Since many of the articles posted on this website and the comments we receive deal with apologetics either directly or indirectly, I felt it necessary to address the subject. The following series on apologetics is taking from the 12 sermons of Gary L.W. Johnson, pastor of my home church in Mesa, Arizona. Pastor Johnson is one of the best expository pastors I have ever had the privilege to sit under. He spends a great deal of time and effort in researching and preparing his sermon notes which are printed up and inserted into the bulletins for all to follow along with. Since moving away from Mesa, the office staff at the church have been a blessing in e-mailing the sermon notes to myself and others, every week. – R.L. David Jolly
Apologetics Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry
The seemingly innocent WWJD (What would Jesus Do?) slogan has been plastered on just about everything—bracelets, baseball caps, shoelaces, note pads, T-shirts etc. Because it is a commercial success, it was only a matter of time before similar slogans made their appearance. Now we have FROG (Fully Rely On God) and PAG (Put on the Armor of God). These are touted as witnessing tools geared towards preteens and teenagers. I said that these sorts of things are seemingly innocent—but they are not. While their advocates claim that they are “a great way to share your faith”—in actuality they focus attention on our behavior and not on the Gospel. Bumper stickers and bracelet slogans like these call attention to me, me, and me, not Christ.
David Wells has documented that our culture is image driven.1 We seem to be always enamoured with simple (simplistic) visual ways to advertise our relationship with Jesus. The major problem with this mentality is that it ends up trivializing the Gospel. This is a far cry from what the Apostle Peter had in mind when he urged Christians to “Always be prepared to give an answer (APOLOGIA) to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Pet. 3:15).
In ancient Greece an apologia was the defense offered in a court of law in answer to an accusation. Socrates was accused of atheism and of corrupting the youth of Athens; eventually he was sentenced to die. The dialogue by Plato in which we read the courtroom reply that Socrates offered is entitled The Apology—not indicating that Socrates “apologized” and said he was sorry, but rather that he defended his actions and integrity.2
Christians in the ancient world knew what it was to have accusation and ridicule directed at them for their religious conviction and practices. The report of Jesus’ resurrection was taken as an idle tale (Luke 24:11), a lie (Matt. 28:13-15), and an impossibility (Acts 26:20-25) and mocked by the Greek philosophers (Acts 17:32). On the day of Pentecost the disciples were accused of being drunk (Acts 2:13). Stephen was accused of opposing previous revelation (Acts 6:11-14). Paul was accused of introducing new gods (Acts 17:18-20). The church was accused of political insurrection (Acts 17:6-7).
Experts openly contradicted what the Christians taught (Acts 13:45) and prejudicially vilified their persons (Acts 14:2). So, on the one hand, the Christian message was a stumbling block to Jews and utter foolishness to Greeks (1 Cor. 1:23). On the other hand, the early Christians had to guard against the wrong kind of positive acceptance of what they proclaimed. The apostles were confused for gods by advocates of pagan religion (Acts 14:11-13), given unwelcome commendation by soothsayers (Acts 16:16-18), and had their message absorbed by heretical legalists (Acts 15:1,5).
Twentieth-century believers can sympathize with their brothers in the ancient world. Our Christian faith continues to see the same variety of attempts to oppose and undermine it. What kind of response should be made to such accusations and challenges? It is clear from the New Testament record that the believers in the early church were not content to be relativists, subjectivists, or eclectics. In the accounts of opposition that are mentioned above, Christians are not found replying that nobody can know anything for sure (especially about supernatural matters), in which case there is no absolute truth.
Religious disagreements are not seen as irresolvable differences of personal upbringing, culture, or perspective. We do not read anything like “The Bible is true for me, but may not be true for you.” Nor can we find any willingness to make common cause with false religiosity as long as Christianity is accepted as one among many legitimate points of view. Instead, what we find in answer to accusation, ridicule, and alternative religions is apologetics—the defense of the truth of Christian claims.3
The approach that I will take in this series is known as Presuppositionalism (this will be explained in some detail as we go along).
I. Crucial Aspects of Presuppositionalism
- Men come to presuppose the truth of God only by the grace of God.
