In any discussion with an atheist, there will come a challenge to the believer to present “proof” for the existence of the ontological Trinity, the God of Scripture. Having already rejected revelation’s record that the universe itself is evidence for the biblical God, they confine themselves to “scientific proof”, the idea that the only valid proofs are those that come via the senses — empiricism.
The key issue between atheist and theist is the nature of evidence and the use of logic. Included in such a discussion has to be the subject of “fallacy.” What is a “fallacy”? The key in any discussion, then, is to get to the question of “proof”. This is how one discussion transpired, after the question was asked by the atheist to provide a proposition and its evidence. For him, there was no such thing as an absolute truth.
THEIST: There is absolute truth. Proof? This statement cannot be denied without accepting the proposition itself.
ATHEIST: Then give the proposition, then the proof. This is your word game, play it well!
T: I just gave the proposition and I gave the proof.
A: You failed to give the proof. Do not lie.
T: No, I gave the proof. You seem incapable of understanding the nature of proof.
A: I told you I needed proof beyond a reasonable doubt. I have a reasonable doubt that absolute truth exists, and therefore saying that I have to accept absolute truth to disprove absolute truth is circular reasoning. You have failed so far!
Revolutions have occurred throughout history, yet one event continues to have repercussions around the world over two centuries later. Why?
The French revolution is an event which contrasts starkly with another revolution which occurred at the same time across the Atlantic. In almost every respect the revolutions were dissimilar. While one bathed itself in blood shed and the desire to build the New Society, the other was noted for its restraint and at tempts to conserve the Old Order. The French Revolution attempted to make everything new by abandoning Christian civilization, while the American War of Independence succeeded in resisting efforts to violate the principles which the French were keen to overturn. According to German political writer Friedrich Gentz, “The American revolution was from beginning to end, on the part of the Americans, merely a defensive revolution; the French was from beginning to end, in the highest sense of the word, an offensive revolution.
Many books have been written about both revolutions. One of the most perceptive analyses of the French revolution appeared in 1847 by Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer (1801-1876). Van Prinsterer, converted to evangelical Christianity through the ministry of J.H. Merle d’Aubigne, was secretary to the King of the Netherlands, became a member of the Dutch Parliament, and took a decided stand against the theological liberalism which was appearing in the Netherlands and elsewhere. He was instrumental in building the Anti-revolutionary political party which reached its pinnacle in 1900 with the election of Abraham Kuyper as Prime Minister. To be a Christian in the Netherlands in the nineteenth century meant to be socially and politically involved; one did not stand on the side lines of history as too many Christians are doing two centuries later.
Some people use the word ‘god’ like the universal term ‘cat.’ But the God of biblical theism does not fit into that description.
When you talk to people about God—the God of biblical theism, that is—at some point it becomes necessary to avoid confusion about what you mean. There are so many misconceptions about God that it is necessary to identify what you mean by the word ‘God’. And if you are not careful, your ‘God’ might be no more than a logical ‘crutch’ to get around answering some basic questions. The word ‘God’ can become a limiting concept, a ‘God’ of the gaps. When you can’t supply any other answer, then you grab the idea of ‘God’ as a solution to whatever intellectual impasse you’re in at the time. This is, by the way, one of the accusations that atheists will bring up time and time again in your Street-Preaching career. Better have an answer for it.
In a Facebook encounter with an atheist, a Christian attempted to explain that everything presupposed God. Now he has been in classes where presuppositional apologetics have been taught, but either the class was inadequate or he was sleeping through the lectures. The atheist, an intelligent and articulate mocker of God and biblical belief, gave him the usual response that an atheist would give a believer who raises “there must be a First Cause and it is God” defense of Christianity.
Thus, the key is not the word “God” but the word “Person,” and the Unmoved Mover of biblical theism is not an “It” at all, but a real and genuine uncreated, infinite, Personal God.
An unbelieving Greek, Aristotle, lived many years before the Messiah and he was one sharp thinker. In attempting to explain how things came into existence, he rationalized that since everything has motion brought about by something else, there must be a point in the chain of motion that was not moved by something else. This, he said, was the beginning of everything, the Unmoved Mover. The only trouble with Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover is that the mover was an ‘It,” a ‘thing.’ Thus Aristotle’s “Unmoved Mover” is not a conscious mover, a decision-making mover, at all, just a ‘thing,’ a concept he used to get himself out of the difficulty of an infinite regress. You know, this moved that which moved that … and so forth ad infinutum. When you say, ‘that’s enough’, wherever you stopped is the first mover. Hardly a satisfactory way to present the case for the God of biblical theism.
What is the Mark of Hell?
