Part 4 of Dr. Bahnsen’s video lecture series (“Defending the Faith”) is called “Defending the Christian Faith.” In this lecture Dr. Bahnsen describes the Bible’s specified method of apologetics.
As Dr. Bahnsen says, the unbeliever will not acknowledge the antithesis between worldviews, because, by doing so, they would be admitting that they are guilty before God. So, instead, they will appeal to the myth of neutrality. They profess their neutrality to proclaim their innocence before God.
Therefore, the unbeliever wants to claim that believing in God requires a leap of faith that tosses out reason. But this is simply not true. The Scriptures tell us that all unbelievers know God (Romans 1), and we are told to tear down the strongholds that the unbelievers erect in their vain attempts at effrontery towards God.
BIAS AGAINST METAPHYSICS – INTELLECTUAL LAZINESS
Dr. Bahnsen discusses the modern (Western) world’s bias against metaphysics. As discussed in previous lessons, metaphysics is the study of the nature of reality. Worldviews are made up of interlocking theories of:
1. Reality (metaphysics) – what is the world made of, why is it here
2. Knowledge (epistemology) – how do we learn things, limits to knowledge
3. Ethics – how you go through life and what attitude you should have
The modern world, so heavily influenced by the Enlightenment and enamored by modern empirical science, tend to adopt a two-step process for determining anything:
1) Establish a theory of knowledge. Apply this method of knowing to
2) Reality, then draw metaphysical conclusions.
It has become ingrained in our culture to decide how we know what we know, then apply that method to our environment around us to determine what we know. We are to rely on our senses. Ideally, we should all come together to decide what our method of knowing will be, then we apply that critically and neutrally to determine what we can learn about reality.
In other words, we minimize the importance of the nature of reality and try to reduce it to a purely material existence. We subordinate our theories of reality to our epistemology.
This procedure is incorrect because it is impossible. One cannot choose a theory of knowledge without first making some basic assumptions about the nature of reality. Contrary to what he says, the unbeliever first chooses a worldview and then constructs his theory of knowledge, and therefore there is no neutrality in his reasoning process.
Dr. Bahnsen gives a “hokey” example of this through a story of building an apple-sorting machine that sorts good apples from bad apples. A farmer could build a machine to sort good apples from bad: you pour in a bucket of apples at one end, and at the other side good apples are separated into one bin and bad apples are separated into another.
But then he asks this question: If you had no prior knowledge of the nature of apples and what distinguishes good apples from bad, could you build a machine that would successfully sort them? No way! Is there a weight difference between good apples and bad ones? Is there a color difference? Is there a texture difference? Is there a difference in hardness or softness?
Even if you measured these things beforehand, you’d still have to know which of those qualities were for good apples and which for bad ones. So your chances of success for building a machine that sorts good apples from bad apples — when you know nothing about what distinguishes a good apple from a bad one — are zero.
In the same way, our epistemology, or “method of knowing,” is the apple-sorting machine, and the nature of reality is the apple. We can only devise a theory of knowledge if we have some prior understanding of the nature of reality. The modern world builds a theory of knowledge (typically the scientific method) upon metaphysical presuppositions and then lies about having those presuppositions.
As Paul said, they’re suppressing the truth of God in their unrighteousness.
SELF-ATTESTING STARTING POINTS
Every system of thought has a starting point which verifies itself. This is an inescapable reality, and people will be reluctant to admit this. There is ultimately an ultimate, most basic standard of knowing that any system of thought appeals to. As Christians, we boldly proclaim the Bible as our ultimate, self-authorizing standard.
When pressed, if the unbeliever’s standard is determined to not be self-verifying, and another standard is pointed to instead, then that original standard wasn’t the ultimate standard after all. An ultimate standard must authorize itself, and we are to press the unbeliever’s worldview and system of thought to make them admit what their ultimate authority is.
This brings us to an important point: worldviews are self-attesting. Our task is to ask the unbeliever “Which worldview makes human experience intelligible?” What network of presuppositions (philosophy) about reality, knowledge, and ethics makes human experience (anything) make sense, or sees them as meaningful?
Though there’s an antithesis in principle, the unbeliever cannot operate in God’s world and maintain consistency by living entirely within their worldview without living on the borrowed capital of the Christian worldview.
THE BIBLICAL METHOD OF APOLOGETICS
The correct apologetic procedure is presented in the Bible in Proverbs 26:4-5:
Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes. (Proverbs 26:4-5 ESV)
The Bible has a very specific definition of a person whom the Bible calls a “fool”:
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psalm 53:1)
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7)
Thus, the Bible gives us a two-step process which, while seemingly contradictory at first, allows us to challenge any unbeliever in anything you or they want to talk about.
