Our Dinner with the Mormons

I have had a handful of interesting encounters with Mormon missionaries ever since I became a Christian.

The first time I encountered them was the first week of my college sophomore year during a campus organization fair. I was a brand new believer, maybe just a few months old in the Lord, and I happened to walk by a booth and noticed a big painting of Jesus with angels descending from the clouds to earth. I said to one of the gals standing there, “That’s a cool picture,” to which one of them replied, “Oh, do you know much about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?”

I have to confess I was taken aback because all I knew was that Mormons were a non-Christian cult, and without hesitation I bluntly told the two girl missionaries they were a cult. Tactful, I know. That led to a spirited exchange between us as we debated whether or not Joseph Smith was a con-man or a true prophet. The conversation ended with me condemning their religion and telling them to repent. I think they said something like “God bless you” as I walked away.

The second encounter happened a year or so later.  A friend of mine saw a TV ad for a free video about Jesus. He called the number and was surprised to learn it was a Mormon produced video. The operator asked if some missionaries could drop it by his apartment rather than mailing it. He said sure and gave them MY contact information. He then calls me and tells me to be on the look out for these missionaries. They eventually called me and because I had a misunderstanding of the warning in 2 John 9-11, I arranged to have a meeting with them at our college library.

I took my friend Johnny along and we debated with these two guys for about an hour. This time, I was a bit more knowledgeable about Mormonism than I had previously been. Johnny and I challenged the legitimacy of Joseph Smith being a prophet of God, the historical accuracy of the Book of Mormon, and the whole idea of men becoming gods. The encounter was again spirited for me, and interestingly, the one guy who did all the talking tells us, “You probably know my uncle.” I said, “Really, who’s that?” “Robert Schuller.” I still chuckle about that.

third encounter happened shortly after I was married. One afternoon while I was taking a walk out on the pedestrian path that ran along side our condo complex, I saw four young men approaching me. I immediately recognized the white shirts, black pants, and name badges.

mormonsOne of the guys stopped me and asks, “Hey, have you ever talked with someone dressed like me?” I quipped, “You mean an insurance salesman?”

I then told him I knew what he was all about and like the previous times I had spoken with Mormons, we had a spirited exchange. I questioned Joseph Smith as a prophet and the validity of the Book of Mormon. By this time I was fully immersed in studying Calvinism comprehensively and I turned the conversation to the doctrines of total inability and sovereign election. All of the four guys expressed to me their hearty disdain for any notion of total inability and sovereign election and they made up an excuse to beat a quick retreat.

Now with those stories in mind, let me share a fourth, much more personal encounter I had with Mormon missionaries.

A few years ago, I come home from work and my wife greets me with a smile and a kiss and then says to me, “Guess who I spoke with today at the park?” She then proceeds to tell me how she and our kids were playing at our local park when a pair of Mormon missionaries stopped by where she was sitting and began chatting with her about their church. I replied, “Really? So how was the discussion?”

“Oh, we talked a bit,” she said, “But I invited them to eat dinner with us this weekend.” She then added, “You have a few days to prepare.”

My immediate reaction was to review all the resources I have on hand discussing Mormon history and theology. But as I pondered my previous encounters with Mormon missionaries, I wanted to take a more fruitful approach with any discussion that may occur.  My thoughts turned to what I had been learning about evangelism and  apologetics and how I have been sharpening my methodology and delivery.

I told my wife I would email a couple of individuals I knew who have a direct ministry with the Mormon people so as to get some advice, but rather than haggling with these two missionaries about Joseph Smith’s shady character and the quirky beliefs of Mormon theology, I would take a renewed approach.

Instead, my main objective will be four-fold:

- To listen respectfully to their presentation,

- Contrast and defend biblical doctrine against any contrary beliefs they will present,

- Emphasize the key points of the Gospel: man’s sin and inability to save himself, God’s just wrath against sinners, Christ’s wrath appeasing death in place of sinners, and His imputed righteousness to our account,

- And trust the Holy Spirit to use my efforts regardless of how eloquent a presentation I may or may not give.

I think I read a couple of articles from the Mormon Research Ministries, but most of my preparation was looking over important passages that speak of God’s eternality and singularity (being the only true God), and reviewing important passages on the inability of man to earn his own righteousness and Christ’s righteousness being imputed to us.

The dinner was scheduled to start at 6 PM on a Saturday evening. Fifteen minutes past the hour the two guys show up. I went down to invite them in. I introduced myself with my first and last name, and they introduced themselves as elder so-and-so. I asked them for their first names, but they insisted I call them elder so-and-so. My wife told me after they left that when she was at the park they told her their names were Rick and Roberto.

At the time when we lived at our condo, when you came through our front door, you would had been greeted with a gigantic book case filled with just some of my books. Roberto saw it and says, “Wow, you must like to read.” I said, “Oh yes, I sure do.”  When you got to the top of our stairs that led into our living room, there were two other large shelves filled with even more books. Again Roberto says, “Wow. You have a lot of books.” I then told them I was a seminary graduate and I planned to pastor in the future. I could tell they were both a bit awed by my library as they browsed the titles, so I took that as a positive in my favor.

We all sat down for a nice spaghetti meal my wife prepared and I asked them where they were from. Roberto was from El Salvador and Rick was from the Kansas City Missouri area. Roberto was on his 3rd month as a missionary and Rick was finishing up his 17th month. Both of them had parents who converted to Mormonism.

Dinner was mainly chit-chat stuff. We talked about how to keep food from getting on our ties, and Rick was bold enough to ask me about the scar on my neck from my surgery when I had a tumor removed. I told him the entire story.

After we finished up dinner, it was down to brass tacks. They began by telling us they were Christians like us and that they believed Jesus died for their sins. My wife stopped them and asked them to define who they think Jesus is. Both of them claimed He was the Son of God and even affirmed the virgin birth.

onewayI then asked them to give me their testimony as to how they became Mormon. Though each of them gave a little more detail to their family up bringing, neither one of them really got around to explaining under what circumstances they were brought to a place to confirm Mormonism as being true. Both of them claimed they took the Mormon test at some point during their early life. That is, prayerfully reading through the Book of Mormon and asking God to confirm whether the book was true or not. Both of them spoke of experiencing a spiritual enlightenment, or what is known as the “burning bosom” sensation after they tested the Book of Mormon with prayer.

I then recounted to them the Joseph Smith story and asked if he had a similar experience, to which they replied yes, he had. I then asked if Smith believed he was restoring the true Church of Jesus Christ, to which they said yes. But then I asked about the other sects of Mormonism that have splintered off the main group due to various disagreements. I asked if whether or not their members had the same experience with the Book of Mormon as they did, and if they did, how then could you call them apostate or in error if the “Holy Spirit” was allegedly confirming the correctness of their beliefs with the “burning bosom” experience. In other words, if there are two hundred different sects of Mormonism all claiming to be the true representatives because they had an alleged experience with the Holy Spirit, how could anyone ever claim they were mistaken or in error? Their affirmation for what is true is based upon purely speculative and subjective means.

I am not sure either one of those guys had ever been challenged with that question, because both of them seemed a bit perplexed with what I asked. They had to ask me to clarify what I meant. At first I thought their hesitancy was due in part to my inability to ask my question coherently, so I rephrased and repeated it several different ways. However, in spite of my efforts, they didn’t seem to have an answer to what is really a fundamental understanding as to how a person determines the Book of Mormon as being true.

