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

Friday, November 17, 2006

Apologetic Evangelism methodology 101 (pt 3)

The Myth of the Neutral Playing Field

I am making a brief excurses in my apologetics 101 series to address the myth of neutrality when engaging a non-Christian.

An anonymous blogger took issue with my strategy in apologetics and evangelism, particularly the notion of my claiming there is no neutral ground between the Christian and the non-Christian. He attempts to make the case for arguing TOWARD divine revelation, rather than arguing FROM divine revelation. In other words, the apologist must appeal to evidence in order to affirm the validity of the Christian worldview. To approach the non-Christian in the fashion I am suggesting, by de-stabilizing the underlying presuppositions in the worldview he has constructed for himself, is begging the question. That is, I am bringing to bear upon this non-Christian my biblical perspective without establishing its validity first.

I can understand his complaint, because our anonymous blogger claims to be a theistic evolutionist. That means he must walk the dangerous thin line between biblical authority and so-called scientific authority and more times than not, the scientific authority wins out over biblical authority in re-explaining scripture, especially the view of origins. His theistic evolutionary persuasion is relevant information, because it reveals some presuppositions of his own.

Namely, his high view of general revelation, or God's revelation of Himself in nature and the created world, as self-defining in terms of its scope and authority apart from the special revelation of scripture. I would venture a guess and say our blogger believes general revelation has sufficient authority to inform and correct the special revelation of scripture. Moreover, he has confidence in the mind of sinful man to reason and rationalize together with the Christian over the truth claims of Christianity, or the "truth" claims laid out by the non-Christian in defense of his own beliefs.

Also, I was somewhat bothered that our anonymous blogger didn't really interact with my main points about how the Bible describes the condition of man. I specifically pointed out that the scripture clearly tells us sin has seriously impacted the mind of man, as well as turned his heart away from God in rebellion. This condition is played out in how men excuse away or rationalize any so-called evidence presented to them as proof of God's existence or the validity of the Christian world view.

Hence, this idea of a neutral playing field where a believer and an unbeliever can meet to discuss terms of engagement really is non-existent, because the unbeliever, regardless of his personal background, always has presuppositions he brings to that field in any discussion.

I thought in order to expand my study on apologetic methodology it would be helpful to provide some extended quotations from a line of Christian thinkers over the myth of neutral ground.

From John Frame's work, Apologetics to the Glory of God:

The apologist must be a believer in Jesus Christ, committed to the lordship of Christ (cf. Rom. 10:9; 1 Cor. 12:3; Phil. 2:11). Some theologians present apologetics as if it were almost an exception to this commitment. They tell us that when we argue with unbelievers, we should not argue on the basis of criteria or standards derived from the Bible. To argue that way, they say, would be biased. We should rather present to the unbeliever an unbiased argument, one that makes no religious assumptions pro or con, one that is neutral. We should, on this view, use criteria and standards that the unbeliever himself can accept. So logic, facts, experience, reason, and such become the sources of truth. Divine revelation, especially Scripture, is systematically excluded.

This argument may appear to be simple common sense: since God and Scripture are precisely the matters in question, we obviously must not make assumptions about them in our argument. That would be circular thinking. I would also put an end to evangelism, for if we demand that the unbeliever assume God's existence and the authority of Scripture in order to enter the debate, he will never consent. Communication between believer and unbeliever will be impossible. Therefore, we must avoid making any such demands and seek to argue on a neutral basis. We may even boast to the unbeliever that our argument presupposes only the criteria that he himself readily accepts (whether logic, fact, consistency, or whatever). pg. 4

Peter tells us, on the contrary, that the lordship of Jesus (and hence the truth of his word, for how can we call him "Lord" and not do what he says [Luke 6:46]?) is our ultimate presupposition. An ultimate presupposition is a basic heart-commitment, an ultimate trust. 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...Since we believe him more certainly than we believe anything else, he (an hence his Word) is the very criterion, the ultimate standard of truth. 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? ... Our Lord's demand upon us is comprehensive. In all that we do, we must seek to please him. No area of human life is neutral. pg. 5

From Greg Bahnsen's, Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith.

