How Should I Earnestly Contend for the Faith? Part 5

The fourth method of apologetics presented in Five Views on Apologetics is presuppositional apologetics, defended by Dr. John Frame. Dr. Frame is the J. D. Trimble Professor of Systematic Theology and Philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary.

The main idea behind presuppositional apologetics is the Protestant Reformation doctrine of Sola Scriptura–or Scripture alone. In the previous methods of apologetics presented in this series, the starting point is evidence (philosophical, historical, etc.) which is used to argue for the truth of Christianity. In presuppositional apologetics, the truth of Christianity is presupposed from the start, and God’s revelation–preeminently the Bible–is used as the standard by which all other truth claims are judged. Besides Dr. Frame, presuppositional apologists include Cornelius van Til, Greg Bahnsen, Francis Schaeffer, James White, and Sye Ten Bruggencate.

Scripture actually has a great deal to say about epistemology, or theory of knowledge. It teaches that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Ps. 111:10; Prov. 9:10; 15:33) and of knowledge (Prov. 1:7). “Fear” here is that reverent awe that yields obedience. It is based on the conviction that God is Lord, and we are his creatures and servants. He has the right to rule every aspect of our lives. When he speaks, we are to hear with the profoundest respect. What he says is more important than any other words we may hear. Indeed, his words judge all the affairs of human beings (John 12:48). The truth of his words, then, must be our most fundamental conviction, our most basic commitment. We may also describe that commitment as our most ultimate presupposition, for we bring that commitment into all our thought, seeking to bring all our ideas in conformity to it. That presupposition is therefore our ultimate criterion of truth. We measure and evaluate all other sources of knowledge by it. We bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).
– John Frame, from Chapter Four: Presuppositional Apologetics, Five Views on Apologetics

Another important element of presuppositional apologetics is the idea that there is no neutral ground. In evidence based methods of apologetics, the Christian apologist starts on what is considered common ground with the unbeliever–logic, or philosophy, or perhaps history. The presuppositional apologist would argue that there really is no such common ground between Christians and unbelievers, because the way each side interprets the evidence is determined by their presuppositions, which differ between the Christian and the unbeliever. Just as the starting point for the presuppositional apologist is God’s Word, the unbeliever’s starting point may be methodological naturalism, or the Qur’an, etc. Perhaps the unbeliever doesn’t even know what presuppositions are affecting his judgment. The primary goal of presuppositional apologetics is to expose the presuppositions of the unbeliever as inconsistent. After the unbeliever is shown that her worldview doesn’t work after all, the hope of the presuppositional apologist is that she will embrace Christianity as the only worldview consistent with reality.

Presuppositional apologetics is often criticized as circular, since the apologist presupposes from the beginning that Christianity is true. John Frame counters this critique in two ways. First of all, presuppositionalism is linear rather than circular in the sense that there is a logical chain beginning with God’s rationality –> our faith –> our reasoning. Dr. Frame argues that, from this point of view, the argument is linear rather than circular. He also argues that circularity is actually unavoidable in any argument. All arguments presuppose some ultimate standard, and they will inevitably circle back to the standard.

But are we not still forced to say, “God exists (presupposition), therefore God exists (conclusion),” and isn’t that argument clearly circular? Yes, in a way. But that is unavoidable for any system, any worldview. For God is the ultimate standard of meaning, truth, and rationality. For a philosophical rationalist, human reason is the ultimate standard. But how can the rationalist argue that position? He must, in the final analysis, say, “Reason is the ultimate standard because reason says so.” Or if a Muslim believes that Allah is the standard of rationality, he must argue that Allah is the standard because Allah says so. One cannot argue for an ultimate standard by appealing to a different standard. That would be inconsistent.

So there is a kind of circle here. But even this circle, as I indicated earlier, is linear in a sense. For it is a movement from God’s truth, to the gift of faith, to the reflection of God’s truth in human reasoning.
– John Frame, from Chapter Four: Presuppositional Apologetics, Five Views on Apologetics

Dr. Frame differs from some presuppositional apologists in that he is open to defending Christianity via evidence. Many presuppositionalists contend that any attempt to persuade using evidence is a waste of time, since according to the first chapter of Romans, God has plainly revealed Himself to all men, and unbelievers only deny God by suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. Some presuppositionalists who take this stance go as far as to say that any use of evidence puts men in the position of judging God, and is therefore immoral and even idolatrous. Other anti-evidential presuppositionalists only hold that arguments from evidence are ineffective. Dr. Frame is comfortable with evidence, only cautioning that the apologist should argue in a way that is transcendental. By transcendental, John Frame means an argument that presents the God of the Bible as not only the most rational answer, but the only One who makes rational argument possible.

