Holy and heavenly discourse is the most delectable. I mean in its own aptitude, and to a mind that is not diseased by corruption. That which is most great, and good, and necessary, is most delectable. What should best please us, but that which is best for us? and best for others? and best in itself? The excellency of the subject maketh it delightful! And so doth the exercise of our graces upon it: and serious conference doth help down the truth into our hearts, where it is most sweet. Besides that nature and charity make it pleasant to do good to others. It can be nothing better than a subversion of the appetite by carnality and wickedness, that maketh any one think idle jests, or tales, or plays, to be more pleasant than spiritual, heavenly conference; and the talking of riches, or sports, or lusts, to be sweeter than to talk of God, and Christ, and grace, and glory. A holy mind hath a continual feast in itself in meditating on these things, and the communicating of such thoughts to others, is a more common, and so a more pleasant feast.
—Richard Baxter, A Christian Directory, “Christian Politics” ch. 16, “Special Directions for Christian Conference, Exhortation, and Reproof” (loc. 46756)
James Bannerman discusses the relationship between the church and the state, arguing that if they are not cooperating with each other, even if the state attempts neutrality toward religion, the result would be harmful for both institutions. A powerful example he uses is marriage. Note how profound is his case, though writing in 1868. His insight may be helpful for the church’s thinking about either the redefining of marriage stateside or the efforts to legalize no-fault divorce in the Philippines.
III. In the third place, I would refer to the law of marriage as another of those cases which illustrate the general position, that the civil and religious elements are so connected together in human society, that where they do not meet and unite in friendship and mutual co-operation, they must inevitably tend to the serious or fatal injury of one or the other.
Marriage is one of those institutions which, although not of grace but of nature, is yet adopted into the system of Christianity, and regulated by the rules which Christianity has laid down. The law of marriage has its origin in nature, and not in revelation; and yet the duties and rights connected with it, together with their exact nature and limits, are matters with which revelation deals. In so far as these involve moral or religious duties, we are to seek in the Bible for the code of law by which they are prescribed and determined. But marriage is, in another sense, a civil matter, coming under the province of the ordinary magistrate, and necessarily requiring to be dealt with in the way of civil enactment. There are civil rights intimately connected with it, in such a manner that the state cannot avoid the duty of legislating in regard to it, and regulating them by positive statutes and rules. In short, the institution of marriage is to be viewed in two lights,—either as a moral observance, falling to be regulated by the law of Scripture, or as a civil observance, falling to be regulated by the law of the state. And with this twofold character which it sustains, and this twofold legislation to which in every civilised and constituted society professing Christianity it is subjected, how, it may be asked, is a collision between the spiritual and the civil enactments on the subject—fraught, as it inevitably would be, with deadly consequence to the peace, if not the existence, of human society—to be avoided or prevented? If the state recognise the Bible as the Word of God, and the law of the Bible as the law of God, then it will take that law as the guiding principle for its own legislation, and make the enactments of the magistrate in regard to marriage coincident with the enactments of Scripture. But if the state do not recognise the Bible as the Word of God, there can be no security that its regulations shall not come into conflict with the regulations of Scripture as regards the institution of marriage, in such a manner as to put in peril not only the peace and purity of domestic life, but also through these the highest and holiest interests of human society. The ordinance of the family lies at the very foundation of civil society. It is the unit of combination around which the wider and more public relations of civil life associate themselves. Destroy or unhinge the domestic ordinances, unloose or unsettle the family bond, and no tie will be left holy enough or strong enough to bind up the broken and disjointed elements of human life. And yet, unless there be on the part of the state a distinct acknowledgment of the Word of God as the law to which its own laws must be conformed, there can be no security against the danger of the enactments of civil society on this vital point running counter to the appointment of God. The degrees of relationship or consanguinity within which marriage is valid or invalid,—the terms on which it is to be contracted or dissolved,—the rights which it confers on children, and the claims of succession,—all these are questions that fall to be determined both by the law of Scripture and the laws of the state, and any difference or conflict in regard to which must tend to unsettle the very foundation of human society. From the very nature and necessity of the case, if the state is not here at one with religion, it must be a difference deeply, if not fundamentally, injurious to the one or the other.
