As we’ve already learned, the task of biblical apologetics is to spread and defend the Christian message while challenging other non-Christian systems. Before learning how to do so, it’s important that we consider some truths about how we know what we know. Understanding how believers and unbelievers think will help us become better apologists.
A Controlling Text
Paul gives us some important instructions regarding knowledge in 2 Corinthians 10:5:
We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.
Note the following conclusions based on this text:
- Christians must strive to “destroy” those systems of thought that are contrary to Biblical teaching. This seems to apply most specifically to the thought life of individual Christians. That is, they should not allow any anti-Christian ways of thinking within their own minds. But more broadly speaking, part of the apologetic task is challenging those philosophies and religions that contradict the Bible no matter where one finds them. It’s biblical to expose and challenge all anti-Christian ideas, whether within one’s own mind or in the broader culture.
- In all our thinking, Christ is to be recognized as Lord. That is, the contents of the Bible, and especially the teachings of Christ and the apostles as found in the NT, should inform all our thinking. One does not try to defend or propagate Christianity from a supposedly neutral standpoint. Instead, biblical teaching should influence all thinking. Believers need to develop a Bible-soaked logic, a way of thinking that is saturated with biblical principles.
The Bible is the Standard
What is the basis for knowledge? How do we determine that something is true or false? Christians believe that the ultimate standard for determining the truth or falsity of anything is God’s Word. Scripture can be judged by no higher authority than Scripture itself. Believers accept a biblical worldview. Unbelievers adopt other grounds for determining truth, like personal or majority opinion, or even whatever works best. But Christians must base their thoughts on the Bible.
We do not judge the Bible on human terms. “It makes sense to me” is not the yardstick for judging the truth of biblical claims. Man’s intellect is not the highest standard. We submit to the Bible’s teaching; we do not stand in judgment of it.
Communication with Non-Believers
There is no such thing as neutrality when it comes to one’s views about the Bible, God, or Christianity. Everyone approaches the Bible with a set of ideas that are already set in place. Such views are called presuppositions. Christians believe that the Bible is true, that God is the creator and sustainer of all things, and that the highest duty of man is to honor and obey God. Christians know this because God has convinced them that such is the case. Non-Christians reject the Christian view and replace it with other ideas. Further, non-believers are blind to spiritual truth, spiritually dead, and under the influence of Satan, all of which prevents them from comprehending biblical truth. They think that the “message of the cross is foolishness” (1 Cor 1:18). So neither believers nor unbelievers approach the Bible from a neutral standpoint.
How can Christians and non-Christians communicate if they reject each other’s presuppositions? That is, if Christians believe the Bible and non-Christians reject the Bible, how can a Christian convince a non-Christian that he needs to be saved? The Bible teaches that non-Christians do have some knowledge of God, and that deep down they agree on some basic things even if they claim not to (cf. Rom 1:18–25). So based on this fact, believers can encourage unbelievers to admit what they know to be true—that God exists and that there’s a difference between right and wrong. We simply proclaim the message and trust that God will use it to draw people to himself.
Also, keep in mind that in the evangelism process the believer is not trying to argue a non-believer into submission. He’s not trying to win a debate, thereby intellectually convincing the non-believer that the Gospel is true. He’s simply announcing the good news, planting the seed. It’s God’s business to make an unbeliever responsive to the message. In fact, without God’s work in the unbelieving heart, no one would respond positively to the Gospel. We can plant and water the seed, but God is the one who brings about a harvest (1 Cor 3:6).
The Danger of “Neutrality”
Some suggest that in defending and propagating the Gospel, believers should take more of a neutral attitude. That is, Christians should encourage unbelievers to take an honest, impartial look at the Bible and Christianity and judge it for themselves. People should not assume anything; they should simply look at the Bible like any other book—honestly and impartially. If the Bible seems to make reasonable sense, if it holds up to critical investigation, then it is acceptable. If not, then disregard it.
The problem with such an approach, as noted above, is that everyone starts with some presuppositions. Those who desire an impartial investigation of the Bible assume that they are qualified to engage in such an investigation. They presuppose that their own intellect is sufficient to judge whether the content of the Bible is reasonable. In fact, the Bible itself claims that the principles contained in it will not make sense to non-believers. The wisdom of God is foolishness to men (1 Cor 1:18f). Hence, from a non-believing, “neutral” point of view, the Bible will never be acceptable. It makes no sense, therefore, to encourage unbelievers to “impartially” judge the Bible. Rather, we must encourage and even demand that unbelievers submit to and obey the Bible whether they recognize its authority or not. We do not hold the Bible up for critical scrutiny. We simply proclaim its truths and let the chips fall where they may.
“You shall not tempt [make trial] of Jehovah your God” (Deut. 6:16). When Satan tempted Jesus to do so—to push God into offering proof of the veracity of his Word (as quoted by Satan)—Jesus rebuked Satan, “the accuser,” with these very words from the Old Testament. It is not God whose integrity and veracity and knowledge is somehow suspect. It is that of those who would accuse him and demand proof to satisfy their own way of thinking or living.
