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John 3:8-13 by Robert Dean
Series:John (1998)
Duration:55 mins 6 secs

Destroying Human Viewpoint Presuppositions: The Bible and Knowledge
John 3:8-13
John Lesson #027
November 8, 1998

The case that John is building to is that there is substantive evidence in space-time history provided by Jesus of Nazareth through various signs that He performed in His life that were witnessed by hundreds if not thousands of people; substantive evidence that if you are honest with this evidence you can come to one and only one conclusion. That is that Jesus is exactly who He claimed to be, He is the promised prophesied Messiah of the Old Testament and he is the only one who is qualified to go to the cross and die as our substitute to pay the penalty for our sins that we might have eternal life. So he is building a case, he is marshalling various witnesses just like a good defence attorney or a good prosecutor who will bring various witnesses to testify in a trial to build their case.

When we come to John chapter three what we see is not just the content of the gospel in terms of regeneration, which is clear, but we see an actual one-on-one witnessing scenario, and we get to learn something about how to conduct ourselves in the middle of witnessing to an unbeliever. That is what we see with Jesus. So we are analysing the move that Jesus is making in His conversation with Nicodemus. 

1 Peter 3:15 NASB "but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always {being} ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence." What is this verse telling you, the believer, to do? This is not an option. We have a verb here that is an aorist active imperative. It is from the Greek word hagiazo [a(giazw]. Its noun form is hagios which is where we get the word "holy." The root meaning of this word is to be set apart. Sometimes it is translated "sanctify" or "make holy" but the key idea here is that something is set apart. In the Old Testament when they consecrated the vessels in the tabernacle what they were doing was setting them apart for the service of God. They were not going to be used for everyday common use anymore, they were specific to the worship of God and by sanctifying they set it apart, they put it in a special place. So when we have this imperative here what Peter is saying is that as a believer we need to give Jesus Christ the number one place in your thinking, to "set apart Christ as Lord in your heart," the kardia [kardia], which refers to the innermost realm of a person's thinking, the core thinking in a person's life. To paraphrase this command it is to make Jesus the number one priority in our life.

How do we do this in context? He is saying that one way in which we make Jesus the number one priority in our life is to understand the dynamics of what took place on the cross. If you understand this, if you understand the essential message of Christianity, it is earth-shattering. It is revolutionary. That is what Paul says when he commands us in Romans 12:2 to renovate our thinking. It means tearing down the whole structure and starting all over again. Most people are infiltrated by human viewpoint thinking, by those things which are attractive to our sin nature, and so we are in the process as believers of just tearing down everything and re-evaluating every single piece of thought. Every assumption in our thinking has got to be brought out, brought into the light of God's Word, re-evaluated and renovated. And that is what this verse is talking about, making Christ the number one priority. One way this is done is by always being ready to make a defence to everyone who asks you.

We know that first of all we have to set Christ apart in our hearts, and it is done by making a defence. This is really not an option for us, it is an absolute mandate for every believer to do this as part of the spiritual life. The word "defence" is an interesting word, apologia [a)pologia]. It is where we get our English word apology, but apology is not the sense that this has. We are not asking for someone's forgiveness here. This was a very technical word in ancient Greece and it has to do with making a legal defence in a case. Think about a courtroom analogy. We are required to make a legal defence to everyone, not just the folks we like; to everyone who asks us "to give an account for the hope." We use the word "hope" to refer to a sort of futuristic optimism: I hope this happens but I am not really sure. So it is an uncertain optimism. But that I not what the Bible means by hope. The Greek word elpis [e)lpij] means a confident expectation. What is this confident expectation that you have as a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ? It is that you have an eternal destiny in heaven because of Christ's substitutionary atonement on the cross for you. So the command here is that to make Christ that number one priority in your life and make doctrine number one in your life you need to prepare yourself to give an answer, to make a defence to anyone who asks you to give an account for this confidence that you have that you are going to end up in heaven.

