If You Can’t See God, It’s Because You Are Blind

speakers_corner-2Unless we are born again, we cannot see the kingdom of God.

A man once stood on a soap box at Hyde Park Corner, pouring scorn on Christianity. “People tell me that God exists, but I can’t see him. People tell me that there is a life after death; but I can’t see it. People tell me that there is a judgment to come, but I can’t see it. People tell me there is a heaven and hell, but I can’t see them…”

He won cheap applause and climbed down from his “pulpit.” Another struggled onto the soap box. “People tell me there is green grass all around, but I can’t see it. People tell me that there is blue sky above, but I can’t see it. People tell me that there are trees nearby, but I can’t see them. You see, I’m blind.” (David Watson, My God Is Real, 78)

When unbelievers “find no evidence for God,” it’s not because no evidence exists, for Romans 1:18-21 tells us that what can be known about God is clear and plain to everyone because God has shown it to them. If God shows a person something, he sees it. The problem is the suppression of the truth about God which is obvious–a willful blindness to the truth.

They choose not to see and then declare that there is nothing to see. Don’t be fooled by the blind skeptic. He sees the truth just fine.

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The Importance of Sound Doctrine in Preaching for the Faith of the Church

The novelist and essayist, Dorothy Sayers once heard a dean of Mansfield College, Oxford say that “The tragedy of all this doctrine, however interesting to theologians, is hopelessly irrelevant to the life and thought of the average man.”

She responded with these words:

If Christian ministers really believe it is only an intellectual game for theologians and has no bearing upon human life, it is no wonder that their congregations are ignorant, bored, and bewildered. It is not true at all that dogma is “hopelessly irrelevant” to the life of the average man. What is true is that ministers of the Christian religion often assert that it is, present it for consideration as though it were, and, in fact, by their faulty exposition of it, make it so.

Dorothy Sayers, Creed or Chaos

Apologetics for the Average Christian: Asking Good Questions, Part 2

business-woman-questionThe kind of apologetics that challenges the objections raised against the Christian faith is often called presuppositionalism (although some prefer other names, such as the transcendental approach or covenantal apologetics). Rather than accepting the unbeliever’s challenge immediately, this approach first tests the challenge to see if it is a legitimate challenge. The Christian faith can satisfy any legitimate challenge posed against it, such as the test of historicity, the demands of logic, or the law of non-contradiction. Believers often find themselves frustrated when trying to give an answer, however, because they don’t recognize the challenge posed by the unbeliever as illegitimate.

For example, an unbeliever might pose a challenge concerning the reliability of the gospels that looks like this:

 Unbeliever: How can you trust the Gospel accounts of Jesus when they were written by people who believed in him and were trying to advance his cause? That is not unbiased history; it is ideology. And besides, they were written decades after Jesus died. We know our memories are faulty, stories get exaggerated over time, and details are forgotten. You have to admit that the truth about Jesus is not really known any more, and cannot be known.

 Believer: It wasn’t biased history and they didn’t forget what they saw. I believe it anyways.

In this example, the Christian has to concede a number of points. The Gospels were written to advance the cause of Jesus. They were written decades after Jesus died. Memories are faulty, stories do get exaggerated over time, and details are forgotten. What can he say to these charges?

The presuppositional method of apologetics always challenges the challenger before it presents the evidence. That is, presuppositionalism plays defense by dismantling the unbeliever’s challenge before going on the offense by showing the evidence for the Christian faith. This is likened to pulling the rug out from under the opponent or disarming the unbeliever before the intellectual battle.

What would that look like? Something like this:

 U: How can you trust the Gospel accounts of Jesus when they were written by people who believed in him and were trying to advance his cause? That is not unbiased history; it is ideology. And besides, they were written decades after Jesus died. We know our memories are faulty, stories get exaggerated over time, and details are forgotten. You have to admit that the truth about Jesus is not really known any more, and cannot be known.

 B: You object to the Gospels because they were written by people who believed in Jesus. Let me ask you a question. Can a history of anyone be written if the author didn’t believe that the subject of his biography existed?

 U: Well, no. I guess not. Then it would be fiction.

B: Exactly, and the Gospel writers were making actual claims that Jesus lived and did the things described in their writings. Further, just because they believed in Jesus does not mean that what they were writing was not true. If someone was to write a biography of your life, but refused to interview your parents, friends, siblings, and other people who know and love you, how accurate could that be?

 U: It would be missing many key details, that’s for sure. But, on the other hand, my mother might embellish some details because she loves me.

 B: Of course it could happen that your mother might embellish details, but my point is that there is no necessary conflict of interests in having people who loved and believed in Jesus writing historical accounts about him.