Rick eventually went to Matthew 7 where Jesus talks about a good tree producing only good fruit and tried to explain that any Mormon who claims to have the “burning bosom” experience will also be a faithful Mormon. But I tried to explain that the truthfulness of what the Book of Mormon teaches is still in the realm of the subjective if the person you say is not bearing good fruit insists he or she is certain of their experience. There has to be an objective standard by which we can judge the validity of the person’s so-called experience.

That was a good lead into my two objections to Joseph Smith being a prophet. I again repeated the Smith story and asked them to correct and clarify anything I might have gotten wrong. After I explained the Smith story, they both affirmed I had the details correct, so I told them I have two troubling problems with what Smith claimed:

First, he claimed he was restoring the true Church of Jesus Christ which allegedly had gone into apostasy only a few hundred years after the time of the apostles. I told them Jesus specifically said that He would build His Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18-20).

Additionally, Paul wrote in Ephesians 3:20,21 that God’s Spirit will always be operative in the hearts of God’s people so that He will be glorified in the Church to all generations. That implies an uninterrupted Church. Though those who claim to be Christians may slide into error and fall away as the NT affirms in a variety of places, there will always be a faithful, redeemed remnant on the earth standing firm in the Faith once and for all delivered to the saints. Smith, I said, is contradicting that teaching by claiming God told him no denominations are correct and he was chosen to restore the true church. Essentially, Smith is claiming with his vision that Christ failed in his promise as described in Matthew 16.

Second, I pointed out that the Bible presents some important marks identifying a prophet of God. Deuteronomy 13:1-5 says that any person who claims to be a prophet by seeing visions and giving signs, BUT presents new revelation about God that contradicts the previous revelation and leads people away from the true worship of God, is not only to be rejected as a false prophet, but killed. I told them that from what I know of Mormon theology, Joseph Smith taught doctrine that runs the direct opposite from biblical Christianity, especially the notion that God was once a man who became a god.

Both of those guys, particularly Rick, affirmed that is what Mormonism teaches, and Roberto was insistent this is what the Bible teaches also. He took me to the classic passage in Psalms 82:6 where the text says, I said “you are gods,” and all of you are children of the Most High, and then he related it to Jesus’ words in John 10:34. I then backed up and read the entire Psalm and when we came to verse 7 which reads, But you shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes, I asked them, “So if this passage is affirming the Mormon doctrine that men can become gods, does this mean once you become a god you can do something to die? What is it that can cause a god to die and what happens when a god does die? What sort of death” is in mind here?”

Stone silence. I began hearing creaking sounds as they shifted in their chairs.

It was at this point Roberto started to wrap the discussion up by telling us they were not here to convert us, that we could talk all night about these things, and that they only want to encourage us to take up the Book of Mormon and prayerfully ask God to show us that it is true. He further stated that neither one of them wanted to condemn any other church or denomination, and as far as they were concerned, God is blessing all of those churches and using them.

I then asked Roberto, “In light of that last comment, I need to know if there is anything of eternal value at stake here? Both of us cannot be right in our understanding of the Christian faith. Either I am correct and you are wrong, or you are correct and I am wrong.”

He repeated his exhortation for me to take up the Book of Mormon and pray about it, and then asked me how I personally knew the Bible was true. I responded by saying that the Holy Spirit does affirm its truth to me in my heart, but my faith is also set upon the historical reality of the Old and New Testament. The Book of Mormon does not have this historical reality.

That is when I recounted the gospel message. I told them about man’s sinfulness and being separated from God, how God in His grace provided a substitute to satisfy His wrath against sinners and how God imputes Christ’s righteousness to us on account of our faith alone. My wife added a passioned plea for them to repent, because, as she told them, they are in a false religion that will only lead to hell. “The works of Mormonism cannot save you,” she concluded.

Both of them ended the night by thanking us for our hospitality and our spiritual concern and we walked them to the door. My wife’s final comment to them was outstanding. She said, “Guys, if you are correct, we have nothing to fear and lose. However, if we are correct, you have your soul’s to lose for all eternity. I pray that God will open your eyes to see the truth. Don’t blind yourself to the lies of the Mormon Church.” And with that, they thanked us again and left.

We went up stairs and prayed for God to use the words we spoke to work in the hearts of Rick and Roberto. Who knows what will happen, but over all, I was thankful for the time was much more profitable on my account than my previous experiences with Mormon missionaries. Perhaps we will encounter them again, and maybe we will have further opportunity to bring them the truth of scripture.

The Providence of Moving

houseThis month of July, my family and I celebrate our first year of living in our new house. Folks reading that may think, “Oh, congrats and all, but, so what?”

I meant to document our moving adventures last year for my readers, but, well… unpacking and getting settled prevented that. Unlike our previous moving experience in 2009, this one was filled with remarkable displays of God’s providence that played themselves out in our encounters with both good and bad forces.

Back in 2009, our family of 6 had outgrown our 2 bedroom condo, and because gubermint was offering to let me keep more of my hard earned money via tax returns if we became new home owners, we decided to move into a new place.

Our options were limited. Everything we could afford was a fixer-upper. They were houses that had been foreclosed on, and before the banks repossessed them, the owners had stripped out all the plumbing, wire, and other fixtures. Many of those homes had un-permitted additions that would only be a legal and financial headache if we bought them.

After a few months of looking at a pathetic inventory of housing, we turned to looking at mobile homes, or what we call in the South, double-wide trailers. (Ours had a deck). The more gentrified term is “coach.” “How old is your ‘coach’?” a person would ask, “Oh, it’s a 2007,” we’d respond.  We lived in our mobile home (coach) community for at least 3 years, the minimum time gubermint required us to stay at the same residence without being forced to return my money they so generously allowed me to keep.

Though our experience was positive living there, it was not without its drawbacks. Nearly every one of our immediate neighbors smoked, and because they were either retired or had an exaggerated “disability” that allowed them to stay home all day with a paycheck from gubermint, they sat out on their porches smoking morning, noon, and night. They lived literally one carport width away from our windows, so their smoking made it hard on my homeschooling family. They had to stay shut up in our house (coach) all day with the windows closed.  And don’t get me started on the busybody spirit of our coach community. People think that because they live 15 feet from you, they are privileged to know everything that is happening in your personal life. Plus, how can I not mention the intrusive, nanny-state “rules enforcing” manager hacks who thrived on monetary bribes.

In essence, we had bought a massive used car (maybe that is why they call them “coaches”), and we knew we needed to find something a bit more permanent because our house (coach) was only depreciating in value every year.

coachesAt the end of 2012, we faced a similar problem we had in 2009: there really weren’t that many homes available to buy; but added to that was the fact there weren’t many people wanting to buy coaches, either. In order for our move to work we had to find a decent home in our price range that would meet our needs, as well as sell our house (coach) at the price we were asking.

The world of “coach” selling is a dark and sinister realm. There are entirely different sets of rules governing their sale and purchase, so no serious realtor truly wants to mess with them.  Hence, those who make a living at selling them are what you call “shady.” Our first order of business was finding a realtor who could transcend both the coach selling world and the real house buying world.

