Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Taken from Fool’s Talk by Os Guinness. Copyright (c) 2015 by Os Guinness. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515, USA. www.ivpress.com.

I had read biblical commentaries and books on systematic theology. But that hadn’t deepened the quality of my faith. I was like someone who had read books about France but had never visited. Or someone who had read about falling in love but had never experienced it.

“O hang the common world!” The large, somewhat sullen undergraduate couldn’t take it any longer. He slammed his fist on the table and rudely interrupted the professor’s speech.

“Let’s give it a bad name first and then hang it,” the professor went on, not realizing the mood had suddenly changed. “A puppy with hydrophobia would probably struggle for life while we killed it; but if we were kind we should kill it. So an omniscient god would put us out of our pain. He would strike us dead.”

“Why doesn’t he strike us dead?” the student asked.

“He is dead himself,” the philosopher said.1

So unfolds G. K. Chesterton’s dramatic story of Innocent Smith and the professor of philosophy at Cambridge University in Manalive—a brilliant example of one style of apologetics that we need more of today. It is a sad if understandable fact that the extraordinary popularity of C. S. Lewis in the English‑speaking world of apologetics has led to the eclipse of other great Christian advocates who deserve equal attention. And surely among the foremost would be Blaise Pascal, Søren Kierkegaard and G. K. Chesterton. Lewis himself would have been the first to admit where he relied on them, but we also need to appreciate where they each have strengths that complement Lewis’s own great arguments.

Dr. Emerson Eames in Chesterton’s story is the distinguished professor of philosophy and warden of (the fictional) Brakespeare College, Cambridge, and the world’s leading authority on pessimistic philosophers such as Schopenhauer. He had finished a busy day of undergraduate affairs and was relaxing in his rooms, and as always was open to his friends and favorite students, one of whom was Innocent Smith.

Holding his glass of port, the warden went on talking about the philosophies of pessimism until suddenly he started. Dr. Eames was looking down the cold, small, black barrel of a cocked revolver.

“I’ll help you out of your hole, old man,” Smith said with a rough tenderness. “I’ll put the puppy out of his pain, as you suggested.”

For several hours they had been discussing philosophical pessimism and logical responses to it, until something in the student had snapped. He brandished a gun and threatened to put the professor out of his misery in the very way the professor had been talking about. Quickly, the professor made a run and leapt out of the window clumsily, landing precariously on a flying buttress below his window. From there, they continued the conversation tensely, with the student brandishing his gun, ramming home the professor’s own earlier points, and the professor begging to be allowed to live.

“Let me come off this place. . . . I can’t bear it.”

“I rather doubt it will bear you,” Smith said, referring to the delicate stonework. “But before you break your neck, or I blow out your brains . . . I want the metaphysical point cleared up. Do I understand that you want to get back to life?’

“I’d give anything to get back,” the terrified professor cried.

“Give anything!” cried Smith. “Then blast your impudence, give us a song!” The startled professor obliged, singing a song of gratitude for existence. Satisfied, Smith then fired two barrels over the professor’s head and let him climb to safety on the ground.

To the professor’s great surprise when they were back together again, Smith then asked for his indulgence. “I must ask you to realize that I have just had an escape from death.”

You had an escape from death?” the professor said with irritation.

“O don’t you understand, don’t you understand?” Smith cried. “I had to do it, Eames. I had to prove you wrong, or die. . . . The thing I saw shining in your eyes when you dangled from that bridge was enjoyment at life and not ‘the Will to Live.’ What you knew when you sat on that damned gargoyle was that the world, when all is said and done, is a wonderful and beautiful place; I know it, because I knew it at the same minute.’”2

Like his jesting Innocent Smith, Chesterton was out to drive his generation to see the consequences of the philosophical positions they were holding—philosophies that were neither true nor in the best interests of their own proponents. In Chesterton’s own words, he was trying to “hold a pistol to the head of Modern Man. But I shall not use it to kill him. Only to bring him to life.”3 Few of us could ever match GKC’s unique blend of wit, playfulness and deep seriousness, but even from this brief extract from his story, the logic of his argument should be clear. The world authority on philosophical pessimism had merely dabbled in pessimistic ideas. He had never followed his own arguments through to the end to see where they led to—and when he did, they showed him what he really believed and what it was he really treasured—life, and a very different view than the one he had been teaching.

Chesterton’s approach is an example of the first of two broad responses to the anatomy of unbelief outlined in chapter five: the broadly negative strategy of “table turning.” This strategy turns on the fact that all arguments cut both ways. It therefore proceeds by taking people seriously in terms of what they say they believe and disbelieve, and then pushing them toward the consequences of their unbelief. The strategy assumes that if the Christian faith is true, their unbelief is not finally true, and they cannot fully be true to it. At some point the falseness shows through, and at that moment they will experience extreme cognitive dissonance, so that it is no longer in their best interest to continue to persist in believing what they believed until then. When they reach this point, they are facing up to their dilemma, and they will be open to rethinking their position in a profound way.

In chapter seven, we will examine the second approach: the broadly positive strategy of “signal triggering.” This strategy proceeds by making people aware of their human longings and desires, and what these passions point to. These are longings and desires that are innate and buried in their lives. In particular, the strategy draws their attention to what have been called the “signals of transcendence” that are embedded in their normal, daily experience. These are indicators that grow out of very positive experiences and, like beeping signals, puncture their present beliefs and point beyond them toward what would need to be true if these signals are to lead to a fulfilling destination. When people reach the point where such signals spur them to search, they become seekers and they look for answers that lie beyond their present beliefs.

Why are these two strategies needed, and what is the link between them? The simple answer is that they are both needed to reach people whose hearts and minds are closed. By its very nature, unbelief in any form is not open to God and his good news, so to those whose hearts are closed, the good news is simply not good news. That of course is where apologetics comes in. It is a form of pre-evangelism that precedes evangelism for those who are not open to God and the gospel. We must never distinguish apologetics and evangelism too neatly. But in broad terms, evangelism is the sharing of the good news, and it addresses the needs and desires of those who know they are in a bad situation. And broadly, apologetics is pre‑evangelism in that it addresses those who do not realize they are in a bad situation, and therefore do not see the gospel as the good news that it is. As John Wesley advised his young preachers in his day (when the Bible still shaped the horizon of most people’s lives), “Preach the Law until they are convicted, then preach Grace until they are converted.” What is urgently needed in our far more post‑ Christian times is the creative persuasion that is the proper business of apologetics. Only so will people be opened to seeing how good is the good news of the gospel.

Two Pitfalls

When we come to the relationship of apologetics and evangelism in the overall task of Christian advocacy, we have to face up to two equal and opposite errors. One is the apologist’s temptation, which is to emphasize apologetics at the expense of evangelism, and the other is the evangelist’s temptation, which is to do the opposite and emphasize evangelism at the expense of apologetics. Against the first error, we must be clear that, while apologetics as pre‑evangelism must often be used to precede evangelism, we must never divorce the two tasks. They should be joined seamlessly. The isolation of apologetics from evangelism is the curse of much modern apologetics, and why it can become a sterile and deadening intellectualism. Whenever apologetics is needed, it should precede evangelism, but while apologetics is distinct from evangelism, it must always lead directly to it. The work of apologetics is only finished when the door to the gospel has been opened and the good news of the gospel can be proclaimed.

Needless to say, many of us are better at one task than the other, and few are equally good at both. But both gifts are needed, and we should each be aware of where we are strong and where we need complementing because we are weak. Even C. S. Lewis admitted “that my own work has suffered very much from the incurable intellectualism of my approach. The simple emotional appeal (‘Come to Jesus’) is still often successful. But those who, like myself, lack the gift for making it, had better not attempt it.”4

It is certainly the business of apologetics to go as far out, and as deep down, as the people we are trying to reach and the objections we are trying to answer. Apologetics therefore raises questions and opens doors that may take it a long way from the gospel, but it does so only to pave the way for the good news. The Scriptures know nothing of an apologetics that has no interest in evangelism. The very notion is worse than a waste of time; it is damaging. Apologetics may at times be brilliant, complex and scholarly, and climb to a rarified altitude at which only a few thinkers can breathe easily. It may therefore at times appear a long way from the simplicity of the gospel, but it must never be made into an end in itself, and it should never stand by itself. As the early church boasted rightly, the message of Jesus is both simple enough for a child to paddle in and deep enough for an elephant to swim in.

Against the second error, we must always remember that when hearts and minds are closed, it is wiser to start on their grounds, not ours. In other words, it is usually a mistake to begin with the good news before the hearer is ready or able to see that it is good. Neither the negative nor the positive strategies begin by defending or possibly even mentioning the gospel itself because people are closed. The reason is that the wilder, the more skeptical or the more hostile the arguments against faith, the wiser and more effective it is to argue against them on their own grounds. In such cases, Chesterton argued, the principle stands that either we must not argue with a man at all, or we must argue on his ground, and not our own.

To some who prize evangelism and are suspicious of apologetics, that smacks of compromise and is enough to convict and sentence apologetics as an illegitimate exercise and an impostor in the world of true faith. Surely, they argue, the gospel is what saves people, so whatever is considered the gospel should be enough to reach people, and any other approach, however fancily dressed, is redundant, even unfaithful. As they see it, the point is not to persuade unbelievers but to preach to them, and if they refuse the gospel preached to them, that only shows that their minds and hearts are hardened and they are beyond God’s saving.

Faithful sounding perhaps, but that position is again too pious by half, and it has no warrant in the Scriptures. If the Bible knows nothing of an apologetics that does not lead to evangelism, it certainly knows nothing of preaching divorced from the needed work of persuasion. The two words preach andpersuade, and the two ideas behind them, are indissoluble—most prominently in the tireless work of St. Paul, who was an apologist everywhere he went. He preached and he persuaded. He persuaded and he preached, and no one can drive so much as the beam of a laser between the two. Where hearts and minds are hardened, it is the task of apologetics to challenge them and help pry them open. Apologetics therefore starts where the unbeliever is and focuses on what the unbeliever believes, but only because that is what is obscuring the good news of Jesus. Only when the inadequacies of that unbelief have been exposed is the unbeliever in a place to see and hear the good news for what it is.

