C. H. Spurgeon famously likened the Bible to a caged lion. To defend it, he said, all we need to do is let it out. But this requires us to open the cage door, and that is no trivial task.
Last month (extending Spurgeon’s allegory) I suggested that to open the door involves three steps; (1) we must find the key; (2) we must oil the hinges; and (3) we must open the door wide enough for the lion to get out.
In the first Guest Column we saw that the key is the Bible’s own doctrine of Scripture, namely, that ‘all scripture is breathed out by God’ (2 Timothy 3:16). Unless we embrace the inerrancy of the Bible (in its original autographs, of course), the door will remain obstinately shut, however hard we try to force it open using the crowbars of weaker doctrines.
This month we’ll consider how to oil the rusty hinges. A correct doctrine of Scripture is a necessary foundation, but unless we are capable of ‘rightly dividing [or handling] the word of truth’ (2 Timothy 2:15) the door will still not open. Oiling the hinges, then, represents what I shall call ‘biblical apologetics’— and since the word ‘apologetics’ covers many disciplines, I need to define my terms.
By ‘biblical apologetics’ I mean what Paul intended when he declared his commitment to ‘the defence and confirmation of the gospel’ (Philippians 1:7), an activity that clearly has both reactive and proactive dimensions. Jude, likewise, found it ‘necessary to write appealing to [his readers] to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints’ (Jude 3; emphasis added). Here ‘the faith’ means a body of biblical truth — what is elsewhere called ‘the apostles’ doctrine [teaching]’ and ‘the whole counsel of God’ (Acts 2:42; 20:27).
My point is this. We easily overlook the strong element of argumentation (or reasoning) that runs through the Bible, as its authors and characters wrestle with objections, ignorance, falsehood, misunderstanding and ‘hostility from sinners’ (Hebrews 12:3). If you need convincing, read the Song of Moses (Deuteronomy 32), the book of Job, Psalm 2, or the Lord’s gospel call in Isaiah 1:18; ‘Come now, let us reason together … Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow’.
But biblical argumentation really blossoms in the New Testament. It appears in Jesus’ frequent debates with the Pharisees; in the appeal of the four Gospels to OT Scripture; and frequently in Acts.
For example, at Ephesus, Paul spent his time ‘reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God’, both in the synagogue and the school of Tyrannus (Acts 19:8-9). With what result? ‘All who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks’. Paul’s powerful address to the Athenian philosophers in Acts 17 may well represent the pinnacle of biblical apologetics in the book of Acts.
The New Testament epistles are filled with argumentation, as a forest is filled with trees. Paul reveals how central to his ministry is this form of communication when he declares, ‘The weapons of our warfare are … mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ’ (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).
Unless we are equipped and prepared to reason with people from the Scriptures and confront the arguments of unbelief by rational argumentation of our own, the lion will remain trapped in its cage. This is not only the responsibility of preachers but of every Christian. As Peter says; ‘always be ready to give a defence [apologia] to everyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you’ (1 Peter 3:15).
Joined up biblical thinking
I am not asking anyone to immerse themselves in arcane or technical disciplines. My appeal is simply for more joined-up biblical thinking. Too often we read our Bibles piecemeal, consuming devotional snacks without seeing, or even wanting to see, the big picture of God’s eternal plan.
Jesus called the disciples on the Emmaus road ‘foolish’ for failing to understand the essentially Christological character of their Old Testament Scriptures. Perhaps they had an excuse for this failure, but in the light of New Testament revelation, we do not.
Preachers and teachers are also frequently at fault when they fail to bring the full light of Scripture to bear on their text, or even to expound it in its context. In instructing others, we should teach them by our own example, first to think and then to argue rationally from the Scriptures. Only thus can we equip them with a reasoning faith — the spiritual weaponry that can breach the strongholds of unbelief.
There are some fine non-technical books that will help us understand and employ apologetics. Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis is a classic, of course, but there are many more modern works, among which I would specially recommend Cold Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace. For deeper reading, a comprehensive apologetics reading list will be found on www.whomadegod.org under ‘articles’.
Professor Edgar Andrews is Emeritus Professor of Materials at the University of London. He is co-pastor of Campus Church, Welwyn Garden City, and was senior editor of Evangelical Times. His new book What is Man? Adam, alien or ape? was released last month.