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
Apologetics is about giving a credible witness to the wisdom of God. To do this best, the apologist studies three things,
- God’s word
- The questions and objections of non-Christians
- How to communicate the truth persuasively and in love.
The danger that the title refers to is the danger that in the process of explaining and defending the faith, we give the impression that if the non-Christian just thought a little more, was only a little more moral and/or philosophically consistent they would walk right into the kingdom. This, of course, is not the case.
And in fact, if we give this impression, we undermine our kingdom testimony.
For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe… (1 Cor. 1:21)
Christianity may have maximal explanatory power, but part of those things it explains is the obstinate, recalcitrant, and indifferent attitude of non-Christians toward the truth. This heart-rebellion is the very reason that one’s full intellectual acceptance of Christianity is nothing less than a miraculous work of God’s Spirit. Full intellectual acceptance of Christianity means more than the acceptance of propositions (though, certainly not less). It means accepting God’s word for what it is, the word of God, and not the word of men (1 Thes. 2:13).
Only the God of the miraculous, the One in the beginning who said “Let there be light” shine “in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6)
According to one definition, relativism is, “the doctrine that knowledge, truth, and morality exist in relation to culture, society, or historical context, and are not absolute.” It starts with the observation that we do not have access to objective moral standards apart from our distinct cultural, historical, and geographical setting. After all, ethical guidelines are not learned, understood, or accepted in a vacuum; they are mediated by our consciousness, one that has been formed in a particular environment. Now, from these observations, here are two common interpretations of cultural relativism:
Because different cultures have differing ethical paradigms, all moral systems are social constructs; there aren’t any objective moral standards that apply to all people, at all times, and in all places.(moral atheism)
Regardless of whether moral absolutes exist, we cannot grasp them apart of what comes to us through our interpretive communities (cultures, sub-cultures, the circles in which we travel, etc.). (moral agnosticism)
The first statement is of a metaphysical nature, it’s a position on the nature of reality, what really exists. To know this, one would have to stand over and above all of reality to be able to authoritatively state that objective morality doesn’t exist. This assertion is what is referred to as a “universal negative,” one would have to be infinite to know that it is true.
The second proposition is much more modest; it is an epistemological statement in that it refers to our limits as finite thinkers. To say that we do not possess an unmediated view of universal behavioral guidelines, is not to say that they don’t exist. It just means that we must deal with what we have, and it implies that accessing a touchstone to govern what cultures are more “right” than others is inherently problematic (normally those that hold this position deny that God have revealed his character and will).
It is usually held that because we all are “trapped” by culturally received standards, we can’t and shouldn’t ever condemn the values and actions of other interpretive communities. This would prohibit us from judging the practices of the Nazis as “immoral”, since what we consider wrong due to our communal moral criteria was deemed justifiable according to theirs. If the thought of a whole country united in condoning the practice of pedophilia abhors us, we must realize that this is because our socially constructed ethical code labels such an activity an abomination. According to this model, who are we to impose our beliefs on people who don’t share them? After all, different cultures have different standards.
It essential to note that this conclusion (“Thou shalt not impose one’s standards on another”) does not logically follow from a position of cultural relativism. If no objective moral values exist, then how can one say that it is wrong for one group to judge others, or even to impose their beliefs on others? This moral imposition of an objective standard (“you ought not to judge others”) is in diametric opposition to their position; it is a complete contradiction. Contrary to this (culturally derived) notion of tolerance (on that is, it should be noted, smuggled in as an ethical absolute), cultural relativism provides the philosophical coherent basis for a group to say, “It is part of our belief system to impose our values on other groups, no one can say that we are objectively wrong to do so. Our cultural ethics are all that we have, so we will be obedient to them!”
Despite the common pairing of the popular notion of tolerance with relativism, cultural relativism can actually lead to obstinate close-mindedness.
Now that’s a problem.
In my last blog post I raised some problems with religious agnosticism. As a follow-up a friend asked how I would respond to the following:
How would you respond if the agnostic says, “Your objections don’t follow from my lack of belief. Just because I don’t think the evidence warrants belief in, say, unicorns, doesn’t mean I have an ‘anti-unicorn’ bias”?
My response is rather brief, but is still worth sharing for the purpose of clarification: Unicorns aren’t God, and God isn’t a unicorn.