—James Bannerman, The Church of Christ (1868) loc. 2361-2393
Note especially that if the state does not align marriage law with the law of Scripture, there can be no security for marriage. Consequently, human life as we know it is in danger. Bannerman asserts, back in 1868, that the very foundation of human society will be destabilized. And that is exactly what we see happening before our eyes, today. The church has seen this coming, and yet it’s coming true.
This debate is very important for our context, since this is where the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) comes from.
My thoughts from the debate:
I was disappointed. I expected the quality of arguments to be at a higher level. But honestly, the INC arguments were at the same level as INC people I have met. I expected someone of Ventilacion’s level of education to do better than the typical INC. Sure, he could talk the original languages. But that was the only difference. It didn’t change the substance or quality of his argumentation. Still skipping verses. Still ignoring context. Still asking questions but not letting you answer. Still taking cheap shots. Still overly aggressive in manner. Still incapable of logic. I was quite surprised. I thought, “Well, that’s familiar.” I guess that higher education makes no difference. Once you’ve talked to one INC member, you’ve talked to their professors, as well. So here is one way that this debate is helpful in our context: the level of argumentation you watch in this debate is what you will run into on the street with the INC. Watch this debate, and you’ll know their script.
“Show me a verse”
Typical cult: “show me a verse.” “Show me a verse that says there is one God in three persons! You can’t? I win!” Really? Why must the doctrine be contained in a single verse? You do know that the verses are not inspired, yes? Meaning, the verse numbers actually could be different. Or, there could be none at all! Originally, there were no verses! What happens to your argument, then? Then you’d actually be forced to read the text as it was given, not disjointed. Then you would be force to ask, show me the book of the Bible that contains the doctrine, perhaps. But even then, these groups demand that the doctrine be stated explicitly, in so many words! Now, why is that necessary? It’s really annoying. I’ve had to deal with that nonsense personally. Same thing, different day (different cult, even). So how about I reply, “show me a verse” that explicitly says the words “God is only one person”! You can’t! Oooohhhh! The debate is over! And everyone applauds.
Word level criticism
Ventilacion was stuck on the level of specific words, the entire debate. To the point of saying that “I AM” (in Greek) only had one meaning in any given context, so that if it referred to deity in one place, then it must refer to deity when the blind man said it. Seriously? That is not how meaning works. There’s a semantic range (and I’m sure someone of Ventilacion’s education knows this). Context determines meaning, such as who is speaking, the totality of what they are saying, what comes before and after. This isn’t difficult, Ph.D level stuff. On the flip side of this, Ventilacion’s implied that unless the word is there, the concept isn’t. For example, James White asked, “who’s the ‘him’?” in a particular verse (from Isaiah), then said “YHWH.” And Ventilacion’s response was, “Is there a tetragrammaton [YHWH] there?” White’s response, “this is Greek.” Ha! The “him” in the text was YHWH. But what was Ventilacion’s objection? The word is not there! And it obviously is a reflex of his. As if, unless a specific word appears in every single verse, the concept represented by that word is not in the verse. Unbelievable. That’s not how you read anything.
On a related note: I cannot believe Ventilacion lowered himself so far as to (rhetorically) ask where the word “Trinity” is in the Bible. James White didn’t even respond to it. Frankly, such a stupid question isn’t worthy of the time it takes to ask it.
Move on, please…
The debate didn’t seem to make much progress, at least on Ventilacion’s side. He could waste the entire cross examination time repeating just two questions! “Iiiiiiiii will ask the question AGAIN!” Oh my, if it was a courtroom, “Objection! Asked and answered” would have been so helpful. And no, volume and inflection does not make a pointless question profound (but that’s the cultural style, not unique to INC). On a side note, I loved when James White said, “If you’re ‘ooo-ing’ then you’re not listening to a word I’m saying.” I almost fell off my chair. Anyway, back to the issue. Because Ventilacion kept repeating himself ad nauseam, James White was of course limited, having to attempt to answer the questions (half of which were irrelevant) over and over again. And naturally, because Ventilacion repeated himself instead of offering more arguments, James White had less to cross examine.
