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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The Whole World is a Unit

introduction-to-systematic-theology-coverThe necessity of holding to the fact that the whole universe is a revelation of God will appear more fully when we come to the question of redemptive revelation. There we shall see that God not only communicated thought information to man, but also revealed himself by way of miracle in order to redeem the whole universe. Throughout Scripture the whole world is regarded as a unit. Together with man it is created for the glory of God. Together with man it is redeemed in principle. Together with man it will one day be fully glorified.

—Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology, 2nd edition (edited by William Edgar), pg. 121

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Stop Worshiping

Previously: Keep the Truth, or Keep the Peace? and Unity by Sacrificing Truth

Leaving a church is a big deal. It’s a serious decision, not one to be taken lightly or made hastily. There is a huge, blurry, gray area between the extremes of never leaving a congregation no matter what and being promiscuous with Christian community (neither of which are biblical).

There are many factors at play in this decision. J. C. Ryle helps out with one element: the doctrine preached.

True Doctrine

He who deliberately settles down under any ministry which is unsound, is a very unwise man. . . . But I do believe, if false doctrine is preached in a local church, a Christian who loves his soul is quite right in not going to that local church. To hear unscriptural teaching fifty-two Sundays in every year is a serious thing. It is a continual dropping of slow poison into the mind! I think it almost impossible for a man willfully to submit himself to it, and not be harmed.

—J.C. Ryle, “The Fallibility of Ministers

Since stating the obvious is always helpful, I’ll say this: the local church does not replace your brain. The pastor does not replace your personal judgment. You do not surrender your responsibility to discern. God in his word has made it clear that you are personally responsible to distinguish between truth and error.

Now, the church is supposed to help with that, and actually train the people to do that. But, sinful as we are, sometimes the opposite is done. Sometimes false doctrine is being peddled to the congregation. And you as a student of Christ with the Bible in your hand are responsible to detect when the teaching is contrary to sound doctrine.

Do you think it might be a good idea for you to stop worshiping at that church, then? J. C. Ryle thinks so:

I see in the New Testament we are plainly told to “Test everything” and “Hold on to that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). I see in the Book of Proverbs that we are commanded to “Stop listening to instruction, my son, and you will stray from the words of knowledge” (Proverbs 19:27). If these words do not justify a man in ceasing to worship at a church, if positively false doctrine is preached in it, I do not know what words can.

Does any one mean to tell us, that to attend your local denominational church is absolutely needful to a person’s salvation? If there is such a one, let him speak out, and give us his name.

If false doctrine is being preached, then you are justified in leaving that local church, according to the mandates of Scripture.

Notice that question of Ryle’s regarding a denominational church. He’s pointing out an objection that is still around today. There are believers, who out of loyalty to their denomination (or non-denomination), will never leave their local congregation no matter what. Even if false doctrine is preached, it would be wrong to leave the church, because it’s our denomination! Non-denomination, movement, whatever label you prefer, that tendency is still there. I know first hand. I’ve seen it.

Ryle asks why would you stay even in the face of the preaching of false doctrine? Will leaving the denominational church compromise your salvation? If anyone dares make such a preposterous claim, please, step up to the microphone so everyone can hear you.

Now, if that wasn’t far enough, Ryle points out this ugly fact of life:

There are many churches where the religious teaching is little better than Roman Catholicism. Ought the congregation of such churches to sit still, be content, and take it quietly? They ought not. And why? Because, like Paul, they ought to prefer truth to peace.

Ouch. That hasn’t changed since Ryle’s time, either. I was just reading yesterday this excellent article by K. Scott Oliphint. Evangelical seminary graduates are sliding over to Rome, partly because they already have epistemology and synergism in common. As Oliphint says, “In agreement with Rome, these authors were taught that “God is not a divine rapist” (p. 53); conversion is not a monergistic work of God, but is synergistic.”

Evangelicalism (in the theological sense of the word) is very similar to Roman Catholicism. “By evangelicalism we mean . . . the general non-Reformed Protestantism” (Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 4th Edition, pg. 308; also Defending the Faith kindle loc. 36). In other words, Arminianism. So there are not only outward similarities in evangelical practice (like moralism, the authority given to pastors), and preaching (Law without Gospel), but also presuppositionally. If you want to look into that, read The Defense of the Faith (4th Edition) by Cornelius Van Til, where he says “evangelicalism has retained something of Roman Catholicism both in its view of man and in its view of God” (pg. 102). Some of the essays in the book were first published as a six-part series which is available for free: Defending the Faith.

The migration of Evangelicals to Rome would not be so easy if evangelical churches weren’t already teaching like Rome. I know of a Roman Catholic who visited a large, popular, local evangelical church. After the service concluded, she commented: “it’s not that different.” That’s the kiss of death, right there.

That’s not even as bad as Christians, who believe in justification through faith alone, choosing to remain in the Roman Catholic church and attend the mass.

J. C. Ryle keeps going:

There are many churches where the religious teaching is little better than morality. The distinctive doctrines of Christianity are never clearly proclaimed. Plato, or Seneca, or Confucius, could have taught almost as much. Ought the congregation in such churches to sit still, be content, and take it quietly? They ought not. And why? Because, like Paul, they ought to prefer truth to peace.

I’ve been there. It was emotionally difficult to come to grips with, and admit it to myself. But I had to conclude at one point that the church I was a part of was not marked by the preaching of the Gospel. The preaching was morality. Some friends and I labeled that “Mosque.” Bryan Chapell says “Synagogue sermons.” The point is, you could take many evangelical sermons and preach them in a synagogue, a mosque, the kingdom hall, or the Mormon church, and walk out of there alive. Why? Because what makes Christianity different from them is entirely lacking in that preaching. It’s just morality. Ryle says we should not sit quietly with that. Make some noise. Because the truth is more important.

Division!

But division! That dirty word. Forbear everything, anything, to avoid even being remotely associated with divisiveness. The unforgivable sin, that is. Keep the peace, at all costs!

Yet, Christ said he brought a sword, to divide. Jesus Christ’s coming to earth caused division. Another classic case of “What Would Jesus Do?” that everyone seems to forget. What is worth dividing over? As in, detaching from your congregation? Truth. Remember, truth before peace. As Ryle says, returning to the matter of loyalty to a denomination,

But it is useless to expect attachment to the denomination, when the minister of the denominational church is ignorant of the Gospel, or a lover of the world. In such a case we must never be surprised if men forsake their denomination, and seek truth wherever truth is to be found. If the denominational minister does not preach the Gospel and live the Gospel, the conditions on which he claims the attention of his congregation are virtually violated, and his claim to be heard is at an end. It is absurd to expect the head of a family to endanger the souls of his children, as well as his own—for the sake of “the denomination.” There is no mention of denominations in the Bible, and we have no right to require men to live and die in ignorance, in order that they may be able to say at last, “I always attended my local denominational church.”

And all the non-denominational types said, “Amen!”

But honestly, all are addressed, here. Whether you want to admit to being a denomination or not, whatever label you choose, this is just as likely to happen. If the preacher, in any church, part of any “movement”, does not preach the Gospel and live the Gospel, his claim to be heard is at an end. Seriously, saying at last, “I always attended my local non-denominational church” doesn’t sound any better.

But division is bad!

Is division always bad? Not according to Ryle, based on all the Scriptural reflection up to this point.

False doctrine and heresy are even worse than schism. If people separate themselves from teaching which is positively false and unscriptural, they ought to be praised rather than reproved. In such cases separation is a virtue—and not a sin.

There you have it. Separate. Without fear, but with confidence that the Scripture itself promotes truth before peace. Separating from your congregation is a serious thing. But false doctrine and heresy are also serious. Peace is a good thing and something to pursue, but not at the expense of truth. Disruption needs to happen when the God’s truth is at stake, as Paul did with Peter at Antioch (Galatians 2:11-16).

