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Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Friday, November 10, 2006

Apologetic Evangelism methodology 101 (pt 2)

The first post in this series began a brief introduction to the subject of apologetic evangelism.

Evangelism is a commanded discipline that many Christians tend to ignore, and they provide a variety of excuses as to why they shy away from any form of evangelism. Some Christians may think they do not have the personality to engage a stranger in a discussion on the topic of religious faith. Others believe they aren't smart enough to answer difficult questions and objections. While still others sadly don't care to bother anyone at all with the gospel message because they think religious belief is too personal and it is none of the Christian's business to tell a person he is wrong about his convictions. Thus, my goal with these articles on the subject of apologetic evangelism is two-fold:

a) to stir up a desire in Christian folks that proclaiming the gospel is not an option, and

b) challenge them to craft their skills in presenting the gospel message to non-Christians with a solidly biblical apologetic method.

Just to review a moment. The popular approach to apologetics and evangelism that most Christians are familiar involves meeting the non-Christian on what is considered neutral, unbiased ground. This is done by presenting to him a series of philosophical arguments and lines of tangible, empirical evidence that are thought to clearly argue for the truth claims of Christianity. The evidence is laid out so both the Christian and non-Christian can evaluate it together to determine if the evidence genuinely affirms what the Christian faith proclaims. The Christian then appeals to the non-Christian's reason so as to get him to conclude with the Christian that these particular evidences are undeniable and self-evident and thus affirming the validity and reliability of the Christian faith.

Even though this may be the popular approach in evangelistic apologetics I believe it has some serious problems. I outlined those problems in the conclusion of my previous post. I believe there is an approach that is not only more biblical, but even more effective when challenging the non-Christian. I will call this the worldview approach.

Rather than starting our apologetic approach by appealing to an unbeliever's reason with lines of evidence and philosophical arguments, an evangelist strives to build his apologetics around some specific insights revealed in scripture concerning human nature.

1) Mankind bears the image of God. Genesis 1:26,27 tells us that when God created man, he created him to be His image bearer. Simply put, men were created to think rationally, ethically, and have their thoughts reflect God's thoughts as they live in the world He created.

2) Sin has separated mankind from God. That is manifested in many ways through the attitude and behavior of men:

= They have no desire to love God. (Romans 3:10-18)

= Their minds are darkened to the point they often think irrationally about the world in which they live. (Ephesians 4:17-19)

= Their hearts are rebellious against God so that they wish to have nothing to do with Him and in point of fact fight against His sovereignty. (Romans 1:18-32; Psalm 2:1-4)

= Sin causes men to be oriented toward the world, away from God, so that they pursue their own lustful imaginations and the sinful desires found in their hearts. (1 Corinthians 2:14).

One important note to consider: though men are sinners with darkened minds, that doesn't mean they are stupid and unable to function in life. Men can solve problems, invent new things, promote commerce, and build societies, for example, so their sin nature does not make them a non-functioning invalid. The image of God stamped on a person does remain intact, but, sin creates a disconnect between how men relate to their creator.

3) Men suppress the truth of God. Romans 1:18 ff. tells us that men know God is real. There is no need to convince any non-Christian with evidence the truth that God exists. All men already know it in their hearts; they reject it because they hate God (Psalm 14:1). What men do is use the imaginations of their heart to explain away God's authority to define His world, man's reality, and demand submission to His sovereignty. Instead, with the creation of these various alternative explanations, men seek to define our world apart from God. They seek to establish their own authority over what is believed to be their own lives. All false religions, for example, are not misinformed attempts by good intentioned people to worship the true God, but rather are expressions of rebellious hearts seeking to establish their own righteousness apart from God.

As a result of these factors caused by the impact of a sinful nature, the Christian apologist is more aware of where the non-Christian is coming from, and he can better direct his apologetic approach when engaging that non-Christian. When he presents biblical truth and the gospel message, the Christian should endeavor to aim his approach toward four key areas:

First, with a biblical understanding of human nature, there isn't any neutral ground on which to meet the non-Christian. The popular apologetic method suggests that men can evaluate facts and evidence objectively without any bias. Additionally, it is believed the evidence is self-evident and any person who uses common sense and reason will see the reasonableness of the self-evident evidence. However, the biblical perspective does not concede that any neutral ground exists anywhere. As we saw above, the Bible explicitly tells us that men evaluate their world through minds darkened in sin and separated from God. Hence, they interpret the evidence and facts in a rather un-neutral way; a way that cleverly explains away the evidence and facts pointing to the reality of God.

