The Essential Trinity

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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

Redemption

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.

Westminster Confession of Faith 3.6

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.

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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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Understanding Cornelius Van Til

Not a combatant in personality, but not giving an inch theologically. That’s the man I knew.

—K. Scott Oliphint

This is probably the best concise introduction to Van Til’s apologetic, given by K. Scott Oliphint at the 2015 Bahnsen Conference. After a brief biographical sketch, Oliphint covers three basic categories:

  1. Analogical Knowledge
  2. Transcendental Method (Approach)
  3. Covenantal, rather than Presuppositional.

It’s an excellent teaching. This will really help you understand and read Van Til better, and help you grasp biblical apologetics better (including the impossibility of the contrary). Listen and take notes.

Rev. Dr. K. Scott Oliphint (PhD, Westminster Theological Seminary) is professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary.

 

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That “Same God” Question

“Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?”

This whole situation, with a professor of a Christian college saying Christians and Muslims worship the same God, is a perfect case for why apologetics is so important. Do you think apologetics isn’t really necessary? Just look around.

Somebody posted a selfie, wearing the hijab, and saying that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. That’s not so new, except that she’s a professor at a Christian college (Wheaton). That’s unique. Now what? There’s a big blow up. She’s been disciplined. And everybody’s talking about the ethics of the college in dealing with her, etc. But what else is in the air is what she said: Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

There it is. The question is: is that statement true? Can you answer? What about others in your church and family? Can the college and high school students answer?

Now, if someone is at a loss as to whether the question is true, isn’t that a problem?

Secondly, how do you go about answering that question? Sure, you may know immediately the truth of the matter. But why? You may know what you believe, but do you know why you believe it? How do you back up your position? And once again, what about others in your church and family? Are all the students equipped to take on the task of communicating why?

A Question of Method

Not only is this situation showing whether people know what they believe and why they believe it, but it is also exposing the matter of method. As this question is being handled, and various people are communicating what they believe and why, their approach is being made clear; their apologetic methodology. Simultaneously, something of their theology is being revealed as well, obviously. And this is not a non-issue. As Van Til said, “the question of method is not a neutral something.”

This is important: if you run directly to philosophy to answer this question, you’re doing it wrong. What I mean is, in your effort to back up your truth claim and communicate it, you immediately begin to define a god of generic theism, using philosophic categories, and thereby prove your point, you have shown your authority.

But, doesn’t the answer matter? Yes, it does. The answer had better be true.

There’s only one theism. Every other theism is an idolatry.

—K. Scott Oliphint

But how we get there is important, too. And how you get there reveals what your ultimate authority, your standard, is. There is no neutrality, even in apologetic engagement. If the method is in conflict with biblical teaching, then regardless of your answering correctly, you’re already on the wrong foot. Your standard for knowing what is true would be independent of Scripture. And also, you’ll only be able to challenge those who deny Christianity up to a certain point.

The authority is Scripture. We are commanded, in our apologetics as in all else, to sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts. Because the Triune God has given us his Word, that must be the foundation on which we stand. So when you are dealing with the question, “do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?”, your answer could actually be as simple as:

“Your heart must not be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. . . .
 
“Lord,” Thomas said, “we don’t know where You’re going. How can we know the way?”
 
Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
“If you know Me, you will also know My Father. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.”
 
“Lord,” said Philip, “show us the Father, and that’s enough for us.”
 
Jesus said to him, “Have I been among you all this time without your knowing Me, Philip? The one who has seen Me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me? The words I speak to you I do not speak on My own. The Father who lives in Me does His works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me. Otherwise, believe because of the works themselves.
 
—John 14:1, 5,-11

And in case that wasn’t clear enough, add an unequivocal “NO, Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God.”

Or, as James White shows in the video below, you go to the worship scene in Revelation, since the question is “do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?” And what is clearly presented in Scripture is not a unitarian worship.

The true God has revealed himself everywhere to man in creation, and truly defined himself in his Word, and shown what true worship is. That is our authority: the Triune God speaking in Scripture. Leave that, and the whole apologetic encounter goes down the drain.

Now, if you want to go and present a side-by-side comparison of the Christian God and the Muslim god, go ahead. But understand that why we know the answer is because God has spoken in his Word. That is how we know, and it is on God’s authority that we proclaim him. Not on autonomous philosophy, seeking to handle the question in a neutral fashion.

