariness and inconsistency.

2 Joe Boot, Why I Still Believe—Hint: It’s the Only Way the World Makes Sense (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006), 85. He writes, “In all argument we must take for granted the authority of certain ideas/principles (presuppositions) as a starting point, in order to evaluate the assumed authority of another person’s basic assumptions (i.e. theism and humanism, respectively). Given this circumstance—that we cannot argue at all without these presuppositions [axioms]—there is an inescapable circularity involved in argumentation.”

3 See Psa 19:1-6 which is often cited as further proof for the use of natural theology with unbelievers, but a wise person would compare such passages with Psa 92:5-6 which reads, “How great are your works, O Lord! Your thoughts are very deep! The stupid cannot know; the fool cannot under this” (cf. Jer 10.10-15).

4 It should be noted that this does not pertain to salvific knowledge, or a right relationship with the Creator of all things. The knowledge is plain and evident to all in the sense that it is wrong to deny God’s existence for all of creation testifies (proclaims the glory) of Him.  Often Christian philosophers seem to struggle with this distinction (I am not saying this is true of Dr. Huffling, I do not know), between knowing God and not knowing Him.  How can they both be true, for they appear to be a contradiction.

Let me answer that in the simplest way I can, by appealing to Scripture. Throughout Jesus incarnated ministry He was surrounded by those who knew Him but did not know him, and those who knew Him completely. This is demonstrated in a number of places in the gospels, but the testimony of Peter is appropriate.

Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Matt 16.13), and then a variety of answers were given. Then the Lord poses the same question directly to His disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” (Matt 16.15). Here Peter answers confidently, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matt 16.16). There were those who knew the Lord, but did not know Him. They knew His origin, son of Mary and Joseph the carpenter, the Nazarene. They knew of His power in teaching and in His control over creation, but knowing him they did not know Him (John 6.36) and Jesus said they would die in their sins (John 8.24). This line of thinking is what Paul applies when he writes Romans 1.

Posted in Apologetics

Arguing in Circles: Part II

Christian apologetics is drawn from the well-spring of Scripture.  Like the head and tail on the monetary coin, apologetics shares its foundation with evangelism. The two are necessary branches stemming from a proper biblical theology. You cannot divorce apologetics from the Bible any more than you can separate evangelism from the knowledge of God. To sever the cord is to cut-off the umbilical life line necessary for Christian faith/Christian theism, which is inescapably Trinitarian.

Unfortunately, there are those that bear the name of apologist in light of the Christian faith-system that do attempt this form of mental gymnastics. Rather than start with Scripture when reasoning with an unbeliever, they prefer the method that steers clear from anything that might label them a circularist—i.e. one who reasons in a circle.  Instead of beginning with biblical truths, they prefer to present various forms of argumentation—different shades of evidence—that will hopefully lead the individual they are witnessing to, to the probability (possibility) that some divine creator being exits.

This line of so-called Christian argumentation leads to a generic god, not the God of the Bible. It would be arrogant (the assumption goes) to ask the unbeliever to accept the idea that the Christian God exists at the outset. In order for that to take place, many small steps must first be taught and accepted before the unbeliever is moved far enough down the line to embrace what the Christian says he/she believes in.

**Saying “the Bible says so,” or “this is what the Bible says is the truth” is very embarrassing to many popular Christian apologists. 

When Christians assume the Bible’s validity and veracity and argue from that standpoint they somehow damage (it is thought/claimed) the apologetic endeavor. The Christian worldview becomes laughable to the surrounding populace who deems it, nonintellectual, unreasonable, foolhardy, and as a result will turn people away from the faith. Or, so the objection goes.

No, I’m not making this stuff up. I’ve read such things in apologetic texts, listened to them on various radio or podcast platforms, been told it in graduate level classes, and heard it preached from the pulpit. On one occasion I attended a seminar at a neighboring Christian college where this attitude was expressed.

