Condensed Apologetics

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.

Book:

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.

Articles:

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:

  1. Ready to Reason” (then read the introduction and chapter 1)
  2. The Heart of the Matter: Knowing and Believing” (then read chapters 2-4)
  3. 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
  4. Tools of Apologetics” and “Apologetics in Practice” (then read chapter 9 and the Appendix)
  5. Then, my articles “What Hath Apologetics to do with Discipleship?” and “Rules of Engagement
  6. 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).
  7. Lastly, “Presuppositional Reasoning with False Faiths

Film:

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.

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Top 10 Posts of 2016

Here are the 10 most read posts from last year, with the dates (month/day)

  1. What hath Apologetics to do with Discipleship? (2/6)
  2. The Problem of Evil with John Frame (2/17)
  3. Voddie Baucham Lectures on Apologetics at DTS (1/31)
  4. Objections to Apologetics: It’s not nice. (3/30)
  5. Another Cup of Coffee (1/20)
  6. Skills of Apologetics: Listening (4/30)
  7. Understanding Cornelius Van Til (2/13)
  8. The Bible Tells Me So (9/13)
  9. “Papa Jesus” Debate (12/26)
  10. Man Will Necessarily Have a God (5/13)
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Should Education be Religious?

Yes or no?

Foundations of Christian Education coverThe Word of God also indicates very explicitly that the education which the parents are in duty bound to provide for their children must be fundamentally religious. If fact, its emphasis is so exclusively on religious training that it almost seems as if it regarded this as the whole of education.

This finds its explanation in the fact that Scripture deals primarily with the religious and moral needs of man, that it regards religion as the most fundamental, the most basic thing in the life of man, and that it would not consider any education as sound and satisfactory that was not permeated with the spirit of religion.

—Louis Berkhof, “Being Reformed in Our Attitude Toward the Christian School” in Foundations of Christian Education: Addresses to Christian Teachers pg. 29-30

And as Cornelius Van Til says, there’s no neutrality. Yes, even in education. As Greg Bahnsen told plenty of high school students, referring to the myth of neutrality they would encounter in the academic world: they’re not, and you shouldn’t be. Those who claim to be neutral and that you should be too, they actually are not neutral. And you, Christian, should not be because you claim the name of Christ. We should not attempt neutrality because of what God has said in Scripture.

So for those who answer that education should not be religious, that’s actually impossible. Every human being knows God, being made in God’s image. All people are without excuse, because God has made himself known to them.

Therefore, “secular” or irreligious schools are in fact not truly so. They, and everyone in them, like everyone else, are unavoidably religious.

The question “should education be religious?” is already assuming something: that education can be neutral. That neutrality is a possibility. But it’s not. The claim of Christ is comprehensive, total. To then claim that he can be excluded from anything, even education, is to not be neutral but actually against Christianity.

Religiously neutral education? To rephrase Greg Bahnsen’s line: it’s not, and it shouldn’t be.

The question is not whether education should be religious. The fundamental question is which religion. And at bottom, there are only two choices: belief or unbelief. Christianity, or anti-Christianity.

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Action/Attraction Distinction

Homosexuality — Bahnsen cover

I used to employ that distinction between “attraction” and action, regarding the sin of homosexuality. I know lots of other believers who do as well. Homosexual acts are condemned, but not the homosexual desires. Sure, the lifestyle is sinful, no doubt. But the attraction?

Then I read (for freeHomosexuality: A Biblical View by Greg Bahnsen. My thinking did not survive the encounter.

Bahnsen goes directly at this view, specifically in chapter 3, “The Act/Orientation Distinction and Causes of Homosexuality

We are told that the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality pertains only to outward acts, since it does not isolate and discuss the inward orientation. However, one should draw the opposite conclusion: if Scripture does not distinguish between orientation and act, the distinction is not morally relevant. Under the category of homosexuality, Scripture is to be understood as condemning both orientation and act, for there is no need in ethics to distinguish them.

—Bahnsen, Homosexuality: A Biblical View pg. 64-65

He addresses the question of desire directly, here:

Moreover, the fact is that God’s revealed Word condemns homosexual desire itself, seeing it as sinful as well as homosexual acts.