By Their Fruit

As we saw, St. Paul describes the heart of all unbelief as a way of “suppressing the truth.” As such, unbelief cannot be other than partly true and partly false, though each unbeliever will have responded to the tension by taking it in either of two directions. Some, usually the few, will have been more consistent in rejecting God, and therefore ended further from God and his full reality. Others, usually the majority, will have been less consistent in rejecting God, and therefore ended closer to God’s reality.

The former will be closer to the “dilemma pole,” in that to the extent that they are consistent in rejecting God, they are further from God’s reality, so sooner or later they must face their dilemma. The latter will be closer to the “diversion pole,” in that to the extent that they are inconsistent in rejecting God, they are more comfortable but closer to God’s reality, so they must find a diversion. But as stressed earlier, it is not that one is spiritually closer and one spiritually further from God. People at both poles are equally resistant to God. The difference is simply that their different forms of unbelief reject God and the gospel in different ways, so both of them require subversion either through the negative strategy or the positive strategy.

The broad negative strategy of table turning comes into its own when people are closed to God and his truth in one of two ways. First, there are the great majority of people who are spiritually closed in a general sense, in that they are fully satisfied with what they believe already. They would see themselves as contented atheists, Buddhists, Muslims, Wiccans or whatever, and they feel they have no need to look for anything else. In many cases they might not be opposed to the Christian faith, and their closed hearts could be better described as satisfied rather than hostile, though for quite other reasons they might be both satisfied with what they believe and hostile to the Christian faith too.

Second, there are other people who are spiritually closed in a different and more particular sense. They are closed because they have specific objections to the Christian faith, and therefore believe that these objections make faith unthinkable and not worthy of consideration. Examples would include Marxists, who dismiss religion as the “opium of the masses,” Freudians, who see it as a matter of “wish fulfillment,” and logical positivists, who view it as “nonsense.” (The word God, they say, is less meaningful than the word dog because the former cannot be verified through the senses.) All of these in their various ways have dismissed the Christian faith by relativizing it—those who are satisfied by their having no need for it, and those who raise objections by seeing it only through the prism of their objections.

Peter Berger counsels that the best way to counter such relativists is to “relativize the relativizers,” and so turn the tables on them.5 Arguments, you remember, cut both ways. Relativism would indeed be devastating if it were true, but relativism is always inconsistent, and relativists always cheat at some point. They relativize the views of others, but not their own. (“Well, of course, you’d see it that way. You’re a Westerner/middle class/older generation.”) They relativize the past, but not the present. They relativize us, but not themselves. Their relativism is always an escape, but not a solid position that can be examined. (“I was born that way. We’re wired differently. It’s a generational thing. You wouldn’t understand.”)

When confronted with such relativism, many Christians make the mistake of responding in the same way as English or American tourists traveling abroad: they “speak Christian” more slowly and loudly, pronouncing the objectivity of their claims in ever more earnest, labored and emphatic ways. And when they still fail to get their point across, they mask their frustration by issuing dire warnings of the consequences of disagreeing with them. The result is mutual incomprehension and stalemate.

Chesterton and Berger show us a better way through turning the tables. When it comes to belief and unbelief, we need to remember that, while no thoughts are unthinkable and no argument is unarguable, some thoughts can be thought but not lived. This point is similar to the famous notion of “unintended consequences” that is obvious throughout human history but was spelled out systematically by the Princeton sociologist Robert Merton. We humans are finite, so our unbelief, like all our purposeful actions, can never take into account all the factors that we would need to consider to make truly wise decisions. This means there will always be unforeseen and unintended consequences, so that our best ideas will often miscarry, and some may prove very damaging. When we are talking of unbelief, there will always be unintended consequences. Unbelieving beliefs will never be truly adequate because unbelieving knowledge is never fully adequate and not finally true.

This insight is what helps us surmount two barriers that lie across our path at this point. The first problem stems from the fact that every worldview, even the falsest or the silliest, is comprehensive on its own terms. This means that it not only claims to explain all reality within its framework, but it also explains the falseness of all other worldviews. Thus the Hebrews attacked idolatry as the projection of empty “nothings,” and Ludwig Feuerbach returned the compliment by arguing that faith in God itself was a projection based on nothing. So how then does someone decide between the worldviews and their competing claims?

Second, there is the added problem that every conceivable argument either has been or will be put forward by someone, somewhere, sometime. So once again, how is anyone to decide between them? Like a serpent eating its own tail, each worldview explains the other worldviews, and each argument knocks down other arguments, so we appear to be left with a dizzying vertigo and with skepticism. The Christian answer lies in the nature of truth as understood by the Bible. While it is natural that all beliefs appear meaningful and adequate to those who believe them, and so long as they believe them, all those that differ from God’s truth will always fall short in one of two ways in the end. In the bright noonday sunlight of reality, their beliefs will prove either constricting or contradictory.

On the one hand, the beliefs of unbelief become constricting when they are experienced as internally consistent but incomplete, and thus too small to explain the full range of the unbeliever’s experience of life and the world. Chesterton described this as the problem of the madman—the person who, far from having lost his reason, has lost everything except his reason. The mark of such madness is a combination of a logical completeness and a spiritual contraction. On the other hand, the beliefs of unbelief can chafe when, in spite of their greater comprehensiveness, they contradict aspirations that are central to the unbeliever—which in the worst cases makes them self-refuting, a problem Chesterton calls “the suicide of thought.”

To relativize the relativists through table turning is to apply to relativists (and skeptics) the relativism (and skepticism) they apply to others, thus pushing them out toward the negative consequences of their own beliefs. With a good cigar and a glass of port in hand, Professor Eames had one attitude toward life and death in his comfortable college rooms, but quite another when grimly hanging onto the buttress while staring down the barrel of a gun. When turned on him, his philosophy of life was cold comfort.

As Berger points out, the strategy rests on two assumptions. Relativism and skepticism are different: the former claiming that truth is dependent on the person, and the latter that truth is unknowable, but they each entail a hidden double standard—they are both inconsistent and incomplete. They each pour the acids of their relativism and skepticism over all sorts of issues, but jealously guard their own beliefs. The second assumption is that there is a link between consistency and clarity. The task of countering relativism, Berger writes, is to “see the relativity business to its very end.”6 Press skepticism and relativism to their consistent conclusions and the result is surprising. Far from paralyzing thought, skepticism and relativism are themselves relativized, the debunker is debunked, and what emerges is an almost pristine realization of the importance of truth.

Again and again the lesson is simple: all thoughts can be thought, but not all thoughts can be lived. So we should never stop halfway with skepticism, but insist on pressing ideas uncompromisingly to their conclusion. When hearts and minds collide with the wall, they will have reached the limits of their position and may then be open to rethinking. In this sense reality is what we run into when we are wrong, for when we are right there is no wall to run into—only the freedom to run. “There are times,” Vaclav Havel wrote, “when we must sink to the bottom of our misery to understand truth, just as we must descend to the bottom of a well to see the stars in broad daylight.”7

Prophetic Subversion

Is this table turning simply a technique smuggled in by the back door at this advanced stage of the game? Far from it, for it grows from the heart of our understanding of the biblical anatomy of unbelief, and of what it takes to subvert unbelief. We can appreciate the importance of this strategy at several levels. First, turning the tables is God’s own characteristic response to disobedience and unbelief. When humans abuse, suppress and exploit the truth, God becomes the fierce unmasker of lies, the grand iconoclast tearing down idols, and the radical debunker of myths. Three times in the seminal passage in Romans St. Paul says, “God gave them over” (Rom 1:24, 26, 28). Those who rebelled against God chose to follow the lusts of their hearts, their degrading passions and their depraved minds, so God gave them over to these very things. They had chosen, and their choices had consequences. Sin was the punishment of sin. In reaping what they had sown, they had judged themselves.

This debunking theme runs throughout Scripture. “I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the level,” God declared through Isaiah. “Then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters will overflow the secret place” (Is 28:17). “I will tear down the wall which you have plastered over with whitewash and bring it down to the ground,” the Lord said through Ezekiel, “so that its foundation is laid bare” (Ezek 13:14).

And many times God does the debunking by turning the tables directly. He gives people over to what they choose. He drives people—or simply leaves people—to the logic of their own bad choices. When Israel rejected God’s kingship and wished to have a king for themselves like the surrounding nations, God’s response was “Take them at their word and appoint them a king” (1 Sam 8:22 REB). Their choice was wrong, and their choice would have disastrous consequences, but the best way to make them see it was to push them to the logic of their choice. If you insist, persist in it. Or again, the Lord says,

Israel did not obey Me.

So I gave them over to the stubbornness of their heart,

to walk in their own devices. (Ps 81:11‑12).

Go ahead if you so choose, God says, but know what you are doing and where it is leading you.

Second, the same dynamic lies at the heart of prophetic subversion. Turning the tables was exactly the prophet Elijah’s famous challenge to Israel in the ninth century. The great crowd of the people listening to the prophet were fence sitters, just as many modern people are advocates of what W. H. Auden called “Christian heresies”—they hold to beliefs that could not have come into existence except in a culture founded on the Jewish and Christian faiths.8 If Baal and not YHWH is God, then follow Baal, Elijah cried, and offered the prophets of Baal the first opportunity to verify their god. With the king and queen opposing him, and the bulk of the people sitting uneasily on the fence between the Lord and Baal, Elijah knew that pious calls to return to God would have fallen on deaf and divided ears. He had to mount the challenge on their grounds.

