Weekend Broadcast

Introduction

A Message by R.C. Sproul

What does it mean to defend our faith in an age of skepticism?  What tools and resources are available to us?  That’s the topic of this lesson, the first in a series titled, Defending Your Faith.  In this introduction, Dr. R.C. Sproul teaches how to use logic and reason in a winsome manner to explain Christianity to nonbelievers.

From the series: Defending Your Faith

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. article

    The Spirit's Internal Witness

  2. article

    Faith and Reason

  3. devotional

    Contend for the Faith

The Spirit's Internal Witness

R.C. Sproul

Nearly forty years ago, I was a part of a group known as the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy. Concerned about the impact of liberal higher criticism, we gathered to define what it means that the Bible does not teach any error and to articulate a defensible position on the trustworthiness of God's Word that Christians could use to combat misunderstandings and misrepresentations of the church's historic position on the Bible. The council developed the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, which deals with many issues related to the inspiration and truthfulness of Scripture. Article XVII of this statement asserts, in part, that "the Holy Spirit bears witness to the Scriptures, assuring believers of the truthfulness of God's written Word."

By this article we wanted to make it clear that the Bible is the Holy Spirit's book. He is involved not only in the inspiration of Scripture, but is also a witness to Scripture's truthfulness. This is what we call the "internal testimony" of the Holy Spirit. In other words, the Holy Spirit provides a testimony that takes place inside of us—He bears witness to our spirits that the Bible is the Word of God. Just as the Spirit bears witness with our spirits that we are children of God (Rom. 8:16), He assures us of the sacred truth of His Word.

Despite its importance, the internal testimony of the Spirit is subject to misunderstanding. One of these misunderstandings relates to how we defend the truthfulness of the Bible. Do we need to provide an apologetic—a defense—for sacred Scripture that relies on evidence from archaeology and history, on demonstrating the Bible's internal consistency, and on logical argumentation? Some misconstrue the doctrine of the internal testimony to mean that the presentation of evidence to the veracity of the Bible is unnecessary and even counterproductive. All we need to do is rest on the fact that the Holy Spirit tells us that the Bible is God's Word both in direct biblical statements and in His internal work of confirming Scripture's truthfulness.

Those who hold this position usually want to stress that the authority of God's Word depends on God Himself and believe that subjecting His Word to empirical testing is to make the Bible's truthfulness dependent on our own authority to evaluate its truth claims. At one level, this concern is laudable. Scripture's authority depends on its being the revelation of God, above whom there is no higher authority. But when we are talking about proof for the veracity of Scripture, we are not talking about the authority of God's Word but about how we know which of the books that claim to be the Word of God are actually from Him. Here, subjective experience cannot be our only court of appeal. We need some sort of objective testimony to determine whether the Bible, Qur'an, or Bhagavad Gita is the Word of God because they all claim to be the Word of God.

This is where what John Calvin called the indicia come into play. The indicia—indicators—are testable, analyzable, falsifiable, or verifiable aspects of proof. They include such things as archaeological evidence, Scripture's conformity to what we know about history from other sources, its internal consistency, its majesty and beauty, and so forth. These things give us objective confidence that the Bible is indeed the Word of God. Both Calvin and the Westminster Confession of Faith tell us that these indicators are enough in themselves to convince people that Scripture alone is the Word of God.

However, these authorities both recognize the difference between proof and persuasion, and it is really the work of persuasion that we are discussing when we look at the internal testimony of the Spirit. Human beings are adept at rejecting objective evidence when it does not confirm their prejudice, no matter how clear or compelling the evidence may be. Some people will not be persuaded by all the proof in the world because they are not truly open to the evidence.

My experience as an apologist and minister has shown me that the real reason most people reject Christianity is not for lack of evidence. The proof from external sources regarding the truth of the biblical account is too overwhelming. No, the real issue is a moral one. The person not reconciled to God in Christ and living in disobedience does not want Scripture's claim that God has a full and final claim on his life to be true. He wants to get rid of the book as fast as he can.

This is where the internal witness of the Spirit comes in. Only those whom God the Holy Spirit has regenerated will submit to Scripture as His inerrant and infallible Word. The Holy Spirit does not give us a new argument for the truth of the Bible, but He confirms in our hearts the truth of Scripture as it is displayed in both the internal marks of Scripture (harmony and majesty of its contents) and the external marks of Scripture (historical accuracy). Objective proofs for the Bible are many and compelling, but they cannot force people to believe against their wills. Sinners are only persuaded to receive the Bible as God's Word as the Holy Spirit changes their hearts and assures them that they can trust and rely on what Scripture says.

Faith and Reason

Keith Mathison

It has been said that he who defines the terms, wins the debate. Skeptics know this and take advantage of it. Witness some of the famous definitions of "faith" provided by unbelievers. Mark Twain, for example, quipped, "Faith is believing what you know ain't so." Closer to our own day, the atheist author Sam Harris defined faith as "the license religious people give themselves to keep believing when reasons fail." Richard Dawkins, perhaps the most famous atheist of our generation, claims: "Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence."

The one thing all of these definitions have in common is the explicit or implicit idea that faith is in conflict with reason. Unfortunately, some Christians in the history of the church have said things that have provided support for this view of the relationship between faith and reason. Martin Luther, for example, made very strong negative statements about reason, many of which are quoted by skeptics in their attempts to prove that Christianity is inherently irrational. Luther called reason "the Devil's greatest whore." He said in a number of different contexts that reason should be destroyed. The context is crucial, because in these instances Luther was talking about the arbitrariness of unaided human reason to discern divine things. Still, his tendency toward hyperbole has played into the hands of skeptics.

