Giving an Answer – Part 6
Old Testament: Why Facts Aren’t Neutral
1 Peter 3:15; Genesis 2:17; 3:8–13
1 Peter Lesson #088
April 27, 2017
“Our Father, we thank You for this time that we have to gather together, to fellowship around Your Word, to be encouraged by the presence of other believers, and to learn more from Your Word, think through Your Word in terms of being able to fulfill the mandate of 1 Peter 3:15, to be able to give an answer for the hope that is in us.
Father, we pray that as we study and as we think, that You will help us to work our way through some things—sometimes a little more difficult, sometimes not so much—to understand what’s involved in being able to effectively give an answer. Effective—not in the sense of producing results, but effective in terms of being biblical and sound in our answers. And we pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
Go ahead and open your Bibles to Genesis chapter 1; we’ll get into some things there in a little bit. We are studying this topic of Giving an Answer, otherwise known as apologetics. Apologetics comes from the Greek word APOLOGIO, which means “to make a reasoned defense.” In other words, to be able give an organized, rational answer to someone who asks a question related to why you believe what you believe.
Tonight we are going to look, again, at this issue of facts as God created them, because that’s very important. No matter how you approach apologetics, evidence or facts is critical in the entire process.
We looked at these questions.
1. What is apologetics?
Number one—defining it. It is giving a reasoned, rational answer in grace, in humility, in kindness; not in an argumentative, nasty, try-to-win-an-argument kind of way.
2. Why should we learn about apologetics?
Because whether we like it or not, Scripture commands that we be able to give an answer for the hope that is in. That implies that we have to learn how to do it and what to say. We have to learn the information. It’s not something you just go out and you learn, and you do it. It’ll take a whole lifetime. It’s a part of witnessing. You talk to anybody who is engaged actively in witnessing or in the field of apologetics, and they’ll tell you that it’s one thing to talk about what it is and what it should be and how to do it; it’s another thing to learn it. Because it’s a skill and it’s related to wisdom.
How many times have you heard me say that wisdom in the Bible isn’t the Greek concept of a philosophical wisdom; it is doctrine in practice; it is the skillful application of the Word of God. I’ve got a great example of something just happened this last week that is a challenge to all of us as to how this skill, this wisdom, works. So, we’re to learn about apologetics because the Bible says so.
3. Why do some people object to apologetics?
That, as I pointed out, is usually out of ignorance; usually it’s out of a misunderstanding of what apologetics is. Or they’ve heard somebody say that apologetics is done this way, and they say, “Well, that’s not really biblical. I don’t think so.” They reject the whole idea.
5. What’s the difference between apologetics and Christian evidences?
We really haven’t gotten to five or six yet. We’re still on the fourth question—this objection that is raised.
4. The Bible doesn’t use apologetics, why should we?
I’ve been showing, biblically—and going to continue to walk through the Scripture and just think about it—that apologetics is inherent to everything in Scripture if we properly understand apologetics. Part of apologetics is to prove the other side is wrong. As one person put it, that’s sort of like poking the other side in the eye. That’s exactly what the Scripture does.
If we were 14th century BC people—Egyptians, Hittites, Mesopotamians, Canaanites—we would be really offended reading the Bible, reading Genesis, because so much of it is simply that; it’s not only asserting what God did, but by asserting that God and God alone is the Creator and He’s the only God, that’s a challenge, that is offensive to those who truly believe in multiple gods and that their creation myths were accurate. From their viewpoint in today’s terms, it would be politically incorrect. We’ll see this again and again in Scripture.
Now, as we talk about apologetics, I keep coming back to this chart, because this helps us understand some of the debates and issues that are going on among apologists, among theologians, among pastors, about what is the biblical way to do it? We have to understand a couple of things. There is the right content. This really isn’t a debate about content, because all of these guys believe, for the most part—the major thinkers—in the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture. They believe in the authority of the Word of God. They are grounded in Scripture. They all believe in the use of evidences. They all believe in the historical facts and logic and all these things.
But they differ in how they think and how they believe these things should be done. So that comes to method. One reason this is really important is because it not only applies to how you are interacting with the non-Christian, but it applies to just about anything in life. We often have heard the principle stated that a right thing must be done in a right way; a right thing done in a wrong way is wrong. You can witness to somebody the wrong way—you can witness to somebody when you’re out of fellowship. That’s the wrong way! You can witness to somebody and you can just throw Bible verses at them. That’s the wrong way! You can witness to somebody and you can tell them that they need to invite Jesus into their heart, use Revelation 3:20, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” That’s not a salvation verse; it is a fellowship verse, written to a church. It is really clear; two verses earlier it says that these are written “to those whom God loves” and uses the Greek word PHILEO, which God only uses of believers.
God does not have PHILEO type love for unbelievers—only those in the family. So it’s very, very clear. Yet you have organizations like Campus Crusade for Christ, for one—I think CEF to some degree for another—and many others who use that as a salvation verse. Now are people saved that way? Sure they are! Because God the Holy Spirit is able to take really sloppy witnessing, gospel X presentations, and use them to help people understand the truth of God’s Word; and they believe in Jesus even though they are told, “You have to pray a prayer in order to be saved.” Well, Scripture doesn’t say that. Scripture says “believe.”
