I call upon You, Lord, God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob and Israel, You who are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who, through the abundance of your mercy, was well-pleased towards us so that we may know You, who made heaven and earth, who rules over all, You who are the one and the true God, above whom there is no other God; You who, by our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, give to every one who reads this writing to know You, that You alone are God, to be strengthened in You, and to avoid every heretical and godless and impious teaching.

St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3:6:4

Saturday, December 5, 2009

One Problem with Popular Apologetics

“Today we are going to enter the courtroom of your mind, and on trial is the Bible. In the next twenty minutes, I’d like to present a case for the authenticity of the Scriptures. And at the end, I’ll ask you for a verdict: ‘Is it worth trusting?’ ‘Is it believable?’ Well, court is now is session...”

These were Chip Ingram’s opening remarks Monday morning on his hugely popular radio program, Living on the Edge.

This is part of an apologetic series that Ingram’s doing on the program. Ingram’s comments immediately evoked a particular passage of Scripture when I heard them. That was Gen 3:1, “Hath God said...?”

Should the very question that brought about humanity’s rebellion against God be the means through which people are saved from their rebellion?!?

I understand the well-meant crux of the Ingram’s evidentialist’s reasoning. He fears the charge of circular reason or question begging if he were to, in keeping with the tone and message of the Bible itself, simply appeal to the Self-attesting and absolute nature of God’s Word.

But Ingram has not saved himself at this point. He cannot avoid appealing to some authority in making his case. If one were to ask him what might suffice as a proper criterion for judging the truth claims of the Bible, he would suggest logic. However, the next question is, of course, “Why do you believe logic is the proper means of evaluation?” What could be his response? “Well, it’s only logical to do so.”

In making this move, though, Ingram has fallen prey to the very logical problem he was hoping to elude. Once the chaff is winnowed from the arguments, all appeals to other criteria a reducible to the intellectually anathemized, “The Bible is true, because it’s God word; it’s God’s word because it says so.” For a succinct statement of this problem check out Steve’s summary here. Or you can see the same point in a larger context here.

Here are some other questions that Ingram’s evidential method begs:

Does human reason function properly independent of an attitude of submission to God?

Is unregenerate man’s problem with God’s Word intellectual or moral in nature?

Is human reason unscathed by sin?

This is to name only a few.

The Bible’s answer to these is an emphatic NO!

“Let God be true though every one were a liar!” (Rom 3:4).

Any thoughts?


  1. In order for a Christian to build and argument for the Christian faith, the one to whom the Christian would present the argument would have to be willing to accept certain things as true. The question is, how can they know that those things are true? Why is their ultimate basis for accepting some things as true and rejecting other things as false? At the end of the day, we either look to God to tell us what to think or we accept on some other authority. Yet since God's authority is ultimate, let us begin with him rather than other truths that we would then use to reason to him.

  2. Exactly, Steve. Because this method builds upon the same assumptions that the unbeliever is operating on, it offers nothing by which to challenge the unbeliever’s ultimate commitments, or to use biblical language, their idols.

    At the risk of redundancy, again, our first parent’s fall in the garden is a case in point. Satan’s proposal was hardly different. Eve had to suppress the fact that her right reasoning was dependant upon the necessity, sufficiency, and authority of God himself. Satan entered the scene with his hypothesis: God’s Word, “Is it worth trusting? Is it believable?” As Van Til insisted, she thought to put the “How can we know?” question before the “What do we know?” one.

    As you know, this is the classic problem of criterion; Eve was the first epistemological methodist, the first modernist. And so-called traditional apologetics have followed her course.

    “For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (Lk 16:15).