The Doctrine of Scripture for Apologetics, Part 2

File%22-Saint_Paul_Writing_His_Epistles%22_by_Valentin_de_BoulogneThe Bible did not fall from heaven as a finished product placed in the hands of men. Neither was it, like the claims of both Mormonism and Islam, translated from golden plates found in a hillside or cave. Rather, God communicated to human authors in various ways, and guided their writing so that what was written was what God wanted to reveal to them. While 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us what Scripture is, the clearest passage that describes this process is found in 2 Peter 1:16-21.

In this text we see that those human authors who wrote the books of the Bible did not do so on their own initiative (2 Pet. 1:19-21). They did not decide to sit down and write sacred texts. Rather, as the Holy Spirit moved in their hearts and minds they wrote divine thoughts, mediated through their personalities and styles. The end result is Scripture that accurately communicates what God wanted to say, with humans as the instruments of God’s revelation. The word translated “carried along” or “moved” is also used to describe the effect the wind has on sails. The wind blows into the sails, which moves the ship forward. Peter is saying that as the Holy Spirit initiated revelation to the authors of Scripture, they wrote under His influence and guidance.

One question often raised pertains to the reliability of the Bible after all these years. Many critics charge that we could not possibly know what the original words of Scripture were because of errors in the copies. Two examples help dispel that notion. First, the Old Testament was carefully preserved by trained scribes in Israel whose main duty was to preserve the ancient texts. Their success in this is demonstrated in the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 in Israel. Among the scrolls found was a copy of Isaiah that was dated to about 100 B.C. Before this discovery, the oldest known copy of Isaiah dated back to 900 A.D. The difference in the copies, then, were about 1,000 years apart. Scholars were amazed to find that these copies were virtually identical to each other, showing very little difference. The only differences were minor spelling mistakes that did not in any way affect the meaning of the text of Isaiah.

The New Testament manuscripts are equally reliable. When we compare the almost 6,000 Greek manuscripts that date back to the 2nd century A.D., they are more than 95% identical to one another, and the remaining 5% of differences are spelling variations and simple errors made by later copyists that can be clearly identified as copy mistakes. None of these differences affect the teaching or doctrine of the Bible at all. In addition to Greek copies, we possess more than 20,000 early copies of the New Testament in many other languages also, including Latin, Syriac, Coptic (from Egypt), Gothic, Armenian, Nubian (from Sudan), and many more. All these show remarkable consistency over the centuries.

The conclusion to this is that the Bible is extremely reliable, even though parts of it are 3,500 years old. That means that when we confess that the Bible is our source of truth for doctrine and life, we can hold it confidently. So, what role does the Bible play for Christians and their doctrine?

In the next post, we will look at the Reformation principles of Scripture that make it central to the Christian faith.

The Doctrine of Scripture for Apologetics, Part 1

 

2945978650_d15a7f6130The doctrine of Scripture is one of the most important doctrines to know in depth since the Bible serves as our foundation for knowing what we know. The Bible is also the target of many attacks on Christianity, so the better we know how it was written, what it says about itself, its historical nature, and place in Christian theology, the better we will be able to defend all of the Christian faith.

What IS the Bible?

There are many ideas about what the Bible is. Some believe it is like many of the rest of sacred religious books from around the world—pious people’s reflections on their experiences of the divine. Others believe the Bible is simply a collection of myths that some people mistakenly take to be divine. The Christian view, however, is that the Bible is the revelation of God about himself and his divine plan to redeem the world. The Bible, then, is the very Word of God to his creatures for the purpose of establishing a relationship with him. Second Timothy 3:16 tells us that the words of Scripture are the very words of God breathed out by God himself. This is what we call the doctrine of Inspiration. God the Holy Spirit moved human authors to write his words so that each word, and the final finished product are exactly what God wanted to be written and without any errors. This is what we call the doctrine of Inerrancy.

Because God is the ultimate author of Scripture, all his power and authority are invested in it. The Bible is not a dead book or an inert substance that has no power. Rather, the words of Scripture, being the very words of God, have incredible power to expose, convict, and transform the human heart (Heb. 4:12). Unbelievers often think that Christians merely follow the instructional teachings of a lifeless 2,000-year-old book of facts and commandments. In reality, Christians follow the living God who has spoken through his Word, which is a living and powerful document. When we defend the Bible, we should do it with this in mind.