We thought we would talk with the bubbly gal who sold us our coach back in 2009. She told us she only sells coaches, but she had a friend she worked with who bought and sold real homes. When we met with them, my wife and I knew something was up when the two gals got all weird after we asked simple questions like how much commission they were expecting to make. We further explained our needs and the various areas of the city we were wanting to look into settling, and immediately the two start giving each other sideways glances.  As we ended our meeting, they claimed they would begin looking into our list immediately. After two or three weeks of not returning our calls and absolutely no communication we knew something odd was going on.

Well, my wife, being one of those Proverb 31 gals the ex-fundy types like Rachel Held Evans despise so vigorously, took the initiative to start looking into new homes on her own. It just so happened one day, while standing outside a house for sale in a neighborhood we were interested in that she ran into a real estate lady who was coming out. My wife and her started talking, and my wife tells her our saga with trying to sell our “coach.”  When she asks her what sort of commission she would expect to make if she were to sell our house (coach), she told her on the spot.

Impressed, my wife set up a meeting with her and she came prepared with a full packet, including a detailed, personal resume that answered all the questions the previous two gals dodged and ignored. No weasel worded nonsense. We immediately made her our realtor.

Our first order of business was to find someone to buy our house (coach). When we originally bought it, we did so at a tremendously reduced, foreclosed price. We determined to sell it at its true value, which was at least 15,000 more than what we paid for it. All our neighbors scoffed and said we would never get that price. It was just an unspoken “fact” that no one ever sells their “coach” more than what was paid for it, ever; even if it was bought at a reduced price. Ah. But we have a God of providence.

conmenThe one coach salesman that came to us happened to be a notorious grifter type. He reminded me of Joe Biden for some reason. Neither my wife, nor I, nor our realtor gal, liked him at all because he just exuded a televangelist like slime. He had a reputation of smooth talking little old ladies into selling him their coaches when they were in a tough, financial jam and had to move out in a hurry and into a retirement facility. He would buy them for like half of what they were truly worth and once the little old lady was gone, would turn them around and make a profit.

He would always bring to us some clueless individuals who didn’t even look like they could make house (coach) payments. He and his “marks” would walk through the place, but none of them would commit or they would offer us a significantly lower price.

Finally, he brought us one gal who wanted to move closer to her work. She already lived in a mobile home, so the concept wasn’t necessarily new to her. She would just upgrade from a coach 12 years older than ours. But again, she needed to sell hers so as to buy ours. We needed her to buy ours at the price we were asking, or we couldn’t move. We in turn had to find a house we could afford that would meet our needs. That was proving just as difficult to find.

So while our coach selling saga was going on, my wife and realtor friend were feverish looking for homes for us to check out and tour. All of them, except for maybe one, were dogs. The one exception was way out in the country, though still close to my work. The folks selling it, however, didn’t take our offer. Crunch time was squeezing us, because the grifter was able to sell his mark’s mobile home AND, she agreed to buy our place at our asking price, which aggravated our frowning neighbors when they learned that bit of news.

We were now required to get out at a specific time, and if we couldn’t, we’d really be up the creek. (Believe it or not, the slimy grifter coach salesman wanted us out by two weeks, but we thwarted that attempt. That’s another story in itself).

My wife, by this time, had resorted to looking at homes that were in the process of being “flipped.” She’d find out who was flipping the place and inquire as to whether or not we could make an offer. It just so happened that she found such a house. It was 200 sq. feet smaller than our coach, but had a big garage and an enormous back yard. Plus, it was in a neighborhood we were interested in and it fell into our price range. Amazing, I know.

But the place had a sordid history. First, back in the mid-2000s, it was a notorious clown house. Meaning, when coyote’s brought illegal aliens across the border to work, this house was one of the thousands of places where the “undocumented” individual would get dumped. We were told there were at least 15 or more all living in this 3 bed room, 2 bath house at once.  After the complaints by law abiding citizens in the neighborhood, the city was finally forced to evict the criminal illegal invasion.

Things apparently quieted down and the new “renter” was a well-groomed Chinese guy who – I am told – would stop by the house once or twice a week, warmly greet people with a wave hello, disappear into the house, emerge a few hours later, wave good bye and not return for a few more days.

After a while, folks began noticing that he left the air conditioning running 24 hours a day, and it was during the winter months. Moreover, a strange odor began lofting from the house. Finally, the sheriff was called about the odor, and the deputy discovered that the house had a half million dollar pot grow inside. See pics,

pot growpot grow 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was soon discovered that this Chinese guy had 5 homes in the Santa Clarita Valley he had converted into pot grows valuing at 2 million. He disappeared and his whereabouts are unknown.

The house was seized and red tagged because of all the illegal modifications it received to be transformed into a pot grow. That means city gubermint was involved in the remodel and flipping process. The current owner, according to the listing agent for the place, was on the verge of finishing up the flip and agreed to sell the finished product to us.

So, we have our coach sold, the new house is supposed to be ready by the first of June, and we need to be out of our place by the middle of May. There was two weeks of limbo as to where we would stay as we waited to move into our new place. Praise the Lord our gracious friends let us stay with them.  We had to rent some containers to store our stuff, along with storing some of our larger items in the back yard with a tarp covering them. I was extremely grateful to live in Southern California where the rain is primarily concentrated during the winter months. At this point, it looked like everything was turning up roses for us.

Then the unexpected happened and we thought the whole thing would fall apart, but it was merely another move of providence.

The contractor folks remodeling the place were found to be cutting corners on important features. You know, important stuff like the plumbing. In fact, a local plumber guy was the one who discovered and reported the corner-cutting. That alerted the city management folks who put a halt on the remodel until the inspectors could look things over. They did a walk around and determined there were significant issues that needed to be fixed, including rewiring, replumping, and they wanted them to put on a new roof. Those were all items I was anticipating having to replace in time that was being taken care of now. Essentially, our old, 40 year plus house would be practically brand new.

We were elated with the fixes, but that only delayed our time moving in. (Sad trombone sound inserted here). What we thought would be a 2 week stay with our friends turned into almost an entire 2 months. But in spite of the extended stay that bounced around on everyone’s nerves, they are still one of our bestest friends. We still eat thanksgiving and Easter dinner with them.

One other wonderful blessing was the help we received from friends who offered their services with moving.  We did two moves really. One that moved our stuff out of our old place and onto our property, and then a second move that emptied out the storage containers and brought our stuff into our actual home. I even learned the importance of spending that extra 15 bucks for insurance when renting that moving truck. Something I never do, by the way, but for this time, I was compelled to get it. Go figure.

uhaultruck

BTW, They have those upside down U shaped metal bars at gas stations for a reason.

The last cool thing about our move was the help I got from a sweet gentleman who volunteers at Grace to You.  We needed a storage shed built in our backyard. I thought about getting a prefabricated kit, but they were expensive and looked cheap for the price. There was an entire website I found that talked about shed building philosophy and one article warned against purchasing shed kits because they charge you extra for what is called optional add-ons which are necessary components for basic shed construction. For instance, a floor.

I was telling my volunteer friend about my shed research and he offered to look over the plans I had found and even to help me build it. Just so happens, the guy built houses in the Lake Tahoe area for 30 plus years! It was an unexpected providence.  We built it from scratch using raw materials. Took us a month of weekends, but now we have a solid, well constructed shed for our lawn mower and other storage items that cost less than what I would have paid for a prefabricated one without the “necessary” components falsely called “add-ons.”

