How do you recognize a Christian? – 10/1/2017

“Nevertheless, when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?”  (Luke 18:8)

A local evangelical church recently encouraged its members to join an ‘outreach event’ to wash the cars of the teachers at an elementary school.  I suppose this will save the teachers a bit of time and energy, so they can devote themselves more fully to indoctrinating their students in evolution, transgender politics, global warming, open borders, socialism, and sex without boundaries.  Now, if the activity allowed for placing Gospel tracts on the windshields, I could see some value.  But it’s clear that the Rick Warren / Bill Hybels megachurch-wannabe handbook entails sneaking up on the lost, hoping that your winsome car-washing personality attracts them to your rock-and-roll Sunday show.

Whatever impressions are made by evangelicals in this culture, they are careful to avoid the Biblical warnings about death and Hell, the Biblical calls to repent from one’s specific sins and trust Christ, the Biblical declaration of the truth of fiat creation, the historical fact of the incarnation of the Son of God, the Cross as the only hope for the sinner, and the Resurrection as the only hope for eternal life.

Bill Hybels

Bill Hybels

Hey, I’m for washing atheists’ cars, for grilling up cheeseburgers for the homeless, for distributing sneakers to orphans, but not to make folks a bit more comfortable on the road to their destruction.  They’ve got to hear the Gospel and it must be a personal challenge, eyeball-to-eyeball, or I’ve been a wimp, a coward, a traitor to the Great Commission.  And when I do speak to the lost, it is vital for me to speak with a Biblical attitude, with compassion and boldness, to show the unbeliever that his life in this world (and beyond) makes sense only within a Christian worldview, and whatever form of unbelief binds him up makes no sense at all.

I like the way John Frame views the essence of apologetics in his book, Apologetics:  A Justification of Christian Belief.  “It may no longer be possible to distinguish presuppositional apologetics from traditional apologetics merely by externals – by the form of argument, the explicit claim of certainty or probability, and so forth.  Perhaps presuppositionalism is more an attitude of the heart, a spiritual condition, than an easily describable, empirical phenomenon . . . The presuppositionalism we are talking about is (1) a clearheaded understanding of where our loyalties lie and how those loyalties affect our epistemology, (2) a determination above all to present the full teaching of Scripture in our apologetic without compromise, in its full winsomeness and its full offensiveness, (3) especially a determination to present God as fully sovereign, as the source of all meaning, intelligibility, and rationality, as the ultimate authority for all human thought, and (4) an understanding of the unbeliever’s knowledge of God and rebellion against God, particularly . . . as it affects his thinking.”

Indeed.  Let’s take these points in turn.  (1) Our loyalties as ambassadors for Christ demand that we speak truth in this world without equivocation.  Consider God’s ‘attitude’ in Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1.  The prophets and the apostles declared truth, knowing that God designed His image-bearers to recognize it.  Yes, objectors will bring up issues like the fossil record.  Our response is to show that the fossil record makes sense only within the perspective of Biblical history . . . you’ll find considerable material on this web site regarding all such objections.  The Christian ‘way of knowing,’ our epistemology, is to start with God’s word and show how it makes sense of any issue that pertains to life in this world.

John Frame

John Frame

(2) The full teaching of Scripture is offensive to the lost rebel.  To be saved I must embrace the truth that I’m a wicked sinner worthy of Hell, that I cannot save myself, and that I’ve been entirely and disgracefully wrong in rationalizing my rebellion against God.  To help the lost you’ve got to make the message clear.

(3) Now, God is fully ‘sovereign’ in terms of power, presence, etc.  But not ‘sovereign’ in the Calvinist sense that Frame buys into.  I like Frame, but he’s lost his mind in the areas of sovereignty and election.  In fact, within the same sentence, he cites human rationality and thought, which have no meaning in a Calvinist universe in which every thought, word, and deed is already dictated, while ‘we’ . . . we automatons . . . go through the scripted motions.  But Frame’s point apart from his misunderstanding of sovereignty is solid.  Meaning, rationality, and coherent thought make sense only if we are persons, with choice, with a free will not bound by brain chemistry.  If all ‘he’ is, is brain chemistry, the atheist has no ground to make rational arguments.

(4) Every Christian, as an evangelist to the lost around her, must study to know something of the unbeliever’s worldview, so as to make clear how it doesn’t work, while simultaneously knowing that God put a conscience in everyone and a capacity to recognize truth, if she wants to.  Despite the skeptic’s external bluster, there’s a conscience there that can be touched.

