Thursday, May 31, 2007

When Debating an Atheist
...don't give up Christianity to try and prove the God of Christianity

The debating of nonbelievers on issues concerning biblical Christianity has become fashionable today. FOXNEWS and CNN feature evangelical leaders regularly on their respective news shows to discuss family and values and political malady for the social ills facing our country. Douglous Wilson recently engaged Christopher Hitchens through Christianity Today's online mag on the theme of "Is Christianity Good for the World?." And most recently the now infamous and somewhat controversial debate on ABCNEWS featuring Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort of The Way of the Master vs. two atheists Brian Sapient and "Kelly" of the Rational Response Squad.

It is clear, that faith is no longer on the sidelines--but is central in the mainstream media daily meta concerning the social, political, economic, educucational, spiritual and moral condition of our nation.

But how should we as believers in the Lord engage nonbelievers in the public square? What does the Scriptures teach us about our methodology in this area? How should we conduct ourselves among those who do not name the name of Christ? And what can we learn from some of the apologetic blunders we have seen of late?

Part one of this series will be more a list of what we should and should not do in the debating of atheists when given the chance on the national platform.

Part two
will address in detail Paul's example on Mars Hill found in Acts 17:16ff.

And part three
will try to equip you with some key Scriptures and points of engagement to stay focused upon when dialoguing with those who deny the existence of God.

Before beginning, I would highly recommend you carefully read SBJT Forum (The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology) thoughtful article featuring: D. A. Carson, Kirk Wellum, Todd L. Miles, Terry Mortenson, and C. Everett Berry on the subject “In the Beginning…” - discussions over science and origins.

Part One:
1. Contend for the once for delivered to the saints, faith (Jude 3). Do not allow yourself to be diverted to lesser means to try and scientifically "prove God's existence" absent of the faith and the Word of God. God does not set out in Scripture to prove His existence; He simply declares that He is... "In the beginning God..."

2. Prov. 26:4-5 "Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes."

3. The purpose of apologetics, as Calvin says, “is not to convert the sinner, but to stop the mouths of the obstreperous…”

4. Don’t assume the unbeliever is neutral in his ability in evaluating "the evidence"; he does so according to his own lustful desires to assert his own world-view of how the world should be in support of his own sinful activity (Roms. 1:18-23; Titus 1:15-16).

5. Through biblical principles, show the unbeliever how his own assertions contradict his own world-view.

6. Don’t give heed or credence to the propensity of an atheists world-view that they have some sort of philosophical autonomy in respect to God, His creation, His Law, His existence, or His self-revelation through the created order.

7. Paul never used this kind of approach or argumentation in Acts 17:16ff while preaching to the Epicurean leadership on Mars Hill (Acts 17:16ff).

8. Declare the gospel of sola fide of Jesus Christ the Lord; don’t make an offer for the gospel (Roms. 3:21-26; Titus 3:4-7).

9. Demonstrate that the atheist assumes certain things about their "reality" that lacks sufficient "philosophical cash value." (see Dr. Greg Bahnsen's Great Debate against Gordon Steign on "The Existence of God").

10. That Romans 1:20 is not an apologetic for scientifically proving the existence of God. It is, however, the reason why God’s wrath abides on all people for suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. IOW, the “no man is without excuse” is speaking to judgment of the great sin of idolatry – which violates the first two commandments.

11. Notice also that Paul does not state here (Roms. 1:18-23) that this knowledge of God is “the result of careful deduction and reasoning so that the text can be used as sophisticated rational argumentation as an apologetic for God’s existence” (T. Schreiner, Romans Commentary, p. 86). Disbelief in what God has revealed concerning Himself leads one to rebellion against God and person and to commit the sin of idolatry. “Self-deification lies at the heart of human rebellion; ‘claiming to be wise they became fools’” (R. Mounce – Romans Commentary, p. 79).

12. “The Scriptures contain no formal or syllogistic argument for Divine existence. As you know, the opening sentence of the Bible already presupposes this by saying, “In the beginning, God...” The only form of atheism combated in the Bible is practical atheism (the fool has said in his heart there is no God – Psalm 14:1). The reason why the Scriptures make no provision against speculative atheism by syllogistic reasoning is that syllogistic reasoning starts from a premise that is more obvious and certain than the conclusion drawn from it; and they do not concede that any premise necessary to be laid down in order to draw the conclusion that there is a Supreme Being is more intuitively certain than the conclusion itself” (Dogmatic Theology, W.T. Shedd, p. 185).

13. Presuppositional apologetics from the Reformed worldview is the most efficient and effective way to engage atheists on their claims. Evidentiary apologetics allows for the unbiblical assertions for the neutrality of the sinner in regards to faith considerations, moral restraints, and ultimately does not prove the existence of the One Triune God of the Bible. At best it can only show a benign attitude for any god that man may design after his own liking.