For if YHWH is God, then Baal is not, and the fastest way for the people to see it was to push them toward the false faith that was bound to be falsified by reality. The disproof came first and cleared the ground for the proof, for with the false falsified, the true could be verified. “The Lord—He is God! The Lord—He is God!” was the people’s conclusion with heartfelt conviction (1 Kings 18:39).

In strong contrast, one of the marks of the false prophets was that they failed to confront and subvert the lies and idols of the people. As the great lament cried,

Your prophets have seen for you false and foolish visions;

and they have not exposed your iniquity

so as to restore you from captivity. (Lam 2:14)

Third, the same logic runs down the Christian centuries, though it is not unique to Christians. Georg Lukács, the Hungarian Marxist intellectual, tried to follow the same practice. “Do not stop halfway, but follow the idea uncompromisingly to its conclusion; the sparks produced by the collision of your head with the wall show that you have reached the limits.”9 But from Jesus onward, the dynamic is crystal clear in Christian proclamation. “The tree is known by its fruit,” Jesus said—not by its seed (Mt 12:33). If you had tried to persuade the prodigal son to return home the day he left home, would he have listened? If you had spoken to him the day he hit the pigsty, would you have needed to persuade him? Always “see where it leads to,” St. Augustine advised when dealing with false ideas.10 Follow it out to the “absolutely ruddy end,” C. S. Lewis remarked with characteristic Englishness.11 “Push them to the logic of their presuppositions,” Francis Schaeffer used to say. Too many varieties of unbelief are halfway houses. Too many unbelievers have not had the courage or the consistency to follow their thoughts all the way home.

It is time for the new atheists to face that challenge. Their boast has been that from Democritus and Lucretius onwards, they are the ones who face up to the nature of reality unflinchingly, however bleak it may prove to be. Nature, Lucretius said, was breathtakingly beautiful, though blind, soulless and purposeless. But the fact is that again and again they cheat—holding that certain things were true simply because they have to be. For example, Democritus taught that the atoms were absolutely determined, so all human actions were equally determined. But Epicurus and Lucretius were also moralists, who believed in the importance of free will and human responsibility. They therefore held that the atoms must “swerve,”though only rarely and very little, if there was to be an opening for freedom. “If the atoms never swerve so as to originate some new movement that will snap the bands of fate, the everlasting sequence of cause and effect,” Lucretius wrote, “what is the source of the free will possessed by living things throughout the earth?”12

In a similar way, the painter and avowed atheist Francis Bacon insisted on giving a central place to chance and mystery. Just as Lucretius believed that the random “swerve” of the atoms kept open a space for human freedom, so it was a central article of Bacon’s faith that chance—such as a slip of the painter’s hand, a dribble of paint or a collision of shapes—injected into his work the freedom of the unforeseen that a painter could introduce in no other way. Equally he rejected all explanations and interpretations of his work. If it was clearly understood that the paintings said nothing and meant nothing, and he himself had nothing to say, each viewer had the freedom to make his own response. In short, our brave new atheists live as if such things as freedom are true because they need them to be. Put more simply, they cheat.

Last, table turning lies at the very heart of the dynamic of Christian conversion. Death comes before life, law before grace, conviction before regeneration, and so the good news is the best news ever to those who know they are in a bad situation. Looking back over his earlier pagan life with gratitude, Augustine prayed, “You were always present, angry and merciful at once, strewing the pangs of bitterness over all my lawless pleasures to lead me to look for others unallied with pain. You meant me to find them nowhere but in yourself, O Lord, for . . . you smite so that you may heal.”13

Needless to say, no one comes to believe in God because of table turning or through any purely negative arguments. What they do is disbelieve what they believed before, and they then become seekers who are open to the possibility of faith. True faith itself never grows from such negative arguments. It has to be based on what is positive—first, a positive conviction of the adequacy of Christian faith, second a positive conviction of the truth of the gospel, and supremely, a positive encounter with Jesus himself.

Hoist On Their Own Petard Yet Again

Turning the tables is especially useful when encountering skeptics in a skeptical age like ours today. In a world congenial to skepticism, skeptics love to play the skeptic’s card nonchalantly as if it were the royal flush that trumped all other cards and could not be countered. For many, it has become the skeptics’ way of hanging out a “Do Not Disturb” sign. Simply raise a skeptical objection and retire from all argument.

But of course, the simplest response is to turn such skepticism back on itself. When I studied philosophy as an undergraduate in the 1960s, an Arctic chill still hung in the air that froze any serious appreciation of faith. One source had been the Vienna Circle’s philosophy of logical positivism and the celebrated “verification principle” of A. J. Ayer at Oxford University. Only that which could be tested by the five senses could be verified as true, he insisted. Theology was therefore “nonsense,” or as it was famously said, “The word G‑O‑D is less meaningful than the word d‑o‑g.”

The trouble for Professor Ayer was that his verification principle could not verify itself—it was self-refuting. For to accept as truth only what can be tested by the senses is a principle that cannot itself be tested by the senses. So it too is nonsense by its own criteria. Ayer’s approach, he later admitted, was a “blind alley.” Years later I enjoyed a conversation with him on the train between London and Oxford, when we found ourselves the only people in the compartment. Although then retired and knighted as Professor Sir Alfred J. Ayer, he was candid about the failure of his principle. “I wish I had been more consistent,” he said to me. “Any iconoclast who brandishes a debunker’s sword should be required to demonstrate it publicly on his own cherished beliefs.”

Ayer’s false demand has both ancient precedents and modern counterparts. Celsus insisted that Christian teaching must pass the “Greek proof,” and be assessed by the philosophical standards of the day in order to show that it was reasonable. Similarly, in our more scientific age, many people demand that all claims to truth must undergo strict verification procedures if they are to be given the hallmark of truth, despite the fact that many things they trust and value could never pass such test—history and love, for a start. The same challenge could be equally thrown back to Feuerbach and his dismissal of faith as a projection, Marx and his scorn for faith as the flowers on the chains, Freud and his debunking of faith as wish fulfillment, and Dawkins and his often stated creed that all religious beliefs are only irrational. In each case the debunker’s sword appears to have morphed into a boomerang and their dismissals have recoiled on themselves. The same is true of Nietzsche and his long baleful influence on our generation. If truth is only a matter of perspective, are his own books no more than his own perspective? If truth is only an expression of a resentment-based will to power, are we to judge his own claims by his own criteria?

Logic and Life

The enormous power in table turning is obvious, but it raises questions too. An immediate one, which we will leave till a later chapter, is what if people are to push us as Christians to be true to what we say we believe? The answer, I will argue, is that we should welcome it. On the one hand, the outcome of our not living true to our faith is hypocrisy. And on the other, living in truth is the biblical way of saying that we are living the way of Jesus more closely, and therefore being faithful and becoming more like him. The more practical question here is, how in fact do we push people toward the logical consequences of their unbelief?

Some simple considerations may be helpful. First, we should always remember that the full consequences of a person’s position have to be seen in life and not only in words. It is important to take a person’s worldview seriously, but it is a mistake to confuse persons’ worldviews with them as people, or even their world-and-life view with them. The fact is that very few people are perfect, card-carrying examples of what they say they believe. Each person is their own version of their world-and-life view lived in their own way, and it is that living person we must deal with, not an idealized textbook example of a worldview. It is therefore a mistake to think that when we talk of the “logic” of someone’s position, we are referring to the strictly logical, the rational, the intellectual and the verbal. To do this is to reduce apologetics to a game of chess, with the apologist cast as the Grand Master expected to have a computer mind with brilliant set moves and a calculated strategy for checkmating all comers.

Very few apologists are like that. Even if they were, we can be sure that the people we talk to are not like that. Very few people are strictly and consistently logical, so to catch their smaller inconsistencies is merely to annoy them and put them off. Jesus spoke of “the treasures of the heart,” the things that are deep in the center of our lives that matter to us supremely and that we guard most tenaciously. Our challenge is to find the treasures of people’s hearts, and then to find contradictions that mean everything to them at that level.

Many years ago I was asked to make a case for the Christian faith at a university in the north of England. A professor lingered behind after the lecture, eager to talk further. He said that neither he nor his wife had shown the slightest interest in faith before, and their interest in talking to me had nothing to do with my lecture. Indeed, they had been notoriously resistant to students sharing their faith with them over many years. He was in his mid‑fifties and his wife was fifteen years younger.

For years, the professor said, he and his wife had practiced a very open relationship. He had slept with other women and she with other men. But then, to their surprise and delight, they had had a baby daughter. And almost immediately they both realized they did not want to bring her up with the ethics by which they had lived. “We have always had an open marriage,” he said, “but the younger generation has taken the openness further, to the point of chaos. We don’t want that for our daughter.”

I have rarely talked to a professor who was more open, but the reason was touching. In a beautiful way, both he and his wife realized that somehow they loved their little girl even more than they loved each other, and wanting the very best for her, they were open to faith as never before. The challenge of the gospel had touched the treasure of their hearts and opened them at a level never touched before.

Life, then, and not just logic, is all‑important. When the young Augustine sought out Ambrose of Milan to learn from his rhetoric, the bishop was wise enough to see that Augustine needed more than arguments to draw him to faith. He needed to live more in order to think more deeply, so Ambrose even brushed off the earnest entreaties of Augustine’s mother Monica. Later, Augustine saw the wisdom of what Ambrose had done.

My mother asked him, as a favor, to have a talk with me, so that he might refute my errors, drive the evil out of my mind, and replace it with good. He often did this when he found suitable pupils, but he refused to do it for me—a wise decision, as I afterwards realized. He told her that I was still unripe for instruction because, as she had told him, I was brimming over with the novelty of the heresy. . . . “Leave him alone,” he said. “Just pray to God for him. From his own reading he will discover his mistakes.”14

Unless we remember this point, our apologetics can sound like sophistry and logic chopping, and leave people unmoved. Sophists could answer any position and its opposite with equal conviction, and their very brilliance roused suspicion. They could make night into noon, and noon into night, right wrong and wrong right. But while minds were dazzled and left spinning, they were often unconvinced. This point matters for Christian apologists in two particular situations. One is when we make the mistake of attacking a straw man argument, and not the real position of the person we are talking to. The other is when we speak to people who are hurting. “But what does your argument prove?” Job protested to his heartless friends. “Do you intend to reprove my words, when the words of one in despair belong to the wind?” (Job 6:25‑26).

