The Humanism of Evangelistic Apologetics
The spiritual nature of the lost.
In any activity that claims (or even implies) an evangelistic goal, the first question that must be asked is: “What is the nature of the lost?” After all, one must understand the spiritual state of that person with whom the gospel is to be shared if that “evangelism” is to be deemed actually useful. Let me give a simple (and silly) illustration:
My goal is to share the message of “color” with a person, including all that is scientific or aesthetic; its artistic properties; its enjoyment and use, etc. What I fail to realize (or even bother to learn!) is that the person I’m attempting to “evangelize” about color was born blind!
It should be obvious that that effort is doomed to fail—and shame on me for such a monumentally irresponsible assumption. I assumed an ability (in this case, sight) that did not exist in the person with whom I spoke!
Likewise, the evangelist must reckon with the true nature of the lost as part of the process. To remain ignorant of particularly what the lost is not able to do, is to doom that evangelistic effort to utter failure. Mere human understanding and a mere human approach to the problem of the true spiritual state of the lost are completely inadequate and lead invariably to a humanistic gospel (an oxymoron, to be sure!).
As I will detail in Part 13, the typical, modern apologist assumes—without biblical basis—that if only a person had the proper information, he/she would turn to Christianity more frequently compared with the person to whom “only” the gospel was presented. (“After all,” they tend to reason, “ours is a modern, intellectual culture—and the true gospel is old-fashioned and out of date. It needs a fresh presentation.”)
However, the picture that the Bible presents of the lost is not an attractive or comfortable one; on the contrary: to say that it debases man would be a stunning understatement. The Lord said this to Jeremiah centuries ago:
The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?
The Lord’s answer is as profound as it is simple:
I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds.
So, since the Lord alone really, truly understands man, would it not be reasonable and responsible to learn what that same Lord declares regarding the true nature of man in his descent from Adam? As will be amply demonstrated in Part 13 in this series, the typical modern-day apologist essentially ignores what the Lord teaches and proceeds anyway with his own assumptions: the first assumption being that the lost is fundamentally able to understand and respond to the gospel.
So, what is the nature of that lost person, the physical and spiritual descendant of Adam?
To express it in a concise phrase: he is “spiritually dead”.
And you [lit. “being”] dead in your trespasses and sins … even when we [lit. “being”] dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),
Twice in this short passage (highlighted), the Greek present active participle “being” (ὄντας) is used (vv 1, 5): literally, “you, being dead” and “even when we being dead”.
It is universally true: a dead man doesn’t respond to external stimuli. The only way that a dead man can actually respond to anything is if, and only if, he first is made alive. (I deal with the “how” of that action later.) From the perspective of the spiritual, while man’s soul is alive (in the medical/physiological sense), his spirit is dead. If his spirit is dead he is therefore incapable of any spiritual reaction to any and all spiritual activity to which he may be invited.
The same declaration is made here:
When you [lit. “being”] dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions,
Any attempt to side-step, ignore, disregard, mitigate, etc. the deadness of man’s spirit is futile. And just as futile is any attempt to proceed with a spiritual activity (such as evangelism!) based on the assumption that man, once given the information that is designed to save him—the gospel—can and will (somehow!) respond “naturally” to actually believe the gospel and be saved.
It can’t happen—without Divine intervention, that is.
So, we must start as just shown: a person, the direct descendant of Adam, is in the durative state (present active participle) of “being dead.” This should be sufficient by itself to eliminate any practical humanistic attempts at saving the lost (but, of course, isn't because of the spectacular arrogance of the evangelistic apologist who characteristically ignores Scripture).
Eph 2.1,5 and Col 2.13, though, are only the beginning; there is much more to consider.
All too often, the well-meaning evangelist assumes that the lost is “spiritually reasonable and responsive” (my terms used to summarize Part 13 in this series). Typically, within the context of “sharing the gospel” there is the assumption that the lost is actually able to understand it in a spiritual context.
And this is how the process actually appears to play out in “real life”, right? After all, the person with whom I share the gospel is alive (he certainly does not look or “act” like a corpse!); he reasons and reacts; he may get emotional or remain intellectually detached; he may be amused or become condescending; he may engage in conversation or debate; he may get annoyed or simply ignore me.
In short, he appears to be anything but dead—or unresponsive or without understanding! But this is exactly how the Lord knows man to be:
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.
