Tag Archives: Apologetics

Showing the Good God to Pagans: A Review

Thomas Marberry

Dr. Jeffrey L. Cockrell serves as Associate Professor of New Testament at Welch College. He is currently the Program Coordinator both for Theological Studies and for the M.A. program in Theology and Ministry. He has served our denomination in a variety of different capacities, including almost thirty years of experience as a local church pastor.

Paul, Peter, and other early Christian preachers generally proclaimed the gospel to audiences that were Jewish in character, but occasionally they had the opportunity to share the Good News with the worshipers of pagan gods. Paul did so on two occasions in Acts; the first took place in Lystra as recorded in Acts 14:15-17. The second is his famous sermon before the Areopagus in Athens as found in Acts 17:22-32. As Bruce correctly notes, “Probably no ten verses in Acts have formed the text for such an abundance of commentary as has gathered around Paul’s Areopagus speech.”

In this paper, Cockrell argues that Paul’s speech to this well-educated and sophisticated congregation can serve as a model for presenting the Gospel to secular audiences in today’s world. He begins by explaining that Paul was well prepared for this important task. Cockrell writes, “His background was cosmopolitan. He was a citizen of Rome and Tarsus.” While growing up in Tarsus, Paul experienced both Hellenistic rhetoric and Stoic philosophy. When he came to Athens as an adult, Paul was well prepared for the cultured pagan environment that he would encounter there. Yet these experiences did not lead Paul to abandon his Jewish, and later Christian, heritage. He remained true to the monotheistic faith that he had been taught as a child.

Cockrell demonstrates a thorough understanding of the intellectual conditions existing in the city of Athens during the first century. The Areopagus was an important court in the city that had jurisdiction over issues of religion and morality. The term “Areopagus” described both the court and their meeting place on the hill of Ares, the god of war. When the Romans took over the Greek gods, they gave the Roman name “Mars” to this location.

In the conclusion to his paper, Dr. Cockrell outlines several ways in which modern Christians can use this sermon as a model for presenting the gospel today. First, he points out that Paul knew how to adapt his remarks to the audience he was addressing. This does not mean that Paul compromised his message; it does mean that he presented the message in such a way that the Athenians could understand and appreciate it.

Paul introduced his sermon by pointing out several positive aspects of the religious practices of the Athenians. He did not ridicule or belittle them. He followed this instruction by presenting the true God who had created the universe. He presented this God as One whom they could know in a personal way.

It is true that some began to mock him when Paul began to preach about the resurrection, but it is also true that some did believe his message. This essay gives us an excellent understanding of the background behind Paul’s famous sermon. It also offers several helpful suggestions on how we can present the gospel message to our secular world.

The Apologetics of Leroy Forlines Published

by Theological Commission

A new book, The Apologetics of Leroy Forlines, by F. Leroy Forlines and J. Matthew Pinson, was recently published by Welch College Press, according to Matthew Bracey, managing editor of Welch College Press.

“The book has met with much enthusiasm and praise,” Bracey said. “We’re proud of this book and believe it honors the legacy that Mr. Forlines has left to us on the topics of apologetics and worldview thinking.”

Forlines, Professor Emeritus of Theology at Welch College, served on the Commission for Theological Integrity for fifty years, most of those years as chairman. Pinson, chairman of the Commission for Theological Integrity, serves as president of Welch College.

As detailed on the book’s dust jacket, “In The Apologetics of Leroy Forlines, J. Matthew Pinson brings together select writings of F. Leroy Forlines on apologetics and the knowledge of God. He begins the volume with a lengthy essay on the apologetics of the foremost systematic theologian of the modern Free Will Baptist Church and the contemporary Reformed Arminian movement.”

“I welcome this new book from my distinguished friend and scholar J. Matthew Pinson, which explores my previous writings on apologetics,” Forlines said. “In this book Pinson has brought together some of my writings on apologetics and epistemology from my book The Quest for Truth, introducing them with a lengthy opening chapter of his own on my approach to these matters. I highly commend Pinson’s essay, which excellently sums up my approach to apologetics.”

Forlines added, “The ideas in this book are timely. In the last thirty years, postmodernism has displaced modernism in the intellectual world, which has profoundly affected the discipline of apologetics. This book emphasizes how important it is to understand the changes that postmodernism has brought relating to evangelizing people and reaching them for Christ. The same kind of apologetics used under modernism does not work with the postmodern worldview. . . . My prayer is that God will add His blessing to this book, using it to extend His kingdom and give Him the glory that is due His name alone.”

