Author Archives: Joseph Torres
Frame is so often an invaluable guide in navigating theological conundrums such as the following:
It often comes as an exciting discovery that doctrines that seem at first glance to be opposed are actually complementary, if not actually dependent one on another.
For Calvinists, for example, divine sovereignty and human freedom are examples of that sort of dependence and complementarity. Although at first glance those doctrines appear to be opposed to one another, a closer look shows that without divine sovereignty there would be no meaning in human life and therefore no meaningful form of freedom.
And if our concern for freedom is essentially a concern to maintain human ethical responsibility, we should observe that divine sovereignty is the source of human responsibility. Because the sovereign Lord is the cause of an authority over human responsibility, we can say that God’s sovereignty—His absolute lordship—establishes human responsibility.
Thus Scripture often places the two doctrines side by side, with no embarrassment or sense of impropriety whatsoever (cf. Acts 2:23; 4:27f.; Phil. 2:12f.). Human responsibility exists no “in spite of” but “because of” God’s sovereignty. Not only are the two compatible; they require each other.
—John Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1987), 268.
Again, Russell Moore warns us against a false sense of cultural success:
The idea of the respectability of Christian witness in a Christian America that is defined by morality and success, not by the gospel of crucifixion and resurrection, is just another example of importing Jesus to maintain one’s best life now.
…If we see the universe as the Bible sees it, we will not try to ‘reclaim’ some lost golden age. We will see an invisible conflict of the kingdoms, a satanic horror show being invaded by the reign of Christ. This will drive us to see who our real enemies are, and they are not the cultural and sexual prisoners-of-war all around us. If we seek the Kingdom we will see the devil. And this makes us much less sophisticated, much less at home in modern America.
… If the kingdom is where Christ is, then we dare not assume the power of the state for the purposes of the church, and we dare not subordinate the ministries of the church to the authority of the state, The kingdom is defined by the gospel and the gospel is defined by the kingdom. If the gospel is abstracted from kingdom, then our mission is simply about the initial evangelism of new believers If we abstract the kingdom from the gospel, though, then the kingdom be about mere morality, and, thus, an easy client from the pretend Messiah of state power. The gospel is a gospel of the Kingdom of Christ.
-Russell Moore, Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel, 65
Power words from Russell Moore:
As American culture changes, the scandal of Christianity is increasingly right up front, exactly where it was in the first century. The shaking of American culture will get us back to the question Jesus asked his disciples at Caesarea Philippi: “Who do you say that I am? As the Bible Belt recedes, those left standing up for Jesus will be those who, like Simon Peter of old, know how to answer that question. Once Christianity is no longer seen as part and parcel of patriotism, the church must offer more than ‘What would Jesus do?’ moralism and the “I vote values” populism to which we’ve grown accustomed. Good.
A church that assumes the gospel is church that soon loses the gospel. The church now must articulate, at very phase, the reason for our existence, because it is no longer an obvious part of the cultural ecosystem. That articulation of the gospel will mean engagement because the most pressing issues are not ancillary to the gospel, in the way some other cultural and political issues are. The temptation will be, as always, to overract to the sins and foibles of the last generation, with a pullback altogether in an attempt to avoid culture wars and social gospels. A recalibration is called for, to be sure. We are a different people facing a different context. But if we see the cosmic contours of the gospel, we must not swing into a kind of libertarian spirituality that reduces the gospel simply to matters of personal salvation and personal morality. First of all, the culture increasingly finds personal salvation and personal morality to be themselves politically problematic. There is no cordoning them off from a culture in which the personal is the political.
More importantly, an attempt at wholesale withdrawal might exempt us from some of the hucksterism and moralism of some figures in our parent’s and grandparent’s generations but it will take us back to the opposite errors of some in our great grandparents generation, back to divorcing the gospel from the kingdom, the love of God from the love of neighbor. We could shrug off our social witness altogether, as a defense against legalism. But we would be wrong, and we would, ironically, fall into a pharisaism of the other side, building hedges around a temptation to avoid falling into it. More than that, we would be abandoning a post to which we were assigned and from which we have no permission for leave. The test will be we can engage the culture without losing the gospel.
-Russell Moore, Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel, 25, 26
Too frequently we hear that the contemporary worship service is a wholly novel invention. Songs, sermon, and even Sunday worship were later man-made tradition. For folks who advocate this kind of thinking, the goal is to “move back to Bible,” to the kind of informal, liturgy-free gatherings of the first Christians. But there’s a problem with this thesis: It’s not grounded in real history. We we dig below the surface rhetoric, we realize that the basic structure of ancient worship service are fundamentally similar to what Christians experiences each Sunday morning. On this, Kevin DeYoung writes:
Moreover, an examination of early church documents like Clement’s Epistle to the Corinthians (c. 95), Ignatius’ Epistle to the Smyrnaeans (c. 112), The Didache (early second century), The First Apology of Justin Martyr (c. 155), and The Apostolic Traditions of Hippolytus (c. 200) show the existence of specific worship orders in the early church, including responsive readings, Communion instructions, liturgical responses, prayer formulas, blessing formulas, and various rules for teachers and preachers.35 Our worship does not need to be identical to that of the early church, especially when we move outside the New Testament to the testimony of the church fathers, but to argue for a completely spontaneous, structureless, antiliturgical, brand-new-every-week worship service in the first centuries of the church is an argument against the plain facts of history.
Think of what we find in the New Testament: a holy meal celebrated frequently (Lord’s Supper); an initiatory rite signifying those who belong to the Christian community (baptism); a day set apart (the “Lord’s Day” mentioned by John in Rev. 1:10, probably alluded to by Luke in Acts 20:7, and referenced by Pliny and Justin Martyr); the singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:18-20); the probable recitation of other hymns or confessional poems (Phil 2:6-11; Col. 1:15-20; 1 Tim. 3:16 ); the teaching and reading of Old Testament Scripture (1 Tim. 4:13); contemporary epistles commanded to be read in the churches (1 Thess. 5:27). Add to this list numerous doxologies (e.g., Gal. 1:5) and benedictions (e.g., Gal. 6:18), liturgical “amens” (1 Cor. 14:16), holy kisses (Rom. 16:16), and the “maranatha” (quite possibly a set prayer for after Communion [1 Cor. 11:26; 16:22]), and even future liturgical formulas to be repeated and sung by the saints and angels in heaven (see examples in Revelation chapters 4-5, 7, 11, 15-16, 19, 22). We see evidence of patterns and structure all over the place.