Are we bringing the question before the bar of God’s judgement, his self-testimony in Scripture? Or, are we looking to independent human reason to decide the truth of the matter?

As K. Scott Oliphint said at the end of his Bahnsen Conference address, when addressing the question of how to distinguish between Christianity and Islam,

Without Christianity, nothing else, including your beliefs, can make any sense. Islam can’t do it, Judaism can’t do it, only Christianity can do it. Because Christianity tells us that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and is constantly, always, everywhere, in every place revealing himself to every person, all the time, now and into eternity future. That’s the truth of the matter, and apologetics seeks to make that truth evident to people so that it connects with the truth that they already know, because God has been there revealing himself.

—K. Scott Oliphint

Apart from that approach, we cannot distinguish Christianity from other “theisms.” Christianity is trinitarian. But if Scripture is not our starting point in apologetics, and we attempt our defense by appealing to neutral categories to try to define “god”, we are not adequately or faithfully defending Christianity.

To bring this round full circle: do you think apologetics isn’t really a priority? If so, then wake up. Go online. Bam, confrontation. Look around, and you will see the clash of worldviews. Not only does God himself in his Word command all believers to do apologetics, making it a moral necessity, but the obvious situation we are in demands that we always be prepared to defend the Christian worldview to anyone.

For more helpful treatment of this issue, James White deals with the most important level: worship. We do not worship the same God.

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Pre-Meditated Evangelism, Not Pre-Evangelism

The central point of Van Til’s teaching and ministry is this: for Van Til, there could be no separation between a defense of the Christian faith, on the one hand, and the preaching of the gospel, on the other.

—K. Scott Oliphint, “Van Til the Evangelist”

Ever heard of apologetics being sharply distinguished from evangelism? You perhaps think they are.

I don’t believe that sharp distinction is justified. Dealing with obstacles to Christianity has been labeled “pre-evangelism”, but I am convinced otherwise. If our theology is actually informing our apologetic methodology, then we will realize there is no sharp separation between the two.

Here is the core that I want to draw attention to:

In the last essay of the festschrift in Van Til’s honor, Jerusalem and Athens, Fred Howe criticized Van Til for not making clear the distinction between his apologetic approach and evangelism. Van Til’s response to Howe is worth quoting in full:

Dear Dr. Howe:

You are certainly right in saying that I did not, in the discussion among Mr. White, Mr. Grey, and Mr. Black, make any sharp distinction between witnessing to and defending the Christian faith. I am not convinced by the evidence from Scripture which you cite that any sharp distinction between them is required or even justified. My defense of the truth of Christianity is, as I think of it, always, at the same time, a witness to Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We do not really witness to Christ adequately unless we set forth the significance of his person and work for all men and for the whole of their culture. But if we witness to him thus then men are bound to respond to him either in belief or disbelief. If they respond in disbelief they will do so by setting forth as truth some “system of reality” that is based on the presupposition of man as autonomous. I must then plead with them to accept Christ as their Savior from the sin of autonomy, and therewith, at the same time, to discover that they have been given, in Christ, the only foundation for intelligent predication.

— C. V. T

In a sidebar comment to Van Til’s interview in Christianity Today, Grady Spires noted: “Van Til’s task was to make both despisers and defenders of the faith ‘epistemologically self-conscious.’ For him the journey from philosophical apologetics to evangelism was a mere adjustment in style, not in basic content.”

A “mere adjustment in style, not in basic content.” For that reason, it seems to me accurate to think of Van Til’s apologetic approach as “pre-meditated evangelism.” It is an approach to the gospel that carries with it a biblically directed thoughtfulness, thinking through the truths of Scripture and their implications for those who are outside of Christ.

—Ibid.

I can’t improve upon K. Scott Oliphint’s article, so don’t hesitate to go read “Van Til the Evangelist”

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Massive Apologetics Track

Take up and read. A lot.
Take up and read. A lot.