We can reach this transcendental conclusion by many kinds of specific arguments, including many of the traditional ones.
– John Frame, from Chapter Four: Presuppositional Apologetics, Five Views on Apologetics

How Should I Earnestly Contend for the Faith? Part 2

The first method of apologetics presented in Five Views on Apologetics is the classical method, which is presented by Dr. William Lane Craig. Currently, Dr. Craig is Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology and Professor of Philosophy at Houston Baptist University. In addition to his academic career, Dr. Craig has a popular apologetics ministry, Reasonable Faith. The Reasonable Faith website has numerous apologetics resources, including articles, videos, and podcasts. Reasonable Faith chapters meet across the country and around the world to discuss Christian apologetics. As part of his ministry, Dr. Craig is well known for debating scholarly skeptics of the traditional Christian worldview. Dr. Craig has also written several books on apologetics. For more detailed explanations of Dr. Craig’s apologetic method, read Reasonable Faith or On Guard.

The classical method, promoted by Dr. Craig, is often referred to as a two step method of apologetics. The first step is to persuade the skeptic that God exists based upon widely agreed on observations of the world around us, and then the second step is to argue that Christianity is true based upon uniquely Christian arguments.

This approach is comprised of natural theology and Christian evidences. Among its practitioners are such great figures as Thomas Aquinas with his famous Five Ways of demonstrating God’s existence and his appeal to the signs of credibility (miracles and prophecy) to validate Christian doctrines not demonstrable by reason alone; Hugo Grotius, the father of modern apologetics, whose De Veritate Religionis Christianae drew upon the traditional arguments of natural theology and inaugurated the historical approach to the truth of the Gospels; and one of my heroes, William Paley, whose Natural Theology is one of the most brilliant defenses of the teleological argument ever written and whose A View of the Evidences of Christianity was so impressive that it remained compulsory reading for every applicant to Cambridge University right up to the twentieth century.
– Dr. William Lane Craig, from Chapter One: Classical Apologetics, Five Views on Apologetics

According to classical apologists, Christian evidences will not be persuasive unless it is proven that it is reasonable to believe in God first. The skeptic will probably not be convinced that the Bible (special revelation) is true, unless she is convinced by evidence for God’s existence outside the Bible (natural revelation).

Paul wrote to the church in Rome that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse (Romans 1:18-20, ESV). Since human beings can perceive God’s existence and even know His nature through His creation, the classical apologist might begin with an argument for a Creator who made the universe, or a Designer who fashioned the universe with precision and wisdom. He might argue that a theistic god is the best explanation of morality, logic, or beauty. Some argue that a Perfect Being exists by necessity. There are a host of possible arguments and many classical apologists use more than one, forming a cumulative case for God’s existence.

After establishing that a theistic god exists through natural theology, the classical apologist moves on to arguing that this god is the Christian God of the Bible. He will move from arguing to the existence of a god based on observations of the world as we know it to arguing that the Christian worldview best explains the world as we know it. At this point the apologist might appeal to the historical reliability of the Bible, or to fulfilled prophecy. The central truth claim of Christianity is that Jesus of Nazareth rose bodily from the dead, validating not only the truth of His religious teachings, but His claim to be God incarnate. If it can be shown that He was crucified, buried, and on the third day arose from the grave, then He is God in the flesh, who bore the penalty of sin so that all who put their trust in Him can be reconciled to a pure and holy God.

Dr. Craig differs from the typical classical apologist in that he places great emphasis on the difference between knowing and showing that Christianity is true. He argues that it is rational to believe in God apart from arguments and evidence on the basis of the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. This view is influenced by Reformed epistemology, which holds that belief in God is properly basic. I will explain more thoroughly what properly basic means when I get to Reformed epistemology in this series. All the reader needs to know for now is that because belief in God is rational on the basis of the inner witness of the Holy Spirit, Christians who have no knowledge of apologetics can still be justified in their belief in God. It also means that Christians can rationally maintain faith in God when evidence seems to contradict their belief. This is not to say that Christians maintain their beliefs irrationally in spite of the evidence. In fact, Dr. Craig would argue persuasively that the evidence is on the side of Christianity. Rather, it means that the Christian can know God exists, even if she cannot show God exists based on the evidence available.

 Be Not Conformed to this World

It was my original intention to carefully and methodically go through the classical apologetic arguments for the existence of God and the truth of Christianity. While I hope to write more frequently and post more on the blog than I have lately, the direction of the blog may not work out exactly as planned. So be it.

What sparked this particular post, resurrecting Think On These Things like a Phoenix from the ashes, was a link I saw on Twitter.

The theology of the revivalists who led the Great Awakening was shaped by toxic lies that rationalized injustice: http://t.co/yaLROjGrCv

Intrigued, I clicked on the link led to a Patheos blog post entitled Our job is to unlearn the lies we learned from the theologians of slavery (part 1). I am by no means an expert on The Great Awakening, but nearly everything I had read previously depicted it in a positive light, thus the intrigue. I am guessing this is the sort of thing that Fred Clark, the writer of the blog, was banking on in order to grab the readers’ attention.

