The Humanism of Evangelistic Apologetics: Part 13.10

Review and Critique:

"What is ‘Apologetics’?"
Paul Coulter
http://www.bethinking.org/apologetics/an-introduction-to-christian-apologetics

[Key: direct quotes from author.]

[Note: There are a pair of articles on the BeThinking.org site: this one and a very similar article by Norman Geisler:

The Need for Apologetics
http://www.bethinking.org/apologetics/the-need-for-apologetics

There is a great deal of overlap between them (it appears that one could have been “plagiarized” from the other), so I review only this one, which happened to be the first I encountered on the site. I could just have easily ended up reviewing Mr. Geisler’s article instead; my comments would have been the same.]

Mr. Coulter begins with pretty much the standard definition:

“In the ancient Greek world an apologia was a legal defence of oneself, similar to the speech a modern-day defence lawyer makes on behalf of their client. It did not mean “a regretful acknowledgement of an offence or failure” (the Oxford English Dictionary definition of ’apology’) but a carefully reasoned defence of one’s beliefs or actions.

We might, then, define Christian apologetics as follows:

The task of developing and sharing arguments for the truth and rationality of Christianity and the falsehood and irrationality of alternatives with the aim of strengthening the faith of believers and provoking non-believers to consider Christ.

The significance of this definition will become clearer throughout this article, but at this point it is important to emphasise that ’argument’ in this context refers to a logical, reasoned case rather than an argumentative style.”

I agree with a part of Mr. Coulter’s definition, specifically that the noun ἀπολογία [G627, apologia: defense] and verb ἀπολογέομαι [G626, apologeomai: to make a defense; to defend oneself] are as “a legal defense of oneself”.

[The concept of personal defense is its primary meaning as I show here.]

As I also show in the same article, it is never used as a “defense of the faith” in any context that is purposely evangelistic when engaging the lost.

So, when Mr. Coulter appends “… provoking non-believers to consider Christ”, his definition passes from something that may be maintained (apologetics strictly defined, e.g. James White and the Institute for Creation Research) to something that must never be done (using an apologetic approach in the process of engaging the lost with the gospel).

So, whether a portion of his definition can be made to mean what he intends is actually irrelevant; the fact is, his full definition is not biblical.

Mr. Coulter continues with that which is found in essentially every other presentation of evangelistic apologetics:

“You will also notice that there are two sides to the arguments we seek to develop—a positive case for Christianity and a negative case against alternative belief systems. Furthermore, the ultimate aims of apologetics are not to develop clever arguments but to see people led to faith and strengthened in their faith.”

Therefore, there are two key concepts related to a goal which the author has encapsulated for us:

  • to develop a positive case for Christianity and
  • [develop] a negative case against alternative belief systems …
  • to see people led to faith

From these, it is clear that Mr. Coulter views the venue and use of evangelistic apologetics in essentially the same way as others who use terms such as “pre-evangelism” and “preparing the way of the gospel”.

As I’ve shown throughout this series, none of these points has any biblical support, and all are eliminated as tools to present the gospel because they logically precede the gospel. The Lord did not commission His people to “go into the world and defend the faith and prepare the way for the gospel, and after you've done that, it is finally OK to preach the gospel to them”.

He sent them to preach the gospel, first, foremost and last!

Mr. Coulter, I challenge you to find a single example in the NT of anything like this, anything or any message or method that was deliberately designed to precede the simple message of the gospel before that gospel was to be preached.

The first sermon recorded in the NT is found here:

Mat 4.17
From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

I find it significant that the Lord did nothing resembling your definition of evangelistic apologetics. He didn’t “develop a positive case for Christianity”; He commanded the repentance of the lost—simply, directly, without preface. Peter made the same case here with the Jews who murdered the Lord Christ:

Act 2.37-38
Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Note how focused Paul was on this approach when he preached in the intellectuals in the city of Athens:

Act 17.30-31
Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.

The only “apologetic” to which he appeals is the resurrection of the Lord Christ—and this he did without any attempt at “[developing] a positive case for Christianity and a negative case against alternative belief systems …”. There was certainly an abundance of “alternative belief systems” in Athens.

Note also how focused Paul was when he entered the cosmopolitan city of Corinth:

1 Cor 2.1-5
And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the mystery of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.

We also have this majestic example:

1 Cor. 15.3-4
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.

There are many, many other examples, but these should suffice to make my point from the Scriptures.

The clear record of the Lord’s, Peter’s and Paul’s preaching is that they let nothing get in the way of the gospel or allowed anything to precede or dilute the simple message of repentance and faith of the gospel. The same can’t be said for the modern evangelistic apologist; by design, their methodology is, “pre-evangelism” (to use the author’s term).

How could anyone, Mr. Coulter included, dare to make the claim that the goal of apologetics is “to see people led to faith”. I thought that was the responsibility of the Holy Spirit through the word of the gospel! When did the Lord give that responsibility to the apologist and their apologetics? Do you really think that you have a divine charter to supplant the preeminent place of the gospel in evangelistic engagement with the lost?

If Paul was an apologist in Corinth, then his self-admitted fear, weakness, and trembling should have had the effect on the Corinthians that Paul was more to be pitied than respected, to be ignored than heeded!

Apologists like Mr. Coulter frequently demonstrate a relatively high opinion of their own intellect and intellectual approach coincident with a “practical contempt” (my characterization) for the simple, unfiltered gospel of repentance.

Given that I’ve shown in this series that modern, evangelistic apologetics is not biblical, finds no biblical support and tends to the dilution of the true gospel, I’m not going to spend much time on the history of apologetics section in the article, apart from this:

“Interestingly, all three of the main lines of argument advanced by the apologists of the second century find precedents in the New Testament book of Acts, making Luke (or perhaps Paul, whose words he recorded) the first recorded Christian apologist. Renowned biblical scholar F.F. Bruce wrote:[1]

Of three main types of Christian apologetic in the second century Luke provides first-century prototypes: apologetic in relation to pagan religion (Christianity is true; paganism is false); apologetic in relation to Judaism (Christianity represents the fulfillment of true Judaism); apologetic in relation to the political authorities (Christianity is innocent of any offence against Roman law).

So, then, apologetics originated in the New Testament …”

Mr. Coulter makes the claim (with supposed support from F.F. Bruce) that Luke (or Paul) was “the first recorded Christian apologist.” Note that the author (in this quoted section) presents no biblical support for this claim. He does, however, appeal to a non-Holy-Spirit-inspired author (F.F. Bruce).

[I have several of F.F. Bruce’s books and have a high regard for him and his scholarship. However, simply because F.F. Bruce makes this claim does not “make it so.”  I can't check the source reference for this quote; until I find it, I'll assume that Mr. Bruce’s statement has have been used out of its true context. If this is not the case, then my original statement still stands: Mr. Bruce, an author for whom I have much respect, can still be very wrong sometimes.]

One of the common characteristics that I’ve noticed from essentially all modern day evangelistic apologists (and I don’t pretend to know enough about F.F. Bruce to associate him as a member of that group), is that they tend to point at NT examples of the simple preaching of the gospel (to Jews, to Gentiles, to political leaders, to common people—to everyone!) and then call that activity “apologetics” with no biblical support for doing so.

Why? Has it gone out of "intellectual fashion" to simply preach the old-fashioned gospel of repentance and faith? While each of Mr. Bruce’s claims

  • Christianity is true; paganism is false …
  • Christianity represents the fulfillment of true Judaism …
  • Christianity is innocent of any offence against Roman law …

is true, they are also irrelevant and fail as examples of apologetics. Since there was no direct Bible support in the short excerpt from Bruce, I think it is valid to assume something of the context which F.F. Bruce intended (all from Acts, since Luke is its human author): I can imagine

  • Paul in Athens for the first in Acts 17;
  • Paul with the Jews, also in Acts 17 for the second; and
  • Paul before the religious/political/Roman rulers of his day in Acts 22 and Acts 26 for the third example.