Ventilacion was repeatedly disrespectful to James White. Honestly, that’s stereotypical of INC devotees. Talk to a Mormon, and they’re nice. Talk to a Jehovah’s Witness, and they’re polite. Talk to an INC? Jerk. That’s the reputation that INC has built up for themselves. Over here, we all have been told (or have learned personally) what attitude to expect from INC people. Rude, combative, aggressive, disrespectful. I honestly expected more in a formal debate! Sure, he wasn’t as nasty as he could have been. But compare his attitude and manner with that of James White. There’s a clear difference. I was expecting that Ventilacion could rise above the typical INC attitude I had personally witnessed. I guess that was expecting too much. Ventilacion seemed very arrogant, and flattered himself on more than one occasion.
Narrow the field
This is the only positive thing I’ll mention. As always, James White brilliantly narrowed the field in his opening statement. You simply have to do that right at the beginning: “The debate is about this, not about that (or that, or that, or that . . .).” And periodically he would point out to everyone that the real issue, what the debate was supposed to be about, was avoided the entire time. I hope it was clear to everyone. It was funny, then frustrating, then tiring, as Ventilacion would simply repeat himself that there’s only one God, triumphantly asserting that James White hadn’t refuted the point! Well, of course he’s not going to refute that. Opening statement, remember? The debate is over who is God, not how many! Nobody is arguing monotheism, so James White doesn’t intend to “refute.” That’s not the debate! And no matter how many times you repeat texts that say there is only one true divine being, that does not exclude that there are multiple persons. They are not mutually exclusive. But of course, he assumed unitariansim. And, in typical style, all the INC attendees would clap and get excited for no reason. That kind of irrational, illogical following is all too familiar. They all thought he’s saying something, when he’s not actually proving anything. Sadly, too many people are like that. But for the grace of God . . .
Now, I’m off to listen to James White’s post-debate Dividing Line episodes (April 25 and May 2) and Apologia Radio’s episode (featuring James White and Sye Ten Bruggencate!) on the debate. I also found a recap by South Dakota Apologetics (who hosted the debate).
Perhaps the most common apologetics question that I see: where do I start? What’s the introductory book or resource to begin learning apologetics?
Here’s a way to get started. That is, if you don’t want to tackle the massive apologetics track.
This is a condensed apologetics track. It’s complete, covering the whole apologetic approach, yet brief. This track is made up of a short book, several articles, and a film. It’s almost everything I used as curriculum to teach apologetics over a semester’s time.
Now, despite somewhat of a resurgence in apologetic interest, there is still quite a bit of anti-apologetics sentiment. If you first need help dealing with that, then read the series on objections to apologetics.
Read Expository Apologetics: Answering Objections with the Power of the Word by Voddie Baucham. It’s an excellent introduction to presuppositional, or Van Tilian, apologetics. And because it’s recently written, the application to present issues is very clear. If you want an introduction to whet your appetite for the book, watch him.
You’ll read the creeds in the book, but you should also follow his suggestion about confessions and catechisms. Get the creeds, confessions, and catechisms on mobile in the “Christian Creeds and Reformed Confessions” app for iOs and Android.
Secondly, read several articles by Greg Bahnsen. Many of them are included in the book Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith, so you’ll pretty much be reading half of that for free (provided by Covenant Media Foundation). The ones I have selected below are related to what Baucham is saying in his book, providing reinforcement.