Unicorns aren’t God. First, yes, of course. The agnostic certainly could say that. But that’s not the same as saying that it’s an adequate response to my objections. We need to remind this person that the metaphysical status of unicorns is not the same as the status of God as understood by Scripture. The religious claims called into question are the following:
- The biblical God has revealed himself to all people
- All people suppress their knowledge of God in unrighteousness
- The God of the Bible creates, upholds, and sustains all things
- The God of the Bible is only rational foundation of being, and his revelation (both in nature and in his written word the Bible) is the only rational foundation for knowledge.
These are very specific claims. Whether or not unicorns exist does not affect the very preconditions of intelligibility. To live one’s life as it these claims aren’t true is, biblically speaking, to deny these truth claims. To deny these truth claims is anti-Christian.
God isn’t a unicorn. Evidence for God is quite different from evidence for unicorns. The Christian God cannot be treated as simply another fact. Van Til writes:
We cannot prove the existence of beams underneath a floor if by proof we mean that they must be ascertainable in the way that we can see the chairs and tables of the room. But the very idea of a floor as the support of tables and chairs requires the idea of beams that are underneath. But there would be no floor if no beams were underneath. Thus there is absolutely certain proof for the existence of God and the truth of Christian theism. Even non-Christians presuppose its truth while they verbally reject it. They need to presuppose the truth of Christian theism in order to account for their own accomplishments. (see his The Defense of the Faith)
The appropriate method of proof must depend on the nature of the thing being proved. God (“a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth” as the Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it ) cannot be discovered like so many cookies in a pantry….or unicorns in an enchanted forest.
Both in my personal life and related to apologetics, I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of hearing and listening to people. A mark of God-pleasing thinking is our willingness to cultivate Christian listening. This means non-aggressively hearing them and even welcoming their potential insights. Here I’d like to suggest some practical steps toward better listening. But first, unpack the Christian in Christian listening.
Why Christian Listening?
I call this the art of Christian listening for two reasons.
First, it is an art. Listening is a skill to be developed because it doesn’t come naturally. In fact, since we’re sinful creatures with the natural tendency toward intellectual and moral laziness, we’ll most likely struggle with this for the rest of our lives. That’s simply to say that listening well is part of our sanctification.
But there’s good news. The struggle can get easier. As we make the effort to apply ourselves in listening, we develop an internal sense of what we’re doing— even when we’re not conscious of it. This internalization of a skill is something with which artists are quite familiar. I’ve been cartooning since I was a child, and I couldn’t tell you what in the world I’m doing when I draw…I just draw. Shapes, lines, shadow, etc. These things are no second nature to me because I’ve developed a discipline by drawing for many, many years.
Secondly, this kind of listening is Christian because it is uniquely undergirded and supported by theological resources unique to the Christian worldview.
Here are some practical tips for becoming a better listener, supported by scripture. Nearly everyone will probably agree with these general guidelines, but only the Christian worldview provides us with a consistent theological foundation for these attitudes and actions. But before we jump into the positive, let’s address a major road block for Christian/ Non-Christian communication.
A Big Listening “Don’t”
A typical knee-jerk of many Christians is to dismiss all non-Christian thought as foolishness. This tendency usually stems from the biblical teaching (especially clear in 1 Cor. 1) that there’s a radical (from the Latin radix, meaning root) opposition between the deepest heart commitments of Christians and those of non-Christians. In principle, an absolute antithesis exists between the Christian worldview and all others. So, I can sympathize with the impulse behind the “knee-jerk reactions.” Christians take biblical passages such as 1 Cor. 1:18-2:5 seriously.
And this is true… but it’s not the whole story.
Reactionary positions do not reflect a robust understanding of God’s “common grace.” I plan on posting something about this very soon but for now we note that doctrine of common grace teaches us that though all people are sinners, God nevertheless prevents sin from making us as bad (or stupid) as we could be. Tim Keller nicely summarizes it by saying, “Because unbelievers are created in the image of God, they are far better than their wrong views should make them. But, Christians, because they are sinners, are far worse than their right views should make them.”
Non-Christians do utter truths, and frequently God grants them greater insights into his world than his children. It simply isn’t biblical to reject genuine insights from unbelievers. Nor is it good reasoning (it’s called the genetic fallacy, i.e. dismissing a view because of its origin). Arguments must be accepted or rejected based on their own merits, not their source. Referring to the insights, gifts, and skills that God graciously bestows upon unbelievers, John Calvin said:
If the Lord willed that we be helped in physics, dialectic, mathematics, and the other like disciplines, by the work and ministry of the ungodly, let us use this assistance. For if we neglect God’s gift freely offered in these arts, we ought to suffer just punishment for our sloths.
