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To help clarify some of the terminology used in the study of apologetics, Dr. Dean has begun developing an Apologetics Glossary, which he updated 5/19/17.
Giving an Answer–Part 9
Old Testament: Confrontation and Reaction
1 Peter 3:15; 1 Kings 18:22–19:2
1 Peter Lesson #091
May 18, 2017
“Our Father, we’re thankful for Your goodness and Your grace to us, for the many ways in which You provide for us, for another day, another week to study Your Word; to live for You, to glorify You, and to learn Your Word so that we can know more about You and be prepared to talk to others about the Lord Jesus Christ and to help them come to an understanding of the gospel. Father, we pray that we might have the courage, the strength, and the intellectual preparation to be able to do this.
Father, as we study tonight, help us to think through what we’re talking about in terms of understanding how to give an answer for the hope that is in us. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
Open your Bibles with me to 1 Kings 18. We are continuing with Elijah’s confrontation of the priests of Ba’al. What I have been endeavoring to do as we’re walking through these situations in the Old Testament is to understand that when we are talking to an unbeliever there is a confrontation; not in a negative, hostile sense. But there is a collision of thought between the believer who is thinking biblically and the unbeliever who is thinking according to whatever relativistic worldview or pagan worldview that he has.
They’re not talking the same language, even though they may use a lot of the same words. Sometimes, especially if you were living in 1950s, 1960s, maybe even some of 1970s America, you didn’t recognize there was much of a collision, because a lot of unbelievers operated on biblical presuppositions. Even if they were not believers, or even if they didn’t know anything about the Bible, that was part of our cultural heritage; it was part of the way that people thought. So people thought there were absolutes, even if they denied the existence of a god, or a basis for absolutes, people thought that there was right and wrong and held to views of right and wrong that were historically shaped by biblical Christianity.
But we are not living in the 60s and 70s anymore. The baby boomers who went through the academic institutions of the 60s and 70s and were taught by liberals often had their faith destroyed because they didn’t know how to give an answer, even in their own mind, for why they believed what they believed. And they felt like they were committing intellectual suicide if they believed in the Bible, believed in Christianity, and believed what their pastor taught.
You may not have had the experience I did to some degree. But I have heard from students who have gone out from churches that I have pastored that in some classrooms students are overtly attacked for their Christian beliefs. That was the framework for this film [God’s Not Dead] we were going to watch. I encourage you; you can rent it from Amazon Prime. I don’t think it’s on Netflix. It’s on Amazon Prime. Watch it. I will talk a little bit more about it at the end of class, but there are some interesting things that are going on in the film. It’s got a number of different characters; it’s got some interesting twists and turns.
It’s a fairly good movie, but when you’re just watching the core story, it’s important to think through why this young man is saying what he is saying and how he is structuring his answer to this professor. This professor is taking a position that God doesn’t exist, God is dead. He thinks that it is just nonsense to have any kind of religious belief, and so he doesn’t want his students to be shackled by these antiquated ideas of believing in some old man in the sky that somehow oversees all the affairs of men.
He wants every student to write out on a piece of paper, “God is dead,” and then turn it in. If everybody will do that, then they will just be able to skip past some of that nonsense, as he views it, and go on to really important things in this Introduction to Philosophy class. Well, this one student in there, a prelaw student, has to take this class; it’s a required course.
He’s a Christian, so he wrestles with this a little bit. He says he’s not going to do it. In fact, he writes down that God’s not dead. So the professor is going to force him to teach the class and to get up and give a series of lectures to try to prove his proposition that God’s not dead. Now, how would you do that? That’s an important thing to think through, because while many of you may never see the inside of an academic classroom again, you have grandchildren or children that might and it’s important to teach them.
We as a church, as a congregation, have young people that are growing up. Statistics show that about 80% of evangelical kids that leave home have rejected their parents’ political and religious beliefs within two months of going off to a secular university. You may think, “Well, that’s not going happen to my kid.” Let me tell you, don’t live in that dream world. What’s the definition of a neurotic? He constructs castles in the clouds. The psychotic is the one who moves in, and the landlord is a psychiatrist. Well, don’t be neurotic or psychotic.
This is reality. This isn’t new. I mean, people in the baby boom generation. This was happening. I can’t tell you how many of my friends, some of whom came back, some of whom did not, but who basically had a spiritual blowout on the highway of academia. Some of them never figured out how to repair the flat. So this is a major issue.
Whenever we’re talking to an unbeliever, there’s this kind of challenge, confrontation, that comes between two people. Earlier I used the diagram of a missionary. Thinking in the most extreme sense, a missionary like Grace Hearsling who was here at the Chafer Conference going off to Columbia, going up into the mountains to a relatively Stone Age tribe, having to learn the language, taking years to be able to communicate, that that’s very similar to what we are as Christians surrounded by a pagan, non-Christian world.
We have to understand how to present the gospel in humility and in graciousness as Peter emphasizes in 1 Peter 3:15. That means we have to think, and there are some folks who don’t do a very good job at thinking. That’s a challenge for all of us, sometimes, to think. But I had a seminary professor who, though he said a lot of things I didn’t agree with, he did say one thing that was quite profound. He said, “If you think it’s hard to think, it’s very difficult to think about how you think.” “Very difficult to think about how you think.” So we have to analyze not on how we think, but how the other person thinks in being able to communicate to them.