Looking for the treasure of the heart, and therefore for the consequences of logic in life, is not an assault on logic, but on its misuse. It may be that a person’s head is muddled, but more often the problem is that people’s heads are not where their hearts are, and what matters for the apologist is where a person’s heart is. The truth is that even logic can be put at the service of the crooked timber of our humanity. For logic alone can easily be made into a diversion, and can therefore become a shelter from God and his truth.

Unbelief can be extremely logical, but like an elephant trudging around and around in its moat in a zoo, such logic can be circular thinking that has got itself into a bad rut. Chesterton often came up against this vicious circle in people he engaged, and he used his wit and humor to get round it. “The moment his mere reason moves, it moves in the old circular rut; he will go round and round his logical circle.”15

After C. E. M. Joad’s conversion, he looked back on his years as a rationalist and a fierce critic of religion.

Certainly I engaged in controversies; admittedly I wrote a book on the subject, but the many words I wrote and said were not the expression of a mind engaged in thinking out those things afresh, but of a mind which was living on the deposit of thought that it had laid down in the past. I was stirring and re-applying, but not adding to the old material. In fact I was like a rentier living on the income from the capital his ancestors had accumulated, for it is as his ancestor that the middle‑aged man of forty is entitled to regard the young man of twenty who formed his mind.16

Once again, that point cuts both ways. Forty, fifty and sixty year‑old Christians may also be trudging around in the same old ruts that their younger selves laid down in their college years. But the truth is that they shouldn’t and they needn’t, for if the Christian faith is true, it will be proved true the wider and wider the experience of life it engages. But that is not so for unbelief. George Orwell wryly dismissed H. G. Wells, the rationalist, as “too sane to understand the modern world.”17 Like Augustine on the journey that later led to faith, many people do not need more fresh arguments. They need fresh air.

Questions That Raise Questions

A second consideration is that we should always use questions to raise questions. Questions have their own subversive quality, which we will explore later, but there is a special role for questions in table turning. As stressed in the introduction, far too much Christian evangelism and apologetics is based on the assumption that almost everyone is open, interested and needy—when most people most of the time are quite simply not.

Needless to say, that condemns many of our efforts (and books, lectures, seminars and discussions) to be well-intentioned but ineffectual. As Harry Blamires complained decades ago, “they cater for those who are already believers, half‑believers, or discontented unbelievers. They cater abundantly for uninstructed believers, for people on the brink of Christian self‑committal, and for those who are uneasy in their atheism, their agnosticism, and their ill‑defined theism.”18

If this is so, it means that in our age most people are untroubled rather than unreached, unconcerned rather than unconvinced, and they need questions as much as answers—or questions that raise questions that require answers that prompt people to become genuine seekers. William Wilberforce faced the polite indifference of wealthy upper-class society in the late eighteenth century. His answer was to devise “launchers”—questions and approaches that punctured the invisible social barriers of the day and goaded people to think. The most famous was his antislavery tract: the small Wedgwood plate with the head of a slave in chains in the center, and around the edge the question: “Am I not a man and a brother?” Questions, Wilberforce knew, were more subversive than statements, and with the prestige of his friend Josiah Wedgwood’s china, the little plate could raise a question that reverberated through aristocratic society.

The goal is to use questions to raise questions, and so to puncture whatever are the walls of indifference, and to do so in a style and language that speaks to the person we are engaging with. This means that we raise questions where people are. So if only a minority read serious books, we are raising questions in our serious books only for a minority. It also means that some media are better at raising questions than others, just as others are better at answering them. Films, plays, sketches, poems and cartoons, for example, are often better at raising questions than serious books, though the same books gain the edge when it comes to answering questions.

But whatever the style of the question and the medium in which it is raised, the point is the same: to probe the consequences of unbelief, and to challenge people to follow the logic of their ideas through to the end. Some Christians have won an insufferable reputation for always dispensing answers, even when no one has a question. Raise questions well, and we will be known for the searching questions we raise, to which the good news can be looked to for the only satisfactory answers. “I should therefore like,” Pascal wrote inPensées, “to arouse in man the desire to find truth.”19

Their Prophets, Not Ours

The third consideration is that, just as it is more effective to argue on the other person’s ground, so it is wiser to argue from the other person’s prophets, rather than our own. This is not only a matter of familiarity but authority. When St. Paul was in a synagogue, he preached from the Torah, but when he addressed the Athenian philosophers on the Areopagus, he quoted pagan poets from long before Jesus—the sixth-century B.C. Cretan poet Epimenides (in whom “we live and move and have our being”) and the third-century B.C. Greek poet Aratus (“for we are indeed his offspring” [Acts 17:28 ESV]). Looking back again, St. Augustine understood the crucial role that pagan philosophers had in undermining his earlier paganism. “Traditional education,” he wrote, “taught me that Jupiter punishes the wicked with his thunderbolts and yet commits adultery himself. The two roles are quite incompatible.”20 Later, after reading Cicero’s Hortensius, he wrote, “All my empty dreams suddenly lost their charm and my heart began to throb with a bewildering passion for the wisdom of eternal truth.”21

Reflecting on how the pagan philosophers had been so instrumental in his journey toward faith, Augustine commented, “These books served to remind me to return to my own self.”22 Many centuries later, Pascal drily counseled the same course for anyone searching for God: “Make them look for him among the philosophers, skeptics and dogmatists, who will worry the man who seeks.”23

Chesterton expressed the same point in his own inimitable way. He had been struck by the “odd effect of the great agnostics arousing doubts deeper than their own.”

I never read a line of Christian apologetics. I read as little as I can of them now. It was Huxley and Herbert Spencer and Bradlaugh who brought me back to orthodox theology. They sowed in my mind my first wild doubts of doubt. Our grandmothers were quite right when they said that Tom Paine and the freethinkers unsettled the mind. They do. They unsettled mine horribly. The rationalist made me question whether reason was of any use whatsoever; and when I had finished Herbert Spencer I had got as far as doubting (for the first time) whether evolution had occurred at all. As I laid down the last of Colonel Ingersoll’s atheistic lectures the dreadful thought broke across my mind, “Almost thou persuades me to be a Christian.” I was in a desperate way.24

I learned this lesson when I wrote my first book, The Dust of Death, which included a chapter reviewing and critiquing the influx of the Eastern religions in the 1960s. I included the story of Issa, the eighteenth‑century Haiku poet from Japan. Through a succession of sad events, his wife and all his five children died. Grieving each time, he went to the Zen Master and received the same consolation: “Remember the world is dew.” Dew is transient and ephemeral. The sun rises and the dew is gone. So too is suffering and death in this world of illusion, so the mistake is to become too engaged. Remember the world is dew. Be more detached, and transcend the engagement of mourning that prolongs the grief. After one of his children died, Issa went home unconsoled, and wrote one of his most famous poems. Translated into English it reads,

The world is dew.

The world is dew.

And yet.

And yet.

The entire logic of Buddhism is in the first two lines, whereas the yearning of a father’s heart cries out in the last two lines. Over the years since then, I have met a score of people who were on the road to the East either physically or spiritually, but were stopped in their tracks and turned around by that story in my book. The brief mention of a single one of their own prophets was worth more than hundreds of pages of Christian argument, and so it often is.

Our Knees or Our Heels

What can we expect when we pray for people, and then probe and push them gently but firmly toward the place where they can see the unwelcome logic of their position? At first, we will not know where the tension in their worldview can be found. It is something we can assume because of the teaching of Scripture, but we may not be able to see it in advance. But assuming it provides an assured point of contact—the tension as the meeting point. Whatever people say about God—whether they ignore him, deny him, hate him, or scorn him—we always know two things about them: first, that they themselves are made in the image of God; and second, that they are living in the world of God’s reality. So whatever they claim, we can be sure that there is both truth and falsehood in their belief, and the tension can be found somewhere.

As we talk and the conversation goes deeper, there will come a point at which the fact of the tension goes beyond providing us with a meeting point and becomes a potential pressure point. It then reveals where the treasure of the person’s heart is and where their beliefs clash with the safeguarding of the treasure. Often, though not always, we become aware of the pressure point before they do—though it is always a matter of spiritual discernment, and it is rarely evident at the outset of a conversation or relationship.

Quite obviously, our Lord had instant discernment when he spoke to people. Again and again, the Gospels show us how he knew at once where peoples’ hearts were. For the rich young ruler, for example, Jesus knew that his great wealth was his issue, the barrier to his refusal to pay the cost of discipleship, so he put his finger on it immediately. We do not have discernment like that, so we have to take the time to get to know people, to love them, to pray for them and to listen to their stories. Then, like the builder of a stone wall who takes a stone and tap, tap, tap, taps it gently until he hits the fault line and it splits easily, we have to find the fault line in the other person’s thinking.

