Covenantal Apologetics

I have two tendencies toward the subject of apologetics, and both have to be severely tempered.  First of all, apologetics is a field of study, a sub-set of theology, a close companion (we hope) to evangelism, that focuses upon defending Christianity.  It is the answering of the claims against faith and presenting the Christian faith as the answer.

One of my tendencies is to get too drawn in to the subject.  One good apologetic study, and Dr. Oliphint’s book is a good one, leads to another.  I could delightfully get lost in the recommended readings from this book.  I have quite a few books on apologetics, and that collection includes quite a few books I read and usually enjoyed in the past with many more that have never been given the reading they deserve.  Christian apologetics studies include both those answers that we give to the unbelievers, the skeptics, the opponents and the intramural debates among believers as to what methods and means of apologetics we should use.   Like I say, I could get lost in the pages and never step outside the door again. (Don’t tempt me.)

The other tendency I have is to wish to stay away from apologetics.  To use some oversimplified language, apologetics appeals to the head, while other types of Christian books appeal to the heart.  I really need to read books on prayer, Bible study, pastoral ministry, and preaching.  (Listen to the loud “amen” from the congregation on that last one.) I really need more on the spiritual disciplines.  I need Bible studies that help me glean more from Jeremiah, which I just finished, and Ezekiel, which I will soon start.  And boy, do I ever need to be a more dedicated husband and father.  These needs outweigh my need to answer the materialist, the naturalist, the atheist, Muslim, Hindu, or liberal theologian.

I think that when I really face the question of whether to read for the mind or the heart, whether to focus on apologetics or practical Christianity, to be more edgy at confronting the world or more pastoral, the answer is unequivocally clear.  God says, “Yes.”  It is imperative that pastors and teachers be grounded in the defense of the faith.  Most other Christians need some grounding in apologetics as well.  As has often been pointed out, the primary audience, the main group in need, in apologetics is believers.  We Christians need to be reminded and assured that Christianity can answer the counter-claims of the unbelievers.  At the same time, as situations and forums present themselves, Christians need to be able to speak boldly to non-believers and objectors regarding the faith.

In some cases, unbelievers are genuinely stumped over what we believe.  They are not innocent, but it is easy to believe that faith is the opposite of reason, that religion is non-rational, and that Christianity is foolish if you have been inundated with such teachings.  If Richard Dawkins says that anyone who does not believe in evolution is “ignorant, stupid, or insane,” the unbeliever swallows that creed sooner rather than later.  Again, I am not excusing those living in a sea of unbelief for developing unbelieving gills.  We have to remember that some people simply have not heard reasonable, credible, and intellectual arguments for Christianity.

The hostile unbeliever is a much harder person to confront.  In many cases, unbelievers are bullies who have not encountered strong apologists for the faith.  Years ago, a man told me he had never read an intellectual book about Christianity.  I gave him a Francis Schaeffer book, but he never responded to it.  (And Francis Schaeffer, wonderful as he was, was not and did not see himself as the intellectual defender of the faith.)

Covenantal Apologetics by Dr. Scott Oliphant of Westminster Theological Seminary builds upon the apologetical principles of Oliphint’s predecessor at Westminster, Dr. Cornelius Van Til.  There are a series of debates and discussion that often ensue when one mentions Van Tillian apologetics.  I am generally favorable to Van Til’s approach, but am not insistent on it being the exclusive approach.  I do believe that it is too easy for Christian apologists to get too caught up in debating methods in Jerusalem and not stepping out into the streets of Athens to confront the lost and skeptical.

Dr. Oliphint lists Ten Tenets upon which he bases his approach and his book.  (Thanks to Justin Taylor for posting them on his blog.)

  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 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 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, and the like that it has taken and wrenched from their 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.

I slowly read Covenantal Apologetics during September and October.  I really feel that this book must be read again soon.  Apologetics is not light reading.  Even the strong coffee each morning didn’t unlock enough of the brain for me.  Reading this book caused to survey what other Oliphint books I had.  I reckon I will need to read them also.

Reasons for Faith: Philosophy in the Service of Theology

The Battle Belongs to the Lord: The Power of Scripture For Defending Our Faith


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