This gets a little challenging for a pastor, and for people in the congregation, because this isn’t the normal kind of thing that you get in the motivational messages of church-growth-philosophy-run churches today. This brings up the quote I used on Sunday morning, which I still like, by Sir Lancelot Andrewes, who was the chief editor and major translator for the King James Version and was the pastor to King James I of England and the court.
He said, “It is not our task to preach what people wish to hear …” We could paraphrase that, “It’s not my job to teach what people want to hear—or what they think is easy to understand.” He said, “It’s not our task to preach what people wish to hear, but what one day, in some sad future …” You’re going to be in some circumstance that you will wish you had heard.
My job as a pastor is to equip you to do the work of the ministry, and this is not easy. I’m trying to encourage you by saying that. It’s taken me a long time. Even by teaching this again I’m knocking some dust off of some areas in my brain that I haven’t used in a while, and some things are coming together a little better than they have at previous times.
What I think is a value in apologetics is that it taught me how to think—and how to think about thinking. John’s giving me a thumbs up. That is the value of it, because it applies to every area of life. There’s not any area of life ... Who did you vote for? Why did you vote for them? Why did you like what they were espousing? What beliefs do they have? What does the Constitution mean? Why do you believe it means that? Why do you think it should be applied that way? All of those are questions that mean you have to learn how to think about those issues.
If you’re a Christian, then you need to learn how to think about those from a foundation, a starting point, that is the Word of God. Not going off and just saying, “Well, the Word of God just talks to me about my salvation and my spiritual life.” But the Word of God gives you foundational principles of thought that apply to every area under God’s creation.
Does that include literature? Yeah. How many churches do you think in Houston even get a hint that there is a biblical view of literature, or a biblical view of drama, or a biblical view of poetry, or a biblical view of art or music? But all of that is part of God’s creation and, as such, can be affected by the curse. As a Christian we have to discern whether something is biblically grounded or not.
All of that is part of understanding what apologetics is; it’s giving a defense for what we believe. And what we believe isn’t restricted to just what goes on in the church on Sunday morning when we’re talking directly about biblical events and biblical stories. So apologetics teaches us how to think.
So we’ve gone through these questions. Defining apologetics as giving a reasoned answer for what we believe. That implies that you know what you believe. That assumes that you can somehow represent what you believe as being from the Bible, and you can go to the Bible to show what it is that you believe. That is step one.
Now you have to go to the next step and say, “Well why do you believe it?” I have said something for years—and people look at me and kinda scrunch up their faces a little bit, “You can’t believe something you don’t understand.” You can’t say, “Well I believe it because that’s what the pastor said,” or “That’s what So-and-So said.” Well, that doesn’t mean they’re right. You have to understand faith.
Faith is a form of knowledge. To know something you have to understand it. Now that doesn’t mean you’re going to understand it thoroughly or exhaustively. I do not understand the Trinity—and probably never will—with a finite creaturely mind. But I can understand what the Bible teaches about the Trinity. And because I understand what the Bible teaches about the Trinity, I can understand and believe in the Trinity. But that doesn’t mean I understand everything there is to know about the Trinity. That’s part of learning what we believe and why we believe it. That’s why we should learn about apologetics.
A part of apologetics that we will get to in a couple of weeks has to do with the evidences for our faith. We are not just parking our brain in neutral, and we’re not just a bunch of people who are holding on to some religious opiate. As Marx says, “Religion is the opiate of the people.” We are not just using it as some drug to get through life so we don’t have to deal with the real issues of life.
Some people object to apologetics because they don’t understand what apologetics is. But any time you answer the question, “Why do you believe the Bible says that?” you’re doing apologetics. That’s basically it.
Then we’ve been looking mostly at this fourth question, the claim by some that, “The Bible doesn’t use of apologetics, why should we?” That’s a Fideist position. What I’m showing you is not only how the Bible uses apologetics by looking at all these episodes—going through the Old Testament and into the New—but I’m showing you that they all have certain things in common. These are things that we must remember when we are communicating the gospel and trying to help people understand what the Bible says.
We’ve looked at this chart a lot. As I’ve told you for years, there’s four ways in which we know things. Historically, people have said, “Well, it’s all based on reason. It all has to conform to logic. The starting point is what’s inside the mind, that we’re born with certain innate ideas, and starting with those innate ideas as first principles, rigorously using logic and reason, we can argue from those first principles all the way out to the existence of God and truth. But there’s always limitations on reason, because we don’t know everything.
Empiricism starts with the facts. “Just the facts, Ma’am.” That’s empiricism—just starting with facts, starting with sense data.
Mysticism just starts with feeling, sort of your gut reaction to things.
Now, each of those systems of knowledge has a counterpart in these strategies for presenting the gospel and evidence for Christianity. The problem that you have with both rationalism and empiricism … This doesn’t mean that in the revelational or presuppositional view that you don’t use reason or logic or you don’t use evidence—it’s how you use it. That’s where it gets a little sticky for some people, and we’ll try to point out some actual events of that as we go along tonight.
But what happens here is all this gets you is probability. Probability. There is one line that this young college boy utters as he’s presenting an argument for the existence of God—or presenting someone’s argument. He says, “The existence of God is the most probable reality.” That’s an evidentialist position.