At some point the person will recognize the tension because it touches the treasure of the heart and it matters. The tension will then have gone from a meeting point to a pressure point to a danger point. This last term comes from Nietzsche, who observed how people refuse to face the logic of their philosophy squarely. Instead, they duck and weave like a boxer, and try to bounce off the ropes when backed into a corner of their own making. Nietzsche was impatient with such thinkers. He attacked Jacob Burckhardt because he would not look nihilism in the white of the eye. He referred to the Swiss historian’s lectures with “their profound thoughts, and their silently abrupt breaks and twists as soon as they touch the danger point.”25

If you have ever witnessed someone who is close to or at the danger point in their self-examination before God, it is a sobering moment. Only God knows when that moment truly and completely comes. We will not always know, and it is not our business to know, but it is surely the moment when, before God, they know that from then on they are without excuse. They have seen the truth, they know the truth, and they are responsible to the truth that they now know. All fig leaves are stripped away, and all alibis exposed. In their heart of hearts they know where they stand, and they are fully responsible for the decisive moment of truth. As Franz Kafka noted, it is only the biblical view of time that makes it possible to speak of the Day of Judgment in the way the Bible does at the end of history. The Day of Judgment is also “a summary court in perpetual session.”26

Needless to say, the moment of truth does not mean that everyone is persuaded by the truth, for even at that point they always have the final choice: to fall on their knees or to turn on their heels. For those who fall on their knees, it is the moment when their unbelief is shown up as inadequate, when they face up fully to the reality that shows it up, and when they accept the logic of God’s truth that points undeniably to God himself. Joad described how he hit that sober moment of truth as a philosopher: “The rationalist‑optimist philosophy, by the light of which I had done my best to live, came to seem intolerably trivial and superficial . . . unable to withstand the bleaker winds of the twentieth century. I abandoned it and found myself a Christian.”27

The opposite response is equally possible. A person can turn on their heels. Like a boxer bouncing off the ropes or a yachtsman changing tack, someone can try to evade the logic and sidestep the evident force of the truth. A feature of such maneuver is that people often go from one extreme to the other, with switched arguments and about‑turns that are baffling. Jesus himself encountered this response from his critics. One moment they said that he was a libertine, and the next that he was a spoilsport. Chesterton encountered this tactic repeatedly:

One rationalist had hardly done calling Christianity a nightmare before another began to call it a fools paradise. This puzzled me; the charges seemed inconsistent. Christianity could not at once be the black mask on a white world or the white mask on a black world. The state of the Christian could not at once be so comfortable that he was a coward to cling to it, and so uncomfortable that he was a fool to stand it.28

C.S. Lewis commented on the same response:

Such people put up a version of Christianity suitable for a child of six and make that the object of their attack. When you try and explain the Christian doctrine as it is really held by an instructed adult, they complain that you are making their heads turn round, and that it is all too complicated, and that if there really were a God they are sure He would have made religion simple.29

For those who fall on their knees, the prospects are bright. At that point the work of the apologist is finished and the very different, simpler and more positive work of the evangelist can take over. The good news is good news, and the party may soon be on for the return of the prodigal son or daughter. But for those who turn on their heels, and for those who squirt out evasions like a scuttle fish squirting ink to make its escape, our work is far from over, though the core objection is clearer. For these people the prospects are sober and the reason is plain. When a friend told Francis Bacon that he would prefer not to have an eternal soul than to live in eternal torment, the painter replied with a grim realism that people are “so attracted to their egos that they’d probably rather have the torment than simple annihilation.”30 At that point we as apologists must either retrace our steps and seek to do a better job at turning the tables, or we must try a different and more positive approach, as we will consider next.

Os Guinness is senior fellow of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics and a member of the RZIM speaking team.

1G. K. Chesterton, Manalive (Los Angeles: Indo-European, 2009), 73.

2Ibid., 73-78.

3Ibid., 78.

4C. S. Lewis, “God in the Dock,” in C. S. Lewis Essay Collection (London: HarperCollins, 2002), 37.

5Peter L. Berger, A Rumor of Angels: Modern Society and the Rediscovery of the Supernatural (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1969), 42.

6Ibid., 40.

7Vaclav Havel, The Power of the Powerless (New York: Routledge, 1985), 41.

8W. H. Auden, quoted in Arthur Kirsch, Auden and Christianity (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005), 9.

9Georg Lukacs quoted in Istvan Meszaros, Lukács’ Concept of Dialectic (London: Merlin Press, 1972), 52.

10Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo (London: Faber & Faber, 1967), 345.

11C. S. Lewis, Undeceptions (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1971), 213.

12Lucretius, On the Nature of the Universe, trans. R. E. Latham (Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1951), 12, 66; emphasis added.

13Augustine, Confessions 2.2, trans. R. S. Pine-Coffin (London: Penguin, 1961), 44.

14Ibid., 3.12, page 69.

15G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (New York: Image, 1959), 21-22.

16C. E. M. Joad, God and Evil (London: Religious Book Club, 1944), 14.

17George Orwell, quoted in Bernard Crick, George Orwell: A Life (London: Penguin, 1982), 428.

18Harry Blamires, The Faith and Modern Error (London, SPCK, 1964), 1.

19Blaise Pascal, Pensées, trans. A. J. Krailsheimer (London: Penguin Books, 1966), 60.

20Augustine, Confessions 1.16, page 36.

21Ibid., 3.4, page 58.

22Ibid., 7.10, page 146.

23Pascal, Pensées, 53.

24Chesterton, Orthodoxy, 84.

25Friedrich Nietzsche, letter to Gersdorff, November 1870, quoted in Erich Heller, The Disinherited Mind(London: Penguin, 1961), 70; emphasis added.

26Franz Kafka, quoted in Arthur Kirsch, Auden and Christianity (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005), 20.

27C. E. M. Joad, The Recovery of Belief: A Restatement of Christian Philosophy (London: Faber & Faber, 1952), 82.

28 Orthodoxy, 156-57.

29C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1943), 47.

30Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma (London: Skyhorse, 2009), 346.

Previously printed in Christianity Today (January/February 2015), Vol. 59, No. 1, page 56.

On a beautiful May morning in 1973, my Christian life took a decisive turn. I had converted to Christianity 18 months before, in the fall of 1971. I had been an aggressive atheist, utterly convinced of the godless worldview. Yet in my first term at Oxford University, I came to realize that Christianity was intellectually superior to my earlier atheism. Christianity simply made sense of life in a way that atheism did not.

Yet a year or so into my Christian life, all was not well. I tended to think of faith as a set of ideas only. Sure, I loved God with all my mind. But what about my heart? And my imagination? I sensed I was standing on the threshold of something enormously rich and satisfying, but I saw it only from a distance, uncertain of whether I could ever grasp it. Like Moses on Mount Nebo, I was glimpsing something that seemed beyond my reach. I knew I had to break free from the cold rationalism of my early faith. But how?

That was why I set out early on that day, cycling to Wytham Woods, a few miles from Oxford City Centre. I found a place to sit on a hillock from which I could see Oxford’s famous “dreaming spires.” Having asked God to help me sort myself out, I opened my Bible and began to read Paul’s letter to the Philippians. One of my friends had told me how it had helped him in his faith to read the book in one sitting. I decided I would do the same out in the countryside, where there were no distractions.

That day I discovered two themes that have transformed my life as a Christian. Both came to me when I was reading Philippians 3, savoring every phrase, trying to identify and digest every nugget of wisdom.

Wings of Faith

The first breakthrough came as I contemplated Paul’s declaration, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (v. 8, ESV used throughout). As I read and reread those words, I began to realize the true nature of my problem: My faith had affected my mind but left the rest of me untouched. Up to that point, I had thought of spiritual growth in terms of accumulating knowledge. And so I had read biblical commentaries and books on systematic theology. But that hadn’t deepened the quality of my faith. I was like someone who had read books about France but had never visited. Or someone who had read about falling in love but had never experienced it.

Everything in the opening section contributed to my transformed vision of the Christian faith. Yet that single verse seemed to sum up everything so well.

Its context is significant. Paul explains how his personal journey qualified him as a distinguished Jew: “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more” (v. 4). Paul was not being ironic. He was listing his many achievements before delivering the point: These achievements pale in comparison to the wonder, joy, and privilege of knowing Christ. “Whatever gain I had,” he said, “I counted as loss for the sake of Christ” (v. 7). In the light of Christ, we see things as they really are. What we thought was gold crumbles to dust.

Paul explained that his achievements might actually get in the way of what really matters: knowing Christ. Good things can be a barrier to what is best. I don’t think the word transvaluation was in my vocabulary at that time, but that was what Paul was proposing—a radical revision of my understanding of what mattered in life.

Paul’s words forced me to reconsider my value system. He made it clear that what mattered was not what I achieved, but what Christ achieved within and through me. Our status is given through faith in Christ, not obtained through the works of the law. Paul knew that knowing Christ overshadowed and overwhelmed anything and everything he had previously known and valued.

Could I say that? Did knowing Christ trump everything else I loved and valued? Or was Jesus just one interest among many?

What spoke most powerfully to me that morning was Paul’s distinction between knowing about Jesus Christ and knowing Jesus Christ. Many readers, no doubt, will feel this is blindingly obvious. But everyone has to discover it sometime, and that day I grasped the importance of “spirituality” for nourishing my relationship with God. And the great “Christ hymn” (Phil. 2:5–11) helped me see my need to focus on Jesus’ life and death, and not approach him through a depersonalizing framework of abstract ideas. As a result, hymns like Isaac Watts’s “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”—which I had seen as sentimental emotionalism—took on new meaning as I was able to share and enter into the experience of adoring Christ.

Paul’s words “I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (3:12) gave me a framework for growing in my faith. The idea linked together my own responsibility to try to do my best, however limited, and God graciously supplementing my weaknesses and inadequacies. It was because Christ had taken hold of me that I was enabled and encouraged to take hold of him and let him lead me onward and upward through life. Previously, I had tended to see my faith as something I needed to sustain; now I realized it could sustain me.

I began to think of my faith as being grasped and held by Christ, and adjusted every aspect of my life accordingly—my mind, heart, imagination, and hands. I made a connection—perhaps a naive one, but one that spoke deeply to me—with the powerful image of Christ knocking on the door of the church at Laodicea, asking to be welcomed (Rev. 3:20). When I became a Christian, I had invited Christ into my mind, but that was where it had stopped. I realized that I had to allow every “room” of my life to be filled with the life-giving and life-changing presence of Christ.