There is another point here: "yet with gentleness and reverence." What happens so often when we get into a discussion with someone over the gospel and they start asking questions: How can you believe there is a God? How can you believe there is a God when all these terrible things happen? Immediately we let them put us on the defensive and we make it personal, thinking that the issue here is that I have to win an argument (and we are not there to win an argument) and that we have to be able to answer all those questions because the problem is intellectual. But the issues are not fundamentally intellectual, they are spiritual. The issue is if we are right they are condemned to an eternity in the lake of fire and they are doing everything in their power to avoid that. It is a hot button for them, it is a very emotional issue, and the unbeliever is going to react. That doesn't mean they are necessarily negative to the gospel, but it does mean that at this point there is some emotional response going on and it could be part of the convicting work of God the Holy Spirit.

So what is involved in a legal defence? One thing that is critical to a legal defence is strategy. Strategy means you are thinking about what you are doing. A good courtroom defence team plays "what if" in preparation so that they know how to respond to any situation. We have to have a goal, content, and we have to know our opponent. There three things are critical for making a legal defence. The goal means we know where we are going and what we are trying to do. We are not trying to win an argument, we are not trying to show how smart we are, we are not trying to convince them we are right and they are wrong. The issues are not personal or intellectual. The goal is to clearly and accurately present the gospel and to answer whatever questions they might ask as clearly as we can without compromising our own position in the process.

We need to know the content of the gospel, and that involves four things. First, we have to explain that there is a God, the God, the creator of heaven and earth, not just any generic god. Secondly, somewhere in the gospel presentation we have to talk about the fall of man, that man has a problem of sin and separation from his creator. The third element in a good gospel presentation is that God has solved the problem. Jesus Christ on the cross paid the penalty for our sins, and then the fourth element is a volitional one, that they have to make a decision to accept or reject Jesus Christ. One we get a handle on that and a couple of verses memorized to focus on each one you can pretty much explain the gospel to anyone. We need to know how the unbeliever thinks, how he approaches reality and how he explains it.

In John chapter three Jesus gives the gospel to Nicodemus down through verse 6, and then in verse 8 He is talking

about the fact that Nicodemus, on the basis of his authority which is based on finite human systems of perception can't get there, he can't understand it. Jesus is talking about spiritual data that is outside the box, it comes from heaven, and He is giving Nicodemus this information. In verse 7 Jesus gives him a command based on the Greek word thaumazo [qaumazw]. The noun form is the one we get for wonders or miracles. It is an aorist active subjunctive plus the negative me [mh] which indicates a strong prohibition. Grammatically the thrust of this is that the prohibitive aorist is normally used in specific situations to prohibit the action as a whole. It usually has an ingressive flavour to it: Do not start doing this. So Jesus is saying: "Don't start marvelling." He cuts him off right away. The meaning of the word thaumazo is the second thing that is interesting. This word means to be astonished or amazed at something but it has another tone to it. Just as if, Wow, isn't that something? The tone of this is a tone of criticism and rejection. What is happening is that as soon as Jesus says to Nicodemus, "You have to be born again," this doesn't come from Nicodemus's frame of reference. It is outside of the authority of the rabbis and tradition and his own finite system of human perception, and so he is mentally on the verge of rejecting this because it is outside his system. And Jesus says, Stop right there, and then He quits talking about what he has to do to be saved and He pulls the epistemological rug our from under Nicodemus. He says, You don't have a basis for knowing this; you are short-circuited in your knowledge system because it is limited. Epistemology is, how do we know what we know? How do we know truth? And if we base our epistemology on empiricism it is limited, it is inside the box.

The only other system open to man is rationalism. Rationalism starts in the mind with principles of reasoning. There are basically two kinds of logic: deductive logic and inductive logic. Inductive logic starts with observations and moves to conclusions. But the best you can get with inductive logic is probability, it can never yield conclusions of absolute certainty. So you can have a thousand observations that seem to indicate certain conclusions and there is always going to be one more variable, one more piece of information that might discover that will totally reverse (not just modify) the conclusions you made on the basis of those first observations. So what we see is that from inductive logic you can never get to certainty, you are building your castle somewhat on shifting sands. So the unbeliever who comes on the basis of inductive logic is going to have problems, and deductive reasoning is built from the other major premise, then a minor premise, and then you develop a conclusion. Now you have a certain conclusion but that conclusion is only as strong as your major and minor premise. Ultimately when you push any logical system of thought back far enough it is going to start with what philosophers call first principles. First principles are intuitively grass; you can't prove them. Ultimately it is based on an assumption, so that doesn't get you certainty either.