You could finish Expository Apologetics, then read all the Bahnsen articles after, if you prefer. But I threaded them together for harmony, to be read simultaneously. Here’s the order to read the Bahnsen articles, with the corresponding Expository Apologetics chapters in parentheses:
- “Ready to Reason” (then read the introduction and chapter 1)
- “The Heart of the Matter: Knowing and Believing” (then read chapters 2-4)
- “Answering Objections” and “The Encounter of Jerusalem with Athens” (then read chapters 5-8). Related to chapter 5: “Why Creeds?” You could also read “Gentleness and Respect” and “Action/Attraction Distinction“
- “Tools of Apologetics” and “Apologetics in Practice” (then read chapter 9 and the Appendix)
- Then, my articles “What Hath Apologetics to do with Discipleship?” and “Rules of Engagement“
- “Evidential Apologetics: the Right Way“, “The Impropriety of Evidentially Arguing for the Resurrection“, and “The Problem of Evil” (for further study on the problem of evil, see resources by John Frame).
- Lastly, “Presuppositional Reasoning with False Faiths“
Finally, as the sweet finish, watch “How to Answer the Fool: A Presuppositional Defense of the Faith,” featuring Sye Ten Bruggencate. This will tie everything together. You’ll see what this all looks like on the street. As you watch, try to notice similarities with the reading. Recall the principles that are at work in the background. Also, give attention to the manner demonstrated.
And that’s it! Reading and watching. Do all that, and you’ll have an excellent start to vindicating the Christian worldview.
If you want to continue, check out the massive apologetics track.
First, remember, that unless you study the Word of God, you will not be competent to detect error. A man may in your hearing preach downright falsehood, but you will not be qualified to judge concerning that falsehood unless you have studied the Word of God. You and I would not be fit to sit on the judgment bench of some of the superior courts of our land, because we are not acquainted with the intricacies of the law. We could not quote precedents, for we have not been learned therein. And so no man is able to judge concerning the thing that he hears, unless he is able to quote Scripture—unless he understands the Word of God, and is able to perceive and to know what it means.
First addressed are the “Jesus never talked about homosexuality” argument and the “Paul was talking about pederasty” argument.
Most of the time is spent going after the “The Pick and Choose Argument,” which he as dealt with in (and quotes) Expository Apologetics. The steps followed:
Step 1: Knock them down off their moral high-horse.
Step 2: The difference between your picking and choosing and your picking and choosing.
Step 3: Getting off our own high-horse.
Previously: God in Three Persons, Blessed Trinity
What is the most important doctrine of the Christian faith?
Many Protestants, I suspect, would say justification by faith alone. Certainly that was major in the Reformation. Others might say God’s love, forgiveness, or something like that. I could understand others asserting the doctrines of grace as the (5) most important.
I believe that the most important doctrine of the Christian faith is the Trinity as it set the foundations for all other important doctrines… Lose the Trinity, and all is lost.
Now, some questions for you.
What place does the Trinity have in your Christian experience? Is it prominent, or in the background? In your understanding of your faith, how important is it? Is it an essential, or more of an appendix? Could you do without it? How often do you meditate on the doctrine of the Trinity?
In your church, what kind of attention does the Trinity get? Is it emphasized in the preaching and discipleship of the church? Is it a focus of the songs you sing? Is the Trinity clear in the prayers of the church?
How much study have you dedicated to it? How well can you articulate it? Are you familiar with the ecumenical formulation of the Trinity throughout church history? What books or resources have you used to better understand the Trinity? Can you defend this doctrine, to those who don’t believe it? Is the Trinity essential in apologetics?
And finally, is the Trinity a make-it-or-break-it belief? Can someone deny the Trinity, and be a true Christian?
Of all the doctrines of the Christian faith honored in name and neglected in practice by evangelicals, the Trinity probably has no rival. Ask any evangelical if he believes in the Trinity, and you will almost certainly receive a strongly affirmative answer. Ask what difference the doctrine makes, and you might well be greeted by embarrassing silence.
