Tuesday, March 31, 2009


I'm going to hold off on the next post for apologetics to link to a few things this morning. First, a book deal for you. Monergism books is offering a 50% discount on all of the books published in the Reformed Expository Commentary series. All of the volumes in this series should be excellent and well worth having for personal study. These commentaries are written by men who are both pastors as well as trained teaching theologians. The volumes on Matthew, Esther & Ruth, Daniel, Hebrews, and James are particularly valuable.

Second, here are a few things from John Frame. First, an older post linking to his four favorite books on the Doctrine of Scripture. Every single one of these books is worth having. About a century later the Warfield book remains one of the best books on the subject. Frequent readers know that I highly recommend Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics in general though as Professor Frame notes you'll find him particularly helpful on this topic. Kline's The Structure of Biblical Authority is a fantastic work and not that lengthy. I will warn you that it is very technical and it's a tough read. I would probably put it last on the list for that reason. I do highly recommend both of the articles in The Infallible Word that Professor Frame mentions. The article by Van Til is probably the best thing you will ever read on the relationship between natural and special revelation. One book that I would add to Professor Frame's list is E.J. Young's Thy Word Is Truth. This is probably a better introduction to the topic than Warfield so I would recommend starting here.

Also, Professor Frame posted an article last week titled "The Bible and Joe the Plumber." I found this to be a very good article showing that the Bible does have a lot to say about economics. I recommend giving it a quick read.

Finally, Derek Thomas at Reformation21 posted that Sean Lucas has accepted a call as Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Hattiesburg, MS. I haven't seen a confirmation of this on Covenant Seminary's or Dr. Lucas' websites but assuming that it is true praise God for providing a shepherd for his flock there and pray for Dr. Lucas, his family, and the congregation in making the transition. Dr. Lucas is the author of On Being Presbyterian: Our Beliefs, Practices, and Stories, a fantastic primer on Presbyterianism that I highly recommend. He also wrote a biography on Robert Lewis Dabney that is very helpful in familiarizing ourselves with some of our heritage as Southern American Presbyterians.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Myth and Immorality of Neutrality

Coming off the last post where we looked at how to understand the Proverbs telling not to answer and to answer the fool, we want to continue to build on this to broaden our understanding of how we ought to engage in apologetics. The first thing that we’re going to do is build on not answering the fool according to his folly lest we become like him. In this context we need to deal with the idea of neutrality in apologetic encounters. The idea is often posited that we need to ignore our commitments to Scripture in order to approach the evidence from a neutral standpoint and build our argument by appealing to the reason of the unbeliever. We’ve already dealt with this idea several times but not in the context of not becoming like the fool and we want to look at a few passages that teach us not to minimize or ignore the differences in authorities that we appeal to.

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. . . . Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Col. 2:1-3, 5-15)
We will focus on how this passage applies to our apologetic method. Paul tells the churches in Colossae that his prayer for them is that they might reach the riches of the full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery. Mystery is a word that Paul often uses for something that was hidden through the ages but is now revealed, so he often uses it to refer to the gospel. He then immediately tells them that these things are hidden in Christ; and moreover that all of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are contained there. He reminds them of this so that they will not be deceived by “plausible arguments.” Further, he commands the believers to walk in Christ just as they received him. The specific way that they received him is as Lord. This is a term that means full commitment to Christ above all other commitments and means that they must be rooted and built up in Christ, they must be established in the faith as they were taught, and they must abound in thanksgiving. The opposite of walking in Christ as Lord is being taken captive by philosophy according to human tradition and the Spirits of the world. This leads Paul into an explanation of the gospel that they received. In Christ is found all of the fullness of deity and he is the ultimate rule and authorities from which all other legitimate authority flows. In being circumcised and baptized into Christ the believers are now raised from the dead in Christ, made alive together with him, forgiven of all trespasses, and cleared of all debt. In his death and resurrection Christ has disarmed the rulers and authorities opposed to him and has put them to open shame.

This helps us to see why it is so important to maintain our commitment to the Triune God speaking in Scripture as the ultimate authority. Paul shows that all wisdom and knowledge do not come from independent investigation of the universe but rather from the God who reveals these things. When we study philosophy, science, history, or any subject we do not do it according to human tradition but with our thinking subject to Christ Jesus as Lord. He is and must be the final authority as he is both the fullness of the Creator and the Redeemer who has triumphed over all other authorities. So we cannot make an appeal to neutral reason. There is no such thing! If it existed then it would be an authority above Christ. This is idolatry and rebellion against Christ as Lord. There is reason that is subject to Christ and there is reason that is opposed to him and subject to human tradition and the elemental spirits of the world. This shows us that neutrality is a myth. But we can say more.