If man is in a box in terms of knowledge, and his knowledge is going to be limited, it is finite, because neither empiricism nor rationalism can get him everything—they can get him a lot, but they can only go so far, they have their limits—how does he know what is outside the box? How does he know about God? How does he know about heaven? How does he know about the purpose and destiny of man unless someone outside the box invades the box and gives him the answer?

So when we look at the strategy that is going on here, when two people get together, a believer and an unbeliever, to discuss the gospel the first principle to understand is that in human viewpoint the unbeliever wants to appeal to some independent authority. He wants to say, "Okay here is the point we are trying to discuss: the validity of the Bible. Let us find some independent authority out here so that that we can evaluate this and see if it is true." Well, what independent authority are you going to appeal to? Are you going to appeal to reason and logic? That is helpful but limited. Are we going to appeal to empiricism? We can't do that because we are locked in a box, and we can't get outside the box. So the only solution, then, is for somebody to speak from outside the box. That third epistemological option, that third system, is revelation, the authority of God's Word; that God speaks authoritatively to man. And this is where Jesus goes in His next statement. After He establishes the fact that man is limited and can't come to a knowledge of these things He says: John 3:13 NASB "No one has ascended into heaven [outside the box], but He who descended [inside the box] from heaven: the Son of Man." So this is the starting point that Jesus has for giving the gospel: the Word of God, its own authority. Now Jesus can use His own authority because Jesus is the Lord of the universe and the creator of everything—Colossians 1:16, 17.

Nicodemus, who is the unbeliever, is starting off from his own frame of reference, a limited frame of reference as a man. Jesus' starting point is from Himself. He is the ultimate court of appeal. God is the one who speaks with authority about what everything is. It is God who can say: "Verily, verily." This refers to what is called the self-attesting authority of Scripture.

Whenever you are talking to someone and you are trying to give them the gospel and make it clear, and they start asking questions, there are many people who are positive. How does positive volition work? You are born a baby and you go through a process where you slowly develop a self-consciousness, you realize you are different from everybody else. Then you develop a world-consciousness. You realize there is Mommy and Daddy and your brothers and sisters, and you can distinguish between people and chairs and toys. Then eventually at some point if you learn vocabulary and develop mental categories, you develop and ability to understand that God exists. That is called the age of accountability and God-consciousness. At that point you can exercise positive or negative volition: I want to know more about God, or, I don't want to know about God.

This is simple but it gets messy in real life. Because we know there are people who can be positive at God-consciousness, but maybe when they were four years old they never got the gospel and when they are sixteen years old they are into drugs and alcohol and criminality. Then they decide that life is pretty miserable and they want to react to all of that, and they get involved in some cults. Let's say they go through five different cult groups and in all of those groups they are taught how to react to Christians. They might be involved in one of these cults, say number 3, and some believer comes along and gives them the gospel. They will be as hostile as they can be and react to that. The believer is going to say that person is negative. But ultimately he is positive and we know the final story, and when he gets down to cult number 6 he hits biblical Christianity and he is saved. So at point number 3 he starts asking questions. "Wait a minute. I've been told this by my cult leader, what do you say your Bible says?" So you are going to get the chance to plant seed. Or maybe somebody else planted the seed further back and you are going to water it a little bit, then somebody else will water it. Finally the Holy Spirit will bring it to fruition. That is the process of apologetics. It is giving an answer for the hope that is in you, being able to explain these things. It doesn't mean it is your job to convince him of the truth; that is the role of God the Holy Spirit. That takes all the pressure off, doesn't it? It is not my job to convince this person that this is right. It is my job to present it as clearly and as accurately as I can, to handle whatever questions he has to the best of my ability.

