On a recent episode of Talbot’s Think Biblically podcast, author and scholar Dr. Paul Chamberlain discussed his newest book, Why People Stop Believing.
Having spoken to numerous individuals who have left the faith, I found this episode very interesting and look forward to eventually reading this book. I even have eventual plans to write a book along these lines, but perhaps from a bit different angle.
During the discussion, a statement was made that I found quite intriguing: “The most important aspect of apologetics is knowing what the Bible does and does not teach.”
I think all too often, we associate the apologetic discipline with a sort of rigid intellectualism.
I know first hand, because of my own struggle with balancing my intellectual pursuits and emotional connection with God, how difficult this tension can be.1
Unfortunately, this tension often leads to a disconnectedness with the Bible. Although controversial, one of my reasons for “converting” to the presuppositional method of apologetics is the emphasis placed on Scripture.2
When Scripture becomes secondary–or even co-equal–with any other means of knowledge, problems abound.
God has spoken, and has done so via very specific means.
Because of this, it is of the utmost importance that we understand what it is that God has spoken. I realize there will always be interpretive differences. Despite hearing all of the arguments, for example, I am simply not convinced that the Bible teaches Calvinism (note that I am also not an Arminian).
However, we realize there are certain in-house discussions that are virtually irrelevant to the beliefs of non-believers. I have reflected on this here, but simply put, I am not going to argue soteriology, the age of the earth, baptism, etc with those who do not accept Jesus as their Savior.
But especially with respect to very important cultural and salvific issues, and even certain issues pertaining to how God deals with people, it is extremely important that we understand correct doctrine.
For example, probably one of the most common reasons folks leave Christianity is because they have an improper understanding of how God interacts with evil. Teaching incorrectly about subjects such as why evil is in the world, why God must punish evil, and how objective evil can co-exist with an objectively good God can lead to failed expectations, and ultimately, unbelief.
It does no good to be able to form the Kalam in a logical syllogism if we do not understand basic Bible doctrine.
We could probably list myriad reasons why this should be in the forefront of our minds, but for the sake of this discussion, we’re going to look at just three.
#1. Christians are Culturally Held to a Higher Standard
We move no further than Genesis 1 before finding out that those who follow after God will be set apart and different from the world. The institution of the Sabbath, first alluded to by God’s creation rest, is indicative of an important pattern in the life of a believer–a pattern not shared by the world.3
According to the Apostle Paul, we are to be “an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).
All throughout the New Testament, in fact, Christians are placed on a pedestal–not a pedestal of haughtiness, but one of humility. We are “in Christ,” and thus, are to emulate him. Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, Christ empowers us to live “in the flesh…by the faith of the Son of God” (Galatians 2:20).
We bring dishonor to Christ when we claim his name, but fail to display his character. And though failure to live up to this standard is literally inevitable in our sinful condition, our lives should be marked by constant pursuit of this goal.
The Apostle Peter weighed in on this as well:
Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation (1 Peter 2:11-12).
This verse actually suggests a direct tie between the performance of the believer and the perception of the unbeliever.
The word translated “conversation” here is the Greek word anastrophē, and essentially means “conduct.” We are to keep ourselves honest among the “Gentiles” (i.e., the world). But why? After all, it is not as though they will be our judge (James 4:12).
Rather, Peter suggests that through our good works God will be glorified–even by those who now malign us! It is actually our Christian duty and responsibility to be seen “blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15).
Holiness is not optional; nor is it an abstract concept reserved for the one who wears the nicest clothes to church on Sunday. Holiness is all about obedience to Christ. And obedience to Christ is all about identity in Christ.
What I am suggesting is that there is a direct connection between holiness and apologetics.
Our impact on the world is directly tied to the way we conduct ourselves. It’s one thing to know Christianity is true–it’s another thing entirely to show it.
Before we can make an intellectual impact on someone, we have to orient ourselves to Christ. And a big part of getting this orientation right is understanding exactly what the Scriptures mean to say.
By not doing so, we fail to live up to the very standard that the unbeliever (rightly) holds us up against.
#2. Teachers and Influencers Bear a Greater Burden
In James 3:1-2 we’re warned, “My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.”