Just because it is the right thing to do doesn’t mean it should be taken lightly. Just because you should get out, doesn’t mean it’s easy. It may be painful. To have remained silent and still would have been easier. Things would be more peaceful. False teaching is toxic.

To separate from a church that teaches false doctrine is wisdom. To sit still, be content, and take it quietly is harmful and demonstrates that the truth of God’s Word is not valued. Rather, to separate is a virtue, and praiseworthy. Indeed, we should show ourselves as disciples of the one who is Truth (John 14:6).

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Reformed Perspective on Education

Foundations of Christian Education cover

If we are truly Reformed, we shall say that the will of God should determine our attitude to the Christian school, and that this will is revealed to us in his general, but above all in his special revelation.

—Louis Berkhof, “Being Reformed in Our Attitude Toward the Christian School” in Foundations of Christian Education: Addresses to Christian Teachers pg. 28

In his essay, “Being Reformed in Our Attitude Toward the Christian School”, Louis Berkhof first summarizes some secular approaches to education, namely nationalism and evolutionary psychology. Then in contrast, Berkhof discusses the Reformed perspective on education. Here are some excerpts under that heading.

Who is responsible to educate children?

God has made known to us whom he regards as the responsible educators of the child. He has indicated this in his general revelation in nature in the orders which he has established. The gentile world hit upon the idea of parental obligation in the work of education. . . Athens placed the responsibility for the work of education squarely on the family; all its schools were private schools. And of the five rights of the Roman citizens, that of the father over his children was the very first. . . The home rather than the school was the center of the educational system. . . The children are born of the parents and therefore belong to them first of all. . . . Hence it is but natural that the parents should be the responsible educators, and that, if the parents should feel constrained to call in the help of others, these others should feel that they stand in loco parentis (in the place of the parents, ed.).

—pg. 28-29

Scripture itself also teaches that parents are the responsible educators.

God’s special revelation teaches us the same truth with even greater clarity. Negatively, it may be said that the Bible in speaking of the duties of the state never mentions the work of educating the children of the nation (cf. Exod. 18:22-26; Deut. 1:16, 17; Matt. 22:17-21; Rom. 13:1-7; I Pet. 2:13-15). It is a striking fact that even the Old Testament, in which God deals with the nation of Israel more than with the individuals that belong to it and consequently speaks primarily in national terms, always refers to or addresses the parents as the responsible educators of the children. . . . In the New Testament . . . when it speaks of the education of the children, it turns to the parents in the words, “Ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but nurture them in the chastening and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).

—pg. 29

Because human beings are whole persons, and the whole of man is engaged in every activity, then the education process should be a “unitary process.”

It is utter folly to think that you can inform the intellect without giving direction to the will, that you store the head with knowledge without affecting the emotions, the inclinations, the desires, and the aspirations of the heart. . . . Again, in view of the fact that education is and should be a unitary process, we understand the absolute absurdity of saying that the school is concerned only with the head and should limit itself to secular education, while the home and the church make provision for the heart by adding religious education. We should never forget that the education which the child receives in the school, though divorced from religion, is nevertheless an education of the entire child and is bound to make a deep impression on the heart.

—pg. 32

I managed to scrounge up the essay in PDF format:

Being Reformed in Our Attitude Toward the Christian School

Since the table of contents for this book has been difficult to find, I’ll post it here:

Part One: The Necessity and Distinctiveness of Christian Eduction in Reformed Perspective
1. Antitheses in Education (Cornelius Van Til)
2. Being Reformed in Our Attitude Toward the Christian School (Louis Berkhof)
Part Two: The Doctrinal Foundations of Christian Education
3. Creation: The Education of Man—A Divinely Ordained Need (Van Til)
4. Covenant: The Covenant of Grace and its Significance for Christian Education (Berkhof)
5. Faith: Faith and Our Program (Van Til)
6. Authority: The Christian School and Authority (Berkhof)
7. Eternal Life: The Full-Orbed Life (Van Til)

The essays by Cornelius Van Til are available for free as the appendices to his Essays on Christian Education (which is recommended reading).

