November 19, 2014

Defense of the Faith Fundamentals (Principle 7)

As I prepare for my debate on the existence of God (now less than 2-hrs away, as I post this), I am going to make a short series of posts that reflect on 10 principles Dr. K. Scott Oliphint offers in his wonderful book, Covenantal Apologetics. I have already covered principles #1-4 and principles 5 and 6 in previous posts. This post will cover only one principle.

Principle #7: "There is an absolute covenantal antithesis between Christian theism and any other opposing position. Thus, Christianity is true and anything opposing it is false (Kindle ed., p. 51)."

As principle #1 asserts, we must begin with the triune God. Part of God's character--the only God--is that he is truth. As such, what opposes, what contradicts this, is false. Oliphint writes, "any view or position that opposes what God has said is therefore, by definition, false and does not 'fit' with the way the real world is. ... Either we bow the knee to Christ and affirm the truth of what God says, or we oppose him and thus attempt to 'create' a world of our own making" (Kindle ed., p. 51).

The practical application of this is that the Christian stands on absolute truths; s/he does not live in a world of relativism, nor does s/he live in a world without knowledge of the truth. Not all truth is revealed, of course, but we have sufficient knowledge of God and his covenantal relationship with the world. As such, we stand on that truth revealed to us in his word and nothing else. We also trust that what we say, so long as it is faithful to his word, is truth.

November 18, 2014

Defense of the Faith Fundamentals (Principles 5-6)

As I prepare for my debate on the existence of God, I am going to make a short series of posts that reflect on 10 principles Dr. K. Scott Oliphint offers in his wonderful book, Covenantal Apologetics. I have already covered principles #1-4 in a previous post. Principles 5 and 6 are clear markers of covenantal apologetics. Despite the effort they may take to understand, they are worth knowing and knowing well, for they are central to a covenantal apologetics approach. These two principles also are difficult to discuss separately, for they hang together.

Principle #5: "All people know the true God and that knowledge entails covenantal obligations" (Kindle ed., p. 50).

Principle #6: "Those who are and remain in Adam suppress the truth that they know. Those who are in Christ see that truth for what it is" (Kindle ed., p. 50).

It is important to establish that these principles are thoroughly Biblical. Romans 1: 18-22 says:
"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things."
This passage teaches that God has revealed Himself, making himself "plain to them...ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made." This revelation leaves all "without excuse." Furthermore, this passage teaches that, despite this clear revelation, this truth has been suppressed "by their unrighteousness" as their "hearts were darkened." In short, people know God exists through his plain revelation of himself, but many people suppress this knowledge.

Taking from Scripture, John Calvin  describes this principle like this (Institutes of The Christian Religion, 1.3.1):
"There exists the human minds and indeed by natural instinct, some sense of Deity, we hold to be beyond dispute, since God himself, to prevent any man from pretending ignorance, has endued all men with some idea of his Godhead, the memory of which he constantly renews and occasionally enlarges, that all to a man being aware that there is a God, and that he is their Maker, may be condemned by their own conscience when they neither worship him nor consecrate their lives to his service." 
Thus, this apologetic method is grounded in the Bible and an historically reformed understanding the relationship between God and humanity. The idea is that God exists as the Creator; he has obligated himself (although, of his own free will) and as such, revealed himself to humanity.

There are two practical applications of this for this apologetic method. First, it is not useful to point out to the unbeliever that they know God. This is just not effective. Instead, these principles show that we live on God's territory and live in a world where God is reality, regardless of our stated belief. We live in the face of God, and as such, one's worldview, even one that does not include a belief in God, will inevitably bump up against God existence. They can not get around "dealing with" God because he is part of Reality (capital R). It is these points of contact that the apologist will want to identify. Similarly, a worldview that include unbelief will fail to account for reality. Oliphint writes, "Anyone who determines to base his life on something other than the lordship of Christ and all that his lordship entails will discover that whatever foundation he thinks is holding him up is actually, even if sometimes slowly or imperceptibly crumbling to dust underneath him" (Covenantal Apologetics, Kindle ed., p. 75). Again, it is these points of conflict that the apologist will want to identify.

Second, this knowledge of God is not enough for saving knowledge. Going back to our starting principles, the goal of apologetics is not simply to make a case for god (lower-case g); the goal is to speak the truth about God (capital G), in hopes that they come to a saving faith through the work of the Holy Spirit.

The Westminster Confession (WC 1.1) makes this second point clear, saying:
Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men unexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of his will, which is necessary unto salvation.
As such, our apologetic technique should extend beyond natural revelation; the only sure foundation is that of Scripture.