In the preface to Frame’s book, philosopher Vern Poythress asks, “But does a simple presentation of the Gospel always lead to a response in faith?  No.  Why not?  Often modern people are not even curious about the Gospel.  They are convinced secularists.  They are already committed to another way of life.  But even if they are curious, their curiosity is mixed with resistance.  The Gospel is not pleasing to people who are in rebellion against God and are determined to continue in rebellion (1 Cor. 1:18-31).”

Is this all you are?

Is this all you are?

That’s where apologetics comes into play, to work against resistance and objections that are ultimately motivated by a sinner’s love of autonomy.  In the university setting, pride is rampant, fostering the impression that autonomous man’s knowledge and reason are superior to the primitive ideas of Bible believers. I love to reach out to students on these campuses, who are being indoctrinated in anti-reality (anti-Christian) ideas.  That’s why I design tracts (see my Tracts essay) to show the bankruptcy of naturalism / secularism / evolutionism, and engage students 1-2-1 to explain how the Biblical worldview accounts for their rationality, their sense of morality, their hopes for the future, and especially their need for the Savior.

Since the influencers in our culture are college-educated, the West is saturated with atheistic (lack of) values in business, in the media, and in academia.  The difference between the 20 year-old college student and the same individual five years later is dramatic.  The college years are the last for most individuals for weighing alternative worldviews.  Reach them young or it’s over.

Frame observes that the pre in presupposition reflects preeminence, not temporal priority.  You can start a discussion with an unbeliever on any topic at any point . . . Carbon 14 dating, Grand Canyon rock layers, Australopithecus Afarensis fossils, whether abortion kills little human beings . . . but the evangelist must make clear that his Biblical worldview is coherent on the topic and the unbeliever’s isn’t.  It’s the worldview issue that’s preeminent.  Then work hard to make the issue personal, that since reality is tied perfectly to Christian truth, it’s not an academic debate – rather an issue of eternal consequence, personally.  In a world full of wishy-washy perspectives and tepid opinions and a vapid ‘your truth / my truth’, the Christian will stand out if he behaves as a Christian ought to . . . declaring, defending, and proclaiming truth, persistently turning defense to offense, casting down false imaginations and everything that exalts itself against the knowledge of God.

Challenges can and should be gracious . . . How do you account for rational thought if all you are is brain chemistry?  If murder and rape and molesting children are wrong, then how do you account for objective morality?  How do you account for the awesome information content in biosystems?  In your worldview, what’s the point of living, what’s your hope and what is it based on?

Personal evangelism -- Come on, it's so easy!

Personal evangelism — Come on, it’s so easy!

It annoys me that Christians don’t care to study apologetics, worse that they don’t care to take time to do personal evangelism.  The Great Commission is what Christians do.  How can you most quickly identify a Christian?  She’s the one confronting those around her, eyeball to eyeball, with their need for the Savior.

Frame:  “Apologetics and preaching are not two different things.  Both are attempts to reach unbelievers for Christ.  Preaching is apologetic because it aims at persuasion.  Apologetics is preaching because it presents the Gospel, aiming at conversion and sanctification.  Yet the two activities do have different perspectives or emphases.  Apologetics emphasizes the aspect of rational persuasion, while preaching emphasizes the seeking of godly change in people’s lives.  But if rational persuasion is a persuasion of the heart, then it is the same thing as godly change.  God is the persuader-converter, but He works through our testimony.  Other terms are also roughly synonymous:  witnessing, teaching, evangelizing, arguing, and the like.”

Presuppositionalists love to use evidence and, in principle, love evidence more than evidentialists do.  In classical / traditional / evidential apologetics, the habit is to evaluate evidence (history, geology, astronomy, biology) on allegedly neutral terms with the skeptic, in effect ceding to him grounds for rationality, logic, and the ethical virtues of the scientific method, which he cannot actually support within his materialistic worldview.  But when your attitude is that everything starts with God’s revelation, the Bible, then specific evidences go beyond arguments of probability . . . the evidentialist, for example, works to convince the skeptic that the Resurrection is probably true based on secular historical methods.  Frame explains it this way:

“Presuppositionalists should have a uniquely high view of the use of evidences in Christian apologetics.  A robust doctrine of creation and providence demand it.  Despite the inversion of man’s heart and futility to which creation has been subjected (Rom. 8), neither can ultimately perjure itself in its ongoing witness to God.  Everything testifies to the truth of Christianity:  the beauty and brokenness of creation, the blessedness and wretchedness of humanity, the flow and flux of history – all point to the truth of Scripture’s portrait of God, mankind, and the world around us.”