And so, step by step, men are dragged to the abyss. Reason, granted supremacy, must be obeyed. Many, however, shrink from being consistent at any price. They waver. Halfway down the slope they would quit. Their inconsequence becomes noticeable. “Inconsistency is ever the companion of error, because man never weans himself from all truths at once and because the truths that he retains, incompatible with the error, force him in the end to contradict himself. . . . One escapes the atheism to which the system leads only by multiplying contradictions.” But such arbitrary recalcitrance cannot withstand the dictates of logic for very long.
The error [of Unbelief] is appealing not just because of its deceptive appearance, which it owes to the elements of truth it arrogates to its own use: it captivates especially because once its principle is granted, every step in its further development has the virtue of relative truth. Thus what many will shun, others will carry forward as a compelling consequence. Where most will shuffle along reluctantly, others will drive ahead. The ones who are utterly convinced, supported as they are by relative truth, will falter at nothing.
Here lies the secret of the error’s triumphant power. Where all questions are decided by opinion, by intellectual comprehension, all opinions are equal; and whoever can complement the corruption of the human heart with cogent reasoning and strict logic will therefore carry the day. How can any truth remain unassailed? Does not the highest truth, which is from God, remain fixed forever as the foundation of all truths religious and moral? Deny the foundation: the series of errors flowing from that one error will assume the appearance of truth, while every truth will seem falsehood, misunderstanding, prejudice, superstition.
Twice each year, as a child living on orchards, we had fruit picking season. Oranges towards the end of winter, and grapes at the end of summer, southern hemisphere time. So I never experienced a genuine white Christmas until I relocated to the heartland of the USA, the mid-west.
Picking fruit, especially the grapes, was an art. These grapes were for eating, so they should be picked carefully so as not to bruise or damage. The bad ones were removed, and the good fruit gently packed in a box where it was sealed and made ready to go to the big city.
Sometimes it was necessary to throw a whole bunch out. Once you get one rotten grape it spreads and contaminates the remainder. And you had to be very careful that a bad grape did not get packed, because it could very easily spread its rottenness through every bunch in the packing box.
Now many preachers, and street-preachers are just one section of a much larger group, approach their preaching like we used to approach fruit picking. They not only present the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection, but they also remind people of their sins. When I was a child, the list was usually confined to the seventh commandment (adultery), dancing and alcohol. Preachers may add more to this list, lying, stealing, violating the Sabbath.
But there is a big difference between picking grapes and trying to cut out the bad ones on one hand, and selecting a list of sins and then trying to excise them out of the way on the other. Here’s why.
There were two writers who directed my sanity when I was in my early 20’s. One was Malcolm Muggeridge, the other, C.S. Lewis with his Screwtape Letters.
Later my reading broadened, but it took Richard Baxter to bring sanity back time and time again, in his book The Reformed Pastor. He made comments such as this:
They will give you leave to preach against their sins, and to talk as much as you will for godliness in the pulpit, if you will but let them alone afterwards, and be friendly and merry with them when you have done, and talk as they do, and live as they live, and be indifferent with them in your conversation.”
This perplexing question is answered in a book by former Michigan Congressman, Mark Siljander. It’s an interesting proposition.
I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Siljander in 1991, when he attempted a new run at Congress from the state of Virginia. He was not successful. But he has been successful in the diplomatic front in some interesting ways.
Now, in a book entitled A Deadly Misunderstanding: A Congressman’s Quest to Bridge the Muslim-Christian Divide, Siljander tells us of his own theological journey. He started with the idea that Islam was the antithesis to Christianity, but has ended with the idea that the Muslim’s Allah is the same as the Christian’s Jehovah, and it is merely that our understanding of God is different, but we’re all referring to the same Person.
What a night! From 9:00 pm until midnight, a handful of Christians in the Queen Street Mall presenting the great truths of Christianity.
And there to meet with them, week after week, a group of “friends” from the opposite side of the theistic fence who have come to heckle and question and throw curve balls at the speaker. I say friends, because before the preaching again, those on both sides are shaking hands, greeting one another, a friendly “hello” before the battle begins.
And what a superb job the preacher does on this occasion. He challenges them with the Scriptures, and they respond, “it’s not true.” One was heard to say, “Well, if you believe the Bible why don’t you obey all its commands.” Ouch! Still another, “I can’t believe in a God who punishes people.”
The young preacher, knowing his presuppositional apologetics, replied along the lines, that you too have a god. “You just substitute the God of Scripture with some other god, yourself.” Which, of course is true, but once he said it, I knew he had a problem to overcome. And unfortunately he did not overcome it by the end of the night.