None are examples of apologetics (as it is defined by Mr. Coulter). The third example is a good one that demonstrates the actual root meaning of the noun and verb forms (mentioned above): a personal, legal defense made by Paul against his accusers.

 

The next main section is entitled What is the Purpose of Apologetics? Mr. Coulter states three:

  1. Arguments for the truth of the Christian faith (vindication / proof / positive apologetics)
  2. Arguments refuting accusations made against the Christian faith (defence / negative apologetics)
  3. Refutation of opposing beliefs (offense)

As I noted above, these are activities which, in certain venues, may be employed. However, the author (by design) has evangelism in mind for at least one half of his definition:

Some writers add a fourth function, namely persuasion. They claim that apologetics also aims to persuade people to believe in the Christian message. It is probably better to see the task of persuasion as the overarching aim of apologetics, with the three functions above playing different parts within it. This is a helpful reminder of the fact that apologetics alone is not enough—evangelism is also necessary.

Another way to think about the purpose of apologetics is to think about how it relates to those who are believers and those who are non-believers. Apologetics aims both to strengthen the faith of the faithful and to remove obstacles to faith for those who do not believe.”

If you spend time reviewing the writings of modern, evangelist apologists, you’ll find the equivalent of the above reasoning in essentially every article: their claim is that apologetics is legitimate for use as a tool to persuade the lost, “to remove obstacles to faith for those who do not believe”.

This claim is unbiblical and betrays the humanism of the author. But, did you catch that phrase at the end of the first paragraph: “apologetics alone is not enough—evangelism is also necessary”?

Really!?!? “… evangelism is also necessary”!?!?

If we are to be persuaded by Mr. Coulter, the process to bring the lost to repentance and faith “includes” evangelism in conjunction with its prerequisite apologetics designed to “… [remove] obstacles to faith …”.

Really!?!?

I am forced to return to a pair of references essentially never expounded by the evangelistic apologist:

1 Cor 2.1-5
And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the mystery of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.

1 Cor. 15.3-4
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.

These are only two of many references to this topic (see my article Preach the Gospel! for a more extensive list) from the Apostle Paul of his profound duty to and godly reverence for the preaching of the gospel alone. As you review that list, it is absolutely established that Paul knew nothing of Mr. Coulter’s “… also necessary …” disposition. To the extent that Mr. Coulter actually believes and uses his own definition of apologetics will he be found to be antagonistic to the Scriptures. (See my Final Comments below.)

The next section in the article is entitled How Does Apologetics Relate to Evangelism?.

“'Evangelism' is generally understood to mean sharing the good news message (gospel) about Jesus Christ. Apologetics is best seen as either pre-evangelism or as part of the process of evangelism. It removes barriers to belief and prepares the ground for the seed of the gospel to be sown. It is vital not to divorce apologetics strictly from evangelism. It is unlikely that people who have intellectual objections to the existence of God or the historicity of Jesus will receive the gospel message, and apologetics will help to remove these obstacles by appealing to intellectual reasoning. At the same time, a person could be intellectually convinced of the credibility and even the truth of the Christian faith but still not be a Christian. The gospel appeals not only to the mind, it also appeals to the emotions and, most importantly of all, to the will. Conversion occurs when mind, heart and will are surrendered to God in repentance and faith. As such it will often be wise to share the gospel as we engage in apologetic arguments.

If there was any doubt (I certainly had none!) that Mr. Coulter essentially elevates the methodology and (false) need of apologetics above that of the gospel of grace, it is completely demolished by this statement! This statement absolutely condemns Mr. Coulter’s approach to the lost! He is nothing more or less than a charlatan hawking "another gospel".

Mr. Coulter: I don’t know which corrupted translation of a so-called Bible you’ve been reading, but it is obviously missing something!

“… it will often be wise to share the gospel …”!?!?

Really? How could you show such open contempt to the gospel of grace by relegating it to essentially an afterthought of the "real" information interchange—your apologetics?

It isn’t your reasoned and clever “pre-evangelism” that saves, it is the word of the gospel, borne into the heart of the lost by the Lord’s own Spirit after he grants them the “birth from above”.

To the extent that you persist in this reasoning you engage in “another gospel”, one that is accursed! You really need to reread (or perhaps actually read for the first time?) the Epistle to the Galatians.

[You would be well-served if you read my chapter Preach the Gospel! (for its extensive Bible support) before you mislead many more of the lost into a false sense of security, borne not from the Spirit of God but from your and their own misguided intellect and cleverness in “reasoning”!]

You obviously have a very defective view of the true gospel.

 

The next section, Approaches to Apologetics, assumes in the first place that the manner of the apologetics presented in this article is legitimate. Since I reject that premise, I therefore don’t waste time reviewing it. (Unfortunately, I had to read through its prattle in order to find and review the following section.)

 

There are, however, some useful criticisms to make of the content of the next section, Common Objections to the Task of Apologetics. Mr. Coulter begins:

“Christians who are sceptical about the value of apologetics raise a number of different objections, some based on verses from the Bible and others based on limitations of logic and apologetics. These objections are generally based on misunderstandings of the Bible text or of the purpose of apologetics.

As I’ve detailed in this series, it is the apologists who distort the Bible with their definition of apologetics specifically in the venue of engaging the lost. I dare any evangelistic apologist reading this series to find a single text of Scripture taken out of context or misused in any way.

[This is a classic example of the “pot calling the kettle black”.]

My Coulter's claim is sheer hypocrisy and an example of:

Isa 5.20
Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!

But, let’s see what he lists as objections, then review each from a true biblical perspective rather than from his brash claim. 

Objections from the Bible

  • The Bible does not need to be defended.
  • God cannot be known by human reason.
  • Natural humanity cannot understand God’s truth.
  • Without faith one cannot please God.
  • Jesus refused to give signs to evil men.
  • Do not answer a fool according to his folly.
  • Apologetics is not used in the Bible.

Objections from outside the Bible

  • Logic cannot tell us anything about God.
  • Logic cannot prove the existence of anything.
  • No one is converted through apologetics.

[Note that “Objections from outside the Bible” to apologetics are completely superfluous. The judgment of whether any activity engaged in by Christians seeking to glorify the Lord and share the gospel of grace may be rendered only from the Scriptures, not the opinions of men. So, I didn’t waste time critiquing that section and its so-called "objections".]

 


Regarding: The Bible does not need to be defended.
The author states:

“Verses such as Hebrews 4:12 are quoted to support the claim that the Bible is powerful in itself since it is God’s living word. It is sometimes said that the Bible is like a lion—it does not need to be defended but unleashed. It is true that Scripture is powerful to change attitudes and challenge hearts, but if someone will not read or listen seriously to it then it cannot do this work. Apologetics can establish the fact that it is reasonable to take the Bible seriously, so opening people to be prepared to listen.

Did you notice the sheer arrogance of this claim? Even after referencing Heb 4.12 (not to mention that God spoke all that is into existence), the author claims that that Word “cannot do this work”.

Really!?!?

According to Mr. Coulter, the very Word of God is limited in its gracious work until the wonderful, powerful, thinking apologist comes along to enlighten the lost, “opening [them] to be prepared to listen”!?!?

Mr. Coulter! Are you serious? How is it even possible to not regard this as blasphemy! Probably the most evident characteristic of most modern evangelistic apologists is their arrogance, and you make my case for me “in spades”.

The author continues:

“Furthermore, if Scripture only needed to be unleashed to do its work then the task of teaching and preaching would also be unnecessary and evangelism would be reduced to merely passing on texts from the Bible. Scripture consistently describes people as the medium through which God’s truth is communicated to other people. The Bible, and the gospel which it declares, is powerful to change attitudes and lives, but it must be proclaimed, declared and explained for, “How ... can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Romans 10:14).”

Well, author has one thing correct: the Lord did choose people to proclaim the gospel; he falls off the cliff after that and falls headlong into the pit of uselessness and irrelevance.