To maintain that a person is not sinful for having homosexual attractions, feelings, or erotic orientation overlooks the clear biblical teaching that it is not only evil to do immoral acts, it is also evil to desire to do immoral acts: e.g., devising wicked plans or evil against your neighbor, 15 anger leading to violence, 16 malice, 17 envying dishonesty, 18 planning deceit, 19 loving false oaths, 20 coveting. 21 God’s Word forbids sinful activities, but it equally forbids fleshly lusts or evil desires. 22

—Ibid., pg. 67-68

Footnotes:

15. Proverbs 6:16-18; Zech. 7:10; 8:17.

16. Genesis 4:7,8; Matt. 5:21,22.

17. Eph. 4:31.

18. Psalm 37:1,7

19. Amos 8:5.

20. Zech. 8:17.

21. Exodus 20:17.

22. Romans 13:14; Col. 3:5; 1 Peter 2:11.

Bahnsen then cites Jesus saying one who lusts in the heart has already committed adultery, and Paul in Romans 1 not only talking about practices but desires (exactly what is cited in this helpful blog post). Bahnsen then concludes:

Therefore, it is plainly incorrect to hold that Scripture speaks only of homosexual acts and not of the homosexual desire and inclination. In forthright language Paul holds men and women morally responsible and under God’s wrath for burning with homosexual desires, which he ethically describes as vile affections. The act/orientation distinction, then, does nothing to mitigate the Bible’s censure of homosexuality. We cannot agree with those who claim that Scripture knows nothing of sexual inversion, nor with their baseless judgment that a homosexual disposition is morally neutral.

—Ibid., pg. 68-69

As I reflect on this common view/question, I don’t think we distinguish between desire and action with any other sin. Just this one.

Is the desire sinful? Well, is the desire to have your neighbor’s spouse sinful? Is the desire to take your neighbor’s property sinful? Is the desire to murder someone sinful?

And just because it’s so good, I’ll add Bahnsen’s concluding paragraph of chapter 3, where he is quite presuppositional. Notice how it applies to the question at hand.

In summary, scholars with a naturalistic bias are in conflict over the homosexual’s inner abnormality, cause, and cure. In the current discussion, divergent answers are guided by each scholar’s particular presuppositions (e.g., his view of man, his criterion of normality, what he takes as warranting hope). This is true for the Christian as well. He has distinctive presuppositions derived from the revealed Word of God. They are the basis and guide for his view of homosexuality. With respect to the nature of man, the Christian sees him as a creature of God, given his definition and direction by the Creator, and thus always accountable to the Lord for the use of mind and body. With respect to a criterion, the Christian is firmly committed to the ethical standards of God’s Word, and thereby sees homosexual desires and deeds as rebellion against the will of God. With respect to hope, the Christian looks to God’s grace and power as able to change sinners and release homosexuals from the guilt and power of their willful perversion. These presuppositions, over against those fostered outside of commitment to God’s Word, settle the issues pertaining to homosexuality’s abnormality, cause, and cure for the Christian.

—Ibid., pg. 84

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Don’t give me philosophy

We Christians shouldn’t trouble ourselves with philosophical matters. We’ve got the Bible. We don’t need philosophy, we just need to know Jesus. Don’t waste time talking about “metaphysics” and “epistemology.” That’s philosophy. We don’t need it. Don’t bother teaching it. Just teach the Bible. “What hath Jerusalem to do with Athens?”

So what’s the story? Should Christians have nothing to do with philosophy? Does philosophy have any place in the church? We are, after all, to be about the Bible. The Bible is our authority, not the academy (where we assume philosophy is in solitary confinement).

