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

Friday, May 04, 2012

Thoughts on the use of Exegesis in Apologetics

bibleParticularly how exegesis should shape our methodology when engaging the lost.

I want to highlight a comment left by a classic Thomist apologist under this POST

Earlier in February and March, during a brief series outlining apologetic methodology, this particular commenter made a number of excellent challenges.  His challenges were a great learning experience, because he primarily helped to distinguish between what I believe is a textually oriented apologetic methodology from the classic apologetics presented in the majority of popular books, at apologetic conferences, and on daily Christian radio programs. 

He wrote,

I realize you'll probably simply say that I'm not a TULIP believing Calvinist and so my soteriology is all wrong, etc., etc. My reply would simply be, if man is so dead that God must give each man what amounts to personal revelation in some mystical sense (since it can't be via human reason at all) before he can understand anything about the Gospel or make any decisions about it, then what is the point of the Bible in the first place, or prophets, or Apostles, etc.? If each believer receives his own regeneration, and thus understanding of "spiritual things," prior to being able to understand the Bible, or reason about God, or intelligently discuss the truth claims of Christianity, why would God reveal anything to any prophets or Apostles? Why would He give miracles as signs confirming His message and messengers?

The comment illustrates a couple of fundamental differences between presuppositional methodology and the classic, Thomist methodology.  First is the apologist's understanding of fallen man's spiritual nature and then second, the importance of building methodology upon the exegesis of Scripture.

Beginning with the nature of man:

The dividing line in the doctrine of salvation cuts between monergism, the idea that God alone is the author and finisher of a person's salvation; and synergism, meaning God has designed salvation in such a way that a person can freely work with God to be saved.  The majority of classic apologists, like my commenter, adhere to varieties of the second division in one degree or another.   Thus, the issue at hand pertains to what sort of ability do fallen sinners have to savingly appropriate spiritual truth.

Classic apologists tend to believe fallen men retain some level of ability to evaluate and respond positively to the truth claims of Christianity.  As I noted with the Ratio Christi purpose statement that reads,

It is our belief, however, that the Scriptures testify to the fact that man, though corrupted by sin, is still made in the image of God and has been given reasoning faculties that can be used to gain important, though limited, data from nature about reality and theology.

Because they believe fallen men still retain his reasoning facilities, the classic apologists place a heavy emphasis upon the presentation of key lines of  evidence.  So their lectures, for example, will be loaded with what they consider are persuasive arguments designed to convince unbelievers of the rationality of the Christian faith.

Now to be fair, the classic apologist would never say the sinner can be reasoned to Christ apart from the work of the Holy Spirit.  My commenter has firmly stated elsewhere that the presentation of evidence is used by the Holy Spirit to clear away intellectual obstacles in the mind of the unbeliever. The evidence is a tool of sorts. The unbeliever doesn't take the evidence and rationalize himself to salvation.

Yet, in spite of his insistence with that point, a person is left unsure exactly how it is the Holy Spirit "uses" evidence with an unbeliever without there being a supernatural work taking place in the heart of the sinner first.  In fact, with the presentation of classic apologetics I have encountered, one is left unsure what it is exactly the apologist believes about the influence of sin, the sinfulness of the sinner, and how sin impacts the mind and volition of the sinner.  Is there any noetic effects of sin upon the sinner's reasoning abilities?  Or is it mildly touched? Or left untouched altogether?

I can only conclude by the comment above that my challenger apparently thinks sin's impact is negligible in the hearts of sinners.  At least from what I gather, it is believed that sin hasn't had any significant influence on the sinners reasoning abilities. He could see, for example, the "reasonableness" of the evidence presented for Christ's Resurrection which would in turn lead him to becoming a Christian. 

That brings me to our second difference: the importance of building our apologetics on the exegesis of the text.

What we do know about the impact of sin upon fallen men comes to us from Scripture.  The Bible reveals to us specific insights into the heart of mankind.  The apologist is only served well when he rightly considers those insights and integrates them with his evangelistic endeavors with the unbeliever.

It is at this point, however, where I see a critical deficiency on the part of many classic apologists.  My commenter is a tremendous example of what I mean.

He is adamant that I will say he is not a "TULIP believing Calvinist" and hence "his soteriology is all wrong."  Well, he would be right; I would say that.  But I don't draw that conclusion because Calvinism is like my favorite flavor of ice cream and I insist everyone else must have the same love for it as I do.  Rather, I derive my Calvinism from the exegesis of Scripture, and I utilize that doctrine when I engage unbelief.

The point of doctrine under consideration is the "T", or "total depravity."  Put simply, total depravity means that the nature of all men and women is corrupted, perverse, and sinful throughout. In other words, the whole of man's being has been corrupted by sin, or is "depraved," hence the term, "total depravity."

If we understand man's nature is wholly and entirely impacted by sin, I would take it to mean sin influences his reasoning facilities, also.  That doesn't mean he is going to say 2+2 = 5 or H3O is water, but when it comes to spiritual things, if sin separates the sinner from God, then he is going to evaluate spiritual truth in an alternate fashion that leads him away from God. 

