I’ve been meaning to write more in the field of apologetics, but with the recent website downtime and other projects I’ve been working on, I haven’t had time. However, in contrast to the opinion of modern society’s poets, I don’t believe that it is ever too late to apologize.
Apologetics, for those who don’t know, isn’t about saying “I’m sorry.” The word means to defend, and so I’m talking about debates and discussions with non-Christians (especially atheists) concerning the truth of the Bible and the existence of God. If you already knew that, I apologize—er, I mean, I’m sorry.
Starting on Neutral Territory
When Christians debate atheists and secularists, they often hit the ground limping. In order for the discussion to be fair, we agree to leave the Bible out of things; we agree that the assertion of the existence of God is that which needs to be proven. In this way, Christians seek to start out on neutral territory. This, however, can be likened to allowing your boxing opponent to put you in a straightjacket before the first bell rings. The assumption that God does not exist is not neutral ground; it is deep within enemy-held territory, and the Christian who chooses to start his fight there might be just crazy enough to warrant the aforementioned straightjacket.
With that paragraph, I’ve probably invited the sternly raised eyebrow of many an evangelical. But before you inflict still more wrinkles on your brow, let me clarify. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t start on neutral territory, I’m saying that there is no such thing as neutral territory. We are dealing with two presuppositions about the world which are so polarized that there can be no middle ground.
In most arguments, the nature of the argument implies certain rules and standards agreed upon by both sides. A debate between a Mac enthusiast and a PC enthusiast usually centers around certain assumed rules who what defines a computer as “better.” These include speed, ease of use, stability, security, and quality of user experience. An observer of the debate can sit down neutrally in the judge’s seat, hear the arguments, and then decide which kind of computer is, by the set standards, better.
Arguments concerning the origin of all things, however, are not nearly so simple. How are the standards to be determined? The man who does not believe in God claims to rely solely on reason and evidence. The Christian, however, confesses that all truth—even truth that we discover through reason and evidence—must accord with God’s Word, which makes God’s Word the Christian’s standard. For the Christian, reason and evidence may (indeed, must) attest to the truth of God’s Word, but it is God’s Word that defines the standard. The atheist’s understanding is completely upside-down from this, judging God’s Word by the standards of reason and evidence.
With this disparity in standards, it’s very difficult to make any progress in dialogue. There is no middle ground because we can’t even agree on what neutral territory would look like. For the Christian to behave as though reason and evidence are the standard of truth represents compromise; likewise, if the atheist behaves as though Scripture is the standard of truth, he has also compromised his position. But we are not left without recourse. Scripture teaches us how to argue with people who don’t use His Word as the standard of truth. That’s where we’ll be starting in the next post.