Sometimes the demand to assume a neutral stance, a non-committal attitude toward the truthfulness of Scripture, is heard in the area of Christian scholarship (whether it be the field of history, science, literature, philosophy, or whatever). ... They reason that since truth is truth wherever it may be found, one should be able to search for truth under the guidance of the acclaimed thinkers in the field, even if they are secular in their outlook. ... Whatever some people may say with respect to the demand for neutrality in the Christian's thought - the demand that believers not be set apart from other men by their adherence to God's truth - the fact is that Scripture sharply differs with this demand. Contrary to neutrality's demand, God's word demands unreserved allegiance to God and His truth in all our thought and scholarly endeavors. pgs. 3, 4

From Michael Kruger's article The Sufficiency of Scriptures in Apologetics in The Master's Seminary Journal, Vol. 12, No. 1, Spring 2001. Found on line here (PDF)

As culture perpetually pressures Christians toward intellectual agnosticism, it is imperative they understand why they must resist. Does it really matter if they seek to plant their apologetic in the soil of neutrality? Consider three reasons why believer should not be neutral.

Neutrality is Impossible: Jesus has declared neutrality to be impossible: "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other" (Matt. 6:24, NIV). Failing to comprehend this truth has lured many Christian apologists into a very common mistake: they ignore the philosophical worldviews that lie behind each system of thought and instead quibble over isolated facts only, not realizing that it is the philosophical worldview (or presuppositions) of people that determines what they see as a "fact." In other words, they forget that every person has a "worldview" through which and by which he interprets the evidence - making neutrality an impossibility. pgs 75, 76

Neutrality is Ineffective: Attempts to be neutral have a bit of irony to them. Believers agree to meet unbelievers on some common ground because they are convinced that it will make them more effective, when in fact that is the very thing that hinders them. ... In a discourse with the unbeliever, he will perpetually demand that Christians be neutral (as he considers himself to be). If they agree with their opponent at this point, they have lost the debate from the outset and minimalized their effectiveness. Why? Because the moment they get out their intellectual flashlights and join the unbeliever in the search for truth from some supposedly neutral starting point - claiming "the facts speak for themselves" - then they have conceded that he is able to correctly interpret the facts. Thus, when the unbeliever turns around and uses the facts to argue against Christianity, Christians no longer have a basis to object to his conclusions. After all, did they not tell him "the facts speak for themselves"? To grant the unbeliever neutrality is like handing him a loaded gun; why should believers be surprised then when he turns around and uses it against them? pgs 77, 78

Neutrality is Inconsistent: The final reason one should not seek neutrality in intellectual debates is because it is inconsistent with the teaching of Scripture that are objects to be proven in the first place. Proverbs 1:7 (NIV) records, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge." This verse is not saying that the fear of the Lord is the result of having knowledge or that after a detailed examination of the data a person concludes that he ought to fear the Lord. No, the claim is that unless one fears the Lord from the outset and subjects his mind to God's way of thinking, then he can know nothing at all. ... Such texts make the incredibly bold assertion that a person cannot have knowledge unless he grounds his thinking in the principles of God's word, i.e., unless he thinks like a Christian. How inconsistent it would be then to try to convince the unbeliever of this truth from some neutral starting place without thinking distinctively like a Christian? How can anyone claim the Bible is the ultimate source of authority in the universe, when all the while suggesting that it should only be believed because it conforms to some other "neutral" standard (which itself does not have the Bible as its ultimate source of authority)? pgs 79, 80

Inevitably, the one who objects to this method of apologetic approach will argue that such a method begs the question and is circular reasoning. This approach assumes the Bible to be true without first establishing that it is. This is the complaint of our anonymous blogger when he writes:

Look, Christian apologetics is the argument for a “worldview”. If you start with a Biblical worldview, the battle is already won. I don’t fault anyone for appealing to a Biblical worldview with their interlocutor as a starting point, but in my experience, it is the rare un-believer who is willing to accept the “playing field” Butler advocates as a predicate for the conversation, simply because it begs the question. Badly.

Oddly, he states that he doesn't fault the apologist for appealing to a biblical worldview as his starting point when he engages the non-Christian, but to do so is not good enough, because it forces the non-Christian to play on a field of argument he is unwilling to accept. But this objection fails to take into consideration the fact that the non-Christian also has his "playing field." He too is question begging. He has his own starting points that shape his worldview and how he understands evidence and facts. Hence the reason the idea of neutrality in confronting a non-Christian is a myth. Let's consider some further citations:

From Carl F.H. Henry's work, Toward the Recovery of Christian Belief.

