Thursday, November 03, 2005

New Sunday School

The Church History posts are done.

This years Sunday School will follow and borrow heavily from Primitive Theology, The Collected Primers of John H. Gerstner, Soli Deo Gloria, 1996. The topics are:
  1. Apologetics
  2. Biblical Inerrancy
  3. The Deity of Christ
  4. Predestination
  5. Free Will
  6. Justification
  7. Roman Catholicism
  8. The Atonement
  9. Reconciliation
  10. The Problem of Pleasure
  11. Dispensationalism
Each of these topics will span multiple posts.

1. Apologetics

Should Christians be engaged in the practice of proving their faith, using the rules of logic and the scientific method? Or do you believe that it is unseemly for us to attempt to prove Christianity’s truth claims? Many Christians do believe that we should not attempt to prove Christianity, that the whole business is a “faith” thing. The point of this first topic is for us to understand the serious error that underlies this form of thinking. Let us begin with a famous passage:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, (2 Tim. 3:16)
Speaking of proof, what does this passage prove? If you answered that it proves that the bible is inspired and/or inerrant, you are wrong. Any book can make the claim of inerrancy. Such a claim has to be evaluated without becoming its own proof, and we will take up that challenge in our text topic.

Assuming, for the moment, biblical inerrancy, what does the passage teach? With that assumption (biblical inerrancy) it does indeed teach that scripture is inspired. It also teaches that all scripture is important. That must be the attitude of all Christians: all scripture: pleasant and unpleasant, Old Testament and New Testament, simple and difficult, clearly related to the gospel and not so clearly related—all of it is important.

Furthermore, we read:
He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. (Titus 1:9)
Doctrine, Paul teaches us, is important. Not just for teaching, but for refutation of those who oppose it. And it is not just for pastors or missionaries. Peter wrote:
But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. (1 Pet. 3:15:16)
If your attitude is: I don’t care about doctrine, I don’t care about logic, I don’t care about reason, I only care about that Christ died for me then you are:
  1. Saved.

  2. In violation of the biblical mandate to defend you faith.
That doesn’t mean that we all have to be theologians. It does mean that it pleases God that we have the attitude of theologians: that the bible is not only a book of hope, but a book of sound reasoning and logic. And that God Himself, while he may indeed be “above logic or reason,” He is certainly not, as that phrase is often actually meant to convey, below logic and reason.

Apologetics is the discipline of defending your faith, using logic and reason. It is helping people know what they believe and why they believe it. It is an intellectual defense of the truth of the claims of the Christian faith. However, as a defense, it is not merely defensive, it is also offensive; the proactive construction of a case for Christianity, not just a reactive defense against assaults.

For the average Christian it means this: learn sound doctrine, and learn how to support it biblically. It can be viewed this way:
  1. Have a way to defend biblical inerrancy. It won’t (and can’t) convince someone who has not been moved by the Spirit (1 Cor. 1:18). Nevertheless, we should be able to do more than simply say “I just believe it.”

  2. Be able to defend and demonstrate that the bible does in fact teach what we claim to hold as our beliefs. Does the bible teach that if homosexuals are born that way, God would surely never punish them for it? Prove it. Does it, instead, teach that God will in fact punish not only homosexuals but everyone else, not in spite of but because of how they are born (unless they are saved)?, prove it.
Apologetics, often it seems, gets no respect. Even the famed Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon, when asked to write a defense on the gospel, replied, "The gospel does not need to be defended. It is like a caged lion. Just turn it loose and it will take care of itself."

According to Spurgeon, those who met the lion (scripture) needed a defense, not the other way around. Reason, said Spurgeon, needs defense, not faith. The word of man needs defense, not the word of God. This position is echoed by many modern Christians. It certainly sounds pious, but it is just as certainly wrong.

The attitude is an easy one to understand. If our faith or if the bible needs defending, it presents an image of weakness. Today, it is most often our feelings that we use to defend our faith. Today, many Christians are proud to be fideists: those who rely on faith alone rather than reasoning in questions of religion.

But it must be remembered that we are not defending our faith or the Word because it needs defending, but rather because we need to defend it. Our act of defending it, according to Peter, is our way of proclaiming Jesus as our Lord.

Reasons why people don’t do apologetics

  1. It is hard work. You have to prove, prove and study, study. Most people will work hard if they find it necessary. But most do not find apologetics necessary. As already mentioned, as long as they “feel” Christ in their hearts and have the experience, well that is far superior to reason. Reason, to most Christians, when applied to matters of faith, is unreasonable. Why bother?

  2. The people against whom you defend the faith will neither follow your reasoning nor care about your arguments.

  3. You stir up more opposition than you create support. Many anecdotes speak of people never doubting their faith until they heard someone give an apology for it. Besides, whoever heard of salvation-by-reason?

  4. The bible itself, on the surface, seems to, at times, argue against reason.
    Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. (1 Cor 1:26)

    For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Cor. 2:2)

Digging out of the hole

We face these formidable reasons why people do not do or perhaps respect apologetics. Summarized neatly, as it were, by Spurgeon’s proclamation that the scriptures are their own apologist and man need not assume the role. Why not just take Spurgeon’s advice—loose the Bible and let it roar? Here are some reasons:

  1. We meet the world before we meet the bible. Thus its claim to be the word of God will be measured by the hearer’s or reader’s world view.

  2. The bible itself assumes this, telling us in its first sentence that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” In verse one it already assumes there is a God, and that we know what is meant by the word “God.” It does begin by explaining what “God” means. Thus, even the bible itself assumes that the reader, through his or her experiences, has learned “God”. Genesis 1:1 argues strongly that the bible is not its own apologia: if it were meant to convince an atheist it would seem that a bad place to start is with an assumption of precisely what the atheist rejects.

  3. Related to point two: the bible, by itself, cannot prove the atheist wrong. The bible does not prove God exists, it assumes God exists. The atheist, reasonably, will insist that you believe in this book by faith alone, apart from all evidence. The apologist must demonstrate how what we know about the world and what we know about the bible are complementary. That is precisely why, when properly understood, science should be among the Christian’s best friends, not his avowed archenemy.

  4. Since the bible cannot independently prove that God exists, it cannot prove that it is the word of God.
Spurgeon’s lion—is it then just a paper lion? Profoundly no. Spurgeon was wrong in assuming that scripture was its own apologetic. Scripture’s power comes not in proving that God exists, but in its revelation about the God it assumes. Once God is proven to be true, independent of scripture, and scripture is proven to be the word of God, then the Spirit makes the word come to life in the hearts of men.

If scripture is its own apologist, then we should airdrop bibles rather than send missionaries.

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