As a presuppositionalist, I say, “No, The Bible is clear. I have to assume God does exist. It’s not based on probabilities; it’s based on the reality that God has made me in His image, and Romans 1:18–23 makes that very clear.” That’s our foundation.
So that’s that bottom view. The counterpart to revelation as the ultimate authority is presuppositionalism. We’re going to start with Scripture. That doesn’t mean we start our conversation with Scripture, but that means everything that I say has got to be consistent. I’m not going to compromise Scripture by saying that there is some area of God’s creation, such as either logic, for the classic apologist, or evidentialism; they’re saying that there is some area of God’s creation that is totally neutral and unaffected by sin. That’s the starting point. We will look at this a little more.
Everything in Scripture is, to some degree, polemical. An aspect of apologetics is showing that Christianity is true and other positions are false.
Polemics—I revised one word here—is the act of engaging in a verbal or written refutation of another viewpoint. That doesn’t have to be a hostile, angry refutation, but it can just be helping somebody understand that they really can’t live consistently with what they say they believe.
In theology, polemics describes an element in a biblical passage which is designed to show the superiority … Last time I had “Christian theism” there; it’s biblical theism. Because a lot of these passages are in the Old Testament, we just want to use the term biblical theism; that’s more accurate. … To show the superiority of biblical theism over other religions and philosophies. Much of the Old Testament is a polemic against the idolatrous pagan religions surrounding Israel, which is what we see in the passage that we’re in.
Now, just a quick background. Elijah had announced that it wasn’t going to rain until he said it would. That goes back to God’s promise to Israel that if they violated the Law, in the second cycle of discipline, God would bring a drought. That’s Leviticus 26:19. This is what they’ve been experiencing.
In the Northern Kingdom they had come under the influence of Ba’alism due to Ahab marrying Jezebel. She came in and brought her 450 priests of Ba’al and her 400 priests of Asherah. This was just a horrific religion. It was sexually promiscuous. They had temple prostitutes. That’s how you got the gods to do anything; you went down to the temple and you had sex. They had these sex orgies all over, everywhere.
Another part of it was human sacrifice, in order to get the attention of the gods, and self-mutilation. All of this was part of this religion. It was destroying the culture of the Northern Kingdom.
This is why Elijah announces it’s not going to rain, and then after three years God sent him to announce that He would send rain.
He was dealing with Ba’al. We talked about this last time. He’s the chief god in the Canaanite pantheon. He’s the storm god responsible for rain, lightning, thunder, and productivity. So he’s been impotent for three years—no rain! Tthis is a direct attack. The reason it’s a drought is that it’s a direct attack against the beliefs of these pagan religions. In their mythology, drought indicated Ba’al was dead.
I love this picture here—Elijah with his sword over his head, getting ready to decapitate the priest of Ba’al.
We went through this and I pointed out that he does the same thing I’ve been emphasizing—that you ask questions. He asked the people; it’s a question designed to get them to think about the ultimate reality in life. “How long are you going to hop around—bounce back and forth— between two opinions? If Yahweh is God, follow Him. But if Ba’al, follow him.”
They were assimilating Ba’alism to their worship of Yahweh, and they just chose to follow whomever they wanted whenever it made more sense to them and made their life a little more fun and better. That’s why he uses this word; “falter” means to hop around. The same word is used of the dancing that the priests are going to do in order to get Ba’al’s attention.
At this point I wanted to stop. I went through this last time. I looked at the video last time and realized that the slides didn’t show up very well, so I had to change the slides. But see, the issue here is that in the confrontation, the point isn’t to win the argument, the point is to move people to change, to get them to understand that their views are wrong and they need to conform to God. The goal is to get people to trust in Christ as Savior and to help them understand that whatever it is they’re relying on is a broken cane. I think Isaiah used the word “broken reed,” but I’ve updated it to our culture. You got a broken crutch, and it’s not going to hold you up.
Part of what you do, as you ask questions, is to help expose to the person that what he’s depending on for happiness, or meaning in life, or success really, ultimately doesn’t get him what he thinks it will get him. You don’t get into that with everybody, but you do with some people.
I ran through these principles.
1. Everyone has a philosophy of life: some of them have thought it through, others just bounce around with a lot of inconsistent views, “Whatever helps me get through today is all I need to worry about.” They haven’t thought about things very deeply.
2. Every worldview or religion contains universals. These are expressed by words like “should,” “ought,” “right,” and “wrong.”
Get in a discussion with anybody about whether or not Donald Trump colluded with the Russians, and they’re going to say, “Well, I think it’s wrong,” or “I think it’s right.” As soon as they use a word like “right” or “wrong,” you’ve got a window into their soul. “Where did you get that value? How do you think that’s wrong?” “Well, I think it’s wrong to say that there’s only one way to God.” “Really? How do you come to that view?” You can talk about that a lot. That’ll expose a lot of ideas.
3. The entry point to their worldview is going to be, often through their statements related to their values or their ethics.
This is when you get into a longer-term conversation. There are short-term conversations and long-term conversations. But remember, even if you have to talk to somebody for 30 years before they finally have that Aha! moment, that’s a person that’s going to spend eternity in Heaven instead of the Lake of Fire. Yhat’s worth every bit of aggravation and all the ups and downs for those 30 years.
4. Ethical principles are based on prior assumptions about the nature of truth or knowledge and the ultimate nature of the universe.