We may further observe that in these two divisions of epistemology and metaphysics we deal from a philosophical point of view with that which theology deals with from a theological point of view. The six divisions of systematic theology—theology, anthropology, Christology, soteriology, ecclesiology, and eschatology—are all included in our theory of reality or metaphysics. Philosophy deals with no concepts that theology does not deal with. It is but a matter of terminology. We emphasize this point because a minister of the gospel should not be in jeopardy every hour lest his theological structure crumble to the ground because of advances in the fields of science and philosophy of which he knows nothing or very little. He should rather realize that in his presentation of biblical truth he has dealt with all the concepts that any human being can possibly deal with. Not as though he can pose as a scientist or a philosopher in the technical sense of the term. It is not necessary for him to be able to do so. He has a right to feel confident that there are no unknown trenches from which the enemy may suddenly pounce upon him. Now this is exactly what may be one of the chief benefits of a course in metaphysics for a theological student. In it he ought to learn that his opponents have exhausted themselves in trying to find a solution for the problems with which he is dealing, and have found no such solution. He ought to see the limits of their thought. He ought to examine the tools with which they labor. He ought to survey the field upon which they operate. If he does this thoroughly he will return with confidence to the propagation of his own position, or if he should feel inclined to reject it, he would at least do it intelligently.

—Cornelius Van TilA Survey of Christian Epistemology pg. 10

Too bad. If you are a Christian, you are already doing philosophy. Just like everyone else. As Bahnsen said, everyone “does” philosophy, most just don’t do it in a self-conscious way. Everyone has assumptions about the nature of reality, knowledge, and ethics. The question is, are they aware of their presupposition? Beyond that, are their beliefs true?

For the Christian, this is not an option. How is that? Where exactly is the command in Scripture, “Thous shalt do philosophy”? Every believer is commanded to take every thought captive in obedience to Christ. We are warned to beware of philosophy according to human tradition instead of according to Christ. So our philosophy is to be based on Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. We are set apart by the truth, and God’s Word is truth. We are not to be conformed to the patterns of the world, but are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. It’s intentional, not passive. We won’t think as Christians if we don’t know the Bible.

You see, all this means that we are to be thinking God’s thoughts after him, “our ideas must correspond to God’s ideas” (—Ibid., pg. 13). God as creator defines everything, and if we are set apart by his Word then we are obviously to interpret everything based on what he has said.

Scripture is simply addressing the issues of philosophy from God’s point of view. Which, by the way, is the correct point of view, the only view that does not reduce everything to nonsense.

I don’t need to go in depth to show that Scripture addresses the basic issues of philosophy. The most simple touching of the matter is sufficient.

Does the Bible touch metaphysics, a complete theory of reality?

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

—Genesis 1:1

For everything was created by Him,
in heaven and on earth,
the visible and the invisible,
whether thrones or dominions
or rulers or authorities—
all things have been created through Him and for Him.
He is before all things,
and by Him all things hold together.

—Colossians 1:16-17

Well, there it is. The Bible goes in to more detail than this, of course, but our purpose here is merely to show that the Bible deals with the fundamental issues of philosophy, and so each Christian is automatically also going to address those issues, just from a theological point of view.

What about epistemology, a theory of knowledge? Truth, how we know what we know, etc.

The fear of the Lord
is the beginning of knowledge

—Proverbs 1:7

 All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Him.

—Colossians 2:3

What about ethics? Now, that’s difficult. The Ten Commandments, maybe? If anything is easy to admit (and misapply) it’s that the Bible is ethical and chock full of laws.

Be holy because I, Yahweh your God, am holy.

—Leviticus 19:2

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.

—Matthew 22:37-40

There they are, the three main categories of philosophy, from a theological point of view. There is clearly a basis provided in Scripture for understanding reality, knowledge, and ethics.

So, in the first place, Christians are already mixed up in philosophy because it is unavoidable. Secondly, and more importantly, because we are Christians and are set apart by God’s truth, we are to view everything according to the perspective of Scripture. Which means, our “philosophy” (which we’ve always had) now must be conformed to God’s Word. Our metaphysics should be what God has revealed about reality. Our epistemology is a revelational epistemology. And our ethics are what God has given.

For Christians we must be intentional about these philosophical issues because God’s Word is our ultimate authority, and therefore what we think about reality, knowledge, and ethics must be aligned with the Bible. If they are not, we are not believing what God has said. It’s a moral issue.

Philosophy and theology deal with the same concepts, and everyone has beliefs about those concepts. The question is, are yours based on what God has said?