Now, prayer is telling God, “I believe.” But guess what? God is omniscient. If you pray at 10:01, “Lord, I believe Jesus died on the Cross for my sins.” At 10 o’clock, you had already believed it, God knew it, and you were saved. He doesn’t wait for you to tell Him, because God knows what you believe. So that’s a sloppy gospel presentation.
There are a lot of sloppy gospel presentations. You’ve done it, I’ve done it; but God the Holy Spirit is the Sovereign Executive in evangelism, and so He makes these things clear. Our responsibility, though, is to try to the best of our ability to not make sloppy gospel presentations. We have to keep honing those skills, and that’s part of our maturing and growing up.
I pointed out, on this chart, that philosophy has broken knowledge down into four categories—rationalism, empiricism, mysticism, and revelation. We have those attempts where people think that all truth is discovered solely by reason; those are called rationalists.
Then you have others who say, “No. We are born with it,” like Aristotle did. We are born with an empty slate, a tabula rasa, and so everything is written on that from our experience. What we see, what we hear, what we taste, touch—it’s all experiential.
Mystics think that, “No, we come to this knowledge through intuitive insights.” As I pointed out, each of those three has a counterpart in an apologetic methodology. I’m not saying that a classic apologist is a pure rationalist, but there’s an affinity there. The same thing with an evidentialist—I’m not saying that he’s a pure empiricist, but there’s an affinity there. Because both within classic apologetics and evidential apologetics, there is a tendency to treat either logic or facts and history and science as being a totally neutral area of knowledge. We keep coming back to this.
Romans 1—we will hit it again tonight—more later on, that that which is known about God is evident within them, because God made it evident to them. It’s the knowledge of God. So everything boils down to: How do you know God exists? And how do you know how to have eternal life and how to have a relationship with God? It’s all based on knowledge; that is why we keep coming back to this.
Another thing that I want to point out here. The term evidentialism. Unfortunately, some of these terms are terms that have been adopted over the years; you can’t change them. Evidentialism doesn’t mean that that group uses evidences and nobody else does. It’s how they use the evidences. Do they treat the evidences as neutral? Or do they come to the evidence and not compromise their biblical presuppositions in the way they handle evidence? Now, I’ll talk about that more; that gets a little abstract and I understand that.
I want to encourage you that if you’ve never heard this—most of you haven’t. If you’ve never heard anybody talk about this before, “Well, there’s a lot here. I can’t understand it.” Well, knowledge is accumulated through the process of confusion. Whenever you go and learn something new, there’s a point at the beginning where you’re a little disoriented; you’re a little confused. You never heard it before; it’s all new information.
“I’m a little confused.” As you hear it over and over and over again—a concept teachers call repetition—it finally begins to make sense. And over a period of time, one day the light goes on. So you have to hear this again and again and again, and it will become clear to you. Trust me.
I first started getting into this and reading about this before I went to seminary. I read certain books like Evidence that Demands a Verdict and a couple of other books, Know Why You Believe, and I understood the basic evidences. But then when I became exposed to the fact that apologetics was much more than just evidences, but had to do with strategy, now we’re in a whole new ballgame.
I would read and read and read, and some these guys are really difficult to read. Van Til. I had a conversation today with Bruce Baker; we were talking about this. He said, “Boy! You’ve got to have at least a pot of coffee before you can start reading Van Til in the morning.” I said, “Well, you ought to listen to him talk.” I’ve got a whole bunch of lectures on audio I’ve listened to over the years, and he just talks stream of consciousness.” There are professors like that. They don’t organize their notes. They just get up there and start talking, because they process verbally.
I’m a little bit like that. Things occur to me while I’m talking and everything. That’s why Tommy Ice and I, back in the days when we actually had a long-distance phone bill … Remember those days? Tommy Ice and I would rack up $200 long-distance bills—a piece—in the 80s, because we’d get on the phone for an hour, an hour and ½, talking through all this stuff. Because we’re both verbal processors, that would help us to come to understand things. All pastors need battle buddies they can do that with, because it helps hone your thinking.
I talked about rationalism, empiricism, and mysticism. Fideism is the idea that not only you don’t pay attention to evidences—it’s not necessary. “You just believe”; that’s all it is. It’s pure subjectivism and is comparable to mysticism.
The fourth category that I’m calling “revelational apologetics” is more commonly called presuppositional apologetics, which is a good term, but that’s a little bit unwieldy for some people. It’s not that the others don’t presuppose the truth of Scripture; in presuppositionalism there’s the desire to consistently presuppose the truth of Scripture, especially when you’re talking to an unbeliever. You’re not going to let them change the terms on you in the process.
Great illustration of this. If you’ve got a rattlesnake on the ground and an eagle wants to kill the rattlesnake, is the eagle going to get on the ground and battle the rattlesnake on the ground? No. He’s going to change the terms of the argument and pick up the rattlesnake and take them in the air where he doesn’t have any leverage or any ground and where he’s in the eagle’s domain.
That is what presuppositionalism tries to do—to make sure that the whole playing field is set by Scripture. Now that doesn’t mean you’re telling the other person any of this. It has to do with your mentality and how you are approaching and using the evidence. It takes time to do that.
So back to this diagram. We’re over here as the Christian missionary. You think of this analogy, going into the rain forest of Brazil or going into Africa, to Irian Jaya, and you’re talking to a culture that has never heard “Jesus”, never heard “God”, isn’t monotheistic. Maybe they’re animist, spiritist, something like that. And they need to hear the gospel.