14. "We do not prove the existence of the God of Christianity by first giving up Christianity. employ this type of apologetic method is irreverent, dishonoring to Christ and is downright sinful." (Pastor Dustin Segers)


ann_in_grace said...

Great compilation.
This approach is the only acceptable to take and the only accepted by God.
(I think you have a typo in the title...)

donsands said...

"is not to convert the sinner, but to stop the mouths"

That's a good lesson to learn.

Speaking the truth in love is for name sake of our Lord. We long to honor Him, for He is worthy to be honored and glorified.
It's all about the Lord Jesus Christ.

When the Church takes up this battlecry, then we will see converts.
For it is our faith in Him, and our love for Him and His Word, that is a bright shining light in a dark age.

Thanks for always posting good thoughts, and teachings.
Have a great weekend, and may you be built-up in your faith on this Lord's Day.

SJ Camp said...

Typo fixed--thank you.

Good word too Don. The gospel is not an offer--it is a command. Debating atheists appealing only to general revelation absent of special revelation is an effort in futility.

Grace and peace,
2 Cor. 4:5-7

jg lenhart said...

Everyone believes in causality.

Everyone believes in a First Cause...Christians, atheists, evolutionists, etc.

When Christians try to prove God exists, they are really doing two things: proving the existence of a First Cause AND proving that First Cause's identity.

The atheist wins the argument by showing the Christian is contradictory in the identity part of the explanation.

Anthony Flew (a famous atheist) prved in December of 2004 that God exists. His reason? Causality.

However, he said the First Cause couldn't be the God REPRESENTED by Christians, Muslims, etc. Why?

Those representations are contradictory.

We need a non-contradictory explanation of God or the atheist will always win this argument.

gigantor1231 said...

To All and Any

We are simply called to present the truth for what it is, in all of it's clarity and simplicity. If a debate is lost by the worlds standards then so be it, in other words 'who cares' it means nothing with respect to the eternal. If God chooses the eyes of the unbeliever will be opened and their ears unstopped, but we proclaim the truth.
With respect to causality and a clear definition of who God is, to the unsaved it will never be clear no matter what those who are saved do. The truth of the word of God is only understood via revelation of the Holy Spirit and if you do not have Him then you will never understand or know truth, you may come close but you will never reach it!! The world claims to be wise yet in all their wisdom they are fools in comparison to the foolishness of God. I am his fool and I hope you are too.

Grosey's Messages said...

I had an experience once in visiting in a prison.. a rough neck said.. "I'm an atheist, you got nothing to say to me..."
I looked at him and said "I know something about you that you don't know I know, but I know that this thing you know scares the pants off you"

After he'd sorted out what I said, he asked.. "what do you know?"
I said
"I know that you know that there is a God, and I know that that thought scares the pants off you because I knwo you know you have to stand before Him as your Judge."

He took a step back and said
"You're right! But who told you that? How did you know?"

We then talked about Romans 1:18 For God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth,
19 since what can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them.
20 From the creation of the world His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse.


Gordan said...

Good stuff here.

And never believe the lie that debate doesn't change anything. That's a postmodern fib that makes them feel justified in not contending for truth.

I personally have changed my doctrinal stance on a fairly major issue (baptism)due in large part to debating a baptist who knew what he was talking about. In God's sometimes-ironic Providence, that same Baptist became a Calvinist due in large part to another debate he had with me.

Contend for the faith, brothers.

Ostrakinos said...

These are excellent considerations and comments about a more God-honoring and effective defense of the faith. To this discussion I'd like to add a few things:

1> Be cautious of merely spending a tremendous amount of time arguing and thereby missing the opportunity to proclaim. It is easy to get wrangled up in syllogisms and evidence and superior argumentation and miss the beautiful simplicity of merely stating His truth with a compassionate and loving heart for those who are perishing.

I know that when I switched from an evidential position in my approach I actually found myself preaching the gospel in a manner of minutes as opposed to hours of 'building a case'.

2) Don't throw the baby out with the bath water. A believe that a good apologist knows how to presuppositionaly use evidence as a tool in his weaponry. Many have not seen this in use and as a result tend to strawman the presuppositionalist's tactic.

SJ Camp said...

Some very good thoughts by all...

Thank you for this encouraging and instructive word from the well of personal testimony. Excellent point made.

Arguing vs. proclaiming--BINGO! That is the point of making the gospel an offer vs. declaring it.

May we contend brothers and sisters for the faith--not just make it a point of clever discussion.

Grace and peace,
Col. 1:9-14

Michele Rayburn said...

This is an excellent post, helpful, as well as encouraging, and timely in view of the dialogue taking place over at Steve's other post (a few posts back) called "The Roman Catholic Teaching on Salvation and Justification...a false church proclaiming a false gospel". Thank you!