-Kevin DeYoung & Ted Kluck, Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion, 126-127.
For this we can be thankful. Though there have certainly been changes and adaptations in church liturgy over the millennia, by God’s grace much has remained faithful on essential matters.
In the following quote, Edmund Clowney (the first president of Westminster Theological Seminary) encourages us to press into the riches of the biblical witness in the face of our cultural challenges:
“The Christian answer to relativism is theological: the reality of the Creator God. He is both Creator and Interpreter. Made in his image, we have a relationship to the created universe that is not illusory. He is free to reveal himself in time and space, and in the languages of the cultures that develop in human history. Christian theology takes seriously the cultural contexts in which his revelation is given, and the Christian mission takes seriously the cultural contexts it addresses. Hermeneutical studies have reminded us that our own culture has an impact on both tasks. But so does God’s word have an impact on all languages and cultures. Confronted with God’s revelation, our own understanding changes, and we alter our assumptions. Not a circle, but a spiral of clearer conception and communication of the message results. God has made his truth communicable; he calls us to ‘think his thoughts after him.”
-Edmund Clowney, The Church, 177
My article, Paul and the Slave Girl: Racism and the Great Gospel Narrative (posted earlier this week, and up for about a mere hour) was picked up by Mere Orthodoxy. Please take a look.
Of course, this post might more rightly be titled, the Bavinckian flavor of Cornelius Van Til. For those familiar with the thought of Van Til, it’s well known that Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck was a huge influence on his thought. I myself knew this in principal, up until I started to read Bavinck myself. Though Van Til himself at times pointed out difference between them, there are numerous times in which readers can be downright confused as to what thinker they are reading. Many passages in Bavinck read so very Van Tillian. Here is a passage in which Bavinck explains the foundational convictions of the Christian apologist:
Apologetics cannot precede faith and does not attempt a priori to argue the truth of revelation. It assumes the truth and belief in the truth. It does not, as the introductory part or as the foundational science, precede theology and dogmatics. It is itself a theological science through and through, which presupposes the faith and dogmatics and now maintains and defends the dogma against the opposition to which it is exposed. Thus understood, apologetics is not only perfectly justified but a science that at all times, but especially in this century, deserves to be seriously practiced and can spread rich blessing all around.
First of all, it has the immediate advantage of forcing Christian theology to take deliberate account of the grounds on which it is based, of the principles on which it is constructed, and of the content it has within itself. It brings Christian theology out of the shadows of the mysticism of the human heart into the full light of day. Apologetics, after all, was the first Christian science.
Secondly, it teaches that Christians, even though they cannot confer faith on anyone, need not hide from their opponents in embarrassed silence. With their faith they do not stand as isolated aliens in the midst of the world but find support for it in nature and history, in science and art, in society and state, in the heart and conscience of every human being. The Christian worldview alone is one that fits the reality of the world and of life.
And finally, if it seriously and scrupulously performs its task, it will very definitely succeed in impressing opponents with the truth of Christian revelation, refuting and silencing them. It cannot truly convert people to God. Not even the preaching of the gospel is able to do that; only God, by his Spirit, can accomplish that. But subject to this working of God and as a means in his hand, apologetics, like the ministry of the Word, can be a source of consummate blessing. For this fact the early centuries of Christianity offer abundant evidence.
-Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 1, 515.
Likewise, the Dutch Master writes, “The foundations of faith (principia fidei) are themselves articles of faith (articuli fidei), based not on human arguments and proofs but on divine authority. The recognition of revelation, of Scripture as the Word of God, is an act of faith as well as its fruit” (109). Compare complimentary statements from Van Til himself:
Incidentally we remark that our acceptance of the Scriptures does not depend upon our argument for the absolute God and our argument for the absolute God does not depend upon our acceptance of the Scriptures. We say that one does not depend upon the other because they are mutually involved in one another and quite inseparable. Our concept of God as absolute is a matter of fact taught nowhere but in Scripture. That is as we should expect, since Scripture itself is necessary because of man’s departure from the knowledge of God. Scripture is nothing but God’s self – testimony to the sinner as once God’s self – testimony came to man through man’s own consciousness and through God’s thought communication in paradise. Hence too it is only by his internal testimony in our hearts, that is, through the regeneration wrought by the Holy Spirit that we believe his own external testimony as it lies before us in scripture. (Cornelius Van Til, Psychology of Religion)
It is true that no method of argument for Christianity will be acceptable to the natural man. Moreover, it is true that the more consistently Christian our methodology, the less acceptable it will be to the natural man. We find something similar in the field of theology. It is precisely the Reformed Faith which, among other things, teaches the total depravity of the natural man, which is most loathsome to that natural man. But this does not prove that the Reformed Faith is not true. A patient may like a doctor who tells him that his disease can be cured by means of external applications and dislike the doctor who tells him that he needs a major internal operation. Yet the latter doctor may be right in his diagnosis. …… It is upon the power of the Holy Spirit that the Reformed preacher relies when he tells men that they are lost in sin and in need of a Savior. The Reformed preacher does not tone down his message in order that it may find acceptance with the natural man. He does not say that his message is less certainly true because of its nonacceptance by the natural man. (Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith)
Reading both authors is mutually beneficial to all, and equips us with navigating the contemporary hostility of our culture.
One of the strongest arguments for the existence of God is the transcendental argument. I’ve covered elsewhere (see links below), but this all-encompassing argument claims that to deny the existence of the Christian God is to uncut the very meaningfulness of the most important everyday realities we take for granted.
This is all bold and exciting stuff, but so often it can seem distant from the central truths of the Christian faith. It can feel like a far cry from the gospel of Jesus Christ.
But is this true?
I suggest that once we move past that initial sentiment, and reflect among what’s being taught in the transcendental argument, we’ll see that a proper handling of the argument actually creates a bridge, not a hindrance, to the gospel.
So let’s reevaluate the claims of the transcendental argument and see what it tells us about God and man.