That’s something to think about. This is where we get into that hard discussion about, “How do you think? How do you think about what you think?” It’s not easy.
In the past, as I pointed out last time—I went and got the slide for this time—we’ve got this iceberg illustration. At the top, it may be talking about political decisions or national issues; it may be individual life choices, but this is where we talk with people. “How is your day going?” “Well, I’m not doing so good at my job. My boss is a real jerk.” “Really?” Why is that?”
You start asking questions. Or, “I had a client that wouldn’t pay me.” Well, what are you going to do about it? What do you think about it? Probe. Ask questions. “Well, I think it’s terrible.” “Why do you think it’s terrible? What is your ultimate value? Where do you get this idea of right or wrong?”
“If you believe in the survival of the fittest, where do you get an ethic that says that it’s wrong for the fittest to take advantage of the unfit? Where do you get that idea?” So you start probing a little bit. That’s where we begin to talk.
But as soon as you start asking “right” or “wrong” questions, you get down into ethics. “Where do you get these ideas of what’s right, what’s wrong, what’s good, what’s bad?” “Well, I don’t believe there is such a thing as absolute truth; that doesn’t work for me.”
So, you get into this issue of: How do you know what is true? This is really important for believers, because at the ethical level Christians hold to views that certain things are right or certain things are wrong. We’re not going to violate our beliefs just because the government says so. The government comes along and says that it’s okay for same-sex couples to get married. As a Christian, you’re like, “No. I can’t validate that; that violates my conscience.” Paul said that we’re not to violate our conscience; it sets a principle for future violation of things that are really serious.
We have ethics. How do we know it’s true? Jesus said things about truth. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” A claim to be truth. Later on, when He is talking to Pilate, Pilate asked Him if He claimed to be God. He said, “You speak the truth,” and then Pilate said, “Well, what is truth?” So Jesus clearly affirmed that there’s an absolute truth.
So, for Christians, truth is an issue. We need to think about: How do we know truth? Where does truth come from? That takes us to the next level.
Now these terms—ethics, epistemology, metaphysics—are terms that come out of philosophy, but whether we’re talking about God, truth, or right or wrong, it’s the same thing. Where do you get your views of knowledge? What is true? What is false? Where does that come from? Does it come from just within the creation? Is this just something that people voted on, or are there universal absolutes that are right or wrong no matter what people believe? That has a lot of implications.
The foundation for all thought is this understanding of God—ultimate reality. Now if ultimate reality is a god who encourages people to go through sexual activity in order to stimulate him to improve the economy, then that’s going to impact what you do and what you think about right or wrong. It’s going to impact how you think about marriage and the sanctity of marriage, and it’s going to impact how you think about all of these issues related to sexual morality. Ultimately, that is going to impact your view of whether that is related to success or prosperity.
In the ancient world they were just as concerned as you and I are with financial stability. They were concerned about success. There’s nothing wrong with being successful. There’s nothing wrong with having possessions. There’s nothing wrong with being productive in life. But when that takes over and that becomes the end in itself, then that is classified in Scripture as covetousness or greed, which Paul says, in Colossians 3, is idolatry.
So you may say, “Well, we’re not worshiping some sort of, you know, a sexually promiscuous god, and we’re not going down to the temple and engaging temple prostitutes.” They had male and female prostitutes for men and women—it worked both ways. We don’t do that. Well, if you’re running on materialism as a motivator in life—that you think that you have to get all you can get so that you can survive and not trust God—then you’re just as guilty of prosperity theology as they Ba’alists were or the prosperity evangelists on television. You have to think about how these things relate to each other.
Rarely do people think at the level of, “How do my values, how do my decisions, relate to what I think about God?” That’s the brilliance of Christianity, because our presupposition is we worship a God who created everything. Every fact is what it is because God made it that way. Therefore, we can’t go in and try to think about it in some other way, because that’s idolatry; that’s saying that we have the ability to redefine what God made. We have all of God’s creation, and we need to learn to understand it as God created it and then live consistent with that; that’s called wisdom.
Bible study isn’t just about learning stories about people who lived thousands of years ago, and “Don’t they have some nice little morals for us?” It’s learning how we are to live and think within a creation where every molecule is designed by an infinite, holy Creator. We have to learn to live in a corrupt version of that, and we have to deal with it in terms of our own sin nature and that God is in a process of redeeming it. So that’s our framework.
Last time I set it up a little differently. I said that we start with this window: ethics, values, right, or wrong. So Elijah is going to this culture, to the Israelite culture, and they think it’s right that you can go out and you can have promiscuous sexual relations with temple prostitutes in order to be financially prosperous. Your crops will grow and you will be productive, and the more you go down to the temple and engage in sexual activity, the greater the chance it’s going to rain. They believe that with every ounce of their being.
So you have to challenge that idea of right and wrong at the beginning. “Where are you getting this?” That’s what his question is getting at.
Now, eventually, if you go to the next level, that takes you to the area that is not in the iceberg chart, where the implications of right or wrong and ethics affects what philosophers refer to as aesthetics, which is literature, music, art, nature, all of these kinds of things; I’m not spending much time talking about that.
