Below is a chapel I delivered yesterday:
2 Corinthians 10:1–6 “I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!— I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh. For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.”
This passage is one of the primary passages used by men who teach and seek to form a defense for the Christian faith. My Dad introduced me to Van Til and Bahnsen and the tools for presupositional apologetics. Douglas Wilson and David Wood are two excellent apologists with atheism and secularism. Dr. Mitch Stokes, a student of Alvin Plantinga, directed our class in a Plantinganian branch of apologetics with definite presuppositional vibes. Lewis and Chesterton teach the art of beautiful and humour filled apologetics. Dr. Van Raalte has brought us here at CRTS to a deeper understanding of natural law and the role it plays in apologetics. These apologists come to the table with different assumptions and tools, but all see the Word of God as authoritative in tearing down strongholds.
And that of course is where the battle is the fiercest. What does it mean for the Word of God to have authority? Does it have authority? How do we deal with questions of backgrounds, cultures, even text criticism? The Word of God is authoritative, but the question always slips in: did God really say? Science says this, history says this, archaeology says this, but did God really say? This is the question that seminarians must wrestle with, because we have to be able to engage with the questions from young guys and young ladies attending university who are asking these questions and looking for answers. And they will often keep their mouth shut about their struggles because we will either shut them down or give answers that don’t make any sense, and of course, they might just not like the authority of God’s Word.
An Attack on Authority:
My question for chapel today is: is it rational to believe in the authority of God’s Word? Or are we just a bunch of crazy radicals who believe in something akin to the Great Pumpkin in the Sky? To us this question sounds blasphemous. To an atheist or an agnostic at the University of Idaho or UofT or Capilano University in Vancouver, this is a legitimate, rational question. You might be told by an atheist: you only believe that because that’s the way you grew up, that’s what your parents told you, it is simply irrational. Let’s analyze this statement.
Immanuel Kant once said: “Dare to know! Have the courage to use your own intelligence!” As Immanuel Kant also described the Enlightenment: it is “man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage”. I might describe the Enlightenment as the intellectual child of the Renaissance. The Renaissance went back to the sources, and the Enlightenment liberated itself from the shackles of the sources. Don’t let your parents and pastors and Christian leaders tell you what to think! Think for yourself! Yeah, but what if they are right? And why aren’t your teachers at university allowing you to think for yourself?
On one hand, I am appreciative of the “enlightenment” more broadly speaking. Proverbs 25:2 states: “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.” I can legitimize Kant’s attempt to get people to think. Some people simply don’t think. People blindly accept traditions. I have been taught to honour the authority of God’s Word, but when it comes to traditions, I was taught to think, to search, to look for deeper answers to deep questions, to test everything with the authority of God’s Word. I was taught to look into things when a fight breaks out. The Father in Proverbs on one hand calls on his son to bind the instruction of his parents to his heart, on the other hand he sends him out to wrestle with the darkness in the world. He tells him to call out for wisdom and insight. The father recognizes that he is not in control, and that his son must fight and search and seek to the glory of God.
On the other hand, I cannot legitimize the enlightenment and where Kant’s challenge went. While the Enlightenment sought answers, it also cast a cloud of doubt over those answers, because it overthrew authority. God’s Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path when we see it as authoritative. But when we lift ourselves above it, then we become doubters, we become agnostics. Renee Descartes used doubt as that foundation for knowledge. He said: “I think therefore I am”. He was a smart dude, and there is much we can learn from him. But we see the foundations for doubt being laid in the enlightenment as all authority was challenged, and reason was glorified. This might be akin to our day where reason is glorified, and science is deified, we raise altars to science and reason in our academic journals.
Higher Criticism and evolution in the 19th century took an axe to the authority of God’s Word. Dare to know became dare to doubt. Protestant denominations died a slow and painful death. In a last ditch attempt to save the Scriptures, many preachers and teachers became largely academic, trying to save the Word from the challenges of the critics. Others became unacademic. But in attempting to save it from their challenges, they began to take on their assumptions, and fell away from the truth. God was faithful. Through the late 1800s and early 1900s, there were revivals through the work of men like Kuyper, Bonhoeffer, and Barth, but at least Bonhoeffer and Barth struggled with the authority of God’s Word, and God still used them through their wrestlings. This is because His power is in the Word.
Where are We Today?
