This debate is very important for our context, since this is where the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) comes from.
My thoughts from the debate:
I was disappointed. I expected the quality of arguments to be at a higher level. But honestly, the INC arguments were at the same level as INC people I have met. I expected someone of Ventilacion’s level of education to do better than the typical INC. Sure, he could talk the original languages. But that was the only difference. It didn’t change the substance or quality of his argumentation. Still skipping verses. Still ignoring context. Still asking questions but not letting you answer. Still taking cheap shots. Still overly aggressive in manner. Still incapable of logic. I was quite surprised. I thought, “Well, that’s familiar.” I guess that higher education makes no difference. Once you’ve talked to one INC member, you’ve talked to their professors, as well. So here is one way that this debate is helpful in our context: the level of argumentation you watch in this debate is what you will run into on the street with the INC. Watch this debate, and you’ll know their script.
“Show me a verse”
Typical cult: “show me a verse.” “Show me a verse that says there is one God in three persons! You can’t? I win!” Really? Why must the doctrine be contained in a single verse? You do know that the verses are not inspired, yes? Meaning, the verse numbers actually could be different. Or, there could be none at all! Originally, there were no verses! What happens to your argument, then? Then you’d actually be forced to read the text as it was given, not disjointed. Then you would be force to ask, show me the book of the Bible that contains the doctrine, perhaps. But even then, these groups demand that the doctrine be stated explicitly, in so many words! Now, why is that necessary? It’s really annoying. I’ve had to deal with that nonsense personally. Same thing, different day (different cult, even). So how about I reply, “show me a verse” that explicitly says the words “God is only one person”! You can’t! Oooohhhh! The debate is over! And everyone applauds.
Word level criticism
Ventilacion was stuck on the level of specific words, the entire debate. To the point of saying that “I AM” (in Greek) only had one meaning in any given context, so that if it referred to deity in one place, then it must refer to deity when the blind man said it. Seriously? That is not how meaning works. There’s a semantic range (and I’m sure someone of Ventilacion’s education knows this). Context determines meaning, such as who is speaking, the totality of what they are saying, what comes before and after. This isn’t difficult, Ph.D level stuff. On the flip side of this, Ventilacion’s implied that unless the word is there, the concept isn’t. For example, James White asked, “who’s the ‘him’?” in a particular verse (from Isaiah), then said “YHWH.” And Ventilacion’s response was, “Is there a tetragrammaton [YHWH] there?” White’s response, “this is Greek.” Ha! The “him” in the text was YHWH. But what was Ventilacion’s objection? The word is not there! And it obviously is a reflex of his. As if, unless a specific word appears in every single verse, the concept represented by that word is not in the verse. Unbelievable. That’s not how you read anything.
On a related note: I cannot believe Ventilacion lowered himself so far as to (rhetorically) ask where the word “Trinity” is in the Bible. James White didn’t even respond to it. Frankly, such a stupid question isn’t worthy of the time it takes to ask it.
Move on, please…
The debate didn’t seem to make much progress, at least on Ventilacion’s side. He could waste the entire cross examination time repeating just two questions! “Iiiiiiiii will ask the question AGAIN!” Oh my, if it was a courtroom, “Objection! Asked and answered” would have been so helpful. And no, volume and inflection does not make a pointless question profound (but that’s the cultural style, not unique to INC). On a side note, I loved when James White said, “If you’re ‘ooo-ing’ then you’re not listening to a word I’m saying.” I almost fell off my chair. Anyway, back to the issue. Because Ventilacion kept repeating himself ad nauseam, James White was of course limited, having to attempt to answer the questions (half of which were irrelevant) over and over again. And naturally, because Ventilacion repeated himself instead of offering more arguments, James White had less to cross examine.
Ventilacion was repeatedly disrespectful to James White. Honestly, that’s stereotypical of INC devotees. Talk to a Mormon, and they’re nice. Talk to a Jehovah’s Witness, and they’re polite. Talk to an INC? Jerk. That’s the reputation that INC has built up for themselves. Over here, we all have been told (or have learned personally) what attitude to expect from INC people. Rude, combative, aggressive, disrespectful. I honestly expected more in a formal debate! Sure, he wasn’t as nasty as he could have been. But compare his attitude and manner with that of James White. There’s a clear difference. I was expecting that Ventilacion could rise above the typical INC attitude I had personally witnessed. I guess that was expecting too much. Ventilacion seemed very arrogant, and flattered himself on more than one occasion.