Thus, as an apologist, I am safe to believe a sinner will "reason" differently when presented "proofs" for the Christian faith and he will draw seriously errant conclusions about those "proofs" other than God exists and Jesus is who He claims to be. 

Now, how am I coming to this understanding of man, his fallen reason, and how he will evaluate evidence for the Christian faith? When I consider the relevant passages of Scripture, it tells me this is how men are. 

possumTake for example what my commenter states above, "if man is so dead, etc..." Consider the word “dead.”

What does the Bible tell us about man being dead? Ephesians 2:1-3 tells us that men are "dead through trespasses and sins" and Colossians 2:13 affirms the same thing where it says, "who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh." That "deadness" describes a state of being.  It is what characterized the unbelievers. 

The "deadness" is further described as directing the sinner to walk in the course of the world, living a life of disobedience, pursuing the passions of the flesh, and following the desires of the body and mind. 

Now zero in on the word "mind."  I understand the mind as being the source of man's volition and reasoning.  However, it is described as "dead."  Turning to Ephesians 4:17-19 we further learn that a sinner's mind is darkened in understanding and that dark understanding leads to a life of futility, alienation from God, and uncleanness.  Titus 1:15 further says that the sinner's mind and conscience is corrupted, and Romans 8:7, 8 says "the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law, indeed it cannot..."  The word "cannot" is translated from dunamis, which has the idea of "no ability" or "unable."

So far I see the "T" in TULIP being confirmed from just a cursory look at a few relevant texts on the nature of man.  Thus, I believe I can confidently conclude man is so "dead" in his sins that he is unable, on his own, to respond positively to any presentation for the Christian faith and believe savingly upon the Gospel. 

However, God has not left fallen men on their own.  Contrasted with "deadness" in Ephesians 2 is the idea of being "made alive."  The contrast is also seen in Colossians 2:13.  That in order to overcome man's deadness, God almighty makes spiritually alive the sinner so he can savingly believe on the Gospel.  It’s the same concept as “being born-again,” “quickened by the Spirt,” and “regenerated.”

Left to himself, a sinner would never consider the evidence for the Christian faith in any meaningful fashion that would lead him or her to salvation.  It is only by the intervention of God that any person is brought to Christ.

Does my classic apologist commenter believe these texts? How else am I to understand them? 

When formulating my apologetic-evangelistic strategy, it seems as though it would behoove me as the evangelizing Christian to know what God says about the unbeliever I will be engaging.  That when I confront a sinner with the truth claims of Christianity, I am confronting a person whose mind is ensnared by sin and who will be hostile to any spiritual thing. 

That’s not to say I would never give evidence to an unbeliever, but a lack of “evidence” isn’t his ultimate problem.  He exists in a spiritual condition that not only prevents him from seeing the truth, but makes him an enemy combatant against the truth. 

The only remedy for his condition, according to Scripture, is the power of God’s regenerating Spirit coming to him through the preaching of the Gospel. 

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Blogger Tom said...


Isn't this basically the same thing as saying believing the gospel is a moral issue, not an intellectual one? I have no problem saying that unbelievers can mentally and rationally comprehend spiritual truths. In fact, you'll get many saying that the gospel does make sense and is rational, but that they simply don't (rather, can't) believe it.


9:33 AM, May 04, 2012  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Yep. Exactly.
The presentation of evidence has nothing to do with it.
And guess what? I get my understanding about that truth from where? The Bible.
Not some "apologetic" seminar that tries to answer the "problem of evil."

9:39 AM, May 04, 2012  
Blogger Steve Lamm said...


Good stuff.

I'm doing a series on the cults (JWs and Mormons) and I find that many cult experts say that referring to the Biblical text will not convince a JW that they are wrong. One must first show that their organization is deceptive and therefore unreliable before we can really deal with the biblical text.

Seems to me that this is a conflict or sorts between the two apologetic methods.

Ron Rhodes seems to take a both/and approach in his literature.

What are your thoughts on this?


9:44 AM, May 04, 2012  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

I would certainly agree with the idea about showing how those organizations are "deceptive." My take would be that in order to do so, you need to have a standard authority by which to demonstrate any deception. The Bible would then be that "authority" by which I would critique what is "deceptive" and what is not.

11:28 AM, May 04, 2012  
Blogger Pastor Howard Brown said...

Excellent, Fred. The ostacle to the truth is a fallen rebellious mind that cannot understand, not a paucity of evidence. And the Bible establishes it's own authority as it is proclaimed. God bless.

6:57 AM, May 05, 2012  
Blogger mike said...

While I agree with you that presuppositional apologetics is the best approach, I also know the Spirit can quicken someone who is presented with evidential apologetics because I have known people who have responded to that approach. Presenting evidential apologetics as a supplement to teaching about the resurrection of Christ or the historicity of Jesus, for example,can be effective.