Philosophy and Theology — Van Til

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3 Spheres of Unbelief

Globe

There’s an endemic neglect of apologetics in my context. Most people I have talked with about it haven’t even heard the word “apologetics.” That wouldn’t be terribly important, if I wasn’t also sure that it’s because the concept and practice of apologetics wasn’t heard of, either. Apologetics is the name for this thing, it’s in the literature, and so if that word is unfamiliar to people, then it’s likely the concept is, too.

As I’ve continued to wonder and think over the dearth of apologetics, I have an idea that it is partly due to what Christians think about unbelief.

Where is it? We Christians, we have this funny thing. We pretend like unbelief is out there, somewhere. So beyond the horizon, in fact, that we don’t even get ourselves ready to challenge it with the Word of God.

Unbelief is a problem. Unbelief is not good. Unbelief = bad. If it exists, it needs to be fought with Scripture.

Is there unbelief, somewhere? That’s a rhetorical question. Until that changes, apologetics will remain mandatory. Apologetics is not an option.

Where is unbelief? I think it’s helpful to think of unbelief in three spheres.

In the Christian

Those of us who have been united to Christ still struggle with unbelief. Amen? We still have unbelief. True, the power of sin over us has been broken. Yet, we are not perfect. We still await total redemption, when Christ will restore us and all things.

Until then, we wrestle with unbelief. We suffer from a bad case of Gospel-amnesia. We uncritically absorb anti-Christian presuppositions. There’s always the chance of being taken captive by philosophy based on human tradition, and not based on Christ. As we grow in maturity, we continue to uncover unChristian beliefs. Or we fall back on old patterns of thinking. We are prone to wander.

We have an unbelief problem. It’s one of those things that we don’t want to do, yet do. As Paul wrote about in Romans 7.

Unbelief is not only a problem that exists in unbelievers. It’s also a problem for believers. Sin remains, though we are no longer slaves to it. My favorite way of expressing it is: “unbelief is no respecter of persons.” As Joseph Torres masterfully put it,

Finally, apologetics is also application of Scripture to unbelief. Unbelief is no respecter of persons. Both Christians and non-Christians wrestle with doubt and suspicion. A biblical apologetic targets unbelief wherever it may be found, strengthening the faith of Christians and calling unbelievers to repentance and faith in Christ.

—Joseph Torres, Introduction to Apologetics: A Justification of Christian Belief by John Frame (edited by Joseph E. Torres, 2nd edition)

I never get tired of that explanation. The fact is, unbelief is not merely an unbeliever’s problem. It’s also ours. And far too often, for far too long, we have pretended otherwise. “Don’t ask questions, just believe.” “Don’t overthink it.” “We don’t have to know too much.” “Don’t bother with all these intellectual issues. Just have faith.” We look away and pretend like the elephant of unbelief isn’t in the room. Not only is the elephant in the room, he’s sitting on your head.

This is nothing less than a lack of vigilance. A lack of faithfulness to Christ. If we are not even self-aware enough to recognize the problem, then how can we ever hope to be strengthened and corrected by Scripture? If there’s no problem, there’s no need for correction, is there?

Truly, if we are self-conscious at all, our hearts bear witness with that man in the gospel of Mark,

I do believe! Help my unbelief.

—Mark 9:24

Is that not our state?

Are you challenging your unbelief with the Word of God? What are your doubts and suspicions? Even deeper: are you self-conscious of what you believe? Are your most fundamental convictions based on Scripture? Is your worldview securely founded on the rock—the Word of Christ? Or is your worldview sitting on the unsure sand of autonomous reason—unbelief?

Are you having your unbelief challenged by the Word through the personal reading of the Scriptures, but especially by the Word preached on the Lord’s Day? Are you in relationships where there is Gospel-centered conversation? Are you in fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ who are able to tell God’s Word to you in love? When unbelief is found in you, will there be an application of Scripture from you and others?

That’s apologetics.

In the Household of God

Unbelief is a problem for your brothers and sisters in the Lord. Within the family of faith, there is still unbelief. Unless they are unlike you and I, they still have the same struggle.

Apologetics is not just for unbelievers. That we have already established. Continuing that line of thought, apologetics is not only for you, it is also for your family in Christ. It’s for the rest of the body. You are not merely to be able to apply, and have applied, the Word of God to your unbelief, but you are also to be able to apply Scripture to their unbelief. You are to be able to apply the Word of God to the indwelling unbelief of your fellow believers.

