Friday, November 11, 2005

Lesson 1: Apologetics

Part 2: An apology for Apologetics

In his book Primitive Theology, John Gerstner gives the following reasons for apologetics:
  1. People who argue against arguments are, in fact, making arguments. They are using their heads to justify not using their heads. To provide reasons for not using reason is simply not very smart.

  2. You will encounter those who will, as they should, ask why. You need a because that is more substantive than just because.

  3. When sane people appear to be against reason, they actually are not. When Tertullian said he believed (in God) because it was absurd (as opposed to logical) he was in fact saying that it was logical that the ways of an infinite, Holy God should (by reason) appear absurd to fallen creatures.

  4. If Christianity claims to be true, then it requires proof. If we only needed to claim truth, the Christianity would be established, as would Mormonism, Scientology, Islam, and all other religions. Proof is not just for the atheist, but also the believer. As Chillingsworth put it:
    I am certain that God has given us our reason to discern between truth and falsehood, and he who makes no use of it, but believes things he knows not why, I say, it is by chance that he believes the truth and not by choice; and I cannot but fear that God will not accept the sacrifice of fools.

    Even when we jettison reason in favor of experience, we are actually reasoning. The very primitive reason is this: I have had an experience, and that experience could only come from God. But this reasoning is very weak, and requires the listener to take the speaker’s word for it. The apologist who has only experience is in a position of extreme weakness, like the Moody Bible student who witnessed about Christ in her life to a University of Chicago professor. The scholar, through probing questions that she could not begin to answer, eventually had her doubting her own salvation. She was right and he was wrong, but she didn’t know her apologetics. She had the proof but didn’t know how to express it, and ultimately believed she didn’t have it.

  5. Christ proved He was who He claimed to be.
    Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. (John 14:11)

    But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...." Then he said to the paralytic, "Get up, take your mat and go home." (Matt. 9:6)
    Before healing the paralytic, Jesus forgave him of his sins, thus claiming His divinity. He then did not say: believe it or not. Rather he went on to prove His divinity by means that no rational person could deny.

  6. The bible testifies to its own inspiration, but not through circular reasoning. The gospels have proven historically reliable, and they testify to a miracle working Jesus, miracles of which His enemies do not deny but rather attempt to attribute to Satan.

  7. Through apologetics we demonstrate that the Creator is God, that God certifies His Son, that His Son certifies the Word, and that the Word certifies the gospel.

Apologetics cannot win Souls. Apologetics is about winning souls.

To understand this seemingly contradictory heading, we must understand the difference between proof and persuasion.

As already mentioned several times, many modern Christians see a sort of incompatibility between proof and faith. Many times people have criticized me on my website for trying to prove God, and asserting that they need no such proof. Surprisingly this even comes from Reformed critics; the same Reformed who are sometimes criticized for being too intellectual. It is as if the reformed viewpoint of the total depravity of man has the following corollary: no point in proving anything to corrupt man, who will not respond to the gospel on the basis of proof.

John Calvin, who knew better than most that only divine intervention can change a man’s heart, wrote in his Institutes, regarding proof of biblical prophesy:
If godly men take these things to heart, they will be abundantly equipped to restrain the barking of ungodly men; for this is proof too clear to be open to any subtle objections.
Calvin, who absolutely agreed that man is severely corrupted, nevertheless did not believe that man was incapable of understanding the proof. He was certain that man, apart from the Holy Spirit, was incapable of being persuaded by the truth. He wrote, regarding the purpose of proof:
[proof is] not to convert the hearts of the ungodly, but to stop their obstreperous [stubbornly defiant] mouths.
Calvin also noted the difference between proof and persuasion. Proof is objective, persuasion is subjective. We see, all the time, people who lose arguments but refuse to be persuaded. The aphorism rings true: “People convinced against their will, hold the same opinion still.”

This is task of the apologist: to prove the Christian world view and rely on God to move the unbelieving heart. It is not much different from the task of the missionary, which is : to present the Christian world view and rely on God to move the unbelieving heart. In fact, a good missionary should be a good apologist an vice versa. In neither case does the speaker have any power to change a man’s heart. It either case, however, it may please God to use the words as means, for God ordains both the ends and the means.

That is what we mean when we say that apologetics cannot win souls, and yet is all about winning souls.

