The Humanism of Evangelistic Apologetics
Romans 1: "God made it evident to them ..."
As we’ll see in this chapter, Romans chapter 1 is presented (albeit infrequently) as an apologetic argument. As I’ll demonstrate here, while there is a great deal of majestic theology in Romans 1, there is nothing that would correspond to CARM’s view (as one example) that it is a case of “classical apologetics”, which:
- Stresses rational argumentation for the existence of God.
- Finds it necessary to demonstrate the existence of God first in order to argue for the resurrection of Jesus.
[I’ll deal with CARM’s (essentially completely defective and unbiblical) view of apologetics at length in Part 13. I mention CARM here merely to introduce the bizarre and irrational notion which some have regarding Rom 1 as an example of classical apologetics.]
So, the question before us is this: what does Romans chapter 1 really teach and is it a valid example of classical apologetics (generously assuming, for a moment, that classical apologetics is even valid in the first place)?
[Please note that this definitely will not be a thorough exegesis; I’m dealing only with the erroneous belief that Romans 1 corroborates the notion of classical apologetics.]
In the first place, the introduction in chapter 1 clearly demonstrates the longing that Paul had to meet and bless the Christians in Rome. But, notice that he twice mentions the gospel in verses 15 and 16:
So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”
[And, we all know the tremendous impact that verse 17 had on a Roman Catholic monk named Martin Luther centuries later at the genesis of the Reformation...]
In the few apologetic-related articles I’ve reviewed that appeal to Romans 1 for support, they generally begin at verse 18; it is here that we see how the stage is set for the brilliant argument that Paul presents regarding the lost, who are described as:
… men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness …
That verb suppress is very significant. It declares that from the earliest moment the problem with the lost is not that they somehow don’t know the truth; rather, it is that they know the truth and suppress it.
[To use a modern phrase: “This changes everything!”.]
No longer may the lost be viewed as an unfortunate group that simply hasn’t been anchored to the proper intellectual moorings, that once that intellectual tether has been established, well then, it is much more likely that they’ll be saved.
This thinking is not only nonsense, it is an affront to the true gospel. The lost suppress the truth they’ve been given—this is the Lord’s own testimony of the heart of the lost—and He declares unequivocally that He knows that heart. (cf. Jer 17.10)
But, the Holy Spirit speaking through the Apostle Paul, really drives the point home:
because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 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. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God …
Look at this description! Every phrase, every noun, verb, adverb and adjective, every word says the same thing:
The lost are fully culpable before God because of their active opposition to Him and His glory!
Observe the justice of God who, judging lost men in their natural state and based on the revelation of Himself that He graciously provided, three times declared that the lost were to be “given over” to/in their sin as a just and holy punishment:
Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. …
For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions …
And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness …
This is the implementation of divine justice to those who have no excuse; it is the just judgment upon those who actively suppress His truth, try to change God’s own glory into the common and are fully culpable in every way for their willful, sinful activity. To revisit the opening paragraph:
First, there is nothing here that “argues for the existence of God”. No; the existence of God is assumed at every point!
Then, second, the use of Rom 1 to “argue for the resurrection of Jesus” is also non sequitur. Once again, the Lord’s resurrection is assumed because the Father declared the Lord Christ to be His own Son by means of the resurrection. Missing here the assumptions that Paul makes (and under the inspiration of the Spirit, no less), is tantamount to “missing the forest for the trees.” Paul wasn’t attempting to prove these theological facts—he was building upon them because they were already true and in absolutely no need of external proof!
Again, assuming that classical apologetics is valid (a premise I don’t hold), then CARM (in this instance) failed miserably to make its case from Romans chapter 1.
I’ll close this chapter by mentioning an important observation usually missing from the evangelistic apologist’s use of Romans chapter 1:
Based on the fact that Romans 1.18+ establishes conclusively that lost mankind stands guilty before God as a consequence of their active suppression of the truth and “de-glorification” (my term) of the Almighty, there is no mention that this innate knowledge of God (“… for God made it evident to them …”) actually saves anyone!
Romans 1.18+ show only the lost's state of just condemnation before the Almighty; it does not present the truth of how the lost is to be saved!
The evangelistic apologist misses this key point when he/she attempts to make it say something that it doesn’t. But then, as I demonstrate abundantly in Part 13, this is the modus operandi of the modern evangelistic apologist.