“Most of my approach to apologetics has derived from conversations with Leroy Forlines,” Pinson said. “The word apologetics appears only a handful of times in his published writings. He tends more to use terms like epistemology, testing worldviews, metanarratives, and paradigms. As I began to encounter students who were interested in apologetics, I would talk to them about Forlines’s approach. Yet they were at a loss because he had never spelled out in detail, in one place, an approach to apologetics. So for some time I have wanted to write something on the apologetics of Leroy Forlines, to reprint and examine his writings on epistemology, worldview thinking, postmodernity, and secularism, distilling his basic approach to apologetics. This book and my essay herein represent a modest fulfillment of that goal.”

“I think friends who follow the work of the Commission and readers of FWBTheology.com will be interested in this new book,” Pinson stated. “Those who have attended theological symposia over the years have heard Mr. Forlines talk about the issues in this book again and again. It’s a privilege to celebrate the thought of our former chairman who was a member of the Commission for fifty years who has had such a profound impact on so many of us.”

Apologetics is the fourth publication from Welch College Press. To purchase a copy of the book, visit https://welch.edu/welchpress.

Nothing New Under the Sun

Matthew Pinson

When it comes to the big questions, as Ecclesiastes reminds us, there is nothing new under the sun. I am often reminded of this when I attend debates between Christians and skeptics of various varieties. For example, several years ago I heard Craig Evans debate Bart Ehrman, the famous evangelical-turned-skeptic who teaches at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After hearing Ehrman’s arguments (and later reading them in some of his books and articles), I was really surprised that that was all he had.

Most of his criticisms of the Bible would do more to bring doubts to a child in a Sunday school room than a person who had taken a freshman course in biblical interpretation at a Christian college. I was struck particularly by how many of his concerns were reiterations of things that the church fathers themselves were dealing with 1,700+ years ago. Here I was braced for some new, groundbreaking scientific argument or an argument made possible because of computer technology or some new archaeological discovery. But what I heard was just more rehashing of much of what skeptics of Christianity have been saying for hundreds, yea thousands, of years.

This memory came back to my mind recently when I was reading Carl F. H. Henry’s wonderful little book from the 1940s, Giving a Reason for Our Hope (Boston: W. A. Wilde, 1949). It’s a wonderful little volume on apologetics that is still relevant for today. In answering the question, “The Modern naturalistic version is that God is simply an imagination of ours, so how can we answer that?” Henry replies:

“The arguments which the modern naturalists use against belief in God are not new; strictly speaking, nothing essential has been added to the argument as it existed many centuries ago, in ancient Greek times. The arguments were all in existence when Christianity came into the world. It is not because a man is modern, but because he is a naturalist, that he says God is a figment of the imagination” (16).

This is so true. In the major intellectual questions about Christianity, there is nothing new under the sun. Reading this also brought to my mind not just our contemporary intellectual context, but also our contemporary cultural context. Many evangelical Protestants have developed a “fear of man” and are too intimidated by the rapid cultural changes in our technological, secularizing society.

It seems that we think what we are facing is unique to our time, and thus we have to use methods in our church growth practices that have never before been tried in the history of Christianity. (And it’s not that the apostles and saints and martyrs throughout history couldn’t have tried them, that they didn’t have the resources to try them. It’s just that they chose not to.)

I don’t want to downplay the acute difficulties and unique qualities of modernity and postmodernity. But I think that we need more to see ourselves in a missionary situation to a pagan culture, like the church fathers and missionaries of the Christian tradition, rather than seeing ourselves as being comfortable in a Christian culture and still thinking we can spread the gospel like we used to in that culture. Yet, in the big questions, there is nothing new under the sun. We are not experiencing anything that the early church did not experience, or that various traditional missionaries to pagan cultures did not experience.

I think it’s helpful for us to look at the church fathers, especially prior to the mammoth changes in the fourth century when the church began accommodating pagan culture more and speaking a prophetic word to it less. When we look at the early church, we see it engaging a pagan culture that is similar in profound ways to our own, and we find that they had almost all the resources at their disposal that we currently have. Yet they based their ministry of the gospel on the all-sufficient word, not the methods and gimmicks the secular culture used to draw a crowd.

Every age and society has its unique qualities. Yet because humanity is made in God’s image and is fallen and finite, we find that there is nothing new under the sun. The Holy Scripture that God breathed out more than twenty centuries ago gives us—just as it gave the saints and martyrs who went before us—everything necessary for life and godliness, for building Christ’s church, for extending the kingdom, and for defending the rationality of the Christian gospel in a complex marketplace of ideas.

2017 Symposium Recap: Adam Holloway on Presuppositional  Apologetics

Matt Pinson

The burden of Adam Holloway’s well-done paper was to make a case that presuppositional forms of apologetics are the most effective type of apologetics in dealing with the postmodern condition. Holloway aimed to show in the paper that an approach to apologetics that starts with the “inescapable questions of life” (Forlines) and deals with unbelievers’ false presuppositions (things that they assume to be true at the outset) is best-suited to deal with intellectual objections of people in a postmodern context. This approach considers holistic worldviews, testing each one and showing the inconsistency and inadequacy of non-Christian worldviews. Holloway suggested that evidential apologetics places too much confidence in human reason and is naïve about the ability of unbelievers to interpret evidence rationally and objectively.