Mr. Coulter, you quoted from the very passage I thought of while I was reading your nonsensical argument, Rom 10.14. However, you read much into the text if you think that it grants carte blanche to the apologist. It says nothing of the sort—and your comments did not establish any support from it either. All you proved is that the Lord sends—commands!—people to preach the gospel. I think that you need to go back to Matthew 28 again, then carefully read it and note that it contains nothing of your unbiblical notions of presenting apologetics.

 


Regarding: God cannot be known by human reason.
Regarding: Natural humanity cannot understand God’s truth.
[I combined my response to these since these are, in essence, the same objection.]

Though I disagree with the way that you introduced it, your characterization of 1 Cor 1.20+ is adequate:

“The context of 1 Corinthians 1, however, is not the existence of God but the acceptance of the message of the cross.”

So far, though, you’ve failed at the premise of this point (i.e., "God cannot be ..."). The author continues:

That message cannot be accepted by natural reason alone—it only makes sense because of the special revelation of Scripture and as the Spirit enlightens (1 Corinthians 2:14). Elsewhere, however, Paul writes of evidence in nature pointing to the existence of God and some of His attributes, leaving people without excuse (Romans 2:12-15).”

Here, Mr. Coulter uses a text that most apologists ignore: 1 Cor 2.14. He actually shows from Scripture that “God cannot be known by human reason”, but then proceeds as if that text didn’t exist or taught the exact opposite of what it actually does teach!

He then quotes from Rom 2.12-15, a text that teaches us about the conscience which the Lord places in every person. However, it would appear that the author’s intention, based on his summary “evidence in nature … without excuse” indicated that he meant to quote from:

Rom 1.20
For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

instead of Rom 2.

Mr. Coulter acknowledged that 1 Cor 2.14 teaches that lost people can’t understand spiritual truth, but then failed again to show from Rom 1 (his intended “proof” text, I think) that a lost person can be saved on the basis of the creation (something usually termed “general revelation”) alone.

So, Mr. Coulter, you have failed to rebut objection #2. In fact, you’ve made a shambles of your own presentation and reasoning.

Surprisingly, you continued with something that in my extensive review of modern evangelistic apologetic authors I have never seen its equal in hubris and deliberate distortion of the Bible.

“1 Corinthians 2:14 says that “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things what come from the Spirit of God”. It is argued that there is no point, therefore, in trying to explain them to him. Notice, however, that Paul says this man does not accept (Greek dekomai, ’welcome’) them, not that he cannot understand them. Non-believers reject the gospel not because it is illogical and they cannot understand what it means but because they refuse to accept its claims over them. Apologetics seeks to explain the message clearly and rationally so that when the Spirit moves the person’s heart they will be ready to accept the truth. The apologist does not seek to obstruct or replace the Spirit but to be the Spirit’s agent in bringing people to Christ.” [highlights mine]

[At this point, I performed a google site search on Bethinking.org:

site:http://www.bethinking.org/ "1 Corinthians 2"
site:http://www.bethinking.org/ "1 Cor 2"

I was looking for references to 1 Cor 2.14. There were two: this one, and another article by Norman Geisler entitled The Need for Apologetics. He says essentially the same thing as Mr. Coulter:

“Paul insisted that 'the man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God' (1 Corinthians 2:14). What use, then, is apologetics? In response to this argument against apologetics, it should be observed that Paul does not say that natural persons cannot perceive truth about God, but that they do not receive (in Greek 'dekomai' meaning 'welcome') it. Paul emphatically declares that the basic truths about God are 'clearly seen' (Romans 1:20). The problem is not that unbelievers are not aware of God's existence. They do not want to accept him because of the moral consequences this would have on their sinful lives. First Corinthians 2:14 (NKJV) says they do not 'know' (in Greek 'gnosko') which can mean 'to know by experience'. They know God in their mind (Romans 1:19-20), but they have not accepted him in their heart (Romans 1:18). 'The fool says in his heart, "There is no God'" (Psalms 14:1).” [highlights mine]

I highlighted the critical section. Mr. Geisler falls into the same error as Mr. Coulter: the bold lie that the lost really are capable of understanding spiritual truth in spite of the clear declaration by God’s own Spirit that the lost are utterly incapable of understanding. (I suppose this shouldn’t be so surprising since their articles were found on the same site. It is evident that they’ve been conferring with each other; what they need now is to actually spend some quality time in the Word, instead of each other, prayerfully and humbly reviewing all the Bible references I marshal against their error!)

I also performed the following site searches (I was looking for references to Eph 2.1,5 and Col 2.13, texts that clearly declare that the lost is spiritually dead):

site:bethinking.org Eph
site:bethinking.org Col

In the first I found this:

“The apostle Paul, writing to the Ephesians, describes man’s helpless state as “dead” in “transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). A dead person clearly cannot bring himself back to life and Paul emphasizes the point that a person’s salvation is entirely God’s work:”

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.(Ephesians 2:4-5)

I heartily agree with the author, Jenny Ivers; she got this exactly right. Mr. Coulter and Mr. Geisler: how did you let this one slip through? She puts you both to shame.

There were no hits on the second.

These texts teach that the lost person is spiritually dead and therefore utterly incapable of understanding anything spiritual in nature. How, exactly, Mr. Coulter, how does a dead person respond in an intellectual manner? All of your careful “pre-evangelism”, creating a “process of evangelism”, “[removing] barriers” and “[preparing] the ground” simply can’t work on a dead person! Can you honestly be surprised if I make the charge that you are teaching and “sharing” another gospel, and as such you are worthy to be accursed along with your “gospel”?]

I’ve already pointed out the meat of the error presented by this author, but let’s just touch on the straw-man argument “… there is no point …”.

No, Mr. Coulter, the Lord’s people have been commanded to preach the gospel in spite of the fact that the “man without the Spirit does not accept or understand” spiritual truth—unless you’re attempting to rewrite the Great Commission and eliminate all of the NT history that records the Lord’s people doing exactly what they were commanded to do: to preach the gospel without admixture!

But, the real error here is the apparently deliberate attack on the content of 1 Cor 2.14 by your extraordinary claim that the lost merely does not welcome the message, “… not that he cannot understand them …”

Mr. Coulter: does your translation not include the second half of that verse?

1 Cor 2.14
But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.

ψυχικὸς δὲ ἄνθρωπος οὐ δέχεται τὰ τοῦ πνεύματος τοῦ θεοῦ, μωρία γὰρ αὐτῷ ἐστιν, καὶ οὐ δύναται γνῶναι, ὅτι πνευματικῶς ἀνακρίνεται·

[As an old preacher once put it, "δύναται is not a verb of the will, it is a verb of ability". The original clearly states that the natural man cannotpresent indicativeunderstand. You are lying to your readers when you say "... not that he cannot understand them ...".

Shame on you! This tactic is expected of the Adversary, not someone claiming to be a Christian author!]

How dare you deny the truth that the natural man “cannot understand”! That’s exactly what the text says, written under the inspiration of God’s own Spirit! I have maitained in this series that the typical evangelistic apologist distorts and ignores the Word of God regularly but, Mr. Coulter, this exceeds them all!

Isa 5.20
Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!

Did you really think that someone following along in their Bible wouldn’t notice that you deliberately misquoted the text by your leaving out the part that disagrees with your false narrative? (Modern politicians and those on the political left depend on this type of dishonesty!)

There is nothing in 1 Cor 2.14 about the lost “[refusing] to accept its claims over them”. There is the clear, inarguable, inspired truth that spiritual matters are foolishness to the lost, that he cannot understand them, and that as a result of the divinely-revealed fact that he does not possess the spiritual facility to do so! It is easier to describe color to someone born blind or the beauty of Bach’s compositions to someone born deaf!

In the many articles I have reviewed (more like digested, unfortunately...) this statement is the most bold-faced of the active distortions of the Word of God and its truth in the context of modern apologetics that I’ve encountered so far. How can I not regard you as a liar?

This distortion is on par with the theological manipulations of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Completely ignoring the fact that the lost is incapable of naturally understanding all matters spiritual, you presume to usurp the role of the Holy Spirit in the conversion of lost sinners!