This is maybe one of my longer, rambling personal posts, but I thought folks would be encouraged to see how the practical workings of providence play out in one’s daily life. Even in things as aggravating and mundane as moving, God’s sovereignty is on display.

Me and the UFO Guy

Opportunities to evangelize can unexpectedly occur for the Christian all the time, but  those opportunity are sometimes not only unexpected, but also unusual.One Saturday in the late afternoon a few years ago, I was finishing cleaning up our mini-van. I had removed all of the interior seats, vacuumed the floor as best as I could, and I was in the process of vacuuming the seats and wrestling them back into the van.

While I was cleaning up the van, I was reviewing one of my Bible talk lectures I had given on the subject of evolution on the CD stereo. As I was fiddling with one of my kid’s car seat, movement caught the corner of my eye and I turned to see a guy riding up on his bicycle next to my van. I became a tad apprehensive, because he rode right up to my van and was just sitting there on his bicycle. I began to think about those crime documentaries on A&E and how many of those unsolved murders probably began with someone strolling up to a guy vacuuming a van.

That was just for a split second and I nodded to the guy a friendly “hey,” and he motioned to me that he was listening to the CD. He then asked me who it was and I said, “me.” He looked surprised and said, “really?” I explained to him how I worked at a radio ministry connected to my church and because I direct about 100 volunteers a week who come to help package tapes and CDs to our donors, I have the privilege of teaching them for about 30 minutes or so. I went on to explain how the talk was part of a series of lectures I gave on the subject of evolution and ID.

As I was explaining all this, he swings his leg over his bike and reaches into his pocket. Of course, I begin to eye-ball him to watch what it was he was going to pull out of there. He retrieves a cell phone and says, “Tell me what you think of this.” He proceeds to show me a video image of a round light glowing in the sky over some trees.

I asked, “What is it?” He looks around and lowers his voice a bit and says, “Every night this past week, around 2 AM or thereafter, this light hovers over the wash (big, dried-up river bed that runs through town). It’s not a plane, turns at sharp angles, turns color; my friend has a 45 minute video of the thing. There’s no doubt it’s a saucer.” There was a ominous tone in his voice when he said “saucer.” Like we aren’t talking about drinking tea, if you know what I mean.

I replied, “You mean this thing flies over the wash right over here behind our place?”
He responds, “Listen man, I’m not crazy, I don’t drink, and I don’t do drugs. I’m telling you, it has been there every night this past week and I bet it will be there again tonight.”

I replied again pointing, “This wash right over there?”

“Yes,” he affirms.

farsideI, of course, began wondering why beings who have the technological know-how to transverse interstellar space with great speeds or travel through wormholes to our planet, would spend their time hovering over the wash in Santa Clarita at 2 in the morning.

Moreover, if they were being all stealthy about it, why would they fly saucer ships that are lit up so bright so as to be seen for miles? And why do they fly their saucers at 2:30 AM, because I never get to see these things when they make their appearance?

Anyhow, I say to the guy, “Welp, I don’t believe you are crazy. In fact, I believe you are certainly seeing something fly over the wash, but why do you assume it is a flying saucer from another planet or inter-dimensional beings?”

He paused for a moment, I think because I told him he wasn’t “crazy,” and then says rather breathlessly, “Because it flies like no airplane I have seen before.”

I say to him, “I happen to know a few people who worked at Skunk Works, Lockheed’s division that develops top-secret aircraft. They tell me there’s a lot of stuff the public doesn’t know about that could easily be mistaken as an other world spaceship that is really just an experimental prototype airplane.”

With out even acknowledging my comment, the fellow says,

“Do you really believe we are the only life in the universe? The universe is huge, we can’t be the only life.”

That tends to be the big argument in favor of extra-terrestrial life: The universe is so vast, with millions upon millions of galaxies, let alone stars, that there has to be others planets out there like ours sustaining super-intelligent life, or at least really fun aliens like Dr. Who. Of course, I have always wondered why these super-intelligent beings want to come to our planet and probe New Agers and lumberjacks in the middle of the night. I mean, if they are here to harvest human DNA to create human/alien hybrids, why not use the better DNA? Surely Richard Dawkins would be preferable to, let’s say, a trailer park manager in Sedona, Arizona.

Then I replied with a transitional comment to steer the conversation toward the Gospel. I believe he was stunned to hear it coming from anyone, let alone a Christian:

“Yes, I do believe there are extra-terrestrials and inter-dimensional beings, but as a Bible-believing Christian, I believe God has revealed to us what they are in His Word. They’re fallen angels or demons. They have the ability to move in and out of our space, can travel at high speeds, and they can and do possess the bodies of human beings.”

He had a blank stare on his face, as if he had never thought of this before. He responded, “Why would the devil impersonate UFOs? What purpose is there to that?”

“Quite simple,” I replied, “They wish to deceive sinful men as to the truth of their creator and the salvation he offers through His Son, Jesus Christ.”

He wasn’t sure what to say to that. He then says, “I go to church sometimes,” and then he indicated to me he had been raised in church and even made the claim he was a Christian.

I tried to keep the conversation on the Lord, but he says again, “I am telling you, my friend has a video of this thing.” I say, “Okay. So why don’t you guys put it up on Youtube or Google video for all the world to see? I certainly would like to see it.”

He became adamant, “Oh man, I can’t do that, the government will find out about it and come and get me.”

I thought a second, “Why would the government come and get you? Why would they even care? Are you telling me the government, that is ran for the most part by flabby, cubicle dwelling bureaucrats, can trace Youtube videos back to the source so that they can arrest you for posting a video of a light hovering over the wash?”

He wasn’t sure what to make of that one.

I jokingly said, “You ought to get a deer rifle and take a shot at it.” “No way man,” he exclaims, “I’m too afraid to do that. It would shoot back with a laser gun or something.” (When I recounted this story later for Officer Pecadillo, he said, “Nah, Fred, you don’t want to encourage a person like that to pick up fire arms.” There certainly is wisdom in those words).

By this time, it was getting dark and I had to help good wife Butler put the children into bed. The fellow jumped back on his bike and says, “Well, I am not sure what it is, maybe it’s not a UFO from another planet, maybe it is a demon, but there is something certainly there.” Then he asks, “Do you think you will go out to see it?” I paused a moment and said, “Probably not, but maybe I will look out the window.”

Believe me, for a brief second, when I turned over that night and saw the clock say 2:30 AM, I thought about putting on a pair of short pants and going outside. Then good sense and sleep overwhelmed me. I didn’t even look out the window.

This is certainly an odd and humorous story to retell, but believe me, in our day and age of sci-fi culture, coupled with Darwinian evolution, Christians ought to be ready to engage individuals like this who seriously believe life exists on other planets and is regularly visiting Earth to capture humans; that is, if they don’t crash their saucers in the desert. I hope my encounter helped with some starting points to engage such a person in conversation.

Answering the Cranky Evidentialist

apologist-profiles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

….And I don’t mean William Lane Craig or Norman Geisler.

Now that I have expressed my concerns with certain presuppositional practitioners, and presented a simplified, theological outline of what I consider is the best way to engage unbelievers and advance the Christian faith [see here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3], I want to turn my attention toward interaction with criticisms from competing “apologetic camps,” as it were.