Christian charity, sound scholarship, and winsome apologetics demand we closely and patiently evaluate non-Christian thought, both for the purposes of exposing its departure from Christ-centered principles as well as to gather from the Spirit’s gift of common grace.
So please, don’t just disagree with someone, look for their strong points, things you can agree with and build on. If you hear that Person X is wrong about something, look it up, listen to them, and even read some of their writing.
Show respect. The purpose of evangelism, and apologetics, and dialogue with others is not to have a shouting match. We all grant that much (I hope!). But too often apologists can come off as smug, not granting the unbeliever a fair hearing. But that very unbeliever is created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27), imbued with dignity and honor. Also, 1 Peter 3:15 commands us to be ready to not only to defend the faith, but also to be ready to do so with “gentleness and respect.” God commands that we respect even those that may potentially harm us (cf. vs. 14, 17). We do this to in order to “[keep] a clear conscience” that testifies to God’s wisdom (v. 16).
Sympathetically listen to other points of view. We’ve heard the criticism: Christian truth-claims breed dogmatism and arrogance. Is this true? Well, for some it certainly can be. Here’s another truth claim: arrogance does not grow in the soil of the genuine gospel of Christ. Arrogance grows in the absence of the gospel! According to the biblical vision of divine grace teaches us we’re not delivered because we’re wiser, more spiritual, or more ethical than others. We are Christians solely by grace, and not by our superior ethical life or intellect, we should expect others to frequently see things and know things we do not.
Follow the other person’s argument. Since we’re created in the image of God, we are rational beings. We have an uneasy relationship with the idea of believing things willy-nilly, devoid of some kind of reason. We need some rationale, some reason for committing ourselves to a worldview, cause, or ideology. In a real-life apologetic discussion do pay close attention to the other person’s rationale for their beliefs. Think through their major claims, minor claims, throw-away arguments (arguments that only “preach to the choir”), evidence, etc. Often others have not thought through these issues self-consciously. It’s our job to help them do so.
Assess claims. Now that you’ve heard and listened carefully to their points, assess them. Are they true? Are they false? Are they completely false, or is there some good to be built upon? What are the underlying assumptions of what they’re saying?
Ask questions. Doing this will both clear up anything that’s still fuzzy in your mind about what they said, as well as create an opportunity for the person you’re speaking to refine their beliefs in light of your questions and objections. All throughout the gospels, Jesus asks insightful questions both to make points and to clarify the positions held by others. We’d do well to follow His example.
When necessary, admit ignorance. It’s happened to all who try to seriously provide answers to skeptics. And it’s one of the hardest things an apologist can do (akin to a professional scholar saying, “I was wrong.”). These three words are difficult, but often times necessary, to say. Here they are: I don’t know.
These three simple words can signal either defeat or something else. I propose that ending a conversation at this point isn’t the death of apologetics, but can in fact be the birth of long term dialogue with a non-Christian friend. Here are a common of reasons that I think this is the case.
First, admitting ignorance reinforces a spirit of dialogue, rather than confrontation. After all, we aren’t gurus. We aren’t the source of truth, we only point the way. And often times, we need others to help us get there as well. Second, our knowledge of God, Scripture, etc., should be a natural development in the process of our sanctification. As we grow in our love and devotion toward God, so our knowledge of him and his ways will also grow. This growth in grace will not end in this lifetime, so neither is the process of learning. Lastly, admitting ignorance may serve to honor the fact that Christianity is lived by faith (a living trust in a personal God). Our trust in God isn’t an achievement unlocked only after solving all “riddles” and questions. The moment we reduce “true” faith to intellectual sophistication, we’ve sold the farm to the Gnostics (and that’s bad news).
We must reject truth divorced from charity. And we should embrace faith —trust in God’s word— working through love—taking the time to understand what others are saying (Gal. 5:6).
I’m planning on writing a short series of posts on the new phenomenon known as the theology meme. The meme is, as defined by Google, “a humorous image, video, piece of text, etc. that is copied (often with slight variations) and spread rapidly by Internet users.” Memes are often crafted to communicate a single point in a punchy way, so naturally they most appeal to young people.
Sure, there are fair criticisms on the use of memes in online dialogue, I get that. But the simple truth is that they’re going to be around for a while. So let’s use them to sharpen our thinking.