Reader, did you notice the spectacular claim:

“Apologetics seeks to explain the message clearly and rationally so that when the Spirit moves …

Taken at face value you imply that the Word of God, as borne along by the Holy Spirit, is inadequate to do its job until the apologist hero steps in to fill the void! Wow! The Lord sure is fortunate to have the evangelistic apologist on His side! Without the apologist, how many lost people would remain lost who might otherwise have been saved by the “intellectual intervention” of the apologist!

What unbridled arrogance!

Mr. Coulter: you’ve forgotten—or perhaps never understood—that the Holy Spirit gifts the “birth from above” to the lost, and in so doing, grants that now-spiritually-alive person the ability to understand the “things of the Spirit”. That’s why your statement (“to explain the message clearly …”) is backwards.

Left to your methods, the lost are doomed!

Your comments indicate that you seem to believe that you can inject yourself into the divine-only process by breathing life into the spiritually dead sinner and opening his/her lost, spiritually-dead mind.

Since when did the work of the Holy Spirit, working through His Word, become inadequate to convert the lost and that you, in your finite ability and intellectual explanation and clarification of spiritual truth to the dead, spiritual-corpse-lost person can somehow accomplish what He couldn’t? The extent of your responsibility to the lost is to present the gospel to them. Period.

Shame on you for your carelessness, deliberate distortion of Scripture and unmitigated arrogance!

 


Regarding: Without faith one cannot please God.

In this objection, Mr. Coulter sets up what I believe is a “straw man” argument:

“Hebrews 11:6 clearly states that faith is essential to please God, and some people suggest that this means that reason is displeasing to Him.”

Assuming that I take the author’s claim (“some people …”) at face value, I’m inclined to view such individuals as being on the fringe and therefore ignore them. However, it is the nature of Mr. Coulter’s objection to the truth of Heb 11.6 that concerns me.

This is the first half of his point:

“This claim sets up a false division between faith and reason. Biblical faith is not blind belief in spite of the evidence, but trust in something that has been commended to the person as trustworthy. The gospel is a message from God that claims that He can be trusted, and apologetics provides evidence that supports that claim.”

[I have an extensive review of an article on Creation.com that deals with the issue of “blind faith”.]

It is your juxtaposition of the mention of “blind faith”, “reason” and “evidence” that has me concerned.

If the above was all that I read, then I would simply produce the following to show that “blind faith” (that is, examples where there is no prior evidence for its support) was exactly what the Lord expected from those to whom the command or promise was given:

  • the Lord’s command to Noah to build the ark because of a promised flood (Gen 6)
  • the birth of Isaac as promised by the Lord to Abram (Gen 15)
  • the command to mark the doorway of the house with the Passover blood in order to protect the firstborn from death (Exo 12)
  • the command to the Exodus Jews to cross the sea (Exo 14)
  • the command for the Exodus Jews to retreat from Korah, Dathan, and Abiram to avoid the opening of the earth (Num 16)
  • the command to Moses to speak to the rock to provide water (Num 20)
  • the Lord’s promise to Elijah to go to Cherith where the ravens would provide food for him (1 Kin 17)
  • Elijah’s promise to the widow that the supply of flour and oil would not be exhausted (1 Kin 17)
  • the Lord’s promise to Ahab of water, in spite of the fact of the multi-year draught (2 Kin 3)
  • Elisha’s command to the sons of the prophets to “fix” the poisonous stew with meal (2 Kin 4)
  • the Lord’s promise through Elisha to the king of Israel that food would be provided in spite of the famine (2 Kin 6)
  • the command to Naaman, captain of the army of Aram, to dip himself in the Jordan seven times in order to be cured of his leprosy (2 Kin 5)
  • the promise of the birth of a child (Immanuel) to a virgin (Isa 7)
  • the Lord’s command to Peter to catch a fish, and in its mouth would be the required tax payment (Mat 17)
  • the Lord’s provision of food to a very large crowd after commanding the disciples to find what tiny amount of food they could (Mat 14)
  • the Lord’s command to Peter to let down his net into deep water for a catch, in spite of the fact that they had caught no fish in many hours (Luk 5)
  • the Lord’s command to the man with the withered hand to stretch it out in order to be healed (Mat 12)
  • the Lord’s command to the servants at the wedding in Cana to bring pots of water (Joh 2)
  • the Lord’s command to the man born blind to wash in the pool of Siloam in order to receive his sight (Joh 9)
  • the Lord’s promise to the Syrophenician woman that her daughter would be healed (Mat 15)
  • the Lord’s promise to heal the servant of the centurion (Mat 8)

and many, many others!

What I take issue with is this astonishing claim:

“The gospel is a message from God that claims that He can be trusted, and apologetics provides evidence that supports that claim.”

Now, so that we don’t lose track of where I’m going here:

You object to the use of Heb 11.6 as an objection to your notion of apologetics, claiming that such an objection sets up a false premise between faith and reason. And, with the above examples I show clearly from the Scriptures that “blind faith” is alive and well throughout the Bible. Of course, as the Christian grows in maturity, he/she is expected to grow in faithful obedience; the result is that obedience should become more “natural” in the face of ever-increasing expectations to grow in the trust of the Lord. This is the part of faith that is “reasonable”.

Your spectacularly claim “… apologetics provides evidence that supports that claim”, then proceed with the following self-contradictory comments:

 “Faith is a response on the part of the individual that accepts the claim (or, rather, accepts the one of whom it speaks) and places confidence in it (or, more correctly, in Him) rather than in self or any alternative.”

This last statement is valid, and a proper recognition of true faith in a Lord whose Word is completely trustworthy! “Any alternative” sure sounds to me like apologetics, don’t you think?

Is the lost person to trust

  • the Word of the Lord alone, or
  • His word and apologetics, or
  • His word when evidenced by apologetics, or
  • just simply apologetics?

After reading your objection to the objection of Heb 11.6 to apologetics, I really can’t discern which I would pick from your jumble of confused and convolved rants. One thing, though, is certain:

Heb 11.6
And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.

No volume of high-sounding, pseudo-scholarly reasoning and doublespeak can ever detract from the truth that the Christian walks by faith, and that this walk of faith is pleasing to God. The Almighty Himself tells us this is so!

 


Regarding: Jesus refused to give signs to evil men.
Regarding: Apologetics is not used in the Bible.

These are really the same objection with Mr. Coulter’s responses. The essence of the objection is “What about miracles, when were they used, and when did the Lord refuse to use them?”

Remember, the author is attempting to show that these objections to apologetics are not biblical.

“This claim arises from Matthew 12:39, where Jesus says that a wicked generation asks for signs. However, in the next verse Jesus says that one sign, the sign of Jonah, meaning His resurrection, would be given. Jesus presented His miracles as evidence of His identity as the Messiah and Son of God (Matthew 11:4-5; Mark 2:10-11; John 14:11). On occasions He refused to do miracles for entertainment (Luke 23:8) or because of unbelief (Matthew 13:58), but people saw his miracles and realised that they showed He came from God (John 3:2), and the apostles pointed to His miracles (Acts 2:22) and especially His resurrection (Acts 2:32; Romans 1:4; 1 Corinthians 15:3ff.) as evidence of His identity. The proper lesson to learn from Jesus’ example is not that apologetics is wrong, but that we need discernment to know when to engage in an argument and when not to.”

“If this claim is meant to say that Scripture provides no examples of God providing evidence to support faith then it is simply wrong. Geisler points to the miracles of Moses (Exodus 4:1-9), Elijah (1 Kings 18) and Jesus (Acts 2:22) as well as the way in which Paul reasoned with people about God’s existence, even using their own philosophical and religious ideas as a starting point (Acts 17:22-31). The Bible, therefore, provides clear precedents for the task of apologetics even if it does not contain the kind of detailed arguments necessary in modern apologetics since it was written in a pre-modern world primarily to believers. Apologetics today continues patterns found in Scripture.

