Friday, July 16, 2010

Apologetics and the Demand for Evidence

I'm a presuppositional apologist.

Or, at least, I believe that the presuppositional model of apologetics is the Biblical model of apologetics. I reject the idea that the way we are to persuade skeptics of the truth of God's existence, His Word, His acts of providence, etc. is by presenting historical, archaeological, scientific, and other kinds of external evidence to them. And I explain why I believe that here. In short, evidentialist apologetics is entirely inconsistent with what the Scripture teaches about the nature of man, what he can know, the nature of knowledge, and the doctrine of salvation.

And so I'm a presuppositionalist. That is, I believe that there are certain presuppositions that Christians must consistently hold to without wavering even when reasoning with unbelievers about the truth of God's Word and of Jesus Christ. Such presuppositions are: God exists; He is who He says He is; the Bible is perfect, the inspired Word of God, infallible, and inerrant; Jesus rose from the dead three days after being crucified; etc. These are not topics that God has left open for debate. God never presents Himself in Scripture as a proposition to be evaluated and decided over. You never get to tell God, "Wait a sec, let me see if You really do exist." He simply asserts, "I AM WHO I AM." Trying to evaluate the evidence for God outside of Scripture or trying to evaluate the evidence for the veracity of Scripture is an endeavor on the order of asking to measure a ruler (or, if you're on the metric system, a meter-stick). You don't measure the instrument of measurement. It does the measuring.

However, at the same time, I don't believe it's right for Christians to dichotomize faith and concrete knowledge. That is, I disagree with the assertion that the existence of real evidence for what we believe necessarily undermines the need for faith. What I am saying is that the Christian and the skeptic define "real evidence" in two different ways. I'd like to explain what I mean with the help of Jonathan Edwards.

I agree with Edwards when he says our faith must be grounded upon a reasonable conviction. "By a reasonable conviction I mean a conviction founded on real evidence, or upon that which is good reason, or just ground of conviction." That is, Christians should not simply blindly accept things and pat ourselves on the back for being 'faithful.' That's more a willful naivete than anything.

But the question is, where does that evidence come from? What qualifies as evidence? Let's say you're dialoguing with a naturalist about creation vs. evolution, or even the the existence of God. The naturalist responds that evidence must be materially empirical. It has to be physically observable and testable; i.e., it has to meet the standards and presuppositions of the naturalist.

But Edwards doesn't define evidence that way. He says, "The gospel of the blessed God does not go abroad a begging for its evidence, so much as some think: it has its highest and most proper evidence in itself."

That is such a glorious statement. Do you feel the weight of that? Read it again if you don't.

See, the natural instinct of both the naturalist and, sadly, many contemporary Christians, is to go outside of the Scriptures themselves when trying to prove their genuineness. That's precisely what evidential apologists do. But what Edwards is saying is that the Word of God itself is so self-authenticatingly glorious that the very glory of it is its own evidence.

See, rationalists appeal to reason as the source of knowledge. That's what makes them rationalists. Naturalists appeal to nature as the source of knowledge. That's what makes them naturalists. But Christians must appeal to the Scriptures as the source of knowledge. That is what makes us Christians. If I ask a rationalist for evidence for his credence in rationalism as an adequate theory of knowledge, he's going to give me a reason. If I ask a naturalist for evidence for his credence in naturalism as an adequate theory of knowledge, he's going to give me a summary of observable facts of nature. They're just being consistent with their epistemology. But when they demand evidence of Scripture's genuineness and we Christians give them a Bible verse, they shout, "Circular reasoning!" But it's no more circular than what they do; it's simply remaining consistent with one's own epistemology.

What the skeptic doesn't realize when he demands evidence for Creation or God's existence and dismisses the testimony of Scripture is that he is forcing us to accept his epistemology, his worldview. And when the Christian acquiesces to the skeptic's demands and seeks to prove the genuineness or veracity of any doctrine of the Bible by going outside of the Bible, he fails to realize that in that very act he is forfeiting his Christian worldview and accepting that of the skeptic. It's a tacit acceptance that Scripture itself is not valid evidence -- that the only valid theory of knowledge is rationalism, or naturalism, or some other non-Christian epistemology.

But, as Edwards goes on to say, specifically, "The mind ascends to the truth of the gospel but by one step, and that is its divine glory. ... Unless men may come to a reasonably solid persuasion and conviction of the truth of the a sight of its glory, it is impossible that those who are illiterate and unacquainted with history, should have any thorough and effectual conviction of it at all."

That is precisely what 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 teaches: "And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, 'Light shall shine out of darkness,' is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ."

Paul tells us that unbelievers are blind to the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ. The definition of unbelief is a blindness to glory that is really there, whether it's seen or not. And before anyone will believe any other physical evidence, God must first shine in their hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

And that is precisely why we must consistently present the Gospel to our inquiring friends: because the evidence they're looking for is only authenticated by the unveiled sight of the glory of God in the face of Christ. If they offer arguments appealing to science that are factually incorrect, we may certainly give an answer (1Pet 3:15) by presenting scientifically verifiable evidence. But we must never imagine that such a presentation will quicken the dead heart and open blind eyes. As 2 Corinthians 4:6 says, it is God who shines that Light to open their eyes. Behind every academic debate or scientific rebuttal, the skeptic is a sinner who needs forgiveness. Only a fresh sight of the glory of God will convince him of that, and only a fresh sight of the glory of God will remedy his unbelief.

Elsewhere Edwards says, "This evidence that [the] spiritually enlightened have of the truth of the things of religion, is a kind of intuitive and immediate evidence. They believe the doctrines of God's word to be divine because they see divinity in them, i.e. they see a divine, and transcendent, and most evidently distinguishing glory in them; such glory as, if clearly seen, doesn't leave room to doubt of their being of God and not of men."

God Himself, and the beauty of His glory, is our evidence. As you give a reason for the hope that is within you, don't send any other message.

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