The words “greater condemnation” here cause me to pause, and I hope they do the same for you. I feel a burden and passion, in my own life, for preaching and teaching God’s Word. To think that I may teach something that would lead someone astray is a horrifying thought, and to say that this verse has caused me to “measure twice and cut once” more than a few times would be an understatement.
Paul asks rhetorically in Romans 10:14, “how shall they hear without a preacher?” This is a job that someone must do, lest those who need to hear the gospel not hear it. What is the “preacher’s” responsibility to teach and preach? According to Paul, “all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).
I don’t know what the nature of the above-mentioned “greater condemnation” is, but I do know that I don’t want to find out.
False teachers were a problem in Jeremiah’s day. And even considering the Old Testament context within which these events took place, God’s record to us in Jeremiah’s account gives instructive insight as to God’s thoughts on false teaching within the flock.
Therefore thus saith the Lord God of Israel against the pastors that feed my people; Ye have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, saith the Lord (23:2). Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth (v.5)
False teaching also has a devastating effect on true preachers and teachers of righteousness. Jeremiah himself reflects:
Mine heart within me is broken because of the prophets; all my bones shake; I am like a drunken man, and like a man whom wine hath overcome, because of the Lord, and because of the words of his holiness. For the land is full of adulterers; for because of swearing the land mourneth; the pleasant places of the wilderness are dried up, and their course is evil, and their force is not right. (vs. 9-10).
The Lord said that because “both prophet and priest are profane” and he has “found their wickedness,” “their way shall be unto them as slippery ways in the darkness: they shall be driven on, and fall therein: [he] will bring evil upon them, even the year of their visitation” (vs. 11-12).
God himself warns them (and us, ultimately) to “hearken not unto the words of the [false] prophets that prophesy unto you: they make you vain: they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the Lord” (v. 16).
A lot here, but what does it mean for you and me?
Simply, it speaks to the gravity of misrepresenting God’s Word, especially intentionally. This is ultimately what one with a triumphalist attitude, as I’ve written about recently, will do.
When we defend our faith against “imaginations” and “every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:5), we must be careful to do so with truth. If God speaks to a matter, his Word is “forever…settled in heaven” (Psalm 119:89).
#3. The Price is Too High to be Given to Error
So, what is at stake?
We know the culture is judging us against our own standard, and that one day, God will be glorified precisely through the good works that unbelievers have seen in us. We’ve also seen that there is a measure of actual judgment by God that will be greater for those who teach and preach his Word.
Finally, we turn to the eternal implications–the soul of the unbeliever.
Please reflect on the gravity of my next statement:
If you do not know what the Bible actually teaches about how to know God, how to receive his free gift of salvation, and God’s disposition towards people in general, you could be leading someone into error or apostasy.
I’ve mentioned this briefly, but oh, how many have left the church and left the faith because they were sold a false bill of goods by well-meaning Christians!
No, the Bible does not teach that God is not interested in the prosperity and well-being of his people. Of course he’s interested in those things, because he loves you, “and gave himself for [you]” (Galatians 2:20). That’s a form of defeatism, and it’s false.
No, the Bible does not teach that God wants you to live “your best life now,” and that your circumstances are only unfavorable when your faith is wavering or you’re living in unrepentant sin. Jesus himself warns that we “shall have tribulation,” even though he’s “overcome the world” (John 16:33)! That’s a form of triumphalism, and it’s false.
No, the Bible does not teach that you can work your way to God; rather, it is “by grace [ye are] saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
When we consider that our words have eternal consequences, it ought to cause us to pause each time we have important spiritual conversations. In fact, God thinks our words are so important that even our “idle” words will be judged (Matthew 12:36).
If God values our own words so much, what does he think of his? It’s so important that the psalmist tells us God has magnified his Word above his own name (138:2)!
Therefore, in closing, I just cannot think of anything more important in the apologetic endeavor than to study the Bible, and to know for sure what it does and does not teach.
As the Apostle Paul charged, “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.”
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- I would highly encourage anyone facing similar difficulties to pick up Union with Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God by Rankin Wilbourne. It has helped tremendously in recent days.
- You should not take me to mean that I don’t think evidentialists hold a high view of Scripture; I do, I’ve just found that that the presuppositional method seems to place Scripture at a level more consistent with the Bible’s own treatment of it.
- Of course, I am not arguing that believers are to hold the Sabbath. Hopefully, you understand the point I am making.