The Christian witness stands out by declaring truth and illuminating evidence in provocative ways.  That’s what I’m trying to do on campus with unbelieving students – to shock them into thinking.  Since I can’t get many to stop and talk, I work to get hundreds to take a tract, and so the tracts had better have some punch – intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.

Blog 106 image Buddhists praying in templeOn a local campus recently, I had 121s with skeptics, a Roman Catholic, a Mormon, and a Muslim.  These young fellows had lots of questions.  I love questions!  It shows the fellow is engaged.  I work to give Biblically-founded answers in a way that makes sense, so I can see the ‘aha’ of understanding in his expression.  When he walks away I want him to carry with him (in addition to several tracts) the impression that the issue is vital – life vs. death – that his worldview doesn’t cut it, and that I’m available for more help and that I do indeed care to help.  And every tract points to this web site so he can explore more.  After a good day of tracting, whether on a campus or in the neighborhoods or on the street, this web site typically shows a noticeable spike in traffic.

The atheistic presupposition is that the universe is fundamentally impersonal.  Yet Muslims feel this, too, because in their theology Allah is not very personal – ‘God is love’ is a Biblical, not a Quranic concept.  A proper challenge to the atheist, who may despise Christians as superstitious, is to ask him how his personal person arose from impersonal matter.  After all, he lives as if he is a thinking, hoping, loving, moral person.  Since he is enveloped in the personal, surrounded by other personal persons, isn’t it irrational to suppose that the impersonal is ultimate?  His faith is irrational!  The alternative?  The Christian’s faith is rational, derived from God who is rational, who desires a personal relationship with His created rational personal image-bearers.

Pantheists like Hindus, Buddhists, and New Agers are not much different from atheists.  Claiming that the whole universe is divine misuses the term.  If everything is god, then no personal god exists and the impersonal dominates.  In secular humanism the human mind is ultimate, but in their view mind is just brain chemistry, which is impersonal.  The Gospel, in spectacular contrast, is personal.  What you do personally with respect to your personal Creator and Judge, the Lord Jesus Christ, determines eternal life or death.  The evangelist must get personal to make this point.

Frame makes a point wonderfully relevant to 121 evangelism.  The difference between the knowledge of the lost and saved is ethical, not intellectual.  The lost fellow suppresses truth by disobeying God (Romans 1).  This can lead to atheism or any false religion.  Unbelief is unbelief.  “He rejects the truth because he disobeys God’s ethical standards, not the other way around.”

I have used this principle many times in 121s.  When I perceive that I’ve gotten some traction in witnessing, I’ll ask, “So what’s stopping you from repenting and trusting Christ right now?”  I can see that he understands the issues of sin, judgment, etc., but he still dithers.  Usually, he can’t answer the question, so I supply the answer for him . . . he loves his sins.  It’s not his mind that has the problem, but his heart and his will.  He’s addicted to autonomy, calling his own shots, and / or the sins of the flesh, or his fear of family or friends . . . or whatever.  He doesn’t want to change.  He wants his life to be his life and keep God out of the picture.  He wants to be god, even though he knows that doesn’t make sense.  It’s irrational.  All unbelief is irrational.

Unbelief may be phrased cleverly, but the content is ludicrous.

Unbelief may be phrased cleverly, but the content is ludicrous.

Similarly, Satan is extraordinarily intelligent and knowledgeable, but completely irrational in his rebellion.  The tenured academic or the professional media pundit may express their unbelief in a manner that seems intellectually impressive to other rebels, but their position, their worldview, is ludicrous.  Willfully ludicrous because of love for sin, Satan and sinners in their irrational rebellion, share the same fate.