For ethics to work it has to come from somewhere. It comes from knowledge. That comes from that ultimate reality of God. We are starting with God at the top in this diagram and working our way down. Your ultimate view of reality affects what you know. And your understanding of truth affects your values. That affects politics. It affects the civilized aspects of culture: art, music, literature, theater. All of these things are products of man. And man is what? He’s a corrupt version of the image of God. So as Christians we have to address that. All these things go together.
In that culture, if you’re Elijah, what are you thinking? What are the collision points here? As Elijah was confronting the priests of Ba’al, how are you as a college kid in a hostile classroom going to confront an atheist professor and present a case for the existence of God?
When you look at what’s going on in the contrast, what I’m doing here in this chart is this in the upper right is expressing what the biblical view is. The divine viewpoint, the Bible gives us absolutes. Nonnegotiable absolutes. That’s where we stand as Christians. As Martin Luther said, “Here I stand,” referring to the Scripture, “I can do no other.”
We believe God revealed His essence as the Creator. We’re the creature; we’re in His image; that’s where we’re going to get our values. God reveals right and wrong. He is a righteous God. He is a just God. His righteousness expresses the absolute eternal standards of His character, and His justice expresses the application.
But when you deny God, and all you’re left with is the creature, the creature makes it up. So it becomes arbitrary. The creature is going to determine what right or wrong is. You can see this, especially in governments and in politics, where the governments come along and they’re just going to make up the rules.
We see a classic example of it right now. I’m not arguing in favor of Trump or in favor of the Democrats, but what is happening right now is that you see that the standards that are being applied to Trump are such that if they were applied to an investigation of Hillary, the Democrats would be screaming how unfair this would be. It’s a double standard. Why? Because when you lose your anchor in a system of absolutes and righteousness, then the law doesn’t apply equally to everybody, and it’s all about who has the power. That’s what’s happening here.
In the ancient world they had a priest-based power. The priests who ran the Northern Kingdom are being fed at the table of Jezebel; it’s a state religion. That’s a state base. But today we have a politics base. In the early 20th century you had the rise of these horrible 20th-century totalitarian governments: the communists under Lenin and Stalin, Nazis-Hitler, Mao, others, Cambodia, all kinds of horrible dictators who were violent, destructive, dehumanizing.
In the ancient world they had human sacrifice and temple prostitution. You know the Nazis had a human sacrifice—it’s the Holocaust. These kinds of things flowed out of their view of God. If you don’t have the God of biblical Christianity—not just any god, but if you don’t have the God of the Bible—then that’s where it goes. See, the difference … If you’re thinking about a classical or evidentialist apologetics, they get you to a god—there must be a God, not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Who is a holy, righteous God. Okay? That’s the distinction.
The God that we believe in as Christians is a specific God Who has a specific essence. If you don’t have that God … If you have Allah, who justifies jihad and all kinds of homicide bombers and everything else … If you don’t have the kind of God that you have in the Bible, then you are going to end up over here [points to left side of chart] one way or the other, because that’s where your assumptions eventually lead you.
On this next chart, where do you get your values? If you’re operating on the Bible, you get them from the Word of God. God reveals truth. That’s what He was doing with Adam and Eve in the Garden—He’s revealing truth to them. It’s absolute knowledge. It’s not based on trial and error of empiricism and its derivative. What do I mean by “derivative?” It is derived, ultimately, from God. Because there is not one thing you, or I, or Einstein, or da Vinci, or Stephen Hawking can discover in this world that God didn’t know about fully and thoroughly billions and billions and billions of years ago in eternity past. Everything we discover about God’s creation, God already knew about and never learned. He never learned it! He has always known it. His knowledge never increases or decreases. There’s nothing in which He grows in knowledge.
Everything that we learn ultimately was in the mind of God before anybody came along and before anybody discovered it. We are just rediscovering what God has already known.
We look at knowledge differently—or we should—than the way anybody else looks at knowledge. In human viewpoint, all knowledge is just what you derive through observation, but in empirical observation there’s always something you can discover next year that invalidates everything you thought you knew today. So it’s inductive; it’s relative; there’s no absolutes. That’s why the postmodern is absolutely correct, based on his assumptions. I think it was Dostoevsky who said, “If there is no God, everything is permissible.” Think about that: “If there is no God, everything is permissible.” You don’t have any values. So all knowledge is relative; you can’t know anything with certainty.
Then, God at the top [of the slide]. The challenge is YHWH vs. Ba’al. The issue is: Is God the Creator God of the universe, or is He part of the universe, which is how every pagan system had it.
As we look at the challenge, this just gives you the background. What are the mental dynamics that are going on here in this confrontation between Elijah who wants them to change. He’s not saying, “I’ve got a better idea. My God is better than your god. My religion is better than your god.” No, he’s arguing, “My God is the only God, and your god doesn’t exist. Your whole life is built on something that is fabricated, and it won’t hold you up.” The only way you’re going to be held up and secure in life and have real prosperity is if you align yourself to the God Who created everything and walk ethically, morally, spiritually, according to what He has said. Because if you don’t, then you are setting yourself against reality, and your life will fall apart.
So Elijah challenges them. He says, “I alone am left a prophet of the Lord; but Ba’al’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men.” That’s in 1 Kings 18:22. There are 450 prophets of Ba’al and 400 prophets of the Asherah. And he challenges them.