In every area of life, the Bible demands submission to its principles. Christians must be committed to biblical thinking in every area. Paul asserts that all wisdom and knowledge are deposited in the person of Christ (Col 2:3–8). Every thought is in some way related to Jesus Christ. Christians must refuse to think like unbelievers. To attempt a supposed neutrality or independence in our thinking would be an act of disloyalty. We are dependent upon God and the Bible and have no right or ability to assert our intellects apart from God. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Prov 1:7). Rational thought is based on a correct understanding of God and his Word.
|UNBELIEVING THOUGHT||CHRISTIAN THOUGHT|
|Vain in their imaginations||Every thought captive to the obedience of Christ|
|Their foolish heart was darkened||The light of the knowledge of the glory of God|
|Enemies of God in their minds||Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.|
|“What is truth?” (Pilate)||“Thy Word is truth” (Jesus)|
We are not implying in any of this that the Bible is essentially unreasonable, mistaken, full of genuine contradictions and absurdities, or unable to withstand investigation. Christianity is not blind faith that simply believes irrespective of the evidence. Reason is not the enemy of Christian faith. Perhaps no other worldview has as high a regard for logic as Christianity does. Critics have been examining the Bible for centuries in their quest to find fatal flaws or any proof that the Bible is not trustworthy. While one must admit that the Bible does contain many things difficult to understand and that there are some problems not easily resolved, there are no obstacles so serious that they destroy or even reduce the Bible’s credibility, as we shall see.
Those who take a presuppositional approach to apologetics are often charged with circular reasoning. We say the Bible is true because we believe the Bible. We assume what we are trying to prove. But all reasoning starts either with God or with man. Christians are persuaded that the correct starting point is not man’s intellect but God’s Word. Unbelievers also engage in circular reasoning, assuming what they are trying to prove—that they have the intellectual capacity to sit in judgement of the Bible. They think they are rational because they are rational. So there’s no avoiding circularity in reasoning. The question is which circle you want to be in, God’s or man’s.
The Purpose and Place of Evidence
There is much evidence that supports biblical claims. Christianity is not a house of cards that will come crashing down due to a lack of supporting evidence. Our faith is built on a solid foundation of historical accuracy and verifiable events. Some scholars believe that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the single most well-attested event in all of ancient history. So there is no lack of evidence to back up the claims of the Bible and of Christianity.
People often say they reject Christianity because it fails to offer enough evidence to support its claims. In response, Christian scholars have accumulated a great many reasons to believe. However, we are on shaky ground when we base our faith solely on historical evidences. Historical studies can suggest that events actually happened, but they cannot prove it. They can persuade and remove doubt, but ultimately people do not convert to Christianity because they are intellectually moved by the proofs. God may use such studies to convince people of the truth of his Word, but conversion is not simply intellectual agreement to a series of statements. Faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Rom 10:17). The Holy Spirit uses the Word to convince people of their need for salvation. A study of the evidences of Christianity may remove some of the obstacles that hinder belief, but evidences alone will never bring about conversion. After all, the devil believes what the Bible says (James 2:19).
Unbelievers often claim that one should not believe anything that doesn’t have good evidence. The problem is that we believe countless things without good evidence or proof. If we eliminated all belief in things for which we don’t have good evidence, we would get rid of a good many things indeed. It’s clear that we do have the right to believe things even without solid proofs in many cases. Even the statement “You must have proof before you believe” is unprovable. Those who make such statements should be shown how absurd such a claim is. A person’s beliefs may be perfectly rational even if he cannot prove them to others. This of course does not suggest that Christianity lacks good proofs, only that evidence or lack thereof neither establishes nor destroys Christianity.
The Christian view of knowledge seeks to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. There is no such thing as independent, impartial, or neutral thinking. Christians seek to think God’s thought after him; unbelievers rebel against God by asserting their own intellectual independence. All reasoning starts either with God or with man. Christians assert that God and his Word is the correct starting place.
- Why is it so important to consider presuppositions before launching into a study of apologetics? Because Christians need to understand their own viewpoint as well as the unbelieving viewpoint. They further need to know that everyone, even the skeptic, bases his thinking on his own set of presuppositions.
- Explain the idea of circular reasoning and why all systems of thought are to some degree circular. Circular reasoning is assuming what you are trying to prove. All systems of thought are somewhat circular. Even science and math start with axioms that are presupposed and upon which the whole endeavor is based.
- When the unbeliever dismisses the Bible, what is he presupposing? That he has the capacity to sit in judgment of the Bible.
- How important are Christian evidences in one’s conversion to Christ? Such may remove obstacles and influence one to study the Bible, but ultimately one is not converted simply because he believed the evidence.
- What do we mean by a Bible-soaked logic? Thinking biblically, letting the Bible influence all your thoughts and decisions.
 The technical word for the study of knowledge is epistemology, based on the Greek word epistamai, meaning “to know” or “to understand.”
 Ronald H. Nash, Worldviews in Conflict: Choosing Christianity in a World of Ideas (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic, 1992), 74.. Many religions include irrationality as a primary aspect of their faith. Christianity does not.
 Skeptics assert that they have found fatal flaws, but Christian scholars and apologists have discredited such assertions.
 Nash, Worldviews in Conflict, 88ff.