For this article, I turn my attention to a brief interaction I had back in 2009, with a pastor who was a self-described “evidentialist Calvinist.” We exchanged words on the subject of apologetic methodology in the combox under a post entitled, The Problem with The Evidentialist Approach to Apologetics.

My detractor had a strong dislike for presuppositionalism in general, and Van Til specifically. He even put up an article at his personal blog called something like, “Van Til Doesn’t Know What He’s Talking About,” if memory serves. I tried looking for it to give it a link, but the post had been removed for one reason or another.

Anyhow, in the combox exchange, the pastor left a number of bullet points attempting to challenge my view of apologetic methodology.  I’ll try to organize the material to flow a bit better than the typical back-and-forth in a combox.

1. “Autonomous” is nothing but a pejorative buzzword.

It would be helpful if the good pastor would flesh this comment out more. How exactly is “autonomous” a “buzzword?” Does he mean to say it is a fairly recent addition to the Reformed vocabulary? Or that the concept of “autonomous” as it relates to man’s reasoning is unsubstantiated in Scripture?

If he means that “autonomous” is an unbiblical word, only originating with presuppositionalists, this is a rather problematic assertion. It’s like saying the word “Trinity” is unbiblical because it is nowhere found in the pages of Scripture and had its coinage in the writings of early apologists like Justin Martyr and Tertullian.

When presuppositionalists speak of “autonomous,” they have in mind the idea of sinners who are not submitted to the authority of God as revealed in Scripture. “Autonomous” has in mind what Paul describes as those “lofty and high things that exalts itself against the knowledge of God” and those thoughts that “are not captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). Individuals Paul also describes as being “futile in their thoughts” (Romans 1:21) and who “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (vs. 18). This is reasoning originating from the sinful heart of men that attempts to rationalize man’s rebellion against their Creator.

2. “Autonomous” reasoning is all God gave us, to receive and evaluate information. There ain’t anything else.

Again, definitions would be helpful. “Autonomous” is not to be equated with the ability to receive and evaluate information; at least the concept of “autonomous” as defined by presuppositionalists. We are not talking about the manner in which a person evaluates chemical reactions, for instance. We are speaking about a person who attempts to live life apart from the “fear of the LORD” as Proverbs describes it.

3. If God is above logic, as Van Til claimed, then we can’t know anything about God. This principle is the pathway to neo-orthodoxy and spiritual skepticism.

I am assuming the pastor has read what Van Til has taught on the subject? Be that as it may, I am not sure where he is getting this claim from Van Til. As I understand what Van Til taught about God and logic, at least according to John Frame as he reports in his book on Van Til’s theology, he believed the foundation of logic was to be the nature of God, meaning logic doesn’t operate independently of God. In that sense, one could say God is “above” logic, because the reason the world is “logical” has to do with God.

4. If you have to understand everything (the eternal context) in order to understand any one thing (brute facts), then none of us know anything. Which is a foolish claim.

I think what he is missing is how presuppositionalists insist that true knowledge begins with a fear of the LORD. This isn’t a “foolish claim” but a biblical one, for instance, Proverbs 1:7; 9:10. How exactly does my evidentialist detractor understanding those passages?

5. If Christians and non-Christians share nothing in common epistemologically, then we are incapable of reasoning with each other, and are forced to just yell louder and more assertively at people. And add pejorative adjectives like the word “brute” in front of innocent words like “facts.”

I wonder what sort of “presuppositionalists” this pastor has spoken with. Perhaps there are muddled presuppositionalists he has encountered, but I personally can think of none who would argue in such a fashion as to say Christians and non-Christians share nothing in common epistemologically.

The issue is not that they fail to see the world logically, for example. It is that they live inconsistently to what they claim to believe by suppressing those truths when it comes to ultimate issues, like the submission to God as their sovereign authority.

6. The argument that presupposing the Christian worldview makes everything else intelligible is… an argument based on evidence. It’s called “the argument from coherence.” Like C.S. Lewis’ “I believe in the sun because by the sun I see everything else.”

As I understand “the argument from coherence” it is merely saying that one’s worldview, or philosophy of life, should be cohesive and consistent as a whole. In other words, portions of your thinking aren’t detached and irrational to the rest of what you may advocate.

Of course such cohesiveness is based on “evidence,” no one is denying such a thing. But it is “evidenced” upon the conclusions of one’s presuppositions. The fact that one can see everything presupposes the luminosity of light that the sun generates.

7. The Bible nowhere claims to be self-attesting. Van Til made that up.

That’s a rather ignorant assertion if the pastor genuinely believes it. The idea of the Bible being “self-attesting, or better, “having self-authenticating qualities,” is an historic, Protestant Reformed doctrine. For example, the WCF states in chapter 1:iv,

The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, depends not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.

Also, consider the concluding sentence of the next point, 1:v, which says,

…our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.

You’ll note with 1:iv, the writers state that the authority of Holy Scripture is not dependent upon the “testimony of any man or church.” You can read there also, “established by extra-biblical evidence;” certainly “extra-biblical evidence acting as an authority over Scripture.” Rather, Scripture is the Word of God because it is wholly from God as it claims. Other theologians have historically affirmed that position, including Calvin, Bavinck, and Warfield, all who pretty much pre-date Van Til.

8. Nothing in 2 Timothy 3:16 claims that the Scripture is self-attesting. 2 Timothy 3:16 claims that the Scripture is divinely inspired. Is that what you mean by self-attesting … so do all the other major religious texts in the world.

This is a rather surprising statement. The very doctrine of inspiration implies self-authentication, because inspiration is a work of God. The fact that God is the inspirer of Scripture, which is His revelation, means its veracity and integrity is intricately woven to His character. Scripture’s authority derives from God’s authority. As the writer of Hebrews notes, For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, (Hebrews 6:13).

Additionally, major religious texts do not necessarily claim that kind of inspiration. They may claim an uniqueness to a particular guru, but nothing like the self-disclosed God revealed in Scripture. The closest competitors, like the Qu’ran, and I can maybe add the Book of Mormon also, derive their authority from the Old and New Testaments, or previously disclosed revelation. If those books deviate from the consistency of the previous revelation or Scripture, which both the Qu’ran and the Book of Mormon do so rather radically, those book are to be counted as suspect if not outright fraudulent.

9. The noetic effects of sin have no bearing on the fundamentals of presuppositionalism…

The idea of the noetic effects of the fall implies that all men, due to them being separated from God, have their reasoning impacted by that fall also. Contrary to what my evidentialist detractor argues, the noetic effects of the fall go beyond just causing men to be blinded to the Gospel message. They are not merely limited to understanding and accepting spiritual things.

Rather, the fall has impacted all of man’s reasoning abilities in much broader areas. Once again for example, what Paul identifies as “suppressing the truth.” If one is already presupposed to anti-supernatural materialism and scientism as the means of all knowledge, any “evidence” or “testimony” or “facts” that directly challenge those presuppositions will be explained away in light of those presuppositions – or denied outright in some cases.

This is why appeals to evidence alone are not sufficient to convince men hostile to God about the truthfulness of Christianity. All the evidence will be interpreted according to philosophical axioms which spin the conclusions one makes about that evidence.