What the argument tells us about God. The argument clearly communicates God as the one with whom we have to do. God is there, and he is not silent. In knowing anything about the world we, in fact, know the one true and living God.
Furthermore, we learn…
- only God accounts for the causation of the universe. This means he has the power to accomplish all that he wants to.
- God is the very standard of good and righteous behavior mean that he is not passive in evaluating our behavior (whether expressed in thought, word, or deed), and stands against our unrighteousness.
- God’s existence accounts for rationality and the laws of thought. This means that in our moments of intellectual clarity we reflect God, and when we reason against him we are turning his good gift against him.
What the argument tells us about humanity. But the argument goes further. Not only does it tell about who God is, but it tells us who we are.
- Man receives God’s revelation of himself through the things God has made.
- Man suppresses that revelation of God because of his hostility toward God
- Those who search (in vain) for alternate groundings for the laws of thought are not running toward rationality and logic, but running in the exact opposite direction.
And so if the argument is sound, it pulls back the curtain and reveals what is really going on. God, the true God, is revealed everywhere, in and through every created thing, to every human being. The unbeliever is ultimately not a Christian because they lack information, or require superior rational arguments. They have a deep-seated hostility toward the true God.
This is why the transcendental argument is an incredibly powerful tool in the apologist’s toolbox. It is a multifaceted argument, one that not only argues for the existence of God, but reveals man’s sin, and naturally leads to a biblical solution to the problem: the gospel.
Whereas the revealation of God in the created order is sufficient only to condemn us for our sin, the gospel reveals that the final Judge is also gracious and merciful. The gospel reveals the character of God as generous and forgiving, something the philosopher will search for in vain in their “first principles.” The gospel reveals that God can grant the power to overcome humanity’s rebellion and by the Spirit give him the ability to think God’s thoughts after him.
For more, see
Since Jan. 22 was National Sanctity of Human Life Day it’s only right that I passed along among material that further demonstrate the logic of the Pro-Life position. The following was written by Dr. Scott Klusendorf, and originally posted on the Crossway Blog. Immediately after Dr. Klusendorf’s piece you will find a brief clip debunking the outrageous claim of Planned Parenthood that only 3% of their services are abortions.
10 Things You Should Know about Abortion
1. Pro-life advocates present a formal case for their position.
That case is summarized in the following syllogism:
- P1: It is wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being.
- P2: Abortion intentionally kills an innocent human being.
- C: Therefore, abortion is wrong.
2. A pro-life advocate can defend that syllogism in 1 minute or less.
“I am pro-life because the science of embryology establishes that from the earliest stages of development, you were a distinct, living, and whole human being. You didn’t come from an embryo; you once were an embryo. True, you were immature and had yet to visibly develop, but the kind of thing you were was not in question. And there is no essential difference between the embryo you once were and the adult you are today that justifies killing you at that earlier stage of development. Differences of size, development, environment, and dependency are not good reasons for killing you then but not now.”
Learn more about defending the pro-life view.
3. That abortion intentionally kills an innocent human being is conceded by many who perform and defend the practice.
Abortionist Warren Hern writes, “We have reached a point in this particular technology [D&E abortion] where there is no possibility of denying an act of destruction. It is before one’s eyes. The sensations of dismemberment flow through the forceps like an electric current.” Feminist Camille Paglia frankly admits, “abortion is murder, the extermination of the powerless by the powerful. Liberals for the most part have shrunk from facing the ethical consequences of their embrace of abortion, which results in the annihilation of concrete individuals and not just clumps of insensate tissue.” Feminist Naomi Wolf calls aborting a human fetus a “real death.”
4. The Bible is pro-life even if the word “abortion” does not appear.
Scripture is clear that all humans have value because they bear the image of their maker (Genesis 1:26-28; James 3:9). In laymen’s terms, that means humans are valuable in virtue of the kind of thing they are rather than some function they perform. Humans have value simply because they are human.
Because humans bear the image of God, the shedding of innocent blood is strictly forbidden (Exodus 23:7; Proverbs 6:16-19; Matthew 5:21). Abortion is the intentional killing of an innocent human being. Thus, the passages in Scripture that forbid the shedding of innocent blood apply just as much to the unborn as they do every other innocent human being.
5. The Bible’s alleged silence on abortion does not mean that its authors condoned the practice.
Prohibitions against abortion were largely unnecessary in biblical times. In a culture where children are a gift and barrenness is a curse, and where a nation’s destiny depends on parents having lots of children, abortion is unthinkable.
6. Preaching on abortion is not a distraction from the Great Commission responsibilities of the local church, but integral to it.
- P1: In the Great Commission, Christ charged the church to go make disciples.
- P2: The way we make disciples is to “teach them to obey” his commands.
- P3: One of those commands is that we are not to shed innocent blood.
- P4: Abortion is the shedding of innocent blood.
- C: Therefore, preaching on abortion relates to the Great Commission responsibilities of the local church.
7. The pro-life position does not rely on personal perspectives.
To assert that only women can speak on abortion is to commit the ad hominem fallacy—that is, attacking the person rather than the argument he or she presents. It also raises a troubling question: which women get to speak?
Indeed, even among feminists supporting abortion, there is no single perspective on the issue. Feminist Naomi Wolf calls abortion “a real death” while feminist Katha Pollitt thinks it no different than vacuuming out your house. In short, while gender perspectives on abortion help us understand personal experience, they are no substitute for rational inquiry. Rather, it is arguments that must be advanced and defended. After all, pro-life women use the same arguments as pro-life men.
8. Pro-life Christians tell a better equality story.
Does each and every human being have an equal right to life, or do only some have it in virtue of some characteristic that may come and go within the course of our lifetimes? Indeed, the abortion-choice position undermines human equality. That is, if humans only have value because of some developed characteristic like self-awareness that none of us share in equal measure, it follows that since that characteristic comes in varying degrees, basic human rights come in varying degrees. Human equality is a myth!
Theologically, it’s far more reasonable to argue that although humans differ immensely in their respective degrees of development, they are nonetheless equal because they share a common human nature made in the image of God.
9. Abortion-victim photography changes the narrative.
As Gregg Cunningham points out, when you show abortion pictures, “abortion protests itself.” Ephesians 5:11 says, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” Nearly every successful social reform movement since the dawn of the 20th century has used disturbing imagery to convey evils that words alone are powerless to convey.
