More than men’s writings… (Prologue, Part 2)
In Part 1 of the Prologue to this series, we considered in some detail the relationship of faith to fact, and we found that Christianity and facts are integrated to an extent that they are inseparable. As Dr. Machen says in Christianity and Liberalism (emphasis added),
Christianity is an historical phenomenon, like the Roman Empire, or the Kingdom of Prussia, or the United States of America. And as an historical phenomenon it must be investigated on the basis of historical evidence. (page 20)
But if any one fact is clear, on the basis of this evidence, it is that the Christian movement at its inception was not just a way of life in the modern sense, but a way of life founded upon a message. It was based, not upon mere feeling, not upon a mere program of work, but upon an account of facts. (page 21)
From the beginning, the Christian gospel, as indeed the name ‘gospel’ or ‘good news’ implies, consisted in an account of something that had happened. And from the beginning, the meaning of the happening was set forth; and when the meaning of the happening was set forth then there was Christian doctrine. ‘Christ died’ – that is history; ‘Christ died for our sins’ – that is doctrine. Without these two elements, joined in an absolutely indissoluble union, there is no Christianity. (page 27)
From there we asserted four functions or roles for apologetics, 1. pre-evangelism (and sometimes evangelism), 2. the restraint of evil, 3. the support and encouragement of believers, and 4. the provision of commonplace benefits. Intimately associated with the first function is the question to which we now turn, that of the existence of common ground on which to hold meaningful discourse between the Christian and the nonChristian.
If common ground is defined as a common perception and perspective of reality, then there is no such thing between believer and unbeliever. The two are immersed in totally divergent and often mutually exclusive worldviews. A believer can see God’s hand in all of His creation, whereas the unbeliever denies the very existence of God, or at least the ability to know of His existence in any meaningful way. Because of this divergence, many feel that meaningful discourse between the two camps is really a waste of time at best, and otherwise an exercise in futility.
Presuppositionalists are a group of Christian apologists who, holding this position, assert that the aim of the apologist is to show how the presuppositions of the unbeliever are untrue and inconsistent, and that therefore they really should consider the Christian presuppositions. (These presuppositions include the existence of God and are thus neither minimal nor necessitarian; see discussion below.) Consequently, presuppositionalists are frequently fantastic critics of the other guy’s position, showing clearly and forcefully where the unbeliever is, in fact, inconsistent in his worldview and failing in his philosophy. But when then asked for evidence for their own position, the response is that we should not question God, but fall down before Him in humble adoration on the basis of the self-evident truth of Christianity. Unfortunately, in maintaining this position, they drag Christianity down to the level of all other unverifiable options, and do not serve God in the way they truly desire. What they are doing is demanding that the nonChristian think like a Christian, but by definition, he doesn’t. Thus, the need for common ground.
And there is, indeed, common ground in that both inhabit the same universe and see the same phenomena. There is agreement that two plus two equals four (unless you are doing some form of “new math”). In short, the raw data are the same, it is the philosophical filter that is different.
But there is another area that comprises common ground and that is in the basics of the knowing process (the philosophical term is “epistemology”). There are certain assumptions that are shared by theists and nontheists alike, particularly when they are applied in everyday life. These are methodological assumptions that are minimalistic and necessitarian, and it is these characteristics that make them common ground. What is meant by “minimalistic and necessitarian,” and what are these assumptions which serve as common ground?
Minimalistic assumptions tell you that there is something out there and how to determine what is out there but not what is out there. In other words, they don’t tell you that there are elephants out there but not leprechauns. Or more to the point of this discussion, they don’t tell you whether or not there is a God out there, but, rather, how you can determine within the limits of practical probability whether or not there is a God out there (if you really want to find out). Consequently, to assume that there is no God is not a minimalistic assumption despite what your humanist friend(s) may tell you. And, to be fair, to assume that there is a God is likewise not minimalistic. This is a content question.
