Thoughts on the use of Exegesis in Apologetics
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.
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.
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.