Posted in Apologetics

The Ladder

One of the critiques that I heard from the late Greg L. Bahnsen against other forms of apologetics (those in the non-presuppositional branch) is that they attempt to build a ladder to Jesus, and then once they got an individual to him, they’d throw the ladder away. For a very long time I pondered that statement. But one day the realization kind of hit me between the eyes. Before I tell you what that realization was, perhaps I should explain what he meant by building the ladder to Jesus.

A Caveat…

The evidential or classical Christian apologist uses various arguments that are philosophically, evidence based. Actually, this is true of all Christian apologetic methodologies. All use evidences. All use philosophical argumentation. All attempt to get the person to Christ Jesus.

Motivations and Ignorance…

If that is the actual desire of the person in question, then I cannot fault the individual. They are attempting to do a noble thing. However, while the motivation may be honorable, the method or manner in which they try to point people to Jesus is an ignorant pursuit. Whether it is willful ignorance or accidental, I cannot say without having first spoken to the person in question. But to show I am not being a jerk, please allow me to explain.

How the Argument typically goes…

“Before we get to Christ,” we got to get them to believe “x.” Then after we get them to believe “x” we can move on to “y.” This process goes on until Jesus is in view. The ladder is based on the possibility of an intelligent designer. The trustworthy nature of Scripture. Not necessarily inerrant or infallible, mind you, but good enough for most people to find believable. The pursuit in reaching the gospel is an unidentifiable number of steps. How many depends upon the person to whom the Christian apologist is witnessing.

Eventually, once it has been proved (not a certainty, but a strong possibility) that there is a god, that he is personal, that he has given us a fairly reliable revelation (both inscripturated and natural), and that we are sinners (although restraint will be used with that offensive word!) in need of a savior who has been identified as Jesus of Nazareth. A man that historical, and philosophical evidences show very likely that he died on a Roman cross (he didn’t swoon), arose three days later (no one stole the corpse), as has been testified about as resurrected and ascended by eyewitnesses (his disciples who more than likely didn’t lie for they were willing to die for what they were saying; and, it probably wasn’t an illusion for over 500 shared it). Once the case has been made through evidences and philosophical argumentation to the high probability of Jesus being God in the flesh, making possible the salvation of fallen humanity if they would believe in Him, then the ladder which got them there is no longer needed.

Underlying Problem…

What’s the problem with that approach? Why did Bahnsen mock it? Because it negates the meaning of being a true Christian apologist. There is a ladder that gets us to God the Father—it is Jesus Christ. Jesus is the first rung on the ladder and He is the last. He is the beginning of the journey to God and He is the end of the journey to God—the veritable Alpha and Omega!

The Real Ladder Understood…

The only ladder that the Christian apologist has been authorized to use is the Lord. Before we offer a reasoned defense to anyone who asks about the hope within us, we are called (commanded) to set Christ apart as Holy (1Pet 3.15). Jesus made this clear to His disciples on numerous occasions. He declared that “no one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14.6). He said that “no one knows the Father except if the Son chooses to reveal Him” (Luke 10.22).

We are told in Scripture that “faith [in Christ] comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ [of God]” (Rom 10.17). For God has chosen to speak through “His Son…He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb 1.3). His Word is the foundation (Matt 7.24) of wisdom and knowledge (Prov 1.7; 9.10; Col 2.3), and this is justified by the children of God (Luke 7.35), who are built upon this blessed cornerstone (Isa 28.16; 1Pet 2.7; also see Deut 32).

The Lord declared that evidences, even fantastic ones would not convince a person if they remained unconvinced by God’s Word (Luke 16.31). For the gospel is a spiritual truth that cannot be discerned by natural means (1Cor 2.14), but only by supernatural means (John 3.3). For it is utter folly to the world, but a demonstration of God’s power to those being saved (1Cor 1.18). And this gospel is not limited to a few select verses or a few books, but the entirety of God’s Word. The whole Bible—Genesis to Revelation—points to Christ so that those who believe might have life (John 5.39-40) by having faith in the one and only Son, without which (faith in Him and His Word), it is impossible to please God (Heb 11.6)

The Ladder of Presuppositional Apologetics…

The presuppositional method of apologetics starts with Christ and ends with Christ. The presuppositional method understands that Christ is the ladder, the first step and the last step. He is the only foundation necessary for faith. And faith is a work of God, the Holy Spirit, an act of unmerited grace and undeserving mercy upon those who are called the children of God. There is no need then to do away with the ladder which leads us to life, for that ladder is our Lord:

“For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1Tim 2.5; cf. Gen 28.12-13).


Image by Gerd Altmann

Posted in Witnessing

Who’s Really in the Dock?

C.S. Lewis on evangelizing:

“…the difficulties which a man must face in trying to present the Christian Faith to modern unbelievers…is too wide a subject for my capacity or even the scope of an article. The difficulties vary as the audience varies. The audience may be of this or that nation, may be children or adults, learned or ignorant.”[i]

Therefore, the first step in sharing the faith is KNOWING YOUR AUDIENCE.