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph. 4:17-24)
Here we have a command related to the way that we think and reason. Paul tells the church in Ephesus that they must no longer walk as Gentiles in the futility of their minds. He explains this futility as being alienated from the life of God and darkened in their understanding because their hearts are hardened. These are the characteristics of thinking that seeks to be “neutral.” Futile, or “vain” in older translations, thinking is reasoning that refuses to submit to God’s lordship as he speaks in revelation (Deut 32:47; Phil. 2:16; Acts 4:25; 1 Cor. 3:20; 1 Tim. 1:6; 6:20; 2 Tim. 2:15-18; Tit. 1:9-10). In contrast to this, believers are renewed in the spirit of their minds! When we come to faith in Christ our reasoning is no longer in the wisdom of the world but according to the Spirit who knows and reveals the hidden things of God (1 Cor. 2:4-5). We do not think and reason like unbelievers. We think and reason as those who have been taught the truth that is in Jesus. For the believer, the pretense of neutrality is not only a myth but it is immoral. Both of these passages remind us again of the choice in authority is autonomy (self rule) or theonomy (God rule). These two options are ultimately irreconcilable. Neutrality is autonomy that demands that we exalt our own ability to reason and to judge. Scripture demands an unwavering commitment to God’s right and ability to judge. Because the fear of Yahweh is the beginning of knowledge (Prov. 1:7) it is necessary that Christians reject all claims to intellectual neutrality and autonomy and instead trust that God’s knowledge is primary and the knowledge of his creatures is based upon his revelation and coming to think God’s thoughts after him.

Now we can apply this to what we’ve already said about apologetics. It is by refusing to suspend our commitment to Christ as Lord that we acknowledge his right to rule and direct our thinking according to his Word and that we do not answer the fool according to his folly and thus do not become like him. So when we engage in the task of offering a defense of why we are a Christian or a reason for the hope that is within us we do not do so from the vantage point of neutrality. Instead we insist that God speaking in Scripture is our highest authority and then show that Christianity reasonably answers any objection on that basis. In all things we show that our worldview is coherent because it alone provides a basis for any sort of absolute in creation. Two posts from now we will start to look at why this is the case. Next time we will ask how we are to answer the fool according to his folly.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Books for sale

We'll take a break today from our series on apologetics to highlight some book sales and giveaways. First, a few different sites are sponsoring some Bavinck giveaways. You can get the details from the folks over at Feeding on Christ.

Also, Christian Book Distributors are having a March sale. Here are a few items that I saw that might be worth looking at:
  • Spurgeon's Sermons, 5 Volumes for $39.99 - Note that many of these are available online.
  • Systematic Theology by Charles Hodge for $24.99 - This is available for free online over at www.lgmarshall.org but just in case you prefer to have bound copies.
  • The Creeds of Christendom by Philip Schaff, 3 Volumes for $19.99 - Fantastic work on the historic church creeds.
  • New Testament Commentary by William Hendrickson, 12 Volumes for $99.99 - For those of you who attend Shady Grove this is available in the church library to borrow.
  • The Complete Sermons of Martin Luther, 7 Volumes for $34.99
  • The Expositor's Bible Commentary Complete Set, 12 Volumes for $129.99 - This is really only on sale because the revised edition is almost complete but these older volumes are still a great resource to have in your library to go to quickly on most passages.
  • Calvin's Commentaries with Calvin's Institutes for $119.99 - Frequent readers should be well aware that I often recommend reading the Institutes. However to really understand Calvin you should realize that he intended that his Institutes and his Commentaries be read together. The Scripture references in the Institutes actually function like footnotes to tell the reader where to look in the Commentaries in order to explain why Calvin arrived at that interpretation. This set is helpful because it also comes with a copy of the Institutes. Many of you probably have the Battles/MacNeill translation and that is the best to read in English. The only problem is that they added additional references into it without notating which references were original and which were added. This makes it more difficult to easily move between the Institutes and the Commentaries.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Answering the fool

In the last post on apologetics, we held that the heart of the apologetic encounter is a conflict between views on ultimate authority. For the Christian, the Triune God who speaks in Scripture is the highest authority. For the unbeliever the knowledge of God’s eternal Godhead and power is suppressed and they exchange the glory of the invisible God for created things. What we need to do next is to outline what methods we ought to use to give a reason why we are Christians and to try to persuade others to repent of their sins and believe the gospel; knowing that only the work of the Holy Spirit can truly bring someone to faith in Christ.