So what happens in this dialogue is that there is going to be an appeal to some authority, and Jesus says, I am the one who has the authority. We are not going to appeal out here to facts, we are not going to appeal out here to independent logic or reason; we are going to appeal to Me because I am the creator and I have the right to determine what everything is. Revelation, the way Jesus presents it now, is the final court of appeal as to what is true and what is not true.

The first thing that we saw is that human viewpoint wants to appeal to an independent authority—let's look at history, let's look at logic. So you appeal to history and to evidences and you have finally convinced this person that the tomb is empty, and he says, "Well we live in a universe ruled by chance; that was just a chance happening." You haven't won anything at all, he has tricked you. At the very outset he has said, Let's use independent authority out here, history. So you think, great, if I can prove historically that Jesus lived and died and rose again I have won the case. But the facts of the empty tomb are not necessarily neutral; facts are always interpreted, and he has a mindset, as we saw in Romans 1:18, 19 where he is actively suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. So what you have done is you have subordinated God's Word to some independent truth.

There is no independent authority or judge over God. An appeal to reason, experience or logic or history or science, or whatever other creative category you can think of, as an independent authority, places God under that authority. It makes that authority an autonomous, independent existence. It puts God under that rather than making reason and logic eternally resident in the omniscience of God so that reason and logic are what they are because that is who God is. The bottom line on all of this is when we get into a witnessing situation it is not on our backs. You don't have to know all the data, you don't have to know all the historical  or scientific facts or anything else. You have to know the gospel; you have to be able to make a defence for your case, you have to know what the goal is. The goal is to make it clear and rely on the Holy Spirit to do the work. Reason and logic have no independent authority outside of God. They are defined by the internal essence of God.

Reviewing what happened in the garden of Eden. Genesis 2:17 NASB "but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die." God says, here is a tree, don't eat. Cause and effect. Eat from the fruit; the effect: you will die spiritually. Genesis 3:4 NASB "The serpent said to the woman, 'You surely will not die!'" So the serpent says, Eat; not die. Want to take a chance? One part of the sub-text says chance rules the universe, not God; He can't control that cause and effect. Another sub-text that is going on here is that Satan comes in a very subtle way—remember the text says that he comes as the serpent, the craftiest beast in the garden. Now there are two options, A & B. What happens is that Satan very subtly reduces them to the same level. What that does is forces the woman, Eve, to be the judge. It puts here in the position where she makes a very subtle move. She has to decide which is right and which is wrong. As soon as she thinks that she has the ability to decide which is right and which is wrong she has already cast the die in the fall direction. She has put herself in the position of judging the veracity of God's Word.

This is what happens when you sit down with an unbeliever and they say: "Prove to me that the Bible is the Word of God." You say to yourself, what is the authority that I am going to appeal to, to prove that God's Word is true? You have just set something up as an authority over God? You are making some aspect of the creation—logic, reason, science, whatever—as the final arbiter of truth. The final court of appeal in defining what is true is either reason, logic, some human system of perception, or it is God. Those are the only options. So in the garden Satan shows us that it is very simple to get caught up in this.

That brings us to the point that things are what they are because God says so. Colossians 2:3 NASB "in whom [Jesus Christ] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." Not some; all. All knowledge comes from Him. All knowledge has as its ultimate source the creator-God of the universe. Now you are not going to get some unbeliever to admit that at all. The response is that if all knowledge comes from God then how can I know anything? He is operating on borrowed capital. God recognizes that on the basis on rationalism and empiricism he can come to a reasonable understanding of truth. He can know scientific formulae, he can know 2 + 2 = 4, but what we are discovering by looking at the Scripture this way is that he only has a limited understanding of 2 + 2 = 4, and to understand it as it really is you have to understand it in light of what God says about 2 + 2 = 4, what God says about creation or you really don't understand it fully or correctly, you only understand it partially. In Jesus are hidden all of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. That includes all facts of history, all scientific law, all mathematical principles; everything always resides ultimately and derives from the person of Jesus Christ.