Did you notice that the author, being unable to appeal to current use of miracles in current apologetics (since there are no miracle-workers preaching the gospel today, as was common in the first-century NT church!) makes the subtle (but unjustifiable) transition from the performance of miracles to “patterns found in the Scripture”.

No, Mr. Coulter: you have neither the authority nor biblical justification to read “miracles”, but then substitute the activity of apologetics as synonymous activities! The author appears not to notice that in the record of the Acts, while the use of miracles was prominent in the early days of the young Christian church, their use became more infrequent by the end of the book of Acts. Why was this? We can be sure that the Lord was emphasizing the preeminence and sufficiency of His Word. He was demonstrating that, after the initial demonstrations of the power of God provided via miracles, the early disciples needed only one element to preach to the lost for the duration of the age—the gospel of grace alone!

It is evident that the author needs to be reminded of some prominent Bible references:

Isa 40.8
The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.

Isa 55.11
So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.

Mat 5.18
For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

Mat 24.35
Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.

Thinking especially in the expression of Isa 55, the burden of proof is on the author to show what the Lord was missing in His Word to His disciples when the Lord Christ commissioned them to preach the gospel to the nations. (Mat 28). That Word went forward and will succeed without the “assistance” of apologetics or miracles!

 


Regarding: Do not answer a fool according to his folly.

I agree with the summary of Mr. Coulter’s rebuttal: “… we need wisdom to decide when we should give an answer to a “fool” … and when we should not.”

Pro 26.4 is really just an expression of the following principle, something the Lord put in place for His disciple when He sent out the twelve:

Mat 10.14
Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet. Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city.

But, there is another matter here: the objection, presented as being based on Pro 26.4, commands Christians to avoid discussions with a fool presented/handled in the same manner as the fool; it really says nothing, one way or the other, about the use of apologetics in evangelism (something which I’ve shown from the Scriptures on this site should never be done).

So, the use of Pro 26.4 as a reason either for or against evangelistic apologetics is really non-sequitur.

 


Objections from outside the Bible

As I mentioned above, these objections, and Mr. Coulter’s rebuttal, are completely irrelevant. I do point out the copious mention of human authors and their claims in the rebuttal, as if the opinion of any of them would be worth anything at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

 


A Biblical Case for the Task of Apologetics

Mr. Coulter finally marshals what he claims are some NT examples of the use of apologetics. In order to fully critique this section, we must return to the author’s working definition of apologetics:

“The task of developing and sharing arguments for the truth and rationality of Christianity and the falsehood and irrationality of alternatives with the aim of strengthening the faith of believers and provoking non-believers to consider Christ.”

As we step through each of the author’s “examples”, let’s compare them to my biblically-developed definition of apologetics (I quote here from myself at the closing paragraph of Developing a biblical definition of apologetics.):

“In summary, I have shown from the Bible the proper definition of apologetics, and the “where, when and why” of the activity of apologetics: apologetics takes place in the assembly when the people of God are under attack from both explicit and implicit distortions of the Word of God. The defense is for the benefit of (mostly young and immature) Christians who are in danger, not the lost! And, not to put too fine a point on it, there is NO example of evangelism in the NT that demonstrates what the modern evangelistic apologist currently recommends when speaking to the lost.”

So, let’s compare the text upon which Mr. Coulter attempts to make his case for apologetics for which “… the aim of strengthening the faith of believers and provoking non-believers to consider Christ.”

 


Act 17.1-4
Mr. Coulter is correct when he maintains that Paul reasoned with the Jews (same activity as in Act 17.17, as noted), and even that some of the Jews were persuaded. But, we must note first how the author chose to close out this particular rebuttal (so we know why he says what he says):

  • Biblical apologetics seeks to persuade people of the truth of Christianity so that they can believe in Jesus
  • Biblical apologetics is not a theoretical exercise—it engages in dialogue with real people with real questions

I’m not really interested in the second point; since I’ve shown on this site that modern, evangelistic apologetics is completely unbiblical; at best, this point is merely a side-issue whether it is “real” with “real people”.

It’s that first summary point that’s the key to understanding where Mr. Coulter went astray: “… of the truth of Christianity …”.

I have spent considerable time studying the writings of modern, evangelistic apologists; there is a very common trait among them:

They believe that talking about Christianity and Christianity’s truths with the lost is the same as preaching the gospel to the lost.

It is not!

The difference, which is missed by the apologist, is that in every NT example of the spread of the gospel the gospel is presented from the perspective that it is true and can only be true. There is no NT example of any variation from this approach, such as attempting first to “convince the lost of the truths of Christianity”.

The Apostle Paul, for example, spent zero time trying to first convince his hearers that Christianity was true. He preached to the lost because he knew it was true and that the lost needed to hear the message.

1 Cor 2.14 guarantees that any attempt at “reasoning” with spiritual truth to a lost person incapable of understanding truth would be a fool’s errand. The Lord’s command was to “make disciples”, not “prepare-the-lost-to-be-convinced-of-the-truths-of-Christianity-and-only-after-that-should-you-consider-adding-the-gospel”. Without doubt, the modern evangelistic apologist has added a step to the process (“pre-evangelism” and intellectualism) which neither the Lord (cf., Mat 4.17), Peter, John, Paul, etc. knew (or even considered using)!

While not so much a part of this article, what Mr. Coulter writes is compatible with the notions of what I’ve termed elsewhere “extra-biblical data” used in apologetics. (Mr. Coulter does spend some time on the logical, rational, reasonable, very revealing and “1 Cor 2.14-antagonistic” (my term) “It is unlikely that people who have intellectual objections to the existence of God or the historicity of Jesus will receive the gospel message …” approaches.)

So, what does the passage at the beginning of Acts 17 actually say was spoken?

Act 17.2b-3a
and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead

What was Paul doing? He was preaching the gospel from the Scriptures—exactly what he had been commissioned to do by the Lord Christ Himself! Was he “reasoning”? Absolutely—from the Scriptures! There is zero evidence that he was trying to “convince them of the truths of Christianity”—he was presenting the already-presumed truth of the risen Christ to a group that had not yet (perhaps) heard this!

Mr. Coulter, do you not see how you play with words in order to further your own unbiblical narrative and attempt to shore up a failed humanistic philosophy (evangelistic apologetics) that collapses under its own weight when exposed by the Bible?

 


Act 17.22-34
Mr. Coulter’s approach to Paul’s well-known message to the Gentiles/Greeks is pretty much what you’d expect from the modern apologist. There is so much here that is wrong that it’s difficult to decide where to start; so, I’ll just start at the beginning.

“In this section of Acts we find Paul in a predominantly Gentile context. His approach to proclaiming the gospel is quite different from his approach among the Jews described earlier in the chapter (see above). With the Jews and Gentile God-fearers he started with the Old Testament Scriptures which were familiar to them and which they already accepted as true. In Athens, however, he was among Gentiles who were immersed in Greek thinking. His starting points in communicating his message were therefore:

  1. Greek religion—he used a statue dedicated to the “unknown God” as a starting point to explain that they did not actually know the one true God who had created them. He had identified a fault-line in their religious thinking—an uncertainty about the true nature and number of the gods—and he used this foothold to begin to demolish their worldview.
  2. Greek philosophy—Paul was sufficiently well-versed in the writings of Greek philosopher poets to be able to quote one of them (verse 28). He was able to use the truth within their own belief system, however limited it was, as a platform from which to proclaim the whole message of God of which that truth was part.”

Are Mr. Coulter’s claims true? What of the significance of the so-called “starting points”? Did Paul really “approach [differently]” the Greek hearers from how he typically preached to Jews?

Did Paul really not preach a typical OT message to those in Athens?

Well, in the first place, the starting point is just that—no more, no less. Paul found “an opening” to begin the presentation and used it. End of discussion.

[There is something that I invite the reader to think about regarding the account at Athens: this was not a discussion of religion or spiritual topics. It was a sermon from Paul the Apostle to the Athenians. It was theirs to either accept or reject, but there is no notion of Paul engaging in what the typical evangelistic apologist would identify as a discussion. There was no "apologetis" in it!]