Necessitarian assumptions are those assumptions everyone has to make just to live or do anything practically or theoretically. Because everyone has to make them, defending them is superfluous. Typically, necessitarian assumptions are minimalistic as well.
What assumptions meet these requirements of minimalistic and necessitarian? Simply the basic rules of logic and the basic reliability of sense perception. Armed with these, you can collect data and, when using logic properly, you can interpret it in a reproducible and consistent fashion. Neither tell you what is out there, only that something is and that you can reliably determine what that is, and if you can’t do so, please turn yourself in to the nearest authorities for your own safe keeping and mine. At the very least relinquish your driver’s license, because I really don’t want you on the same road as me if you don’t think you can reliably determine when I’m coming down the opposite side of the same road!
If, at this point, you don’t think the rules of logic are necessitarian, go ahead and start collecting data to prove that they aren’t…. OK, if it hasn’t set in yet, in the very collection of data you are engaged in induction and are employing logic! As humans, we can’t escape logic, as that is how our minds are created to work. Some have tried to deny logic or the reliability of the sense perceptions, but they do so inconsistently, for as soon as they step out their doors to go home, they immediately start to operate on the basis of these basic assumptions they’ve just denied and thus invalidate their own argument by necessity. And thus we have minimalistic necessitarian assumptions.
As a relevant aside, it cannot be said that are there a multiplicity of logics. That is, you can’t tell someone they are wrong because they are employing a different logic than you, nor can you claim to be right because you are using a different logic. Thus, it doesn’t matter if you are sitting at the very feet of “The Guru,” if your mantra is: “Elephants have big ears; Socrates has big ears; therefore, Socrates is an elephant,” you are dead wrong. And men, I have awful news for you. Brace yourselves! There is no such thing as a separate women’s logic on which you can blame your spouse’s behavior and your failure to understand and accommodate it. What you have are different premises, often unspoken, often unknown to the other party, that lead by the same logic to different conclusions because the starting premises are different. Classic example: the concept of dirt. Female premise: “Dirt? Eeew! Yuck!” Male premise: “Dirt? What dirt?” Each premise leads by the same logic to a valid conclusion based on the starting premise.
At this point I will let Dr. J. O. Buswell (J. Oliver Buswell, A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1962) explain and expound on the rules of logic of particular import to this topic and their relevance to biblical truth:
If we accept the sovereign Triune God as revealed in the Bible, it follows that we accept propositional truth, and the laws which are inherent in the nature of propositional truth….The Bible is a book in human language. If we are not talking nonsense we must then believe in the rules of linguistic expression. The Bible as a book written in human language claims to speak the truth. If the word truth is not meaningless, it implies the laws of truth, that is, the laws of logic. The logicians give us three such laws: (1) The law of identity, A is A. This means that terms or units may be identified in human discourse; or in very simple language, it means that we can know what we are talking about in a given context; (2) The law of contradictories, A is not non-A. This simply means that a term in language excludes from its meaning its contradictory, and that contradictory propositions cannot both be true; (3) The law of excluded middle, A is either B or non-B. This means that terms in human language may refer to classifications, and if the terms are precisely defined, the classifications may be either true or false. There is no middle ground between the truth and falsehood of unambiguous propositions. (page 19-20)
We do not claim, of course, that the laws of the syllogism or the intricacies of formal logic are explicitly taught in the Scriptures, but we do claim most emphatically that the great mass of teaching on truth and falsehood would be completely meaningless if the basic laws of logic, particularly the law of contradictories, were not constantly assumed by the Biblical writers.
Not only the basic laws of logic but the processes of inductive reasoning are assumed. Those who ‘clearly see’ and ‘know’ God’s ‘eternal power and divine character [theiotes, not theotes]’ as evidenced in God’s creation, are ‘without excuse’ (Romans 1:19, 20). Appeal to the implications of facts, as from effects to cause, is especially prominent in the gospel of John…. ‘If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works; that ye may come to know [aorist subjunctive] and keep on knowing [present subjunctive] that the Father is in me and I in him’ (John 10:37, 38).