Narrow the field
This is the only positive thing I’ll mention. As always, James White brilliantly narrowed the field in his opening statement. You simply have to do that right at the beginning: “The debate is about this, not about that (or that, or that, or that . . .).” And periodically he would point out to everyone that the real issue, what the debate was supposed to be about, was avoided the entire time. I hope it was clear to everyone. It was funny, then frustrating, then tiring, as Ventilacion would simply repeat himself that there’s only one God, triumphantly asserting that James White hadn’t refuted the point! Well, of course he’s not going to refute that. Opening statement, remember? The debate is over who is God, not how many! Nobody is arguing monotheism, so James White doesn’t intend to “refute.” That’s not the debate! And no matter how many times you repeat texts that say there is only one true divine being, that does not exclude that there are multiple persons. They are not mutually exclusive. But of course, he assumed unitariansim. And, in typical style, all the INC attendees would clap and get excited for no reason. That kind of irrational, illogical following is all too familiar. They all thought he’s saying something, when he’s not actually proving anything. Sadly, too many people are like that. But for the grace of God . . .
Now, I’m off to listen to James White’s post-debate Dividing Line episodes (April 25 and May 2) and Apologia Radio’s episode (featuring James White and Sye Ten Bruggencate!) on the debate. I also found a recap by South Dakota Apologetics (who hosted the debate).
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.
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 bydefinition 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.
the Trinity is the highest revelation God has made of himself to His people. It is the capstone, the summit, the brightest star in the firmament of divine truths.
—James White, The Forgotten Trinity pg. 14
To demonstrate the fundamental nature of the Trinity to the Christian faith, let’s look at God’s plan of redemption.
Notice the Trinity here:
As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath he, by the eternal and most free purpose of his will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore, they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by his Spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by his power, through faith, unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.
The Father elects. Jesus himself said this. Who gave Jesus his sheep? God the Father. Christ said he would lose non that the Father had given him. We see a distinction of persons, here. The Father has not only chosen the people, and the ultimate destiny, but also the means. The means and the ends are foreordained.
How are the elect redeemed? By Christ, God the Son, the 2nd Person of the Trinity. The 2nd Person of the Trinity is one who became man, taking unto himself human nature, to live, suffer, and die for the elect. His work is what reconciles sinners to the Father. And (though not mentioned above) the Son of God continues to intercede for us before the Father, even now.
Finally, the elect are regenerated, called to faith in Jesus Christ by the 3rd Person of the Trinity: God the Holy Spirit. In due time, the Holy Spirit applies the redemptive work of Christ to the individual, who was chosen by the Father since eternity past.
The Father sends the Son to become incarnate, and live and die for the sins of the elect, to reconcile them to the Father. Jesus Christ reveals the Father, and testifies that it is good for him to depart so that a 3rd Divine Person, the Holy Spirit, can come. Christ dies and resurrects, ascends to the right hand of the Father. Then the Father and Son send the Holy Spirit upon the church. The Holy Spirit applies Christ’s work to those the Father has chosen, those for whom Christ died. And the Holy Spirit continually sanctifies believers, and in the end will raise up our bodies. Jesus Christ continually intercedes for us, and in the last day will return bodily to earth.
The plan of redemption is clearly Trinitarian. Now, let’s remove the Trinity, for the sake of argument, and see what happens. Can the plan of salvation remain intact if God is only one person, instead of three?
Who then does the electing? A unipersonal god. He would then naturally give these sheep. But wait, who is he giving them to? Uh oh. We’ve run out of persons. The Son cannot be given anything by the Father, if they are in fact the same person. That doesn’t work.
Who sends the Son? Either the Father or the Son is no longer part of the plan. The Son can be in no way “sent,” he can in no way be doing his Father’s work. It’s just him. All alone. Who is the Father rewarding and exalting? Himself? Ridiculous.