Our relationship to the Bible is not like reading instructions on assembling a bicycle, but rather is like reading a personal, handwritten invitation by the President of the United States to dine weekly with him at the White House. Such an invitation would contain some instructions, of course, but its primary intent would be to invite you into a relationship with a kind and powerful ruler who wants to invite you to serve him in a prestigious position.

Sometimes unbelievers will fault Christians for believing in the Bible while missing this very point. Christians don’t believe the Bible because they want to live with as many rules as possible. No, Christians believe the Bible because they have discovered that it lays out the path to a restored relationship to God. And the Bible goes further, clearly teaching how we can participate in God’s great work of redemption in this life, and how we can have peace and joy for all eternity in the next life.

Another detail about the Bible many unbelievers don’t know is that, while it is a single book, it is also a collection of sixty-six books with a unified message. It is a library of books bound by a single theme of redemption. The Bible was written over the course of 1400 years by more than 40 authors, and yet is unified in its message. The Old Testament was written over a 1,000-year span, and the manuscripts were carefully preserved by the Jewish people to ensure accuracy. The New Testament was written over a 50-year span and was carefully preserved by the Christian church. (The reliability of the Bible will be covered in more detail in a later lesson).

In addition, the books of the Bible are comprised of many writing styles, or genres . In the Old Testament these include law books (Genesis-Deuteronomy), history (Joshua-Esther), poetry and wisdom literature (Job-Ecclesiastes), and prophets (Isaiah-Malachi). In the New Testament we have Gospels, or biographies (Matthew-John), history (Acts), epistles (Romans-Jude), and apocalyptic literature (Revelation). Each of these genres serves a different purpose in the unfolding story of redemption.

This is important, because unbelievers often know nothing about how the Bible came to be. They know that the Bible is old, but don’t know much else about it, except that there are miraculous stories written in it. The Bible is actually an amazing piece of literature in its own right, in addition to being the revelation form God so we can be rightly restored to him. One of our goals in apologetics is to get unbelievers to read the Bible for themselves. Countless unbelievers through the ages have been save simply by reading the Bible for themselves.

In the next post we will look at the way we got the Bible and its reliability.

How Knowing What You Believe Makes You A Better Evangelist

biblicaldoctrineMany Christians who are interested in evangelism and apologetics make the common mistake of thinking that they don’t need to know more than the basic plan of salvation to be a good evangelist. They believe that knowing just a little about Jesus is enough. They may even think that too much knowledge will be a hindrance to effective outreach. As a result they proclaim a message about Jesus without knowing very many of the details. Consequently, they don’t know how to deal with objections to the Christian faith because they are relatively ignorant of the faith they are defending. They are easy prey for an unbeliever who knows even a little of the doctrinal content of the Christian faith and its complexities.

It is no surprise, then, that many Christians avoid interaction with unbelievers because either they have had an unpleasant encounter in which they could not give an answer for an objection raised by an unbeliever, or because they know that they really don’t know what they believe. Even worse, they may have serious doubts about some of what they have been taught, because they haven’t given the time to study their faith.

Surprisingly, the key to becoming an effective evangelist and apologist is to know the Scriptures and sound doctrine! Knowing what you believe thoroughly provides a sure foundation to confronting the worldviews of others who reject the truth of the gospel. Instead of rushing off to evangelize before they even know what they are proclaiming, Christians would be better served if they would take the time and effort to gain a systematic understanding of their beliefs and the Scriptures on which they are based.

The Relationship between Apologetics and Theology

Theology is, at its heart, the study of God. The word theology is the combination of two Greek words, theos (God) and logos (a word about, or the study of).  Christian theology studies all that God has revealed about himself, his creation, and his divine plan. While theology can be understood in its basic form even by children, because it is the study of the infinite, eternal, divine God, it can also occupy the greatest minds with its complexity, depth, and beauty.

Apologetics is primarily a biblical and theological endeavor. This surprises many people who think of it first as a philosophical enterprise. While apologetics often deals with the same questions posed by philosophers, and at times incorporates contributions from philosophy, it is not primarily a philosophical activity. Philosophy rejects divine revelation; therefore, it can never provide a true picture of reality or a solution for the redemption of all creation.