Disturbing images change how people feel about abortion while facts and arguments can change how they think. Both are vital in changing behavior. Our opponents concede this. “When someone holds up a model of a six-month-old fetus and a pair of surgical scissors, we say ‘choice’ and we lose,” writes feminist Naomi Wolf.
10. The remedy for post-abortion guilt is not avoidance. It’s forgiveness.
Abortion pictures are painful to see. But used properly, they set the stage for the good news of the gospel, which alone heals us from our sin. Pictures do the hard work of making sin concrete so that I can use my words to soothe and bring hope.
Post-abortion men and women do not need an excuse. They need an exchange: Christ’s righteousness for their sinfulness. Like all forgiven sinners, post-abortion men and women can live each day assured God accepts them on the basis of Christ’s righteousness, not their own.
Scott Klusendorf is the president of Life Training Institute, where he trains pro-life advocates to persuasively defend their views. He is the author of The Case for Life: Equipping Christians to Engage the Culture.
It should go without saying that apologetics includes arguments for the truth of Christian claims. That much seems obvious. But that’s not what apologetics is about. When framed in the proper biblical context, apologetics really falls under the umbrella of evangelism. The goal is to bring the person to whom we speak to Jesus, to recognize his Lordship, to savor the benefits of the God’s love in Christ, and to get them excited about what God is doing in the world through his people.
Again, don’t get me wrong. Arguments are important. We construct arguments in order to show the logic behind Christian truth claims, and to demonstrate their coherence with other things we believe to be true. We construe arguments to persuade that obedience to Christ’s lordship actually benefits humanity. But any view that asserts that apologetics is primarily about winning arguments runs the danger of engaging in a philosophical parlor game, which usually winds up taking the form of endless philosophical distinctions, qualifications, and rebuttals. There’s also the proverbial danger of winning the abstract argument and losing the person. As John Frame has said (echoing Nicholas Wolterstorff), persuasion is person variable. He writes,
We are not seeking merely to validate statements but persuade people. Justification is a person-oriented activity. In trying to justify our beliefs, we often seek to persuade others and sometimes ourselves, but there is always some persuasion being attempted… If we ignore the element of persuasion or “convincingness,”…we may find ourselves constructing perfectly valid and sound “proofs” that are of no help to anyone. (Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, 151, 152)
Likewise, as nearly any work on interpersonal communication will inform you, often times a person’s words are not the main thing on which to set our focus. Of course in written communication (online dialogue etc.) the clarity and cogency of arguments are crucial. I don’t want to downplay that. But in interpersonal communication, reading the person is even more important than addressing the propositions. I suspect that is why Jesus not-too-infrequently seems to respond to questions and objections in way that both get to the heart of the matter, and seemingly avoid the actual words of his objector.
This is where intuition is vital. Do the person words strike you as angry? Fearful? Disappointed? For this reason, we should “be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). If you don’t listen to the issue underneath the issue, we miss an opportunity to address the underlying roadblock. “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame” (Prov. 18:13).
All this means, yes, we must learn the facts. Yes, we should familiarize ourselves with the arguments. But when we bring them out, how we present them, and to what degree our apologetic should take the offense is left to the wisdom that comes with listening. Get curious. Ask questions. The more they speak, the better equipped you become (if you’re truly giving them the self-denying gift of listening) to hear their heart. The better equipped you are to speak the truth in love in a way that doesn’t treat the person like an abstract philosophical position. In listening you will grow ability, and desire to see the person with whom you are commenting Christianity as a real person with hopes, fears, misunderstandings, and yes, idols.
“The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious and adds persuasiveness to his lips” (Prov. 16:23)
The following is a brief discussion I had with Lisa Fields and Cam Triggs from the Jude 3 Project on the topic of apologetic methods.
Here we cover (among others) the follow questions:
- What are the different methods of apologetics and who are their models?
- Why is it important?
- What are some of the traditional arguments for God’s existence?
- How can a person utilize these arguments in everyday encounters with unbelievers?
I hope you find this beneficial.
Let’s briefly address helpful pointers in apologetics. By this I don’t mean “helpful” in terms of arguments. I’m focusing on strategy, on making a persuasive case for Christ. So often apologists focus on getting our facts straight when in reality the issue is something else, and many times it’s something much more basic.
So here are my 5 things to look out for when commending Christianity to non-Christians.
Roadblock 1: Most non-Christians do not know the story of Scripture.
Before we can “defend” our position on Christianity, we need to make sure the person to whom we speak understands what we’re talking about. The sad thing is most America evangelicals don’t understand the Bible themselves (and various studies have demonstrated this- see here, and here). Now, this is not to say they don’t “get” Jesus. They do, but often not well enough to deal with tough objections to the faith. After all, Jesus isn’t the only person teaching us in Scripture. There’s Paul, John, Peter, James, Moses, David, Solomon, Isaiah, and on and on…
So, be prepared to do some explaining. The non-Christian may be hostile to something that’s not taught in Scripture. Help them out. This should lead to a strong sense of responsibility to the person you’re speaking to (God has, after all, placed them along your path). This also means we must cultivate the spiritual fruit of patience, since we there was a time when we didn’t “get” it either.
Roadblock 2: Unbelievers [normally] do not distinguish between Creation and the Fall.
As many thinkers have already noticed, the biblical plotline follows the themes of Creation-Fall-Redemption-Consummation. Some of the things we experience this side of the fall where not a part of the original created order God declared “good.” The obvious example of this is moral rebellion (sin) against God (i.e. sin). Al Wolters writes of this distinction in terms of structure and direction.
What’s worth noting is often what is considered natural by the non-Christian (ex: sexual lust), we may (and probably do) attribute to the Fall. We should bring to the attention of our non-Christian friends that not everything we find today is the way it ought to be. The Bible distinguishes between two senses in which something could be considered “natural.”
First, something may be “natural” if it was part of God’s original creation blueprint. In this sense, marriage, heterosexual monogamy, and loving obedience and submission to God and His word are all natural. The second usage of the term “natural” has the opposite meaning. According to this usage “natural” is contrasted with spiritual (or [Holy] Spirit-lead, cf. 1 Cor. 2:14, James 3:15). So, sexual deviation is perfectly “natural” in this sense, it “gels” well with our fallen condition. In some Bible versions, the term natural is more pointedly translated “carnal.” I think that gets my point across.