As previously mentioned, we’ve pretended like it’s not a problem, and have been putting bandaids on amputees. We give superficial treatment to serious wounds. When Christians have serious, honest questions, or doubts and suspicions, how have we responded? “Don’t ask, just believe.” “Just have faith.” “You don’t need theology, just love Jesus.” “We want to focus on relationships, not intellectual things.”

This is a lack of love and compassion, and respect, for human beings made in the image of God. There’s no gentleness or respect if there are no answers. On the mere level of humanity, it is cruel not to apply the effectual Word of God to people’s doubts, struggles, suspicions, and questions. But there’s another level. These are Christians. These are people who have been bought, not by mere precious metals or stones, but by the precious blood of Christ. These are the sheep that Jesus died for. Does not the church need the Word, as newborn infants need milk to survive? Have we not been commanded to let the Word dwell richly in us? Are we not required to lovingly speak the truth to one another? Shouldn’t we care for one another? Can we honestly say that we love our brother or sister if we won’t even apply Scripture to their unbelief; answering their honest questions and listening to their serious doubts?

Frankly, I don’t know what’s going on in the pulpit and in fellowship if the Word of Christ is not being applied to unbelief that lingers.

The believer must learn apologetics for his or her own spiritual well-being, as well as for becoming an agent of reform for the untrained Christian.

—Greg Bahnsen, Pushing the Antithesis pg. 17

There’s the first two spheres of unbelief, right there. You, and those with you; the individual and the corporate. Inward, outward.

Scripture regularly refers to groups like they are an individual entity. Just think of the ways God’s people is talked about throughout the Bible. This could carry a blog post all it’s own, but I’ll mention that unbelief even exists on that corporate level. An example would be a local church, a congregation, operating on assumptions that are actually based on human autonomy.

The point is, unbelief isn’t only a persistent problem for the Christian individual, it’s also a lingering issue in the church. The believer needs apologetics, and the church as well needs apologetics.

Are you able to help them? Here’s a hard question: do you know God’s Word well enough to be able to help your brothers and sisters follow Jesus? Are you equipped to strengthen the faith of other believers? If one of your siblings in the Lord walked up to you and asked you to help them follow Jesus, to strengthen them in the faith, what would you do? What is your plan? Do you know Scripture to the point where you can discern if the group is operating on unbiblical beliefs?

Are you able to say to a fellow disciple,

Don’t be an unbeliever, but a believer.

—John 20:27

If you are unable to, that’s a problem. Repent.

In the World

Notice the area of each sphere is wider than the previous. First, unbelief is a problem for the individual Christian. Second, naturally following from the individual is the body of Christ. Unbelief is within the church. What’s the only area that’s left? Outside the body. The place where all Christians readily admit there being unbelief. The world. Those who are not in Christ, but in Adam. Unbelief is a problem in the world. Hence, they are unbelievers. It’s the unbelieving world (distinguished from believers, who are also in the world).

Notice how the great commission is rendered at the end of Mark’s Gospel: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation.” (16:15)

My favorite rendering of the great commission is at the end of the Gospel of Luke:

He also said to them, “This is what is written: The Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead the third day, and repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.

—Luke 24:46-48

This is my favorite because the unity between the Gospel and disciple-making is made clear. The Gospel (the message of Christ) is not alone, in isolation. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. The Gospel creates a particular people. The people of God, the church, is a necessary consequence of the Gospel. The Gospel results in a corporate body, by God’s design. God the Father ordained a people for his Son, reconciled by his redemptive work, to be called out from the world and made alive by the Spirit. You do not have disciples without the Gospel. And if there are no disciples, I’m questioning whether you have the Gospel. They go together. You cannot separate the Gospel and the church.

As is made clear in the Christ’s commissioning of his disciples in Matthew,

Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

—Matthew 28:18-20

Disciple-making is a result of Christ’s lordship. This is not merely his lordship according to his divinity (which he always possessed, from eternity). It is authority that has been given, because of his completed redemptive work. What does that have to do with apologetics?

but honor the Messiah as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. However, do this with gentleness and respect, keeping your conscience clear . . .