A collection of books and courses to get you well on your way in developing and practicing a biblical apologetic. (Also see: How to use the Apologetics Track)

Is this all necessary, for every Christian? No. For the average believer, this length and depth of study is not required. I am in no way implying there are “levels” of Christians. Every Christian is required to be an apologist. Every believer therefore needs to undergo some preparation to ensure that they are always ready to give an answer to anyone. But, not every believer is going to make apologetics their living, or be debating apologists of other religions, or teaching apologetics at a seminary, or specially serve the church in apologetics. There’s no office of apologist. Yet, all believers are responsible, and some believers have been designed by God to have more aptitude for it. Not everyone is a Greg Bahnsen or James White, but some are. Pastors, I think, should give extra attention to it than the layperson, since ministers are specially reminded of it in Titus 1:9.

The bottom line is, all believers are responsible before the Lord Jesus to always be ready to answer anyone, and ministers especially are responsible. And since Jesus commanded that discipleship includes teaching everything, then all of us must be able to teach apologetics to others (though again, we won’t all be professors of apologetics).

If your first thought is, “Oh my… there’s so many resources,” then take my word when I say there could have been more. Much more. I have practiced restraint, in fact, and tried to narrow it down, and limit redundancy between the resources. There will be repetition, but that serves as reinforcement. But many books and resources have not made the cut simply because whatever they cover is dealt with by what has made the list.

I hope that the fruits of my study may benefit you. A primary reason why I read so much is so that others won’t have to. It takes a lot of time, and we don’t all have that kind of time. There is so much out there today, as never before, and it can be so overwhelming that some bother to even attempt to begin study. Or, we despair that we won’t know which resources are reliable, and which are not. If for nothing more, having all these links in one place should save a lot of work as far as looking for presuppositional material, which does not get as much publicity as other apologetic approaches.

That’s why I present, for your edification, this apologetics learning track. Don’t know where to begin? Here’s a proposal. And it is more than just a start.

Theology

Now, it is necessary that you build your apologetic from a sound theology. Theology determines apologetic methodology. If you need help getting started with that, read:

Your Bible! Internalize as much of it as you can. Dedicate time to reading for scope, and also dedicate time to read in detail. For help in your Bible reading, read Let the Reader Understand.

Most essentially for theology:

The Westminster Standards: The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), The Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC), and The Westminster Shorter Catechism (WSC). Available FREE in PDF and Kindle here.
The Forgotten Trinity by James White. Trinitarianism is what we are defending, so we had better know it.
Pilgrim Theology by Michael Horton. An easy-to-read systematic.
Lectures on Calvinism by Abraham Kuyper (FREE). This will show that sound theology is actually a worldview.
Institutes of the Christian Religion, by John Calvin (for a shorter reading, go for the 1541 edition published by Banner of Truth)
I would recommend nailing all, but not necessarily the Institutes, before diving into apologetics.

Now, on to apologetics.

The Apologetics Track

Perhaps it would be helpful to lay it out in stages. I know that for some, seeing a huge, unbroken list of books and classes is overwhelming (while others see a candy shop). So, I’ll break the track into sections, explaining what each will provide.

Stage One — Foundations

The point of stage one is to ingrain the biblical foundation. It may seem repetitive, but repetition is good. We need reminding. If we didn’t, then we would only need to read the Bible one time. But we don’t. There’s a thing called sin, and sin is the spoiler of understanding. Hence, we need the Gospel repeated weekly. We need to hear the teaching of God’s Word over and over and over again. As Spurgeon said, pound it into our heads. So, when learning apologetics, we need to be reminded constantly what the Bible says, until it becomes second nature.

Pushing the Antithesis: The Apologetic Methodology of Greg L. Bahnsen, edited by Gary DeMar

Simply the best and most concise introduction to apologetics that I have found. The arrangement of the book is very helpful as well, making a great teaching tool. It has the best practical applications after each chapter.

Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended, by Greg Bahnsen

The perfect pairing with Pushing the Antithesis. The positive presentation of the apologetic is excellent, strewn throughout with Scripture. However, the second part of the book is worth the price. Bahnsen evaluates others who have also been labeled as “presuppositionalists.” The most helpful critique is of Francis Schaeffer, which is spot on.

Always Ready by Greg Bahnsen

This one makes for quick reading. The appendix about Paul’s apologetic in Athens is brilliant, and clears up several common misconceptions about that engagement.

Basic Training for Defending the Faith, taught by Greg Bahnsen

Taught to high schoolers heading into college. So you can handle it. Or, you will realize how far our standards have fallen. I know I did.

Defending the Christian Worldview Against All Opposition, taught by Greg Bahnsen

Hands down the best series of lectures on apologetics.

