The Doctrines of Man and Sin for Apologetics, Part 1

finger_of_godWe are unique from all the rest of creation by being made in the image of God. We are not like animals or angels because we were created to reflect the glory and image of God. Humans alone in creation are made in God’s image and likeness. This partly explains why all people are without excuse before God—their very purpose is to be in relation to God. To deny God when we are designed to reflect his glory is to rebel against everything that we are. To deny the existence of God is to deny our very humanity.

Since there is limited space , we can only touch on a few points about man and the Fall. We will focus on the theological truths that serve as the foundation for our apologetic endeavors.

Man and Sin

The view that a particular religion or worldview has about human beings tells a lot about important issues, such as the meaning and purpose of life, human dignity, what is wrong with the world, and the nature of right and wrong. In many worldviews, man is nothing more than a product of the blind force of evolution. This makes him an accident of nature, since there can be no intelligence in the universe. In this view, man is nothing more than an animal, and no purpose or meaning can be derived from random forces. This view however makes human dignity and ethics impossible to argue. If man is just an animal, violence, disease, and calamity are the nature of life.

In other views, such as New Age religion, Hinduism, and most of the Asian religions, man is divine and a spawn of the gods. Man finds his dignity in having a spark of the divine within himself, or else he is just as much god as anything else. One of the problems with this view, however, is that these supposed divine humans commit evil acts. If a divine being does evil, what makes it evil? And considering the amount of evil in the world, what good does the divine do in the world? These questions cannot be answered in a meaningful way if everything is equally divine.

The biblical view of man, however, provides answers to the most pressing questions of humanity, such as where did I come from, why am I here, what is wrong with the world, who am I, what is my purpose, where am I going?

 

  1. Man is created in the image of God

The Bible teaches that man is a special creation of God, different from the animals by virtue of being made in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27). In this sense, man is greater than the angels who do not bear the image of God. Because man is made in God’s image, he bears intrinsic value and dignity, apart from anything he does. This dignity is so basic because of the image of God, that to murder is to commit a crime that strikes against God himself. As a result, God demands that the life of the murder be taken by proper authorities to demonstrate the heinous nature of such an act (Gen. 9:6).

The image of God is never explicitly explained in Scripture, but most theologians agree that it pertains to rationality, a sense of right and wrong, and the implanted knowledge of God. These inherent qualities demonstrate that God is a personal, moral being who has revealed himself to all people. Our calling as human beings is to know God through Christ, live a life marked by wisdom and obedience to God, and share the good new of Jesus Christ, which is the wisdom of God. This feature of humanity—being made in God’s image—is the key to human identity and understanding our place in God’s world.

The image of God in man also means that God is the original and we are the copy. God is the eternal I AM, and we are an icon, or picture, that reflects the glory of the I AM. The reflection is not praised or worshiped; rather, the reality is worshiped. If a soldier has a picture of his wife with him on the battlefield, he stares at her image to remind him of her beauty. But the picture can fade and be wrinkled in a day. When he returns to her, he does not stare at the picture anymore, but gazes upon the beauty of his wife, who is now right in front of him. In the same way, we are to so reflect the glory of God that people want to worship God when they see our lives.

In the next post we will see how man is different from God and the nature of his role in the world.

The Doctrine of God for Apologetics, Part 2

trinity symbolThe doctrine of God is fertile ground for resources for apologetics. The more we know of what God has revealed about himself in the Scriptures, the more we are able to defend the truth. For the sake of space, we will focus on two attributes of God here–his triunity and his personality.

  1. God is equally three and one

God is equally three and one. He is not more one than he is three, and not more three than he is one. We speak of one essence in three persons and three persons in one essence. God as one thinks, feels, and knows as an individual being. Yet, each person of the Trinity has a unique consciousness. When Jesus cried out to the Father on the cross, he was not speaking to himself, but rather to the Father. Yet, both are God. All three persons of the Trinity are called God in the Scriptures, yet they are distinguished from one another.