Our apologetics, then, must be in agreement with our theology. If our theology tells us that the Fall corrupted man completely, so that even his intellect is damaged and his heart totally depraved, we cannot develop an apologetic method that counts on the objectivity and goodness of humanity. By knowing sound doctrine thoroughly, therefore, we will possess more powerful intellectual arguments against unbelief.

Our doctrinal convictions begin with a faithful study of the Bible. We should move from the text of Scripture to our theological system to our apologetic methodology. This has the benefit of making us logically consistent, which is important since we aim to reveal the logical inconsistency and contradiction of the unbeliever’s worldview. The more we know Scripture, the stronger our theological conclusions will be, which in turn will make our defense of the faith more robust.

In the next post we will begin to look at some of the key Christian beliefs about the Bible that serve as the foundation for our apologetics.

Guiding principles and a game plan for apologetic encounters

assessment-gameplanAs a summary of previous posts, here are some guiding principles of effective apologetic discussions with unbelievers.

Guiding Principles

Apologetic encounters with unbelievers should be guided by the following principles:

  1. The goal of apologetics is to present the Christian faith confidently and with respect for and gentleness with the unbeliever.
  2. Even though you may feel fear, keep going! Fear is a sign you are doing something right.
  3. The goal is not to argue with the unbeliever, but to draw him out by asking questions that get to the heart of his belief system.
  4. The goal of the conversation is to challenge his objections and answer his questions so you can present the claims of Christ.

The Game Plan

Here are some of the tactics used when engaging unbelievers:

  1. As you share the truth of the gospel, take the time to learn what the non-Christian believes. Do this by asking good questions. The questions you ask should be focused on getting him to admit or realize on what authority he bases his beliefs.
  2. Once he reveals the basis of his beliefs, you should challenge those beliefs.
  3. Take his side for the sake of argument and show the consequences of his beliefs when taken to their logical end.
  4. Correct mistaken ideas, factual errors, and contradictions.
  5. Seek to identify the ways the unbeliever is suppressing the truth of God so you can get to the heart of his objections to the gospel.
  6. Don’t let the unbeliever avoid the implications of his beliefs by changing the subject or jumping to another objection.
  7. Weave the Christian answers to the issues you are discussing into your answers to their objections. In other words, as you show the contradiction and irrationality of the unbeliever’s worldview, share the Christian worldview as the alternative.
  8. As you present the Christian worldview, use Scripture to strengthen your arguments, whether or not the unbeliever values the Bible.
  9. Ask questions that push below the surface to the reason why he believes what he does. Some common questions include:
  • Why do you believe that?
  • What do you base that on?
  • Where did you get that idea?
  • What makes you think that?
  • What do you mean by that?
  • Can you give me an example of that?

Using these guiding principles and game plan will make your encounters with unbelievers more effective. Want to find out more about each one? Read the last 20-25 blog posts!

Show the Glory and Rationality of the Christian Faith

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When someone rejects the Christian faith he rejects a worldview that answers the deep yearnings of the human heart and the difficult questions of the human condition. The reason for this is that the Christian faith is centered in a person, not an ideal or an abstract idea. Because Jesus is the center of Christianity, all the glory of the divine Son of God is behind the answers Christianity gives. Only the Christian worldview truly makes sense of the following questions:

  1. Why am I here? What is my purpose?

Each worldview, belief system, and religion has an answer for these questions. Let’s take one, atheistic naturalism (AN) and show how it fails to answer these questions with any degree of satisfaction. Atheistic naturalism denies the existence of God and believes that all questions can be answered by science because the physical world is all that exists.

The answer AN gives to the first question is that we are here because the random forces of natural selection, guided by blind chance and time, just happened to produce this universe and everything in it. Since evolution is a blind process, there cannot be purpose, because purpose implies intelligence. There is no intelligence or design in the universe, so whatever happens to be, just is. There can be no purpose or meaning to life. We are here for nothing more than survival.