Defending the Faith, taught by Dr. Michael J. Kruger (also here, for lecture 9).

One reason I appreciate Kruger so much is that his specialty is the New Testament canon. Knowing the current state of apologetics, you would expect someone with all that knowledge of manuscripts, history of transmission, etc. to be an evidentialist (since it’s so common). But he’s not. So he approaches the canon (as well as other issues) from a presuppositional perspective. His treatment of the problem of evil is brilliant, though simple.

Biblical Logic: In Theory & Practice, by Joel McDurmon

Logic is a necessity. Understanding logic from the Christian perspective is a necessity. This book is very approachable, with very good contemporary examples of fallacies. We need to be equipped to detect errors in reasoning always, and especially in apologetics. Conversation with an unbelieving perspective can be simplified when one has been trained to detect simple fallacies. Also, it’s best the Christian not commit those same fallacies, and thereby discredit his claims for Christianity.

Stage Two — Engagement

This is divided into two, overlapping parts. Apologetics is not merely arguments and answering every question. The “open hand” (persuasoria) is the positive side of apologetics. The “closed fist” (dissuasoria) is the negative side of apologetics. I agree with Os Guinness that the one we most need to recover is the “open hand.” So I’ve placed those helps before the others, so that character gets developed early.

The Open Hand – Persuasoria

Apologetics is not less than intellectual and philosophical, but it is also more. As you will soon here from Bill Edgar, abstract philosophy is not where people live and move and have there being. They live in a psychological and sociological context. Education, occupation, upbringing, etc. Hence, there is a cultural element in apologetics, if we are in fact to reach people as they are.

Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions by Greg Koukl
Even though Koukl’s apologetic methodology is completely different, I haven’t found as valuable a resource as this for learning how to have a conversation. There’s just nothing like it. Within a presuppositional framework, this will help you think and talk better about anything, including apologetics. A friend of mine has called this book “logic for dummies” (logically, it follows Biblical Logic). Adopt these tactics, make them second nature. I personally read this ever year. It is that good.

Inerrancy and Worldview: Answering Modern Challenges to the Bible by Vern Poythress

This is my “handout book” to people who have difficulties with the Bible. Vern Poythress has provided this book for FREE in PDF format (linked above). See my short review and recommendation.

We can begin to answer many of our difficulties in a number of areas if we make ourselves aware of the assumptions that we tend to bring along when we study the Bible. (pg. 16)

The Last Christian on Earth: Uncover the Enemy’s Plot to Undermine the Church by Os Guinness

Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion by Os Guinness

Os Guinness provides a much neglected component of apologetics. The tendency in all apologetic disciplines, I think, is to forget the sociological and cultural environment that people actually live in, so we forget about plausibility.

The Reason for God by Timothy Keller

A stellar example of how to dialogue with the postmodern person, in their language (and not Christian code language).

A Serrated Edge: A Brief Defense of Biblical Satire and Trinitarian Skylarking, by Douglas Wilson

Creativity is a characteristic of persuasoria, and this includes irony and humor. Doug Wilson uses both according to biblical example. His setting out of biblical norms for writing and speech is a helpful corrective to the “neutral” way of dialogue promoted today (which silences truth). The world doesn’t set the norms for discourse, the Bible does.

L’Abri (New Expanded Edition) by Edith Schaeffer

An example of the compassionate and hospitable manner in which apologetics should take place. We must never forget that every human being we encounter is also made in the image of God, and therefore we must listen, respect their honest questions, and give honest answers.

Cornelius Van Til: Reformed Apologist and Churchman by John Meuther

Apologetics is not isolated, and must not be practiced or even studied in isolation. Meuther is right to observe that when it comes to Van Til, we only look at his apologetic, and totally neglect the rest of him. But the rest was connected, indeed, resulted in his apologetic. And as James White has communicated, apologetics cannot be divorced from the church. Cornelius Van Til was the embodiment of that principle. Van Til lived an absolutely amazing life. This is my favorite biography.

Apologetics 101 taught by William Edgar, and read Christian Apologetics (2nd edition, edited by William Edgar) by Cornelius Van Til. Edgar’s little book Reasons of the Heart is also a textbook for the class.

