Posted in Apologetics

What Should be the Source for Christian Apologetics?

William Lane Craig is a brilliant, very articulate Christian philosopher and apologist.  Listening to him speak on a given topic can be a humbling experience, for it is hard to imagine how one may say things with better eloquence.  His speaking manner and quick wit leaves one feeling a bit inadequate when the suggestion of defending the faith is broached.

This is an honest personal assessment on my part. I don’t say this to butter him up before I chop him down, rather I use these truths to highlight an important fact that all should consider—This does not stop dumb things from coming out of his mouth.  Craig, as smart as he is, has the same makeup as you and I; he’s a flawed, imperfect human being.  And the result is moments of ignorance either willful or accidental; it doesn’t matter which.

We all have blind spots in our field of vision both physically and mentally. Here is an example of Craig’s:

  • “When we do systematic theology the basis of theology—the rule of faith—is Scripture. The Scripture is the only authoritative and infallible rule for faith and practice. But [not] when we do apologetics…The apologetic enterprise or task does not depend upon biblical authority, inspiration, inerrancy, and all the rest. Those things are important for doing theology, but when you are doing apologetics those sorts of things are not presupposed lest one be arguing in a circle.”1

Obviously, Craig is of the opinion that the Bible is good for doing theology (i.e. the study of God). There the Scriptures are authoritative and infallible in the sense that they offer the believer a rule for how to think and live.  Yes, I realize that Craig said “faith and practice,” but the sense in which he is using the word “faith” is related to how one thinks (i.e. faith commitments, convictions and biases). However, that is where his affection for the use of Holy Scripture ends; or so he says. When it comes to the field of apologetics, it’s best to leave the Bible out of the discussion.  Well, not entirely he’d probably argue, but surely not something to state one’s apologetic case on.  Why? The short answer is because not everyone will “accept what you are laying down,” so to speak.

**This is a popular argument by many leading Christian apologists today.

Take for example Gary Habermas and Michael Licona in their collaborated effort The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. In this book, they offer the following statement in the introduction of the second section of their book under the heading “Just the Facts, Ma’am”2: “While we hold that the Bible is trustworthy and inspired, we cannot expect the skeptical nonbeliever with whom we are dialoguing to embrace this view.”3 Therefore, though they readily admit that the Bible has authority to some extent, they push it aside in favor of another standard when practicing apologetics.  In order to justify this action, Habermas and Licona appeal to Paul’s address at Mars Hill recorded in Acts 17:16-31 where “instead [of using Scripture] he cited secular writers and poets known to his audience.”4

What is apparent from such Christian apologists is the desire, in part or in total, to “use commonsense standards of rationality and universally agreed principles of logic in [their] arguing,”5 as disclosed by Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli. They later write that “[doing] apologetics only from the starting point of the authority of Scripture…is a tactical error.”6 Why? Well their reasoning is the same as Craig quoted above: “…the unbeliever will not accept the use of any special standards or assumptions or attitudes toward Scripture at the outset, since they clearly beg the question.  You must first prove that Scripture deserves such special treatment as the Word of God, and you must prove this without presupposing it, without giving Scripture special treatment. Otherwise you argue in a circle, assuming what you need to prove.”7

For a moment we will bypass the allegation of circular-reasoning (i.e. begging the question).8 All I want to deal with in this post is the claim that an apologetic approach which bases its argumentation on biblical revelation is unnecessary, unwanted, or unwise. Therefore, my question for you the reader, “Is that accurate? Does what is being claimed really pass scrutiny?”

What is Apologetic’s?

Perhaps, we should start here before attempting to answer the questions above.   The field of apologetics is geared towards providing argumentation in order to defend one’s faith-system.  Anytime you are challenged for a belief, conviction or even an opinion you have, and then you go about providing reasons to justify your position you have just performed apologetically.  That is the generic or universal definition which applies to all people and all fields.