Meanwhile, Joel, my friend who invited me to the event, and I began a personal discussion with one of the antagonists. Eventually I had the chance to ask a question, “What are the preconditions necessary for rationalism and logic? Or, if we put that another way, what are the necessary preconditions in order to make a universal truth statement?”
Now I had to explain what a universal truth statement was, but eventually he got the idea. It’s an absolute truth, one that is true now and for all time, past and present — and future.
Well, he said, you need people to talk, and have the ability to communicate. I agreed. But eventually we got to the key issue. It is this: A universal truth statement requires certainty, absolute certainty. It cannot be a hypothesis. It cannot be a guess. It cannot be a ‘in my considered opinion.’ To be absolute it needs to be . . . well, absolute.
So I convince this young guy, about 30, a couple of kids, some kind of medical “scientist,” somewhat well-educated, to agree with me that a universal statement requires absolute certainty, and that means it requires all knowledge, omniscience. He’s sharp.
“Well, since no one knows everything, we cannot make universal truth statements.”
There was a short pause . . . “That was a universal truth statement, wasn’t it!”
In any presentation of the Gospel to the unbeliever, there is a need to create opportunities to dialogue in some form. Two questions arise, however. What is the best way to do this? What is the message you wish to proclaim?
In the 1990’s I was conducting evangelism training workshops for a particular Christian organization. The training program began with an overview of the “gap” that existed between the believer and the unbeliever, and from there moved on to train and encourage people to give their testimony. This was described as a “non threatening” method of interaction with unbelievers. I gave up on this program after a short period because it troubled me. And the reason it troubled me was highlighted in a recent conversation with a preacher who is very good at conversation with people.
Preachers and those who reach out to the unbelievers should stop offering fire insurance and instead offer the assurance of fire unless there is repentance.
Now this preacher, I am sure, has not figured out what he is really saying as he conducts a conversation that early on presents to the unbeliever the question, “Do you have assurance?”
He does it this way, then waits for the response, “Assurance in what?”
“Assurance that when you die you’ll go to heaven.”
“Oh no, I don’t have assurance for that.”
“Then why don’t we meet some time and I’ll explain why I have assurance and how you can have it.”
Now I have reconstructed the conversation for didactic purposes. If we analyze the conversation and ask this question, “What was the pastor offering this unbeliever?” the answer is rather obvious: “Fire insurance.”
Now I’m not against fire insurance of any kind. But, when the Gospel is presented in this fashion it can very easily lead to a “fire insurance” commitment from the unbeliever.
“There is no choice about obedience.”
We are confronted now with a combination of ideas that end up with a contradictory state of things. On the one hand, however it came into being, the corporate society called the “state” is here, all men are part of some state, and none can live without it. Therefore, there is no choice about subordination and obedience to the will of the state (or the majority). On the other hand, this general or majority will can be determined only by the universal exercise of suffrage. The state was created by individual adherence; therefore its ultimate sovereign authority is the collective weight of individual opinion. Modern man seems to have adjusted agreeably to this self-contradiction. He is not at all worried about the remark of an American colonial leader, “If the people are the governors, who then are the governed?” The answer is, the people. The people rule themselves.
The one thing that stands sure in this contradiction is that there is no choice about obedience. Having granted the sovereignty of the people, the sovereign can brook no defection. Whatever the people decree, that all the people must go along with. Rousseau says, “The clauses of the Social Contract, when rightly understood, can be reduced to one: namely, each associate’s absolute assignment to the community of himself and all his rights.” What part of his rights has the citizen retained by the social contract? Not any. What is the relationship between the citizen and the state? Utter subordination and passivity.
In exchange for his whole bundle of “human rights” the individual has become “a citizen,” that is, a participating member of government and this by his participation in the formation of the general will, which in turn is determined by majority vote. In practice this of necessity delegates to officials of “the state” tyrannical and absolute authority. It is in the nature of democracy in this modern sense to be despotic, intolerant and arbitrary and for popular sovereignty to be made effective in those officials who, in the name of the state and as servants of the state, merely carry out its mandate. Thus the logic of the case. Once embarked on the metaphysic of a state of nature predating human government and consequently government as a human construct humanly devised and humanly operated, the course must lead straight to the familiar expressions of dictatorship of our time. Fortunately for many of us, the logic is restrained by unwillingness of most to go all the way. Resistance is massive in the nature of things and by sheer human loyalty to what is right. Yet that resistance has no firm ground on which to stand or from which to reverse the trend as long as it accepts the fundamental condition for human rights, namely that man by nature is meant to live without government, but established it himself.” — T. Robert Ingram (emphasis added)