He dropped a bombshell on folks like me who have heard or read a few glowing accounts of The Great Awakening and other revivals: George Whitefield was a SLAVE OWNER! The post itself is a response to historian Thomas Kidd, whom Clark feels did not express enough righteous indignation against Whitefield for being a slaveowner.

I am sure that better read folks and historical experts already knew this. I did not, and I am certain many others did not know either. I fully agree with the author that chattel slavery in America was a thoroughly heinous practice that was justly abolished. I also agree that owning a slave was a serious black mark against Whitefield’s integrity as a minister of the gospel. However, Clark’s thinking on the matter apart from this goes awry.

Whitefield’s slave-owning and his lobbying for the legalization of slavery in Georgia were, in fact, an integral part of his identity. They were an integral part of his theology — his piety, his revivalism, his hermeneutic, his doctrine.

And thus they have become an integral part of our theology, piety, revivalism, hermeneutic and doctrine. Whitefield’s theology shaped the American church. Whitefield’s theology was grossly and essentially misshapen by slavery.

American theology and the American church are grossly and essentially misshapen by slavery.

American theology and the American church are (present tense!) essentially misshapen by slavery. Did you know this? That must be why so many American Christian ministries are promoting slavery today.

Clark similarly slanders Jonathan Edwards (and all Calvinists):

The focus here is entirely on reputation. Kidd is concerned with how we ought to assess the reputation of theologians like Whitefield and Edwards, and thus also with how to maintain our own reputation in properly remembering them.

And thus Kidd winds up distracting himself from what began as a hard look at a crucially important question, ultimately settling on a flaccidly platitudinous moral to the story: “God uses deeply flawed people.”

Well, first of all, no duh. “Deeply flawed people” is redundant. (As Edwards himself taught. Thus, Calvinism.)

Jonathan Edwards believed some deadly lies. And he taught us to believe those lies too. That’s a big problem.

Which are?

Unfortunately for the reader, Clark failed to mention what these teachings might be. Although it turns out that Edwards was a slave owner as well, from what I understand he never actually taught, preached, or published on the subject. Perhaps it is that “God uses deeply flawed people”? I suppose this is a jab at the doctrine of total depravity. What it actually reveals is that Clark sees himself as actually morally superior to Whitefield and Edwards, and by extension American Evangelical Christians–especially Calvinists.

For all of Clark’s apparent moral outrage at early American ministers who own slaves, his real target seems to be present-day American conservative Evangelicals. Evangelicals are (at least) wrong to uphold the slave owning preachers of The Great Awakening as heroes of the faith. In fact, he continually makes statements in his post suggesting that because Edwards and Whitefield owned slaves at all, none of their teaching can be trusted. According to Clark, slavery was actually somehow essential to their worldview. He never actually says anything to support this assertion.

It is a little difficult to decipher what exactly Clark is getting at. His reasoning is muddled at best. Perhaps even Clark doesn’t know what his point is. If he means that we can’t trust the theology of Whitefield and Edwards because they owned slaves, that’s just a classic example of the genetic fallacy. If he means that “American theology and the American church are grossly and essentially misshapen by slavery” in that 21st Century American Evangelicals believe that chattel slavery is biblically justified and morally permissible, that’s just absurd. It’s hard to be certain given his muddy arguments, I don’t think his view is either of these options.

I could be wrong, but I think I’ve figured out his real agenda. First of all, Clark is classified by Patheos as a “Progressive Christian Blogger.” That’s a rather nebulous term, but typically that indicates a politically leftist and theologically liberal Christian. Think Rachel Held Evans, Robb Bell, or Brian MacLaren. Second of all, his previous posts confirm this. On June 18th, he posted his interview with the eminent Anglican bishop and scholar N.T. Wright. While N.T. Wright is not really all that liberal theologically, he does have some political views that are to the left of many American Evangelicals. Clark was clearly hoping that Wright would jump on the same-sex marriage bandwagon. This might have offered credibility to Clark’s view on the subject, since N.T. Wright is respected by many American Evangelicals. Unfortunately for Clark, N.T. Wright actually takes the Bible seriously (imagine a Christian doing that, in this day and age!).

FC: Steve Chalke created a stir in the UK last year with his forceful argument in favor of same-sex marriage. That was a big deal not just because Chalke is a prominent leader in the evangelical Christian community in your country, but because his argument was so substantive and so thoroughly biblical. Given that Chalke’s theological argument reflects the influence of your own writing, I’m interested in hearing more about your response to it.

WRIGHT: When anybody — pressure groups, governments, civilizations — suddenly change the meaning of key words, you really should watch out. If you go to a German dictionary and just open at random, you may well see several German words which have a little square bracket saying “N.S.,” meaning National Socialist or Nazi. The Nazis gave those words a certain meaning. In post-1917 Russia, there were whole categories of people who were called “former persons,” because by the Communist diktat they had ceased to be relevant for the state, and once you call them former persons it was extremely easy to ship them off somewhere and have them killed.