He goes on. Verse 23, “Therefore let them give us two bulls.” “We’re going to put this to a test.” Now this is something that is typical in a number of different presentations of—we will call it—apologetics, but confrontations with human viewpoint. Without compromising his view of God, or revelation, what Elijah is doing is saying, “Okay, let’s see if you can live consistently with what you believe.”
There are two aspects to giving an answer for the faith. One aspect is the positive, where you are saying what we believe, but somebody may say, “Well, I just don’t believe that’s true.” “Really? Well, what do you believe is true?” And then begin to talk about their answers and being able to expose that they can’t live consistently with their answers. Ghat involves some thinking on our part and a lot of prayer.
This is what Elijah is doing. He is saying, “You believe your view, so let’s test it.” “Therefore let them give us two bulls; and let them choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire under it; and I will prepare the other bull, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire under it.” So they’ve got two altars. They built these; they are quite large.
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This [photo] is a drought time, so the Kishon River is down here. Now it is just a stream, because so much gets bled off into irrigation in the Esdraelon Valley. That’s a pretty good hike. You’re looking downhill; it’s probably about 700 or 800 feet above the ground. So they’ve got to go down and haul these containers of water up to the top.
Here’s another view, looking down to the Kishon River. Back in those days there was a lot more water there. Even in a drought it would probably get to where it is today, but they had a lot more water. Judges 6 talks about how this hit a flood stage and God brought a flood that helped destroy the Canaanites under Deborah and Barak in their battle with Sisera.
So he confronts, challenges, their human viewpoint assumptions. He says, “Then you call on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord.” In other words, “You see if you can consistently live on the basis of your atheistic presuppositions.” I often tell this joke, that this is like the evolutionist in the lab who can finally create life. He says, “We don’t need God anymore. I’m going to challenge God. Tell Him we don’t need Him anymore. We can create life—He can go away.”
So he goes and challenges God. “We don’t need you anymore. We can create life on our own. We don’t need You anymore.” God says, “Okay. Well, you’ve challenged Me, so you start first and show me what you can do in creating life.” So the scientist bends down and he picks up some dirt and God says, “No, no, no, no. You’ve got to make your own dirt.”
Their starting point doesn’t work. They don’t have any dirt. They’re just trying to create life, and they are using God’s dirt. So what Elijah is basically showing here is that they don’t have the foundation; they’ve just created a god, a religious system, but there’s no foundation in reality. So he is going to show that their system just won’t work.
They go through all these gyrations; they dance around; they cut themselves. Elijah taunts them and says, “Well maybe your God’s taking a break.” Verse 27. “And so it was, at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, ‘Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is meditating, or he is busy, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened.’ ” Is it godly to mock the unbeliever? “Ohhh … that’s wrong!” What are you going to do with that statement?
You’re talking to some snowflake millennial. “That’s wrong. Elijah is so mean. We couldn’t worship a God like that.” “Really? Where did you get the idea that that’s wrong?” What if somebody’s eternal destiny in the Lake of Fire is at stake? Are you going to rescue them from that? Or because it might hurt their feelings that they believe the wrong thing, are you going to let them spend eternity in the Lake of Fire? Because, you see, what you’ve done is shift and you are taking the context and putting it into a biblical context. We’re not arguing probabilities; we’re showing the contrast in the belief system.
So they go through all of this. Then after midday they go through it in the afternoon to the evening sacrifice, and nothing happens. I mean, they’re just getting upset! They’re dancing, they’re worn out, nothing has happened.
We get down to verse 36. “At the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice [around 6 o’clock in the evening], that Elijah the prophet came near and said, ‘Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your word.’ ”
Starting in the verse prior to this, what he’s done is he’s built the altar. He’s built a trench around the altar large enough to hold two seahs of seed—that’s a couple of pecks of seed. He’s going to go down, get enough water to soak his wood, and enough is going to run off into this trench to where he has about two barrels or so of water left over, and then he calls on the name of the Lord to bring down fire from heaven.
In verse 37, in a simple prayer—no gyrations—he doesn’t have to jump a pew, he doesn’t have to wave his arms, he is just going to simply pray to God. “Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that You are the Lord God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again.” The point of this conversation and the challenge when you’re defending the faith is to bring people to an understanding of the truth to turn to God.
Then we have it. “Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood and the stones and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench.” Everything! It is just immediately vaporized. What a contrast! Now the legend in Israel is that this bolt of lightning—the thunderclap must’ve been incredible—could be seen from all over Israel, that this wasn’t something that was done in secret. Everything is just vaporized.
I had a couple of pictures taken at that time just so we would have them in Bible class.
What this shows is that the God of Scripture, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is not just any god. See, he’s not arguing for the existence of this God. He’s assuming the existence of God. He is not arguing for it. He is not trying to prove it through the argument of cause to effect, the cosmological argument, the anthropological or moral argument, or ontological argument, or any of those other things.
He just sets up this scenario where the people must confront their beliefs and consistently with them, and he shows that they can’t. That is one aspect of apologetics. He does this with humility and fear. Now that’s interesting. This is humble. But remember, this is the same word group that is used to describe Moses as the most meek man in the Old Testament, and it shows authority orientation. That’s what humility is, as I’ve taught you many times.
So that authority orientation. What’s the authority? It’s the Word of God. He’s not saying, “Okay. We have some neutral area we’re going to appeal to in terms of human reason or culture or something else. He takes a stand on the Word of God. That doesn’t mean that he’s spouting Scripture all the time.