—1 Peter 3:15-16

Look at that: LordshipRedemptive Lordship. Christ’s lordship backs our speaking of the Gospel and giving a defense (i.e. disciple-making) in the unbelieving world. Christ’s lordship drives us to apply Scripture to unbelief, calling for repentance and faith in Christ, and to continue to apply it, “teaching everything.”

Unbelief is out in the world. Christians readily admit this. Do we live like we believe it? How many of you are always ready to give a defense to anyone that may ask you? That’s a tall order. How many of us can honestly raise our hand and say, “I am equipped to offer a defense at anytime, to any unbeliever, regardless of their expertise, culture, or level of intelligence.”

Furthermore, the Bible teaches that every Christian should be able to deal with every problem at any time. God expects you to deal with any form of opposition to the Christian faith. The New Testament writers challenge their original audiences—and you—to be defenders of the faith. In the verse that serves as the cornerstone of Christian apologetics, Peter commands: “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15; see also Jude 3). Note that Christians-as-such (not just the philosophically-minded among us!) are commanded “always” to answer “every man.” Sadly, few evangelical students learn this in their home churches.

—Greg Bahnsen, Pushing the Antithesis pg. 17

How many of us, when we do give a defense, consciously set apart Christ as Lord? Meaning, is our defense founded on and guided by Christ’s Word? Is our defense under Christ’s Lordship?

God has ordained that we be the means. Unbelief in the world is to be confronted by God’s Word through God’s people. That much is clear from Luke 24, it is a consequence of Christ’s redemptive work. Our Lord said: “This is what is written: . . . repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations.” That’s God’s plan. The corporate people that Christ has redeemed is a missionary people, an apologetic people.

And the Bible also directs us to defend the faith—not because God would be helpless without us, but because this is one of His ordained means of glorifying Himself and vindicating His truth. . . .

It is God Himself, speaking through Peter’s inspired words [1 Peter 3:15], who calls upon us as believers—each and every one of us—to be prepared to defend the faith in the face of challenges and questions which come from unbelievers—any one of them.

The necessity of apologetics is not a divine necessity: God can surely do His work without us. The necessity of apologetics is a moral necessity: God has chosen to do His work through us and has called us to it. Apologetics is the special talent of some believers, and the interested hobby of others; but it is the God-ordained responsibility of all believers.

—Greg Bahnsen, Always Ready pg. 110

If we are not making disciples, do we even possess the Gospel? If we are not always ready to give a defense to anyone, ready to engage unbelief with God’s Word, are we a disciple of Christ? If we are not confronting unbelief in ourselves, in the household of God, and out in the world, then how can we say we have been transformed by the good news of Jesus Christ? Scripture clearly testifies that the consequence of the Gospel is a specific people, set apart by the truth, commanded to engage unbelief with that truth, whether it be in the body or out.

Let us strive to be ready to apply Scripture to all three spheres of unbelief: in us, in the body of Christ, and out in the world.

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Presuppositional Discipleship

Completely Different from the World — Greg Bahnsen

Here’s a thought: Discipleship is presuppositional.

“Oh come on, really? Why does everything have to be presuppositional?”

Perhaps a dead horse is being beaten, somewhere. I can definitely understand the reaction. Especially if you don’t like the word “presuppositional.”

Say it with me: pre-sup-po-si-tio-nal.

Honestly, it’s not just because I’m high on apologetics. I do enjoy the field, much more than I expected. But, that’s not the reason for attempting to justify a close, interdependent relationship between apologetics and discipleship. There actually is a reason.

In addition, everything is presuppositional in the sense that you can’t get any more foundational than presuppositions. Naturally, they are underneath everything else in our thinking.

Back to discipleship, in particular. Just to be clear, here I am using the term “discipleship” to refer to a Christian’s personal discipleship, one’s own following of the Lord Jesus.

How is discipleship “presuppositional”?

If you get that everyone has presuppositions, then it is obvious that any lifestyle is presuppositional in nature. People develop and live out their worldview. Their views on everything are based on their presuppositions. So, is the Christian‘s life, living as a disciple of Christ, just another option? Besides Christianity being true, the believer is self-consciously conforming his worldview to God’s Word. This is in opposition to everyone else living from the foundation of unbelief, whether they are conscious of it or not.