“Did this clown just invoke the NAZIS in his argument AGAINST civil rights for gays? WTF? I can’t even …”

You read that right. He just called N.T. Wright a clown. I don’t agree with everything Bishop Wright says, but anyone willing to call him a clown is, well… a clown. As is typical of his Progressive Christian heroes, he simply emotes rather than offering any substantive rebuttal to the biblical position on homosexual behavior and same-sex marriage.

So to return to my point-what Clark is really implying is that Whitefield and Edwards got slavery wrong, and in the same way modern American Evangelicals have homosexuality wrong. Unfortunately, his intellectually vacuous posts fails to demonstrate anything of the sort. Also unfortunately, Whitefield and Edwards apparently thought that chattel slavery was morally acceptable and most likely justified this via their interpretation of the biblical texts on slavery. Can we show that these learned expositors of God’s Word got slavery wrong? I think we can. As Paul Copan points out in this article, and in his wonderful book Is God a Moral Monster?, slavery in the Bible is not anything like the chattel slavery of early American history. In the Old Testament law of Moses, “slaves” were more like what we would call “indentured servants.” If someone in ancient Israel owed a debt they were unable to pay, they were employed as a servant by their creditor for seven years. After that, if anything further was owed the debt was forgiven and the servant was free to go. There were also strict laws against mistreating these “slaves” and it was actually against the law to track down and return runaway “slaves.” It was a system intended to get rid of debt rather than chattel slavery where a person is considered the property of another person. In this article, Dr. Copan clears up more misconceptions concerning Old Testament “slavery.” Slaves were not considered property and beating a slave to death was considered murder. The “slave” was considered an inherently valuable fellow human being, created in God’s image, just like his “master.” This form of “slavery” was voluntary. As stated earlier, it was more comparable to a modern-day employment opportunity with contractual obligations for both the creditor and the debtor. Also misunderstood is the matter of foreign “slaves.” Once again, this “slavery” is more comparable to an employment opportunity. Foreigners were not able to own land under the Mosaic law. This seems harsh unless one considers that Israelite families were allotted land as an inheritance. Even if land was sold to pay debts, it would return to the original family in the year of Jubilee every 50 years. They could go to work for an Israelite and enjoyed protection under the law. In a third article by Dr. Copan, he addresses the popular misconception that the New Testament authors, and even Jesus Himself, turned a blind eye to slavery in the Roman Empire, which was more similar to American chattel slavery.

Some critics claim, “Jesus never said anything about the wrongness of slavery.” Not so. He explicitly opposed every form of oppression in His mission “to proclaim release to the captives … to set free those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18 NASB1; cp. Isaiah 61:1). While Jesus did not press for some economic reform plan in Israel, He did address attitudes such as greed, materialism, contentment, and generosity.

Christian Slaves and masters were to be considered equals spiritually, and were to refer to one another as brothers and sisters. Slaves were not to be mistreated in any way. While they did not encourage slaves to rebel, or call for sweeping political reforms, they undermined the institution of slavery by teaching Christian principles.

Critics wonder why Paul or New Testament writers (cp. 1 Peter 2:18–20) did not condemn slavery and tell masters to release their slaves. We need to first separate this question from other considerations. New Testament writers’ position on the negative status of slavery was clear on various points: (a) they repudiated slave trading; (b) they affirmed the full human dignity and equal spiritual status of slaves; (c) they encouraged slaves to acquire their freedom whenever possible (1 Corinthians 7:20–22); (d) their revolutionary Christian affirmations, if taken seriously, would help tear apart the fabric of the institution of slavery, which is what took full effect several centuries later — in the eventual eradication of slavery in Europe; and (e) in Revelation 18:11–13, doomed Babylon (the world of God-opposers) stands condemned because she had treated humans as “cargo,” having trafficked in “slaves [literally ‘bodies’] and human lives” (verse 13, NASB). This repudiation of treating humans as cargo assumes the doctrine of the image of God in all human beings.

Those who used the Bible to justify American slavery of Africans clearly got it wrong. But does it follow that present-day American Evangelicals–spiritual descendants of Whitefield and Edwards got the biblical view of homosexual behavior wrong? Not even close. In fact, those who justify homosexual sex and same-sex marriage are actually much more similar to those who justified chattel slavery. In those former days, it was a popular notion was that slavery was morally acceptable, just as it is becoming popular nowadays to consider homosexual behavior morally acceptable and justified by the Bible (1) (2). The slave owning Christians of that time were conformed to this world rather than transformed by the renewing of their minds. The case is exactly the same today for Christians who affirm homosexual behavior. While it would be a little silly to claim that the acceptance of homosexual behavior is currently as entrenched in the fabric of our society as slavery was entrenched in antebellum American society, it would also be silly to deny we are heading in that direction. In our time, homosexual athletes receive praise and attention from the President while opponents of same-sex marriage are called clowns (or worse). Riding the wave of popular sentiment, I suppose the “Bible affirms homosexuality” crowd apparently do not feel any need to formulate sound logical arguments in support of their view. Name-calling, fallacious reasoning, and half-truths will do in this anti-Christian and anti-intellectual era.