How can Christ’s work be reconciliation, if the Father and the Son are not distinct persons? Is Jesus merely reconciling people to himself? How can Christ be a mediator, a go-between, if he’s not actually between two parties? If the Son is identified with the Father, then he’s not a Mediator, anymore. There should be someone between him and the elect, then! Christ can’t be the only way to the Father if there is no distinction between them. How can Christ intercede for us, if there’s not a distinct person that he intercedes to? It’s just us and a unipersonal god, with no mediator or intercessor in between.
How can the Holy Spirit be “sent” if there is only one person in the Godhead? Same problem. How can the Holy Spirit be said to intercede for us? Same problem. Why did the Son of God have to ascend to heaven, if he is identical with the Holy Spirit? That’s a bit strange. The unipersonal god was already around. How could it be true that Jesus needed to truly leave so that another helper could come? That would not be true, if they were in fact the same person. The Spirit effectually calls the elect to put their faith in who? Not himself, but a distinct person: Christ. Oh, and how can the elect be “adopted” without the Father and Son being distinct, also? Being united to Christ, made co-heirs with him, and being therefore adopted sons of God. But if there’s just one person, all of that is out.
Needless to say, redemption collapses apart from the Trinity. Who’s doing the sending, or being sent? Who’s doing the electing, the dying, and the applying? Who exactly are we reconciled to, and why do we need a mediator? All of these things are left hanging, if God is not three persons.
Christianity stands or falls with the doctrine of the Trinity. The Bible represents the plan of salvation as a compact or covenant among the persons of the Trinity. Where the doctrine of the Trinity is abandoned, the whole Bible teaching about the plan of salvation must go with it.
—J.G. Vos, The Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary loc. 540
That is probably the clear case example to show that the Trinity is the most important doctrine of the Christian faith. Without the Trinity, the plan of redemption given in Scripture doesn’t make sense. Lose the Trinity, and you lose salvation.
All the Andy Stanley stuff (so far) in one place. This is for me as much as anyone else. Instead of tracking down each resources in this conversation each time I want to review, here they are, easy to find. This conversation isn’t over, so as developments continue, I’ll continue to add them to this post.
Why do I care? Why should you?
Because, this shows how foundational your view of Scripture is. And, how your theology will determine your apologetic. The way Christians treat the Scriptures is no joke. It’s a serious thing.
What is the church? What is apologetics? What’s the relationship between the church and the Bible? An unbiblical theology of the nature of God results in a sub-biblical apologetic, then that decays the highest view of Scripture, as James White says. These things go together.
That’s why this discussion, with the excellent criticism, is so important. James White’s evaluation of this issue on the Dividing Line is the main event, here. As James White points out in the 9/19 episode of the Dividing Line, this Andy Stanley thing provides the opportunity to talk about the intersection of so many things. Non-Reformed theology joins with a man-centered apologetic, together with “mere-Christianity.” It all comes together to form the weird things Stanley says on stage.
When someone with a global platform, talking to 32,000 people, says if the Old Testament vanished it wouldn’t undermine Christianity, there must be a response. “Liberal garbage,” says James White (How Theology Determines Apologetics, and So Much More, 2:01:01). I agree.
I think this post is appropriate first, regarding publicly addressing public error. Fittingly, it’s actually in response to flak the author received about critiquing Andy Stanley!
Finally, “The Dividing Line” with James White. Regarding the interview of Andy Stanley by Russell Moore at a conference and the sermon of Andy Stanley’s that started this whole thing, James White shows both, and critiques them point by point.
Here are the Dividing Line episodes, in order:
Then, James White actually went through with his idea, and preached “Unashamed of Inerrancy” at his church (Part 1, and Part 2).
Continuing with the Dividing Line:
Read this excellent article by David Prince, written the day after:
Now, the last episode of the Dividing Line, where James White examines Andy Stanley’s follow up, clarifying sermon. Also, the contrast of Frank Turek’s and James White’s response to the problem of evil is especially helpful.
“Liberal garbage,” says James White. I agree.
Dr. Frank Turek’s wrote an article in response which came out the same day as the last episode of the Diving Line:
James White put out another episode of the Dividing Line, and actually mentions Michael Kruger’s article: “We’re saying the same things.” The part related to Andy Stanley begins at 22:55, “back to the Russell Moore/Andy Stanley discussion, once again noting fundamental issues of ecclesiology and Scriptural authority lying at the root of the topic.”
