Friday, December 4, 2009

Implications for Apologetics

A very popular method of Gospel ministry employed by many Christians is to build historical, archaeological, or scientific evidence for all or part of the Christian faith, present their case to an unbeliever, and "demand a verdict." This attempt to "prove" the factuality of Christianity by presenting extra-biblical evidence is called evidentialist apologetics.

Such a method can be very useful in strengthening the confidence of believers in the veracity of the Bible. It can also be helpful when responding to questions, criticisms, or arguments against Christianity from those who speak out against Christianity.

However, in terms of evangelism -- in terms of actually bringing about the salvation of unbelievers -- a monergistic, and thus Biblical, understanding of regeneration demonstrates the futility of evidentialism to achieve what is necessary to be born again and believe.

Ultimately, the reasons Christians disagree on this is because of their misunderstanding of human nature. Remember that humanity's problem – our spiritual death – is that we can’t see what is right in front of us. No matter how elaborate, thorough, or accurate the presentation, no display of evidence will ever make a difference to a blind man. He must first be given sight.

The futility of evidences in achieving the desired effect of Gospel ministry is given throughout Scripture. Here's a sample.

John 12:37, 39-40But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him. … For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, "He has blinded their eyes and he hardened their heart, so that they would not see him with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and be converted and I heal them."

Do you see how crazy that is? Even though Jesus Himself performed so many signs in front of the people to demonstrate that He was God in the flesh, and therefore worth believing in, they still didn't believe in Him. The glory of Jesus Himself, to say nothing of His miracles, should be enough evidence (humanly speaking) to compel worship and joyful faith. But the problem was their spiritual death. Their eyes were blind so that they could not see. Their heart was hard so that they could not perceive.

Deuteronomy 29:2-4 – And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them, “You have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh and all his servants and all his land; the great trials which your eyes have seen, those great signs and wonders. Yet to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to know, nor eyes to see, nor ears to hear.”

Apparently the same was true 1500 years earlier. Think about what Moses is reminding the Israelites of here. Yahweh Himself appeared in a burning bush (Ex 3:1-6). He brought the ten plagues upon Pharaoh and Egypt (Ex 7-11). He parted the Red Sea (Ex 14:16, 21). He drowned the Egyptians with that same Red Sea (Ex 14:27-28). He brought them to Sinai where they saw His glory like a consuming fire (Ex 24:17). They saw Moses' face glow (Ex 34:29-30). They saw the tablets of the Law written by God Himself (Ex 34:1). They saw His glory fill the Tabernacle such that nobody could stand in it (Ex 40:34-35). They saw the pillar of cloud and pillar of fire throughout their journeys in the wilderness (Ex 40:36-38). They ate the manna from heaven (Ex 16:35). They drank the water from the rock (Ex 17:6). They saw the earth open up and swallow Korah and his fellow rebels (Num 16:31-33). They looked at the fiery serpent on the pole and were healed of their wounds (Num 21:8-9). If anyone had enough evidence to believe with all their heart in Yahweh, it was this group of people.

But what does Moses say? Even though you've seen all these things done right before your eyes, you don't have a heart to know. You don't have eyes to see. You don't have ears to hear. That kind of heart, those kind of eyes, and those kind of ears are given by God Himself. He grants them in the new birth. That's what's needed, not more evidence.

John 8:43-47 Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me. Which one of you convicts Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me? He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.

The reason people don't believe is because they can't truly hear Jesus' words. And the reason they can't hear them is because they are not of God. You see? Only God's elect have ears to hear. He gives them those ears when He grants them new life.

John 10:26But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep.

This speaks again, now explicitly, about why people don't believe the Gospel. It is because they are not of Jesus' sheep. Again, we see that it is only the sheep (the elect) who will eventually believe, because it is only the sheep (the elect) who will receive the new birth.

Last time we looked to Cornelius Van Til as we considered the implications of regeneration on evangelism. He also has helpful thoughts as we consider the philosophy and methodology of apologetics (from My Credo):

First, any non-Christian epistemology, i.e., any theory of knowledge based upon principles acceptable per se to the "mind of the flesh," (and therefore those of [the synergist’s] own method) is doomed to utter failure.

Basically, what he's saying is that if your 'evangelistic methodology' or 'missiology' presents to people what is acceptable to the mind of the flesh -- to the natural mind -- it's faulty. The theory of knowledge upon which the evidentialist apologetics model is based is one such non-Christian epistemology. While supplying extra-Biblical evidences for the veracity of the Christian faith is extremely helpful for believers, and while it has its place in defending the faith against accusations or questions from non-believers, evidences will never contribute one iota to an unbeliever’s salvation. Because, again, as we have seen, the natural man is blind to the most convincing evidence imaginable; namely, the Glory of God revealed in Jesus Christ! If that isn't enough evidence, no presentation of any lesser evidence will make a difference.
A consistently Christian methodology of apologetics [requires] that we preach with the understanding that the acceptance of the Christ of Scripture by sinners who, being alienated from God, [determined] to flee his face, comes about when the Holy Spirit, in the presence of inescapably clear evidence, opens their eyes so that they see things as they truly are.

You see? The 'evidence,' so to speak, is always sufficient. What the unbeliever needs is his eyes to be open. And this opening of the eyes to see things as they truly are is nothing other than regeneration. And the sole means of regeneration is the preaching of the Gospel.

And so, if regeneration is wholly an act of God, accomplished solely by the means of the preaching of His Word, and will be applied only to the people whom He chooses, our evangelism and our defense of the faith should look like that is the truth. We should not put our faith in scientific data or archaeological findings or any other kind of human reasoning. As Christians, we should put our faith solely in the Gospel to do the work of bringing Jesus' sheep to Himself. For, again, it is this Gospel -- not anything else -- that is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes (Rom 1:16).

The nature of the new birth is spiritual (John 3:6). Therefore, we must only appeal to the spiritual in the unbeliever. And the only thing spiritual in the unbeliever is death (Eph 2:1-3). So we are to preach the Gospel, not by appealing to something natural in people, but by appealing to the fact that they are dead, and that Christ gives life by grace through faith in Him.

It is only this message of the Gospel that will ever bring about the new birth.

For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. ...and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.
- 1 Corinthians 2:2, 4-5 -

For You have magnified Your word above all Your name.
- Psalm 138:2, NKJV -

1. The Theology of the New Birth
1.1. Man's Spiritual Death (Total Depravity)
1.2. The Dead Cannot See
1.3. The Wind Blows Where it Wishes: The Freedom of God and Irresistible Grace
1.4. Regeneration and Faith: Temporally Simultaneous but Logically Distinct

2. Implications for the Christian Life
2.1. God Grants What He Requires
2.2. The Impossible is No Longer Burdensome
2.3. The Means of Justification is the Means of Sanctification

3. Implications for Gospel Ministry
3.1. Introduction
3.2. Evangelism
3.3. Apologetics

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