Second, all men interpret evidence and evaluate their world filtered through a set of presuppositions, or what could be considered unquestioned axioms that are taken for granted by the non-Christian. These presuppositions are not supported by specific beliefs, but rather they form the means by which a person assess other beliefs and draws conclusions about the world where he lives; The glasses he uses to view his world.

Atheists, for example, assume no supernatural exists, because they claim they have no tangible evidence of the supernatural. Thus, any evidence presented by the Christian in defense of the Christian faith will be interpreted according to this anti-supernatural presupposition or axiom. Nothing the Christian presents to the atheist will convince him of Christian truth claims as long as his anti-supernaturalism remains his cornerstone presupposition.

In fact, it is accurate to say that all men on earth, regardless of their station in life, have foundational presuppositions they assume are correct when they look out over their world. Even Christians utilizing the popular apologetic method have some starting presuppositions. For example, the notion that the non-Christian can be reached on neutral ground and they can reason in the same way the Christian does when considering the validity of specific evidences. There is nothing wrong with presuppositions filtering how we view reality. The issue is what authority establishes those presuppositions and if pressed, can the person justify or render an account for their validity?

Third, all men have formulated a worldview in which they intersect and connect with the world. A worldview is a person's philosophical outlook on life consisting of the most foundational faith commitments a person uses to interpret the world and the life we experience. It can be religious based as well as non-religious based and purely secular. The worldview will be defined and shaped by what the person considers to be the ultimate authority informing his worldview.

For most people, their ultimate authority is their own human autonomy. That is, the individual person makes himself the final authority in all matters of faith and practice. Once again, that is because men have minds darkened in sin and they are separated from God. Their personal bent is oriented toward the earth away from heaven and God's sovereign authority, so that their ultimate "authority" even if we can call it that, is generally their own selfish hearts. Even though people may claim lip service to an authority outside of themselves, a religious institution or even secular science, when scrutinized closely, their philosophical outlook on life begins and ends with what personally pleases them. Even the authority they give lip service to may be twisted and molded to satisfy their whims.

Fourth, men live inconsistent to what they know to be true. On the one hand, non-Christians continue to live according to the image of God stamped upon their inner being, yet on the other, they often live inconsistently to the worldview they have created for themselves. For instance, an animals rights proponent would argue that men and animals are all equal. A chicken has no more worth than a human, or a horse, or any other animal that lives on the earth. However, if pressed a bit, animal rights activists would more than likely adhere to an evolutionary belief of origins. In doing so, they live blissfully unaware of the radical inconsistency between their animal rights activism and evolutionary theory. For if Darwinian evolution is true, then natural selection favors those species that are stronger and able to survive over others. Humans, according to evolutionary theory, would be the strongest and most capable of surviving, and if humanity decided it would be in the best interests for their survival to eliminate bothersome, lower species of animals, what rights do they really have?

The challenge for the evangelistic apologist is to exploit these four areas in an apologetic encounter by forcing a non-Christian to provide a justification for why he believes what he believes. Basically, the Christian is challenging the authenticity of the non-Christian's worldview. A Christian can accomplish this challenge by demonstrating the irrationality of the non-Christian's particular worldview, as well as challenge him to justify his presupposition in light of his chosen perspective on reality. The Christian does this, not by starting from a position of neutrality that attempts to argue toward God and divine revelation, but from a position that is unabashedly within the circle of divine revelation and argues from the Christian understanding of the world, man's condition, and the redemption of Jesus Christ. Instead of avoiding the Bible and bring it into the discussion after lines of evidence for it have been set forth and agreed upon, the Christian appeals to it from the start as his ultimate authority.

The next time, I will take a look at some practical applications of this approach.

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