We get that presuppositions are involved in discipleship, because they are involved in everything. What I want to get at is, are we aware of which presuppositions are at work in our personal discipleship and our disciple-making?

Enter: Greg Bahnsen

This article by Greg Bahnsen could easily be in my top five favorite articles by him. Not like I have taken an accounting of that. I should . . .

Anyway, Bahnsen hath written:

Paul commands us to be rooted in Christ and to shun the presuppositions of secularism. In verse 6 of Colossians 2, he explains very simply how we should go about having our lives (including our scholarly endeavors) grounded in Christ and thereby insuring that our reasoning is guided by Christian presuppositions. He says, “As therefore you received Christ Jesus the Lord so walk in Him”; that is, walk in Christ In the same way that you received him. If you do this, you will be “established in your faith even as you were taught.” How then did you become a Christian? After the same fashion you should grow and mature in your Christian walk. Above, we saw that our walk does not honor the thought patterns of worldly wisdom but submits to the epistemic Lordship of Christ (i.e., his authority in the area of thought and knowledge). In this manner a person comes to faith, and in this manner the believer must continue to live and carry out his calling – even when he is concerned with scholarship, apologetics, or schooling.

Therefore, the new man, the believer with a renewed mind that has been taught by Christ, is no more to walk in the intellectual vanity and darkness which characterizes the unbelieving world (read Eph. 4:17-21). The Christian has new commitments, new presuppositions, a new Lord, a new direction, and goal – he is a new man; and that newness is expressed in his thinking and scholarship, for (as in all other areas) Christ must have the preeminence in the realm of apologetics and evangelism (Col. 1:18b).

—Greg Bahnsen, “Evangelism and Apologetics“, Synapse III (Fall, 1974)

The same shift in ultimate commitment that occurred at regeneration also guides the rest of life. This is a mandate for conversion of worldview following regeneration.

One does not come to faith in Christ via autonomy. That is what we must be saved from. God commands that we submit to Christ as Lord in every respect, and certainly this includes our thinking and knowledge. By God’s grace, we shift from asserting our authority, from elevating ourselves as the ultimate reference point and judge of truth. We shift to submitting to the Word of Christ, Christ as Lord. Our ultimate authority for all of life has changed. Indeed, in Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. The fear of the Lord is the beginning (not the conclusion) of knowledge. As a result, we are given the mind of Christ, and our mind begins to be renewed, no longer are we to be conformed to the patterns of this world. It’s part of sanctification.

That submission to Christ’s Lordship doesn’t just stay at conversion. We don’t leave Christ’s epistemic Lordship at the door. It’s also the hallway. It’s the whole house. As Jesus said, the one who hears his words and does them is like the wise man who builds his house on the rock. Discipleship means building on the rock, still. Building on the rock isn’t just for when one initially believes the Gospel. We don’t transfer to beachfront property after becoming a Christian. Sadly, that is often what happens. The conversion of many stops after believing the Gospel, never proceeding to self-consciously reconstruct their worldview according to Christ’s Words.

One does not come to faith in Christ by building on the sand. If the foundation is unsound, the structure is unsound. One does not climb up to Christ from presuppositions that rule out the possibility of the true God in the first place. One does not begin from suppressing the truth in unrighteousness and arrive at God. One does not conduct his investigation based in his own authority and then conclude that Christ is his authority. We should all agree, we do not come to belief by unbelief.

So why would you do that after? Why would we submit to Christ’s Lordship to believe the Gospel, then continue our life based on autonomy, on secular presuppositions that were abandoned? The point is that we did not so learn Christ that way, so our discipleship should not be that way. How we came to Christ should be how we live in Christ.

That submission to Christ’s authority over your thinking that happened when you first believed? Yeah, that’s supposed to continue. Hence, discipleship is presuppositional. The life of a disciple is one of shunning the presuppositions of unbelief, and thinking and living according to Christian presuppositions. Keep building that house on the rock, not on the sand.

