Friday, June 10, 2016

Biblical reasons for doing natural theology and classical apologetics (includes links to three excellent apologetics websites)

Acts 17:23-26  "For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; 25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; 26 and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation."

Whenever someone attempts to prove God's existence from observations of creation, insights from the conscience or considerations of patterns in history - we call such a project "natural theology". God reveals Himself generally in creation, the conscience and history. Such revelation does not lead one to a saving knowledge of God, but instead presents knowledge about God, His existence, His moral nature and the accountability one has to Him. In general, if a person yields to general revelation, God will see fit to send a missionary or someone with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is God's special revelation of Himself in the Bible (see Acts 10). 

The question is: "can we construct a theology based upon man-made conclusions of observations from God's general revelation? Today's post aims to offer some thoughts as to why this effort is not only possible, but also Biblical. Throughout the course of this post, I will also briefly introduce the reader to the most commonly used method of articulating and defending the Christian faith: "classical Christian apologetics". At the end of the post, I will give the reader links to various websites that specialize in defending and articulating the Christian faith (i.e Christian apologetics). 

Briefly defining natural theology
Whenever we attempt to summarize and systematize what the Bible has to say about God, man and salvation in conversation with current thought - we call such an effort "systematic theology". Whenever people discern and articulate God's existence and nature from observing what He has revealed in the general revelation of creation and the conscience - such a project is what we call "natural theology". Normally natural theology is done independently of scripture and yet, for Christians engaging in such an endeavor, any conclusions drawn from natural theology's reliance upon various disciplines ought to be evaluated in light of scripture (since the Bible for the Christian is the final authority on all matters). 

Is there a Biblical basis for making arguments for God's existence from natural theology 
When one surveys scripture, such a project of producing such arguments from observations of creation, the conscience or history can be illustrated. The project of natural theology and the use of arguments for God's existence may be disputed by some. However, a brief survey of scripture will yield the fact that such efforts are sanctioned by the Bible. 

If anything, what God reveals of Himself in general revelation does not conflict with what He reveals specifically in the Word of God. The only conflicts we may see is in the man-made efforts to systematize either His general revelation (hence "natural theology") or to systematize His special revelation in the Bible in communicating His Word to the modern mind (the task of systematic theology).

How natural theology ties into what is called "Classical Christian Apologetics"
Such an apologetical effort described above has a long history stretching from Biblical times through Church history to today and is called "Classical Christian Apologetics". The reason for the name "classical" has to do mainly with its ancient origins, reaching all the way back to the prophets and apostles, through church history and into today.
Isaiah 41:21-26 uses the relationship between cause and effect, as well as historical argumentation to judge whether something is Divinely revealed by the true God. Jesus often used illustrations from agriculture (Matthew 13), viticulture or the practice of farming grapes (John 15) and birds (Mt 6:25-34) to illustrate spiritual truths. 

As observations from general revelation and natural theology are used, we find that a reasonable basis for belief in God is shown. 

However, the Christian wants to carry on the apologetic task one step further to demonstrate the truth claims of Christianity. A study of the Apostle Paul's apologetical methods can prove instructive. Paul utilizes cosmological & moral arguments to highlight the reality of the God of the Bible. Moreover, he uses logical, moral and historical arguments for Christ's resurrection from the dead in Acts 13; Acts 17 and 1 Corinthians 15. Such a practice has ample Biblical testimony and is very appropriate in communicating and defending the Christian worldview in the 21st century. 

Typically, those using the classical apologetic method will proceed along the following pattern:

1). Certain arguments for God's existence from general revelation (i.e natural theology) 

2). Added to the various arguments for God's existence will be historical and logical argumentation regarding Jesus' resurrection of the dead. This move insures that the apologist doesn't just defend "general theism", but more specifically "Christian theism". 

3). Usually arguments for the reliability of scripture will be part of the overall case for the Christian worldview. If the apologist so chooses, appeal may be made to instances of fulfilled prophecy in history and the vast manuscript evidence demonstrating the credibility of the Biblical text. 

More could be said, but for now, the case for God's existence in general, and the reality of God's revelation of Himself in Jesus and the Bible has been ably defended for centuries and millennia by Christians against skeptics. Long after Christianity's opponents and their systems have passed off the scene, the truth of God, the Lord Jesus Christ and the scriptures stands as a granite rock of truth.

Closing thoughts
Today's post aimed to define natural theology and to see whether or not drawing arguments for God's existence had a Biblical precedent. Such a pattern was found to be the case. Christians ought to know how to defend their faith and articulate the Christian worldview in the 21st century. I will close out with three excellent websites that offer resources for training Christians in the areas of apologetics and evangelism: