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Apologetics Without Apologizing

Knowing & Explaining What & Why You Believe

by Mark Horne

Copyright © 1997, All rights reserved.

The way in which you should defend and prove the Christian Faith and the way in which you debunk alternative belief systems is not the same way that you came to know that Christianity is true and that all alternatives are false. This is important because confusing the two ways will probably lead to a confused defense of the Gospel.

In order to demonstrate the difference, consider what I might do if someone challenged me to prove that I have a wife. If she is not present at the moment, what could I do? Well, I could dig through my wallet and try to find a picture. That, along with my wedding ring, might give some strong evidence to the skeptic that I am probably married. On the other hand, perhaps the picture is of my sister and I found a yellow chrome ring out of a box of caramel popcorn. If the skeptic is stubborn, perhaps I can try do dig documentation out of the glove compartment of my car that will state that I have a spouse. But the skeptic can always insist that the documents are forged…

Well, the argument can go on endlessly, but my point is not about how unbelievers can be stubborn. Rather, my point is that it would be ridiculous, at any point in my presentation of evidence, for the skeptic to ask me, “Mark, do you really believe that you have a wife because of that evidence?” Of course, I don’t infer that I am married to my wife from a picture in my wallet or a golden ring on my left hand, or from any documentation. The fact is, I believe in my wife’s existence because I am directly acquainted with her. How I might try to prove her existence to a stranger has little to do with why I believe that she exists. After all, I KNOW her.

Do We Need Reasons To Believe?

While everyone admits that how one knows one’s wife and how one might try to prove her existence are bound to be different, people are often not nearly so cogent when it comes to arguing for God’s existence and the trustworthiness of His Word. Many popular books on apologetics will claim that the arguments, facts and strategies they give you to use in defending the Faith are also the reasons that you yourself should believe in God.

Now, there is a grain of truth to this sort of know-why-you-believe message. For one thing, since we all sin, we all have a certain amount of unbelief still lodged in our hearts. Learning how to defeat the arguments of unbelievers can be a tool to use for our own continuing sanctification. Also, learning certain apologetic arguments–the nonScriptural historical evidence for the resurrection of Christ, for example–allows us to learn more about God’s world–in this case, history–conforms to God’s Word. Since we are all supposed to grow in knowledge, this is an important personal benefit that is derived from apologetics.

But how many of us actually became Christians because we learned of new historical evidence or a new argument? For some who became Christians later in life, perhaps these things were of pivotal importance. But consider those of us who were raised as Christians and taught from the Bible since they were children. Were we justified in believing that God exists and has revealed Himself in the Bible simply because we were raised to believe such things? Furthermore, what about people who, after hearing for the Gospel for the first time, believe it without hearing any argument that God exists, that Jesus rose from the dead, or that the Bible is inerrant. Are such people justified in believing such things without having heard any arguments or proofs that the Gospel is true?

The answer should be obvious. Of course we were justified in believing in God. Parents are commanded to raise children as Christians, not as agnostics who, when they reach some alleged age of rationality are given arguments that God exists, that Jesus rose from the dead, and that the Bible is inspired. And a person who has never believed in God, but who repents and believes when he hears the Gospel is not being gullible but godly because he is not resistant to the truth. Where does the Bible ever say that someone should NOT believe in God, Christ, and the Bible just because he hasn’t been given an argument?

Thus, there is something rather wrongheaded about giving Christians new reasons and evidences so that they can “know why they believe.” Obviously, if they have believed up until that point in time without knowing about those reasons and evidences, then those reasons and evidences cannot possibly be “why they believe.”

So why do we believe?

Direct Acquaintance

Knowledge is commonly defined by philosophers as a true belief that is based on something. A belief that is not based on any reason, or justification, or account, or warrant or whatever (this is a point of hot debate in epistemology) does not constitute knowledge even if the belief happens to be true. If reading comic books leads me to believe that there is life on the dark side of the moon, my belief does not count as real knowledge, even if NASA later finds some sort of space algae on moon rocks.

Now, on this basis, someone might challenge whether a Christian five-year-old actually knows God, even if God does exist, since his basis of knowledge seems no different than his (hopefully less important and more temporary) belief in Santa Clause or the Tooth Fairy.

But even though a child is raised to believe in God, that is not necessarily the only or the most important reason that the child believes in God. The child might believe in God for the same reason he believes that he has parents–from direct acquaintance. For God “is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist” (Acts 17:27b-28a). All creation reveals God to everyone. Now, if Christianity is true, then apart from the grace of God, all people sinfully suppress this revelation (Rom 1:18ff). Thus, the reason why a child who is raised a Christian believes in God, is not simply that his parents taught him about God, but because the Holy Spirit working through the Gospel is causing the child to not ignore and deny the knowledge of God which comes to him from all creation. The basis of the child’s faith is not the parents but God’s infallible self-revelation.

Acquaintance Versus Inference

Many apologists take the Bible’s claim that God is revealed in all nature and history as a justification for saying that God can be known by certain kinds of arguments. But this misses the point. If our knowledge of God depends on a certain kind of inference, then sinful people could completely evade God’s revelation by not following those kinds of inference. If God is known by “the cosmological argument” then one need only avoid hearing the cosmological argument to be truly ignorant of God. Furthermore, this would mean children are not justified in believing in God, because they don’t yet understand these arguments. Rather, God’s general revelation of Himself, though mediated by creation, is immediately or directly evident. To understand how this is possible, consider an analogy: My belief that I am looking at a computer screen is caused by light hitting the retina of my eyes in a certain way. But I do not consciously deduce from the light that I am looking at my computer screen. Even though my screen’s presence is mediated by light, my retina, etc., the screen is directly evident. There is no process of inference necessary. Now we must witness to those who suppress this direct knowledge of God and “exchange the truth for a lie.” In doing so, we are often going to have to engage in argumentation. We are going to have to give reasons for believing in God. In doing so, I hope you’ll keep two points in mind. First of all, the basis of your knowledge of God which undergirds all your argumentation and evidence is God’s general revelation. You don’t believe in your spouse because of your wedding ring, and you don’t believe in God because of the ontological argument. Secondly, it is important to realize that the unbeliever is, in a sense, also directly acquainted with God. He is constantly surrounded and filled with God’s revelation of Himself. The object of your confrontation should not be to prove the existence of a Supreme Being but to introduce your Friend and King. All your argumentation needs to be subservient to that end.

Copyright © 1997, All rights reserved.

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