- Because it is the truth and grace of God which have transformed us, we must be bold in our challenge to intellectual belief.
- Since it is the grace of God (not our own wisdom) which accounts for our change of mind, humility is befitting our Christian witness; we have nothing in ourselves of which to boast.
- THEREFORE, IT MUST BE HUMBLE BOLDNESS-NOT COMPROMISE, NOT OBSCURANTISM NOT ARROGANCE—WHICH CHARACTERIZES OUR EFFORTS TO DEFEND AND CONTEND FOR OUR FAITH.
- All men are “without excuse” for rebellion against the Lord, for all men know the living and true God by means of his common revelation (Rom. 1:14-20).
- Despite his contrary profession, even the unbeliever knows what may be known about God from nature and conscience; God has clearly revealed Himself to every man.
- All men attempt to suppress this knowledge of God, as is manifest in the various, multiform, and profuse schemes of anti-Christian thought and philosophy (Rom. 1:18).
- But because the unbeliever cannot rid himself of a knowledge of God, because he continues to use the “borrowed capital” of theistic truths, he is enabled to come to a limited understanding of the truth about the world and himself—despite, not because of, his attempted autonomy.
- God has created all things for Himself, directs them to His own sovereign ends, and owns everything—in which case, everything in the created realm must serve Him.
- This precludes the possibility of any neutral ground between the believer and unbeliever, but it assures us that there is abundant common ground (metaphysically speaking) between them, since all men are God’s creatures and live in God’s world.
- As God’s creature, created in God’s image, and living in an environment which constantly brings the revelation of God to bear upon him, the unbeliever is always accessible to the gospel. The believer always has a point of contact with the unbeliever: (1) his being the image of God, and (2) the suppressed truth deep inside him.4
We conclude with Calvin that God’s Word must be presupposed in order to have knowledge in either the realm of creation or redemption; however, because our culture has been saturated with the contrary demands of autonomy and neutrality, there is a pressing need for reformation in the world of thought.5 According to Romans 1:18-21, unbelievers actually know God in their heart of hearts (v. 21). Indeed, that which is known of God is evident within them so that they are without excuse for their professed unbelief (vv. 19-20). Since He is not far from any of us, even pagan philosophers cannot escape knowing Him (cf. Acts 17:27-28). What unbelievers do is “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18). They are guilty of self-deception. Although in one sense they very sincerely deny knowing God or being persuaded by His revelation, they nevertheless are mistaken in this denial. In fact they do know God, they are persuaded by His revelation of Himself, and they now are doing whatever they can to keep that truth from sight and to keep from dealing honestly with their Maker and Judge. “Rationalization and any number of intellectual games will be enlisted to convince themselves and others that God’s revelation of Himself is not to be believed. In this way unbelievers, who genuinely know God (in condemnation), work hard—even if habitually (and in that sense unconsciously)—to deceive themselves into believing that they do not believe in God or the revealed truths about Him.”6
- D.F. Wells, No Place For Truth or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? (Eerdmans, 1993), p. 201.
- The Greek term apologia is a noun that literally means “apology”; the verb apologeomai means to give a defense. These terms occur eighteen times in the New Testament, and various Hebrew equivalents can be found throughout the Old Testament. All but a few of the references have judicial, courtroom connotations. For example, our Lord told his disciples, “When you are brought before synagougues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say” (Luke 12:11, my emphasis). Or, again, the Apostle Paul often went before such rulers as Felix, Festus, and Agrippa to set forth a case in defense of his position. Cf. William Edgar, Reasons of the Heart: Recovering Christian Persuasion (Baker, 1996), p. 33.
- Cf. Greg Bahnsen, “The Task of Apologetics” in Van Til’s Apologetics: Reading & Analysis (P&R, 1998), p. 27ff.
- This outline has been adapted (with some modification) from Greg Bahnsen, Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith (Covenant Media Foundation, 1996), pp. 47-57. I would highly recommend this book as a good introduction to presuppositional apologetics.
- John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion ed. J.T. McNeill, trans, F.L Battles (Westminster, 1960), Bk. 1, Ch. 4. Sec. 1.
- Bahnsen, Always Ready p.123.