What is a Christian meme? The picture to your right is a simple example. Where are they going with this? Well, the point of view of the meme’s creator should be obvious. He/she is used to attacks against Christianity coming from your standard college hippie-liberal. And the single point being made? The criticisms of bible-abuse they level against conservative Christians are in fact mirrored in their own arguments. They do exactly what they hate in others.
So in the coming days I’ll trying to post some memes and briefly respond to them. Next up we’ll thinking through the meme blow.
Here’s the newest round of links:
- How Jazz Can Shape Apologetics– Douglas Groothius
- Antitheism Presupposes Theism (And So Does Every Other ‘Ism’)– James Anderson
- Can We Prove the Existence of God?– James Anderson
- Why I Am a Cessationist– Thomas Schreiner
- Why I Am a Continuationist: Sam Storms
- Six Factors that Do Not Affect Inerrancy– C. Michael Patton
- Free Kindle download: 52 Words Every Christian Should Know
One of the most helpful works in Christian apologetics on the market is Nathan Busenitz’s Reasons We Believe: 50 Lines of Evidence That Confirm the Christian Faith. In this work he tackles reasons to believe in God, the Bible, and Jesus. The strength of his work is its brevity, or as John Frame puts it in his endorsement, it is both “comprehensive and concise.” Busenitz demonstrates that we can present a compelling case for Christianity without have to present technical, and highly philosophical, arguments (though, of course, I certainly believe there’s a place for that).
Early on in the book Busenitz spells out his approach to presenting evidence for the faith within the Bible’s own framework of thought. I think he’s right on the money. In his introduction he says:
Once we have developed each reason from Scripture, we can then show how extra- Biblical evidence corresponds with, and thereby attests to, what the Bible claims. To be clear, this external evidence does not establish the truthfulness of the Christian faith. If Christianity is true, it is because there really is a God, and He has revealed Himself to us through His Son and in His Word. Nonetheless, external evidence does corroborate the claims of Christianity. Because the God of the Bible is also the God of creation, time, and truth (cf. Psalm 19:1–6; Acts 17:26–28; John 17:17)—the facts of science, history, and logic will necessarily correspond to what the Bible reveals.
Here Busenitz adds the helpful footnote:
This is not to say that science, history, or human reason should be considered of greater or equal authority to the Scriptures. Rather, we are noting that when the Bible is rightly interpreted, and when the facts of science, history, or logic are fully known, the two will not be in contradiction to each other. Rather, the general revelation of the world around us testifies to the truthfulness of the special revelation found in Scripture (cf. Psalm 19:1–11).
So the presentation of evidences “corroborate,” “confirm” and “testify” to the truth already provided in Scripture. They do not act as an independent source of authority. Returning to his line of thought:
Such evidence therefore provides wonderful confirmation for believers, because it bears witness to both the reliability of Scripture and the authenticity of Jesus Christ.
We’ll end with Busenitz’s comments on the relationship of evidence and the role of the Holy Spirit in providing the certainty of Christian conviction.
… Nonetheless, it is the Holy Spirit who ultimately makes the truth of Christianity certain in the hearts of believers (1 Corinthians 2:10–15). He gives us absolute confidence in both God’s Word and God’s Son—assuring us of our salvation and our heavenly hope (Romans 8:14–17)… But when a person becomes a Christian, the ‘assurance’ or ‘certainty’ becomes a reality. Christianity from a ‘morally certain’ standpoint becomes as undeniable as one’s own existence.” For Christians, then, the reasons surveyed in this book only confirm what they already know to be true.
With this approach to evidences, couching them in the Bible’s own “philosophy of fact” (to use Van Til’s term), I would encourage all who are interested in apologetics to pick up this book.
Apologetics, like any other Christian activity, must be undertaken first as an act of love to God. In particular, we must be sure not to compromise God’s mission, God’s law, God’s message, or God’s love in our zeal.
First, we must not compromise God’s mission. We must not re- strict it so that it becomes narrower than God wants it to be: not merely “souls” being “saved,” or “minds” being “changed,” but whole people being adopted into God’s family and cooperating with him in the global work of redemption.
Second, we must not compromise God’s law. We must not manipulate or deceive, and particularly not use the “bait-and-switch” tactics that show up occasionally among evangelicals, and particularly in work with students: “Come and find out how to have great sex!” “Come to this talk and your grades will go up!” We must not use fear tactics, or success tactics, or any other tactics that are not congruent with the message we are offering and the Lord we serve.