In contrast, the Christian worldview tells us that we are a special creation by a personal God who not only designed this universe for the purpose of human life, but has communicated purpose to us in his Word. Our purpose, as human beings made in God’s image, is to bring God glory. This other-focused purpose frees us from thinking we are the center of the universe. Life has inherent meaning because of God’s design in creation.

There is a universal longing for purpose and meaning in every person. Even when a person believes in AN, he longs for his life to have meaning. When talking to an adherent of AN, push the issue of meaning and purpose. Show how AN cannot provide purpose or meaning, and in fact makes it impossible. Only in the Christian worldview can a person find meaning.

  1. Who am I? Where did we come from?

In AN the individual is an accident of nature. He is nothing more than the sum total of his genes. He is no different from animals, and therefore has no more significance than a snail on the sidewalk. Ultimately AN has no answer for the origins of life. The universe came about by the Big Bang, but no one knows from where the original elements came.

In contrast, Christianity says we are unique among all created things. We are made in God’s image, made to know him, and made to reflect his glory. This provides us with an identity directly related to the divine God. Our identity does not consist of our performance, failures, successes, family, anything we do or what is done to us. Since God is our creator and sovereign, we are not our own. We belong to God and owe him our allegiance. Only in acknowledging this can we find our true selves and find joy.

  1. What is wrong with the world? Why is there evil and suffering?

Those who hold the AN worldview face a real crisis with these questions. If evolution is true, and we are just the sum total of our genes, and life is guided by blind chance, and there is no meaning in the universe, then there is nothing wrong with this world. The world is exactly the way it is supposed to be, with all the murder, rape, genocide, slavery, human trafficking, theft, hatred, cancer, disease, poverty, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, and so on. Yet, atheists cannot escape the urge to see many of the things mentioned to be wrong, or in need of correction. They are often deeply concerned with human suffering, even though they are inconsistent in their concern. In the AN worldview, whatever happens in this world is what is supposed to happen. Whatever happens is simply the result of natural selection. Ultimately, this is a very dissatisfying conclusion for most people, who want there to be meaning in suffering.

The Christian faith teaches that the world is NOT the way it is supposed to be. God created the world perfect, with no death or sin. Since the fall of Adam and Eve into sin, however, the world is under the curse of sin. Nothing in the universe is as it should be, and the whole creation groans for the day when Christ will transform it (Rom. 8:22-23). Evil resides in the human heart, and anyone is capable of evil. God is sovereign over all events, so nothing happens outside God’s control. We suffer in this lifetime, but God has saved us from ultimate suffering by the death of his Son, Jesus.

  1. Where are we going? What is the end of all this?

In AN there is no ultimate end or final purpose of life. There is nothing after death. There is no afterlife, so life on this earth will continue without change until the resources of the earth are used up. There is no heaven or hell, so there is no reward for living a good life, and no punishment for those who have done evil. There is no good or evil so whatever you do to be happy is all that matters. There is no real value such as justice because all values are relative. No God will ever judge you, so do what you want with your one life, because after this life is nothing.

The Christian worldview teaches that there is an eternal destiny for each person. This world will soon come to an end, and life in this sin-cursed world will be over. Justice matters in this life, and in the end God will bring justice. Every evildoer will be punished and those who have been saved by divine grace will enjoy eternal bliss with God. Every desire that has been frustrated in this life will be satisfied for believers in the next life. As C. S. Lewis wrote, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

 

Conclusion

The centrality of Jesus in apologetics and evangelism cannot be emphasized enough. There is nothing more powerful to dismantle the unbeliever’s opposition to Christianity than to discover that the gospel is not about keeping a moral code, or attaining some enlightenment, but rather meeting a person. God has provided overwhelming historical evidence for what we believe about Jesus. This lesson touched on some of that evidence, but this topic will be greatly expanded in later lessons. For now, what has been presented in this lesson is a good start for a student to learn and have ready when challenged by an unbeliever.

We want to develop a Jesus-oriented apologetic, where we are always trying to work Jesus into the conversation. The person and work of Jesus are the central issue in the gospel, so the sooner we can clear away obstacles and talk about Jesus, the sooner we can get to the heart of the issue. The more we learn how Jesus answers the questions of the human heart, the more we will be able to present a compelling, attractive understanding of the gospel that appeals to the unbeliever’s awareness of his separation from God. Even when people still have intellectual objections to the gospel, if they find Jesus to be a gentle Savior and Shepherd, they will be drawn to him.

