John Calvin’s opening sentences in The Institutes: “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But, while joined by many bonds, which one precedes and brings forth the other is not easy to discern.”
- Apologetics is largely concerned with epistemology: how can I know?
- But that question itself forces us to ask a deeper question: who am I?
- And that question cannot be answered without reference to God.
- The God-man relationship is paramount in apologetics.
I. God the Absolute
- “absolute” = free, independent
- Biblical teaching:
(1) God alone is a se (from himself):
- Gen 1:1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Creator/creature distinction
- Acts 17:24-25: “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.”
- Romans 11:36: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever, Amen.”
(2) Therefore, all true knowledge resides in God.
- How do we define truth in relation to God?
- For us to know truth, we must conform our thinking to a reality outside of ourselves.
- Example: A jury seeks to be impartial, letting the evidence lead to a proper conclusion.
- Is it the same for God? Is truth outside of him?
- John 14:6: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” John 17:17: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”
- God doesn’t measure up to truth; he is the standard of all truth; truth = what God knows.
- He does not know what will unfold in history by observing it but by knowing himself.
- Did Tolkien “learn” the truth about Middle Earth by watching it unfold? No, he created it.
- What does this mean about our knowledge of truth? It must come from God by revelation.
- True knowledge (for us) = knowing a subset of what God already knows.
- Once more: Proverbs 1:7: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge…”
II. Man before God
- Four important truths that pertain to our knowledge:
(1) Man is finite, contingent, and therefore dependent in knowledge.
- Whatever your worldview, no one can argue with our finitude.
- Acts 17:26-28: “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being,’ as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’”
- What follows from the fact that we are limited? Our knowledge must have a basis outside of us.
- Enlightenment thinking: knowledge begins with the self as the primary reference point.
- Kant (1784): “Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s understanding without the guidance of another. This immaturity is self-imposed when its cause lies not in lack of understanding but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another.” Key idea: autonomy
- But anything you claim to know on your own can always be questioned because of finitude.
- Our approach to knowledge can either attempt autonomy or can acknowledge dependence.
(2) Man is the image of God and therefore knows God.
- God is inescapable (Rom 1:21; Psalm 139)
- We were made to know him, and he is revealed in creation (Rom 1:19-20), in our consciences (Rom 2:12-16), and in our inner sense of divinity (Acts 17:23).
- What is idolatry? A distortion of a true instinct
- When we encounter an unbeliever, we must remember this truth: he knows God.
- Believe that God is at work in the hearts of unbelievers before we arrive:
- eunuch (Acts 8), Cornelius (Acts 10), Macedonian dream (Acts 16), Corinth (Acts 18)
- Ask public questions that open doors to see where God is already working.
- Example, Jerry Root in CT (Feb. 17, 2017):
“Not long ago, circumstances put me alongside a man in Chicago. I asked him, ‘What’s your name?’ He answered, ‘Peter.’ I asked, ‘Peter, are you from Chicago?’ These were public questions, unthreatening and neighborly. Under my breath, I whispered a prayer for Peter that I might enter into God’s love for him and that I might listen well. Peter said, ‘No, I was born and raised in Albuquerque, but when I was 12, my parents divorced and I moved to Chicago with my mother.’ Peter did not have to confide all of that to me. He could have said, ‘I grew up in Albuquerque and moved to Chicago when I was 12.’ That would have given me plenty of information and with it, permission to inquire further along the lines he disclosed. If he would have said nothing about the divorce, I would have had enough to ask, ‘Wow, how was that to move across the country when you were on the very threshold of adolescence, leaving behind the secure environment of your boyhood friends and familiar haunts?’ That would have been plenty to open up the conversation on non-threatening lines, going deep with each answer in the hopes of discovering where God was already tugging in Peter’s heart. But he told me he moved when his parents divorced. I responded, ‘That sounds like it was painful.’ He opened up his heart and began to tell of a father who abandoned the family, never remembering him on his birthday and at Christmas. At each place where he supplied information, I listened. And after everything he shared, I asked questions appropriate to the depth he would allow. In time, he told me that he struggled with bitterness towards his father and he didn’t like what that was doing to his own outlook and attitudes. I began to see where God was wooing him and eventually interjected, ‘The power to forgive in order to untether from past wounds and sorrows is a precious commodity.’ Peter agreed, and asked, ‘Yes, but how can we do it?’ It was at that point in the conversation that he gave me permission to discuss where the power to forgive comes from. In fact, the conversation opened up and I was able to share the gospel with ears not merely willing, but eager to listen.”
- Some people will have hardened their hearts to the truth; but trust that you will connect with some.
- Look for what you can affirm in every person/culture, because everyone knows God.
(3) Man is fallen and therefore suppresses the truth of God’s revelation.
- Rom. 1:18
- From Genesis 3 on, we have pursued knowledge autonomously.
- This is why there is no neutrality when it comes to knowledge/worldview.
- Our inability to see the truth is ultimately a moral inability for which we are accountable.
- Do not try to be neutral with unbelievers; model submission to God’s Word.
- Rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to open blind eyes.
- While you affirm, also look for what you must challenge.
(4) Man is redeemed in Christ and therefore able to know truth by grace.
- Regeneration = the creation of new spiritual life.
- 1 Cor. 1:18: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” What makes the difference?
- 1 Cor. 2:12-15: “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things…”
- Apologetics, like all spiritual endeavors, is dependent on the work of the Holy Spirit.
- For this reason, let prayer be our instinctive response in all encounters with unbelievers.
- Who am I? A walking paradox:
- a finite, dependent creature
- who represents God and inescapably knows him
- who naturally suppresses the truth of God’s revelation
- whose eyes have been opened to truth in Christ.
- If all of this is true, it must affect the way we approach knowledge and the defense of the faith.