Colossians 2:4 NASB "I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument." This has to be the starting point: the self-authenticating authority of God's Word. That is where it has to start. He is the one who has all knowledge and all wisdom. If you don't start here, then as soon as somebody comes along with persuasive arguments starting with rationalism or empiricism you are going to lose it. In any debate, if you grant your opponent their assumptions you are going to lose the debate. That is where you nail your opponent, is on their assumptions. They have built everything else logically and consistently on their assumptions, and if you grant their assumptions you have lost. So if you grant their assumption that rationalism or empiricism has any validity in determining truth then you are going to be deceived or deluded eventually in some area of knowledge. So Paul warns us.

Colossian 2:5 NASB "For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ." It is faith, faith in doctrine; the perception and application of doctrine that is what provides stability in life. [6] "Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, {so} walk in Him, [7] having been firmly rooted {and now} being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, {and} overflowing with gratitude. [8] See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles [stoixeia] of the world, rather than according to Christ." Don't be taken captive by philosophical reasoning based on rationalism or empiricism. here is the Greek word stoicheia The Bible clearly states that things are what they are not because they have autonomous or independent existence but because God says they are. That's why whenever you say anything about anything you say something about everything. If you say 2 + 2 = 4 and treat that as an absolute you are saying that there are absolutes in the universe. If then you say that ultimate reality is chance, then on one hand you are saying everything is absolute and on the other hand everything is pure chance. That is the problem with secular human viewpoint thought. Ultimately it swings from rationalism to irrationalism, from contingency to absolute, back and forth, and it is totally and inherently inconsistent. That is why ultimately all rationalism ends up in mysticism.

Rationalism can't provide answers. Historically the response in culture after culture after culture to rationalism when it is bankrupt is scepticism. The result of scepticism is always mysticism. Facts aren't going to work; I end up in despair on the basis of facts because I am apart from the Word of God. So I am going to end up in despair. I can't live with despair so I have to just hope there is meaning in life, so I am going to deaden the pain, have a good time and get into drugs and all kinds of religious feel-goodism, sing a lot of hymns and jump up and down so that I feel like I have meaning in my life. Because if I look at facts on the basis of rationalism (and the church has gone this way) I just end up in despair. Most Christians have done this. Rather than sticking with the divine authority of God's Word they have been deluded by philosophy and rationalism and empiricism, and they are building truth on this and not on the Word of God. They are not starting with the Word and staying with the Word, they are going to these outside systems.

The starting point. When Jesus is talking to Nicodemus His final court of appeal is, Verily, verily, I say to you." He doesn't say, Let's look at this rationally Nicodemus. He doesn't say look at history and see what history has taught us—that has its place but it is not the starting point; He said: "I say to you." The starting point is authority orientation to God, that God has the authority as the creator of the universe to define reality because he made reality. It is saying, Yes Sir, to God and going forward. That is what Proverbs means when it says, The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. We start with the Scriptures and then we move forward.

Sone one asks. But isn't there a place for empiricism? There is a place but it is not the ultimate authority, because ultimately empiricism never works. A classic example of this is in Luke 16. There is Lazarus the beggar out by the rich man's gate, they both die. Lazarus is a believer and goes to Paradise; the rich man is not a believer and he goes to Tartarus. Luke 16:22 NASB "Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham's bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. [23] In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. [24] And he cried out and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.' [25] But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. [26] And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and {that} none may cross over from there to us.'" Then in verse 27, "And he said, 'Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father's house," i.e. let him go back and give them his testimony. He now has empirical data to confirm the fact that when you die you either go to heaven or hell. "— for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.'" So he is making empiricism the final court of appeal. [29] "But Abraham said, 'They have [the Scriptures; all they need]Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.'" If they are going to reject Moses and the prophets, they will reject someone who comes back from the dead.