With these distinctions in mind we should be aware that unbelievers often blur or do not properly distinguish between Creation and Fall. So, when if they say, “what’s wrong with ____? After all, it’s natural.” We need to patiently point out that ____ (given it’s a sinful goal, motive, and/or standard) is not natural in the first sense (which is what Christian ethics is geared toward developing), but instead is natural in the second.
Roadblock 3: Arguing against Christianity based on what seems to be fitting for God, not on what Scripture actually says.
I’ve read a respectable amount of non-Christians literature against Christianity, both scholarly and at the popular level. A common problem I’ve noticed is many anti-theistic arguments fail to take into consideration the actual accounts of God’s nature and attributes in the Bible (see point 1), i.e. they argue against a no-frills type of God. Examples like this abound, “Can God created a rock so large he can’t lift?” From a biblical perspective, that’s a nonsense question that shouldn’t be tolerated as a serious problem for the Christian doctrine of God. It’s like asking if God can make a squared circle. God doesn’t “do” logical absurdities.
Here’s another example that ties together points 1 and 2: In most versions of the supposed problem of evil, unbelievers tend to
- Ignore —or are ignorant of— the biblical narrative and God’s purposes in using evil for his glory and our good, and
- Base their arguments on various assumptions on what a good God would never allow (babies to go hungry, etc.)
The point here? We need to fight the temptation to defend a conception of God not taught in Scripture. In my earlier series titled Prologue to Apologetics, I made the point that we defend no other God than the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, we should join hands to topple rival conceptions of God. So, if the “god” that our unbelieving friend is arguing against isn’t what we recognize as the biblical God (and don’t let their usage of the word “God” fool you), kindly respond that you’re not commending that god to them, and get back on track. Of course, this may make things harder to speak about (after all, Yahweh has allowed children to suffer, etc.), but our goal should be to winsomely recommend the truth, not merely what the non-Christian will accept.
Roadblock 4: Not distinguishing between the biblical message and the history of the Church.
This is an extremely common occurrence and a very important point. I can’t recall how many times when speaking to non-Christians the first objection I heard was, “But what about the crusades?” or some related question. We need to draw a distinction here. When we’re commending Jesus to someone, we’re not commending all the mistakes and blunders of the church as well. Please don’t confuse Christians with Jesus himself; he’s much better than us!
Now, are they connected questions? Very much so! The church is the community that claims to be people transformed by Jesus Himself who spiritually inhabits us through the Holy Spirit. We’re His “body” (cf. 1 Cor. 12). But none of this should detract from the plain fact that we’re claiming that the Bible records historical, space-time events. So, the wrongs inflicted by self-proclaimed Christians in the 1600’s (for instance) doesn’t mean that Jesus didn’t live in Israel roughly from 3 BC to 30 AD any more than to say that because we discover that one of our elementary schools teachers was a pedophile, the mathematics that you learned from him or her is invalidated. That’s sloppy thinking.
Another important strength to making this distinction between “Bible-history” and Church history is that when we do we’re able to build moral bridges with non-Christians. We shouldn’t feel constrained to defend everything the church has done. The church is made up of broken, fallen people who need a Savior. Our sinful bend toward rebellion, and the need for spiritual transformation and renewal is the very reason the church exists! So, we don’t need to defend all aspects of the Crusades, the passivity of the German church during WWII, the abuse scandals in which the Roman Catholic priesthood finds itself, etc. Those are wrong, and should be acknowledged, by both saint and sinner, as wrong. Believe it or not, seeing that Christians aren’t “blind” to these moral blemishes within its own ranks may actually get you a hearing.
Roadblock 5: Assuming that biological/sociological explanations for an event or action makes theological explanations unnecessary.
Unbelieving scientists, both in the supposedly “hard,” as well as the “social” sciences, have often claimed that the supernatural worldview of Christianity is simply impossible. Many have claimed people of the ancient Near East were more prone to believe in supernatural beings and occurrences because they didn’t know any better. But, so it is thought, we can’t be too harsh on those overly superstitious people, they didn’t have the wealth of scientific knowledge on how the world runs as we modern folk do. Contemporary, especially western, Christians have no excuse though. We should know better and not place our hope in such fairytales.
These people may say that we have no need to believe that God causes the plants to grow, because now we know about the laws of photosynthesis. Or, you may have heard, “We no longer believe that morality comes from God, because now we are aware of just how much society and family shapes our beliefs about right and wrong, etc.”
But this misses the point, and it misses it big. It also vividly demonstrates how roadblock 1 (ignorance of the Bible’s storyline) applies to many of us Christians. Does God control and direct all things? Yes (Eph. 1:11). But does God normally do this apart from “normal” or “natural” means? No. This sheds light on the case of morality above. Do we become conscious of standards of morality from our culture? Yes, we do. Do we become conscious of standards of morality from our parents? Without a doubt. Do we become conscious of standards of morality from our peers, friends, and all those with whom we associate? Again, yes. But does conceding these points undermine the existence of a universal standard of ethical behavior? Not at all!
If the Bible is true, then it would seem God planned the normal, everyday means through which humans would learn standards of morality is through relationships in general and the family in particular. Now, of course, the word of God ultimately is given (among other reasons) to correct the faulty beliefs we have about ethics. But, the notion of right and wrong action, desires and motives, are dependent upon relationships. When I do something that I shouldn’t, something I ought not to do, I am breaking fellowship with someone, whether it’s my mother, father, the government, my “fellow man,” etc. If the universe is ultimately impersonal, I don’t owe it good behavior. Since it’s impersonal it can make no demands at all! We don’t owe allegiance to impersonal forces like gravitation, or to impersonal objects like rocks and sand. So, just as moral obligations depend on relationships with a person, in the same way ultimate ethical obligations are depend on a relationship with an ultimate Person. The horizontal (i.e. how we come to learn things) doesn’t cancel the vertical.