Get Them to Jesus, Part 2

Lead to crossWhen engaging with unbelievers, focus on clearing away objections so that they can hear and consider the claims of Jesus in Scripture. What are the key claims of Jesus of which people are often unaware? In the last post we looked at Jesus’ claims to be God. Here we look at a few more claims with which an honest unbeliever has to wrestle.

  1. Jesus claimed to be the Messiah promised in the Old Testament

This is an especially helpful claim if the person to whom you are talking is Jewish, but it also refutes objections about the God of the Old Testament being different from the God of the New Testament, or the objection that Christianity evolved from Old Testament religion. If Jesus fulfilled what the Old Testament promised, then there is no conflict between the Old and New Testaments.

  • In John 5:39, 46 Jesus claimed that all the Old Testament Scripture spoke of him.
  • In Luke 24:27 Jesus showed the two disciples on the road to Emmaus that the whole Old Testament pointed forward to his life, death, and resurrection.
  • In Matthew 5:17-18 Jesus told the crowds gathered to hear him on the mountain that he came to fulfill the law, not do away with it.
  • In addition, Jesus fulfilled more than 300 specific prophecies in the Old Testament.

 

  1. Jesus claimed to be the only way to be reconciled to God

In John 14:6 Jesus explicitly claims to be the only way to God, the ultimate truth, and the only source of life. Showing an unbeliever that Jesus claimed to be the exclusive way to be reconciled to God refutes the idea that Jesus only thought of himself as one possible way to God. If there are many ways to God, and Jesus claimed to be the only way, this would make Jesus egotistical, narrow-minded, and bigoted. Therefore, he could not be just a good, moral teacher. He either is the only way to God, or he isn’t, and is not worthy to be followed.

  1. Jesus rose from the dead

Christianity is the only religion whose founder rose from the dead and was seen by hundreds of eyewitnesses. Jesus’ resurrection is the ultimate proof of his deity and his identification as the promised messiah of the Old Testament (Rom. 1:1-4). Even skeptical historians who deny Jesus as the Son of God cannot escape the historical facts that three days after Jesus was buried his tomb was empty.

Gary Habermas, professor at Liberty University and expert of the resurrection of Christ estimates that 75% of critical scholars (those who reject Christianity) believe that Jesus’ tomb was empty. In other words, the historical evidence for the empty tomb is very strong. On top of that, the belief that Jesus rose from the dead is the best explanation for what happened in the weeks following Jesus death. The transformation of a ragtag group of terrified followers into a powerful movement attracting thousands who proclaimed the resurrection of a crucified criminal can only logically be explained by the fact that Jesus rose again.

The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection have a number of features that lead many scholars to consider them reliable. First, the initial eyewitnesses of Jesus after his resurrection were women (Matt. 28:5-7). In the culture at that time the testimony of women was considered to be worth only half of a man’s. So, if you were inventing the resurrection story, you would never include women as the first eyewitnesses. You would perhaps write civil authorities or religious experts. Since women are, in fact, credited with being the first to see Jesus, the Gospel accounts more likely accurate. Second, when the women told Jesus’ disciples that the tomb was empty and that they had seen Jesus, the disciples didn’t believe them at first (Luke 24:11). This shows that the disciples were not expecting Jesus to rise from the dead. Third, some critics believe that the accounts of Jesus’ life and resurrection are legends rather than factual history. However, the examples we have of legends arising in antiquity (the ancient world) all demonstrate that such legends take hundreds of years to emerge. The Gospels, however, were written within 20-30 years of Jesus’ life, clearly not enough time for legends to arise. So, anyone who wants to argue that the Gospels are legends is arguing against the way history works.

By challenging unbelievers with these claims and facts of Jesus, you put before them the most important question any person has to answer—what will you do with Jesus? This is the goal of apologetics—getting unbelievers to face up to the claims of Jesus and show that Jesus is who he claimed to be and can save them from the sin which condemns them.

In the next post we will see how, in addition to showing them a truly biblical portrait of Jesus, it is necessary to show the unbeliever the beauty, glory, and rationality of the Christian faith.