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K. Scott Oliphint (PhD, Westminster Theological Seminary) is professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and has written numerous scholarly articles and books, including Christianity and the Role of Philosophy (Presbyterian & Reformed); Should You Believe in God? (Presbyterian & Reformed), The Majesty of Mystery: Celebrating the Glory of an Incomprehensible God (Lexham Press), Know Why You Believe (Zondervan), and Covenantal Apologetics (Crossway). He is also the coeditor of the two-volume Christian Apologetics Past and Present: A Primary Source Reader (Crossway) and Revelation and Reason: New Essays in Reformed Apologetics (Presbyterian & Reformed).
The task of defending the faith is mandated in the Word of God. In light of that, this course will attempt to accomplish at least three things. First, it will provide a biblical and theological basis for apologetics. Second, this course will interact with philosophical concepts and ideas that are prevalent in apologetic conversations and study. Finally, one will learn rules of good and bad arguments. By the end of this course, a person should have some of the essential tools needed to develop a Christian approach to defending and commending the faith.
Apologetics is primarily a biblical discipline rooted in the redemptive plan of God. Genesis 3 initiates a holy war between the offspring of man and the offspring of Satan. Yet God graciously condescends to fight in this war and calls us to do the same.
Resource curation and descriptions provided by Nick Harsh.
Fighting, battles, and confrontation are central to the idea of apologetics. Throughout the Old Testament, God actively defends his glory. He condescends to uphold his name and to take part in the battle. This lecture explores the three fundamental aspects of battles that took place in the Old Testament.
In the New Testament, a transition takes place. The battle doesn’t cease; it changes because of what Christ has done. The kingdom of God has already been inaugurated but is yet to be consummated. The Church is living in a "spiritual wilderness" and is invited to fight not a physical battle for land but a spiritual battle for truth.
Perhaps the most succinct explanation of apologetics in the Bible is found in 1 Peter 3:15. Embedded in this passage is a command that we should be prepared to make a defense (Gk., apologia) for the hope that is in us; therefore, apologetics must begin with an understanding of the Lordship of Christ.
In 2 Corinthians 10, the Apostle Paul defends the veracity of the gospel by defending his own character. False teachers were infiltrating the church and making some progress in undermining Paul’s ministry. Part one of this lecture provides a brief description of the philosophical group known as the Sophists. False teachers in Corinth were likely to some degree influenced by the tenets of Sophist philosophy.
Based on the previous lecture, Paul is writing into a context where many intellectual and persuasive people are seeking to undermine his ministry and subvert the gospel message. This lecture will expand on this idea by discussing Paul’s response to those false teachers, which gives an excellent example of what a biblical defense of the gospel looks like.
Dan Strange – Why Apologetics?
The earlier lectures demonstrate that apologetics is fundamentally a biblical discipline rooted in the redemptive plan of God. Ultimately this means that when two parties disagree over methodology, they disagree over theology. This lecture explores the relationship between theology and methodology. Particular focus is given to how the theology of Thomas Aquinas has impacted current apologetic methods.
Whether intentionally or unintentionally, every person interprets the Bible with a unique set of presuppositions (i.e., beliefs we presume to be true apart from the supporting independent evidence of other systems or sources). There is no neutral approach to the Bible, no neutral exegesis, and no neutral hermeneutic. The bias one holds when studying the Bible is either expressly Christian or it is not.
The Bible is far more than a wooden or obsolete book. It is not merely a compilation of isolated, unrelated oracles. Instead, John Murray affirms that it is an organism — living and active — that stands together as a whole. Therefore, an accurate hermeneutic must include a balance of exegesis, biblical theology, and systematic theology. If any of these are missing one’s interpretation will undoubtedly be flawed.
If Satan can successfully undermine the Word of God, then everything else will subsequently crumble, so it stands to reason that the doctrine of Scripture has been under assault throughout history. Therefore Christians must understand the following: (1) the principium essendi (Lat., the necessary foundation or principal source) in theology is God, and (2) the principium cognoscendi (Lat., the foundational source of knowledge) in theology is God’s revelation of himself to man. In other words, there are two foundational points for the Christian, namely that (1) being has its ground in God who is being himself and (2) knowledge has its ground in what God says.
Scripture is a divine book—God is the primary Author. As such, it must be understood according to its own self-authentication, which is an objective attribute residing in the text of Scripture itself. Approaching the Bible with this assumption will significantly impact the way one handles it in an apologetic context.
The will of God is often considered confusing or obscure. Yet, according to the Westminster Confession, “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequences may be deduced from Scripture” (1.6). In other words, God's will is sufficiently expressed in the Bible.
When studying or presenting the Bible, one must begin by assuming that Scripture is self-attesting. As Dr. Oliphint says in this lecture, “The attribute of authority is resident within the very thing itself. It doesn’t need any external criteria in order to build a case for truth.” While we are indeed free to use arguments to substantiate the authority of Scripture, one should never make the veracity of these arguments the ultimate foundation for belief.
Not only is the Scripture authoritative but it is perspicuous (clear with respect to salvation). Humanity's problem is not that God has failed to make himself known, but that they have refused to see God (Romans 1:21–23).
While the principium cognoscendi refers to the foundational source of knowledge (i.e., the revelation of God), the principium essendi (i.e., the doctrine of God) describes the source of being, namely God who is himself being. Theologians describe this reality as the aseity of God. Yet, God is not composed of parts, and each of his attributes are identical to his character (i.e., the simplicity of God). Truly, “The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto Him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of Him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God's part, which He hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.” (Westminster Confession, 7.1)
It is not uncommon in Scripture to see redemptive pronouncements accompanied by redemptive acts. In other words, deed and word often go together and must interpret one another. This is expressly true of Exodus 3. The burning bush is a proleptic telling of Christ's coming. It is a picture of God's aseity and condescension working in tandem.