Before you can really communicate to them, you have to understand where they’re coming from. That means that a missionary’s going to go through a process of asking a lot of questions before they ever get to the point of talking to the person about Jesus. That’s important. We’re going to see this is a God’s methodology (Genesis 3, Job, other places). God begins by asking questions. I’ve got a great illustration of something that happened just this last week that illustrates that.
We live in a world today where that pagan aborigine that’s our neighbor isn’t quite so much of an aborigine as he is a postmodern millennial who thinks very differently from the way that you and I do. He’s had less of an impact from modernist thinking—which is pagan also, but he’s had less influence from modernist thinking than he has from postmodern relativism. A lot of times older people or Christians don’t understand. “They don’t understand anything!” There’s this level of frustration.
Well, you have to spend time talking to them. Not every one of them—but some of them. Just like not every person is going to take 25 or 30 years to get them to the point where they’ll listen to or understand the gospel. Some people are ready at the drop of a hat. Some people are not like a triple PhD that you see on a Discovery Channel special on Jesus who rejects the evidence of the resurrection. He doesn’t say is not historical; he doesn’t say it didn’t happen. He says, “Sure it happened. But anything can happen!”
Because if you’re talking to somebody who is totally within that academic intellectual environment, he’s going to be fully aware of all of his assumptions and presuppositions, and he knows that what underlies his whole theory of life and everything is pure chance. He is going to be consistent with that, and he is going to say, “Sure Jesus lived and He rose from the dead, but that doesn’t mean what you say it means.” See, it’s interpretation; he is reinterpreting a historical fact. We’ll talk a bit more about that.
We have to understand something about the other person. Are they hearing what we’re saying to them? When we talk about God, what is coming up in their mind? If you’re talking to somebody with a Hindu background, they’ve got 200 or 300 gods, and you’re going to tell them about Jesus. Well they’re just going to take your Jesus and put Him on the shelf. So you have to make sure that you’re talking about the biblical God.
When you look at these arguments for the existence of God, like the argument from design. Well that’s great as far as it goes. But when you get to the great designer, is that Yahweh Elohim, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Or is this just somebody who is a great designer? The argument from design doesn’t necessarily get you to the God of the Bible; it just gets you to some kind of deity. Well, we’re not trying to get people to the understanding that there can be a God, but that the God of the Bible is the only God that’s there.
We have to figure out how to communicate. In this diagram, here we are in the first two or three illustrations. I’m going to use in Genesis 1 and 3, God is speaking to man. What common ground is He using? Is He referring to history? Is He talking about logic? Is He talking about experience? What effect does sin have on these fallen human beings, on their thinking? Are they neutral? No.
What’s the common ground? Is it the image of God? God made them in His image. Is that the common ground? Is it Romans 1:18 and following, that God’s invisible attributes are clearly seen from what He made, so that His omnipotence and His personhood—because it’s using the pronoun “His”—His person and all of His power, His Majesty, are all self-evident externally to every human being; and internally they know it because God made it evident within them? That’s what we’re thinking through.
We looked at examples from Genesis 1 in the creation account, because Moses is writing this under inspiration of Scripture to the Jews who have been living in paganism. Although they have been kept apart, they’ve been living in Egypt. So he’s writing this; it’s a polemic against Egyptian cosmology. It’s a polemic against Canaanite cosmology, because they’re getting ready to go into Canaan. That’s what you get scholars coming up with, “It’s one or the other.” It’s all of them! God is such a multitasker in Revelation, that it’s also an argument against Darwinian evolution. Any view of creation other than God’s view in Genesis 1 is contradicted by Genesis 1.
So, we looked at this.
1. God is speaking to pagan cultures who have suppressed.
They’ve come along and they have said, “No. No. No. No. No. There’s no creator God out there. See the water over there in the Nile? That god created us.” “There’s a sky god. See the sky? There is a sky god that created us.”
They have all these deities, each one did everything. “See, these are the gods who produce fertility, everything.” They are suppressing God and replacing Him with some other story. So how do you communicate to people who have done that? Do you start by proving that God exists? Romans 1 argues that, no, you start by trying to expose, in their thinking, that they already understand that God exists.
I looked at the second point, which is that God creates everything, establishing the point that everything—down to sub-molecular, sub-atomic particles—is all created by God. Because God created them, every molecule has His fingerprint. If Romans 1 says that everything in the universe tells us about the power and the majesty of God, then God created everything. He created this wood. He created this avocado. This avocado screams the Creator God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; every molecule in here does that. We’re going to talk about that.
Last week I talked about apples, so I want to talk about avocados tonight. Is an avocado a fruit or vegetable? “Yes.” Yes? How postmodern of you! No—it’s a fruit, because a fruit has a seed on the inside; a vegetable has a seed on the outside. See what you learned today? It’s close to being a berry, but I don’t understand all those finer distinctions—that’s beyond my pay grade.
Exodus 20:9–11—in six days God made everything—that doesn’t leave out anything. That’s important. The God Who is, as it were, sitting back there in eternity past going, “How am I going to do this?” “Well, I want everything to tell everybody about who I am.” So, He figures out a way to encode that into the DNA and the molecular and atomic structure of everything. That helps us to understand that you can’t understand Romans 1 without Genesis 1; the whole Bible has to hang together.
The first development of that was my point that:
1C Everything—every star, planet, rock, mineral, substance, animal, bird, fish, etc.—tells us about God. Every—and that means that everything—every fact—whether the fact is “this is an avocado” or the fact is “if you eat from that tree, you’re going to die” or the fact is “Jesus rose from the dead”—every fact is what it is because God created it to be so.