There are eight things that we learn from this.
1. All people have a religious system which demonstrates the truth of Romans 1:18–23.
That person we’re talking to, no matter how much of an atheist they are, they are religious. Whether they like you are not ... See, theism is a religion. If theism is a religion, then the opposite of theism must also be a religion. The belief that there is no God must be a religion if the belief that there is a God is a religion. That’s just logic.
2. Because we understand total depravity, we know that people are not spiritually neutral.
That’s why it’s a bit of a confrontation. We know that the person is trying to suppress the truth. They don’t want to face up to something like divine judgment; that is not part of their game plan.
3. Third, we’ve seen that the purpose of the confrontation is to change their mind about God.
It is not to prove that Elijah’s right and they’re wrong. This isn’t about intellectual ability or debater’s technique.
Like we’ve seen previously with Job, with God in the Garden, and also with Moses going to Pharaoh, it begins with a question—probing. What do they believe? What are they going to do?
4. He’s asking that question to expose the real issue and to challenge them to obey.
5. There’s evidence presented here. They were able to evaluate the evidence despite a prior commitment to suppress truth.
That means that they are not completely blinded in the sense that God has to regenerate them before they can believe—that’s a problem with hyper-Calvinists. They have enough intellectual ability to be able to understand what’s going on even though they are committed to suppressing truth.
6. The evidence is not treated as neutral.
That’s important. He’s not saying, “History is neutral. You and I can both look at history the same way.” He’s not doing that. This is God. This is what God does. God is the God of lightning, He’s the God of thunder, He’s the God of prosperity, He’s the God of life, not Ba’al.
7. We see that God uses historic facts and evidence to expose their sin and rebellion.
We can do the same thing. That’s why, in the coming weeks, I’m going to talk about evidences. There are all kinds of evidences. There’s so much that’s coming out—so much we can read, but I want to try to boil things down to a really simple thing that I can say, “Okay. Give me five basic reasons why I can trust the Bible. Give me five basic reasons why I can believe Jesus is God. Give me five basic reasons why I can believe in the resurrection.” Just something really simple like that that we can use, get into our heads, and will come to our minds when we are witnessing to somebody—if we need that. We don’t always need that.
8. Then we have to recognize that the reaction may be quite hostile.
We can put it on the line, but it may cost us something. This kid in the film—it may cost him his academic career. It cost him his girlfriend. It could have cost him more than that, but we have to be willing to do what we’re supposed to do as believers. Are we willing to obey, no matter what the cost?
Elijah obeys, and after he has a little running contest with Ahab, Ahab beats him and gets back to Jezebel and informs Jezebel about everything Elijah has done and that he had executed all of her favorite little prophets with the sword. He’s up there. He’s massacred all 950 of those false prophets and taken them out.
Now what is she going to be? Is she going to be pleased? “Well, I’m glad we finally understood the truth. I’m glad that we have seen the light and that Yahweh is the God we should worship,” because she is committed to ultimately finding the truth. No! She is not spiritually neutral. She’s a truth suppressor. And she’s going to react in anger.
Then we see something interesting. Notice the inconsistency here. “Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, ‘So let the gods do to me …’ ”
Wait a minute … do you get the inconsistency there? “Let the gods do to me.” What did Elijah just demonstrate? There are no gods! Not only are there no gods, but I’ve killed a lot of his prophets. There’s nobody that’s going to help you talk to Ba’al anymore. So this is the irrationality of unbelief.
“… Let the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.” Then Elijah does what a lot of us do when we have witnessed to somebody and they didn’t immediately trust Christ. He goes on a pity party, and he runs away to the Sinai to hide from Jezebel. After God has provided for him so much by the Brook Cherith, and then when he went to the widow of Zarephath, and God just demonstrates His power, and what does he do? Just like the rest of us. That’s why James says, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours.” Because we can fall into that same trap. All of a sudden, one minute we’re believing God, and the next minute we’re living as if God doesn’t exist. This is our evidence of what we learn about the confrontation.
Now I want to bring up a couple of points, before we leave, about this film [God’s Not Dead]. I’d like for you to watch it. If you can, rent it. I’ve got it tubed up on my computer and I was going to show it, but I thought, “You know, we’re probably going to run into some copyright issues, even though I’m just showing clips at places.” It would be okay if it was just us, but live streaming and putting all these clips up on the website would probably get us in trouble. So I’m just going to have to talk my way through it.
The situation, as I said at the beginning, is that this college kid is in a classroom where the professor is demanding that everybody write, “God is dead” on a piece of paper. “And then we can go on and we can all have a happy semester, because we don’t have to worry about God rearing His head in our classroom and waste our time talking about this myth.” The professor’s using a combination of peer pressure and ridicule to intimidate the students to do what he says to do. Everybody does it except for this one young man. As a result of his unwillingness to do it, he gets even more threats from the professor who threatens to destroy his academic career; he will fail him in this class, and that will make sure he can’t succeed in his desire to go on to law school and everything else. He’s got a girlfriend he’s dated for six years, and she’s telling him, “Just get the grade and move on! Don’t make an issue out of this!” He says, “But I can’t sign the paper.”
The question for many of us is, “What would we do in that kind of a situation?” Because as Jesus points out to His disciples when He is giving them their commission to go to the House of Israel and the House of Judah in Matthew 10, He told them, “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. 33 But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.” That’s not talking about salvation; that’s talking about rewards there. There are other places where that language is used, but the whole issue here is on being a faithful disciple.