Third, we must not compromise God’s message. Throughout the history of the church, well-meaning apologists have trimmed the gospel to make it fit a little easier with the presuppositions and preferences of the audience. Christianity seems too Semitic and not classically sophisticated? Let’s make it look and sound like Platonism, as some of the earliest apologists tried to do, or like Aristotelianism, as some medievals undertook to make it. Too much mystery in Christian theology? Let’s render Christianity Not Mysterious, as John Toland wrote in 1696. Too many references to the superstitious and supernatural? Let’s edit the New Testament to make Jesus look more enlightened and sophisticated, as Thomas Jefferson did (at least twice) literally with scissors and paste. Too much ancient strangeness and especially Jewish elements? Let’s follow the lead of modern liberal theology and strictly separate the New Testament’s “essential” message from its old-fashioned husk.
No, the gospel will appear foolish to sophisticates in every society. Too much editing of the message to suit the categories and interests of our neighbors can result in our merely echoing them, rather than giving them the gift of something wonderful they don’t already have. Apologetics must always maintain fidelity first to the sacred tradition.
Fourth, we must not compromise God’s love. Apologetics must always look like God’s love at work. People should be able to tell we love God and that we speak and act in the name of God’s love. Any apologetics that falls short of this standard falls badly short of the glory of God.
-John G. Stackhouse, Humble Apologetics, 140-141.
What’s the relationship between preaching and apologetics?
Apologetics and preaching are not two different things. Both are attempts to reach unbelievers for Christ. Preaching is apologetic because it aims at persuasion. Apologetics is preaching because it presents the gospel, aiming at conversion and sanctification. However, the two activities do have different perspectives or emphases. Apologetics emphasizes the aspect of rational persuasion, while preaching emphasizes the seeking of godly change in people’s lives. But if rational persuasion is a persuasion of the heart, then it is the same thing as godly change. God is the persuader-converter, but he works through our testimony. Other terms are also roughly synonymous (or perspectively related): witnessing, teaching, evangelizing, arguing, etc.
-John M. Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God, 16
According to John Frame, “absolute-personality theism is found mainly in the biblical tradition.” What is absolute-personality theism? It’s the teaching that the ultimate and most fundamental reality, the reality of which there is none greater, is both absolute in power, wisdom, justice, control, authority, etc., and also personal. God is the one who “works all things after the council of his will” (Eph. 1:11), and yet hears the cries of his people, weeps with those who weep, and rejoices with those who rejoice. In Apologetics: A Justification of Christian Belief, Frame teases out what this means for apologetics:
The major religions of the world, in their most typical (one tends to say “authentic”) forms, are either pantheistic (Hinduism, Taoism) or polytheistic (animism, some forms of Hinduism, Shinto, and the traditional religions of Greece, Rome, Egypt, etc.). Pantheism has an absolute, but not a personal absolute. Polytheism has personal gods, but none of these is absolute. Indeed, although most religions tend to emphasize either pantheistic absolutism or personal nonabsolutism, we can usually find both elements beneath the surface. In Greek polytheism, for example, the gods are personal but not absolute. However, this polytheism is supplemented by a doctrine of fate, which is a kind of impersonal absolute. Similarly, behind the gods of animism is Mana, the impersonal reality. People seem to have a need or a desire for both personality and absoluteness, but in most religions these two elements are separated and therefore compromise one another, rather than reinforcing one another. Thus, of the major religious movements, only biblical religion calls us with clarity to worship a personal absolute. (37)
Certainly, of all the major religious movements, only those influenced by Scripture conceive of God as absolute personality. Now if our previous arguments are correct, and the world is created and governed by absolute personality, this fact creates an immense presumption in favor of the biblical tradition. If the absolute personality cares about human behavior (and our moral argument implies that he does), we would expect him somewhere to present his case to man. Further, since God speaks clearly and expects us to hear and obey, we would not expect the location of that case to be obscure or to be a debatable among God’s people. But the Bible is the only major religious book which claims to fulfill that expectation, which claims to be the place where God presents his case to man. If God’s speech has as obvious location, that location must be the Holy Scriptures. There simply is no other candidate.