For example, this isn’t the same avocado that an evolutionist looks at. We look at it and we can say, “Well, it has rough skin so that means it’s a Hass avocado.” There are a lot of different varieties of avocados, but this is one most popular in the U.S. You have smooth skin; you have really big ones. When I grew up the next-door neighbor had a fruit wholesale business. He would bring over these avocados, the seed of which was bigger than this avocado. There are avocados that are enormous! They were smooth skinned and they were a little lighter on the inside. So you have all kinds, but they’re all avocados. God creates the kinds.
This avocado, no matter what you do to it, it’s never going to be an apple; it’s never going to be a blackberry. It’s always going to be an avocado. It is what it is not because it just happens to be that way; it is what it is because God determined it to be what it is. That’s the fact.
I talked about that last time. That has huge implications for thought and for knowledge and for how we can know what we know; because God made it so that we can understand it, and He encoded this into the structure of everything.
That led to a second observation.
2C A corollary to this is that facts are what they are because God created them to be what they are. As creatures communicating about God’s facts, we cannot be ambiguous about them or lack total confidence in them.
In other words, when we’re looking at the facts of creation—that’s what evidentialists do—we can’t slip out of our divine viewpoint framework and say, “Well, we’re going to use this argument, and it’s going to show you that this is the most probable case.” Evidentialists will clearly say that—that all their arguments get you is the highest level of probability. But the Bible doesn’t tell us that we’ve got a high probability of God’s existence in Romans 1:19 and following, but that they definitely know the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Creator God of Genesis 1, is alive. He’s eternal. He has majesty. But they reject Him and they don’t want to honor Him as God.
What we learn from this is that facts aren’t neutral. God created a fact in the Garden. That fact was that there was one tree that if Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate from it, they would die spiritually. That is part of everything that could be known about whatever that fruit was. It was not an avocado; it was not an apple. Somebody said it’s probably a pomegranate. Who knows? I’ll choose avocado.
But if they ate it, then they would die spiritually. That was part of the facts about that. But they couldn’t know that through experience. They couldn’t observe it. They couldn’t smell it, taste it, touch it. They could sit down with an observation notebook and catalogue it with 500 pages of observations and they would never come up with what that really was. Because the most important fact was something that had to come from revelation.
That’s why when we talk about using evidence and facts, whether it’s reason or logic with the classical apologist, or whether it is evidence with an evidentialist, don’t treat the evidence as if it’s neutral, because the facts in God’s creation, we know, are not neutral; they are what they are because God made them that way and they tell us Who God is. So we can’t be ambiguous or lack total confidence in them.
- Things are what they are because God determined them.
- God ultimately defines facts and their meaning, not man.
Think about that. When you talk to an unbeliever and you start talking about facts, they’ll waffle and say, “Well, it can mean different things.” No, it can’t mean different things. We can’t say, “Oh yeah, you’re right; it can mean different things, but this is what is the most probable meaning.” See, as soon as you’ve done that you’ve slipped over and now you’re arguing from their human viewpoint premise, and you’re doing a right thing the wrong way.
- God ultimately defines meaning and language because He originated language.
Language is just as much a part of creation as any other fact. I ended with this last week and we were getting up there; people’s brains were starting to smoke that language itself can’t function if we don’t presuppose the existence of the God of the Bible. And that’s why evolutionists can’t explain the origin of language.
My point here was that:
- All human knowledge is ultimately derivative of His knowledge.
We have to look at knowledge that way. 1 + 1 = 2 isn’t just something in creation that we discovered; it’s something that’s inherent to the thinking of God from eternity past. And that it is what it is only because the Creator God of the Bible guarantees that that’s what it is. Now that starts getting heavy. I’ve got an illustration of this for you.
- This is why God as TRUTH can define truth. That’s why it’s so important when Jesus says, “I am the truth.” Twice He says that: “I am the way, the truth, and the life”; “I am the resurrection and the life.” Twice He says “life.” But He said, “I am the truth,” and He says, “Your word is truth” in John 17. It can only be truth because that’s what’s in God’s head. What makes it true is because He created it to be true. See how all this relates?
We could spend a couple of hours going off into why this is the foundation for understanding inerrancy. If we don’t presuppose inerrancy to be true, then we really don’t know what’s true at all. That’s why we have to trust the Bible; it is radical!
We talked about Romans 1 last time. We will come back and take it apart a little bit. Just to give some real encouragement to some of you who are saying, “You know, I’m ready go home and watch NCIS or whatever’s on tonight.” This is really abstract.
As most of you know, on Friday mornings I have a group of anywhere from 15 to 20+ probably total 25 pastors in all—they can’t all make it the same week. We start talking about apologetics about the same time that we did this. We’ve been going through, and Charlie Clough’s been part of it and also Bruce Baker. Y’all should remember Bruce; he’s the guy who’s got the little goatee. He’s spoken a couple of times at the Chafer Conference, wears bow ties. He’s been walking with a cane because he has something similar to Lou Gehrig’s disease; it’s a neurological disease, and he’s pretty much going to have to be in a wheelchair before long. But he’s got a great attitude; trusts the Lord.