Apologetic Approach to Discipleship

As I have said often, this apologetic is more than just an apologetic method. It shows how to live the whole Christian life. The foundation is laid. The apologetic methodology is simply based on and guided by the theology of Scripture. It’s just another application of the same theology that also grounds discipleship. And because the foundational beliefs behind this apologetic are so strongly emphasized, you see the immediate relevance to all of life. The moment it hits you, you see that these biblical convictions change everything, not just apologetic method. I’m not the only one whose whole Christian life has been upended by this apologetic. The presuppositions that determine the apologetic, the theology that drives methodology, also determine all of life. In short, discipleship.

This of course, is what the teaching of Scripture is supposed to do anyway. We’re just hard of hearing.

Understanding and knowledge of the truth are the promised results when man makes God’s word (reflecting God’s primary knowledge) his presuppositional starting point for all thinking.

—Ibid.

That’s why I begin discipleship (in the sense of helping others follow Jesus) with apologetics, right up front. Theology, it’s defense, and the importance of presuppositions. What to believe, the implications for all of life, and how to defend that belief. That’s “first things.” No divorce of biblical teaching from what it means for all of life.

Just as important is what I do not mean. I don’t mean this:

Warfield (and the old Princeton tradition) held that apologetics must lay the foundation upon which systematic theology can work. For Warfield, the inspiration of the Scriptures was not the foundational doctrine upon which the Christian scholar should proceed, but the last and crowning conviction to which he comes—based upon the demonstration of Scripture’s general trustworthiness by man’s right reason: “Surely he must first have Scriptures, authenticated to him as such, before he can take his standpoint in them. . . . [Faith has] grounds in right reason.” . . .

Christ is made one’s final authority only after He has been authorized by one’s own reasoning (which is, therefore, the real “final” authority). In principle, each and every teaching or action of Christ could then be required on its own to pass the scrutiny of human reason, lest that particular provide the reason for refusing to have general (implicit) trust in Christ.

—Greg Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis pg. 47-48

What would that be? In the context of teaching disciples, that would be not walking in the same way they received Christ. That’s beach house building, whether talking to believers or unbelievers. We don’t drop autonomy to receive Christ then pick it back up again. So when teaching apologetics as part of discipleship, it is not apologetics independent from Christian presuppositions (theology). It’s Christianity and it’s defense, together. Apologetics does not lay a foundation for theology. It’s merely one application of it. As was the evangelism that started this whole thing. As discipleship begins, learning everything Christ taught, even then will there be an apologetic edge. It really shows in a concrete way how the Word of God is the framework for understanding everything. It takes what begins as a theoretical commitment to Christ, and shows a very concrete manifestation of it.

God’s Word is logically primitive. So presuppositional apologetics isn’t just about the defense of the faith, but about the epistemic Lordship of Christ. It’s about interpreting all of life. Believing in order to understand, as Augustine said. Leaving no area of thought outside Christ’s jurisdiction.

Apologetics is an application of that. The reality is, your whole discipleship, growing into maturity, rides on presuppositions.

To make God’s word your presupposition, your standard, your instructor and guide, however, calls for renouncing intellectual self-sufficiency – the attitude that you are autonomous, able to attain unto genuine knowledge independent of God’s direction and standards. The man who claims (or pursues) neutrality in his thought does not recognize his complete dependence upon the God of all knowledge for whatever he has come to understand about the world.

—Greg Bahnsen, “Evangelism and Apologetics“, Synapse III (Fall, 1974)

Everyone’s discipleship needs to get that down, up front, ASAP. No one comes to Christ from the starting point of intellectual self-sufficiency. No one attains faith independent of God. No one believes in Christ while claiming neutrality. Therefore, no one should follow Jesus in that way, either. And that is why we have apologetics in the beginning of personal discipleship. It just drives home the presuppositions and authority of Christ which are the basis for their whole life, including apologetics.

[W]e must not artificially separate positive statement (theology) from its defense (apologetics) . . .

—Greg Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic pg. 54

Both the beginning and the whole of Christian discipleship is submissive to the Lord Jesus. We do not receive Christ through independent human reason, neither should discipleship be based on independent human reason. Both are founded on Christian presuppositions. Both are under the epistemic Lordship of Christ.

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