As to the content of the message, I quote from myself from another article:

“But, there is a much more important observation to make, since Mr. Turner appears to have “missed the forest for the trees”: the sheer scope of the Bible to which Paul appeals to these “pagans”. If you had actually studied the sermon, you’d have found that Paul either quotes or paraphrases at least 50 different texts! Paul preached a gospel message—nothing more, nothing less!”

Did Paul use a different approach? No! For Paul, there was exactly one message: Christ and Him crucified!.

Mr. Coulter: you have missed the substance of the gift for the wrapping paper and pretty bow in which it was presented.

Let’s continue:

“It is important to notice, however, that he presents the resurrection of Jesus as a key apologetic evidence for the truth of Christianity. Other New Testament passages show that this confidence in the resurrection as the proof of Jesus identity was central to the apostles’ proclamation of the gospel (see Acts 2:32; Romans 1:4; 1 Corinthians 15:3ff.)”

There it is again: “evidence for the truth of Christianity”. No, Mr. Coulter—it is Christ, not data about Christ.

And, is the resurrection “evidence”, both then and now? Yes, absolutely.

But, speaking especially with regard for the use of the resurrection as “proof/evidence of the truth of Christianity” with the lost of our day, where—exactly—is the authoritative truth of the resurrection unfolded? In/by the logic of the apologist? No! It is part of the inspired record of the NT—something (the Bible) which you, the apologist, seem to think needs proving in the eyes of the lost! This is an oxymoronic methodology if ever one existed, a perfect example of circular reasoning!

As I noted in the chapter of the article in which I reviewed the sermon of Act 17.22-34, Paul’s audience seemed at least content to listen to his message until he arrived at the (inevitable truth of the) resurrection of Christ. At that point, things fell apart rapidly, relative to the presentation (as the author noted).

Mr. Coulter’s next speculation here is dubious:

“This record of Paul’s activity in Athens is sometimes criticised as a failure. It is suggested that it was an attempt by Paul to foray into a different approach and that because it was unsuccessful he reverted to his typical approach based on the Scriptures in the next city he visited, Corinth (Acts 18). This claim is unfair, however, as some, albeit “a few”, of Paul’s listeners in Athens did become Christians including at least one member of the Areopagus (verse 34). In addition, as we shall see when we consider 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, Paul did use reason in his work in Corinth. The smaller response among the audience in Athens is likely to have been because it was a less receptive mission field, one that was steeped in Greek ideas and therefore whose people were not easily persuaded. The different approaches Paul took in different cities and contexts should actually be read as a skilful apologetic approach that understood the culture and found common ground from which to begin to persuade people of the truth of the gospel.”

I essentially agree with Mr. Coulter that the stated criticism (by whom, Mr. Coulter does not say) is “unfair”; a better word would be “non-sensical”, the type of criticism by someone who neither understands nor loves the Bible.

Continuing: Mr. Coulter’s appeal to 2 Cor 10 is really off base.

Beginning with chapter 10 through the remainder of that epistle, Paul is engaged in an extended battle with the false apostle and teachers who had infested the Corinthian assembly in his absence. Yes, Paul did “use reason”: reasoning from the Scriptures against those who worked to distort it within the Corinthian assembly. (This is one example, from which I derived the biblical definition of apologetics.) It is a mystery that Mr. Coulter appeals to this when there is essentially no meaningful overlap in context.

[There is a strong parallel with out day: the modern, evangelistic apologist has infected modern Christianity with their humanistic virus. They are as dangerous to the modern church as the false teachers were to the 1st century church at Corinth.]

He then returns to Act 17:

“It is an example of Paul becoming “all things to all men” as he told the Corinthians he normally did for the sake of the gospel (note he was contextualising the same unchanging gospel into different cultures) so that he could win some people for Christ (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). Apologetics must work from an understanding of the culture and worldview of the people being reached. It should then start from their current beliefs to build a case for the Christian faith. Acts 17 is a helpful biblical example of positive apologetics in a cross-cultural context.”

Ok, the phrase “contextualising …” (not my favorite) is certainly part of the context of 1 Cor 9.19-23. However, we should view the passage with more of its context, then compare it with Mr. Coulter’s extraordinary, arrogant and biblically-antagonistic “… start from their current beliefs to build a case …”:

1 Cor 9.17-18, 22b-23
For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me. What then is my reward? That, when I preach the gospel, I may offer the gospel without charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel. [… section quoted by Mr. Coulter …] I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.

Paul regarded his ministry—the one assigned to him by the Lord Christ Himself—as a stewardship that he (Paul) did not have the opportunity to refuse. (“… but if against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me.”) And note that six times (I omitted two of them) Paul refers to the gospel in this short section.

Mr. Coulter: please show me from Act 17 specifically (or any other NT passage generally) in which a “case” is built “for Christianity” from the pre-existing belief systems of the lost.

This type of reasoning is worse than garbage! This reasoning is from Apollyon himself.

Do you really expect us to believe that—somehow—the “case for Christianity” can be built from anything apart from Christ, especially considering the spiritually dead wasteland of the lost mind, considering their active hostility toward God? (Rom 1.18+)!?!?!

Have you never read:

Rom 3.9-18
What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written,

There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God;
All have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.
Their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving, the poison of asps is under their lips;
Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness;
Their feet are swift to shed blood,
Destruction and misery are in their paths,
And the path of peace they have not known.
There is no fear of God before their eyes.

Please show me, Mr. Coulter, how you get from this powerful and divine description of the utterly, the spiritually-bankrupt lost, a lost mind completely and actively hostile to the Lord God and His Word in every way, to this

“It should then start from their current beliefs to build a case …”

There is less than zero material in the “current beliefs” of the lost mind from which to work to even make an attempt at your claim, much less accomplish anything useful! It is easier to teach someone who was born deaf to create music to represent human sentiments like joy, grief, etc.

It appears evident to me that you don’t really believe the Bible when it says the lost is spiritually dead (Eph 2.1,5; Col 2.13), unable to understand spiritual truth (1 Cor 2.14), and hostile in every possible way to God (Rom 1.18+, 3.9-18)?

How then is this so-called “case” to be built? It can only be from nothing and accomplish nothing, because that’s exactly what you have—nothing!

[Please permit me a bit of sanctified sarcasm: it is much easier for cosmological evolutionists to justify the so-called ‘big bang’ (the universe from nothing, for no apparent cause, from an essentially infinite amount of energy that simply appeared from nowhere to form the astonishing, ordered system that we now enjoy) than it is for you to justify your claim of ‘the current beliefs [[of the lost] to build a case for Christian faith …’.]

Do you have any reverence for and fear of the Word of God? I am convinced that you do not.

But, Mr. Coulter is not yet finished with his essential denigration of the gospel:

“Once again we are reminded that apologetics cannot be separated from evangelism and that its goal is not simply to win intellectual debates, but to provoke people to consider the gospel and ultimately to trust in Christ.”

Mr. Coulter’s humanistic formula for evangelism is:

Apologetics + gospel = “provoke people to consider the gospel …”

Every example I find in the NT of the preaching of the gospel has exactly none of this useless and damnable admixture; in the NT it is the gospel alone from the start through its conclusion.

Mr. Coulter: anything added to the gospel (such as the legalism noted by the Apostle Paul in Galatia) yields “another gospel”. This is precisely what you’ve done with your insistence on prepending “apologetics” to the gospel.

 


Acts 26.24-29
Yes, Mr. Coulter: Paul did say that his words were of truth and sobriety (ἀλλὰ ἀληθείας καὶ σωφροσύνης ῥήματα) rather than the ravings of a lunatic (μαίνομαι). And yes, of course, after giving a very clear summary of his encounter with the glorious light of Christ, Paul hoped to persuade King Agrippa; that is, after all, the essence of presenting the gospel.