Bruce is part of it, and so we’ve been talking about these things. Bruce has spent a lot of time studying this. I’ve spent a lot of time studying this. Charlie’s spent a lot of time studying this. But there are guys in the group who have not ever studied this. And you think you’re lost in the weeds? They’re lost in the weeds! So take heart! Here are guys who have ThMs, but they’ve never studied this and it’s challenging them as much as it’s challenging you. So, it’s a learning process for all of us.
Romans 1:18–21 is a foundation for why we say “everybody”; no matter who you are talking to, they know God exists. They may have covered it up with as much junk as they can to hide it, to suppress it, to hold it down, but God is constantly going to be tweaking them.
One thing that came out last Friday morning when we had our session was Bruce was on, and we were talking about Romans 1:18–21. Bruce said, “Hey guys, I wrote an article on this for Bibliotheca Sacra—that’s the Dallas Theological Seminary theological journal—almost 20 years ago, and you might want to read it.
I hadn’t connected the dots, because that came out in 1998. I remember reading that article, but I didn’t know Bruce and I hadn’t read anything else that Bruce had written at that time. I just read it and went, “That was a really great article on Romans 1:18–21.” I know it’s influenced me over the years, but right at the end—we’ll talk about bits and pieces of the passage—he has an interesting conclusion.
He starts off saying that “We’re going to investigate why it is that all people around the world have a religion.” And all these religions—based on analysis by S. H. Kellogg, who was an anthropologist who wrote on world religions—have three or four things in common. One of things they have in common is that they all believe in a deity, they all believe that in some way we’ve made that deity mad and there is some kind of problem between man and the deity or deities, and that something has to be done to resolve this. They all have generally those broad views.
At the end, he says this:
“The investigation began by asking two questions. First, why are human beings universally religious with a common set of doctrines?” We’ll talk about that later when we get to Romans 1, and I’ll give you the quotes.
He says, “This study has argued that people everywhere are religious because they recognize the truth of God’s existence.” It’s evident within them. Then he says, “The fact that God exists and that He is eternally powerful is, in fact, foundational to knowledge.” See, that’s exactly what I was saying last week. You can’t really know this avocado unless you presuppose the knowledge of God, because to really, truly know this avocado, if you don’t know that it was created by God, you don’t know the most important part.
Just as Eve is in the garden, she’s looking at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and that tree is what it is because God said so. The most important thing about it was that if you eat it you’re going to die. The most important part wasn’t how it looked, or how it tasted, or what health properties it might have. If you ate it you were going to die spiritually. See, exactly what happened is that in the dynamic of Genesis 3, she looks at it and all these things happened together as a unified part of her sin. She looks at it and she is putting herself in the place to define what the fruit is. That’s how most of us think; we think that we can define the facts. That’s how unbelievers are; they think they can make the facts mean what they want them to mean. That’s how Satan works; he wants to be God; he wants to define facts the way he wants them to be.
Eve wanted to determine, “Well, is this snake true or is God true? I’m the one who’s going to be the arbiter of truth, and I’m going to determine what the facts are.” This is inherently the problem with appealing to facts as if they’re neutral. That’s what Eve was assuming—the fact is neutral. “The fruit is neutral. I can determine it by my own thinking.” And therein lies the fall.
The second thing we looked at was that Genesis 1:
3. It speaks to humans about what is, and assumes that they can understand it.
That’s really important, because in a lot of these debates ... And this relates spiritually ... What can we understand, and what can we not understand? A lot of presuppositionalists have come from a high Calvinist view with a strong doctrine of total depravity. I’ve heard some people say, “Well, you can’t be a presuppositionalist because then you have to adopt a total inability view of sin like high Calvinism.” That’s not true. You just have to understand that sin affects knowledge.
But, does it affect knowledge to the degree that we can’t understand anything about God? Romans 1 doesn’t say that; it says a knowledge of God is evident within them. That means at some level every human being can understand a certain amount of information about God, to the extent that it makes them spiritually culpable. So that they reject God, so they are without excuse.
The only way this can work is because:
4. God is outside of creation; He is not part of creation.
In all your mythologies, everything is being and part of being, including the deity, whether it’s a scientific myth or whether it’s a nonscientific myth. They all assume that the deity is part of the universe and all being. Whereas the Bible says that everything apart from God is created by Him; He is totally distinct, totally other.
5. It also reveals that mankind is morally and spiritually accountable to the Creator.
The reason I make that point is when we look at these examples, we go to Romans 1, what we’re going to see is that every human being knows at the core of his being that he is morally accountable to God. One of the things we do in explaining the gospel and in using evidences is to tweak that so that part of the knowledge about this comes out of the cellar they’ve stuffed it in.
6. God determines what things are. That is, the tree of knowledge of good and evil is what it is because God made it so. Thus, knowledge of facts isn’t neutral.
When Adam sins, he’s not neutral about God. What does he do? He runs and hides. There is no neutrality there. Part of the assumption of the pagan mind is that all of creation is neutral and I can approach it out of neutrality. You can’t! There’s no such thing as neutrality.
What do we learn from Genesis 3? This is where I stopped last time, looking at what happens in Genesis 3.
1. Satan challenges the divine viewpoint encoding of the creation. What I mean by that is, everything is what it is because God made it so and defines it. Satan reinterprets it.
Now the quote was a little unwieldy, so I changed it—modified it, paraphrased. What Van Til is saying is:
In effect, Satan contended [this is what he is, in effect, saying to Eve]: “Facts and the truth about their relationship to one another can be known by man [you can know everything you need to know about that fruit. You can know it!] … without getting any information about them [the facts] from God as their maker and controller.”