Of course, I never lost sight of rationally defending the faith. As an atheist who had discovered Christianity, I naturally saw myself as an apologist—someone who was willing and able to rise to the challenges to faith presented by the culture. Yet I progressed in my understanding of what it meant to have faith in Christ. I began to read C. S. Lewis in 1974, and found in him someone who reaffirmed the rationality of faith while showing its rich imaginative dimensions. I also began to read Thomas à Kempis’s classic Imitation of Christ, embracing its challenge to model my life around the crucified Christ. I had previously seen the sermon as the heart of a church service; I began to realize how worship nourished and enriched my faith. No longer did I have to actively work at my faith. It was as if it developed a life and strength of its own, supporting me. The phrase “wings of faith” suddenly became meaningful.

Why the Church?

Yet my reading of Philippians helped me answer another question that had troubled me: What is the point of church? The Oxford congregations I had attended provided rather meager fare—sermons that focused on encouraging us to read our Bibles and trust God. As a result, I thought I could get more from reading books or talking to friends than from attending church. I was unaware of the vitality of Christian community. I had not read Cyprian of Carthage’s famous maxim: “He can no longer have God for his Father who has not the church for his mother.” If I had, it would have baffled me. The church, in my view, played merely an educational and social role.

So I was struck by Paul’s words in Philippians 3:20: “our citizenship is in heaven.” When I had attended a lecture at Oxford on the Roman colonial system, I had failed to connect it to this passage, which uses the Greek term politeuma, translated here as “citizenship.” A jumble of thoughts surged through my mind as I began to connect the dots.

The church is an outpost of heaven on earth, what Romans termed a colonia—not to be confused with the English word colony. Philippi was itself a Roman colonia at the time, an outpost of Rome in the distant province of Macedonia. Paul’s readers would have easily related to this imagery. Roman citizens residing in Philippi had the right to return home to the metropolis after serving in the colony. For Paul, one benefit of knowing Christ was being a citizen of heaven. Christians live on earth now, where there is much to accomplish for God’s kingdom. But we are citizens of heaven, and that’s our real home.

The church is a community of believers, an outpost of heaven on earth, a place in which a “spirit of grace” (Zech. 12:10) dwells. Just as the Romans at Philippi spoke the language and kept the laws of Rome, so we observe the customs and values of heaven. As Christians, we live in two worlds and must learn to navigate both while ultimately being faithful to our homeland.

This helped me to finally make sense of Christian community. I began to see the church as a place that helps Christians straddle the two worlds of faith—where we are now and where we shall finally be. It’s like an oasis in a desert, equipping us to work and serve in the world while fostering and safeguarding our distinctiveness as Christians.

I began to realize that the church was an imperfect yet important anticipation of heaven, whose worship and ethos were integral to my faith. The church was a community gathered around the public reading of God’s Word, its interpretation and application through preaching, and its enactment in worship and prayer.

Many readers will rightly note that this—my early thoughts, I remind you—fails to do justice to the full nature of the church. But that’s not the point. As I grew in faith, I read works such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer’sLife Together, which helped me develop a richer and fuller vision of Christian community. But reading Philippians triggered a series of thoughts that helped me solve a serious problem I was facing. However imperfect and inadequate those thoughts of May 1973 may have been, they set me on the road to ordination in the Church of England, so that I might minister within the kind of community I had once considered irrelevant. Although my primary responsibility is teaching at the University of Oxford, I take great pleasure in ministering to village congregations in the Cotswolds, near my home.

Perhaps the most important lesson from my early morning reflections 40-some years ago was how the Bible can speak to us in times of need, transition, and discernment. I was at a crossroads. Like so many others before me, I found that coming to the Bible with real, honest questions—and a willingness to be changed—opened up new possibilities of growth. I know I won’t be the last to make that discovery.

Alister McGrath is Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at Oxford University and president of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics.

Academic Writings

My academic writings are now sifted as uploaded papers in https://feu.academia.edu/bmbragas/Papers 🙂

a disclaimer

i just logged in again after a year or two. and so, i have just read some comments. please understand that most articles are just re-posted so it will be easy for me to see it again. the articles are not mine. the original authors of whom i included in the post deserve the credit for their writings. thanks! God bless, eveyone! 🙂

my writings

i intentionally deleted my academic writings to secure them from being copied.  thanks!

Lecture 1: Yearning to make sense of things

– 2009 Gifford Lecture 1.pdf

Lecture 2: Why we still need natural theology

2009 Gifford Lecture 2.pdf

Lecture 3: The mystery of the constants of nature

2009 Gifford Lecture 3.pdf

Lecture 4: The enigmas of evolutionary biology

2009 Gifford Lecture 4.pdf

Lecture 5: Natural theology and the quest for meaning

2009 Gifford Lecture 5.pdf

Lecture 6: Conclusion: clues to the meaning of the universe?

2009 Gifford Lecture 6.pdf

by Daniel A. Tappeiner

Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies, January 1, 1999

The Pentecostal/Charismatic movement generally interprets itself as a great, new and final movement of God in the end times. Some classical Pentecostals speak of their movement as the “latter rain,” the final outpouring of the Holy Spirit prior to the apocalyptic return of Jesus Christ. Tentative evaluations of this movement from an historical perspective might speak in terms of a new Reformation, comparing it in importance to the great Reformation of the sixteenth century under Luther, Calvin and the Reformers.

This movement, however, is not simply a matter of experience, which would only be an historical phenomenon to be interpreted psychologically, sociologically and culturally. It is also a relatively new understanding of the meaning of the experience and teaching of the New Testament in relation to the Holy Spirit and especially to the matter of baptism in the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit.

Immediately a series of questions arise in the minds of Evangelicals, those who already hold the faith “once for all delivered to the saints.” What right does this new understanding of scripture have to exist? Is a new normative revelation from God being claimed, as in Mormonism or Christian Science? Is there a danger of going beyond the Jesus of the New Testament to a “spirit” of experience and immediacy? What of all the generations of saints, martyrs and common believers prior to this new movement and new understanding? Were they all deficient? Did they miss the real depth of Christian life?

For a person who is without the perspective of church history such questions may seem irrelevant. The de novo quality of their experience seems enough for the present. There is, however, a real need that such questions be faced and some justification be given. The need is three-fold. First, it is necessary to avoid errors of self-misinterpretation and the attendant dangers of spiritual pride. Second, if unbiblical subjectivism is to be avoided, it is necessary to see continuity with the past as a well as newness in the present. Third, such a justification is necessary in terms of communication with those who know the finality of Jesus Christ and are all too aware of the confusion which comes when the vagaries of the human spirit are uncritically equated with the action of the Holy Spirit.

The approach to such issues and questions must not be narrow. It cannot consist in glib quotes from scripture and the telling of some modern day experience to clinch the point. The approach must be large enough in scope to take into account all the relevant data. It must show continuity with the Spirit’s activity in the church from the time of the New Testament church to the present. It must ask why the new interpretation and present experience are not clearly discoverable in the records of the early church. It must speak to the fact of periodic manifestations of such Spirit-movements in the history of the church. The approach must give an explication of the fact of such past Spirit-movements, but it must also explain why the present movement is unique and significant beyond these earlier movements. It must also deal with the issue of fanaticism, mere emotionalism and doctrinal heterodoxy, which often accompanied such “Spirit movements” in the past. The problem of discernment of spirits and testing must be faced.

To do that is a task of no little difficulty! It must, however, be attempted. It is a legitimate demand upon those who support the present day Pentecostal/Charismatic renewal and who seek to integrate it to the larger world of Christian faith and life. Indeed, it is a demand internally implied in the truth that the impulse to gnosis is embedded in true biblical pistis. St. Anselm’s prayer, “I believe that I might understand” is the only legitimate attitude in the task of theological reflection.

What is required, then, is an adequate theology of church history. The promise of Jesus, that when the Spirit of truth comes He will guide us into all truth (John 16:13), must be properly related to the emergence of any new understanding and movement in the church. I propose to develop a theology of church history based upon the work of Philip Schaff, the Evangelical giant and church historian of the last century. In particular on the approach which he enunciated in his treatment of the issue of the rise of the Oxford movement in England under the leadership of men like John Henry Newman. A proper theology of church history will prove an adequate and solid platform to support and justify the possibility of the new kind of theological understanding of the baptism in the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit embodied in the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement.

Anyone acquainted with Schaff will know his encyclopedic perspective, his concern for true continuity in the church and his sensitive and balanced approach. He himself was not one to take lightly the past or to overrate the present understanding of his own “enlightened era.” He expressed his attitude on this point in the following words of trenchant irony:

O, thou light of the nineteenth century! How hast thou tarried with thy rising, hiding thyself for a thousand years behind the clouds, in cowardly fear of those dying men, the popes! Come now, ye poor unfortunate children of darkness – ye Leos and Gregorys, ye Emperors… Anselm, and Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventura and Bernard of Clairvaux, Dante Alighieri and Petrarch…Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael, Francis of Assisi and Thomas à Kempis — come forth from your graves and be illuminated by the light that now reigns; learn how to govern church and state from our synods, consistories and advocates; study philosophy and theology at Andover and New Haven; practice poetry, church building, and painting amid the encouragement that is given to the arts in practical, money-loving America; take lessons in piety from the camp meetings… But they have no desire to come back the mighty dead. With a compassionate smile, they point our dwarfish race to their own imperishable giant works and exclaim: “Be humble and learn that nothing becomes you so well.”

The application to the present situation is clear enough.

Yet this man, who so powerfully speaks to our necessity for historical perspective, was also in the vanguard of those who looked for the point at which the Spirit of truth was teaching the church and leading it into all truth. Even in 1844 Schaff looked forward to the next development of the Spirit which he called “Protestant Catholicism.”