 U: Okay, I grant that. But what about the time between Jesus’ life and the Gospel accounts. Twenty or thirty years after the events is a big gap. How do we know that half the stories in the Gospels aren’t legends?

 B: Well, let’s compare ancient history. How long after events happened did biographers write about them in the ancient world?

 U: Well, I don’t really know.

 B: Actually, many ancient histories were written 100 or more years after the events. The Gospels are some of the ancient world’s fastest written histories. They are so close to the events chronologically that if they promoted any errors, the facts could have easily been checked by talking to eyewitnesses of the accounts, many of whom would have still been alive. Any embellishments, errors or legends could have been caught and refuted. And yet, there are no ancient documents that refute these events.

 U: I didn’t know that.

 B: So to answer your question, I believe the Gospel accounts of Jesus because they bear all the marks of reliable history, and they claim to tell the truth about the most important figure in history. Can I tell you about some of the things Jesus said that speak directly on your life?

 As you read that imaginary dialogue, the power of presuppositionalism becomes clear. Rather than trying to answer the challenge directly and right away, the believer is able to take away from the unbeliever the elements of his challenge that are not legitimate (such as histories being inaccurate if written 20-30 years after the events). He is then able to show how any legitimate demand of history is easily met by the Christian faith.

This approach works with any challenge to Christianity, whether it is the problem of evil and suffering, the existence of Jesus, the moral commands of the Bible, etc. In the following posts, we will look at a number of other scenarios to help Christians see how this approach might look in various situations.

Apologetics for the Average Christian: Asking Good Questions

The heart of apologetics is giving an answer to that coworker who asks how you can believe in God when there is so much evil and suffering in the world. It is making a defense of the Scriptures when your classmate challenges the reliability of the Bible. It is explaining to your neighbor that Christianity is all about the words and works of Jesus Christ, not going to church and being a nice person.

Many Christians feel that such conversations are beyond their abilities, but that is simply not true. 1 Peter 3:15-16 commands us all to prepare to give a defense for their faith. With a little bit of training and preparation, any believer can begin to answer those who challenge the truth of the gospel.

Many people feel that they must answer every challenge raised against the Christian faith. If an unbeliever asks how he can believe in something he can’t see, the Christian feels that he must come up with a good answer. This is where the thought of apologetics scares many people. The average believer is not a philosopher, so what can he say?

 

Challenge the ChallengerAsking questions

 Rather than seek to answer the challenge head-on, a believer should respond by asking questions. A good question reveals the presuppositions of the challenger. If someone asks, “How can you believe in something you can’t see?” they are assuming that believing in something invisible is irrational. A Christian should not feel on the defensive in such a situation. Rather, he should ask questions that reveal that the challenger: 1) already himself believes in invisible things, and 2) therefore the question is really about which invisible things have enough evidence to believe in.

A response might look like this:

Unbeliever: “How can you believe in something you can’t see?”

Believer: “Don’t you believe in some things you can’t see?”

U: “No, I only believe in things I can see.”

B: “Why do you think that believing only in what you see is rational?”

U: “Because you can’t know something if you can’t see it”

B: “Do you believe in the laws of logic?”

U: “Of course! The laws of logic are what determine what is rational.”

B: “Can you see them anywhere in the universe?”

U: “No, I guess not.”

B: “In fact there are many things we believe that we can’t see. We believe that memories are real, but we can’t see them. We believe that the scientific method helps us discover facts in the natural world, but we don’t find the scientific method in nature anywhere. In fact, your belief that it is only rational to believe in what you can see is not based on anything visible. As a result, it is a religious belief, not a scientific one. So, as it turns out, it is perfectly rational to believe in some things that cannot be seen. The real question is what evidence is there that God exists. As it turns out, the evidence for God is everywhere, so let’s talk about that.”

As you can see, with just a few questions, the believer has defused the challenge and turned the tables on the challenger. This is called the presuppositional approach. Before it answers challenges to the Christian faith it seeks to show that: 1) the unbeliever’s own position cannot satisfy the demands he is making on the Christian faith, 2) the unbeliever’s position is irrational and contradictory, and 3) the Christian faith can satisfy any legitimate challenge posed against it.

In Part 2 we’ll see how to respond to other challenges by asking good questions.

 

 

The Natural World Has God’s Name Written All Over It

The whole of created reality, including therefore the fields of research with which the various sciences deal, reveals the same God of which Scripture speaks. The very essence of created reality is its revelational character. Scientists deal with that which has the imprint of God’s face upon it.

Created reality may be compared to a great estate. The owner has his name plainly and indelibly written at unavoidable places. How then would it be possible for some stranger to enter this estate, make researches in it, and then fairly say that in these researches he need not and cannot be confronted with the question of ownership?

Cornelius Van Til, Christian Apologetics (P&R, 2004), 125.