One more example, and I’ll wrap this up. Over the last two decades or so, there has been much discussion over the possible existence of a gay gene. Are people with a homosexual orientation genetically “wired” this way? Well, at this point the jury is still out (though the evidence isn’t exactly powerful). But, what if conclusive evidence could be shown that all homosexuals share this gene, genetically predisposing them to same-sex attraction? What would we do? Should we say the Bible is wrong because it clearly states that homosexuality violates God’s original desire for human sexuality? In a nutshell, we don’t have to change a bit. Al Mohler clarifies this point with skill,
Christians must be very careful not to claim that science can never prove a biological basis for sexual orientation. We can and must insist that no scientific finding can change the basic sinfulness of all homosexual behavior. The general trend of the research points to at least some biological factors behind sexual attraction, gender identity, and sexual orientation. This does not alter God’s moral verdict on homosexual sin (or heterosexual sin, for that matter), but it does hold some promise that a deeper knowledge of homosexuality and its cause will allow for more effective ministries to those who struggle with this particular pattern of temptation. If such knowledge should ever be discovered, we should embrace it and use it for the greater good of humanity and for the greater glory of God.
We would be called to a stronger recognition that these people who have this gene struggle with a particular temptation to sin that we do not all share. But this doesn’t make it any less a deviation from God’s design. Christians believe in the Fall and original sin (remember roadblock 2 above). We also believe that there is no part of who we are that hasn’t be touched by sin. To admit (if we had to) that a gay gene exists would simply be to acknowledge that the effects of the fall run deeper than we were initially aware. The horizontal doesn’t cancel the vertical!
So, if you’re talking with someone and this issue arises, stay alert and spot it. It can be tricky for sure, but without a working knowledge of these roadblocks an otherwise robust apologetic conversation can go sideways as you both speak past one another.
A doctrine I’ve repeatedly defended is that of biblical inerrancy. This doctrine affirms 2 things: First, that when all the facts are taken into consideration, and when the Bible is correctly interpreted, it neither 2) contradicts other known facts, or contradicts itself. Here I’d like t briefly discuss the second part of that definition- The Bible never contradicts itself. I’d like us to think through how we apply this conviction to tough cases.
For some time now the outspoken atheist, and Christian apostate, Dan Baker has issued his Easter Challenge. As he plainly state it, the challenges is as follows,
The conditions of the challenge are simple and reasonable. In each of the four Gospels, begin at Easter morning and read to the end of the book: Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20-21. Also read Acts 1:3-12 and Paul’s tiny version of the story in I Corinthians 15:3-8. These 165 verses can be read in a few moments. Then, without omitting a single detail from these separate accounts, write a simple, chronological narrative of the events between the resurrection and the ascension: what happened first, second, and so on; who said what, when; and where these things happened.
A number of introductory remarks are needed in responding to Mr. Barker’s Easter Challenge. Several of these thoughts are regarding what logically constitutes a contradiction between the multiple resurrection accounts, while others touch on historical and literary concerns. My goal here is not to provide a detailed harmonization (others have provided that), but address the larger idea of forced harmonizations. Parameters must be acknowledged for any responsible Christian response to challenges like Barker’s.
As a single example of what Barker wants resolved, he asks:
What time did the women visit the tomb?
- Matthew: “as it began to dawn” (28:1)
- Mark: “very early in the morning . . . at the rising of the sun” (16:2, KJV); “when the sun had risen” (NRSV); “just after sunrise” (NIV)
- Luke: “very early in the morning” (24:1, KJV) “at early dawn” (NRSV)
- John: “when it was yet dark” (20:1)
It is clear that Mr. Barker’s challenge is intended to demonstrate that the multiple resurrection accounts are convoluted and irreconcilable. Such convolution, though not directly stated but certainly implied, is a strong argument against the historicity of the event itself. If the primary eyewitnesses cannot get their facts straight and do not produce a cohesive narrative the skeptic has ample reason to reject the central claim they are making.
Difficulties arise when certain assumptions (made by those untrained in biblical interpretation, historical reconstruction, and logic) are imposed upon the texts of the Bible.
Harmonization may not be possible. First, it may very well be the case that textual reconstruction is impossible. But this is not necessarily because of any failure of the biblical authors to presents the facts “as they really were,” but rather because we fail as interpreters to do just to the unique emphases of each Gospel as a literary whole. Each Gospel approaches the story of Jesus from a distinct angle, and we therefore should not automatically expect them to line up neatly like so many Lego blocks. Matthew constructs his Gospel with the aim of demonstrating Jesus as the long-promised messianic king, while John seeks to identify Jesus as the God of Israel come in the flesh. Each Gospel has its own goal and orders, including and excluding material based on the overall point they are seeking to make. We should not muffle these voices in the violent literary attempt to cram them into our preconceived procrustean bed. This is an inherent danger that potentially awaits anyone who seeks to harmonize the resurrection accounts (including those who affirm biblical inerrancy).
Beware the monster. Second, The Gospels were not written with the intent that they would be carved up, abstracted from their original focus, and spliced together like a literary Frankenstein’s Monster. So we ask, what exactly does Mr. Barker have in mind when he writes, “The important condition to the challenge, however, is that not one single biblical detail be omitted” (emphasis his). If two Gospels says there was one angel at the empty tomb, and another says there was one, how should both these details be represented in the text, “There was/were one/two angels”? Does this kind of bare representation (without harmonization) encourage the uninitiated to claim, “See, there is a clear contradiction!” It would seem so.
Gaps and blanks. Last, following the lead of biblical scholar Bruce Waltke, we must make the distinction between literary gaps and blanks. “A gap is an intentional omission whereas a blank is an inconsequential omission” (see his An Old Testament Theology) Much of the information we would need to produce a successful harmonization is “blanked” because it was not reckoned to be essential to the narrative presented by the Gospel authors. In no way does this rule out the historicity of the accounts. It merely reminds us not to impose the foreign criteria of modern historiography on these ancient texts.
This last example raises another difficulty for Mr. Barker’s Challenge. If his goal in having people wrestle with this experiment in literary harmonization is to palpably demonstrate that the multiple resurrection accounts are convoluted and contradictory, an important question must be raised: What exactly is a contradiction?
A contradiction occurs whenever we affirm two logically irreconcilable concepts at the same time and in the same sense (A and not-A). Many objections to harmonization (and the Christian doctrine of biblical inerrancy behind it) are working off of a faulty and imprecise definition of contradiction.