Oh That my Words Were Now Written!

Job 19:23-24 (KJV)

Oh that my words were now written! Oh that they were printed in a book! That they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock for ever!

This is (loosely) adapted from a presentation I gave at Reasonable Faith Knoxville entitled “The Importance of Literary Apologetics.”

I am no expert on literary apologetics. I have no advanced degrees in creative writing or apologetics. I am, however, convinced that literary apologetics is just as important as traditional apologetic arguments in winning hearts and minds to the Faith. Since I am no expert, I will allow an expert in the field to define literary apologetics. Holly Ordway defines literary apologetics as, “presenting the truths of the Christian faith through literature.” This might be through short fiction, novels, poetry, or even drama. I will be considering two primary examples of the impact of literary apologetics: the Bible and C.S. Lewis.

First of all, let’s look at the Bible. It is not only the highest authority on Christian doctrine and worship, but is also the greatest work of literary apologetics ever produced. There is some straightforward teaching, and this is not unimportant, but the bulk of the Scriptures are historical narrative, poetry, and parable. Parables were commonly used by Jesus during His earthly ministry.

It is no accident that the most authoritative method of revelation employed by the Creator is a work of literature. Neil Postman makes a compelling observation in Amusing Ourselves to Death:

In studying the Bible as a young man, I found intimations of the idea that forms of media favor particular kinds of content and therefore are capable of taking command of the culture. I refer specifically to the Decalogue, the Second Commandment of which prohibits the Israelites from making concrete images of anything. “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water beneath the earth.” I wondered then, as so many others have, as to why the God of these people would have included instructions on how they were to symbolize, or not symbolize, their experience. It is a strange injunction to include as part of an ethical system unless its author assumed a connection between forms of human communication and the quality of a culture. We may hazard a guess that a people who are being asked to embrace an abstract, universal deity would be rendered unfit to do so by the habit of drawing pictures or making statues or depicting their ideas in any concrete, iconographic forms. The God of the Jews was to exist in the Word and through the Word, an unprecedented conception requiring the highest order of abstract thinking.

If God Himself used the written word reveal Himself and His ways, and primarily used stories and poetry to speak to His people, maybe Christian apologists need to take a cue from the One we defend. I am certainly not suggesting that we abandon traditional apologetic methods and arguments. I am suggesting that story, drama, and song should also be used alongside rational arguments. The combination of literary and traditional apologetics is potent.

Simply put, literary apologetics can convey truth in a way that traditional apologetics cannot. In the battle for hearts and minds, traditional apologetics is the equivalent of a direct frontal assault. Literary apologetics is more like special forces, engaging in unconventional warfare, moving stealthily and undetected behind enemy lines. Often unrecognizable as “apologetics,” it often comes ahead of the main force and carries out covert missions which ultimately set the stage for victory. Many of the great works of literature, such as Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment or J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings present distinctly Christian worldviews in such a way that non-Christians unknowingly imbibe Christian concepts, and enjoy it. They do not feel they are being “preached at” and the stories have a way of sticking with them that overt teaching does not. This is one reason why literary apologetics is utilized so often in Scripture. We tend to remember David and Goliath, Daniel in the lion’s den, or the Prodigal Son much more easily than Romans chapter 6.

Some of the best evidence for the power of combining literary and traditional apologetics can be found in observing the life of C.S. Lewis. Lewis was arguably the most influential Christian apologist of the 20th century, and still has a great impact today. He was not a theologian or a philosopher. He was not a biblical scholar or a scientist. He was an English professor and a prolific writer.

Lewis was greatly influenced by literary apologetics himself. As a young Atheist, the writing of G.K. Chesterton and George MacDonald had a role in leading him to become a Christian.

In reading Chesterton, as in reading MacDonald, I did not know what I was letting myself in for. A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere–“Bibles laid open, millions of surprises,” as Herbert says, “fine nets and stratagems.” God is, if I may say, very unscrupulous.
– C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy

Soli Deo Gloria!

C.S. Lewis went on to become a great literary apologist in his own right. He is best known for The Chronicles of Narnia and The Screwtape Letters. He also wrote a science fiction trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength), Till We Have Faces, The Great Divorce, and The Pilgrim’s Regress. Of course, he also wrote some great traditional apologetics books like Mere Christianity, Miracles, The Abolition of Man and The Problem of Pain.