Van Til’s point and illustration are in full agreement with Psalm 19:1-6 which remind us that every day the natural world is shouting, recounting, bubbling forth and advertising (the basic meanings of the Hebrew verbs in v. 1-2) the glory of God. As Van Til further says, “man is without excuse if he does not discover God in nature.” By this he does not mean that nature is God or that any god can be found in nature. Rather, he means that everything in creation is essentially revelational. And that revelation is clear. This means that the Christian holds to the perspicuity (clear and understandable nature) of both natural revelation and biblical revelation. This is exactly Paul’s point in Romans 1:18-20. The end result is that man is without excuse for his unbelief. No one will be able to say, as atheist Bertrand Russell once claimed he would say if he saw God after death, “Not enough evidence God, not enough evidence!”

Faith and Reason: How Do They Work Together?

A common misconception among believers and unbelievers alike is that faith and reason are incompatible. Atheist Richard Dawkins arrives at this conclusion based on his definition of faith: “Believing in spite of evidence to the contrary.” Now, no person of faith can agree with such a definition. Dawkins is clearly fighting dirty with such a statement. On the other hand, some religious people defy reason by believing that faith requires irrationality, and that reason is unnecessary to religion.

So how do faith and reason work together?  In his book, Reasons for Faith: Philosophy in the Service of Theology (P&R, 2006), Westminster Seminary apologetics professor Scott Oliphint summarizes 17th century Swiss theologian Francis Turretin’s explanation:

First, it is reason’s task to judge the consistency and coherence of biblical truth. Not only so, but reason is to function as a judge of what is contradictory and what is not. At the same time we must remember that reason can only function this way after it has been restored and renewed by the Spirit of God. This does not mean that reason is the final arbiter of what is possible and what is impossible. God alone legislates such a thing.

Second, reason functions as a servant, never a master, to theology. Its proper place with respect to theology is to provide whatever tools what might be helpful to theology to carry out its own task. This means that the law of contradiction, and the use of that law, can never fully determine whether a particular Christian doctrine is true. That determination is left to revelation. What reason can do is help theology to organize, articulate, and expand its truths in such a way as to clarify their meaning.

Third, the law of contradiction’s service to theology is not in matters of interpretation per se, but rather in the organization and articulation of our interpretations. Interpretation of Scripture is given to us by way of other Scriptures. We do not need another external source in order to compare and bring together the truth as God has given it to us in his Word.

Given these points, Oliphint concludes 1) that regenerate reason is to judge of the consistency of doctrine, 2) that reason is never to take a magisterial role with respect to theology, and 3) reason is to help articulate and organize our interpretations of Scripture.

This summary helps us to see that reason is necessary to a sound faith, but also that reason is flawed and marred by sin, whereas Scripture is not. Our faith then should be in the Word of God, while at the same time, using our reason aright.

Without God, Knowledge of Anything is Just Wishful Thinking

Not one single fact in this universe can be known truly by man without the existence of God. Even if man will not recognize God’s existence, the fact of God’s existence nonetheless accounts for whatever measure of knowledge man has about God…

Now if every fact in this universe is created by God, and if the mind of man and whatever the mind of man knows are created by God, it goes without saying that the whole fabric of human knowledge would dash to pieces if God did not exist and if all finite existence were not revelational of God.

Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology, 2nd ed. Edited by William Edgar (P&R, 2007), 36.

The Spiritual Value of Systematic Theology

I’ll never forget the off-hand remark of a long-time member of my home church the first time I returned for a visit after taking the teaching position I held as a seminary professor. He hadn’t seen me for awhile and didn’t know that I had recently left the pastorate to teach systematic theology in seminary. When I told him that I was now teaching systematic theology, his rather smug reply was, “I didn’t know there was a system to that.”

His reply was not unusual in those church circles. Theology was seen as a positive obstacle to evangelistic fervor and Bible comprehension. Better to just read your Bible, hand out tracts and try to keep all the rules. No need to understand God or Scripture as a unified, comprehensive message revealing God’s glory.

Cornelius Van Til, who was primarily an apologist, understood the tremendous value of theology, not only to the study of the Scriptures, but also to the spiritual vitality of the believer:

If we do not pay attention to the whole of biblical truth as a system, we become doctrinally one-sided, and doctrinal one-sidedness is bound to issue in spiritual one-sidedness. As human beings, we are naturally inclined to be one-sided…

A study of systematic theology will help us to keep and develop our spiritual balance. It enables us to avoid paying attention only to that which, by virtue of our temperament, appeals to us.

Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology, 2nd ed. Edited by William Edgar (P&R, 2007), 22.

All Christians ought to be reading systematic theology for their own spiritual growth and sanctification. This won’t happen until pastors model sound theology in their preaching. That is the subject of the next post.