Contemporary theology has raised the question of whether the Christian faith can be defended by reason or whether all a Christian can do is witness to his own faith. The science of apologetics has fallen on bad days in theology. Not only have Protestants been casting doubt on its validity, but Roman Catholic theologians too have been manifesting a growing distrust in the powers of natural reason to offer a defense of the faith. The conclusions of the Vatican Council, to be sure, still stand as a declaration of confidence in the powers of the natural light of human reason. The papal encyclical, Humani Generis, issued in 1950, held the line on the power of reason over against the various forces of irrationalism that had become a popular threat to the traditional conviction concerning rational thought. Still, a reader of Catholic theology can discover here and there doubts within Catholic minds as to the power of human reason to prove effectively the existence of God. Several years ago, Max Scheeler, who at that time was still Roman Catholic, was asking himself earnestly why the proofs for God’s existence, if true, had such little influence on human thought. But, whether in Catholicism or Protestantism, there is a growing consciousness among theologians that God is not a crowning pinnacle in the edifice built by human thought. God is not the terminal of the human pathway, but the beginning.
One may arrive at an idea of a “first cause” or a “prime mover” by way of theoretic proof, but one does not thus arrive at the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. And it is ever more evident that there is a long distance between a “first cause” and the Father of Jesus Christ. I recently heard a discussion in which a certain scholar remarked that in his opinion there was a driving force somewhere behind the entire biological development of life, call that driving force what you will. That illustrates the problem of the first cause. Having proven the existence of a first cause, one may call it what he will. But can he truly call it God? Religion is not the province of rational understanding, but of the whole person, including first of all the heart in its commitment to its Lord.
One comes across the opinion among some people that God does not need defending, any more than does the Bible. Spurgeon’s familiar remark comes to mind. “Defend the Bible?” he said, “I would as soon defend a lion.” Spurgeon meant that we should not forget that the Bible takes care of its own defense through the power of the Holy Spirit. We must not suppose, he is telling us, that the Bible needs our help. There is surely something strikingly true about Spurgeon’s remark. The Bible is not a weak entity that needs our support and defense in order for it to stand. The highest and most influential faith in the truth and authority of the Scriptures is the direct work of the Holy Spirit on our hearts and minds.
Yet, Spurgeon’s saying does not cover the whole truth. Apologetics, to be sure, has sometimes been spurred by fear, and at times has been too quick to sacrifice elements of the truth in order to gain a firm hold on the kernel of truth. But there is another kind of defense that can be carried on to help those who are confused by the impressive sounding arguments of critics. Here, faith and not fear can best defend Christianity against its opponents. That such defense is necessary is apparent from Scripture. We must, says Paul, be ready with weapons in both hands, “By the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left” (2 Cor. 6:7). Christ himself countered the Pharisees with more than a warning about the sin against the Holy Spirit. He answered their arguments by exposing them as unreasonable. For instance, the Pharisees said that Christ was casting out devils with the help of the prince of the devils. Christ responded by saying that a house divided against itself cannot stand, an argument to meet a false argument. And when the bystanders at Pentecost said that the apostles were drunk, Peter argued that the critics were without grounds, since it was but the third hour of the day (Acts 2:15). Hence, Peter not only witnessed to Christ, but answered the critics with a reasoned argument.
Defense of the faith against critics is valid or invalid depending on the manner in which it is carried on. We are not the defenders of God’s business on earth in the sense that the kingdom of God depends on our arguments. God himself lets us clearly understand that his program does not hang on our abilities. But an apologetic is possible and useful for our own sakes and for the sake of others. Paul defended himself against those critics who accused him of speaking madness by insisting that he spoke only the sober truth. A boldness, a free courage that dares to respond to critics, even to scholarly critics, is needed. Such courageous resistance to attack is not the same as a presumption that one can offer a reasoned proof for God and a rational argument for redemption through the blood of the Lamb. But it does mean that a person, convicted of the truth and strong in faith, need not wait for history to show that truth is truth and lie is lie. He can act in the confidence that, since the light has begun to shine in the world, the lie has already been exposed and he can show forth that light.
As Christians, we need not fear that every new discovery of science may disprove Christianity. Nor need we, in temptation to be less than honest with the Bible, rush too quickly with the claim that such and such a discovery or new idea is opposed to the Bible. We need not be afraid of critics—surely not of the kind of criticisms that long ago naively assumed that it had already done away with the Word of God. The Word has shown its own power, and it will always do so.
We must not presume that the kingdom of God is borne aloft on our shoulders, nor that it stands or falls with our defense of it. But we must be courageous, nonetheless, in facing the older and the newer critics of the things of God. I do not intend to criticize the remark I quoted from Spurgeon. It contains a powerful element of truth. The Word of God does continue its triumphant journey through the world—through the world of criticism and the world of faith—and wholly apart from our defense of it. But there is still the challenge of the defense of the faith; it remains a challenge just because the truth cannot be defeated. Paul said to Festus that the things of which he spoke could not be unknown to Festus because they were never done in a dark comer (Acts 26:26). So must our defense be—open and clear. There is room for a humble and courageous defense of Christianity. The combination of humility and courage is the combination that Christianity in our day sorely needs.
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