What I and the individuals above are alluding to however, is a bit more specific.  The type of apologetics that we are talking about is specialized in the Christian faith-system (i.e. worldview).  This concept is developed from a biblical understanding of providing the rationale for one’s belief in the Triune God of the Bible, and everything that pertains to Him as Creator over all things.

I would imagine that the most popular text that Christians appeal to for their apologetic endeavors is 1Peter 3:15. While, this text is certainly valid in that it applies to all members of the Church, regardless of their educational status or position in the Body of Christ, there are others that are just as important in helping define what Christian apologetics entails. Here is a list of some premiere Christian apologetic texts9 that ought to be carefully weighed and mulled over:

  • 1Peter 3:15— “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…” (cf. Isa 8.12-13).
  • Jude 1:3— “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”
  • 2Cor 10:3-5— “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…” (cf. Rom 16.26)
  • Col 4.5-6— “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (cf. Matt 5.13).
  • 2Tim 2.24-26— “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.”
  • Titus 1:9— “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”

Though each passage is given in differing contexts, with some specifically applied to overseers/elders/pastors/teachers in the Church and others in terms of the general congregation of Christ, the theme is universal amongst them.  Christians are to stand firmly upon the truth—the Word of God, which is the Word of Christ as wise men/women. The Bible is the root from which they appeal to all people.

Time for a Quick History Lesson…

Did you know, the popular reference of 1Pet 3:15 which gets the majority of attention by Christian apologists in the Evangelical Church is rooted in Isaiah 8:12-13?

  • “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But in the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.”

The historical context is when Ahaz king of Judah refused to trust in the Lord (cf. 2Kgs 16.2-4; 2Chr 28.1-4) and was besieged by an alliance of Syria and Israel in the north. Rather than seek the Lord’s aid in deliverance by repenting, Ahaz sought the aid of a pagan king from Assyria (2Chr 28.16). Isaiah speaking on behalf of the Lord tells the people to not fear what others fear, to not trust what others trust in, but be distinct from the popular culture of the day and trust in the Lord of Hosts.  Fear Him, follow Him, devote yourselves to Him and His Word, and in so doing you will find that he is in fact “a sanctuary” (Isa 8.14a) for those who trust in Him. But for those who refuse… the Lord shall be “a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to…” (Isa 8.14b) all others, causing “many [to] stumble…and be broken; they shall be ensnared and taken” (Isa 8.15).

History applied in Peter’s ministry and Ours?

In the midst of fiery trials, for being persecuted for doing good, for following the will of God and not of unredeemed man, this is when opportunity will come to answer those who question such faith Peter says in 1Pet 3:10-18. In that moment of apologetic ministry Christians are to put on Christ (vv. 17-18). To argue like Jesus.

By borrowing from the prophet Isaiah, Peter is explaining there is no such thing as a Christian apologetic without Christ being the foundation of it!  If you lay aside the Scriptures (the Holy Bible) in order to do your apologetic, whose thinking are you more in line with God or man? In other words, whose foundation are you building your argument from?

If our theology must be rooted in God’s Word, then why not our apologetic? For do they not both draw from the same well? Is not Christ the center of our gospel, the center of our theology, and therefore rightly the center of our apologetic? How can one hope to give a reasoned defense of the Christian faith, when they willingly push to the side the foundation of that faith—the very thing that makes sense of the faith-system in the first place?

What message are you conveying to your audience when you say, “Well, yes, this stuff is in the Bible, but let us put that aside for a moment and just look at the evidences?” At that moment what becomes your chief standard? What is the basis of your faith, the Triune God’s testimony/witness to the world or a subjective understanding of miracles like the resurrection of Christ?

Muddy Eyes leads to Muddy Thinking…

Now I’ve heard Craig and his ilk claim that we have to prove God before we speak authoritatively about God, because people won’t believe that message. Rather we must get in the murky mire and coat it over our eyeballs so that we approach the truth in the same manner that the unbeliever does, because everyone knows how well blind guides lead.  “Oh, you’re not being fair Kris…you’re sounding awfully preachy!” Lol, well I suppose I am sounding preachy, but am I really being unfair?

