“See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elementary principles of the world, and not according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8)
Day-to-day conversations with unbelievers and believers alike often turn “philosophical” – that is, they examine our purpose and existence. Colossians 2:8 sets forth two ways in which philosophical information is approached:
- according to the “elementary principles of the world” (principles established through human reasoning, observation and logic)
- according to Christ
Paul presents a clear dichotomy: you can have one or the other, but not both.
The premises and conclusions of arguments for the existence of God that are rooted in reason (arguments for the probability of miracles, Ontological, Cosmological, Teleological, Moral arguments) are true. However, these arguments are often used to convince unbelievers of the probability of the existence of God. In doing so, the unbeliever is put in the position of Judge of the Evidence.
God: Not a Probability
Scripture does not contain examples of apologetics that seek to convince unbelievers of the high probability of truth. However, it does contain examples where unbelievers are converted through the declaration of truth.
The pattern of Paul in Acts 17:16-32 is an example of a declarative apologetic:
- He declares what is plainly available about God (“who made the world and everything in it”). He declared God as Creator, a “plain fact” of general revelation (Romans 1:18-20).
- In the same conversation, Paul proclaimed Jesus as resurrected Lord (Acts 17:31).
Further, Romans 1:19 and Romans 1:21 rule out any possibility of there being a probability that God does not exist:
- Romans 1:19 “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.”
- Romans 1:21 “For although they knew God…”
The heavens declare the glory of God; they don’t insinuate it. God’s existence isn’t a probability. It is a certainty.
The Skeptic as Judge
Probabilistic apologetics fall short because they examine God’s existence on the basis of human reasoning and logic, putting the lost person in the position of Judge of the Evidence. Apologetics that elevate man to the position of judge ultimately aid in preserving one or more of the following false notions:
|False Notion||Dispelled by Scripture|
|human reasoning is a valid basis for salvation||Hebrews 11:6|
|the unbeliever is autonomous1||Romans 2:14|
|the unbeliever is spiritually alive||Ephesians 2:1|
|the unbeliever’s will is free will and necessary to salvation||Romans 8:7-8|
Presupposing that Jesus is Lord
One may ask: “but can’t reason-based apologetics be helpful in witnessing to my lost friend?”
Again, the pattern of Paul in Acts 17:16-32 is essential here:
- He declares what is plainly available about God (“who made the world and everything in it”). Paul declared God as Creator, a “plain fact” of general revelation (Romans 1:18-20);
- He establishes common ground in a declarative (factual, not probabilistic) way (Acts 17:28); then,
- He proclaims Jesus as resurrected Lord (Acts 17:31).
Jesus’ resurrection was the problematic issue for many of his listeners (Acts 17:32). Notice that Paul never attempts to logically prove that the resurrection happened. Rather, he presents the resurrection itself as evidence that Jesus is Lord. Use of the resurrection in this way is a method used in “presuppositional apologetics”. Presuppositional apologetics stand in stark contrast to reason-based apologetics in that presuppositional apologetics begin and end with the assumption that Jesus is Lord and that Scripture is true.
Truth stands on its own, because God is the source of all truth (John 16:13). Factual statements (e.g., such as in the Kalam cosmological argument) are used by God to draw men to Himself. But when they are presented in probabilistic fashion, they are no longer presented as truth; they are presented as something less. And therein lies the problem. God ought not to be presented as anything other than the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present God Scripture says He is.
Probabilistic apologists try to reason logically with an unbeliever that there is a higher probability of God’s existence than His non-existence. This puts an unbeliever in the position of judge. Presuppositional apologetics presuppose that 1) Jesus is Lord and 2) unbelievers examine evidence from the position of Romans 1:18 and Romans 1:21.
Paul’s analytical procedures for examining man’s purpose and existence presupposed the God of the Bible. He didn’t put his listeners in the position of judge. Instead, he declared that God has appointed a Judge – a Man that He had raised from the dead. There were some that day that were regenerated, believed and confessed Jesus as Savior and Lord (Romans 10:9-10).
The good news of the gospel is that salvation is not rooted in human ability but instead comes through faith alone in Christ alone.