Lewis was a key member of a writing group known as the Inklings, which was a veritable hall of fame of great Christian literary apologists. The Inklings included J.R.R. Tolkien (The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion), Charles Williams (Descent into Hell, War in Heaven, The Place of the Lion), and Dorothy Sayers (the Lord Peter Wimsey mystery series), and others.

I would like to make a few suggestions for Christian apologists. Familiarize yourselves with the literary apologetic writings old and new. The old include the works I’ve mentioned so far by the Inklings, Dostoevsky, Chesterton, MacDonald, John Bunyan, and above all else the Bible. The new include the writings of Theodore Beale–aka Vox Day–(Summa Elvetica: A Casuistry of the Elvish Controversy, A Throne of Bones), and Brian Godawa (Chronicles of the Nephilim series). I have also enjoy the poetry of Tom Graffagnino. I am sure there are others, but I am more familiar with the old than the new. I would also suggest that those who have talent begin writing quality fiction and poetry within a Christian apologetic context. This does not always mean writing with explicit Christian themes. No doubt some of us will be explicit like John Bunyan and others will be implicit like J.R.R. Tolkien. There is no shortage of horrible Christian fiction–just go to any Christian bookstore and you will find all the Amish romance novels you could ever never want to read on the clearance shelf.

Works of traditional apologetics also need to be well written. Even if you do not have the knack for writing fiction or poetry, you can at least learn to write (and/or speak) well. Avoid the bad habit some apologists have of being incredibly dull, and then excusing their lackluster writing by calling it “scholarly.” The purpose of Christian apologetics is to convince skeptics that Christianity is true, not put them to sleep! Literary apologetics can help traditional apologists learn how to stir the heart as well as the intellect.

I truly believe that if we look to the Bible and C.S. Lewis as examples of literary and traditional apologetics working together, we would be more effective in defending the Faith. We need special forces as well as basic infantry and combat support. Don’t forget that the war is already won by Christ, but do your part in the war effort.

Ecclesiastes 7:19 ESV

Wisdom gives strength to the wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city.

Sovereign

I wanted to open up this post with some of the same scriptures quoted in my previous post.

Isaiah 43:8-13; 44:6-8, 24-25; 46:5-10 (ESV)

Bring out the people who are blind, yet have eyes, who are deaf, yet have ears!   All the nations gather together, and the peoples assemble. Who among them can declare this, and show us the former things? Let them bring their witnesses to prove them right, and let them hear and say, It is true.   “You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord , “and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me.   I, I am the Lord , and besides me there is no savior.  I declared and saved and proclaimed, when there was no strange god among you; and you are my witnesses,” declares the Lord , “and I am God.  Also henceforth I am he; there is none who can deliver from my hand; I work, and who can turn it back?”

Thus says the Lord , the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.   Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before me, since I appointed an ancient people. Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen.  Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? And you are my witnesses! Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any.”

Thus says the Lord , your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: “I am the Lord , who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself,  who frustrates the signs of liars and makes fools of diviners, who turns wise men back and makes their knowledge foolish.

“To whom will you liken me and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be alike?   Those who lavish gold from the purse, and weigh out silver in the scales, hire a goldsmith, and he makes it into a god; then they fall down and worship!   They lift it to their shoulders, they carry it, they set it in its place, and it stands there; it cannot move from its place. If one cries to it, it does not answer or save him from his trouble.  “Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors,  remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me,   declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.'”

These passages paint a vivid portrait of the sovereignty of God. Before Him no god was formed, nor shall there be any after Him. Besides Him there is no savior. He is the first and the last, the Alpha and the Omega. There is no one like Him. He alone calls the end from the beginning and His purposes are always accomplished. He is what the theologians and philosophers call maximally great. Anselm called God than which nothing greater can be conceived.

The sin of Lucifer, and the original sin of Adam and Eve was that they thought they could be their own god. That is why Lucifer fell, and that is why our forefathers fell. Yet, even within the Church there are people who essentially see themselves as sovereign over their lives, rather than the Creator of the heavens and the earth.

Jude admonished us to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3). Today one most dangerous heretical factions preaching another gospel is the Word of Faith movement. It is not the faith once and for all delivered to the saints; it is preaches doctrines of demons.

Word of Faith teaches that we create reality with the words we speak, that God is bound by His Word to bless us if we follow the right steps, and even that we are little gods. Even where the little god doctrine is not taught explicitly, it logically follows from the other teachings. Much has already been written about the leaders of the movement, but I would like to focus on the false doctrines here.

1. Does the Bible teach that our words create our reality?

The Bible does have a lot to say about our words and their power. For example, it does teach that death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits (Proverbs 18:21, ESV). In fact, there are several proverbs on the power of our words. Proverbs says that a soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger (Proverbs 15:1, ESV), a gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit (Proverbs 15:4, ESV), and to make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is (Proverbs 15:23, ESV)! There is a lot more that Proverbs has to say about our words that I have left out for the sake of brevity.