I just find it laughably silly to assume that your understanding of the Christian faith, which is based directly on biblical teaching, is somehow found unacceptable when I attempt to give a reasoned defense for it; by appealing to that which governs my understanding, makes sense of reality, and gives proper meaning to things like the resurrection of Jesus.

Where are we authorized by this rule of “faith and practice,” as Craig refers to the Holy Bible, to divorce it from our apologetic “faith and practice?” Such a view is nonsensical because it reasons in an unreasonable fashion out of fear of looking silly to a world that we are told will identify the message of the cross as folly (1Cor 1.18).  So, even when we are instructed that it is through the folly of this message preached that God saves (1Cor 1.21), we knowing better than our Lord, ashamedly soften the folly of the message so that others will find it more acceptable.  Who are we really concerned about at that point; God or man?

I realize that by putting it this way I will quite possibly offend any who read this, but in true sincerity: “What gives us the right to set-apart, sanctify, make holy another standard for our beliefs than the one we have been given?” For many this is not an easy question to answer because it seems logically impossible. Why? Because of “circular-reasoning” which if you listen or read the above authors you will find that is their professed chief concern. As such, it’ll be the subject of my next article…

______________________

ENDNOTES:

1 William Lane Craig, “The Bible Tells Me So! So?” Reasonable Faith with William Lane Craig, March 26, 2017, accessed May 23, 2019, https://www.reasonablefaith.org/media/reasonable-faith-podcast/the-bible-tells-me-so-so/Italics added.

2 Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004), 41.

3 Ibid, 44

4 Ibid, 34. This is an interesting admission by these writers that I hope to be able to address at a later date. For the conclusions that they draw from Paul’s address seems to result from poor observation of the text in question.

5 Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of Answers to Crucial Questions (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 23.

6 Ibid, 203.  I should note that the Kreeft and Tacelli do use the word “only” in reference to the use of the Bible in one’s apologetic, and on this I agree.  Leaving evidence out of an apologetic is a mistake and probably impossible to really do, but there is a proper order (logically speaking) that should be followed when presenting evidence for one’s case. For example, it is impossible to comprehend the resurrection of Jesus properly aside from the biblical framework provided in Scripture found in both Old and New Covenants.

7 Ibid, 204.

8 In a forthcoming post I will address the issue of “circular-reasoning” (i.e. begging the question).

9 All of the Scriptural references in this work are of the English Standard Version. Also, not everyone may agree that these are apologetic texts, but the concern in each text (within its context) is in giving and providing answers to those who either ask, oppose themselves, or are found leading others in error.

 

Posted in Christian Perspective, Logic, philosophy, Reason, Theology

Scarecrow Arguments and the Pursuit of Truth

Perhaps you have heard some variation of the following argumentive statements:

The Bible is not a science book. The Bible is not a history book. The Bible is not an ethics book. The Bible is not a marriage manual. The Bible is not a parental guide. The Bible is not this…or that…its just a spiritual book, a theological book, etc., etc.

Arguments like these are retorted quite commonly. As a minister, I have heard variations of the same from time to time. The statements in and of themselves are true in part. The problem I find, however, is that such statements are not given in a positive sense. The position normally belies a bias on the part of the individual who gives them. They are offered up in a manner to discredit the person(s) who hold a belief that is contrary to the one arguing against them. In effect, what is presented in such cases is a strawman argument.[1]

The belief in action goes something like this:

  • The Bible is not a science book; therefore, it lacks the authority to speak on scientific issues. The Bible may offer some insight on issues of a scientific nature, but the Bible should not be used to correct science because its not written for that purpose.
  • The Bible is not a history book; therefore, it lacks the authority to speak on specific historic issues. The Bible may offer some insight on issues of a historic nature, but the Bible should not be used to correct historic belief because it was not written for that purpose.
  • The Bible is not an ethics book; therefore, it lacks the authority to speak on specific ethical issues. The Bible may offer some insight on various ethical issues, but the Bible (in particular biblical law) should not be used to offer corrections in the field of ethics because it was not written for that purpose.
  • The Bible is not a marriage manual; therefore, it lacks the authority to speak on every issue that arises within the marriage covenant. The Bible may offer some insight on issues pertaining to marriage, but the Bible should not be the dependent source to address every problem that may arise in a marriage, because it was not written for that purpose.
  • The Bible is not a parental guide; therefore, it lacks the authority to speak on every issue that arises in the context of parenting. The Bible may offer some insight on issues pertaining to parental guidance, but the Bible should not be appealed to for every parenting issue, because it was not written for that purpose.
  • The Bible was primarily written as a spiritual guidebook, a book that speaks authoritatively on theological issues from a certain perspective—i.e. Christian; therefore, to use it beyond this scope it to use it in a manner that goes beyond its original intention.

Here’s the problem with such thinking. A consistent Christian does not argue in this fashion. Of course, the Bible is not a science textbook, or primarily an exhaustive book of history, or just an ethical guide, or a marriage manual, or a parental guidance text. However, the Bible has preeminence over all these subjects and many more. That is to say that Bible speaks authoritatively on all of these subjects, including topics not discussed in this post, because the Bible alone offers a foundational lens to view these things properly.

Why? Because “as human beings [we] are so susceptible to self-deception and autosuggestion, we need the safety of a third point of reference. Our feelings [and thoughts] need to be tested by an objective norm…that objective norm must be the Bible.”[2] Why should our thoughts be tested?[3] This goes back to loving the Lord God with all of our minds. Why are we to do this? Because, how we use our minds is ethical; right or wrong.

Nothing but the Truth Please…

A common anthem raised within Christian circles is “all truth is God’s truth” implying or declaring “regardless of the source!” Of course, “all truth is God’s truth” no sane individual will deny this claim. However, this begs the question of how one arrives at the truth. Who determines truth? Is truth merely up for grabs, or is “truth” only found when the subject in question is properly perceived from God’s perspective? If all truth is God’s truth, then all “truth” must be found in agreement with God’s revealed truth. Why? Because an objective standard is necessary in order to measure the truthfulness of the subject or claim in question.

Some may wonder why Martin Luther referred to reason as “the devil’s whore.” Evidently, this comment is attributed to a statement he made during a sermon in Wittenberg. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to that particular resource of Luther’s (my limited budget prohibits this), but I have read enough of what Luther has said in other places to have a solid basis to offer my own observations regarding it.

For example, Luther stated that “…unbelief is not one of the grosser affections, but is that chief affection seated and ruling on the throne of the will and reason, just the same as its contrary, faith.”[4] In another place he preached with a ring of sarcasm, “Here again comes forth reason, our reverend mistress, seeming to be marvellously [sic] wise; but who indeed is unwise and blind, gainsaying her God, and reproving him of lying; being furnished with her follies and feeble armour [sic], to wit, the light of nature, free will, the strength of nature, also with the books of the heathen and the doctrines of men.”[5]

Luther did not despise reason any more than he despised faith or philosophical arguments, for he applied all of these in his own life and writings (albeit at some times better than others from a personal standpoint). What he despised, rightly so I might add, was reason, discussions of faith or philosophical argumentation that was separated from the mind of God. While some might be appalled and argue strenuously against such a position, Luther was in good company. He did no less than the apostles, or the prophets, or the Lord who called and sent them all out into the world.

Elements of Truth and the Philosophy that Guides Them

In particular, we might find it advantageous to turn briefly to the apostle Paul’s dealing with this very issue; found in the letter to the Colossians. The Christians in Colossae were facing some turbulent times. Leaders had crept in with teachings that seemed very godly, but had the same element of demonic error that Paul later warned Timothy to be wary of.[6]

The two primary errors facing these Christians in Colossae was ascetism and mysticism:

  • Ascetism teaches that by abstaining from certain elements of worldly living (i.e. eating and drinking certain foods) attributes to the spiritual welfare of the individual(s) in question. This form of legalism is comparable to modern teetotalers who preach abstinence from alcohol or tobacco, etc.; as if adopting such a mindset makes one more spiritual (either before God or man).[7]
  • Mysticism on the other hand flirted with pseudo-knowledge (a pre-gnostic heresy) that was secretly given to some of the so-called more spiritual among them. This knowledge included various visions (false) from god, leading to the worship of angelic beings. Things strongly denounced in Holy Writ (cf. Exod 20.3; Deut 6.13-14; Matt 4.10; Rev 19.10).