In Schaff’s inaugural address as professor of biblical literature and ecclesiastical history at the seminary at Mercersburg, he spelled out his views on the church, the principle of Protestantism and an assessment of the contemporary condition of the church in his time. From this can be extracted a theology of church history which contains the principles needed for the present task of justifying the current Pentecostal/ Charismatic movement as a legitimate possibility, reflecting the work of the Holy Spirit of leading into “all truth.” Schaff summarized his views of the development of the church in his time with a series of 111 theses. I will select out those theses which will provide a framework of understanding to deal with the issues of historical continuity and the possibility of genuine advancement in the area of theological understanding and experience.

I. THE FACT OF DEVELOPMENT

Schaff’s first thesis will serve as the starting point for our exposition of a theology of church history:

Every period of the church and of theology has its particular problem to solve; and every doctrine, in a measure every book also of the Bible, has its classic age in which it first comes to be fully understood and appropriated by the consciousness of the Christian world.

The church is a living, supernaturally constituted organism, not a mere mechanism or phenomenon of psychology and culture. As such it has its own life history, its own processes of growth and its developmental crises. As in any living organism, the church, in its initial constitution, contained, through the work of the Holy Spirit, all the elements necessary for its functioning in God’s purpose and plan. Through the new life of the age to come (deriving from the resurrection of Jesus) and the new power of the age to come (deriving from the ascension and Pentecost) the church was plenarily endowed to fulfill its worldwide mission of kerygmatic proclamation and the charismatic ministry of wholeness. The fullness and completeness of divine teaching was also given through apostolic figures to establish the base for normative life and understanding of divine things.

There is, however, a correlation in the history of the church between three basic elements and every advance in the theological development of the church. First, the church has its own developmental needs and readiness for learning. Second, it has a relationship to its own age, with its Zeitgeist, peculiar concerns and pressures. Third, there is that aspect of Scripture which is most alive and meaningful to the church at a particular point in its development toward the fullness of the stature of Christ, to the aner teleios, of Eph 4:13. Therefore, in fact, the historical and theological development of the church can be analyzed as a series of encounters among all three elements – readiness, context and scripture – in which a particular problem is tackled, solved and developed in the explicit understanding of the church and in so doing, certain books of the Bible and key passages receive their classical expositions.

A review of the development of church doctrine suggests the following skeletal outline which will indicate the fact of development — the leading of the Spirit of truth into all truth. Within the New Testament itself it is clear that the major theological tasks included an integration of the Christ event with the Old Testament tradition, the consequent universalization of Christianity into a religion of world-wide scope, the relation of Christian reality to pagan religions and life-styles and an inner struggle with it own eschatological expectations.

In the following centuries the Gnostics raised the issue of the relation of God to the created order. The trinitarian struggle worked with the relation of God to the person of Jesus Christ. The christological controversies sought to explore the relation of Jesus Christ to humanity. The Pelagian controversy developed the doctrines of sin and grace and the nature of man. In the Medieval period the unique features of the Roman Catholic Church began to emerge, built upon previous advances and developing a complex system in which a sacramental conception of the church as mysticus corporis was the central feature. The Reformation represents an epochal advance in the church’s grasp of the meaning of the Pauline teaching of justification and the re-establishment of the formal authority of Scripture. Recent history is more difficult to assess, but in the late 18th and the 19th centuries the missionary task of the church gained its clearest explicit expression for the time and in the last one hundred years the nature of the church has been extensively explored and expounded in the interests of ecumenicity.

The relevance of all of this to the present day movement of the Holy Spirit is obvious. The church is now ready, both in its own development and in relation to the climate of the age, to wrestle with the reality of the Holy Spirit in the life and experience of the church in a new way. The time has come for a definite exposition of the theology of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit Himself, in executing the sovereign plan of God, is leading the church into a condition which has resulted in the renewed experience of the Spirit in the form found in the New Testament and the theological reflection of the church which naturally follows upon such experience.

II. THE NATURE OF DEVELOPMENT

If the developmental interpretation of the history of the church is correct it is imperative that the precise nature of this process be stated explicitly in terms of its limits, possibility and specific character. It is at this point that questions of superceding Jesus Christ become most insistent. The very legitimate concern exists that in speaking of “development” it may be interpreted to mean leaving behind, as “mere objectivity,” the Jesus of history and the inspired apostolic witness, for a religious experience of the spirit of Jesus separated from Jesus. Schaff was much aware of that very danger as it inhered in the theological reconstructions of Schleiermacher and in the whole dynamic of German liberalism. He therefore states theses, which established very clearly the limits, possibility and nature of the development of the church both in its experiences and doctrine.

He first deals with the issue of the limits to development. In thesis 13 he states very succinctly: “Christianity in itself is the absolute religion, and in this view unsusceptible to improvement.” Jesus Christ is the full final and perfect revelation both of God and humankind. There is nothing beyond Jesus Christ. He is the center of all. In Him the triune God is perfectly revealed. In Him all things in the created order unite in a cosmic “recapitulation.” There is no revelation to follow save the final open manifestation of the glory of God in Jesus Christ and His church in the eschaton. There is no “age of the Spirit” succeeding the “age of the Son” in which the Son is replaced at the center by another reality. Rather, Jesus is both the center and the circumference of Christian experience and truth. He is the limit, the boundary of all legitimate development.

The apostolic writers everywhere assume this fact and they also state it explicitly at times. Jude speaks of contending “for the faith which was once for all (hapax) delivered to the saints” (v. 3). Here “faith” is used to refer to the content of faith, not its usual sense of the experience of supernatural trust based on divine revelation. Paul clearly means the same thing when he speaks of Jesus Christ as the foundation upon which all future ministry is built (1 Cor 3:10-15), or as the chief corner stone, along with the other foundational elements of apostles and prophets, in the holy temple of the Lord (Eph 2:20-22).

Such images clearly mean that all genuine spiritual development in the future must be fully in accord with the “sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching which accords with godliness” (1 Tim 6:3), that is, with Jesus Himself and the apostolic witness and teaching. In other words, all teaching and all experience must be evaluated by the authoritative norm of Jesus and the apostolic message. Any experience or teaching which does not sustain the test of the limit and norm of Jesus Christ is false and to be rejected.

III. THE ISSUE OF PENTECOSTAL/CHARISMATIC “REVELATION”

At this point a question is often raised, by those who seek and accept this finality of Jesus Christ, in relation to the often-repeated references by those in the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement, to receiving “revelations” in the Spirit. An example of such a claim to “revelation” can be seen in the book written by David Wilkerson, a popular Pentecostal figure, which purports to be a prophetic visionary revelation from God for the whole church today relative to the near future.

Pauline “Revelation”

Notice must also be taken here of the Pauline references to “revelation” (apokalypsis) in the “charismatic liturgy” of the early church (1 Cor 14:26, 30). This charismatic liturgy is taken seriously in the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement and such revelation is both expected and received in the context of corporate worship. What is the relation of these charismatic revelations to the hapax revelation of Jesus Christ?

The answer can best be framed in terms of the function of such charismatic revelations in comparison with and contrast to the function of the revelation in Jesus Christ and apostolic witness.

A review of the Pauline usage of the concept “revelation” indicates a three-fold thrust. There are ecstatic revelations (2 Cor 12:1, 7), which are personal in nature. There are charismatic revelations which are corporate and local. There are apostolic-prophetic revelations, which are universal and normative (Eph 3:5). Paul himself experienced the “traditional” ecstatic revelations characteristic of the apocalyptic writers and devotees of the mystery religions. He writes of receiving an abundance of visions (optasia) and revelations in terms which clearly indicate ecstasy and altered states of consciousness (“Whether in the body or out of the body I do not know,” “caught up into paradise,” and “heard things which cannot be told”, 2 Cor 2:1-10). This type of experience was strictly personal in nature, related to God’s purpose for his life and his own spiritual and psychological makeup. This is evident from the fact that his whole ministry began with such a sovereign revelational experience on the road to Damascus (see Gal 1:15, 16), from the very personal way in which the glorified Lord counterbalanced these ecstatic revelatory experiences by allowing “a thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor 12:7), and from the fact that they were not intended for public proclamation to the church (2 Cor 12:4). Paul gives explicit warning against such experiences when they are made the basis for new doctrine or practice outside the context of apostolic teaching and fellowship (Col 2:18).

Paul also speaks of and promotes, as an expected part of the charismatic liturgy, another form of revelation with another purpose (1 Cor 14:26, 30) In charismatic revelation the form is not ecstatic and it takes place in orderly fashion in the context of worship in the Spirit. That this type of revelation is not ecstatic is indicated by the general principle that “the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets” (1 Cor 14:32), by the orderliness expected by Paul and by the close connection of such revelation to the manifestation of prophecy (1 Cor 14:29, 30).

The purpose of such revelations is clearly tied to the corporate context. The general Pauline rule for all charismatic manifestations of the Spirit is “let all things be done for edification” (1 Cor 14:26; see also 1 Cor 12:7; 14:12). This principle governs charismatic revelations whose purpose must be the upbuilding of the church. The purpose is strictly local and always related to the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. This can most clearly be seen in its connection with prophecy which is local and of the moment, for those gathered in worship (1 Cor 14:38; Gal 2:2). In two places it is explicitly stated that such revelation is given by the Holy Spirit from God that we might “understand the gifts bestowed on us by God” (1 Cor 2:12) or that Christians might know their hope, inheritance and power in and through Jesus Christ (Eph 1:17ff). In other words, the nature of this type of charismatic revelation is a divine illumination of the definitive revelation in Jesus Christ, which makes that revelation especially alive and suited to upbuilding the church through a corporate proclamation of it and an appropriate testing by the church.

Paul also writes of apostolic-prophetic revelation which is universal and normative for the church. His own message he claims to be the direct result of revelation (Gal 1:11) and he specifically rejects any “revelation” which is contrary to the Gospel of the Jesus of history (Gal 1:18). He writes to the churches in Asia Minor of the “mystery of Christ”, — the gospel, given by revelation through the apostles and prophets (Eph 3:3-5). Here “prophets” refer to the New Testament prophets. This normative revelation is always in connection with the Old Testament prophetic expectations (Rom 16:25, 26), with the historic person of Jesus Christ (Gal 3:23) and with the foundational, and therefore final and unrepeatable, revelation through the New Testament apostles and prophets (Eph 2:21, 22).

