In Luke 16 we see a striking account of a poor man named Lazarus and a rich man. Part of this account contains a dialog between Abraham and the rich man, which is covered in Luke 16:24. This is a simplified presentation of what was said:
Rich Man - "Then I beg you, father, to send [Lazarus] to my father's house—for I have five brothers —so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.'"
Abraham - "They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them."
Rich Man - "No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent."
Abraham - "If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead."
On a surface level, without knowing what the Bible teaches elsewhere, it would be easy to discount what Abraham says here as not corresponding with reality. What the Rich Man says in this dialog sounds quite plausible. Certainly, we could assume, there would be a higher probability that the Rich Man's brothers would repent if they could witness a in-person resurrection.
However, there is one glaring error that caused the Rich Man to say what he did and it is an error that often plauges our thinking too. The Rich Man falsely assumed that his brothers minds were neutral, and that the basic problem is that they merely haven't been exposed to persuasive enough evidence yet. However, this couldn't be further from the truth. The Rich Man's brothers were exposed to the Word of God and, as Jews, they had more than sufficient revelation to know their responsibilities before God. Their basic problem was rebellion not a lack of revelation.
This same problem is in full force today. I certainly don't want to discount the importance or value of evidence for the Christian faith, but we need be more aware of the fact that the unbelieving mind filters all evidence through a filter, which is most pronouncedly affected by the fallen, sinful human condition. Without the work of the Holy Spirit, even the most convincing evidence will fall short of persuading anyone. And we should get serious about giving some attention on our part to the presuppositions/worldviews of those we are encountering, instead of just focusing on hurling evidence at people.
The truth is that the human mind is prone to reject ALL evidence that would be contrary to its innermost presuppositions. This means that no evidence would be sufficient to change their mind in and of itself. This was made crystal clear in a debate I once listened to. If I remember correctly It was between a Christian (Douglas Wilson) and an Athiest (Dan Barker). At one point the Christian asked what evidence would be sufficient to persaude him that God exists. By my recollection, the Athiest presented a very unusual scenario where God would audibly speak, something would be levitated and rotated in the air, and a number of other remarkable things. At that point through further cross examination, the Christian was able to establish that even then, with such remarkable and unquestionablly abnormal circumstances, the Athiest would still be unwilling and/or unable to conclusively determine whether it was God or not. Why? Because there would be a myriad of other explanations and justifications that could be offered (what if it was UFOs pretending to be God, a hallucenation, etc. etc.). We are incapable of totally objective thoughts, the human mind always falls back to certain deep seated presuppositions that determine how we interpret the evidence. And those who despise God will find countless other possible explanations for just about anything they encounter.
What does this mean practically in our witness and apologetics for the truth?
1. God saves and God alone. Our evidence can't do it directly . Our preaching can't do it directly. Our love/good works can't do it directly. All these are necessary and are part what a faithful Christian does, but if the Holy Spirit is not working inwardly while we are working outwardly, nothing will happen. This does not eliminate the need for our actions and our words, but it puts what we do in a proper context.
2. There are epistemological (the study of knowledge, ie. how one knows things) issues that need to be addressed when discussing the plausability of the Christian faith. If we skip this discussion and plunge into evidence, the discussion is likely to go around in circles ever missing the core issue (not evidence in and of itself, but how the evidence is handled).
3. Everyone has many presuppositions, and we should aim at challenging unbelievers most basic ones. Some presuppositions are more basic than others. The most basic ones determine the less basic ones. You can spend years trying to persaude someone to change one of their non-core presuppositions, and you may even succeed. But that won't change their overall outlook. Only by having changed inner/core pressuppositions will one have correct non-basic presuppositions. So we should seek ways to examine some of those basic presuppositions and be able to show inconsistencies in them. For example, if you were to persaude someone that there was a global flood some time in history, but they remain commited to a materialistic worldview (ie. believing that there is nothing immaterial or "spiritual"), you have accomplished very little. It may be lending credence to God's Word, but as long as they exclude the possibility of the supernatural, they will likely find another explanation for it and certainly won't accept God's Word regarding what happened.
4. Because God saves and God saves alone, ultimately we have a great consolation when we seem to "fail" in reaching others. We certainly should do our best to present God's ways in a coherent and convincing way. We certainly should try to remove all obstacles that prevent us from relating and communicating with those we come into contact to. We certainly should look inwardly and examine our hearts to make sure our relations with others are exemplifying the fruit of the Spirit. However, the fact that someone rejects what we say or continues in their unbelief does not mean that we have done a poor job. If the masses were not persuaded by Jesus and His miracles, we can't expect any more of a positive response than He did. However, where God opens the door for it, there is a great opportunity out there to be used of God in sharing His gospel and engaging in conversation for His glory and His kindom.
Labels: apologetics, bible, christianity, presuppositional apologetics