In my junior high years, I spent hours each week boning up on evidence that the Bible is historically accurate. I wore out Walter Martin tapes, marked up creationist books, and tried to turn conversations toward my findings.
The most frequent response I got from non-Christians was no response. I was not saying anything that seriously challenged anyone’s worldview. I was not provocative, as I had hoped to be. Nor was I even interesting.
My series on Jesus’ truth claims in John 10 is a rare exercise for me in apologetics, the defense of Christian doctrine. We are contrasting Jesus’ teachings with those of other religions, showing that the belief in Jesus as the only way to salvation is reasonable. Tagging along with this series, I’ll devote a weekly post to some of the more technical issues.
As an opening question, why are my forays into apologetics so rare?
As a matter of theological principle, to begin with, I’m convinced that God’s view of human life should not be defended, but asserted. The general tone of the Bible, whether history, epistle, or poetry, is declarative. The Lord spoke. The Lord acted. Heaven and earth obeyed. At some points in the Bible, human beings try to debate God (Job 38:1-42:6; Romans 9:14-21), but they are met with rebuke, not argumentation.
I favor this aggressive stance because God is the ultimate persuader of the human heart (1 Corinthians 2). My job as a preacher is assert his point of view and let his Spirit drive home the contrasts.
My reluctance to defend the Bible is founded on more than theological precept. I also have strategic doubts about the power of evidence-based arguments.
The accumulation of evidence to defend, say, the historicity of Noah’s ark responds to modernist attacks according to modernist terms: the hard sciences define truth. In other fields of persuasion, like politics or law, each contender knows that he or she must set the terms of the debate in order to win. For Christians to have allowed modernists to frame spiritual questions in terms of human rationality has been to concede from the beginning that the Bible does not stand on its own. We have followed a losing strategy.
Human beings have to defend themselves according to God’s terms, not the other way around. What possible confidence could I have in human justice?
Even further, I find logical problems with the evidence-based approach to apologetics, at least when its aims are confused.
The enterprise has been to confirm biblical veracity with independent data, say, from an archaeological dig. The prophet said this city would be swept into the sea, and lo, here are fibers from the very broom. But a conclusion heavier than the evidence will bear often gets dropped on the listener. Because we have the broom fibers, you should believe that the Bible is the true word of God.
In the first place, one would have to confirm every other detail in the Bible to reach that conclusion legitimately.
Additionally, and more importantly, the central assertion of Scripture is not that everything God says is true. The central assertion of Scripture is that “God spoke all these words.” The reason to believe in the veracity of the Scriptures is that they were given by God. Even if one were able to find independent confirmation of every datum in the Bible, he still would not have proved that God is the Bible’s source.
I rarely teach apologetics because the arguments are defensive. They can be legitimate, but are always limited. They can wear down an attacker and parry a blow, but they cannot convert the human soul.
Only a bold assertion of God’s rights, without apology, can do that.