See, that’s what Satan is saying, “You can know Truth—complete Truth—without taking into account what God says about things. You can know all you need to know about that fruit and you don’t need to hear anything from God about it.”
Therefore, what I’m saying is that Satan is saying that fruit isn’t what God said it is. You see, you’re dealing with two [viewpoints]: God’s conception of what that fruit is and what He made it to be; and the creature in rebellion is saying, “No. It means something else.”
2. That Eve, on her part, sets herself up as the arbiter to determine not only what the facts are, but what they mean!
How many of us have had this experience? We’re talking to an unbeliever and you say something and you know it’s true, and they’ll say, “Well, that’s just your meaning. That’s just what you want it to mean. But there are other interpretations.” No! We can’t allow that! Because it only means what God says it means. Now that’s going to come across bad, so let’s look at Genesis 3—moving the ball down a little bit.
Genesis 3. Let’s look at what happens after Adam has eaten the fruit. Verse seven. “Then the eyes of both of them were opened.” “Eyes” are usually used in Scripture to relate to knowledge, so there is something new in terms of their knowledge; there is something that they are now aware of that they were not aware of before.
“Then the eyes of both of them were opened.” Something’s happened to the creature’s knowledge because of sin. I know there are people who are listening who are going to seminaries or whatever. The technical word for this is the noetic effects of sin, from the Greek word NOUS. Does sin affect man’s reasoning ability? And to what extent does it affect man’s reasoning ability? And how corrupt is man’s reasoning ability? Those are the issues there.
We see that there is clearly a knowledge change. What did they do? They knew that they were naked, so they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings. So, some time is going by, and they recognize now, “There’s a problem.” They do not have to be told there’s a problem; now they understand. God does not reveal it to them; it is inherent within them, just like the knowledge of God is inherent within them in Romans 1.
The principle that we can derive from this is that every person you talk to knows they’re a sinner, and they’re trying to cover it up. You take the LGBTQ movement today. They’re trying to cover up the fact that they know it’s a sin. How are they trying to cover it up? Well, first they try to get the laws against them reversed. Then they tried to get it validated. Then they try to get marriage between homosexuals legitimized. Then they’re going to start going after anybody who doesn’t approve of what they’re doing. All of that shows that they know in their soul that what they’re doing is wrong! But they’re suppressing the truth about it in unrighteousness.
So, the unbeliever knows that he is a sinner. The verse goes on to say, “they sewed fig leaves together.” They’re trying to solve the problem on their own. Man can’t solve that problem on his own.
Verse eight. “And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” Now, what’s happening here? They’re in the Garden. They know, “Oh! We have blown it!” There’s something happening internally in terms of their knowledge, that they know how exposed they are and they’re going to do what they can to try to fix it and cover it up.
They’ve taken time to gather the fig leaves, sew them together, come up with a plan—two or three hours maybe have gone by, or more. Then they hear God coming. They hear God coming, and there’s an automatic reaction: they’re afraid. See, the presence of God, as a righteous, holy God, strikes at the core of what it means to be a fallen creature. In the presence of God’s righteousness there’s fear, and they run and hide.
What we see as the first point is that,
1. Adam and the woman already knew who God was, as sinners, and they hid themselves.
God did not have to tell them Who He was. It is evident; they already had the experience of being with God in the Garden. They know Who He is, and there’s this automatic reflex as sinners to hide. What that tells us is,
2. They were not morally or spiritually neutral.
The unbeliever is not morally or spiritually neutral. When you’re having a discussion with somebody and they say, “Well, I just don’t believe all that biblical stuff,” you have to recognize that when you use any kind of evidence and you talk about the truthfulness, the historicity of the Bible, they’re not going to treat it from a neutral, objective vantage point. Their mind is fallen, and they’re going to immediately try to reinterpret that within their suppression narrative— whatever that is.
They hide themselves from presence of the Lord God among the trees of the Garden. Then verse nine, “Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ ” Now this is really interesting. Does God know where they are? Sure. God knows where they are; He’s omniscient. God knows exactly where they are. He’s asking the question to get them to think about where they are and how they got there.
See, by asking questions, without beating somebody over the head with a frying pan, we can get them to think about what they believe and why they believe it. Like Dr. Phil says: “How’s that working for you?” The questions are designed to expose ignorance and the inability of their suppression narrative to really solve their problems.
I had an interesting thing that happened this week. Some of you are familiar with the Cornwall Alliance. If you’re not, you should be. It is headed up by a doctor of history by the name of Cal Beisner. Charlie Clough is a very active member of the Cornwall Alliance, and they are writing and producing materials. They’ve got a DVD series about the Green Dragon, which is environmentalism. They are really presenting a biblical view of creation stewardship, and they are producing a tremendous amount of scientific information about why global warming is not man-made and a number of other things that come out from the global warming people.
This last week he was to be speaking to the Illinois Family Institute in Rockford, Illinois. On April 13 that organization received a threat to him, and it reads like this:
You may believe that you’re going to bring your hate group to Rockford without being called out for your despicable viewpoints. You couldn’t be more wrong. It’s a mistake to underestimate Rockford’s political advocacy and the will of our majority. Your organization is not welcome in our community, shining a bright light on such reprehensible and shallow thinking may cause an outpouring of people to “attend” your event [attend is in quotes because they want to “attend” as protesters]. It certainly will make the news.