Important for our purposes are the following interpretive points:
- Differences of perspective do not necessarily imply contradiction.
- Difficulties in the textual harmonization of multiple similar accounts (especially due to literary, linguistic, historical, or archeological ignorance) does not necessarily imply a contradiction
- Difficulties in harmonization do not logically mean or imply that the event to which they refer took place
To return to our earlier example of the angelic appearances at the empty tomb, we follow the lead of Norman Geisler:
Matthew does not say there was only one angel. John says there were two, and wherever there are two there is always one; it never fails! The critic has to add the word “only” to Matthew’s account in order to make it contradictory. But in this case, the problem is not with what the Bible actually says, but with what the critic adds to it. (Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe, When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties. Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992)
Matthew probably focuses on the one who spoke and “said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid’ “ (Matt. 28:5). John referred to how many angels they saw; “and she saw two angels” (John 20:12).3
As Geisler notes, the needed element to produce genuine contradiction must be provided by a hostile interpreted and does not come from the texts themselves.
This has been a brief crash course in thinking through some of the issue at handle when working through harmonization. The challenges to inspiration and inerrancy present us with the temptation to force harmonization to vindicate the Bible. We must work toward possible harmonization when possible, and admit ignorance and the need for further study when necessary. The best resources I can recommend for further study in this subject are Poythress’ Inerrancy and Worldview, and Inerrancy and the Gospels.
For more, see:
Does one need to be a Christian in order to understand the Bible? Do you need seminary training, and an advanced education to make sense out of God’s book? Or, conversely, is the Bible so clear that “even a caveman” can read and grasp it?
Some, motivated by a clear sense of the Bible’s “for everyone-ness” downplay or deny the importance of formal academic study of the Bible. Others, motivated by a clear sense of the Bible’s complexity, present Scripture as something better off left to the scholars, the new priesthood of the academy. Now, in truth, most Christians are probably willing to see some truth in both positions, yet also recognize the there are dangers in either extreme.
This is how I would, and intend, to argue.
In response to these questions, we should shy away from quick yes or no answers. A straight-forward yes or no, with no additional nuance or clarification, will distort the richness of the Bible’s teaching on this issue.
Bible Translations and Theological Language
One discussion closely tied to the issues above is that of Bible translation. Just how literal and formal should translations be? A commonly cited reason people prefer dynamic equivalent translations (like the NIV, the NLT, and others) is because some biblical words are weird, or unusual for the modern reader. Words like ‘justification,’ ‘expiation,’ and ‘propitiation’ aren’t words most people use in their everyday conversations. And for that reason some think that phrases like “sacrifice of atonement” (propitiation), made right with God (justification) and others are better inserted in contemporary Bible translations.
Generally speaking, I don’t think this is a good idea and here’s why: Biblical understanding flourishes in the soil of discipleship. Sometimes I fear people want a Bible translation to do the work of discipleship. I’ve become increasingly convinced that it is good and healthy and right for Christians both to speak the language of their native culture as well as to have a uniquely Christian dialect. Words like ‘atonement’ and ‘justification’ are ways in which God has chosen to reveal to us precious truths. These terms are the vehicles for personal transformation. Postmoderns are correct in this right; language shapes a people. Very rarely have I met one with a thick theological and biblical accent who also despises theology. Without both a knowledge and love of “theological” language I simply do not know how to grasp a passage like this from Romans 3:21-26:
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26 ESV)
The same passage as it appears in The Message just doesn’t seem to me to have the same punch:
But in our time something new has been added. What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ. God sacrificed Jesus on the altar of the world to clear that world of sin. Having faith in him sets us in the clear. God decided on this course of action in full view of the public – to set the world in the clear with himself through the sacrifice of Jesus, finally taking care of the sins he had so patiently endured. This is not only clear, but it’s now – this is current history! God sets things right. He also makes it possible for us to live in his rightness.
To my mind, The Message has done the thinking for the Christ-disciple. As the Westminster Confession (I.VII) puts it:
All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.
What are the “due use of ordinary means”? These means are the ordinary ways we would determine the meaning of any written document. This includes studying the words of the document itself, its intended audience, grammar, syntax, word studies, and backgrounds (cultural, theological literary, political, etc.). It means picking up a commentary written by those who have done that level of research for us. Both believer and unbeliever.
Part of Christian discipleship is doing the work of wrestling with God’s word. So is an advanced education in theological and biblical studies necessary to understand Scripture? No, though it certainly can help! God have often used long, sustained periods of reflection under the guidance and direction of godly teachers to help so many in grasping the rich unity-in-diversity of the Bible. Such study helps us to understand how doctrines were historically formulated, how the Spirit has lead his Church, and often to apply God’s word to our modern challenges.
The Role of the Church
The chief environment for this study is not the library, apart from the fellowship of other like-minded Christians. That is a helpful means of getting in the content, but not the final context for Christian discipleship. We learn truths and facts in books. But we experience their life transforming power in the laboratory of lived experience.
The truths we wrestle with in our study come to life (or, rather, bring us to life) when we “instruct one another” (Rom. 15:14), are“devoted to one another” (Rom. 12:10), honor one another (Rom. 12:10), accept one another (Rom.15:7), “Have equal concern for each other” (I Corinthians 12:25), “serve one another” (Gal. 5:13), are patient with one another (Eph. 4:2), “bear with each other…” (Col. 3:13), “encourage one another” (I Thess. 4:18, 5:11), and love another another (1 Jn. 3:11; 3:23; 4:7, 11, 12).
Ultimately, the church, in its worship and work is the place for Christian discipleship. It is the fellowship of God’s gathered people, and the context in which we learn to observe all that Jesus commanded us.
What is the relationship between love and logic? The picture many of us are used to is one of opposition. Love is warm, embracing, and personal. Logic, on the other hand, is cold, distancing, and impersonal. Christian thinkers in general, and apologists in specific, must be ready to counter this caricature. It is both biblical false and dangerous to a robust Christian discipleship of the mind.