—Carl R. Trueman, “Trinitarianism 101: Evangelical Confusion and Problems“
There’s nothing more fundamental than the doctrine of God. Make no mistake: it is no “generic” idea of God. It is the full, complete self-revelation of God given in the Scriptures. The one living and true God. And God is Triune. Understand, there’s not some idea of God that lies “behind” the doctrine of the Trinity. God is Trinity. The Scriptures reveal one true God, and that God is three distinct persons, co-equal and co-eternal. God cannot be reduced down to anything less than the Trinity. There is no general monotheism, and then Trinitarian Christianity (consequently, what does that mean for apologetics?). The Bible presents the Trinity, not a vague monotheism. Christianity by definition is Trinitarian. As G. T. Shedd said,
It is the foundation of theology. Christianity, in the last analysis, is Trinitarianism.
When we present Christianity to people, we are not arguing for some general idea of God and then trying to get them to the Trinity, afterward. Rather, we present God in the fullness of his revelation to us: the Triune God. There simply is no other God but the God who is Trinity.
Without an understanding of God as Triume, you don’t have a Christian understanding of God. You just don’t. Period.
—K. Scott Oliphint
Naturally then, you can see how fundamental this doctrine is to the Christian faith. If the Triune God is the source of “what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man” (the Trinity itself being one of those beliefs), then the Trinity is not an appendix. Take it away, and everything is ruined. You would no longer be believing the real God, and you would no longer be serving the real God.
It is baffling how so many professing Christians could understand so little of this essential tenant. I’m speaking from experience, here. Don’t think I’m pretending to have always understood the importance of the Trinity. No doubt those raised in a church that responsibly catechized them began with the Trinity (as our Standards do) and grew up into fuller understanding. Me? Most of my life has been lived with insufficient appreciation of this doctrine. I distinctly remember asking myself what difference the Trinity makes to Christianity. Why does it matter? Is it just some eccentric feature that makes Christianity different from every other theistic religion? Must be. That was me, forever.
Until, as providence would have it, it was pointed out to me how the Trinity controls and impacts every other doctrine. That was Michael Horton, via Pilgrim Theology. My mind was sufficiently blown, and my understanding of Christianity changed forever. I remember my exact location when it happened. That’s how profound an illumination it was.
There is nothing more basic! This should be among the first things taught to those within the church. Notice the location of the doctrine of God in the Westminster Standards. It’s chapter 2 of the Confession of Faith, the Trinity in section 3. Where is it in the instructional documents? In the Shorter Catechism, questions 4-5, the Trinity in 6; in the Larger Catechism questions 6-8, the Trinity in 9-11.
And yet, how often is such theology put off, sometimes indefinitely, in the instruction of Christians? Assuming of course, there is any instruction. If our Standards are any witness, clearly the doctrine of the Triune God belongs right up front, in the beginning. It provides the foundation for everything that follows! Look for the persons of the Trinity throughout the rest of the doctrines. It’s no problem that there is no chapter on the Holy Spirit in the original version of the Confession. He’s simply woven all over the place throughout the Confession!
Our theology is Trinitarian theology, simply because the Scriptures are Trinitarian.
The doctrine of the Trinity — God as one in essence and three in person — shapes and structures Christian faith and practice in every way, distinguishing it from all world religions.
—Michael Horton, Pilgrim Theology loc. 1615
If you are going to start right, you start with the Trinity.
I was talking with a new believer just the other night. Even he understood that the doctrine of the Trinity is the most fundamental doctrine, and if you get the Trinity wrong you get everything else wrong.
Look at the subtitle to James White’s book, The Forgotten Trinity: Recovering the Heart of Christian Belief (it’s a great book, by the way). White calls the Trinity the heart of Christian belief. And indeed it is.
the Trinity is the highest revelation God has made of himself to His people. It is the capstone, the summit, the brightest star in the firmament of divine truths.
—James White, The Forgotten Trinity pg. 14
To demonstrate the fundamental nature of the Trinity to the Christian faith, let’s look at God’s plan of redemption.
Notice the Trinity here:
As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath he, by the eternal and most free purpose of his will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore, they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by his Spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by his power, through faith, unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.
