When an opportunity arises to engage an unbeliever with the gospel, a Christian can often feel he is at a disadvantage when it comes to the authority of his message. The world considers its “wise men” to be the only authorities in a discussion—scientists, philosophers, politicians, etc. The Bible is often dismissed out of hand as an authority, and so is discounted. To appeal to it often seems to be a sure sign that an argument has no merit on its own.
In fact, however, when we compare the authority of God’s Word to the so-called “wisdom” of this age, the Scriptures prove themselves to be in a different class altogether (1 Cor. 1:18-21). While these necessary and good aspects of culture can be channels for God’s truth, they are often presented as autonomous authorities. Autonomy is a word that means “a law by itself.” In other words, when a person refuses to base his ideas or beliefs on anything outside himself, he is trying to act autonomously. He is essentially saying, “I don’t need anyone to tell me what to think or do.”
When human authorities, such as scientists and philosophers, declare themselves to be autonomous, they always proceed to demean the authority of God. God becomes a competitor to them, someone who is a rival to their power and authority. They may allow other human authorities to weigh in on issues, but they will not allow God to exercise his authority in a matter of truth. This explains the disdain and hostility toward the Bible, which is so common in the world. Christians may be intimidated by this disregard for God’s Word, but our confidence can be restored when we remember God’s authority.
Contrary to those who believe in an evolutionary worldview, this is God’s world. God is the one who created it, rules over it, sustains it, and will bring it to an end. The way God describes the world is not just one view among many. Rather, God’s words call the world into being, and only he has the wisdom and omniscience to accurately describe the world as it truly is. The Christian’s authority starts with the person of God himself. The Trinity is the beginning of all authority in heaven and earth. And everything God does is authoritative and unalterable.
Nothing happens in the universe without God’s sovereign guidance and control. He is the true authority in this world. First Corinthians 1:17-25 tells us that the so-called authorities of the day—the wise man, the scribe, and the debater—have been silenced by the wisdom of God. All the wisdom of the world put together cannot lead a person to the knowledge of God or anything else of significance. These authorities face several problems:
- They have limited knowledge. Being limited and creaturely, even the best and brightest people have only a very tiny knowledge and understanding of the universe. For example, scientists know that the universe consists of roughly 95% of either dark energy or dark matter, yet they don’t know what dark energy or matter are.
- They have to constantly admit they were wrong. The very nature of science is such that it is constantly turning over previous claims of knowledge. What was once declared to be certain is often proven to be wrong and is replaced by still other declaration.
- Even experts in the same areas disagree. Sometimes even within the same discipline experts disagree strongly with one another. Philosopher Peter van Inwagen notes that after 4,000 years of philosophy, no established body of facts has been determined among philosophers on the nature of reality. Each philosopher is perfectly free to disagree with the other and still be considered competent in metaphysics (the study of the nature of reality).
What does this all mean? Although these areas of study are good, useful tools to discover our world, they can never stand as final authorities on any question of truth. And when an unbeliever appeals to science or philosophy to defend his rejection of the Christian gospel, he often doesn’t realize the authority to which he is appealing is not sufficient to support his arguments.
In contrast, the Christian has the authority of the risen Messiah Jesus when they share the truth of Christianity. Before he ascended to heaven, Jesus reminded his disciples that all authority in heaven and earth resides in him (Matt. 28:18). In the task that Jesus gave us to make disciples, we have his authority when we go. We do not go alone when we speak to others about Jesus. We go as ambassadors with the authority of God to proclaim Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 6:18-20).
Rather than base our message on human authorities, we base it on God’s authority. God is the one who has commanded everyone everywhere to be saved (Acts 17:30). Since this is God’s world and he has given his Son to be the ransom for sin, God has the authority both to command people to be saved, and to serve as our sufficient authority in our evangelism.
One of the implications of this is that the source of power in evangelism and apologetics is not our own, but is God’s. God the Holy Spirit is the active, dynamic, supernatural power behind the transformation that takes place in salvation. In the next post we look at the roles of the Holy Spirit and prayer in apologetics.