Dr. Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written an essay on this issue:
This is an apologetic disaster and would leave Christians with no authoritative Scripture. Instead, we would be dependent upon historians (among others) to tell us what parts of both testaments we can still believe.
Those parts will inevitably grow fewer and fewer. This is what must happen when the total trustworthiness, sufficiency, and authority of the Bible is subverted.
We are back with Friedrich Schleiermacher, trying to convince the “de-converted” of his day that Christianity can be retained as an intellectually defensible morality and spirituality without its central truth claims and doctrines.
Andy Stanley is no Friedrich Schleiermacher, but the path he charts for the church is a road to abject disaster.
“. . .needed to address a few more issues on text topics and the whole “Ecclesiastical Text” movement. Looked at 1 John 3:1 and the Pericope Adulterae (John 7:53-8:11) and again asked serious questions of the fundamental assertions of this movement.”
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.
This book is so needed. I think every Christian should eventually read this book. There’s so much “spirituality” wafting around, and we uncritically absorb unchristian ideas. Too many evangelicals haven’t the foggiest idea what biblical spirituality is. That’s why this book is so helpful.
What we describe as ‘heresies’ in the New Testament church can more accurately be described as ‘false spiritualities’. What happened at Corinth, Ephesus, Colossae and Galatia was not so much a clearly articulated ‘heresy’ as another spirituality, another way of living as a Christian, another way of praying, another way of relating to God. If this is the case, then the importance and relevance of studying the subject of spirituality will be obvious to all. Indeed people today also move form the purity of the Gospel because they adopt a different spirituality, more than because they adopt a different theology. (pg. 25)
Apologetics is not an isolated discipline, 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. He was an amazing apologist and a committed churchman. Van Til lived an absolutely amazing life. This is my favorite biography.
Logic is a necessity, period. Even more, having the Christian perspective of logic is a necessity. It will affect our everyday life, and every conversation. This book is very approachable, with very good contemporary examples of fallacies. Christians need to be equipped to detect errors in reasoning always, and especially in apologetics. Conversation with an unbelieving perspective (or with anyone) 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.
Put simply, the ethical Biblical basis for all of logic is the ninth commandment: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor (Ex. 20:16). This command presupposes a few things—which I will discuss momentarily—but for now simplifies our understanding of logic. Logic is the systematic study and practice of discerning and telling the truth. . . .
It is an ethical matter which we should approach as seriously as any other ethical matter.
—Joel McDurmon, Biblical Logic: In Theory & Practice, Kindle loc. 347-355
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. We can err in approaching people as disconnected from their environment, as if the intellectual matter of Christianity can be considered in isolation. Both these books remind us that people do not live in the world of abstract ideas. They don’t live and move and have their being in academia. They’re people with families, work, and a culture. Christians are called to witness to people, and if we are to actually do that, we need to not only be students of Scripture and the intellectual challenges to Christianity, but students of people as well. (Fool’s Talk actually was published this year.)
The only negative thing I have to say is “spoiler alert!” Otherwise, Cosper does a great job of showing echoes of the Christian worldview in movies and TV. Christians are under the Lordship of Christ in all that we do and are to interpret everything by Scripture. This book helps us with what we watch.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Very well researched. It hit me about halfway through it that this is actually an apologetics book. The Holy Spirit is God, so false doctrine concerning him must be challenged. And the case made from Scripture is excellent.
I picked this gem up at Westminster California and read it at the beach. I couldn’t put it down. This book offers helpful correction to how we approach the beginning of the Bible, and will have implications for your study of the rest of Scripture. I highly recommend this.
If you want to get nailed, read this book. Idolatry is sneaky and we need all the help we can get. I found this insight particularly helpful:
we should consider that counterfeit gods come in clusters, making the idolatry structure of the heart complex. There are “deep idols” within the heart beneath the more concrete and visible “surface idols” that we serve.
Sin in our hearts affects our basic motivational drives so they become idolatrous, “deep idols.” . . . Each deep idol — power, approval, comfort, or control — generates a different set of fears and a different set of hopes.
“Surface idols” are things such as money, our spouse, or children, through which our deep idols seek fulfillment.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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)
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.
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.
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.