The vast majority of Christians throughout history, however, have not rejected the right use of reason. This stems from their attempt to be faithful to the teaching of Scripture, which itself provides reasons to believe. John wrote his entire Gospel to provide reasons to believe that Jesus is the Christ (John 20:30–31). John, Peter, and Paul appeal to evidence for the claims they make (1 Cor. 15:5–6; 2 Peter 1:16; 1 John 1:1–4). All human beings believe certain things based on the testimony of others. Christians believe what they believe based on the testimony of the Apostles. Such faith is a gift, but it is not divorced from reason.

If we are going to understand better the relationship between faith and reason, we must have a clearer understanding of these two words. The word faith is used in several different ways by Christian thinkers. It can refer to the beliefs that Christians share (the "Christian faith"). The word faith also can refer to our response to God and the promises of the gospel. This is what the Reformed Confessions mean when they speak of "saving faith" (for example, the WCF 14). This faith involves knowledge, assent, and trust. Finally, many philosophers and theologians have spoken of faith as a source of knowledge. As Caleb Miller explains, "The truths of faith are those that can be known or justifiedly believed because of divine revelation, and are justified on the basis of their having been revealed by God."

The word reason also has been used in different ways. It can refer to our human cognitive faculties. The relation of faith to reason in this sense involves asking whether Christian beliefs are reasonable. In other words, did we properly use our cognitive faculties in evaluating these beliefs? We can also use reason to refer to a source of knowledge. In contrast to the "truths of faith" known by divine revelation, the "truths of reason," in this sense, are truths known through natural faculties such as sense perception and memory. A conflict between knowledge derived through natural human faculties and knowledge derived from divine revelation occurs only if an apparent contradiction arises. Finally, in the narrowest sense, reason can be used to refer to logical reasoning. Christians should never argue that there is a conflict here because this faculty is part of who we are as human beings created in the image of God.

Most of the contemporary discussion about the supposed conflict between faith and reason has arisen in the context of discussions about science and religion. Space constraints prohibit a full discussion of this issue, but a few general points should be made in order to help us understand how to think about any alleged conflicts that arise. In the first place, we must acknowledge with Augustine, John Calvin, and many others that all truth is God's truth. That which is true is true because God revealed it, created it, or decreed it.

HE REVEALED IT: All that God reveals, whether through general revelation in His creation or through special revelation in Scripture, is necessarily true. It is impossible for God to lie.

HE CREATED IT: When we learn something about creation that corresponds with what God actually made, we have learned something true. God is the source of these truths by virtue of the fact that He is the Creator.

HE DECREED IT: God is the one who has decreed whatsoever comes to pass. When we learn something about history that is in accordance with what actually happened, we have learned something true to the extent that our knowledge corresponds with what actually happened, and what actually happened only happened, ultimately, because God decreed it.

A second major point that must be made is this: If all truth has its source in God and if all truth is unified, then one thing we know to be certain is that if there is a contradiction between an interpretation of Scripture and an interpretation of what God has created, then one or both of those interpretations is incorrect. They cannot both be correct. Christians must recognize that the conflict may be due to a misinterpretation of creation, to a misinterpretation of Scripture, or to a misinterpretation of both. This means we need to do a thorough and careful examination of both the scientific theory and the biblical exegesis to discover the source of the conflict. We must make sure we are dealing with the actual teaching of Scripture as opposed to a mistaken interpretation of Scripture. And we must examine the evidence for the scientific theory in question to discover whether we are dealing with something that is true about God's creation or something that is merely speculation. All of this hard work takes time, and it means that we do not jump to hasty conclusions.

God created us in His image as rational creatures. Our cognitive faculties were distorted by the fall, but they were not destroyed, and even unbelievers can use these faculties to discover truths about earthly things—as opposed to heavenly things, about which they are completely blind (Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.2.12–21). We do not fully comprehend God, but this is because we are finite and God is infinite. Faith and reason, rightly understood, cannot be and are not in any real conflict.

Contend for the Faith

With our study of Jude now complete, we have also reached the end of our study of the General Epistles. We hope our look at these different apostolic letters has encouraged you, and we pray you will continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18) as you study His Word.

The warnings and exhortations Jude gives to us provide a fitting capstone for our study. His warnings regarding false teachers and their appointed end (vv. 5–16) are pertinent in our day as the assaults of Satan against the church continue. Unless we are well-grounded in our faith, we will not be able to recognize false doctrine and help rescue those who have fallen prey to it (vv. 17–23).

Jude recognizes all children of God are kept by His power and will not finally fall away (vv. 1–2; 24–25). But he does not let this precious truth lead us into passivity. He reminds us that believers must contend for the faith once delivered to the saints because of the goats who set themselves up as teachers of the sheep (vv. 3–4). Yet this call to fight actively for the faith is not limited to Jude alone; it is one theme uniting all of the General Epistles.

Each battle to defend the apostolic faith will be slightly different.

Sometimes we will have to confront those who deny specific doctrines, like Peter and John did when they confronted those who denied the second coming (2 Peter 3:8–10) and the incarnation (1 John 4:1–6). In other instances we will have to reassert the active nature of faith, like James did when he called us to love God in word and deed (2:14–26). Resisting the influence of false teachers may be more indirect at times, such as when we withhold support from those who pervert doctrine (2 John) or show hospitality to ministers (3 John). Nevertheless, we must always defend the Gospel with gentleness and respect, even if it brings suffering (1 Peter 3:15–16).

As we contend for the faith, let us always love those who disagree with us on negotiable matters (James 1:19–21; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 4:7–8). However, let us always love others in the truth and contend for the faith delivered to the saints as we serve the living God.

Since the beginning,

our aim has been to help Christians know what they believe, why they believe it, how to share it, and how to live it…

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