Holloway began his paper with a consideration of Francis Schaeffer’s approach to apologetics. He emphasized Schaeffer’s comment that “presuppositional apologetics would have stopped the decay” of Christian belief and confidence in absolute truth that was occurring in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He discussed Schaeffer’s concept of a “line of despair,” which occurred in Western thought during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Prior to the “line of despair,” everyone in Western culture was thinking with the same basic presuppositions about ultimate reality regarding universal truth, right and wrong, the nature of knowledge, etc. After they crossed the line of despair, they no longer shared basic Judeo-Christian presuppositions.

Thus Schaeffer thought that evidential apologetics was inadequate below the line of despair. The attempt—following medieval scholasticism as represented by the thought of Thomas Aquinas—to get people to believe in the existence of God by reason alone, without any recourse to faith or special revelation, failed to reckon with presuppositions. As Holloway explained, Schaeffer believed that this method of apologetics was “talking past” modern people who had abandoned the basic presuppositions needed to understand the Thomistic proofs for the existence of God and evidential arguments for the rationality of Christianity. Thus the best way to reason with unbelievers, for Schaeffer was by showing the irrationality, inconsistency, or inadequacy of their non-Christian presuppositions, then presenting the Christian worldview as the rationally consistent alternative that gives the most satisfying answers to the inescapable questions of life. Holloway also showed, later in the paper, that this is the approach of Leroy Forlines.

Holloway summarized Alvin Plantinga’s and Ronald Nash’s view that all people have a basic, in-born knowledge of God “preprogrammed” in their consciousness. He also considered more robust presuppositionalists such as Cornelius Van Til and his mentee Greg Bahnsen, quoting Bahnsen as saying that an apologetic argument should “pit the unbeliever’s system of thought as a unit over against the believer’s system of thought as a unit. Their overall perspectives will have to contend with each other, rather than debating isolated points in a piecemeal fashion.”

Holloway did a good job of making a case for the need for an apologetic that probes the inadequacy of non-Christian worldviews, as a whole, in addressing the rational and existential needs of the human person, and showing the adequacy of the Christian worldview, as a whole, in addressing those needs. It is worth noting that Holloway’s approach is right in line with the approach Leroy Forlines takes in chapter 7 of his Quest for Truth.

One shortcoming of the paper was that it failed to distinguish adequately between different sorts of presuppositionalists. Thinkers he examined such as Schaeffer, Forlines, and Nash, though more Augustinian and presuppositional in their framework and starting point, take into account the need to test worldviews for their logical consistency and ability to meet existential needs. Van Tilian presuppositionalists are less apt to stress logic and empirical data and more likely to emphasize the internal inconsistencies of non-Christian systems. In a future revision, Mr. Holloway would do well to distinguish Van Tilian presuppositionalism from the moderate presuppositional approaches of thinkers such as Nash, Schaeffer, and Forlines. Notwithstanding this criticism, Mr. Holloway did a fine job in his paper of showing why a more worldview-oriented, presuppositional approach to the apologetic task will bear more fruit in the postmodern intellectual context.

Adam Holloway: Presuppositional  Apologetics in a Postmodern Age

Our Favorite Books in 2017

by Theological Commission

Members of the Commission for Theological Integrity enjoy a good book as much as anyone. This year has afforded each of us the opportunity to read a number of titles, some published more recently and others published in prior years. This post features a couple of favorite books by each Commission member. Note that while our mention of these books doesn’t represent a blanket endorsement of their entire content, we felt they were significant, interesting, and/or enjoyable. We commend them accordingly unto our readers.

Kevin Hester

Since this year was the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, I read several books on this topic. I reread two classics: Timothy George’s Theology of the Reformers and Roland Bainton’s, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther. Of particular interest on this topic was Zondervan’s Five Solas Series: Christ Alone (Stephen Wellum), Faith Alone (Thomas Schreiner), God’s Glory Alone (David VanDrunen), God’s Word Alone (Mathew Barrett), and Grace Alone (Carl Trueman), all of which are to be commended for theological clarity and attention to the continued practical relevance of these Protestant principles.

One of the more interesting books I read related to the Protestant Reformation was Matthew Levering’s Was the Reformation a Mistake: Why Catholic Doctrine is not Unbiblical (Zondervan, 2017). Unlike most Roman Catholic apologetics, this one was aimed squarely at Evangelical Protestants. Levering, in a rather irenic spirit, strives (unconvincingly) to demonstrate the biblical background of nine Roman Catholic doctrines including: justification, Mary, monasticism, purgatory, the Saints, and the papacy among others. Continue reading Our Favorite Books in 2017