Evangelist!: if you would truly serve the Lord by evangelizing the lost, you must accept that the person to whom you speak cannot naturally, intrinsically understand the things of the Spirit of God—he is completely, utterly devoid of anything that would “naturally” respond to the gospel. And you must accept the fact that while you are commanded to share that gospel with the lost, you are nowhere commanded to ensure that the lost actually responds. That work is the Lord’s alone! As you will see in Part 13 of this series, this simple fact is often overlooked (sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly) by the modern apologist who goes to extraordinary lengths to (attempt to) do just that: ensure the conversion of the lost!
The NT is very clear about the nature of the lost; in some places that nature is presented as being “in the flesh” in contrast to being “in the Spirit.” Here the Apostle Paul presents the deadness of the natural man in slightly different terms:
For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
To be “in Adam” is to be the “natural man”, the “man in the flesh.” And anyone in this state “is death”, “is hostile toward God”, “does not subject itself to the law of God” and “cannot please God.” It is irrelevant that it appears that man is alive and able to reason with and through the information of the gospel; this is the lie that too many “evangelists” believe and upon which they base their “evangelistic strategy” (again, my summarizing term).
Jude likewise describes the lost (in this context, the false teachers who infested the assembly of the saints):
But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, “In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.” These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit.
What are they? They are people who are consumed by their “own ungodly lusts”. There is no such thing as an open-minded, unbiased lost person. As the Bible declares, they are “devoid of the Spirit”.
The Lord Christ put it this way, using the frequent NT abstract of the “heart”:
But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.”
What is this “heart”? It is the center and foundation of the true nature of a person. In his/her direct descent from Adam, that heart is always, essentially and completely evil, that element of his/her being which “defiles” a person. The lost person with whom you share the gospel may be a “nice person in real life”, but you are seriously deluded if you don’t reckon with their true nature, a nature that you are completely helpless to change without the Lord’s direct intervention with and by the message of the gospel (the topic of a later chapter in this series).
The lost is in the continual state of being under the wrath of God:
He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
The lost is presented as that one whose only thoughts, words and actions are utterly reprehensible to God and deserving of wrath:
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,
The first Christian martyr, Stephen, said this of the Jews who were about to murder him:
You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did.
The Apostle Paul reminded the Gentile converts of that state in which they lived prior to meeting their Savior, the Lord Christ:
Eph 4.17-18Eph 4.17-18
So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart;
2 Cor 4.3-6
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
Before their conversion, those Gentiles demonstrated only their spiritual blindness, a darkened understanding, filled with ignorance and spiritual hardness, and were, in fact, excluded from the life of God!
Last, but not least, is the scathing declaration by the Lord of the natural man through the Apostle Paul here:
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.”
Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God;
In every conceivable way, the lost is
- hopeless and helpless in himself,
- utterly unable to save himself,
- unable to seek God,
- the enemy of God and unafraid of God,
- unable even to understand the only truth that will save him.
This is the truth regarding the lost that the Evangelistic Apologist actively and deliberately ignores, essentially relegating it into some unimportant “theological backwater” (as I’ll document in this chapter of this series).
And here is the wonderful declaration of man’s utter helplessness and the mercy of God:
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
So, to the evangelist who dabbles in apologetics as his (major and/or only) tool, I ask you these questions:
- Do you still think that you can somehow communicate directly with the dead spirit of the lost?
- Can you breathe life into the dead spirit of the lost, to cause his/her mind to suddenly "wake up"?
- Can you guide the lost to a true understanding of God?
- Can you open his spiritually-blind eyes and heal his spiritual deafness?
- Can you somehow put him back on the right path?
- Can you somehow force him to seek His Creator and God?
The work of regenerating the lost is the Lord’s alone. Your sole responsibility is to bring the message of the gospel (which I cover in a later chapter, after establishing the proper theological foundation from the Bible).
There is yet additional evidence of the utterly destitute nature of the lost: Romans chapter 1. This powerful portion of Scripture has its own chapter.
Hopefully, you’re now asking the question “Where should I begin?” The answer to that question is the next chapter. Here’s how the Lord Christ introduced this topic to someone long ago who asked a related question:
Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born from above he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’
If a man is to be born from above, then something outside that man—apart from that man—must occur: he is made alive by being “born from above” (a better translation of the typically-translated phrase “born again”). And if he is to be born from above, then the Lord must have done something to initiate that event: the Election of Grace.