Paul’s response was that Christians should not listen to things that pervert the truth, but rather be firmly established in Jesus Christ (Col 2.7), walking with him (Col 2.6) who is “the head of all rule and authority” (Col 2.10) for in Him rest “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2.3). Christians are to be wary of those who seek to take “you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world…” (Col 2.8). For “if with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to [them]…” (Col 2.20).[8]

Now it is absolutely true that Paul wrote to Colossae for a specific purpose. He was battling false forms of spiritual worship that had invaded the Christian community, but there is an application that may be drawn from this for today. Paul cautioned against philosophy (love of wisdom/knowledge) and reason that is rooted in something other than Jesus Christ, in whom all these things are held (cf. Heb 1.3; Prov 1.7; 9.10; 2.6). He presents a similar argument to the Corinthians and the Ephesians when he states rather emphatically:

  • “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2Cor 10.4-5; italics added).
  • “…no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…Now I say this and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart…But that is not the way you learned Christ!” (Eph 4.14-15, 17-18, 20; italics added).

Similarly, the Lord condemned those who considered themselves the wise of their age, who in their wisdom supplanted God’s Word with their own traditions—i.e. the elemental spirits of the world (cf. Mark 7.6-13).[9]

Closing Remarks…

Whatever conclusions we draw about reality. Whatever thoughts or doctrines we uphold. Whatever beliefs we may have about life. Whether they be scientific questions, or marital questions, or questions about parenting, or questions about logic or reason or philosophy or ethics…regardless of what the subject might be about. The way we view them or the conclusions we draw need to be seriously weighed with the Word of God.

I grow tired of the scarecrows that are raised up by professing believers who want to be the final arbitrators of truth. God determines truth, we do not. He defines truth, we do not. Our thinking, our speaking and our doing ought to derive from humble submission to Christ Jesus and His authoritative Word. That is the only true way we are going to truly know anything.

ENDNOTES:


[1] Norman Geisler and Ronald M. Brooks, Come Let Us Reason: An Introduction to Logical Thinking (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1990), 100, 101. They write, “Some figure that the best way to win an argument is to cheat. So they design their reasoning in such a way that they can’t lose. Just like a card player who stacks the deck…Straw man. Another way to stack the deck against the opposition is to draw a false picture of the opposing argument…The name of the fallacy comes from the idea that if you set up a straw man, he is easier to knock down than a real man.”

[2] Richard S. Taylor, Biblical Authority and Christian Faith (Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press, 1980), 51.

[3] This is not a concept that merely Christians adhere to (although, I would argue that it is a Christian standard used by others), for all people subject the position of another over an against some other source. That is to say, everybody tests the nature of the claim being presented. If you were to ask a college student today if socialism is a better option than capitalism, the answer would reflect the teaching/instruction that the student has received. If they have went to one of the Ivy League schools or an institution out in California, then socialism is going to be seen as not only a viable option for government, but preferable to other forms of governance. Stephen Crowder has demonstrated this for his viewers on a number of issues in his YouTube series “Change My Mind.” The point being, we test the thoughts of others comparable to the source on which (we) they are dependent. What we consider authoritative.

[4] Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will, Reprint (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2012), 228, Adobe Digital Editions. Italics added.

[5] Martin Luther, “Galatians 6:1-7” in A Selection Sermons of the Most Celebrated Sermons of Martin Luther, loc 433-435, Kindle Edition. Italics added.

[6] “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons…” (1Tim 4.1). What were these demonic teachings that Timothy would have to deal with in his ministry? Those “…who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth” (1Tim 4.3). The very things that Paul is having to deal with in Colossae and to some extent in Corinth (e.g. 1Cor 9.1-5).