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Objections to Apologetics: It’s not nice.

You thought this series was over, didn’t you? Me too. Then I rewatched Voddie Baucham’s first apologetics talk at DTS. Silly me.

Voddie Baucham says in “Doing Apologetics in an Anti-Apologetics Age” that there are two reasons why apologetics has fallen out of favor, today: sentimentalism and mysticism. I’ll talk about the first and leave the second to another day.

Sentimentalism

We don’t like apologetics because it’s not nice. It’s confrontational.

There is an eleventh commandment: “Thou Shalt Be Nice.” And we don’t believe the other ten.

—Voddie Baucham

He defines “nice” with terms like soft, weak, afraid, cowardly. I agree.

He says a bit more about the Eleventh Commandment in his book,

Perhaps you’re unfamiliar with the eleventh commandment, “Thou Shalt Be Nice.” Interestingly, this is the only commandment that receives universal acceptance in our culture. Moreover, it is the only commandment whose application most people are willing to insist upon. . . . speak up on behalf of the eleventh, and you are a true paragon of virtue!

. . . the specific application of the eleventh commandment tends to apply to religious debate. The idea is that we should not confront people about their religious beliefs . . . unless, of course, those beliefs are traditional, Protestant, biblical beliefs. Then they’re fair game, since those beliefs are inherent violations of the eleventh commandment.

Expository Apologetics: Answering Objections with the Power of the Word by Voddie Baucham Jr. Kindle loc. 2339-52

We don’t dare say someone is wrong.

The idea of confrontation, of saying “I’m right, you’re wrong” is unacceptable to us, today. The very height of arrogance is thinking you are right and other people are wrong. I run into that idea often.

. . . we don’t like to do it. Let’s be honest. We simply do not like to confront people. In fact, some of us would rather be slapped in the face than have to tell people their worldview is wrong. Nor is this necessarily a sign of weakness on the part of the Christian.

—Ibid., loc. 2352

Confrontation may be uncomfortable, but it is necessary. To avoid confrontation at all costs is wrong. That would be capitulating to the culture, instead of submitting to God’s authority.

But we don’t want to offend anyone. Too often, we care about the good opinion of others more than with God’s offense.

We also fundamentally misunderstand the apologetic situation. We forget the nature of the unbeliever, the nature of the problem. We think we can “nice” someone into the kingdom (which is how I think “love them into the kingdom” actually plays out). If we could get our approach just right, if we were nicer, then we wouldn’t offend the lost and they would accept what we are saying.

That’s not how God sees it. God has diagnosed the problem: the unbeliever is utterly opposed to the things of God, his understanding darkened and his heart hard. It’s not about our approach. It’s not a problem that being nice can fix (niceness is not a biblical answer to anything, actually). The problem is they love rebellion and hate God, and hate us, consequently. Niceness isn’t what they need. Confrontation by the powerful, self-attesting Word is what they need. They need the Gospel. They need that heart of stone replaced with a heart of flesh.

. . . remember that God has informed us of the likely response of our hearers. I am often amused as people ask me for ways to do apologetics that are least likely to offend lost people. . . .

We need to be aware that “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19). We need to be reminded of some of the most poignant words Jesus ever spoke:

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. (John 15:18–19)

Attempting to be loved by the world often leads to compromise. As apologists, we do not wish to be more offensive than necessary. However, we know that there will be offense. We might as well offend with the gospel.

—Ibid., loc. 787-800

Let not sentimentalism be an obstacle to obeying the Lord Jesus. Let not the demand for niceness lead you to compromise. Instead, show real love by proclaiming the truth with gentleness and respect. Engage in apologetics.

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