Feel the love. I want you to feel the love there. Think about that. At the same time, a Cornwall supporter read in a local online newspaper an editorial designed to invite people to bring a sign to Beisner’s talk “to help unmask E. Calvin Beisner, Ph.D., whose group masquerades as a legitimate independent group of pastors and religious leaders denying climate change. Funded by big oil and longtime right-wing operatives with anti-science clergy support, Beisner (Ph.D. in Scottish history) will tell people to ignore the scientific fact that we humans are contributing to the climate catastrophe.” Feel the love!
The way many of us will respond to something like that initially is, a) to be defensive, which he may have and b) to react emotionally to this. You are being confronted in a very emotional, hostile way. But what I’m arguing in all this talk about apologetics and how we give an answer for the hope that is in us … This is an example; somebody just challenged the hope that he has, which is based on the Word of God.
So how do you give an answer in grace and humility and meekness like 1 Peter says? The way to do that is with what I’ve been arguing—with wisdom. Wisdom comes from a lot of time growing and maturing.
What Beisner did was he looked up the person who had written the editorial. He searched the Internet and found that the author of this was a community therapist and a member of a church in Rockford. Elsewhere he had written that he’s committed to “a way of talking and listening and a philosophy of life called nonviolent communication.” Hmm. “In which everybody wins and people’s needs are met more often. A way of living out the vision of a kingdom of heaven Jesus talked about.”
He just did some research on who this person is, what they had written about, and what they stood for. Now he’s got a fulcrum. He’s not going to have to hit the guy over the head with, “These are all the facts and everything, and blah, blah, blah.” He’s going to just use this fulcrum to turn the guy’s energy against him.
So, he emailed him and he said, “Grace and peace to you in Christ. I hope this e-mail will pave the way for us to achieve mutual understanding that will honor our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I wanted to reach out in the spirit you expressed as a community therapist seeking to achieve peace and reconciliation.”
See what he’s doing here? He’s saying, “Okay, you’re in print. You have committed yourself to this path, let’s do it.”
“I wish you had reached out directly to me first to get a better grasp of who we are, what we think, and why. Let me try to clarify some of that for you. We don’t deny climate change. Climate change is real.”
See, now he is starting to introduce some facts. He goes through a few facts and links him to several major papers and articles. And he said, “We’re always striving to integrate the insights of a biblical worldview, theology, and ethics with excellent science and economics, which is why each of our major papers have been written and reviewed by properly credentialed scholars in theology, science, and economics.”
This is his approach. He pointed out that their donations come mostly from private people, not from big oil. “You can look at the records.” All of this. He corrected some of the other false statements that were in the online hit piece. Then he said, “I can’t help thinking that you, as both a Christian and a community therapist ‘committed to a way of talking and listening and a philosophy of life called nonviolent communication through which everybody wins and people’s needs are met more often,’ because you say this you would welcome the opportunity to practice that in how you relate to the Cornwall Alliance and me. So I invite you to call me at—gave him information—and let’s talk. Together we can do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before our God.”
The guy wrote back the next day and said he would be glad to talk and asked him what he thought about a carbon tax. And he replied. He said, “Wouldn’t it be a wonderful testimony in the shalom making work of our Lord Jesus if what began with what you wrote about me in your column could lead not to continued hostility, but that the two of us, and then expanding circles from us, listen carefully to each other, understanding each other’s reasoning.”
Anyway, the bottom line is that this group shows up at the talk and they showed up with a lot of placards and everything. During the question and answer, they’re asking him various questions that came up. Everything went fine, and then, instead of hitting them over the head with facts, he asked them two questions—and he didn’t give them the answer. Notice how wise he is in this. He asked these questions and he said, “I’m not going to tell you the answer, but you can find it. Just look on the Internet and find out the answer to these two questions.”
“Number one, you’re very concerned about climate change and energy policy; let’s investigate this. He said,
1. How much did Obama’s EPA say full implementation of the clean power plan would reduce global average temperature?
When they passed all of that, how much did they say it would reduce global average temperature?
2. Second, how much would full implementation of the Paris climate agreement reduce global average temperature after full implementation throughout this century, and what would it cost?
Isn’t that interesting? If you don’t know, the answer to the first question of “How much did Obama’s EPA say that full implementation would reduce global average temperature?” Zero. See, facts are important. What he’s doing, strategically, is that he’s pulling the rug out from under them, but in a way that is allowing them to find the information themselves.
He’s not running in there to tell them, “See, you’re wrong!” See, that’s how a lot of us would do that. “These are the facts! Go read this!” No. He said, “Answer the question. Go look it up. Find out for yourself.” The answer to the question “If you fully implement the Paris climate agreement, how much would that reduce climate change?” is 3/10 of a degree Fahrenheit—that’s over a century. 3/10 of a degree Fahrenheit at a cost of $70–140 trillion. That’s somewhere between $23–46 trillion per 10th of a degree. That’s all it would do. Isn’t that interesting information?
So that’s what he’s done, and this conversation is going to continue. Because what we see in what we’re looking at in Genesis 3 is that the purpose of the confrontation is change, not to prove I’m right and you’re wrong. It’s not to win the argument. God is presenting this information to Adam and Eve in order to get them to change. He’s asking questions to expose what is going on there.