The Father is called God (Rom. 1:7; 15:6; 1 Cor. 1:3; 8:6). The Son is called God (2 Pet. 1:1; Tit. 2:13), calls himself God (John 5:18) and accepts worship as God (John 20:28-29). The Spirit is equated to God (Act 5:3-4) and is the one who searches the mind of God (1 Cor. 2:10-11). Clearly, then, the Scriptures teach that each of the persons of the Trinity is God. Yet, God is one God. The unity of God was the foundation of Jewish religion, in contrast to the polytheistic religions of the nations around Israel (Deut. 6:4; Is. 44:6-8). The New Testament likewise repeatedly emphasizes that there is only one God (John 1:18; Eph. 4:6; 1 Cor. 8:6; 1 Tim. 2:5).

Some would say that the Trinity is a contradiction, but it is clearly not. A contradiction would be to say “God is one and God is not one.” The Christian doctrine of God, however, states that God is one and three, and his oneness and “threeness” are understood in different ways. This makes the Trinity a paradox (an apparent contradiction), not a contradiction. A paradox is something that is difficult, but not impossible, to reconcile logically and intellectually. Certainly, the Trinity is one of the most difficult doctrines that Christians believe; yet we do believe it because the Bible teaches it.

One of the strengths of the Christian view of God is that it can answer the fundamental question of philosophy—the question of “the one and the many.” The problem of the one and the many addresses the question of how existence (the one) relates to every individual thing that exists (the many)? This is universally recognized as the most basic question with which philosophers wrestle. While there is no room here to develop this idea, we will simply note that in the triune God the one and the many exist in perfect harmony. In other words, God’s being is the basis for an answer to philosophy’s most pressing conundrum.

  1. God is the absolute, personal God

The God that Christians trust and defend is a personal God, that is, he possesses rationality and self-consciousness. This is apparent in that God does things that persons do. He creates, speaks, leads, judges, gives, loves, controls, punishes, wills, and many other actions. He can be pleased, grieved, angered, betrayed, saddened, and appeased. God relates to us as a person who understands, communicates, and responds to us. God is not a force or an idea, but a personal God who is intent on pursuing those made in his image to restore relationship with him.

In addition, the Christian God is absolute. He is all-powerful, all-knowing, and everywhere at once. He does not share power with anyone else. He is the only God in the universe, and all authority resides in him.

The attributes of personal and absolute stand in sharp contrast to the impersonal gods of philosophy, Islam, Buddhism, and deism. These belief systems hold to a God who is not much different than the law of gravity—very powerful, but not a being to which one relates. On the other hand, many religions have personal gods who are not absolute. The Greek, Roman, and Egyptian pantheon of gods are a good example, as are the 330 million gods of Hinduism, and the spirit beings of Asian religions and tribal religions. All false gods are either personal or absolute, but not both. Only the Christian God is personal and absolute.

It is important, therefore, when Christians defend God, that they have these distinctive attributes of God in mind, so they are not tricked into trying to defend a God in which they don’t, in fact, believe. For example, if an unbeliever says “I can’t believe in a God who would create the world and walk away while it falls apart,” our response would be something like, “I don’t believe in that kind of God either.” We don’t want to defend a distortion of God as revealed in Scripture, but rather, the true God of Scripture.

Conclusion

Not only is the truth of God important for apologetics, but it is also important for the fullness of Christian faith. That is, these truths of God’s triune nature and personality are precious to believers because they show us who God is. As a result, we come to God more truly and that brings us closer to him. Knowing someone in great detail makes for a stronger relationship. The more we know God through the Scriptures, the more our relationship will strengthen our apologetics efforts. In the next post we will look at one more doctrine—the doctrine of man and his fall into sin.

The Doctrine of God for Apologetics, Part 1

triune godNow that we have established the authority of the Scriptures to reveal God to us, we move on to what God tells us about himself and ourselves. Sadly, the doctrine of God is one of the most ignored subjects for many Christians. The very God we are defending is virtually unknown to us. As we said in the previous lesson theology is the study of God. But we don’t study God like we study bacteria under a microscope. Rather, we study God as finite, fallen creatures learning about an infinitely greater being who has revealed himself to us for the purpose of relationship. We study God as desperate, needy people who receive a message of peace and blessing from a benevolent king who has showered us with grace upon grace.