The Example of the Gospels. Several pieces have been written clarifying specific ways in which Jesus himself employed sharp critical thinking. While our Christlikeness may mean more than this, it certainly does not mean less. Here are some examples:
- Jesus The Logician – Dallas Willard
- How Did Jesus Argue? Jesus & Logic – J. P. Moreland
- Jesus Used Logic – Dave Miller
- On Jesus, by Douglas Groothius
The Gospels often present logical reasons for their portraits of Jesus. How best should we handle passages in Matthew which say, “this was done in fulfillment of…”? The logic of these passage is as follows: “Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, and this is why you should believe it.”
The Example of Paul. If a reasoned articulation of our faith, one with the goal of persuading unbelievers, is wrong-headed how best should we handle the biblical passages in Acts that say that Paul “reasoned” with others to convince them of his message (such as Acts 18:4, 26:28, 28:24, compare also 2 Cor. 5:11)? Paul’s epistles are extended arguments in favor of certain conclusions. So, in Galatians, Paul’s argue you cannot add your good works to the atonement of Christ, and spends several chapters presenting carefully reasoned arguments to support his claim.
Christians should never separate what God has united: A heart for God and a mind for truth (The RTS motto). Our proclaiming the gospel can and should be combined with “arguing for,” and persuading people of its truth. I don’t use the word reconcile, because I don’t believe that reason, logic, and argument need to be reconciled with heart-felt faith …they aren’t at odds![i]
Unbelievers certainly misuse “logic” when they turn it against its very foundation[ii], that doesn’t mean that Christians are disqualified from utilizing this good gift of God. In fact, again, the line of reasoning that abandons things unbelievers misuse proves much too much. This would mean no longer using music as a means of conveying gospel truth because unbelievers likewise employ music to communicate false worldviews. It would also mean that Christians may no longer use theatre, poetry, or allegorical writings because they are all tactics the world (and other religions) use to convey their false belief systems. This where this line of thinking takes us.
Don’t get the impression that I’m advocating a heartless, dry intellectualism. That is simply not the case. When I seek to sharpen and improve my thinking, I seek to honor God. I believe with all my heart that Scripture is God’s word, and can therefore stand up to all supposed “intellectual” attacks made by those who oppose it. I believe that the best thinking shows, demonstrates, coheres with, and is in accordance with everything that we find in the Bible. Do I believe this because I’ve worked out all of the problems and can safely tell unbelievers that there are no challenges? No! I believe in Christ, and all that Scripture teaches because God has revealed them. I believe these things because God has opened my heart, causing me to repent of my sin, and has given me new eyes to see His world. The Holy Spirit has taken the scales off my eyes, shown me the beauty of Christ as the One in whom “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3).
When applying our reasoning to apologetics, we should remember that regardless of how persuasive we are, when our words are not accompanied by love they are both 1) a misrepresentation to the unbeliever (as if Christianity is a heartless faith), and 2) displeasing to God. A faith that does not work itself out in love (Gal. 5:6) is both dead and useless (James 2:14). We should never, in personal conversation with either believer or unbeliever, advocate a heartless, loveless appeal to history or logic.
Is trying to persuade people that Christianity is true a bad thing? Not if we take our queue from the Bible. Jude tells us to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), Paul instructs Timothy to “correct opponents” (2 Tim. 2:25), that Scripture is profitable for “correction and reproof” (2 Tim. 3:16), as well as to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2). Like to Titus Paul teaches that Elders 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 (Titus 1:9),” and that false teaches “must be silenced” (Titus 1:11). All of these verses in the pages of God’s word command us to, at appropriate times, contend, commend, advocate, and “argue” that the biblical understanding of God, the world, man, sin, Christ, etc. is correct. These are biblical passages that must be taken seriously.
To reject the use of rationality and reason in matters of our faith is known as fideism. Fideism presents our faith as either an irrational or non-rational. No Christian should accept Christianity based on blind faith. The kind of fideistic conviction that grounds the truth of Christianity in one’s subjectivity (i.e. because they feel strongly about it) proves too much. A Latter-day Saint may claim that they truly, truly believe Joseph Smith is a prophet of God, but simply believing it doesn’t make Mormonism true. A Muslim may claim with all their heart that they believe Mohamed was the prophet of Allah, but this doesn’t make Islam true.
The Danger of Bad Philosophy
Once again: logic is not inherently sinful. Developing one’s analytical abilities is simply the discipline of thinking clearly and avoiding mistakes in reasoning. It can, and must, be used in a God-honoring fashion. Biblical passage frequently cited to dismiss the importance of “philosophy,” like 1 Cor. 1-2, are of course, all true. Let’s avoid hollow and worldview philosophy. But let’s also look at the context of such passages. The point Paul is making in all of those verses can be reduced to a few simple points: 1) the truth of the gospel cannot be reduced or explained merely be “fancy-talking” (what Paul calls “persuasive words,” “worldly wisdom,” etc), and 2) unbelievers show their hostility to God by taking a gift that He has given them (the capacity to think) and trying to use it against Him.
Likewise, in Colossians, Paul says, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Col. 2:8). This verse, though commonly thought to rule out learning philosophy, logic, etc. altogether, actually does no such thing. What this verse does do, however, is rule out doing these things when done “not according to Christ.” So, believers should seek to sharpen their reasoning abilities precisely because they seek to honor the Lord who gave them this capacity and whose righteous thinking we are to reflect.
Paul tells Christians not be conformed to the world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our mind (Rom. 12:2). Here Paul is speaking of the great truths of sin, grace, justification, and the mystery of God’s election covered in the first 11 chapters of Romans. The Pharisees and their ilk didn’t truly reason with Christ, they tried to rationalize their legalism. Big difference. It was bad, flawed, and ungodly thinking and spiritual rebellion that caused them to oppose the sinless Son of God. If we blame it on “logic,” then let’s agree that it was logic “not according to Christ.” Logic is not something man made, but rather reflects the mind of God whose thinking is clear, unified, and without error or confusion.
In conclusion, I’m not advocating an intellectualist religion. I think both are needed, a heart for God and a mind for truth. Thinking critically is not opposed to a vibrant faith. Love and careful reasoning are both useful in testifying to Christ. They work like the two blades on a pair of scissors. The same Paul that commanded that we “speak the truth in love” also said, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…” (2 Cor. 10:5).
[i] I don’t define an “argument” as a heated discussion, but rather providing clear reasons for the convictions we hold dear.
[ii] Though, as I’ve said before, I don’t think it’s the proper use of logic.