But, Mr. Coulter, the point you seem to be missing is:

Where are the apologetics presented by the Apostle to Agrippa to which you refer? You think that just because Paul responded to the King that his words were “truth and sobriety” that this is an example of apologetics!?!? As I’ve noted before, the modern evangelistic apologist tends to demean the presentation of the gospel by insisting on calling it “apologetics”, then attaching to that “gospel” message characteristics which it neither possesses nor needs.

King Agrippa’s response was identical to that of the Greeks in Athens; he listened until Paul got to the truth of the resurrection of Christ. At that point, the presentation of the gospel was interrupted. (Mr. Coulter, did you miss that?) He thought Paul was mad—and there is no biblical evidence that Agrippa ever seriously considered Christianity again.

By the way: the only element actually established by that exchange was that Agrippa realized that Paul was innocent of the crimes of which he was accused by the Jews (which, incidentally, is the primary meaning of the noun and verb forms of ἀπολογία and ἀπολογέομαι, respectively: a legal defense).

The author summarizes this exchange with a pair of bullet points:

  • Biblical apologetics seeks to show that the Christian message is both true and reasonable
  • Biblical apologetics recognizes fulfilled prophecy as an important line of evidence for the truth of the gospel

Regarding the first: Yes, but so what? What does a “true and reasonable” message mean to the mind of the spiritually dead, spiritually incapable, and actively hostile-to-God lost person?

Regarding the second: Yes, Paul referred to the Prophets. But, that’s all he did—there are no details of the exchange. Paul’s reply was much too general to be considered a serious apologetic (according to the typically-accepted modern definition). And, since when does the gospel need a “line of evidence”? Mr. Coulter, your thought process is really stuck in the mode that the lost is able, in and of himself/herself, to respond to the gospel. You really need to review texts such as:

Joh 6.44-45
No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught of God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me.

Act 11.18
When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.”

Act 13.48
When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was being spread through the whole region.

Act 16.14
A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.

1 Cor 1.9
God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

1 Cor 1.30-31
But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Phi 1.29-30
For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.

Col 2.12-13
having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions,

Col 3.12
So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience ...

2 The 2.13-14
But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth.

Jam 1.18
In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.

2 Pet 1.3
seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.

There are many others, but let a final one suffice, one that you appear to have never read or perhaps read but never believed:

Jon 2.9
But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving. That which I have vowed I will pay. Salvation is from the Lord.

 


Romans 1:18-20, 2:14-15
Pretty much any article on modern evangelistic apologetics includes a reference to the former text. The problem is that Romans chapter 1 is not apologetics as the apologist typically defines it. Mr. Coulter, where is the “attempt to persuade” the lost in this chapter? It isn’t there! All that is there is an unambiguous condemnation of the lost for their active and deliberate hostility toward the Lord and suppression of His truth.

The author continues:

“Based on these verses we should expect to be able to build bridges to the Christian faith from both people’s observations about the world (science) and their innate sense of morality (conscience).”

Mr. Coulter: the unambiguous and inescapable knowledge the Lord imparts to the lost by means of the creation and conscience are able only to condemn. There is exactly zero biblical evidence that anyone is ever saved through them. As for your claim “should …” (!?!?) betrays an uncertainty about the evidence and its effectiveness. Then, you present this veritable jewel of wisdom (I'm being sarcastic, of course...):

“It must be noted that Paul’s primary concern in Romans 1-2 is with explaining how nature and conscience leave human beings without excuse and justifies God’s righteous judgement of all people, but it is still valid to conclude from what he says that these means of ‘general revelation’ can speak to people about the truth of the gospel.”

You must know that you failed miserably to show from Rom 1.18+ and the clip from chapter 2 the purported “truth of the gospel”. There is condemnation there for sure. But the gospel? Where? It’s nowhere to be found in the general revelation of chapter 1 and the conscience of chapter 2.

Did you actually read those chapters or skim the “Reader’s Digest” version of them?

 


2 Corinthians 10:3-5
Philippians 1:7, 16
I’ve dealt with these texts in depth here. Both are defenses of the Christian faith in the context of the assembly against the attacks of the false teachers and false apostles who have infested that assembly. To the extent that Mr. Coulter aligns with this truth (and there is some evidence that he does, at least very generally), then I agree with him.

I disagree strongly with him regarding the implied “priority, pre-evangelistic position” of apologetics:

“Biblical apologetics should always lead to the gospel, since it is the gospel that saves”

Translation: apologetics takes place before the gospel is presented; therefore, the gospel has an implicit dependence on the process of apologetics!

This is error and unmitigated evil!

Then, there is that continual (and gospel-destructive) undercurrent of intellectualism:

“Biblical apologetics at a higher intellectual level is a ministry entrusted by God to specific individuals”

When I read claims like this, I am forced to the conclusion that the evangelistic apologist has a very high impression of himself/herself and a correspondingly low impression of the power of the Word of the gospel of grace and sovereign work of God’s own Spirit. How can I not view this as “honking your own horn”? Your pride is palpable.

 


1 Peter 3:13-16
The canonical text of the modern, evangelistic apologist; I’ve dealt with this text in depth here. I largely agree with Mr. Coulter’s four main points—if and only if we understand the term “defense” as it was used by Peter:

  • apologetics is the task of all believers …
  • arguments cannot be separated from the power of a provocative lifestyle … (I’m a bit mystified by the selection of the term “provocative”; “faithful” to the Lord would have been a better choice.)
  • our confidence comes from knowing that Christ is Lord …
  • our attitude in engaging should be humility …

Mr. Coulter fails to mention that the context of this potential exchange with the lost comes from their (the losts’) intimidation and persecution of the believer (something not noted by Mr.  Coulter). This doesn’t imply that if the lost questions the believer in a different context (the neighbor borrowing a tool or a cup of sugar…) that the believer doesn’t/shouldn’t respond! It’s just that Peter had a specific context in mind, a context which Mr. Coulter completely ignores.

And, we should not miss the significance of how Peter actually defined “apologetics”: a defense of “the hope that is in you. This is not a set of facts and figures (as typically claimed by the apologist and implied by Mr. Coulter with his constant push for intellectualism).

Stated this way, I could make the case biblically that if Peter had been asked about the “hope that is in him”, his response would be simply the Lord Christ is my hope:

1 Pet 1.6-9
In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.

His closing bullet points

  • Biblical apologetics at the level of explaining the reason for our hope is the task of all believers—all should be prepared
  • Biblical apologetics is pointless without a consistent Christian lifestyle—our hope and goodness is the greatest apologetic
  • Biblical apologetics draws confidence from the Lordship of Christ—fear of God eliminates fear of man
  • Biblical apologetics must be practiced with the correct attitude—humility and dependence on God

are OK, if by “biblical apologetics” we use the term as Peter did: a consistent, faithful, “servant-minded”, and humble Christian lifestyle in the view of the lost—particularly those lost that intimidate and persecute believers. If we allow Mr. Coulter to define it, then these points would reinforce the pre-evangelism” error pushed by him and others like him. I, for one, am tasked to call out such cavalier treatment of the Word of God.

 


The Dynamic of Apologetic Dialogue
This is the final content section before the author’s Conclusion. I won’t waste much time critiquing it formally because it assumes that the author’s definition of apologetics is valid—a premise I reject strongly and biblically throughout this series. (It is worthy of a few observations and comments, though.)

Let’s begin here:

“The temptation with apologetics is to offer set answers to set questions. It can be useful to have a structure in mind when dealing with certain issues. However, it is better to have an understanding of how we can effectively engage with people at a conversational level… Apologetics can become mechanistic. Although the truth of the Gospel remains constant, we mustn’t think that by repeating things we have said to other people in the past, we will automatically get the same response.”

The author recognizes a problem (a mechanistic methodology), but proceeds anyway with a mechanistic methodology through this section.

There is one particular item to note: the surprising absence of the mention of an absolute dependence on the Word and knowing the Word, and an equal absence of the dependence upon and recognition of the work of the Holy Spirit in any meeting with the lost. (You will find copious mention of various men and their advice, however. Again, of how much value will these be in The Day?)