It is only charismatic revelation which is part of the present Pentecostal/Charismatic movement as a normative part of the church’s functioning. Ecstatic revelations are accepted as possible and actual but only personal in significance. Normative revelation is restricted to apostolic teaching and practice and is used as the canon by which charismatic revelations are to be weighed by the gathered church (1 Cor 14:29; 1 Thess 5:19-21).

Johannine Theology of Development

The same dialectic, between the absoluteness of Jesus Christ and developmental leading of the church “into all truth,” is also clearly evident in the Johannine materials. Two passages in the Farewell Discourse (John 14:25; 16:12-15) indicate a delicate balance between the permanent, normative significance of the Jesus of history and the further revelations to come by the Spirit of truth. In both passages it is stated or implied that Jesus’ teachings are incomplete prior to his glorification in the cross and ascension. In the first passage Jesus says “these things” (and no more) I have spoken to you while I am still with you” (v. 25). But – there is more to come – the “all things” which Jesus wants to say to the disciples which they were unable to assimilate (bastazein) in their present spiritual state. Once again reference is made to the coming Spirit of truth who will guide them into all truth.

In these same passages, however, which point to further teachings and revelations from Jesus to be given by the Paraclete, it is clear that they are really from him and will refer back to him. The Paraclete will bring to remembrance all that Jesus had said to them (14:26), he will not speak on his own authority, independent of Jesus (16:12) but will disclose (anangelei) the things which are coming. At the same time the Holy Spirit will also be taking from “the things” of Jesus, i.e., content which comes from Jesus and which points to Jesus, and declaring them so that, in this guiding activity of the Spirit of truth, Jesus will be glorified.

This same balance between the on-going, post-Pentecostal activity of the Spirit and the normative meaning of the history and teaching of Jesus is seen in 1 John 5:6-8. Here the Spirit, “who is the truth,” is a witness to the Jesus of history. The Spirit is united with the witness of the “water and blood” which refer to the historical events of Jesus’ baptism in water at the Jordan and his baptism in blood at the cross.

From this discussion it is clear that there must not be any attempt to go beyond the Jesus of apostolic witness to another gospel or another spirit which is not the Spirit of Jesus (Acts 16:7), whose proper task is to interpret to the church in a living way the hapax of Jesus Christ Himself. Any such attempt is unbiblical and must be guarded against.

The other side of the matter, however, must also be taken seriously, namely, that without the continued activity of the Spirit, of taking of the things of Jesus and declaring them to the church, there is no real gospel any more. Without the living, leading voice of the Spirit of truth the gospel becomes mere dead letter. Once we have laid to rest the specter of further normative revelations being claimed, there should, then, be the positive expectation – indeed demand, for continued charismatic revelations in the church, in order that the body of Christ might be fully built up in the one faith of absolute dependence upon the grace of God in Jesus Christ and in a further grasp of the content of faith, the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

IV THE POSSIBILITY AND CHARACTER OF DEVELOPMENT.

Schaff makes very clear the way in which development is actually possible in the church in thesis 13:

We must not confound with this (absoluteness of Jesus Christ), however, the apprehension and appropriation of Christianity in the consciousness of mankind. This is a progressive process of development that will reach its close only with the Second Coming of the Lord.

The key categories which must be used, if the biblical balance between normative apostolic revelation and the continuing activity of the Spirit leading the church into all truth is to be maintained, are those of “consciousness” and “apprehension.” The distinction between the once-for-all givenness of normative revelation and the active appropriation and apprehension of that revelation in the living, corporate (and then individual) consciousness of the church, makes it very clear how progress and development are possible within the limits of the apostolic hapax. Development does not consist in going beyond Jesus Christ and the apostolic witness, because there is nothing beyond. Going “beyond” could, in fact, only be a reversion to mere human religion, whether it be to the legalistic misunderstanding of Judaism or the multiple forms of religious error found among the other families of humankind. Rather, true development, led by the Spirit of truth, is a matter of drawing ever more deeply upon the treasury of God’s reality and grace as it is found in Jesus Christ. Development can only be an increase of genuine life in Christ and an ever more precise explication, in cognitive categories, of the truth which is in Jesus Christ.

In the Colossian epistle, both increased participation in the material principle of Jesus Christ and in the formal principle are held before those who were being wooed to an advance “beyond Christ”, which was really a falling back into a mixture of heathen and Jewish religious notions and practices. The formal principle is Jesus Christ Himself “in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:3). But He is also then the material principle, for it is from this treasury that “all the riches of assured understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery” may be drawn (Col 2:3). The apostle sums up this whole point in these words: “As, therefore, you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so live in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith…” (Col 2:6). It is one thing to have a treasure of “assured understanding,” it is another to appropriate it personally, in consciousness, in explicit form. The situation is much like having a valuable book in your library without having read any more than the table of contents. The value is in the text, not outside of it. What is required is a real interaction with the contents.

The category “consciousness” suggests its opposite, which is “unconscious” or “implicit.” The domain in which development takes place, then, is that of consciousness not content. Therefore it is evident that this change is a shift from implicit to explicit. The Spirit’s role is the explication, in the consciousness of the church, of that which the church previously had lived upon only implicitly but which is now called forth according to the developmental readiness of the church as a living, growing organism and by the pressures experienced externally from the Zeitgeist and internally from the dynamic which urges pistis to seek gnosis. As Schaff goes on to say in thesis 16:

It is possible for the church to be in possession of a truth and live upon it, before it has come to be discerned in her consciousness…. Thus the child eats and drinks long before it has the knowledge of food, and walks before it is aware of the fact, much less how it walks.

CONCLUSION

The theology of church history which we have extracted from Schaff’s “theses for the times” serves quite well in providing the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement with a rationale for the possibility of “newness” and development, while maintaining a senses of historical perspective and connectedness. It does not, of course, answer all of the specific questions which can be raised exegetically or historically. But it does point in a direction which would be more acceptable to the larger Evangelical world, to which Pentecostals and Charismatics could and should be positively related. In the specific matter of the nature of “revelation” and the danger of going beyond Jesus Christ, it is clear that neither Paul nor John allows it, nor do Pentecostal/Charismatics intend it.

Much work remains to be carried out in detail, within this Christian consciousness model for the theology of church history. A series of further question arise which must be dealt with if all of the data of the history of the church are to be properly placed within the developmental framework we have presented as one which will justify the claims of the Pentecostal/Charismatic to be a significant work of the Holy Spirit and one which represents a further dialectic advance in the consciousness of the church.

ENDNOTES

  1. This is not to say that such statements are an approval in any way of the doctrines and practices of, say, the Latter Rain Assemblies of South Africa in the late 1920s, which were generally repudiated by most classical Pentecostals. It is simply an “eschatologizing” of a familiar biblical metaphor. See Walter J. Hollenweger, The Pentecostals (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1972), pp. 140-48.

2. The necessity of “justifying” a new theological understanding is, of course, an issue for any kind of theological development. A recent example of this in Evangelical circles is related to the matter of the “secret rapture of the saints” associated with the rise of dispensationalism since the mid-1800s. George Ladd raised the historical/developmental issue in his book The Blessed Hope (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, l956), p. 19: “If the Blessed Hope is in fact a pretribulation rapture, then the church has never known that hope through most of its history, for the idea of a pretribulation rapture did not appear in prophetic interpretation until the nineteenth century. Pretribulationists are reluctant to admit this.” In reply, John F. Walvrood, The Rapture Question (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1957), p. 192 writes: “The detailed development of pretribulational truth during the past few centuries does not prove that the doctrine is new or novel. Its development is similar to that of other major doctrines in the history of the church.” He also deals with this matter in more detail earlier in the book, pp. 52, 53.

3. Philip Schaff, The Principle of Protestantism (Philadelphia: United Church Press, 1964), p. 177.

4. Schaff, p. 230, thesis 83.

5. Schaff, p. 219.

6. Obviously there are a number of other tasks which might be mentioned such as the early trinitarian reflections implicit in the Johannine Farewell Discourses or the incipient Gnosticism reflected in the Pauline letters.

7. Cf., Irenaeus’ concept. See Adolf Harnack, History of Dogma, trans. Neil Buchanan (New York: Dover, l961), II, p. 238.

8. David Wilkerson, The Vision (Grand Rapids: Revel, l973). The contents of this vision are quite in line with what might be expected from a pre-tribulation Pentecostal with some negative feelings about the Roman Catholic Church.

9. This review is restricted to an analysis of Pauline usage of apocalypsis in relation to charismatic manifestation. It excludes the more general usages and such issues as “general revelation.” Of course it is understood that the basic etymological meaning of “unveiling” stands behind all of its uses and points to perception of the hidden reality of spiritual things. For an exhaustive treatment of the broader background see Albrecht Oepke, ” ,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, tran. G. W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), III, pp. 563-92.

10. The meaning taken here is that reflected in the RSV “taking his stand on visions,” literally “upon that which he has seen (ha heoramen) puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind.”

11. See the perceptive discussion of this in an excellent book by James Dunn, Jesus and the Spirit (London: SCM, 1975), pp. 350-53.

DISCLAIMER: The intent of the knowledge base is to provide information about Christ, Christianity, the Gospel and missions, in order to equip Christian workers to proclaim the Gospel and make disciples who earnestly desire to worship God, relate to each other, serve the world and evangelize the lost. Articles are derived from a variety of sources representing a wide range of opinions. They are either submitted as original works from authors, reprinted by permission, or annotated analyses of works published elsewhere. The opinions expressed are those of the original sources, are given for informational purposes only, and in some cases do not agree with the doctrinal position of the Network for Strategic Missions, our staff, or our advisory board.