The words of Jesus given in John 10:38 may be paraphrased, ‘If I give you evidences, even though you do not know me well enough to have confidence in what I tell you, yet, reasoning a posteriori from effects to cause, it would be reasonable for you to believe me because of the evidence.’
We shall argue that God is known by His effects, that is by revelation, in Christ, in Scripture, and in His creation, when we present the theistic proofs. Inductive reasoning in theology carries us as far, and is as reliable, as inductive reasoning is, or claims to be, in any sphere. (pages 22-23)
And one final word:
The work of the Holy Spirit in bringing conviction to the hearts of men is above and beyond the inductive rational process, but never contrary thereto. (page 23)
For a complementary and further elaboration, I recommend Chapter 5 of Sproul, et al. Scripture nowhere denies the ability of fallen man to reason logically thus. Only that he is unable to reason himself into favor with God apart from God’s regenerative work.
The Biblical Mandate
Given the answers to the questions we’ve seen so far, there is one final question to deal with. Going back to sola Scriptura, that is, the establishment of all we think and do on biblical principles and data, is there a biblical basis for apologetics? Does God tell us to engage in this activity, or are we to just proclaim the message and let God do as He pleases? It is not uncommon to hear from some pulpits the idea that the Bible never tries to prove the existence of God, but assumes it to be an infallible truth. We will see in a future post that this concept is only true in that Genesis does not attempt a proof. However, God does, in fact, provide specific evidence for His existence in both general revelation (His creation; see the Creation and Evolution series on this blog) and special revelation (the Bible, which will be the topic of the rest of this series). To quote Sproul, et al., “We maintain, in spite of the confusion and lack of agreement on this point, that there is abundant, clear biblical warrant for such activity. The warrant comes from God’s example and His command.” (page 18)
I have actually covered a good bit of this ground already over in Part 4 of the Creation and Evolution series [a series I have not yet begun to reproduce on this blog; please be patient]. Throughout Scripture, man is held accountable for logically reasoning from effect to cause (e.g., 1 Kings 18:2; Mark 2:10-11; John 5:31-36). Paul’s discussion of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 is an exemplar of an apostolic appeal to reason and to empirical data to support a truth claim. We see Paul engaged in this kind of activity on multiple occasions in Acts (Acts 17:31; 19:8-10). The latter is particularly instructive when we look at the Greek. Paul is said to have engaged in “reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus” (19:9). The word translated “reasoning” (“disputing” in the KJV) is dialegomenos, which literally means “to discuss, to conduct a discussion of lectures which were likely to end in disputations.” (Arndt & Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 4th ed., University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1952, page 307) In the previous verse (19:8), this word is conjoined to peithon, (“persuading” in the KJV) which means “to persuade, i.e. to induce one by words to believe.”
Finally, the primary command for apologetics is in 1 Peter 3:15, where God commands us through the apostle Peter to:
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.
The imperative comes in the sanctifying of God in our hearts. Part of sanctifying God in our hearts is being ready always to give an answer, a defense for our faith. Maybe not in the intense detail we will cover in this series, but you should at least know that such exists and where to find it. I shall start to conclude this prologue with the words of Sproul, et al., which I think are fitting:
By divine example and divine command apologetics is a mandate God gives to His people. If God Himself provides evidence for what He declares to be truth it is calumnous to repudiate the value of evidence. If God commands us to do the work of apologetics it is disobedience to refuse the task.
As a final conclusion, let us see how God gives one of His imperatives in the form of a challenge command to His opponents:
Produce your cause, saith the LORD; bring forth your strong reasons, saith the King of Jacob. Let them bring them forth, and shew us what shall happen: let them shew the former things, what they be, that we may consider them, and know the latter end of them; or declare us things for to come. Shew the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods: yea, do good, or do evil, that we may be dismayed, and behold it together. (Isaiah 41:21-23)
Remember, this is the same God who says earlier in the same book:
Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. (Isaiah 1:18)