1. The “fool” has a worldview that is full of internal inconsistencies and other problems that cannot make sense out of reality. (“his folly”)
2. Therefore, if you adapt his worldview — surrender to his plea that you adopt the myth of neutrality in your “reasoning” — then you’ll end up at the same place he does. (“Lest you be like him yourself.”) In other words, he’ll use his apple-sorting machine to come to conclusions about apples that he started out with…and he’ll be forcing you to use his machine, too.
3. You have to give a Bible-based answer that lets the unbeliever know that you won’t be sucked into his worldview. (“Answer not a fool according to his folly”)
4. However, you should agree to adopt his worldview temporarily to show him exactly where his reasoning will lead to if followed to its logical, consistent end. (“Lest he be wise in his own eyes.”) By doing so you reduce his position to an absurdity.
The point, then, is that we want to show the unbeliever that our worldview makes sense out of reality, but theirs does not. In that way we can point out to them how they are living inconsistently within their worldview and expose its fraudulence.
WHERE IS THE DEBATER OF THIS AGE?
Which worldview makes sense out of morality, human dignity, rationality, self-awareness, or science? Paul asks this very question:
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? (1 Corinthians 1:20)
The answer is: there isn’t one. It doesn’t exist. Only the Christian worldview can make sense out of reality. The proof of the Christian worldview is that, without it, you couldn’t prove anything.
He gives an example of a practical situation in which you strike up a conversation with a stranger and find out while talking to them that they think religion is nonsense, but at some point they express disgust about child abuse. You can tell them “You know, I agree with you about that. I think child abuse is wrong, too. As a Christian that makes sense to me. But with your worldview, I don’t see how that makes sense to you.”
You do not have to be an expert in the unbeliever’s worldview or magnificently studied in philosophy. You can challenge the unbeliever to make sense of his worldview by simply challenging their presuppositions and pointing out the internal inconsistencies within them.
HOW DO WE MEASURE OUR SUCCESS?
Dr. Bahnsen makes an important point: our success does not depend on the unbeliever throwing in the towel and admitting that we are right and he is wrong. That’s because God does not call us to change hearts because we cannot. Only the Holy Spirit can change hearts.
That being said, the Holy Spirit empowers our witness, not our silence. By taking all thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ and doing good works and responding to the unbeliever faithfully and consistently, we provide the means by which the power of the Holy Spirit works on the unbeliever. As Paul wrote:
I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. (1 Corinthians 3:6-7 ESV)
We have to point out the unbeliever’s self-deception about the truth. They may argue that they are good people, and that they know right from wrong and how to get along within society, and that is true because they are made in God’s image and know this in their heart of hearts.
But they can’t know these things legitimately within their worldview. By contrasting the Christian worldview’s coherence with the internal inconsistencies of theirs, we bring them face to face with their own self-deception.
This should make us more diligent in our prayer for them, because, as Dr. Bahnsen says, if the Holy Spirit does not bless our message to them and take their rebellion away, then the unbeliever will harden their heart all the more.
It is not our job as Christians to determine the spiritual outcome of our witness, but to be faithful to God in what we say. Our job is to shut their mouths, even though they may go on babbling about afterwards. We are to bear witness, and God will determine how he works in the unbeliever’s life. Our job is simply to deliver the message, a message which has one of two outcomes:
To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things? (2 Corinthians 2:16)
We don’t know how God will use our witness in the unbeliever’s life, but it may very well be that he chooses to harden the unbeliever all the more so that they become even more consistent in their unbelief and worldview and, consequently, more ineffectual in society. On the other hand, we may be playing a role in their spiritual growth.
Dr. Bahnsen taught in this lecture that we are to apply the Bible’s prescribed procedure of apologetics when so witnessing to the unbeliever. This procedure is revealed in Proverbs 26:4-5.
We are to reason from within the Christian worldview and not give in to the lure of reasoning “neutrally.” By doing so, we let the unbeliever know that we are resting on the Word of God as our source of unyielding truth. However, we are to then, for the sake of argument, adopt the unbeliever’s worldview and demonstrate where their vain reasoning ultimately leads them.
Lessons 7 and 8 of the accompanying series study guide that go along with this lecture can be found by clicking here. They are in PDF format for easy reading.
For Part 5, titled “Problems for Unbelieving Worldviews,” click here. It is the final lecture in the series. It will address specific problems that the unbelieving worldview cannot account for.