Other books of the Bible also have some things to say about the power of the tongue. James wrote,

James 3:2-10 (ESV)

For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.

Jesus Himself said,

Matthew 12:33-37 ESV

Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.

Clearly, the Word of God teaches us that words are potent. But do any of these passages actually teach that our words create reality? I don’t see it. These verses indicate that our words can affect the world for good or ill, but nothing here indicates reality is created by the words we say. The most popular proof text for words creating reality is Romans 4:17. The Word of Faith advocate will tell us that we are to calleth those things which be not as though they were. Is this what the Bible is telling us here? Let’s look at the passage in context, using a straightforward modern translation (the Authorized King James Version is an excellent translation, but the archaic language makes it easier to misunderstand or twist the meaning).

Romans 4:13-25 ESV

For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

Abraham did not calleth those things which be not as though they were or
[call] into existence the things that do not exist–from nothing. Instead, he put his faith in God, who alone can create ex nihilo–from nothing. Abraham did not receive God’s blessing by making a positive confession, but by believing what God had said. In this instance, the only One wielding power with words was the Almighty. This is the lesson that Paul wanted us to learn from the life of Abraham, that he was justified by his faith just as we can be justified by faith-faith in God, that is. Positive affirmations and Bible verses recited as incantations won’t do us any good.

The truth is that this doctrine of creating reality with words is not derived from the Bible, but from an occult form of spirituality called New Thought. New Thought is not a monolithic movement, but is actually an umbrella term for several religious movements such as Religious Science, Unity Church, and Church of Divine Science, along with other ideologically similar groups. New Thought churches use the Bible as their primary text, but their spiritual practices more closely resemble New Age and Eastern mysticism. They affirm belief in God, the divinity of human selfhood, the value of mystical experiences, that the highest virtue is love, and that our mental states manifest reality. Positive affirmation and affirmative prayer play an important role in manifesting the desired reality, just as in Word of Faith. Both New Thought and Word of Faith teach that all the believer needs to do is “name it and claim it,” and it will come to pass. Christians ought to derive their theology from scripture alone, not from occult religions.

2. Does the Bible teach that God is bound by His Word to bless us if we follow the right steps?

As with most effective deceptions, this has a grain of truth. God does not lie (Numbers 23:19; Titus 1:2), and in fact it is actually impossible for God to lie (Hebrews 6:18). Therefore, if God made a promise in scripture, by His very nature He must fulfill it.

Where the Word of Faith teaching goes awry is in determining what the promises in the Bible are, assigning promises of financial prosperity where none exist. This is why the Word of Faith movement is often called the Prosperity Gospel.

For example, the Word of Faith teaching on Luke 6:38 is that if the believer gives financially the believer will receive back financially good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you. However, the context of the passage, Jesus is not teaching about money but inappropriate judgment, condemnation, and forgiveness.

Luke 6:37-42 ESV

Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” He also told them a parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.

Another misappropriated promise can be found in Matthew 13:23 (or Mark 4:8, 20). According to the preaching of Word of Faith ministers, the believer who gives to a ministry can expect to receive back from God financially in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty, depending on the “quality of the soil” i.e. the quality of the minister. Jesus’ teachings here have nothing whatsoever to do with material wealth or prosperity, but are spoken as part of an explanation of the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13:1-9. His disciples ask Him to explain the parable (Matthew 13:10-17), and so He gives the plain meaning of the allegory in Matthew 13:18-23 (ESV).

Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.

Can you read these passages and “show me the money”? Jesus is not teaching about money at all, but the spread of the word of the kingdom–the gospel.

Child of God, if we would only read our Bibles we would not be taken in by these hucksters. I myself used to watch various Word of Faith television ministries on a daily basis until the Holy Spirit opened my eyes. This is only the tip of the iceberg. I recall even hearing one minister teach that the believer could receive the anointing of a minister if they financially supported that minister’s ministry. Apparently, this particular minister had not taken the account in Acts of Simon the Magician (Acts 8:9-25) to heart.

In addition, because of the borrowed New Thought dogma of creating reality with our words, a strange emphasis is placed on receiving biblical promises by “speaking them forth.” Believers are encouraged, for instance, to “name their seed.” If the believer has a need such as healing, or a financial breakthrough, or salvation of a family member, or even a want for a new car, or house, or success in business, they are taught to make a positive confession over their financial offering. The affirmation and the financial offering are actually thought to aid in the fulfillment of the affirmative prayer. In scriptures that seem to mention any kind of speech, the references to speech are overemphasized as an example of the efficacy of verbal affirmation. For example, it isn’t faith alone that moves mountains–the believer must speak to the mountain, since whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ will move the mountain by faith (Mark 11:23). Even in a key passage on salvation, the tongue is necessary.