The main concern I have with some approaches to evidential apologetics is the "apologetical legalism" attached that says you can't discuss what the Bible says until you "prove" the Bible is God's word, and first you have to "prove" God exists, etc. This allows the artful skeptic to divert the discussion into an endless maze of metaphysical detours without dealing with the confrontational words of Scripture.
"Proving" morality, logic, etc by resorting to the human wisdom of ancient Greek philosophy is another way I think evidential apologetics has gone off track.

But you are right that whatever the approach, God's grace must quicken and draw the sinner before they can believe.

3:32 PM, May 05, 2012  
Blogger Peter said...

Thanks, Fred!

The commenter has confused divine revelation in Scripture with regeneration of a man's heart, because he apparently has no conception what regeneration is. So, he has confused what God has revealed in Scripture with how the heart could receive it.

8:18 PM, May 05, 2012  
Blogger Holdon said...

Do you think that once "made alive" the mind and the understanding ("reasonableness") have become so flawless and exempt from the influences of the old nature? If not, using "dead" and "alive" for these matters is nonsensical.

Also, why didn't you consider Eph 5:14 where the dead are charged to rise up. So, "dead" can be appealed to.

I think Calvinists, because of all the rhetoric, are stretching the "dead in trespasses and sins" meaning beyond what it says: nothing is said there that it would mean: "can't understand or reason".

3:52 AM, May 08, 2012  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Holdon, whose profile is conveniently unavailable,

If you would allow, let me ask some follow up questions.

How extensive do you think sin has impacted men?

How do you define the concept of "dead" in the relevant passages I noted?

I also pointed out Eph. 4:17 where the Bible says the sinner's mind is "darkened." What does that mean?

I also noted Romans 8:7,8 where the Bible says the mind of the flesh is hostile to God..." How do you understand that? Moreover, what did Paul mean when he says the sinner is "powerless" or "unable" to submit to God?

In short, I believe you are confusing intellectual reasoning with spiritual reasoning, meaning, a person submitted to the authority of God. You can't get to the spiritual by means of the intellectual alone. Something has to happen to connect the two. Do you believe that or not?

5:39 AM, May 08, 2012  
Blogger Holdon said...


No indeed: you can't get to "spiritual" by "intellectual" alone. I believe that, and that's not what I said.

But Eph 2:1 should not be used to say
"dead" = "no reasonableness is possible". Paul reasoned with the Jews over and over again, trying to convince them with Scriptures. In Acts 14:1 we read that they spoke the word SUCH (the manner in which they spoke)that many believed.

Eph 4:17 pictures the general condition of man without God. It talks about "vanity of mind", "darkened understanding", "hardness of their hearts", all pointing to the moral condition, not to the "incapacity of reasonableness". Compare following verse: "learnt the Christ", "heard and instructed in him according to the truth". Same in Rom 8 for those that mind the flesh.

Let's say you're contesting a speeding ticket in court and you say to the non christian judge: "but you can't know the truth, because of Eph 2:1, Eph 4:17 or whatever." You don't think that will fly, or will it?

7:31 AM, May 08, 2012  
Blogger Sir Aaron said...

The question is not whether you can know the truth, the question is what will you think of it when you hear it? That's the difference. Objectively, we can know the truth. The problem is by our nature, our minds and hearts reject the truth.

4:34 PM, May 08, 2012  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Holdon writes,
No indeed: you can't get to "spiritual" by "intellectual" alone. I believe that, and that's not what I said.

Okay, but that is certainly what you implied if you are reacting against what I had written in the main body of my post.
I specifically distinguished between "intellectual" reasoning, ie, 2+2 will = 4 in the sinners mind, from "spiritual" reasoning, meaning that the impact of sin will direct him to evaluate spiritual truth in an alternate fashion.

But Eph 2:1 should not be used to say "dead" = "no reasonableness is possible".

I didn't say that, but laying that aside, what does dead mean here? Anything relevant to the apologetic enterprise when we engage in evangelism?

Paul reasoned with the Jews over and over again, trying to convince them with Scriptures. In Acts 14:1 we read that they spoke the word SUCH (the manner in which they spoke) that many believed.

I would agree with you, but those who believed we are told in Scripture that God did a work of regeneration so they could accept the ramifications of the truth Paul presented. Acts 13:48 says a much.

Eph 4:17 pictures the general condition of man without God. It talks about "vanity of mind", "darkened understanding", "hardness of their hearts", all pointing to the moral condition, not to the "incapacity of reasonableness". Compare following verse: "learnt the Christ", "heard and instructed in him according to the truth". Same in Rom 8 for those that mind the flesh.

What I see you saying here (and please correct me if I am wrong) is that man's moral condition, which is fallen according to the passages you not, is separated from his reasoning abilities. IOW, man's reasoning abilities are not fallen. I just take this as basically affirming a form of synergism as I noted in the article. Our key difference is that I believe man's fallen moral condition impacts his reasoning abilities. Thus, he cannot "learn Christ" or "hear and be instructed in the truth" UNLESS the Holy Spirit does a work to awaken his mind to the truth of the Gospel. He may be able to "reason" about it, but his reasoning is vain and is hostile to the implications to what his "reasoning" will lead to.

10:23 AM, May 09, 2012  

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