4. God asks this question to expose Adam’s unbelief and rebellion—to get him to understand that.
Now this isn’t, “Read this tract and answer these four questions, and then we’re going to get you to Heaven.” For some people that will work, but there’s a lot of people for which that will not work. Evangelism and giving an answer for the hope that is in you is not a cookie-cutter process; it involves something messy called a relationship and talking to people and being patient and kind and caring and being willing to be involved in that conversation for the next four decades of your life. Some of us don’t have that long, but you understand the point.
5. God’s question to Adam assumes an intellectual capability on the part of a fallen creature, on the part of a fallen man. It’s not assuming total inability; it’s assuming some ability to understand that God exists, what the moral and spiritual implications are, and what the solution is.
6. They were able to identify who God was even in unbelief.
When God shows up, they’re not like, “Who are You?” They knew exactly Who, and they understood it in a moral and ethical way. Just as Isaiah did when Isaiah has that vision; he’s before the throne of God and he says, “Woe is me, a man of unclean lips.” To perceive the righteous God is to understand that we’re not. It’s inherent in the confrontation.
They’re able to identify who God was even in unbelief and to know there were consequences to their actions. That’s the application.
This means to some degree the fallen human has some realization of his situation, spiritual death, and the reality that he is under condemnation.
- The unbeliever knows it within him (Romans 1:19–21).
- The God of the Bible, he knows, is not just “a god,” but He is the Creator of the world.
He only makes it “a god” because he’s suppressing the truth of the God in unrighteousness.
- He understands that the world is controlled by God’s providence. God’s in charge. At the core of our being we know God’s in charge. Just above that we’re trying to suppress it and put it in the cellar of our thinking, close the door, put a padlock on it, wrap it in chains, tie it up, bury it, and put everything we can on top of it so God can’t get out. But we know it’s there.
- Another implication: The world is a witness to the nonsaving grace of God. All this is part of it.
- We know man is responsible for evil.
- There is a need for God.
- Man’s failure to honor God. This is what Van Til unpacks from understanding Romans 1 and understanding of Genesis 3. Okay, that’s a lot!
7. They took actions to remedy their situation on their own.
See that’s what happened back in Genesis 3:7–8. They took actions, and verse 10 reveals that. Adam says, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.” So, they’re aware of their strategy to suppress the truth in unrighteousness.
Even if they say they’re not, you and I know when we’re talking to the unbeliever that he does. That gives us an edge, as it were, and we also know the Holy Spirit’s involved.
8. Man’s explanation was already slanted. “It’s the woman you gave me. That’s the problem. It’s not only her problem—it’s You gave her to me.” Ultimately, he’s blaming God.
Furthermore, in verse 10, when he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked,” he doesn’t talk about, “I ate the fruit; I realized I was naked, and I tried to solve the problem myself.” See, he’s ignoring some facts and just giving some other facts. What we can do in a conversation is expose the facts that are not being addressed.
9. God used historic facts, evidences, to expose Adam’s sin, rebellion, and responsibility. In verse 11 God said, “Who told you that you were naked?” Notice, He’s asking another question. He didn’t say, “Yeah, you’re naked, and look what you did about it.”
God is asking questions. “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?” His questions are designed to validate the evidence and to bring out the issues of Adam’s sin, rebellion, and responsibility.
10. God’s questions exposed their already present spiritual death and separation from God.
He’s helping them to self-discover that they are a sinner and separated from God. It’s not just a matter of telling them. This is what the Bible says is going on.
11. God then outlined the consequences of the spiritual judgment.
That’s what we commonly call the curse, from verse 14 down to verse 19. God says these are the consequences of the spiritual judgment.
12. The unbeliever is not in neutral ignorance, but willful ignorance.
Adam’s not neutral; he is willfully ignorant and he is suppressing, already, from the get-go.
13. What we see is that God takes the initiative in grace.
We can be part of God’s initiative when we’re witnessing to people. Isn’t that wonderful? That just amazes me! We all have opportunities, and we say, “Oh, I’m just too busy.” What we’re doing is we’re missing out on the opportunity to be part of God’s process in bringing somebody to the gospel. We can be a part of that.
God is taking the initiative, and He takes it through the intermediate means of believers in witnessing. So, we can be part of that process of exposing unbelief and bringing the unbeliever to faith.
When you get to apologetics, it’s not just about some sort of philosophy or thinking in terms of really abstract ideas, but it’s ultimately grounded in, “How do we give an answer? How do we talk to unbelievers? How do we do it in a way that exposes their unbelief, in a way that is designed to bring them to a point of change, a point of turning to God? How do we do that in a way that God the Holy Spirit can use?
One or two slides later is John 16:7–8, that God the Holy Spirit has come and He is working to convict the world in terms of righteousness and judgment and death. This is what God the Holy Spirit is doing. So, we can become better at it. We’re never going to be perfect, but we’re going to be better at it. We shouldn’t try to excuse sloppiness because, “Well, look at what goes on in the world; God can still use it.” But we should constantly be improving our own ability to communicate to unbelievers, not to mention everybody else.
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to study these things tonight. Help us to think them through. May God the Holy Spirit challenge us.
As we have learned this, we’re going to get opportunities to apply it in talking to unbelievers. We pray that we can be calm, that we can be relaxed, not impatient, not jump in there wanting to prove ourselves to be right, but that we put into practice these things that we are learning. We are following the examples that You give in Scripture so that we can be obedient and faithful and that You can use it to bring people to Christ. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”