A pastor who ministered in Las Vegas, NV asked the speaker about what he believed was the wisest way to witness to people struggling with the concept of gay marriage. The Prof. who was the head of the Philosophy Department at the school chided using the Bible as a way to defend biblical marriage—one man, one woman.  He claimed that a better approach would be to appeal to historical evidences for traditional marriages and scientific studies that showed the benefits of heterosexual marriages.  Strongly implying to the questioner that using biblical truths would not change people’s hearts on the issue; more than likely driving them in the opposite direction.  (To be fair the speaker did not deny Christ and professed Him as his savior, but evidently not Lord of his thoughts.)

Since many Christian apologists are fearful of either being equated with or practicing question-begging (i.e. circular reasoning), they assume there is a better way to get people to Jesus Christ. The Bible is good for Christians, just not unbeliever’s. What many Christian apologists/philosophers fail to realize is that when it comes to ultimate standards circular-reasoning not only happens (everybody does it), but is absolutely necessary. Something Joe Boot recognizes as a bit of “…a catch-22 situation…In other words, you have to start somewhere; in order to reason at all something must be taken for granted.”1 Why? Because “…in order to argue at all we necessarily presuppose the truth of something, and that something must be taken as self-evidencing—a truth that need not (or cannot) appeal to anything else or beyond itself for verification.”2

Surprisingly there are a significant number of professed Christian apologists who fail to understand the necessity of this position. There are, I think, a few reasons for this, but I’m only going to briefly touch on one in this post.

“Well, what is it?” you ask. The answer: A failure to see that the Bible teaches us to do it.

Understanding the Charter Verse of Christian Apologetics

Christian apologetics is the believer’s attempt at defending/defining Christian belief to the surrounding populace. Such a defense is meant to be a cogent argument for the truthfulness of the Christian worldview; an offer of the hope that is within us. If we are going to do this faithfully, then we need to understand how the Bible commands all Christians to do so. The answer lies in the following verse:

  • “…but honor [set-apart] the Messiah as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1Pet 3.15; HCSB).

As I noted in the past this verse is drawn from Isaiah 8:12-13.  At a time when many Hebrews in Judah were being tempted to follow the “logical” thinking of the day, the Lord through His prophet Isaiah, tells them to not adopt worldly thinking.  What were they to do? They were to base their thoughts and actions upon the Word of God.

Listen, because this is important, Israelites were being commanded to stand upon God’s revealed instruction not the evidence all around them. If they were making decisions based on the evidence, then their faith would have failed because things were looking pretty bleak at that time.  And yet, they were told “Do not fear what they fear or be disturbed…” (1Pet 3.14; Isa 8.12; cf. 7.2). Notice that those who were afraid in Isaiah’s time were those who had deviated from the truth of what God had spoken, Isaiah was sent to a people who refused to bow the knee to the Lord and honor His Word (see Isa 6.8-10).

Both Peter and Isaiah tell God’s children not to fear or be disturbed.  Both men of God are speaking about the various trials that true believers in their particular context struggle with. What is to keep them sated; to calm their fears? The Word of the Lord. In both contexts believers are told to regard Him as holy. Both Isaiah and Peter tell the people of God that their foundation, which is the Lord of Hosts, is to be that ground on which they stand.

It is true that in Peter’s application of this command (and yes, it is a command to sanctify the Lord as holy in our hearts) seems to offer a unique twist. For he says that we must always be ready to give an apologetic to anyone who asks. But in response I ask you, “Do you suppose that people in Isaiah’s day wouldn’t have asked their fellows who had settled the matter in their heart, ‘What gives you such hope? Do you not see the danger before us? The suffering that seems so evident? How can you trust that the Lord will deliver?’” Both Peter and Isaiah tell believers to start and finish their reasoning on the same ground.

Peter says, “Christian, you must first start with Christ in order to answer for Christ.” How many times have you read that verse (1Pet 3.15) and failed to see that the very ground for Christian apologetics is circular? We are commanded to start with Christ (set Him apart as Holy) as our hearts primary commitment. Likewise, when we are confronted with the various opinions of Mr. and Mrs. Worldly-Wise, we do not abandon our treasure trove of wisdom and knowledge (Col 2.3); rather, we tear down their opinions by bringing them unto submission under Christ Jesus (2Cor 10.4-5).  The desire to appear neutral when witnessing to those outside the Christian faith is a practice of folly, plain and simple. And not only does Peter tell us not to reason with the world in that way, but the Bible is filled with texts that validate a subtle form of circular argumentation.