Yet, we are unique from all the rest of creation by being made in the image of God. We are not like animals or angels because we were created to reflect the glory and image of God. Humans, alone in creation are made in God’s image and likeness. This partly explains why all people are without excuse before God—their very purpose is to be in relation to God. To deny God when we are designed to reflect his glory is to rebel against everything that we are. To deny the existence of God is to deny our very humanity.

Since this is a blog and not a full-length book, we can only touch on a few points about God and man. We will focus on the theological truths that serve as the foundation for our apologetic endeavors.

The Triunity of God

Most Asian religions, animism, and the ancient Greek, Roman and Babylonian religions taught polytheism, the existence of many gods. Judaism, Islam, and Mormonism, on the other hand teach that God is one without distinctions. The God of the Bible, Yahweh (Jehovah), on the other hand, is both one and three. This is what we call the triunity of God, or the Trinity. This is one of the most difficult concepts to grasp for anyone, because there is nothing in our world to which we can compare this doctrine.

There is no human analogy that adequately pictures the relationship between God’s oneness and threeness. Analogies such as the three states of water (liquid, gas, and solid) or the three parts of an egg (shell, white, and yolk, yet one egg) fail to properly picture the triunity of God. It is something we believe because Scripture teaches it, not because we can fully understand it. Because we are creaturely, finite and fallen, we should expect that some attributes of God will be beyond our ability to comprehend. Our minds are similar to a calculator, and God’s nature is like a supercomputer operating system. We can’t download and run the operating system because we simply do not have the capacity. If God did not exceed out ability to comprehend, how would he be worthy of our worship? Therefore, we accept the Bible’s teaching on the Trinity and explore its depths as much as we can, but we realize at some point, our ability to comprehend it fully falls short.

In the next post we will look at some of the specifics of the triune God that are unique to Christianity.

Read Dystopias!

I often tell my students that the two most important books they can read outside the Bible are 1984 by George Orwell and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Both novels capture the outcome of opposing views of the world. Both show that regardless of political freedom or oppression, man will eliminate the need for God in society if possible. Both touch on the philosophical and theological roots of important questions, such as the nature of man, the nature of truth, the power of the state, the exalted place of “science,” and hopelessness of a world without God. Here’s a great summary of the message of both novels: http://highexistence.com/amusing-ourselves-to-death-huxley-vs-orwell/

How often does your church host an apologetics conference?

ConferencesAs I wrote in an earlier post, many churches have given up on any kind of organized evangelism program. And those that still have them seldom find them to be effective, but they soldier on out of a sense of duty. The problem with both giving up and staying committed to an ineffective methodology is that the results are the same. Few new converts are entering the average Bible-believing, gospel-preaching church. When asked why the American church is not experiencing the explosive growth it experienced in the mid-twentieth century, few seem to have an answer.

Some complain that the world has changed. Of course the world has changed! It is always changing. Since its inception, the church has always seemed able to adapt to the political and spiritual climate wherever it has found itself. Today in the West, however, we seem completely stymied about the solution. Many churches have resorted to what theologian David Wells calls the therapeutic approach. They view themselves as dispensers of good experiences, meeting the felt needs of attenders (meaningful membership? Old-fashioned!), and assisting them on the path to self-fulfillment.

What is abandoned in this psychologically-driven approach is serious thinking fueled by serious engagement with the Scriptures, sound doctrine, and church history. Many American believers don’t know enough about the historic Christian faith to sustain a five-minute conversation. This has had profound effects upon the average Christian. With the church’s almost-exclusive focus on big events intended to draw the community into the building, believers no longer need to know how to engage unbelieving thought. All they need to know now is the date and time of the next big event so they can invite their neighbors and co-workers. Once they get their unbelieving friends to the event, the experts take over with their slick presentations and studio-quality programming. As Marshall McLuhan taught us fifty years ago, the medium is the message, and if the religious therapists are on their game, “converts” are made, a lot of back-slapping takes place, and everyone goes home to await the next big event.