Every theology or philosophy or science has a starting point enabling it to get under way. Euclid's classic work on The Elements, written about 300 B.C., stated the five postulates or unproved principles concerning lines, angles, and figures from which he deduced geometry. ... From his postulates, axioms, and definitions, Euclid deduced the theorems that state the content of plane and solid geometry. ... Just as geometry has basic axioms from which its theorems flow, so theological and philosophical systems also have governing axioms. Axioms are the ruling principles with which any system of though begins. They are never deduced or inferred from other principles, but are simply presupposed. No axiom is arrived at by reasoning; as the starting point, an axiom is therefore in the nature of the case beyond proof. ... From its controlling axioms every system's theorems are subsequently deduced. Even if empiricists may and do deny it, all systems are based on axioms; without initial axioms nothing can be demonstrated. Natural science is impossible unless one assumes that meaningful correspondence exists between the laws of thought and the order of the external world. pgs 63, 64

From John Byl's book, The Divine Challenge: On Matter, Mind, Math and Meaning.

A worldview, we noted, is a way of looking at the world and making sense of it. It forms the basis by which we explain reality and guide our lives. Our worldview consists of our most basic beliefs, the things that we take for granted concerning God, the world, and ourselves. These basic beliefs have the nature of initial assumptions or presuppositions. They themselves are not supported by other beliefs or arguments. Rather, they form the means by which we asses other beliefs. They are reached when "why?" questions must be stopped with a "that's the way it is." The mark the end of our rational chain of explanations. The network of worldview presuppositions forms the foundation by which other propositions are either proven or disproven. We explain reality in terms of our presuppositions, but the presuppositions themselves must be accepted on faith. pg 15

How are we to judge between two opposing worldviews? Can we ever hope to convince someone with a different worldview that ours is better? At first sight this seems impossible. After all, a clash between worldviews is a clash between two opposing systems of thought, between two rival sets of presuppositions. Each side, in terms of its own presuppositions, will judge the other side's presuppositions (a subsequent conclusions) to be wrong. If one's worldview reflects one's most basic faith commitments, how can we hope to rationally convince an opponent that any particular belief of theirs is false? To put it another way, if worldviews are like spectacles through which we view the world, how are we to convince someone wearing yellow-tinted spectacles that there are blue flowers? He won't be able to see blue until he exchanges his yellow spectacles for a pair that enable him to see a wider range of colours. But that amounts to a radical conversion, a major switch in faith commitment. A first step in that direction is to convince the person that he is wearing spectacles. The next step is to persuade the person that his spectacles are defective. pg 19

From Michael Kruger's journal article,

At this point the most common objection is this, "Are you saying we should assume the Christian worldview as we try to prove the Christian worldview? Isn't that circular reasoning?" The simple answer is yes, that is circular reasoning. Although most circular reasoning is negative, when one argues for an ultimate intellectual criterion, a certain amount of circularity is unavoidable. If I stake the truth of the Bible on anything other than its own self-attesting authority, then the Bible ceases to be the ultimate criterion for truth and is replaced by another ultimate criterion. All other philosophical systems are in the same situation. pg 81

To deny circularity when it comes to an ultimate authority is to subject oneself to an infinite regress of reason. If a person holds to a certain view, A, then when A is challenge he appeals to reasons B and C. But, of course, B and C will certainly be challenged as to why they should be accepted, and then the person would have to offer D, E, F, and G as arguments for B and C. And the process goes on and on. Obviously it has to stop somewhere because as infinite regress of arguments cannot demonstrate the truth of one's conclusions. Thus, every worldview (and every argument) must have an ultimate, unquestioned, self-authenticating starting point. Another example: imagine someone asking you whether the meter stick in your house was actually a meter long. How would you demonstrate such a thing? You could take it to your next-door neighbor and compare it to his meter stick and say, "See, it's a meter." However, the next question is obvious, "How do we know your neighbor's meter stick is really a meter?" This process would go on and on infinitely unless there were an ultimate meter stick (which, if I am not mistaken, actually existed at one time and was measured by two fine lines marked on a bar of platinum-iridium alloy). It is the ultimate meter stick that defines a meter. When asked how one knows whether the ultimate meter stick is a meter, the answer is obviously circular: the ultimate meter stick is a meter because it is a meter. This same thing is true for Scripture. The Bible does not just happen to be true (the meter stick in your house), rather it is the very criterion for truth (the ultimate meter stick) and therefore the final stopping point in intellectual justification. pg 81, n. 31