[7] It should be noted that I am not condemning Christians who for reasons of conscience chose to avoid such things. This is acceptable and right in the sight of God. God has given all things as a gift for His people, to be used reasonably and in moderation, being blessed by prayer. However, to do something in doubt without faith and go against one’s conscience is folly and rightly labeled sin. The position that I hold, which I believe is consistent with biblical faith, is that what God has not labeled sinful is to be enjoyed in moderation; for, who am I as a creature to judge another’s servant. In other words, there is only ONE law-giver and that is the Triune God of Scripture…Him, I shall obey, for that is pleasing in His sight.

[8] John Calvin, The Complete Biblical Commentary Collection of John Calvin, (Kindle Locations 488481-488483). Kindle Edition. He writes, “Let us, however, bear in mind, that under the term philosophy Paul has merely condemned   all spurious doctrines which come forth from man’s head, whatever   appearance of reason they may have.”

[9] Here the religious leaders in Israel had erected their own belief system of what was right and good and true (the practice of Corban) in place of what God had said was the right attitude and practice; namely, honoring your father and mother. In case the reader assumes that this only applies to religious practices (the spiritual realm) and has no meaningful application to what some might deem non-spiritual issues, might I encourage you to mull over the meaning of this statement: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1Cor 10.31; cf. Deut 14.26). All of life is meant to glorify God, even acts so mundane as “eating and drinking.” My point being is that there is no aspect of living that is not ethical (right or wrong) and therefore spiritual. God made us as His image bearers, so whatever we do is a spiritual act. To attempt to dichotomize life into the subjects of spiritual and not is a foolhardy errand. So, whatever, we do or think or say, needs to be weighed by God’s authoritative Word.

Posted in Christian Witness, Communication, Reason, Salvation, Theology, Worldview Analysis

Refraction: Unintended Results Acquired and Passed On

Take a straight pencil and dip it into a glass of water. What do you see? The pencil appears bent. This is called refraction. When light waves travel through air and water the speed is altered and a distorted image ensues. An educated person understands that the pencil is not truly bent, but only appears to be so. A young child on the other hand will try and convince you (if asked) that the pencil really does bend when it goes into the water.

Why the different conclusions?The “educated person” has had their reasoning aided by an external source; whereas, the child is attempting to determine the reality of the pencil on their own without having their reasoning aided. One is using the mental tool of reasoning dependently, the other is using the same faculties of the mind independently.[1]

The point should be obvious to all: reasoning alone does not lead to the correct interpretation of the facts/evidences. This was true before the Fall recorded in Genesis 3. So, why would we assume that this is different when we present to the gospel of the Christian worldview to a non-believer?

Arguments to the Contrary

Jesus very clearly taught that without a dependence on God-given revelation people would not believe even if someone were to come back to life (cf. Luke 16.30-31). The human mind as a result of the fall has been grossly distorted, now man’s point of view suffers refraction.We can thank our foreparents[2](Adam and Eve) for this gift. They took it upon themselves to reason (judge,discern, determine) without any aid or dependency upon God’s revelation(natural or special).[3]We have no right to complain, for given the same circumstances we too would have tread where they did. Thus, our foreparents (along with the rest of humanity residing in them) assumed authority over their own minds, positioning themselves as judge over and above God.

That is now the default position of all people. Yes, even professing believer’s struggle with this truth. As maybe seen in the warning given by the apostle Paul to his protégé Timothy. A text, which is often conveniently overlooked or ignored, and sometimes misapplied. 

  • “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2Tim 4.3-4).[4]

That the Holy Spirit thought it necessary to offer such a word of caution to a minister of the gospel, ought to give all Christians pause. Christians have not had their former nature so eradicated that they no longer struggle with the desire to be the final arbitrator of truth; even when it comes to the Word of God.[5]Like Eve, we all struggle or are troubled at times to reason in the same fashion she did. We take the propositional truth of God found in Scripture, and the world in which we live, and the testimony of others and set ourselves above these things as judge.