10. If evidentialism is so bad, why does God use it in Scripture?

I certainly agree God uses evidence in Scripture. I wouldn’t deny it for a moment. For example, in Luke 2, after the angels pronounce the birth of the Messiah to the shepherds, they say to one another, “Let’s go see if this is true.” They wanted evidence, and the angel told them where they could find it.

I as a presuppositionalist am not opposed to the use of evidence. I just recognize that in all the examples of evidence used in Scripture, God is divinely telling us what the evidence means. The cross was merely an instrument of torture and death utilized by the Roman government. God, however, puts a specific interpretation on that cross that now has an entirely new emphasis.

11. Brute facts are the only facts available to anyone. Your knowledge of what I wrote, which controlled the occasion to which you replied, is 100% comprised of brute facts. You don’t God’s “big picture” in, around, and through my comment, nor do know it regarding yours, but here we are talking anyway. …

As I understand Van Til’s view of “brute facts,” he meant to say there are no “uninterpreted facts.” That being, all facts everywhere must be interpreted. One’s presuppositions then interpret those facts.

I am able to communicate with people because God is my creator and He created men to communicate not only with Him, but with each other. God is also not the author of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33), which can be extended to mean God is “logical” in all that He does. Communication implies some logical cohesiveness in the means of “communicating,” things like vocabulary, syntax, and grammar that allow people to understand each other.

12. … Jesus said, “Believe I’m the Son of God because I work miracles.” God didn’t give people philosophy lessons in Dutch Idealism before giving them proofs of His own identity. The point remains, one can’t promote a philosophy of knowing that isn’t taught in the Bible (whether explicitly, or by a necessity of logic, as the WCF says), and in fact is contradicted by the words and actions of God.

But here in the 21st century, no one has seen Jesus do miracles. We base our conviction that Jesus did miracles on the veracity of the testimony from eye-witnesses; a testimony that is revealed and preserved in Scripture. Our starting point begins with our faith in God’s truthful character and His ability to keep His word that He will preserve Scripture.

13. … Yes, the Bible does depend throughout on empirical verifications. If archaeologists ever find Jesus’ skeleton (hypothetically speaking), then Christianity and the Bible aren’t true. Correct?

My faith in the veracity of God’s Word is tied directly to what God has revealed of Himself as a Truth telling God.

All critics of Daniel said the book was false simply because chapter 5 mentioned Belshazzer as the king of Babylon. Anyone even remotely familiar with Babylonian history knew Nebonidus was the last king of Babylon. This discrepancy was not solved until it was found in the Nebonidus Chronicles, discovered around the late 1860s, that Nebonidus appointed his son, Belshazzer, to be king in Babylon as a co-regent. So was Daniel true before that time, in other words, self-attesting?

Additionally, sensationalist glory hound, Simcha Jacobovici, claims to have found the Jesus family tomb including the bone box of Jesus. Discovery Channel ran a documentary on it. Has he proven the Bible to be an untruthful revelation? I think my cranky evidentialist would say no.

Biblical Apologetics: Practical and Workable

The first post in my brief series addresses what I believe is a creeping malaise infecting young, Reformed apologists who advance presuppositionalism. Though I believe the apologetic is soundly biblical and the most effective for engaging unbelievers, it has been my observation that presuppositional advocates make the methodology much more difficult to utilize than it ought to be. In my opinion, if an apologetic system can’t be explained and quickly learned by the simplest of lay people, some inherent flaws may need to be identified in the presentation and changed by the presenter.

In my second post, I began addressing my concerns by outlining what I believe are essential theological talking points we must have in our minds as we prepare ourselves to engage unbelievers.

In this last post I want to deal with practical application; moving our theology from the realm of the theoretical. My intention is not to provide a “silver bullet” technique for evangelism – honestly, none exist. I believe each encounter is unique and it has been my experience that God’s Spirit often uses unexpected avenues to draw a sinner’s heart to Christ.

Also, I am not necessarily advocating against the use of Evangelism Explosion, or the Way of the Master, or Greg Koukl’s Tactics, or any number of evangelistic methods. They have their place and can be useful if done so in a manner faithful to the text of Scripture.

My main objective with this post will be to examine two broad areas that Christians should develop in their overall mindset so as to apply their apologetic theology in their evangelistic encounters.

First, believers need to recognize that effective evangelism must begin with the Christian’s character.

It doesn’t matter how passionate a person is for the Gospel or how persuasive his arguments may be for the Christian faith, if the person’s character does not reflect the transforming power of the Lord and Savior he proclaims, he only heaps to himself scorn and contempt.

I cannot stress this point enough to the reader.

Consider one of the key passages on apologetics, 1 Peter 3:15-17. Rather than presenting a series of airtight philosophical arguments for apologetic methodology, Peter instead focuses our attention upon the personal conduct of the apologist, the attitudes that shape his overall life.

Notice how Peter writes that our “defense of the faith” is to be made with “meekness and fear.” Some translations translate Peter’s words as “gentleness and respect.” This speaks to personal heart issues that are put on display for the watching world; nothing whatsoever about making persuasive arguments.

The effectiveness of your apologetic evangelism will stand or fall upon your character. If your life does not show the unbeliever who you claim Jesus is, no amount of apologetic argument will matter.

You may have a sharp intellect, be extremely knowledgeable, and have the ability to shut the mouths of even the loudest atheist. But if you’re a person who is known as a hot head and can easily become belligerent in a conversation, or a single young man or lady with a flirtatious reputation, or a husband who has a strained relationship with his wife and kids, no one is going to care a lick about what you’re telling them about Jesus. Even the most hardened skeptic understands Christianity is about personal, “holy” conduct. If your conduct doesn’t reflect godliness, even in the little things, they’ll shut you off.

Second, when we engage unbelievers with the Gospel, we are engaging their entire way of life with the whole message of the biblical Christian faith.

We need to understand that when we speak with our unbelieving neighbors, friends, and relatives about the Gospel, we are not giving them one more opinion to consider among a group of similar opinions; as if you are trying to convince the person why he should make chocolate-chip his favorite cookie.

This is the major deficiency with the popular apologetics presented in the books bought in Christian retail bookstores and heard taught by hosts on Christian talk radio. They make the Christian faith to be a choice between cookies or flavors of ice cream. “Hey, you ought to try this! I think you will probably find it much more flavorful than your banana chocolate chunk.” They also limit the use of the Bible in their presentations. There is time for the Bible later. Besides, they may argue, it’s not proper to prove the legitimacy of the Christian faith with the Bible.

What a cheap, shameful way to think about the power of God.

No. When we evangelize, we bring the truth of the Christian worldview as it is relayed in the Gospel message against everything the unbeliever holds dear in his heart as true. We are basically telling that person that everything he believes about God, faith, religion, and the meaning of life is wrong. Not just mistaken; but soul-damning, fatally wrong.

In 2 Corinthians 10:5, Paul describes the unbeliever as “exalting” his knowledge over the knowledge of God. Scripture proclaims to us that the unbeliever just doesn’t hold to a few errant facts about Jesus, but at his heart level, he lives in rebellion against God’s authority and laws. This is what Paul means when he says the unbeliever “exalts” his “knowledge” over that knowledge of God revealed to us in Scripture.