 

A Context
This section reminds me of a saying of a person I used to work for when I was a student at a Bible college. He had a phrase that pointed out how silly stating the obvious can be at times: “Dave, stand up and I’ll show you how your feet touch the floor.”

 

You (the ‘apologist’)
A surprisingly large percentage (around 25%) of the NT is either about the Apostle Paul or written by the Apostle Paul. There are only two passages (Act 22 and Act 26) in which Paul shared “his personal story”. The vast majority of those portions of the NT are Paul simply preaching the gospel. (See my article Preach the Gospel! for an extensive list.)

It’s nice to know that “Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli give a necessary warning about the importance of the person of the ‘apologist’ in a dialogue …” So, who are they and what intrinsic authority do they have when it comes to the Lord’s simple command to “Go and make disciples.”? Are they going to stand with me at the Judgment Seat of Christ and say “Lord, it’s OK. Dave was doing what we taught—in spite of the fact that we added a layer of methodology and authority above the gospel.”?

 

A questioner
I’m afraid that Philip, commanded by the Lord to present the gospel to the stranger on the road (Act 8.26+), missed this rule. The same goes for Paul and Silas when they found the group of women outside Philippi and began speaking with them. Paul probably should have spent more time considering:

  • What cultural and religious background …
  • What experiences have they had that might lie behind their question …
  • Where do they stand as regards the Christian …
  • The suggestions of Kenneth Boa and Robert Bowman.
  • Whether he and Silas should have used the fideist, reformed, classical or evidential approach.

Mr. Couter: really?!?! Do you really think that any of this man-made intellectual glop has any bearing on the pure beauty and power of simply preaching the gospel?

 

A question
The author finally appeals to the Scripture (or does he?):

“We would do well to heed the wisdom of Proverbs 18:13: “he who answers before listening—that is his folly and his shame.” To be effective in the task of apologetics we must learn to be good listeners.”

Yes, there is evidence in the records of the Acts that the Apostles and early disciples listened to questions and provided answers. What is more evident, though, is the huge proportion of their “engagement with the lost” was their unfiltered and uninvited preaching of the gospel to the lost. Our adversary, Apollyon, knows all too well that if he can keep the Christian “answering the questions of the lost”, that the likelihood of the gospel actually being communicated to the lost is reduced, if not actually eliminated.

It is too bad that the author happens to apply a good text to an evangelistically misplaced activity (apologetics).

[So, the author really didn't get around to the Bible after all...]

 


An answer
“Peter calls it a defence or a reason and he calls us to be prepared. Christians ought to be thinking people.”

I heartily agree: we ought to be thinking people!

That thought process, though, needs to be saturated with what the Bible actually teaches instead of a false premise that (designed to be or not) gives the “apologist” a greater feeling of self-worth—an impression that I reasonably conclude from Mr. Coulter’s article that the apologist’s work is actually needed to prepare the lost to hear the gospel!

This is nothing more than unfiltered, undiluted and unmitigated arrogance.

 


Christ
Even when the author (finally!) returns to the subject of the gospel

“The one who is Lord! We should always aim to bring the conversation back to him. Our aim should be to try to connect the discussion into the gospel story.

he manages to dilute it nevertheless: “… try to connect the discussion into the gospel story.” Wow, that’s good advice—actually sharing the gospel as the Lord commanded

If only evangelistic apologetics didn’t get in the way first! What spectacular hypocrisy!

 


Conclusion

“In conclusion I simply want to encourage you, the reader, to have boldness in sharing your faith and engaging with the questions people ask. This boldness is not drawn from arrogance but from a confidence in Christ as Lord and a joy in the living hope He has won for us.”

The Lord’s command was to “go and make disciples …”; there is nothing in that commission to “go and do apologetics”, and Mr. Coulter’s article was an epic fail at providing a biblical foundation for even the smallest of his claims.

Reader, if you want to be effective as an evangelist, rather than following the “advice” of Mr. Coulter, I offer this:

  • Read and understand your Bible!
  • Review and memorize all the Bible texts that I marshal in this series regarding the nature of lost man, the election of grace, the work of the Holy Spirit in the salvation of the lost, and the copious examples of the NT disciples actually preaching the gospel, along with why they did so.
  • Stay focused on the gospel when engaging the lost, and do not let the conversation wander away from it. There will be points at which you’ll find that you need to do the equivalent of this:
    “Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet.” (Mat 10.14)
  • At other times, retire to prayer for that one; perhaps the Lord will be pleased to open their heart to the gospel. Just don’t get distracted from the real gospel, the only gospel that can save!

 


Final Comments

In order to get a summary context of Bethinking.org, I did the following site searches:

The first (“repent”) is useful to summarize the organization’s teaching of and references to the terms “repent” and “repentance”, especially in the context of the gospel and the preaching of the gospel. There were 9 hits, of which only 3 dealt with the topic in a manner useful for review here.

The strongest statement, and with which I agree, was found in their review of Rob Bell’s book Love Wins [http://www.bethinking.org/christian-beliefs/if-love-wins-what-is-lost/9-conclusions]. Mr. Coulter (the author of that review) stated:

“Unlike Bell, however, but like the apostle Paul (as he explains the gospel in Romans) I am convinced that the gospel is only good news if it includes an honest explanation of the nature of the heart of sin, which is human pride and idolatry, and a warning of the reality of God’s righteous wrath and coming judgement which results in the eternal condemnation of those who do not repent. Unless people understand this they cannot repent and believe the gospel and the cross of Christ makes no sense. This does not mean that the gospel I proclaim will be primarily about Hell and judgement or even that I will state these truths up front every time I share it, but that I will not deny, hide or attempt to ameliorate or apologise for them. Rather I will proclaim the hope that is in Christ Jesus alone because without Him there is no hope and I will call those who hear to repent and believe because the time is short and the day of judgement is coming. As I do this I hope that my ongoing understanding of the gospel and knowledge of Christ will be increasingly shaped by the revelation of God to mankind that is contained within the Scriptures he gave us.”

This is a good statement! The difficulty is resolving the logical contradiction between these comments and disposition and “… that apologetics alone is not enough—evangelism is also necessary” as stated in this article.

Mr. Coulter, you only here rightly maintained a very solid position in the presentation of the gospel to the lost with the message of faith and repentance; I noted no reference to or reliance upon apologetics of any type.

So where did the “also necessary” come from in this article, a statement that says (if logically analyzed):

  1. The lost may not be saved if exposed to only the message of apologetics.
  2. The lost may be saved when exposed to the message of apologetics and evangelism.

Which am I to believe: the many statements in your lengthy article I’m reviewing here, or your comments made in your review of Bell’s book?

They say very different things.

I continue to maintain, as I have in many places in my series, that to combine the gospel with anything is to introduce “another gospel”, one that is subject to the Lord’s own curse.

The second site search (Eph 2) is designed to find mentions of the very well-known

Eph 2.8-9
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

There were none! I have to say that I was more than a bit surprised by this. But, then again, it does explain the decidedly humanistic, intellectual, “the-apologist-and-his-work-is-needed-first-before-sharing-the-gospel” disposition that I found in this article. Such an approach needs nothing of “grace through faith”.

Mr. Coulter: how would it even possible that I not regard what you’ve written as heresy, unbiblical rot of the deepest decay?

If it is true—as it appears to be—that you really have no humble and reverent fear of the electing, powerful grace of God, then you have nothing but yourself and your own, mechanistic methodology to share with the lost. I ask only: are you prepared to stand before the Lord Christ and defend this unbiblical and humanistic approach to the lost when the judgment reveals that your “ministry” produced only professing converts instead of possessing converts? I can confidently say on the authority of the Scriptures that your “converts” could know nothing of the true grace of a Spirit-granted life and repentance.

You need to review this: 

1 Cor 3.10-15
According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

You should be terrified based on what I've read in your article. This is you at the judgment of 1 Cor 3.

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