The Father elects. Jesus himself said this. Who gave Jesus his sheep? God the Father. Christ said he would lose non that the Father had given him. We see a distinction of persons, here. The Father has not only chosen the people, and the ultimate destiny, but also the means. The means and the ends are foreordained.
How are the elect redeemed? By Christ, God the Son, the 2nd Person of the Trinity. The 2nd Person of the Trinity is one who became man, taking unto himself human nature, to live, suffer, and die for the elect. His work is what reconciles sinners to the Father. And (though not mentioned above) the Son of God continues to intercede for us before the Father, even now.
Finally, the elect are regenerated, called to faith in Jesus Christ by the 3rd Person of the Trinity: God the Holy Spirit. In due time, the Holy Spirit applies the redemptive work of Christ to the individual, who was chosen by the Father since eternity past.
The Father sends the Son to become incarnate, and live and die for the sins of the elect, to reconcile them to the Father. Jesus Christ reveals the Father, and testifies that it is good for him to depart so that a 3rd Divine Person, the Holy Spirit, can come. Christ dies and resurrects, ascends to the right hand of the Father. Then the Father and Son send the Holy Spirit upon the church. The Holy Spirit applies Christ’s work to those the Father has chosen, those for whom Christ died. And the Holy Spirit continually sanctifies believers, and in the end will raise up our bodies. Jesus Christ continually intercedes for us, and in the last day will return bodily to earth.
The plan of redemption is clearly Trinitarian. Now, let’s remove the Trinity, for the sake of argument, and see what happens. Can the plan of salvation remain intact if God is only one person, instead of three?
Who then does the electing? A unipersonal god. He would then naturally give these sheep. But wait, who is he giving them to? Uh oh. We’ve run out of persons. The Son cannot be given anything by the Father, if they are in fact the same person. That doesn’t work.
Who sends the Son? Either the Father or the Son is no longer part of the plan. The Son can be in no way “sent,” he can in no way be doing his Father’s work. It’s just him. All alone. Who is the Father rewarding and exalting? Himself? Ridiculous.
How can Christ’s work be reconciliation, if the Father and the Son are not distinct persons? Is Jesus merely reconciling people to himself? How can Christ be a mediator, a go-between, if he’s not actually between two parties? If the Son is identified with the Father, then he’s not a Mediator, anymore. There should be someone between him and the elect, then! Christ can’t be the only way to the Father if there is no distinction between them. How can Christ intercede for us, if there’s not a distinct person that he intercedes to? It’s just us and a unipersonal god, with no mediator or intercessor in between.
How can the Holy Spirit be “sent” if there is only one person in the Godhead? Same problem. How can the Holy Spirit be said to intercede for us? Same problem. Why did the Son of God have to ascend to heaven, if he is identical with the Holy Spirit? That’s a bit strange. The unipersonal god was already around. How could it be true that Jesus needed to truly leave so that another helper could come? That would not be true, if they were in fact the same person. The Spirit effectually calls the elect to put their faith in who? Not himself, but a distinct person: Christ. Oh, and how can the elect be “adopted” without the Father and Son being distinct, also? Being united to Christ, made co-heirs with him, and being therefore adopted sons of God. But if there’s just one person, all of that is out.
Needless to say, redemption collapses apart from the Trinity. Who’s doing the sending, or being sent? Who’s doing the electing, the dying, and the applying? Who exactly are we reconciled to, and why do we need a mediator? All of these things are left hanging, if God is not three persons.
Christianity stands or falls with the doctrine of the Trinity. The Bible represents the plan of salvation as a compact or covenant among the persons of the Trinity. Where the doctrine of the Trinity is abandoned, the whole Bible teaching about the plan of salvation must go with it.
—J.G. Vos, The Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary loc. 540
That is probably the clear case example to show that the Trinity is the most important doctrine of the Christian faith. Without the Trinity, the plan of redemption given in Scripture doesn’t make sense. Lose the Trinity, and you lose salvation.