C.S. Lewis on the language barrier:

“…the difficulty occasioned by language. In all societies, no doubt, the speech of the vulgar differs from that of the learned…The man who wishes to speak…must learn their language. It is not enough that he should abstain from using what he regards as ‘hard words’. He must discover empirically what words exist in the language of his audience and what they mean in that language…Our problem is often simply one of translation.”[ii]

Therefore, the second step in sharing the faith is KNOWING THEIR LANGUAGE.

C.S. Lewis on the attitude of people:

“The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man the roles are reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock. He is quite a kindly judge: if God should have a reasonable defense for being the god who permits war, poverty and disease, he is ready to listen to it. The trial may even end in God’s acquittal. But the important thing is that Man is on the Bench and God in the Dock.”[iii]

Therefore, the third step in sharing the faith is KNOWING THEIR CONDITION.

Offering Clarification…

This final observation by Lewis is an important one. He identifies that one of the key issues when sharing the faith is an underlying attitude prevalent in all people. What is it? They want to be judge. They want the final say of what is true vs. false. They want to the be the arbiter over God; whether He is real, whether He is legitimate, whether He is worthy, whether He has a right to be acknowledged, worshiped, adored, and served.

The idea that God is in the Dock is that before fallen persons God is on the witness stand. He stands trial before humanity, and humanity will determine whether or not He is to be acquitted. The individual sinner wants to be on the Bench. He wants the power of the gavel. He wants the final say in all things holy, loving, righteous, and good. He wants to be the definer of such things.

The finite desires to weigh in on the infinite. And the underlying assumption is not that God is innocent, but guilty. The unbeliever starts with the presupposition that God is wrong, and man is right.

Wrong Assumption…

The only critique that I would offer to Lewis’ thought is that he assumed that this was the condition of “modern man.” We make the same error when we assume that this is just the problem with “post-modern man” in a “post-Christian world.” The only thing post-Christian about this world is that ground we seemingly gained in the past appears to be lost; whereas, ground that we never had before (e.g. communist China or even Iran) is being gained by leaps and bounds. However, we fail to see that because we spend far too much time looking at the end of our noses, wallowing in self-pity. When we should be doing the hard work of breaking up fallow ground (i.e. removing the rocks and weeds that we’ve allowed to grow in our despondency).

A Needed Reminder…

Lewis was wrong that this is a “modern” problem. The entire movement of the Christian faith has been in facing those who would deem themselves worthy of judging God. Have we forgotten our history? Have we forgotten what they did to our Lord?

I’m not speaking of just Jews in the 1st century, but Gentiles (foreigners) in the 1st century as well. Did they not convene in secret? Did they not place themselves in the Bench, while Jesus stood in the Dock? Did not “the kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed…” (Psa 2.2)?

Actually, we can go farther back in history. We can go back to the beginning (Gen 3), do we not see the same attitude prevalent in Adam? Do we not also find it in his son Cain (cf. Gen 4)?  Are you then surprised that when you present the gospel that you find opposition? Sometimes downright hostility?

Are you so arrogant to assume that you must present evidence, upon evidence, upon evidence in order to allow the sinner to judge their Creator? Are you wiser than the prophets? Are you more knowledgeable than the apostles? Have you not read? Have you not heard?

Isa 40:10 ​Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.

Isa 40:11 ​He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.

Isa 40:12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?

Isa 40:13 ​Who has measured the Spirit of the LORD, or what man shows him his counsel?

Isa 40:14 Whom did he consult, and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding?

Isa 40:15 Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales; behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust.

Isa 40:16 Lebanon would not suffice for fuel, nor are its beasts enough for a burnt offering.

Isa 40:17 ​All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.

Isa 40:18 To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him?

Isa 40:19 ​An idol! A craftsman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and casts for it silver chains.

Isa 40:20 ​He who is too impoverished for an offering chooses wood that will not rot; he seeks out a skillful craftsman to set up an idol that will not move.

Isa 40:21 Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?

Isa 40:22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;

Isa 40:23 ​who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.

Isa 40:24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows on them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

Before you share your faith, think. No, don’t dwell on your own thoughts; dwell on the Lord’s. Before you share your faith, take time to know your audience, learn their language, but above all understand their hearts. Take care when sharing your faith to first and foremost consider the God who made you, who redeemed you in Christ, who raised you by the Spirit’s power. Realize that before God it is the world that is on trial: the creature, not the Creator. Sinners before the Holy One, and the only hope of our salvation is an acquittal that He alone can offer in the living work of Jesus Christ.


ENDNOTES:

[i] C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, ed., Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1970), 240.

[ii] Ibid., 242, 243. Lewis use of “hard words” is learned speech to uneducated ears. It is akin to a medical doctor giving you a diagnosis when you have not been trained in the use of medical language. The job of the speaker is to aid the listener in understanding the message being communicated to them. The error occurs in communication when you assume that your hearer is trained to pick up on various key terms that have meaning to you, but not necessarily to them. In order to be effective Christian witnesses we need to learn what our hearers understand about reality, how they convey that truth in their day-to-day speech, and then filter our words through that common tongue.

[iii] Ibid., 244.