Bill Edgar ties it all together in this class. He takes the intellectual rigor and biblical faithfulness of Van Til, the persuasive emphasis and sociological insights of Os Guinness, the compassionate and personal approach of Francis Schaeffer, and his own experience at L’Abri, and delivers it all as one. This is my favorite seminary course on apologetics. Christian Apologetics by Van Til is one of his assigned texts for the class, and an easy introduction to Van Til’s apologetic from the man himself.

The Closed Fist – Dissuasoria

Now, why is this section larger than the first, and in fact the largest chunk of the learning track? First, apologetic offense just gets more attention. And, there’s so many forms of unbelief. By God’s grace, we have unprecedented access to examples of faithful engagement with them. So instead of reinventing the wheel, we learn from those who have engaged before us.

Christian Theistic Evidences (2nd edition, edited by K. Scott Oliphint) by Cornelius Van Til

By now you’re able to get more Van Til, and this new edition includes explanatory notes by K. Scott Oliphint. This book is a thorough critique of the traditional apologetic approach. Van Til weighs, measures, and finds it wanting. Here you will see clearly that what distinguishes “evidential” apologetics from presuppositional apologetics is not that one uses evidence and the other does not. Look at that title: Evidences. Evidence and facts are only such within a philosophy of fact, which is what Van Til presents here. This book will put out of your mind forever the straw-man criticism that there’s no place for evidences in presuppositional apologetics. Actually, this was originally the syllabus for Van Til’s “Christian Evidences” class at Westminster Seminary. Oliphint quotes Machen saying to Van Til: “I wish I could take your course on Evidences. I need it and am sure it will benefit the Seminary.”

Five Views on Apologetics edited by Steven B. Cowan

The Bahnsen/Sproul Debate Over Apologetic Method (Full Audio) (Full Transcript)

James White – Apologetic Methodology: Part 1Part 2Part 3

These first four resources are each an apologetic for an apologetic approach, and critique of other approaches. Why the critiquing of other approaches to Christian apologetics? As Os Guinness said, “The apologist’s brief covers false teaching and false behavior wherever it is found, whether inside the church or outside in the wider culture” (Fool’s Talk, pg. 212). Wherever it is found. Unfortunately, there is much error inside the church when it comes to apologetic methodology. There is much undermining of the faith being defended by the very philosophy of defense. The very authority and teaching of Scripture, that is often the object of defense, is easily contradicted by the apologetic methodology. Therefore, it’s helpful to look at presuppositionalism compared to other apologetic approaches.

How To Answer The Fool: A Presuppositional Defense of the Faith (film of Sye Ten Bruggencate). Watch online.

Movie time! Look at this as a refreshing reward from all the reading so far. Taking presuppositional apologetics to the campus, Sye Ten deftly reduces arguments to absurdity. A fun watch. Grab a snack and enjoy the show.

Greg Bahnsen versus Gordon Stein debate, “Does God Exist?”

Yes, the great debate.

Worldview Apologetics taught by James Anderson

Helpful in teaching some basics about other worldviews. Did you know Mormonism is a materialistic worldview? I didn’t.

Classes, all FREE, taught by Timothy Tennent. This will give you material. So that we do not spout false testimony about our neighbor, we always need to be familiar with what others believe. Learn the world religions, and because of your apologetic foundations, you’ll be able to detect points of tension and begin to develop ways to approach each one. You’ll be prepared should you encounter any adherents.

World Religions,

Introduction to Islam,

Introduction to Buddhism,

Introduction to Hinduism.

Tennent’s classes are absolutely indispensable. To this day I fall back on what I learned in them.

What’s Your Worldview?: An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions by James Anderson

A truly original apologetic book. It will help you narrow down and identify what people believe. Well paired with his class.

Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes by Nancy Pearcey

Though not presuppositional (following Schaeffer), no one quite handles worldviews like Nancy Pearcey, and I know few others who are so easy and enjoyable to read. She makes seeing the weakness of false worldviews easy.

Scripture Alone: Exploring the Bible’s Accuracy, Authority and Authenticity by James White

An excellent presuppositional approach to Scripture. We had better understand our ultimate authority. The dialogues are especially helpful.