All this comes at a steep price, however, and I don’t mean the hundreds of thousands spent on lights and smoke machines. The cost to the church is the loss of a congregation of discipled and well-trained members scattering to their neighborhoods, workplaces, and families, sharing the gospel, refuting unbelief and being salt and light in their own little sphere of the world.

Is this even possible? The answer is definitely yes, because that is what we are called to do in a number of passages of Scripture, most notably Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:8, and 1 Peter 3:15-16. The problem, however, is that we have ignored the incredible resources available to us. The corpus of church history, systematic theology and apologetics, not to mention the Scriptures themselves have been left untapped by most churches. Why? Mostly because it requires effort. As G. K. Chesterton quipped, “It’s not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting; rather it has been found difficult and left untried.” Chesterton’s challenge to unbelievers needs to be heard in the church today. It is much easier to read a book by Bill Hybels than to wrestle with the roots of unbelief. It’s much easier to encourage someone to invite their friends to rocking good concert than it is to train them to engage objections to the gospel.

I spoke at an apologetics conference recently, hosted by a church in the hills of central Pennsylvania. In the middle of nowhere, this rather large and vibrant church has sprung up in recent years. I was curious how this could be, and then I discovered that the conference was an annual event. That’s right, folks. This church understands, like few others I’ve encountered, that instilling a true passion for the souls of men requires regular reinforcement and equipping. What I found was a congregation of working joes who spoke the language of engagement with unbelievers. Many of them had read the best books on apologetics and were putting into practice what they were learning. Their questions at the end of my presentations were thoughtful and demonstrated a mature wrestling with the contemporary challenges to the Christian faith. I walked away wondering why more churches do not see the need to seriously equip their members for evangelistic engagement with unbelievers.

When was the last time your church had an apologetics conference? When was the last time a significant portion of the year was given to training in evangelism for the 21st century? Such an effort would be different than training 40 years ago when the majority of people one might encounter were Roman Catholics or liberal Protestants. Today we must be ready to engage skeptics, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and more. How is your church planning to fulfill this need.

If there is no ongoing program for training in evangelism and apologetics, I would question whether your church takes the Great Commission seriously. Occasional encouragements to merely share your testimony will not cut it. As the Western world becomes more hostile to Christianity, the more seriously we must engage this task. The resources are abundant, and we have no excuse for not excelling at reaching unbelievers with the gospel of Christ. While some say that the world is more unreachable than ever before, I believe that the opportunities for the light of the gospel increase as the world gets darker.

So, when was the last time your church hosted an apologetics conference?

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Mark Main Pic Camp BrochureApologetics for the Church is a local church training ministry designed to equip the average Christian. Over the course of one weekend, church members can gain the skills and confidence necessary to share the gospel with anyone. Mark Farnham (PhD, Westminster Theological Seminary) has been teaching Apologetics in local churches for the last ten years. His doctoral work in Apologetics has opened doors to interact with all kinds of unbelievers, from doctoral students in philosophy at a Philadelphia University, to Muslims inside the mosque, to everyday people on the streets of Lancaster, PA. To contact Mark, call 215-206-7249 or email him at apologeticsforthechurch@gmail.com.

The Role of the Bible in Theology and Apologetics

bibleSince the time of the Reformation, Christians have summarized their beliefs about the Bible in four words. These attributes of Scripture form an acrostic, SCAN, which stands for sufficiency, clarity, authority, and necessity.

  1. The sufficiency of Scripture means that the Bible contains everything we need to know for salvation and living in a way that pleases God (2 Pet. 1:3). Nothing needs to be added in order to make up a lack in it. It is a finished, complete document that communicates all that Christians need to know about God in order to be rightly related to him and to live godly lives in this world (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

Sufficiency also means that Scripture is the final word from God (Heb. 1:1-2). Just as Jesus in the final revelation of God, and is the living Word of God, the Bible objectively declares all that God wants us to know about him. This is why nothing can be added or deleted from the Bible (Rev. 22:18-19). While tradition can help us understand how faithful Christians of the past have understood the Scripture, and gives us a pattern for faithful Christian living, the Bible is the final arbiter of truth.