November 15, 2014

What's Your Worldview?

See more here.

Defense of the Faith Fundamentals (Principles 1-4)

I am pleased to announce that this Wednesday, November 19 at 7:00PM, I will be debating Dr. Matt Sayers in a public and open-to-the-public event on the question: "Does God exist?". The event, which is an outgrowth of our team-taught course on the same topic, will take place at Lebanon Valley College and will be broadcast live at this link.

As I prepare for this event, I am going to make a short series of posts that reflect on 10 principles Dr. K. Scott Oliphint offers in his wonderful book, Covenantal Apologetics. As I have worked through the "proofs" of God, familiarized myself with various approaches to apologetics, and, through the course, have had the opportunity to practice apologetics, I have become comfortable with this approach in terms of its effectiveness in communicating the truths of Scripture and the soundness of its theology.

Principle #1: "The faith that we are defending must begin with, and necessarily include, the triune God--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit--who, as God condescends to create and to redeem" (Kindle ed., p. 48).

There is a lot packed in this first principle. First,"any defense that does not include the triune God is a defense of a false theism" (Kindle ed., p. 48). We are not defending generic theism; we are not obligated to defend various or generic descriptions of God. Likewise, while comparative religion could be an important study and may need to be addressed, Christianity is not just one among many ways to get to God. In short, this principle emphasizes that "we must never assume that we are defending anything but what God himself, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit has accomplished in creation and redemption. ... We stand squarely on Christian truth, including a Christian understanding of God, when we engage in our defense" (Kindle ed., p. 48). 

In terms of the practice of apologetics, this principle reminds me that a defense of Christianity is not about me; it is about speaking the truth about God. It is easy to get caught up in  trying to hold myself up by trying win an argument or wow people with what I say or what I know, but this is not the point. The point is to hold up God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit as the truth.

Principle #2: "God's covenantal revelation is authoritative by virtue of what it is, and any covenantal, Christian apologetic will necessarily stand on and utilize that authority in order to defend Christianity (Kindle ed., p. 49)."

"We cannot begin our discussion with the assumption that the intellectual, moral, or conversational ground on which we and the unbeliever are standing is the same. The very reason there is a debate between us is that our respective authorities are in conflict. Just as an unbeliever will stand on his own chosen ground in order to debate and discuss, so also will we" (Kindle ed., p. 49).

This is probably the most distinguishing factor about this apologetic method. We stand on a sure foundation, and do not need to apologize for the fact that the unbeliever does not approve of our authority. The alternative is to submit our evidence for approval to the unbeliever before presenting our case. This is unacceptable.

A practical application of this principle is that, while logic, philosophy, and debate-methods are useful in defending the faith, the Bible--how God reveals Himself--the primary source by which we prepare to defend the faith. Know scripture.

Principle #3: "It is the truth of God's revelation, together with the work of the Holy Spirit, that brings about a covenantal change from one who is in Adam to one who is in Christ" (Kindle ed., p. 49/50).

This principle's practical application is as a reminder that our words, our ability, our enthusiasm, etc. will not change hearts. "[T]his tenet...encourages, even requires, us to communicate the truth of God, since it is just that truth that the Holy Spirit uses to change hearts" (Kindle ed., p. 50).

Principle #4: "Man (male and female) as image of God is in covenant with the triune God for eternity" (Kindle ed., p. 50).

This principle identifies all humanity in relationship--in covenant--with God. That relationship status can be one under God's wrath (in Adam) or be one under God's grace (in Christ). Either way, all people are obligated to God. "Every person lives coram Deo, that is, before the face of God, and thus is responsible to God for his every thought and action (Kindle ed., p. 50).

November 5, 2014

Religiously Neutral

"...there is no religiously neutral study to anything. Roy Clouser demonstrates that the Bible's own epistemological position is that 'there is no knowledge or truth that is neutral with respect to God.' He appeals to a number of scriptural passages that show that how individuals think about God affects their ability to have knowledge. In Luke 11:52 Jesus says that when you take away the law of God, you 'have to take away the key to knowledge.' And there is no reason to think only religious knowledge is intended. Likewise, in 1 Corinthians 1:5 Paul reminds his readers that 'in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge.' Other texts such as Colossians 2:3 affirm the same principle: '[In Christ] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.' And Psalm 36:9 declares, "In [God's] light do we see light,' showing that knowledge of God is the key to acquiring other kinds of knowledge. Clouser concludes, 'the cumulative effect of these texts is to teach that no sort of knowledge is religiously neutral.'" 
Canon Revisited, (Kindle location 2012)