Moreover, he isn’t “accidentally mistaken,” either. In fact, the unbeliever “exalts” his knowledge willfully, cheerfully, and often with a full understanding of what he is doing even if what he is doing is irrational and doesn’t make sense and perhaps puts his life at great risk.

The goal of our evangelistic efforts is to show the unbeliever that his “exalted” knowledge is an offense to a Holy God; tell him he is justly condemned by God; and then proclaim to him how God in His grace made a way to be made right with Him through Christ. We then tell that person to put away those cherished heart commitments, that heart of rebellion exalting his knowledge above God’s, and embrace Christ and His lordship.

Our evangelistic message is truly that simple. In fact, it’s the reason why the world hates Jesus and Christians. Not only do they hate righteousness to begin with, and seriously dislike having their true self exposed in the light of God’s Word, people hate the notion of someone telling them their thinking about life is wrong.

At this point, I can imagine many folks, having read over my words, will now ask, “Is that it?” “Aren’t you being a bit too simplistic?” “I mean, where does TAG come in?” “The laws of logic?” “Moral absolutes?” “Greg Bahnsen?”

Just so I am clear: I am not saying those things are unimportant. I expect Christians as they grow in their knowledge of Christ to also grow in the knowledge of their faith. That implies growth in their knowledge of apologetics and the ability to engage and answer the objectors to their faith. Christians should want to know how to answer the objections of that skeptical cousin they only see at Thanksgiving. They should want to help college kids grapple with challenges to their faith from bitter atheistic community college instructors. What we know about the history of our Bible and various theodicies can be important, as well as useful.

Ultimately, however, our working knowledge of apologetic proofs in the form of philosophical argument and historical evidence is NOT the power of God unto salvation. We don’t want to merely win an argument with a mean-spirited evolutionist; we want to win a soul to Christ. Only the power of the Gospel can do this.

What then do we do with our understanding of these two broad areas? Where does the rubber meet the road, as it were?

This is where we as Christians take those points I systematized in my second post, and formulate an evangelistic outline to engage those unbelievers. We ask them questions. Force them to defend their claims they make against our faith. Challenge them to defend their personal beliefs. Demonstrate to them the folly of their unbelief and rebellion against their Creator. And God willing, tell them about what Jesus did.

There isn’t a “one size fits all” approach. Each person will be different. Each situation will be different. What may be an effective approach for one person may not go so well with another.

Even though our approach may be different between individuals and situations, the one thing for certain is the biblical theology that shapes our apologetic methodology. Our theology will provide the apologetic anchors for any Christian, regardless of spiritual maturity and educational background, to use for effective evangelism.

Biblical Apologetics: Exegetical and Theological

Readers may wish to review my introductory article on this subject before proceeding.

Building upon that previous article on some areas of concern I have with the adherents of presuppositionalism, I want to turn my attention to providing a theological outline of what I have personally developed by learning from presuppositional apologetic methodology. Like I noted before, I think a person’s apologetic methodology is useless unless it can be applied practically with engaging the everyday person in an evangelistic encounter.

Furthermore, I will add here, apologetic methodology should not be so complicated that only academics or theology geeks are the only ones familiar with it. Apologetic methodology must have a practicality to it so that Ricco the shop mechanic, Tina the Wal-Mart associate, and Mary the housewife can learn quickly and utilize it in an effective manner.

Now, I am not saying we Christians should never take the time to sharpen our “debating” skills or that we should shun learning about apologetics in general. As Tina the Wal-Mart associate grows in her faith, certainly she should be discipled to strengthen her ability to present the Gospel. But apologetic proofs in and of themselves shouldn’t be the focus of such a presentation. They are not the power of God unto salvation as Paul writes in Romans 1:16.

Presuppositionalism, I believe, presents a better starting point for our apologetic approach. But as I noted in my previous article, presuppositionalism can also be weighed down with complicated philosophical baggage in the form of its concepts. Even the lingo can be flummoxing for the student. So, cutting straight to the chase, let me boil down what I have learned from presuppositionalism and present it in a brief outline.

1) First we need to develop our theology from the exegesis of biblical truth. As we develop our theology from Scripture, we can then shape our apologetic presentation.

2) All human beings are governed by “presuppositions,” or unquestioned, fundamental, philosophical axioms an individual will take for granted. This first point is absolutely crucial for a Christian to understand before he or she prepares to confront unbelievers with the Gospel. Grasping this simple, philosophical truth will help cut through much of the difficulty Christians struggle with to evangelize the lost. The Bible declares that our battle with unbelief is with the mind as men submit their thinking to various philosophies and worldviews (2 Corinthians 10:1-5). Dan Phillips goes into a bit more detail regarding presuppositions in the introduction of this article. In short,

  • Those “presuppositions” serve as basic starting points in a person’s thinking.
  • A person filters his reasoning through those presuppositions when he or she intersects with the world: society, work, school, family, friends, and other areas of life.
  • A person utilizes those “presuppositions” when considering the big questions in life. Such things as, “where did I come from?” “Why am I here?” “Where am I going?”
  • Those “presuppositions” give direction to the person’s worldview.
  • All of this means that all people everywhere are not “neutral” with their thinking. They serve some sort of “master,” as it were. Everyone interprets their world in which they live according to “presuppositions.”
3) The Bible tells us all men every where are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26, 27). This means:
  • Man was created to be a spiritual being. He is both physical and spiritual.
  • Man was created to worship His creator and to be in fellowship with God.
  • All men have knowledge of our creator in their hearts and minds.

4) Adam’s sin (Genesis 3) separated all of mankind without exception from fellowship with God.

5) Adam’s sin not only separated mankind from God, it placed all mankind without exception under the righteous judgment of God’s wrath.

6) Hence, all men are born “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1ff).

  • Spiritually “dead” in that men are born separated from fellowship with God.
  • Man’s spiritual death will result in his physical death (Romans 5:12, 6:23, I Corinthians 15:56).

7) Man’s spiritual “deadness” manifests itself in a number of ways, but most specifically in rebellion against God and His laws. In fact, man’s sinfulness can best be described as resulting from a hatred of God. The theological term is total depravity. Sin has corrupted the whole person.

8) Total depravity does not mean all men are absolutely the worse sinners they could be. It means sin has totally permeated man’s entire being. Man’s nature is under the dominion and the defiling influence of sin (Mark 7:21, 22) so that:

  • Men have no desire BUT to act sinfully.
  • They are enslaved to sin, unable and unwilling to pursue godly righteousness (Romans 6:20).
  • A person could either live in gross immorality or be a moral philanthropist. With either lifestyle, the person is still a sinner.
  • The person is identified with the old man Adam and his disobedience (Romans 5:12)

9) Yet, in spite of man’s sinfulness and separation from God, he still retains the image of God as noted under [#3]. Sin essentially mars God’s image in man, it does not eradicate it.

  • The image of God gives men an internal knowledge of their creator (Romans 1:19-20). There are no true “atheists” or unbelievers. They may say they don’t believe in God, but their lives betray their hypocrisy.
  • That knowledge stirs in men a willingness to seek to be “reasonable” and “rational.”
  • They intrinsically understand and do God’s laws. Men act morally (Romans 2:14-16) even though they refuse to acknowledge God is the justification for their morality.
  • Men seek to worship. False religions reflect man’s heart to worship a “god.” The rankest atheist skeptic assigns absolute worth to something outside himself even if that something is in the form of philosophical principles or scientific paradigms.