What that is saying is that the Bible carries self-authenticating authority. The unbeliever has a pre-set mindset if he is negative to God that no matter how much truth you give him it is the old saying: Don't confuse me with facts, my mind is made up. It is the mindset, not the facts. That is why you can marshal fact after fact after fact. That may be helpful but it is not your final court of appeal because empiricism isn't going to convince him. It is the Word of God that has the power. That is why God says: "My word will not return to me void; it will go forth and accomplish that which I purpose." Hebrews 4:12 NASB "For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart." It is the presupposition of autonomy in atheism that controls the unbeliever's interpretation of the data. The facts aren't independent. Facts aren't neutral. It is the mindset of the person who is hearing the facts that assigns meaning to the facts.

Some people would ask that that to say that the ultimate court of appeal is the Word of God, isn't that circular reasoning? I am starting here and I am ending here. If you are thinking of saying that if you start with the Word of God and you say that the Bible says that it is the absolute authority, isn't that just arguing in a circle? No! It is only circular reasoning if you are basing your reasoning on empiricism. If you are inside that box you are going to say it is circular reasoning. That is why Jesus said: "I have come from outside of the box." The Word of God is only circular reasoning if you are operating on empiricism as your ultimate court of appeal. But if you really understand the principle that the Word of God is the final authority then Jesus is coming from outside of the box, it is linear. He is out here to tell you what you don't know and can't know through empiricism or rationalism. He is going to give you truth that is based on His self-authenticating authority because He is the Lord of the universe, the creator, the one who made things to be the way they are.

The ultimate court of appeal is the Word of God. John 17:17 NASB "Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth." Deuteronomy 4:19, Moses is reflecting on how Abraham was called out from the nations, and he is warning the Jews as they are getting ready to go into the land. He commands them to obey all the commandments that have been given him. That is the Word of God, the starting point. Obey the commandments, the Word of God, they have been given for a purpose. NASB "And {beware} not to lift up your eyes to heaven and see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, and be drawn away and worship them and serve them, those which the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven." What is he saying? He is saying, beware of the fact that when you see these things you don't interpret them the way the world's religions and the pagans do. Moses is saying that if it weren't for the fact that you have direct revelation from God to the contrary you would do the same thing. The Bible tells you how to interpret astronomy. Whatever you can learn empirically is nothing if you don't put it in the right framework. You can know some truth about it but if you have it in the wrong framework then you have it out of kilter. Something can be ninety-nine percent good, like a glass of water, but one drop of cyanide distorts the whole thing.

Psalm 36:9 NASB "For with You is the fountain of life; In Your light we see light." Listen to that! It is an astounding thing. It is only in the light of God's Word that we see light at all. We can't properly interpret anything in life (not just spiritual things) and see it for what it is' nothing in life is properly illuminated apart from Your Light.

Ps 119:105 NASB "Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path." What is your path? It includes family life, marriage, work, intellectual life, law, politics, economics, art, literature, history; every realm of intellectual endeavour that the human mind can go is your path. What is it the Bible claims illuminates our path and speaks directly to ever category of human knowledge? It is the Bible!

We see in His discussion with Nicodemus how Jesus appeals ultimately to His own authority. Acts 14, 17 and Romans 1 are parallel passages. Paul is the one speaking to gentiles in Acts 14, he is speaking to Gentiles in Acts 17, and he is addressing the Roman Gentile believers in Romans 1. Every time his starting point is the God who made heaven and earth. His starting point is not an appeal to some independent court or judge to get the truth. Truth resides inherently in the Word of God. Even though an unbeliever is saying he doesn't believe it, he rejects it, he doesn't want it, he hates it, he is suppre4sssing it, the reality is that God made him in his image, and deep inside him there is something that admits and knows that God exists. That is where we start.

We have a message, a responsibility, a privilege to communicate the gospel to people and to give them answers. But it is not on our backs, it is on the Holy Spirit's back. Our job is to give them the truth because we have the authoritative Word of God; nothing can shake it. There has never been a fact of history that did not, once it was fully understood, corroborate the Word of God. That is our foundation; that is phenomenal. That gives us confidence to go out and tell people.