These are just a smattering of quotations that show us that if a Christian is to engage an non-Christian in an apologetic encounter, he must do so from a position fully committed to Christ as his Lord and without attempting to run out onto a mythical field of neutrality.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Fred,

Just reading this now, missed it earlier. Will respond on the morrow!



12:59 AM, November 18, 2006  
Blogger thomas4881 said...

I think one of the most powerful truths we can learn in scripture is the unseen spiritual influance behind all men.

Isaiah 45:9 "Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker, to him who is but a potsherd among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, 'What are you making?' Does your work say, 'He has no hands'?

Notice man has no hand in man's developement.

Ephesians 2:1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature[a] and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

Notice anyone who doesen't know Christ has an unseen spiritual power working in them.

The lost that they do what the Bible says they will do. Their actions are text book. One example is -

Proverbs 14:9 Fools mock at making amends for sin

Notice those in rebellion do what the Bible says their spiritual nature does.

Jesus made this more clear -

Matthew 7:18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.

Notice the distinct natures.

Luke 24:44 He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms."

Notice Jesus is the only one who came having the nature to fulfill the law, psalms and prophets.

John 15:5 "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

Notice it's Jesus who gives this nature to those who are in him.

Matthew 16:23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."

Notice Jesus diden't say "Get behind me Peter". Jesus was speaking to the spiritual nature behind Peter's actions.

Ephesians 6:14May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which[b] the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation. 16Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God.

Notice it's a new creation that counts. It's a new nature that overcomes.

1 Corinthians 15:50 I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.

There are powerful forces working in all men. Men are either controlled by the force of sin and death or the force of the spirit of Jesus Christ.

Jude 1:12 These men are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm—shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead.

Notice Jude refers to the nature of men who are alienated to God.

Mark 8:22 Then He came to Bethsaida; and they brought a blind man to Him, and begged Him to touch him. 23 So He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the town. And when He had spit on his eyes and put His hands on him, He asked him if he saw anything.
24 And he looked up and said, “I see men like trees, walking.”
25 Then He put His hands on his eyes again and made him look up. And he was restored and saw everyone clearly.

I think here Jesus opened this man's eyes first to see a man spiritually. God sees all the fruits of men.

Galatians 5: 19The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Notice the contrast of the spiritual forces at work in man once again. No man can be neutral.

3:20 PM, November 19, 2006  
Blogger MICHAEL said...

About 3 years ago I dropped into a black hole – four months of absolute terror. I wanted to end my life, but somehow [Holy Spirit], I reached out to a friend who took me to hospital. I had three visits [hospital] in four months – I actually thought I was in hell. I imagine I was going through some sort of metamorphosis [mental, physical & spiritual]. I had been seeing a therapist [1994] on a regular basis, up until this point in time. I actually thought I would be locked away – but the hospital staff was very supportive [I had no control over my process]. I was released from hospital 16th September 1994, but my fear, pain & shame had only subsided a little. I remember this particular morning waking up [home] & my process would start up again [fear, pain, & shame]. No one could help me, not even my therapist [I was terrified]. I asked Jesus Christ to have mercy on me & forgive me my sins. Slowly, all my fear has dissipated & I believe Jesus delivered me from my “psychological prison.” I am a practicing Catholic & the Holy Spirit is my friend & strength; every day since then has been a joy & blessing. I deserve to go to hell for the life I have led, but Jesus through His sacrifice on the cross, delivered me from my inequities. John 3: 8, John 15: 26, are verses I can relate to, organically. He’s a real person who is with me all the time. I have so much joy & peace in my life, today, after a childhood spent in orphanages [England & Australia]. God LOVES me so much. Fear, pain, & shame, are no longer my constant companions. I just wanted to share my experience with you [Luke 8: 16 – 17].

Peace Be With You

4:04 AM, May 16, 2007  

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