As Scripture says the human mind is “deceitful above all things and desperately sick; who can understand it?”(Jer 17.9). For every intention (imagination, plan) of human thought is wicked continually from childhood (Gen 6.5; 8.21; Psa 51.5). The human mind is, as a result of the fall, naturally hostile towards God’s instruction (Rom 8.7; Col1.21), and so darkened that it is incapable of discerning spiritual things (Eph4.18; 1Cor 2.14).[6] 

At this point in the discussion there is an argument raised by some in the Christian faith regarding evidence.I have heard it said, but didn’t Jesus give evidence and tell people to believe on the evidence that He is from God; the Son of God, the Savior of Men?

  • “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves” (John14.11).
  • “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20.30-31).

Although, there are other similar texts, these should suffice to make the point I am driving at. To be sure, by themselves, these texts appear to show that belief is possible on evidence or facts alone. We may even appeal to the Psalmist who states, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psa19.1). And in another place, we are told, “For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy. How great are your works, O Lord! Your thoughts are very deep!” (Psa 92.4-5). However, these texts do not nullify what has come before. Nor do they disprove what has already been stated.

In John 11 Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. After four days in that arid climate the body of Lazarus, sealed in the tomb, would have been a nasty sight to be sure. Not to mention the grotesque smell! And yet, as we know Jesus shouts in the midst of those gathered there “Lazarus, come out” (John 11.43), the dead man comes out alive.

This text was chosen for two reasons. One it looks back to what I have been saying in this post and in others with reference to Jesus comments in Luke 16:30-31 about people not believing even if the dead arises. For, not everyone believed in Jesus even when they saw the dead man walking. All Jesus did was give them another person to want to kill (cf. John 11.46, 53, 12.9-11). The evidence by itself was not enough to convince the person of the truth.

Two, Jesus guides the reasoning of the individuals who witnessed Lazarus having been raised. Rather than allowing them to interpret the event in light of their own worldview, using unaided reason, the Lord prepped their thinking. In other words, he gave them the necessary framework to properly interpret the evidence before them: “And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me.I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around that they may believe you sent me” (John 11.41b-42; emphasis added).

Without a dependency on God’s revelation, fallen people will never see the truth. In other words, it is impossible to come to a knowledge of the truth apart from God’s revelation. We were created to be dependent upon it, and after the Fall our disposition has switched to the default setting against it.

  • “The stupid man cannot know; the fool cannot understand this” (Psa 92.6).[7]
  • “Jesus answered them, ‘I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10.25-27).

Notice the emphasis Jesus put on the proper interpretation of the evidence He has presented to the Jews. The works He does are done in His Father’s name and the bear witness to the truthfulness of who He is, but those who are not members of His flock fail to believe.

Inner Light is Necessary

Furthermore, before I finish this post there is another aspect of dependent thought that serves as a necessary prerequisite for comprehending the truth. We are told in Scripture that in the Lord “…is the fountain of life [and] in [His] light do we see light” (Psa 36.9). The inference being: There is a divine element to seeing, understanding and accepting the truth; which, apart from the Holy Spirit’s regenerative work in the hearts of fall people is impossible. In other words, we cannot see the light (life/truth) apart from God’s light (life/truth).

Until God puts a new heart within us we are left with a heart of stone that stubbornly suppresses the truth in unrighteousness. As Stephen said to the Sanhedrin in the 1st century,fallen man is continually stiff-necked towards God resisting the Holy Spirit(Acts 7.51). This is the reason Jesus was killed (from an earthly perspective) because“none of the rulers of this age understood…for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1Cor 2.8). Without the Holy Spirit revealing to fallen people the truth of God (cf. 1Cor 2.10), they “[do] not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him…” (1Cor 2.14). This is what separates the Christian from the non-Christian. We have been given “…the mind of Christ” (1Cor 2.16).