Biblical Evidences for Circular-Argumentation

“It is written,” “Have you not read?” “You err because you do not know the Scriptures.” These are the common rebuttals that Jesus used during His earthly ministry. When challenged, when tempted (i.e. tested), when His practices were inquired about, whatever the circumstance might be Jesus’ go to was the Word of God. Our Lord was confident that Scripture could not be broken and would stand the test of time. He instructed His people to reason in the same way so that they would know the truth and the wisdom that comes from heaven above. He taught that the Scripture is a necessary presuppositional commitment.

There are many texts that we could draw this truth from. Jesus used it in order to justify His disciples picking grain on the Sabbath (Mark 2.23-28), to prove He was the Messiah to John the Baptist while he was in prison(Matt 11.1-6), His driving of the money changers out of the temple complex (Mark 11.17), to lightly chastise his disciples for not discerning the truth of the empty tomb (Luke 24.25-27), on proper divorce procedures (Matt 19.3-8), and yes, even providing the grounds for the source of one’s faith and witness (John 5.45-46; Luke 16.30-31).

“Yes,” you say “but that was provided in a Jewish context. Those people had been raised on the Bible3, but what about the Gentiles? What about people who don’t believe?”

I can think of two instances that we are provided with that help us in this regard. First, the testing of Satan. Second, Paul in Athens (addressed in the next post).

The Testing of Satan…

After Jesus had been anointed by the Holy Spirit for ministry, He was immediately lead into the wilderness where he fasted for 40 days. When this period was finished, naturally he was famished. Having deprived His body of necessary nutrition the Lord was weak. In walks that vile serpent of old Satan, the great adversary, to test Him.  “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread” (Matt 4.3).  What is the implication of this statement?

“Jesus, you believe you are the Son of God…prove it. If you really have divine authority, take these stones—you know your hungry—and turn them into bread. Not only will your body get sustenance, but you will also prove to me that you are who you say you are.” Notice, Satan does not ask for Jesus’ credentials from Scripture, but prefers that Jesus prove He is the Christ using some other standard.

What is the Lord’s response? Does He meet the devil where he is at by appealing to some other proof? Does He look at this unbeliever and think “I’ll show him something that he cannot deny?” No, He does not. Jesus presupposed the Bible as an authoritative foundation to refute His opponent. In fact, the text that the Lord cites is one that states unequivocally that it is only possible for a person to truly live when they are dependent upon every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matt 4.4; Deut 8.1-3). It is possible that you passed by my point without realizing it, so allow me to repeat it “it is only possible for a person to truly live when they are dependent upon…” the Word of God. Christian apologetics is an act of living dependently in this fashion.

Had Jesus acquiesced to Satan’s demands, He would have proven not that He was the Son of God but that He was not worthy of such a title. In order to turn those stones to bread He would have had to deny Himself; showing that man could faithfully live by some other means before His Creator. Such irrationality you will never find in the mind of God. Jesus proved in His appeal to Scripture as the ultimate standard for living not only that He is rational, but that He is none other than God’s unique Son; a perfect representation of the image of God.  By the way, Jesus used the same approach before the Sanhedrin when they charged Him with blasphemy (Mark 14.61-64). And according to the writer of Hebrews God made His promise to Abraham on the same presuppositional grounds:

  • “For when God made a promise to Abraham, since He had no one greater to swear by, He swore by Himself…For men swear by something greater than themselves, and for them a confirming oath ends every dispute. Because God wanted to show His unchangeable purpose even more clearly to the heirs of the promise, He guaranteed it with an oath, so that through two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to seize the hope set before us” (Heb 6.13, 16-18; italics added; HCSB).

A subtly circular argument on which the promise to the heirs of God rest. Part III will focus on Paul’s sermon at the Areopagus in Athens.