Romans 10:8-10 ESV

But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

The Word of Faith teaching is that we are not saved by faith alone, but by a positive confession that Jesus is Lord! Yes, you read that right. As much as I wanted to keep specific names out of this, I’m going to have to use one since I will be using a direct quote from the Kenneth Copeland Ministries website, because the claim that the Word of Faith movement actually teaches that verbal confession is actually necessary for salvation is difficult to believe without direct evidence. In an article written by Kenneth Copeland and posted on his own ministry website, he writes that

To be born again, you use your mouth and you use your heart. First, you believe in your heart that God’s Word is true; then you confess it with your mouth because you believe it.

That cuts directly to the heart of the gospel. Taken to its logical conclusion, the mute individual, or the special needs person who lacks the mental capacity to speak intelligibly cannot obtain the promises of God, even salvation, because they are unable to “speak it forth.” To be fair, the average Word of Faith believer does not, in most cases, logically follow these doctrines to their absurd conclusion. However, I would encourage the Word of Faith Christian to drop these doctrines of demons that they cannot live consistently with. I would advise them to stop supporting Word of Faith ministries, and pray for the souls of Word of Faith ministers.

3. Does the Bible teach that we are “little gods”?

Let me return to our opening passages from prophet Isaiah. In Isaiah 43:10b, the God says, Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. We are not “little gods.” We are His sons and daughters–by adoption (Romans 8:14-17). We are created in His image and likeness, but this doesn’t mean we are “little gods” either–only that we were created by Him to be like Him in ways His other creatures are not. We come from the dust, and to the dust we shall return (Genesis 3:19; Ecclesiastes 3:20). We cannot calleth those things which be not as though they were; only the El Shaddai has the power to create ex nihilo.

In Conclusion

What is the best remedy against the Word of Faith movement? There are plenty of websites devoted to exposing the error of its teachings and the corruption of its leading ministries. Another blog post will not topple these empires built on deceipt–at least not by itself. C.S. Lewis once wrote,

For spiritual nature, like bodily nature, will be served; deny it food and it will gobble poison.

The appeal of the Word of Faith movement is that it emphasizes a powerful and victorious God who wants us to prosper, and has intervened supernaturally to guide the believer by His Word and imbue him/her with spiritual authority. Apart from the distortions of Word of Faith theology, these are all good and biblical concepts. We must be careful, if we are to expose the errors of these teachings not to inadvertently portray our God as a distant and wrathful tyrant, who allows the forces of evil to run rampant and even capriciously afflicts His children “for His own purpose and glory.” That is how some of us sound to the average TBN watcher when we condemn their pet movement. The victory of Jesus Christ over evil, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the goodness of God are the spiritual bread and butter of the Christian. When we deny this food to our brothers and sisters in Christ, they may begin to gobble down the teachings of the Word of Faith movement.

Christianity is, by its very nature, a supernatural religion. Our God created the universe ex nihilo–from nothing. He has intervened in the lives of His people in dreams, visions, prohetic words, plagues, angelic visitations, and miraculous signs and wonders. The founder of Christianity was not merely a good teacher, or a prophet, but God the Son, incarnate in human flesh, who was crucified and rose from the dead on the third day. Some Christians, perhaps in an attempt to seem more respectable, or to avoid the abuses of the overt supernaturalism in movements such as the Word of Faith, or because it makes them feel uncomfortable, seem to want to deny the supernatural aspects of the biblical Christian faith. This needs to stop. I am convinced that part of the reason many mainline Protestant denominations are diminishing while Pentecostal denominations continue to grow is that many of these older, more respectable churches eschew the supernatural in one way or another. Avoiding the strange theology of Word of Faith should not mean throwing the baby out with the bath water by denying the supernatural.

There are various levels of devotion to Word of Faith teaching in the Church. Some Christians fully embrace Word of Faith doctrines I have denounced, along with other tall tales about Jesus suffering the torments of hell and nine persons of the Trinity (or I guess the “novinity”). Many Pentecostals and Charismatics are mostly orthodox in their beliefs, but accept a few Word of Faith teachings on money or faith. A good number of evangelicals embrace the positive vibe of Word of Faith ministries they see on television, and remain blissfully unaware of the oddball aspects of the theology.

I want to point out that I do not mean to imply that all Word of Faith believers are damned to hell. Make no mistake, these teachings are demonic and dangerous, and lead the believer away from sound biblical doctrine. However, most Word of Fathers, as far as I can tell, have a real and loving relationship with the Lord. They have no conscious intention of usurping the throne of God. They need to be patiently and lovingly shown the error of some of their beliefs. When Jesus returns, I believe all of us will need to revise our theology in many areas, so we need to point out these errors with humility, tact, and grace.

Ecclesiastes 7:19 ESV

Wisdom gives strength to the wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city.