What “evidential” apologetics does is minimize the conflict of authorities that we’ve seen between believers and unbelievers so that it can be resolved the same way that we would resolve any other problem. So it seeks to appeal to the unbeliever on his own terms. It appeals to his reason, to interpreting the evidence available (be it scientific, philosophical, logical, or archaeological), and then to coming to the believer’s conclusion. The problem is that the unbeliever by necessity must reject this line of reasoning because it cannot fit within his worldview and the conclusion is at odds with the final authority he claims.

Let’s look at an example. Say that a Christian is having a conversation with a friend about miracles. The friend believes that all of reality can be studied and explained by science. The Christian of course believes that there is a transcendent God who can and does intervene in his creation through miracles. The friend can freely listen to all the evidence that the Christian has that Jesus performed miracles. He can hear about eyewitness testimony, evidence for the reliability of the Gospels, and so on. Yet because his final authority is natural science he cannot accept the Christian’s conclusion that Jesus Christ is God incarnate. Instead he will insist that there is a natural explanation that was not available to the witnesses or that they could not understand. So long as he is able to appeal to the same final authority he will not accept the Christian conclusion. The friend remains a sinner who has exchanged the truth of God for a lie; in dogmatics we call this the noetic (“to the mind”) effect of sin. As Paul tells us, “the mind of the sinful nature is at enmity with God, for it is not subject to the law of God, nor can it be.” (Rom. 8:7).

So as Christians how are we to make an appeal to unbelievers if they cannot accept our line of reasoning? We’re going to answer this question in a series of posts but we’ll start with a well-known pair of verses from the book of Proverbs:

Answer not a fool according to his folly,
lest you be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
lest he be wise in his own eyes. (Prov. 26:4-5)

These verses can actually teach us a lot about how to do apologetics. In Scripture, the fool is the one who rejects wise instruction. Because the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord (Prov. 1:7) the fool is the one who says in his heart that there is no God (Ps. 14:1). So just as we see in Romans 1, the fool in Scripture is the one who has exchanged the truth of God for a lie and the glory of the Creator for the images of created things; “professing to be wise they became fools.” He is the one who, following after the first Adam’s fall, seeks to be like God in determining good and evil for himself rather than obeying the commands of God.

In the book of Proverbs God gives us many instructions in how to interact with the fool who rejects the wise instruction that begins with the fear of the Lord. Some of it is found in these two verses. The wise instructor first tells us not to answer the fool according to his folly lest we become fools like him. Now when we understand that foolishness means rejecting God’s authority for our own then we recognize that we cannot debate the unbeliever according to his own authority structures. This is what we saw above. The naturalist cannot be convinced of supernatural occurrences on the basis of his naturalist beliefs. Miracles are impossible according to his authority structure. To agree to argue along those lines is to become foolish like him as we reject God’s revelation to us and work within autonomous and sinful belief structures. This means that we cannot work solely within the bounds of “evidential” apologetics. The rationalist cannot be convinced by an appeal to human reason. The empiricist cannot be convinced by an appeal to what can be known by the senses. We cannot answer the fool according to his folly in this manner without becoming fools like them in appealing to an authority other than God.

In the next verse we are given a seemingly opposed instruction. Now we are told to answer the fool according to his folly lest he be wise in his own eyes. I think that the commands not to answer and then to answer are related to how we engage the fool who says in his heart that there is no God. We do not answer him by trying to appeal to his own authority structure in trying to show that there is a God. We do not appeal to human reason to bring the rationalist to faith but to Scripture. This would be like trying to show a Muslim that Jesus Christ is God by appealing to the Koran even though the Koran explicitly denies the deity of Christ. Yet there is a way that Scripture commands us to answer the fool within the context of his own authority structure. We can do this because the unbeliever does know the Triune God even though he suppresses that knowledge. That knowledge is ultimately fundamental to an unbeliever’s being as a creature. He cannot escape it though he suppresses it and exchanges it for lies. Yet lies will ultimately have contradictions in them that reveal this suppression.