Jesus goes on to say, “He who loves father or mother more than Me [or his girlfriend more than Me] is not worthy of Me.” That was of textual emendation there about the girlfriend—it’s in some rare manuscripts.
“And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” “I don’t want to rock the boat. I don’t want to cause a problem by bringing up my Christianity.” Well, you may do it in a wrong way, and that’s wrong. But you’ve got to think about doing it in the right way.
Jesus then said, “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me [that is, who isn’t willing to submit to the Father in all things].” “Taking up your cross” was an idiom in the Roman Empire for submitting to the authority of Rome. Then he goes on to say, in verse 41, “He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward.”
In other words, He starts talking about a reward. There is an award if you stand in the gap and you don’t deny Him. Well, this young man is put in that situation. Everybody seems to desert him, but as he talks to his pastor he realizes that he’s in a position where he can provide a solid witness for the Lord in that classroom. So he starts doing his homework.
What would you do if you were placed in a position where to survive at all you need to defend your position that God is not dead? What are you going to do? How are you going to do it? Well, you can look at his approach. The first thing he does is come out and give a lecture. He says, “We are going to put God on trial.” He can do this a right way or a wrong way.
I think he does it a right way, gives us a good example. He sets up a contrast between the biblical view of origins and the evolutionary view of origins. He doesn’t look for some area of neutrality. What he’s doing is showing that ultimately the evidence shows that the evolutionary theory of origins doesn’t work. He has some good quotes. As he does this, he shows various inconsistencies in the Big Bang Theory, which is a relatively new theory contrasted with the Steady State Theory, which is a long-held pagan view. But he contrasts that and shows that modern science really can’t be consistent with what they hold in terms of the Big Bang Theory. He read a quote from a well-known scientist who is stating what a Big Bang would look like, and then he said, “Let’s look at Genesis 1. God spoke and it came into existence. How does that differ?”
See, he hasn’t gone to a neutral. He is saying, “Biblical Christianity presents our God this way: He spoke, and it instantly came into existence. How does that differ?” The difference is there’s an Intelligent Being—there is God—Who is doing that.” So he answers that. The professor challenges him with a question with a quote from Dawkins. He says, “Okay. You say that there is a God. Well, who created God?” And he turned it back on Dawkins. He said, “Well, Dawkins has to answer the same question, which is, ultimately, “Who created the matter that was there to explode at the beginning of the Big Bang?” See, he cannot answer that question. He’s not getting trapped into looking for an area of neutrality.
He’s challenged by the professor with a quote from Stephen Hawking. He came back the next day with not only a statement from an atheist philosopher who said that, basically, Hawking commits three logical fallacies in his statement that the universe could create itself because it thought it needed to come into existence. By giving this quote from an atheist, he is showing the fallacy that is there in their argument. Also, he then quoted a statement from Hawking in the same book. Remember, this a philosophy professor. Hawking, later in the book, said, “Philosophy is dead.” So what he’s doing is showing the inability of the Ba’al worshipers to live consistently with their presuppositions. It’s very, very well done in that respect. He does that a few other times. And what he does is he will contrast to what the Bible says.
The one weakness I saw in it was that at one point, as he is talking about the existence of God and the arguments for the existence of God, he says, “The most probable answer is that God exists.” That’s where he sort of steps out of a more consistent presuppositional approach.
He addresses the problem of evil and some other things. At the end he says to the professor, “Why do you hate God? Why are you so angry with God? Why do you hate God?” The professor is just so angry, “Because God doesn’t help people!” The kid just looks at him and goes, “How can you hate somebody so much who doesn’t exist?” What he’s doing is pointing out the inconsistencies.
That’s the two sides of the coin that I’m talking about. Part of apologetics is being able to help people understand the flaws in their own rationale, and the other is showing how the Bible is internally consistent, and we can trust the God of the Bible. It’s interesting.
One factoid that I got out of it that I didn’t know was that 70% of self-admitted atheists in this country were once Christians. Of that 70%, 34% of the total number were formerly Roman Catholic, 36.5% or something like that, were Protestants. So what you see is a lot of Christians get angry with God over something personal. That’s what was exhibited in this film. His mother died when he was 11 or 12 years old. God didn’t answer his prayers to keep her alive, so he was mad at God.
That kind of thing can come out when you’re talking to people. “Why don’t you believe in God? Why are you so upset? Why are you so angry?” You are getting down to those issues that have been used; you’re getting past the suppression mechanisms to get to the real issues. That’s the whole point in apologetics: learning how to talk to people, present the gospel, and show that biblical truth is the only truth.
We will come back and look at Paul next time in Lystra and also in Acts 17 on Areopagus, Mars Hill.
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to look at these things tonight, again helping us think through how to think and how to think under pressure when we are talking to somebody in a dialogue. A lot of times—we’ve all experienced it—we just don’t think of things we should have said, would have said, or could have said, because we just get too emotionally involved, and we don’t think of it till the next day or the next week.
Help us to talk to people about the gospel and what to believe and to be able to present the gospel, just as if we were a missionary in some foreign pagan society in a way that focuses on the truth of Your existence and the truth of redemption and understanding the need for redemption. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”