Apologetics and Saving Faith

Faith is so central to Christianity that we frequently refer to Christianity as our faith. As Protestants, we even broke from the church over the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone, which we will discuss in a later topic. Thus faith, and not reason, is at the core of our salvation. That does not, by any means, as we have discussed, imply that we are to abandon or distrust reason.

Apologetics, like evangelism, aids in planting and watering of the seed, but it is God alone who brings forth an increase in faith:
I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. (1 Cor. 3:6)
What exactly constitutes a saving faith? It is of particular interest to those of us who affirm Justification by Faith Alone. When Luther declared that justification is by faith and faith alone, the question arose “What kind of faith?” The answer, attributed to both Luther and Calvin, is that Justification is by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone.” Luther called saving faith a fides viva—a living faith that issues forth in good works.

To get a little more academic, it is generally accepted that there are three major components of a saving faith.

Notitia refers to the fact that we have the correct knowledge or content. When we say we have faith, we obviously have faith in something. Notitia is the knowledge of that something. Today people often claim that sincerity in one’s faith is the most important aspect. Sincerity may be important, but it is not all important. What you believe has to be right. You may sincerely believe in reincarnation, but that is not part of a saving faith, but rather part of a damning faith. Being sincerely wrong is no virtue.

It does not mean you need a comprehensive knowledge (if so, we all would be lost), but there is some (undefined) minimum set of correct beliefs you must hold, such as the fact the God exists.

When the apostles proclaimed Christ, they provided content: Christ’s biography. They taught of Jesus’ life and his works, and how He fulfilled prophesy with His crucifixion and resurrection. They taught that men are sinners. This teaching is vital: before I can reach out for a savior I need to know that I need to be saved. With notitia I have the “theory” of Christianity; the content.

Assensus means that you not only have the notitia (content) but you also give intellectual assent to the content. This is a non-volitional agreement; you cannot will yourself or make a decision to believe. There may be a process by which you can ultimately reach a point where you can honestly affirm a proposition, either through education or divine intervention, but you cannot simply tell yourself I will believe.

If I tell you that George Washington was the first president, that is notitia. It’s data. You may believe it, you may not. If you believe it, it is then assensus.

Many mistake assensus as the level of faith that produces salvation. This is not so; salvation comes at the third level. Assensus is belief, and belief is not enough for salvation. James teaches this when he famously refers to demons in his epistle:
You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. (James 2:19)
The demons have both notitia (correct content) and assensus (intellectual assent), but their faith was/is not a saving faith. It lacks the third component fiducia. (Although even if they had it, it is not clear they would be saved. Nowhere is it mentioned that there exists a redemptive plan for fallen angels.)

As for real people, we have the example of Simon the sorcerer in Acts 8.
Simon [the magician] himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw. (Acts 8:13)
Yet Simon was cast away by Peter for not having a heart that was right with God (Acts 8:21), and went on (legend says) to launch a heresy that still exists in the form of new-age mysticism. Simon the Sorcerer believed; he had both notitia and assensus, but he did not have a saving faith. Christ’s explanation of the parable of the sower (Matt. 13) also teaches of those who believe but fall away.

We must not mistake belief with faith.

Fiducia is the complex “of the heart” faith, as opposed to the cerebral notitia and assensus. This relates to our conviction and passion. This is our conscience, our personal trust and reliance. This is the part of faith that goes beyond knowing that the bible teaches us not to steal, and acknowledging that stealing is a sin, to being convicted by the Holy Spirit that stealing is wrong.

With fiducia, we not only know the content of the gospel and believe it to be true, we also believe it to be good. This is clearly, in its entirety, a gift of God. Before regeneration, we are dead in sin and cannot seek or please God. After the gift of faith, we are radically violated; our heart is transplanted. We now (imperfectly) seek God. Our biblical knowledge is buttressed by conviction that God is good, and the things of God are greatly to be desired.

Apologetics, it can be said, is in the business of spreading notitia and fighting for assensus. Fiducia is out of the purview of apologetics; Fiducia is a gift from God.


Some people believe that since it is the work of the Spirit that converts, we don’t need to engage in apologetics, which is a defense of Christianity. You sometimes here Christians say, “To give arguments for the truth of Christianity, to give reasons for our faith, would be to undermine the work of God the Holy Spirit.”

The bible teaches differently. We are to be prepared to defend our faith, with gentleness even in the face of hostility, in order to shame those who blaspheme God.

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