Today, science and the logic of science holds a crucial role in academic discussions. Many of the challenges of Higher Criticism have been answered by further discoveries in archaeology. Many have not. Questions still linger. Evolution has been a matter of debate, and the debate isn’t over. Especially for evolution, this might just be a matter of time before more evidence comes up. But the Word of God will never stop being under attack. This is why in the discussion of God’s Word and man’s Word, we must go deeper than the data. There are philosophical underpinnings, there are assumptions at stake.
I am a skeptic when it comes to science. The arguments a logical and persuasive element, but is their foundation authoritative? When you dig deeply into the philosophy of science and the philosophy of math, you are left with more questions than answers. These philosophers and scientists are accepting an authority that has a lot less basis than the testimony of Scripture. Rather than simply looking at the phenomenological data and drawing conclusions for the present, many re-write history, define gender, and try to cast the authoritative decisions on how we interpret Scripture. Yes, the Holy Spirit can use science, but the authority of the Holy Spirit works apart from Science, in the Word of God to shine the light on Christ in whose face we see the glory of the Triune God.
Yes, this statement is unscientific, it is unacademic, and it would never be published in a fine and scholarly journal piece. We must challenge man’s unbelief. There are very intelligent folks out there, who will find freedom when they submit to something other than their own intellect. We have just read in the passage above that the weapons we are using have divine power to destroy strongholds. And yes, this passage would not be published in a fine academic journal. And that is a problem when the Apostle Paul has less authority than academia. I do believe that there is a time for academic engagement, study, sensitivity in discussion. I loved reading Darwin and Lewis Thomas in college both of whom are atheists and evolutionists. I enjoyed reading Hitchens and all the new atheists. I love talking about the data and learning about radioactive dating, and Biblical manuscripts and all the ins and outs of these debates. But all these discussions can be used as a ruse. Yes, we have to be loving. But we have to be honest with ourselves and with the Church. The biggest stronghold that must be destroyed is unbelief. And only the pure preaching of the holy gospel from the inspired and inerrant Word of God can do that.
We believe testimony so often. It would be irrational for me to say that I was not born in London even though my parents have so often told me that I was. I could scientifically test it, but at this point all I have is testimony and I have to believe it. I don’t believe it would be irrational for me to believe it. My parents are a trustworthy source. I believe by testimony that I was born in London Ontario. I believe that when I get up in the morning, gravity will hold me down. It makes sense. To question these testimonies would be irrational.
Christianity cannot be compared to schizophrenia or other such mental illnesses, because the gospel wires us into reality. It is fully rational to believe in the testimony of God’s Word, and I would wager that it is more rational than to have your ultimate authority as reason or science. I have everything to lose if I reject this testimony. I have nothing to lose if I retain it.
The weapons of our warfare are capable to destroy strongholds. We have now moved beyond the data into spiritual warfare. Ephesians 6:10–13 “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” The Word of God is mentioned in vs. 17, which is the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.
“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.” Science is good. Reason is good. But the Spirit with the Word of God will take those disciplines, the Spirit will take academia, transform them, and take them captive for Christ. The Spirit of God is not limited to academia, but transforms academia. Once the evolutionist atheist hears a sermon, he will have to make a decision: to believe or not to believe. Belief would be the best choice he could ever make.
So academics is warfare. God’s Word cuts through academia. It cuts through my heart and through yours as we seek to fulfill our kingly role of seeking out what God has hidden. It takes all of our thoughts captive for Christ, rather than captive to the thoughts and philosophies that demand our allegiance in opposition to Scripture. But notice, if you accept foreign philosophies and assumptions blindly, you have been taken captive by something different than the Word of God.
When God’s Word transforms our academic pursuits, academics leads to doxology. In Mark 1 Jesus enters Capernaum, and the people respond: Mark 1:22 “And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.” Are we astonished by his teachings? Are we astonishing our communities with His teachings and their authority? Or are we teaching them that they are impossible to understand unless you have the same level of learning as the scribes and the Pharisees? Are we prepared to take every thought captive? Or will we join the agnostics? Will we sit on the sidelines and criticize Jesus as He heals the souls of sinners by the power of His Word? Will we be more interested in academic accolades than the divisive nature of the gospel, which brings about repentance before it saves? When we rest on God’s Word, preaching will have authority. When we rest on the accolades of academia, preaching will be built on sinking sand. As the Word worked its destruction on the papacy while Martin Luther and his friends were drinking a pint of Wittenburg beer, so we can preach the Word and ask that God would work its power into the lives of those we come in contact with.