Individuals vary in their stumbling blocks.  I got conned by evolution as a youngster and so turned to atheism.  After several years my intense desire to find meaning and hope in life opened me up to the Gospel.  The Christian family who reached out to me helped me get past my ‘intellectual’ problem with evolution.  But I still had to decide what truth was, whether the Jesus Christ of the Bible was Truth incarnate, and whether I would act on that truth.  Yes, act.  Belief is an act of will that reveals its genuineness by a transformation of life.  I acted.  I believed.  I was forgiven and transformed, a deservedly Hell-bound sinner saved by grace and adopted into God’s family.  Whew!  Looking back, I was teetering on the precipice for a long time.  The family that reached me were not skilled in apologetics, but they cared and they tried.  Thank God.

Evidence abounds to overcome stumbling blocks.  Given the marvels of creation (Psalm 19) and the rational mind God gives to everyone, no one has an excuse (Romans 1).  The written record of the Gospels declares truth that will resonate with the heart (John 20:30-31).  The Resurrection provided ‘infallible proofs’ (Acts 1:3) for many at that time, and the historical record of the propagation of the Gospel under intense persecution makes no sense unless Jesus did, indeed, rise.  Any particular point may be contested and may require explanation.  But the entire Christian worldview with its evidences, as a package, is certain proof to anyone willing to hear, proof enough to act.

When you read apologetics authors, watch out.  Frame, for example, betrays his bent toward theistic evolution, or perhaps progressive creation over alleged eons, several times in his book.  For example, “But even assuming that evolution were true (and it is no more than an unproved theory), it is not clear that being logical always or even usually preserves life; after all, cockroaches have inhabited the world much longer than man.”  And so Frame buys into billions of years and denies Genesis 1 and God’s reaffirmation of literal days of creation in Exodus 20:11.  So disappointing!  Hey, John Frame, that’s unbelief!  You’ve bought into part of the atheist’s worldview!  As a Biblical presuppositionalist, how can you possibly yield to the Satanic authority of evolutionary myth-makers?  You don’t get billions of years from the Bible, buddy!

A real, historical event.

A real, historical event.

A couple of pages later:  “Well, as I noted earlier, many are critical of evolution today, and the Word of God denies in decisive terms the evolution of at least man (Gen. 2:7) . . . Indeed, many evolutionists recognizing the great complexity and remarkable achievement of evolution itself (assuming it to be true), have posited a divine origin for it.”  In a footnote, Frame affirms Big Bang cosmology.  Elsewhere he cites a number of authors from the Intelligent Design camp, a community that compromises on creation and the Flood of Noah’s time.  So weak, John, so compromising.  When God declared that He created separate kinds by fiat, in literal days, he denies the lies of evolution across the board.  And hundreds of times in the New Testament, the Lord Jesus and the apostles affirm the history of creation and God’s judgment in a literal global Flood.  But I’ve written volumes on this subject within this web site, and so I’ll leave Frame to his confusion in this matter.

In reaching out to a lost world, should the Christian be on offense?  What is the Biblical pattern?  From chapter 3 to chapter 37, Job and his ‘good friends’ engage in theological debate, asking and answering a myriad of questions, disagreeing, speculating, opining, commiserating, accusing.  God shows up in chapter 38 and shuts their mouths:  “Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?  Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me.  Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?  Declare, if thou hast understanding . . .”  God’s apologetic is declaration of extremely evident truths and it produces the appropriate humbling effect.

In John chapter 4, the Samaritan woman asks about worship, whether it’s properly done in Jerusalem or at Mount Gerizim.  Jesus answers her questions, dismantling her theology, but keeps the focus on the big issue – where salvation comes from, how to get that ‘living water,’ and He tells her straight out that He is the Messiah.

Mt. Gerizim

Mt. Gerizim

In Matthew 22, Jesus is challenged with clever questions meant to trap Him.  In answering them, it is clear that Jesus is not interested in give-and-take-let’s-play-on-neutral-ground dialogue.  He declares truth in a manner that stops their mouths.  Then He turns the tables on them with questions they cannot answer within their unbelieving system.

And so it goes.  The Christian is recognized by his boldness.  Yes, by his love, but not the faux-love of the wishy-washy, get-along-with-everyone, don’t-take-a-stand, desperate-to-be-tolerant evangelical of this present age.  Love warns.  Love shakes up the sleeper about to be consumed by a house fire.  Love risks the relationship by speaking truth.  The faithful ambassador loves his King and proves it by being faithful in delivering the King’s message to the foreign land, this foreign land, this world in rebellion in need of the Truth whether or not they want to hear it.

  • drdave@truthreallymatters.com

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