Only Two Companies Hiring

March 01, 2014

by Scott Oliphint

Of the Ten Tenets in a Covenantal approach to apologetics, we will focus, this month, on Tenet three. The Ten Tenets are these:

  1. The faith that we are defending must begin with, and necessarily include, the Triune God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — who, as God, condescends to create and to redeem.
  2. God’s covenantal revelation is authoritative by virtue of what it is, and any Covenantal, Christian apologetic will necessarily stand on, and utilize, that authority in order to defend Christianity.
  3. It is the truth of God’s revelation, together with the work of the Holy Spirit, that brings about a covenantal change from one who is in Adam to one who is in Christ.
  4. Man (male and female) as image of God is in covenant with the Triune God, for eternity.
  5. All people know the true God, and that knowledge entails covenantal obligations.
  6. Those who are and remain in Adam suppress the truth that they know. Those who are in Christ, see that truth for what it is.
  7. There is an absolute, covenantal antithesis between Christian theism and any other, opposing, position. Thus, Christianity is true and anything opposing it is false.
  8. Suppression of the truth, like the depravity of sin, is total but not absolute. Thus, every unbelieving position will necessarily have within it ideas, concepts, notions, etc that it has taken and wrenched from its true, Christian context.
  9. The true, covenantal, knowledge of God in man, together with God’s universal mercy, allows for persuasion in apologetics.
  10. Every fact and experience is what it is by virtue of the covenantal all-controlling plan and purpose of God.

In one sense, Tenet 3 — “It is the truth of God’s revelation, together with the work of the Holy Spirit, that brings about a covenantal change from one who is in Adam to one who is in Christ” — is one of the most obvious propositions of Reformed theology. In its unparalleled eloquence, the Westminster Confession of Faith, 1.5, is without peer in its statement of the substance of this Tenet:

We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverend esteem of the Holy Scripture. And the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God: yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.

It is worth pausing over the Confession’s assertions here, especially in light of some current discussions concerning, for example, what some have touted as the “messiness” of Scripture. You’ll see no such pronouncement in this section, or anywhere in this Confession (or in any other, for that matter). You will see no such implication, because the Confession is expressing what Scripture says about itself. Instead of messiness, the Confession affirms the majesty of Scripture. It affirms this, as the previous section in the Confession makes clear, because it rightly recognizes that Holy Scripture is the very Word of God. Though God used men to write the pages of Scripture, the Bible is not the words of those men, which were given by God. If such were the case, it might just be that the Bible would be a mess. But Scripture, as its own testimony makes clear, is God breathed. It is the very Word of God, written down by men. Though given by men, it is not God and man breathed. The Lord of heaven and earth had things His people should know, and He determined to use such people to write down what He himself wanted to say.

It is this very Word of God, with and by which alone the Spirit of God bears witness, that is able to change one’s perspective, one’s mind or heart commitment, from that which is centered on man, to that which is centered on the Triune God, as He is given to us in Christ.

When we think of preaching, there is no question as to the content and efficacy of the Word. The same is true when we think of evangelism. No orthodox Christian would dare to preach or evangelize on the basis of anything other than the Word of God itself. If it is not the Word that is preached, then it simply is not preaching. If it is not the Gospel that is proclaimed, then there is no evangelism. Why, when it comes to apologetics, is the content of our defense of Christianity, for some Reformed Christians, thought to be so distant from the content of our preaching or our evangelism? The answer, as troubling as it is simple, is that the serpent’s question – “Has God said?” – has too often been seen as irrelevant or tangential to a defense of Christianity. But, as James says (in another, though relevant, context), “my brothers, these things ought not to be so,” (Jam. 3:10).

The reason is reason. For some reason, the reason of reasoning creatures, some would reason, is reason enough for apologetics. But reasoning this way is unreasonable, and the reasons are these: (1) there is no such thing as “reason” in the abstract. We can delineate certain laws of thought; we can set out noetic structures and paradigms. But once those laws, structures and paradigms slam into the imago dei, they begin to go to work. Just how they work depends on whether one’s imago remains in Adam, or whether it is being transformed, unto knowledge, righteousness and holiness (Col. 3:10, Eph. 4:24) in the image of Christ.

These are the only two places where reason can do its work. There are two, and only two, companies hiring in redemptive history. Reason has no other employment options; it is designed to work, when it does, either for a company that is in disrepair, decaying and declining with its every effort (in Adam), or for a company that is in perpetual renewal and revitalization (in Christ).

But many have been content to believe that because the structure of reason is the same for both companies, its employment will be the same as well. The problem, though, is not with the structure of the building, but with the company that’s hiring. Once reason is employed by “In Adam, Inc.,” it will inevitably, inexorably, ineluctably work night and day to do everything it can to undermine, subvert, pervert and, if possible, destroy anyone and anything that the “In Christ Company” wants to produce. In other, more sanctified, words, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God,” (Rom. 8:8-9). It is without question that Paul means here exactly what he says. The word Paul uses here, translated as “mind,” refers to a mindset, a particular way of thinking. And what he says is that the mind set on the flesh is hostile to God. He also says the mind set on the flesh does not submit to God’s law; it does not think what God requires it to think. It also says the mind set on the flesh cannot do what God requires it to do. This should be obvious, but has escaped the notice of many who want to defend the faith.

Or, to stay with the sanctified script, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned,” (1 Cor. 2:14). What might Paul mean here? He might mean that the natural person, that is, the person devoid of the regenerating and renewing presence of God’s Spirit, thinks the things of God to be foolish. It may even be that Paul is saying that such a person is not even able to understand the things of the Spirit of God. These “things of the Spirit of God” include the fact of God’s existence and character. Surely, if there are “things of the Spirit of God” God’s own existence and character would be at the top of the list of such things.

In both of these sanctified (because inspired by God) statements, there is a two-part theme. Those who do not have the Spirit of God do not, and cannot, bring their minds and their thinking to a point where they can, of themselves, discover and ferret out just who God is and what He is like. They cannot do this, and they will not do this; both things are true.

Why, then, even speak or argue or debate or reason with such a person, whose entire existence, including his reason, is completely taken up with his place of employment, in Adam? This is the point of Tenet 3. We speak or argue or debate or reason with such because we recognize that the truth of God, as it is given in His Word, is alone able to bring those who cannot understand, to a place where they happily and willingly understand who God is and what He requires of us.

The situation is akin to the raising of Lazarus. There he lay, in the tomb. Lazarus wasn’t sick, he wasn’t even terribly sick. He was dead. Not only so, but, as the King James says so poignantly (or is it, pungently?), Lazarus had been dead long enough so that, “he stinketh.” Now suppose someone were to approach Lazarus at this point and begin to beseech him to reason about whether or not God might exist. Such an attempted dialog would have been nothing but a monolog, and a strange one at that. Instead, the only thing capable of moving Lazarus from death to life was the power of God’s own Word and command. When Jesus called Lazarus to come forth, it was the very Word of God itself that breathed life into one who was rotten, decayed and dead. And Lazarus came forth.

The power of God for defending the Christian faith is resident in what God has said. The “arguments” of which WCF 1.5 speaks, above, are arguments that have as their substance and context the Word of God itself. We reason with people, we debate, discuss, argue and plead, not on the basis of a shared employment of reason, but on the basis of the power, the resurrection power, of God’s own utterance. Aside from that power, we will not hear, or reason, or see; indeed, we cannot.

Originally published on Reformation 21.

Scott Oliphint

Dr. Oliphint (PhD, Westminster) is professor of apologetics and systematic theology at WTS.

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