In order to see things correctly and to reinterpret them after God’s own thoughts the unbeliever must have his/her mind renewed (cf. Rom 12.2; Eph 4.23). They must become a new creature(Rom 6.4; Eph 2.24). They must be fashioned after the image of Jesus Christ(Rom 13.4). This they cannot do, for it is a gift from God for we are His workmanship (cf. Eph 2.8-10).

Now, if we as Christians who have been given new life in Christ, have circumcised hearts made of flesh rather than stone (Col 2.11-12), and are being conformed into the image of God’s one and only Son (Rom 8.29) by the Spirit’s power still see things dimly (1Cor13.12), then why would we suppose that fallen mankind is capable of seeing the truth on their own? People who Scripture reveals are in bondage to sin, have darkened minds and hearts made of stone, and are mortal enemies towards their Creator’s will, law and word. Why would we assume that without the proper biblical framework and the Spirit’s acting upon the core of their very being would be able to come to the knowledge of the truth on their own?

Closing Remarks…

Independent rational thought is always irrational at base. This fallen world understands this, so why do we Christians have such a hard time putting two and two together? Obviously, in this post I’ve spent some time discussing the nature of human depravity or radical corruption. What I have been arguing is that apart from a dependence upon God’s revelation—His Word and His action in our lives—we never draw the right conclusion about the world in which we live. This is our Father’s world(as the old hymn goes) and therefore the only way to come to the right conclusion about any of it, is by reinterpreting after Him. Ultimately, this is what it means to be His image bearers. In my next post, I want to spend sometime speaking a little further on how the fall effected our image bearing status with a look at Psalm 115.

In the meantime, Merry Christmas…!

ENDNOTES:


[1] Perhaps a better way of expressing this is to admit that the child’s reasoning, like the educated adult, is likewise aided but in a very limited fashion. Primarily,the child’s reasoning—apart from parental instruction—is based upon sensory experience, and the presupposition guiding that child’s thought is that their past experience and the use of their senses is sufficient to determine the nature of reality. In essence, they assume they are able to properly interpret the evidence before them without any external guidance. Therefore, for the sake of the argument presented this should suffice to show how one’s reasoning leans heavily upon what one is dependent upon.

[2] The creation of this word was chosen over using “forefather” or “ancestor” or“progenitor” in that we are all descended from both Adam and Eve, our foreparents.

[3]Something interesting to note about the folly of both Adam and Eve in the encounter with the serpent in the garden is their two-fold error. First, Adam had been given special revelation as God spoke to him the prohibition of eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen 2.16-17). Secondly,natural revelation demonstrated that human kind was above the animal kingdom.God had given both the man and woman dominion to rule over all lesser creatures. On both counts they willfully turned a blind eye to what God had revealed to them.

[4]Contextually, this recommendation of awareness by Paul to Timothy is something Timothy would face. He was the one charged to preach the Word at all times, convenient or not (cf. 2Tim 4.1-2). While the principle of this truth holds today, this was not a text given for some far-off eschatological end, but its proximity in the life and ministry of Paul’s disciple was the reason for the exhortation and encouragement.

[5] For an excellent resource on the indwelling nature of sin in the life of a believer, I would recommend the following work from antiquity: John Owen, The Remainder of Indwelling Sin in Believers. You can read it free here: https://archive.org/details/onnaturepowerde00owengoog. Or there are other places where you can find a free download for your e-reader at various other sites.

[6] “Spiritual things” is not a limitation between the natural and spiritual realms. All of reality is God’s reality; He created and superintends over it. Therefore, all of reality, if it is to be properly interpreted, needs to be looked at through a spiritual lens. Man is dichotomy; spirit and earthly.

[7] In case you missed this,allow me to point this out to the reader. This is the same Psalm that was quoted earlier, which is often used to justify the position that natural revelation is all that is necessary to convince someone of the truth. Normally by attaching these comments to Romans 1. However, the Psalmist is very clear,like the apostle Paul in Romans 1 if you read it contextually, that the fallen person—the fool, the one who denies God cf. Psa 14.1-3—CANNOT understand what they see in reality.