Inquirers, then, may be glad to know that the real issue is between biblical religion and “conventional wisdom.” One does not need to study every world religion and philosophy thoroughly. Only two are of any importance. As Scripture puts it, we are faced with a choice between the wisdom of God and the wisdom of the world (1 Cor. 1:18-2:16). (126-127)
As Christ’s witnesses in this world we must remember that worldview-shifts normally don’t occur overnight. In fact, they almost never do. Some more common ways people adopt a new worldview are:
- Through a series of small changes in their thought which, in time, lead to substantial restructuring of how they view the world.
- By persuasion through the lives of those in the worldview community that the person is ”converting” to.
- The example of godly living coupled with a godly apologetic/witness.
Each of these points is crucial. The first reminders us not to fret or worry when we do not see instant results. We speak to people, after all, not machines. Though we hold to, and defend, our faith as an organic whole (where each belief affects and is affected by every other belief) in real-life discussions we can only speak of one thing at a time. A proper understanding of the faith, along with counting the cost of discipleship (Lk.14:26-29) takes time. And It is time well spent. God may be leading that person to himself.
The second and third points place a great responsibility upon the Christian evangelist. We aren’t simply disembodied, mental beings. We are gloriously embodied creatures. Our bodies matter. How we dwell with other Christians matters. They need to see how we love one another. They need to see and experience for themselves they we, like the Master, come not to be served, but to serve (cf. Mk. 10:45). Also, the manner with which we speak to unbelievers conveys a lot. The church is Christ’s body on this earth. Do we reflect His character? Non-Christians aren’t naive. They notice insincerity and pride. We convey with our words and actions this is what God is like.
Let’s not give false testimony .
Here are some helpful resources on evangelism.
- Evangelism: Doing Justice and Preaching Grace – Harvie Conn
- Heart of Evangelism – Jerram Barrs
- Learning Evangelism from Jesus– Jerram Barrs
- When God Goes to Starbucks: A Guide to Everyday Apologetics– Paul Copan
In terms of working toward a systematic approach to large-scale evangelism and urban outreach, I can’t think of a better book than Tim Keller’s Center Church:
Partisans of apologetic methods would have you believe that ‘presuppositional apologetics’ is antithetical to the ‘traditional’ or ‘classical’ approach. As always, John Frame mediates between various forms of the “movement mentality.”
It may no longer be possible to distinguish presuppositional apologetics from traditional apologetics merely by externals – for the form of argument, the explicit claim of certainty or probability, etc. Perhaps presuppositionalism is more in attitude of the heart, a spiritual condition, than an easily describable, empirical phenomenon. To call it “spiritual” is certainly not to say that it is unimportant – quite the contrary. Our biggest need in apologetics (as in all other areas of life) has always been spiritual at the core. And our “presuppositionalism of the heart” is not something vague and indefinable. The presuppositionalism we are talking about is (1) a clear headed understanding of where our loyalties lie and how those loyalties of fact our epistemology, (2) a determination above all to present the full teaching of Scripture in our apologetic without compromise, in its full winsomeness and it’s full offensiveness, (3) especially a determination to present God as fully sovereign, as the source of all meaning, intelligibility, and rationality, as the ultimate authority for all human thought, and (4) an understanding of the unbelievers knowledge of God and rebellion against God, particularly (though not exclusively) as it affects his thinking. And if there are some apologists who maintain these understandings and attitudes without wanting to be called Van Tillians or presuppositionalists, I am happy to join hands with them.
-John M. Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God: An Introduction, 87-88.
Frame is fully committed to the essentials of Van Til’s vision of an approach to apologetics consistent with Reformed theology, and yet concludes that Van Til, sometimes, too quickly reduced the differences between groups to methodology rather than issues of the heart. On some issues I might take issue with parts of Frame’s analysis, but overall I think he’s on the mark.
In his Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (DKG), John Frame distinguishes between 3 perspectives on knowledge: the normative, situtational, and existential perspectives. A few years later in his book on apologetics, Apologetics to the Glory of God (AGG), Frame divided the task of Christian apologetics into 3 categories: Proof, Offense, and Defense. Readers of Frame’s work know there’s a link between the triad of knowledge in DKG and the 3 pronged approach set out in AGG, but may not be clear what that link is. Here’s my attempt to bring out the connection between the two.
One of the trickiest parts of learning Frame’s perspectival approach is avoiding the temptation to make them 3 separate and distinct ‘parts’. As Frame says, they are all necessary and in fact are really three approaches or facets of learning about any one thing. You cannot know one perspective without knowing (or making assumptions) about another perspective. So all talk of “this perspective means…” is a matter of emphasis and not absolute difference (I develop this point more in chapter 5 of Speaking the Truth in Love: The Theology of John Frame).