In Psalm 50:21 we find the Mighty One, God the LORD rebuking the leaders of Israel saying, “You thought that I was one like yourself.” The people made the mistake of thinking God was like them. Yet it is a grave error to try and reduce God down to the level of a mere mortal for no created being will ever be capable of fully comprehending God — not now and not in eternity. In light of this reality, a person can respond in one of two ways. One can either respond in anger or with Paul proclaim, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways (Romans 11:33)!”
Philosophers have debated whether unity or diversity should take primacy in one’s understanding of the world. Cornelius Van Til refers to this as, “The age-old problem of Parmenides and Heraclitus.” However, God is the source of all things, and He alone can determine objective reality; for objective reality finds its source in Him. Therefore, given the Trinity, one must see reality as reflective of both unity and diversity. Neither are supreme but rather work in tandem. No priority should be given to either because in God unity and diversity are equally ultimate.
People have offered various answers to the question, “What is the essence of man?” Yet the Bible is clear that humanity bears the image of God (Genesis 1:26–27). Each person ever born is made in God’s image and is meant to mirror God’s character. Unfortunately, it was not long before Adam fell and God’s image in man was distorted. In Romans 1:18–32, the Apostle Paul provides his readers with an exposition of what it means to bear the image of God after the fall. Sadly man’s response is primarily categorized by the willful suppression of truth (Romans 1:18).
One of the things that distinguishes humankind from every other creature is each person’s proclivity to praise the things they find valuable—people are wired to worship. However, as one moves through Romans 1:18–32, it becomes evident that man’s inclination to worship was dramatically perverted at the Fall. So while each person knows God in a personal way, those who are in Adam willfully suppress the truth and choose instead to worship that which is created. Natural revelation and special revelation, then, are inextricably linked. When a person suppresses the truth of God, they are suppressing truth that they know—for all people know God. Therefore, the point of contact between those in Adam and those in Christ is the knowledge of God that both share. When one shares the Gospel, he or she must remember that the primary task is to remind people of the truth they already know.
In the early 17th century, a group in Holland followed a seminary professor named Jacob Arminius. After his death, these followers (i.e., "remonstrance") argued that the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Confession should be changed to reflect Arminius’ teaching. There were five points which they thought needed revision and investigation, namely that (1) God elects or rejects on the basis of foreseen faith or unbelief, (2) Christ died for all men and for every man although only believers are saved, (3) man is not so depraved that divine grace is necessary unto faith or any good deed, (4) grace can be resisted, and (5) whether all who are truly regenerate will persevere in faith. Subsequently, The Synod of Dordt was called in 1618, church leaders debated each point, and the synod concluded by rejecting the Arminian tenets. In response, five points were set forth which are known today as the "Five Points of Calvinism", following the acronym "TULIP".
Scripture is clear that apart from the monergistic work of God in a person’s life, all will suppress the truth. In John 6:44 Jesus says, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him." When one understands that salvation is ultimately the work of God is a person’s life, they will view apologetics differently. In other words, the goal of apologetics is not to argue a person into conversation. Instead, the purpose of apologetics is to communicate the truth of the gospel to those who do not yet believe.
God's common grace should be understood in contrast to that grace which leads to salvation (i.e., particular grace). Common grace is his mercy and unmerited favor toward all men, and this kind of grace has at least three aspects. (1) Common grace shows that God’s attitude toward his creatures is one of wrath but is also one of mercy and kindness. (2) Common grace reminds us that the restraint of sin in the world is evidence of God’s activity. (3) Common grace allows the unregenerate person to perform righteous acts even though they are slaves to sin. Understanding these aspects of common grace opens one’s eyes to God's activity throughout all of his creation—his work is not restricted to the lives of believers.
This lecture marks a transition from theology into logic and the nature of arguments. While philosophy and logic are not wrong, it is essential to have a strong biblical worldview in place when considering philosophical issues. In other words, biblical philosophy flows from biblical theology. Dr. Oliphint makes it clear that his intention thus far has been to lay a theological foundation upon which all other philosophical and apologetic issues are built.
When analyzing arguments in apologetics, the goal is clarity. Not only should a person seek to communicate with clarity, but they should attempt to understand the people and ideas that they critique. The ability to analyze and interpret arguments is crucial for someone to respond and communicate with clarity.
The goal of argument assessment is not to make a person militant or annoying in their conversations. Instead, a person should always engage in apologetic discussions with charity and love. The seven steps in argument assessment, presented in this lecture, are useful for a person to keep in mind when reading arguments that differ from their own.
Whether they realize it or not, each person holds a set of presuppositions about the world—they have a worldview. A worldview functions much like a set of glasses. It impacts the way one interprets the all of life. If Jesus is not central in one’s worldview, there will be a decline to humanism, then skepticism, and finally to despair.
James Anderson – What's Your Worldview?
In the conclusion of an inaugural address, Abraham Kuyper said, "There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ who is sovereign over all does not cry mine." For Kuyper, the lordship of Christ ought to make a difference in the way one thinks about everything.
In this lecture, Dr. K. Scott Oliphint defines a worldview as the necessary attempted convergence of a person's or group's heart response to living within the structures and strictures of the cosmos. In other words, a worldview is unavoidable and inevitable—each person has one. Furthermore, a person's worldview has to do with how they perceive the world and what God is doing in it.
C. S. Lewis – The Poison of Subjectivism