  1. The clarity of Scripture means that the teaching of Scripture about salvation and godly living can be understood by all who seek to study it in belief. This does not mean that everything in Scripture is equally clear, for there are some parts that are difficult to comprehend. It does mean, however, that God has not hidden the meaning of his revelation behind vague and esoteric language. Most of the Bible is written in rather plain, straightforward language. It is pictured as a lamp that lights one’s path (Psalm 119:105), leading clearly to truth and understanding.

Clarity also means that we do not need a religious expert to interpret the Bible for us. Every Christian possesses the indwelling Holy Spirit, who leads us into truth (John 16:13). This does not mean that we can determine the meaning of the Bible for ourselves, or that we don’t need to build on the theological understanding of Christians of the past, but rather it means that the Bible is not incomprehensible to us unless a priest or religious authority tells us what it means.

  1. The authority of Scripture means that the Bible is revelation from God himself, and that we are obligated to listen to it and obey it. Whatever the Bible speaks about is the truth, and it should arbitrate between competing truth claims. This does not mean that other human endeavors do not help us know our world, but if they contradict a clear statement in Scripture, the determination of truth lies with Scripture. The reason for this is that the Bible is the very Word of God, so it possesses the authority of God himself.

The authority of Scripture implies that it is also trustworthy, without error, and reliable. This has been challenged in countless ways by science, history, archaeology, philosophy, and others, but the Bible has always proven itself to stand the scrutiny of the human mind. Unbelievers want to elevate their own reason and authority over the Bible, but this has failed them every time. Whatever man considers to be wiser than God is shown to be foolishness (1 Cor. 1:18-21)

  1. The necessity of Scripture means that apart from God revealing himself to us, we could not know God. While many things about God can be known by general revelation, what can be seen in the created order (Rom. 1:19-20), the Scriptures are necessary for us to know that Jesus died and rose again to save us. God is divine, perfect and infinite. We are creaturely, fallen and finite. God is so different from us that we would have no way of knowing him. But God condescended to reveal himself so that we might be restored to him. God has spoken to us in a way that is clear, translatable, objective, and able to be preserved.

If God had not revealed himself in the Bible we could not possibly know all the story of redemption that he has worked on our behalf. Because he has given us his Word, we can know the full riches of his gift of salvation through Christ. The necessity of God’s Word for salvation means that unless someone brings the Word of God to unbelievers they won’t know how to be saved (Rom. 10:13-15).

Conclusion

In order for us to defend the Christian faith, we must know what the Bible teaches about itself, and what Christians have always believed about it. The Bible is the bedrock of all that we believe and serves as the foundation for all that we call knowledge. It is important that we firmly grasp the truth about Scripture, especially in light of the many misconceptions and challenges raised against its reliability.

In addition, it is important for Christians to read and know the Bible on a personal level. It does no good to defend the Christian faith, share the gospel, and proclaim the truth of the Bible if we are not daily reading and meditating on it ourselves. The Bible is not a fact book to memorize; it is the revelation of the living God that is to be understood, believed, and lived. Only then will have the transformative effect that it is meant to have. The Scriptures transform more than just our knowledge; they completely renovate our hearts and minds, our words and actions, and our very being.

This is one reason why earlier in this study we learned that one of the best ways to become a good apologist and evangelist is to know the Scriptures and sound doctrine thoroughly. When we eat, sleep, and breathe the Scriptures, our senses are sharpened to discern and refute arguments that are false and idolatrous (Heb. 5:11-14). The Holy Spirit uses our knowledge of the Scriptures to give our minds the sharp ability to know what to say at the right time. As you consider the role of the Bible in apologetics, it is my hope that you will become a thoroughly biblical apologist.