I haven’t read too many full books this year (though I have worked my way through numerous chapters and articles) so the books listed here weren’t selected out of dozens of potential candidates. Nevertheless, here are my top five favorite reads for 2011 (not in any particular order):
What is the Mission of the Church? –DeYoung and Gilbert. In recent, and immediately controversial, work was released only a few short months ago and has the evangelical interwebs abuzz. Kevin DeYoung (co-author of Why We Love the Church) and Greg Gilbert (author of What is the Gospel?) argues that the mission of the church is primarily that of verbal gospel proclamation and making disciples. In response to the increasing popular views of man like Christopher J. H. Wright (see his The Mission of God and The Mission of God’s People) that argues “if everything is mission, then everything is mission,” DeYoung and Gilbert argue, quoting Stephen Neill, “If everything is mission, nothing is mission.” The book makes many great and important points, and other times feels either to miss the point or oversimplified. But, that said, it’s a mixed bag that is most certainly worth reading.
The King Jesus Gospel–McKnight. Scot McKnight’s chief contention is that our evangelical culture has largely substituted a gospel culture for a salvation culture. This is especially ironic since the term evangelical is derived from the Greek word euangelion, or gospel. According to McKnight, based on where we tend to place our greatest emphases, we’re more soterist (from the Greek word soterea, salvation) than evangelicals. Not that salvation isn’t related, and intimately related to the gospel. It is….but. The problem is our presentations of the Plan of Salvation miss the very thing that makes the gospel the gospel. McKnight distinguishes between the story of Israel and the story of Jesus. In a nutshell, the gospel is the story of Jesus as the climax of the story of Israel. To be sure, it is a story that saves, but the gospel, isn’t primarily about our response and how we can be forgiven. There is much food for thought in this book. I tend to think that McKnight over-corrects in his limiting the gospel to the proclamation of the messianic identity of Jesus (though in itself, it is a very important point). I think its best to say that the gospel includes the message of Jesus as Israel’s messiah, the world’s true Lord, and the message of how a rebel can be reconciled and included into his kingdom.
An Introduction to Christian Apologetics– Carnell. Considered by many a classic. Apologetics is my first love and I read this in order to familiarize myself with one of the most influential apologetics textbooks of the last century. it was surely worthy it. Sure, there were times were my Van Tillian hackles went up, but over all I can see the clear stamp of Van Tillian influence on Carnell’s thought. Generally speaking, I tend to think that apologetics as a distinct field of study was better 45-50 years ago. That is to say (with notable recent exceptions) that your standard apologetics textbook 50 yrs ago was more creatively constructed and comprehensive than many of the cookie-cutter works released these days.
The Bible and the Future-Hoekema. Buy this book!! I read about half of BAF back in seminary and decided to reread it and finish it off this year. Honestly I can say that I agreed with nearly every sentence of the work (“nearly” being the operative word). Hoekema is so clear, so to the point, so balanced. He defends a covenantal amillenialism that sees our ultimate hope not in a disembodiment heavenly state, but one full of glory, reigning with Christ in the transformed New Heavens and New Earth.
New Testament and the People of God-Wright. NTPG in vol. 1 of Wright’s projected 6 volume Christian Origins and the Question of God series that will blend both New Testament history and theology. Essentially this volume lays the groundwork on which the following volumes will build. The book is divided into 3 main sections: first, Wright addresses methodological and epistemological issues, arguing in favor of a critical realist approach that denies purely objective historiography or a “neutral” epistemology, yet affirms the possibility of real historical knowledge. In the second unit of the book Wright sketches the worldview of Second Temple Judaism. This worldview is discovered both in terms of a common symbolic universe (focusing specifically on Torah, Temple, The Land, and Jewish Ethnic Identity) and theology (unpacked in terms of the doctrine of monotheism, creation, election, covenant, and eschatology). The bulk of the book is spent on this section. Lastly, the third and final section of the book addresses the worldview of early Christianity, again through an examination of its praxis, symbols, theology, and stories. Wright has filled this work with much insight and skillfully pokes holes in many of the sacred cows of higher biblical criticism. One need not agree with every statement or argument put forward by Wright in order to greatly benefit from this stimulating book.