So the task of the apologist in answering the fool is to expose these contradictions caused by the unbeliever’s suppression of the knowledge of God. In the example above the Christian should ask the unbeliever about scientific laws and try to show that universal laws are impossible without the existence of an absolute God. The believer should try to show the rationalist that his human reason is not a sufficient ground for interpreting all of reality. Again, it is my case that this can be done on a very simple and individual level so long as the Christian realizes that he adopts the unbeliever’s authority for the purpose of showing that authority is insufficient. Because this post has gotten rather long we’ll continue on this next time.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Some great (free) Reformed Writings

Wes White, pastor of New Covenant Presbyterian Church in America in South Dakota, compiled a list of older Reformed books that are available online for free. Most of these works are from the Reformation and post-Reformation period but continue up to a few resources from the beginning of the 20th century. Many of these works are from French Hugeunot pastors or Scottish and English puritans. You can find some classic works on this list such as Thomas Boston's The Fourfold State of Man, Herman Witsius on the economy of the covenants, and most of John Owen's complete works. I highly recommend bookmarking this page and saving some favorites on Google books or saving/printing some of these works to read over. Some of the titles are still in the original languages and so require some knowledge of French, Latin, Dutch, or German but most of them are in English.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

An appeal to authority

We’ll continue our series on apologetics in this post. Last time we discussed what apologetics is. Our focus was on the fact that apologetics is not primarily intellectual argumentation but a defense of why we are Christians; of why we sanctify Jesus Christ as Lord in our hearts. This week we’ll take the first steps in discovering an apologetic method by trying to define the conflict that takes place at the heart of an apologetic encounter.

To begin, we’ve said before that apologetics is a conflict in worldviews. To break that out a little more we find that worldview differences stem from appeals to different sources of final authority. As Christians we hold that God speaking in his word is the highest authority. Rationalists hold that human reason is the highest authority. Ironically skeptics appeal to the same authority. An empiricist will finally appeal to what can be sensed and experienced. A Muslim will appeal to the Koran; a Jew to the Tanakh. So what we need to see is that apologetics is not just I believe something and this person believes something else but that we believe it on the basis of entirely different belief structures. From a Christian perspective John Frame helps to outline this:

We trust Jesus Christ as a matter of eternal life or death. We trust his wisdom beyond all other wisdom. We trust his promises above all others. He calls us to give him all our loyalty and not allow any other loyalty to compete with him (Deut. 6:4ff; Matt. 6:24; 12:30; John 14:6; Acts 4:12). We obey his law, even when it conflicts with lesser laws (Acts 5:29). Since we believe him more certainly than we believe anything else, he (and hence his Word) is the very criterion, the ultimate standard of trust. What higher standard could there possibly be? What standard is more authoritative? What standard is more clearly known to us (see Rom. 1:19-21)? What authority ultimately validates all other authorities?[1]
The above quote helps to outline the conflict with unbelief. No unbeliever can accept our standard for truth and knowledge. To do so would be to adopt our worldview and accept the invalidation of their own. So while the Christian appeals to Christ speaking in Scripture the unbeliever appeals to his own authority and standard of truth. The reason that this point is so fundamental for apologetics is that we cannot prove Christianity if we accept a different final authority. Rationalism, skepticism, empiricism, Islam, and Judaism do and must reject Christianity on the basis of their own worldview and authority structures. Christianity cannot be true if human reason, sense experience, or Allah are the ultimate authority. So the goal of apologetics remains to move someone from an appeal to a non-Christian authority to subjecting themselves to the Lord Jesus Christ in all things.

The apostle Paul demonstrates this point for us:

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.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. (Rom. 1:18-25)
In this passage Paul outlines the problem of unbelief for us. We’re just going to outline a few things from this passage though we’ll come back to it in later posts. The chief point that Paul makes is that what is to be known about God is plain to all people because God has made it plain to them. This revelation is more than just God’s existence but is a revelation of something of his person and character. Because of this revelation all people are without excuse in the face of God’s wrath. God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of those who suppress the truth of the knowledge of God. The way that they do this is by exchanging the glory of God for images resembling created things, by exchanging the truth of God for a lie, and by worshipping the creature rather than the Creator. All of this is to say that they have exchanged the obedience that they owe to the sovereign Lord who authoritatively reveals himself and his will for other gods, or other standards of authority. Following after Adam in the Garden, they have chosen to listen to serpents, devils, and created things rather than to the divine command.

This passage helps us to see the necessity of calling someone to move from placing themselves under their own chosen authority to submitting to the Triune God. Cornelius Van Til was fond of saying that we can choose theonomy (God rule) or autonomy (self rule) with nothing in between. We may obey and follow God’s revelation or we may exchange it for worshipping something that he has created. There is no third option. So as Christians commanded to engage in apologetics we call unbelievers to submit to Jesus Christ. In future posts we’re going to try to unpack how we do this.

[1] John Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God: An Introduction (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1994) 6-7.