*Justification by Faith – James White vs Mitch Pacwa (Roman Catholicism)

*The Sola Scriptura Debate – James White vs Mitch Pacwa 1999 (Roman Catholicism)

*Dr. James White Full Interview ‘NWO Bible Versions’ (King James Onlyism)

*The Roman Catholic Controversy by James White

*Mary—Another Redeemer? by James White

*James White versus Robert Wilkin debate (Anti-Lordship, no-repentance “gospel”)

*Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship by John MacArthur

“What is that doing here?” The refutation that MacArthur presents is Scriptural (he and the Master’s Seminary are presuppositional, anyway). To summarize, this book is a critique of false teaching and a defense of the biblical, orthodox doctrine of God the Holy Spirit. It just might seem odd to classify this book as “apologetic” because we are used to defending the deity of Christ, or the Trinity, not so much the 3rd Person. But he is God, and what we believe concerning him must be founded on the Word he inspired.

*A Definitive Look at Oneness Theology: In the Light of Biblical Trinitarianism, (4th Edition — Revised, Updated, and Expanded) by Edward Dalcour

Oneness theology is deadly heresy. To deny the Trinity is to deny God himself, who is Triune, one God in three distinct persons. To deny the Trinity is to deny the Lord Jesus Christ, God the Son (co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit) incarnate, the only mediator between God and men. To lose the Trinity is to lose the plan of redemption revealed to us in Scripture. Oneness theology is a very present false teaching and every Christian must be prepared to engage it and refute it. This book is the place to go to help you do that. At the same time, you will be personally edified as you understand the Triune God’s self-revelation better. (Available in PDF)

*Trinity vs. Modalism Debate: James White vs. Roger Perkins (Oneness, Unitarian)

*The Same Sex Controversy: Defending and Clarifying the Bible’s Message About Homosexuality by James White and Jeff Niell

The Gay Christian Movement: A Response Part 1 and Part 2 by James White

Few things are more relevant today. Learn how to deal with this issue in a way faithful to Christ’s Lordship.

*What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur’an by James White

*Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air by Francis Beckwith and Greg Koukl

They’re obviously not of the same apologetic methodology, but by now you’re grounded enough to see what’s lacking. However, all things are weapons in the presuppositionalist’s hands. To my knowledge, no one has written such a beautiful demolition of relativism, and it’s excellent. A delightful read.

*Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen (FREE) (and FEE audio)

Liberalism is still alive and well. That’s why this book is included, though not from a presuppositional perspective.

*Debate: Is the Bible True? (White vs Crossan) (The Jesus Seminar, Liberalism)

James White is explicitly presuppositional in this particular debate. He’s presuppositional in every debate, but doesn’t necessarily explain it every time. He states what he’s doing very clearly in this particular debate. A nice pairing with Machen’s work.

*All these with the asterisk can either be blended with Stage Three, or completed afterwards.

Stage Three — Reinforcement

“Reinforcement” is pretty self-explanatory. These resources will top off, refine, and clarify the foundations and engagement. The first three books continue to develop apologetics. Van Til’s Apologetic serves the useful purpose of systematizing Van Til’s thought. K. Scott Oliphint assigns that book for students to really “get” Van Til, in Westminster’s second required apologetics course.

The Schaeffer classes and the memoir paired with them will give a more comprehensive view of how apologetics can be done; a larger look at the human side of the apologetic enterprise.

The Defense of the Faith (4th edition, edited by K. Scott Oliphint) by Cornelius Van Til

This edition includes the complete text of the original, 1955 edition. Scott Oliphint’s footnotes help immensely.

Revelation and Reason: New Essays in Reformed Apologetics edited by K. Scott Oliphint and Lane G. Tipton

Offering more exegetical support to Van Til’s apologetic. Lane Tipton’s two essays are worth the price of the book.

The Apologetic Implications of Self-Deception by Greg Bahnsen, the last chapter (FREE)

You can read all of it if you want. It’s Bahnsen’s dissertation, so much of it is repetitive, recounting various views on self-deception through history. He offers many helpful scenarios. The last chapter is the summary, that gets down to it. Self-deception is crucial in our understanding of apologetics. The title is odd, because there’s in fact no apologetic implications drawn out.

Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis by Greg Bahnsen

I consider this work to be the capstone of apologetic study. It’s slow reading. Because you have to keep stopping to write down something great every 2 minutes.

Francis Schaeffer – The Early Years (iTunes U) and Francis Schaeffer – The Later Years (iTunes U) taught by Jerram Barrs, and read The Tapestry: The Life and Times of Francis and Edith Schaeffer, by Edith Schaeffer

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