10) That marring of God’s image in man causes man’s reason to be fallen. This is something of a conundrum, for men do act rational as noted under [#9], yet the Scriptures declare their minds are darkened and their hearts blinded (Ephesians 4:17-19).

  • Man’s darkened reason doesn’t necessarily impact his intelligence. Some of the worse sinners and haters of God have been brilliant.
  • Man’s darkened reason has more to do with their ethical morals. It is a spiritual problem.
  • In other words, man’s darkened reason drives him to pursue sinful behavior that could possibly bring a person to ruin and despair.
  • Their folly is demonstrated in the decisions a person makes individually or as a collective whole, as well as the beliefs he mentally ascents to that form his philosophical outlook on life. Those beliefs govern his overall presuppositions that in turn drive how men intersect their world.

11) Man’s sinful condition is spiritual, not one lacking education or intelligence.

12) Because man’s sinful condition is spiritual, it ultimately has to do with His relationship with God.

  • Men pursue sin, as noted under [#4] because they are separated from God.
  • It is a separation men cannot fix on their own.

13) Considering all that the Bible says about mankind, humanity is in desperate need of a deliverer, one who not only restores fellowship with their Creator, but also spiritually reconnects them to their Creator.

  • A deliverer who can turn away the wrath of a holy God against sinners and restore the fellowship man once had with God.
  • A deliverer who can reorient the image of God in man away from earthly things back to God Himself.
  • A deliverer who can change the nature of sinful men so that they desire to seek God’s righteousness.
  • A deliverer who will free man’s reason from the shackles of sin so he can now be truly wise (Proverbs 1:7).

These are the foundational points I have learned from presuppositional apologetics. If we establish in our minds a robust biblical theology of sin, man, God, and salvation, we will lay a firm foundation for building an effective apologetic methodology. Our apologetic will be useful and practical, not merely philosophical and theoretical. In my third post, I’ll take up outlining a practical map with applying my apologetics.

Clearing the Presuppositional Malaise

sheepskateRegrettably, much of what is labeled “Evangelical apologetics” these days fails in regards to two points. First, Christian apologetics has been separated into a philosophical category apart from being grounded in Scripture, and then secondly, apologetics is divided from evangelism as if it is a semi-related discipline.  In my mind, apologetic methodology is pointless if it is not built upon the biblical text and doesn’t meaningfully engage sinners as to their need for Gospel salvation.

Furthermore, it has been my observation that ministries instructing Christians in the field of apologetics intentionally ignore those two vital points. In fact, a number of popular apologetic teachers will go so far as to tell their audiences that the Bible should be the last thing a Christian brings to the discussion with an unbeliever. Other teachers make apologetics dependent upon a Christian having to be familiar with complicated philosophical jargon or so-called empirical “proofs” for the existence of God and the Person of Jesus Christ.

Now: I consider myself to be a presuppositionalist. I believe presuppositionalism is a more biblically robust apologetic approach than what most Christians are familiar with. I would also like to think my presuppositionalism is immune from being entangled with philosophical snares, but it is not.

Presuppositionalism was the apologetic methodology developed by Dutch Reformed Calvinists in the 1800s and made known in the U.S. during the 20th century primarily by theologian, Cornelius Van Til, and a number of his students like Greg Bahnsen and John Frame. The methodology focuses upon defending the entirety of Christianity as a worldview and engaging unbelievers at the foundational level of their worldview.

Without getting into the specifics of all that pertains to presuppositionalism, the focus upon worldviews is what makes the methodology superior in contrast to the other popular views of apologetics. Rather than compartmentalizing individual arguments and calling the unbeliever to reason with the Christian as to validity of each one as “proofs” for the Christian faith, presuppositionalism begins by “presupposing” the truth of Christianity, the reality that ALL sinners without exception know the true God exists, and calls the sinner to repent of the erroneous “presuppositions” that suppress the truth of God and shape his unbelieving worldview.

However, even though I believe presuppositionalism to be the best approach for defending the Christian faith, there is a big tendency for presuppositional practitioners to become just as weighed down with philosophical baggage as their non-presuppositional counterparts. That is seen when they attempt to press their opponents to provide a justifiable reason, according to their chosen belief system, for such things like moral absolutes, the universal laws of logic, and other similar “truth claims.”

Conversations about logic and absolutes, while helpful for the most part, do require some understanding of philosophy and the intellectual ability to challenge unbelievers with that knowledge. Additionally, the whole evangelistic encounter can quickly become a quagmire of unnecessary, impromptu debate the Christian has to slosh through with the unbeliever.  And additionally, the chest-thumping attitude often displayed by many young presuppositional proponents against folks who take a different apologetic approach doesn’t help with advancing their cause.

Now. Having stated all of that, let me make myself clear so that I am not misunderstood. I certainly believe there can be a place for presenting philosophical arguments when we share our faith with non-Christians if the opportunity so arises. Moreover, I appreciate how presuppositionalism places unbelievers on the defensive, moving the evangelistic encounter from haggling over how to interpret evidence to actually challenging them to defend their core “truth” claims about reality, life, and how people are to live. Presuppositionalism is especially useful in this area when talking with atheists. And let me hasten to add that I have personally learned much from hearing presuppositionalists, like Greg Bahnsen for example, engage unbelievers in discussions and debate. Listening to those interactions has helped me to sharpen my own skills as an apologist and evangelists.

What I am saying, however, is that our focus should not stay centered exclusively upon philosophical matters, and because of the emphasis upon philosophy, presuppositionalists have the habit of making presuppositionalism more difficult than it needs to be.

thoughtcaptiveI can recall, many years ago now, reading Richard Pratt’s short book, Every Thought Captive, a book advertised as a high school level introduction to presuppositional apologetics. In spite of its claim as being for high school students, it took me a couple of times reading through it to get the basics of what he was presenting. Maybe it’s just me, but why should apologetic methodology be so hard?

The average church-goer in the pew is clueless about laws of logic and the transcendental argument for the existence of God. Granted, over time they can be taught about those things, but starting out in our evangelism by placing our emphasis on those areas is not only discouraging for the average church goer, it also shifts our presentation away from the pages of Scripture.

As I have interacted with my presuppositional brethren, read their books and listened to their lectures, I have become more and more convinced that a good many of them have overlooked the fundamental disconnect between methodology and actual, “street level” presentation. Such an attitude has been illustrated to me when young-gun presuppositionalists have dismissed certain criticism of their approach, waving them off as silly or outright stupid. Particularly when it comes to genuine practical application in the day-to-day lives of God’s people.

I believe we can do better than dismissing helpful, constructive criticisms out of hand. If we are serious about what Peter writes in his first epistle to set apart Christ as Lord, part of that sanctifying process must be molding our methodology and practice in apologetics. Hammering out bumps and smoothing edges. I want my methodology and practice to fit together in a way that honors the Lord. Our apologetic methodology needs to flow out of the biblical text and actually be meaningfully evangelistic.

Allowing this brief article to serve as an introduction, I want to provide an outline explaining what I have learned from presuppositionalism and show how I have personally made the methodology practical in my own Christian walk. That is what I hope to take up next.