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.

No comments: