Presuppositional Apologetics and Personal Evangelism

Sounds rather ominous, does it not? Really deep stuff! Well, not necessarily. First, let’s define our terms.

“Presuppositionalism is a school of Christian apologetics that believes the Christian faith is the only basis for rational thought. It presupposes that the Bible is divine revelation and attempts to expose flaws in other worldviews. It claims that apart from presuppositions, one could not make sense of any human experience, and there can be no set of neutral assumptions from which to reason with a non-Christian”.[i]

 To evangelize is to present Christ Jesus to sinful people in order that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, they may come to put their trust in God through Him.”[ii]

We all have presuppositions, certain beliefs or assumptions with which we enter discussions. They frame our thoughts about a matter as well as our argument. In matters of personal evangelism, it means that we believe what the Bible tells us about ourselves as human beings, as well as what it has to has to say about lost sinners. We let those truths guide us in our sharing of the good news.

So, what does the Bible tell us about ourselves as human beings? For me, the two most significant facts are found in Romans, Chapter 1.

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of (fallen) men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.” (Rom 1:18-19) Emphasis mine.

First, since fallen men are full of ungodliness and unrighteousness, they are subjects of God’s wrath. Secondly, fallen men know that God exists, yet the suppress the truth in their unrighteousness. In other words, God doesn’t believe in atheists.

With that truth in mind, what else the Bible have to tell us about those with who we desire to share the gospel? We’ll share just a few.

1. They don’t seek God.

 “As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” (Rom 3:10-11)

2. They hate God and can do nothing to please him.

For the mind that is set on the flesh (the only mind the sinner has) 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 8:7-8) Emphasis mine.

3.  They cannot, in and of themselves, even understand the gospel!

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)

“In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor 4:4)

 

So how does this affect our evangelistic efforts? There are several ways:

1. If all of us, by nature, already know that God exists, we do not have to ‘prove’ the existence of God. In fact, some would suggest that if we engage in proving the existence of God to an unbeliever, we are presenting a ‘case for God’ and making the unbeliever the ‘judge’.

2. If it’s true that the unbeliever is living in rebellion against the God he/she knows exist, that person by nature also hates God’s gospel. We are actually presenting the gospel to someone who doesn’t want to hear it.

3. If it’s also true that the unbeliever, in his/her natural state, cannot even understand the message of the gospel why do we present it at all?  I tell you why I do.

You see, along with believing what the Bible says about us as fallen creatures (our presuppositions), I also believe that God saves all those whom he has chosen to save in exactly the same manner (another presupposition). Don’t worry, I’m not going to get into a long dissertation about the doctrine of salvation. But I do believe that there are two ‘steps’, if you will, in God’s saving of sinners.

1. God opens hearts to hear the gospel.

2. God sends a messenger to present the gospel to that divinely opened heart.

Do you remember Lydia in Acts, Chapter 16? Paul and company went down to a river outside of Philippi looking for a place of prayer and there was a small group of women already gathered there. Paul spoke to them and we are told:

One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” (Acts 16:14) (Emphasis mine.)

In short, God opened Lydia’s heart to hear the gospel, sent Paul as his messenger to present that gospel and Lydia was baptized (along with her household) and invited Paul & company to stay at her house!

 And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” (Acts 16:15)

We don’t need to be told specifically that ‘Lydia was saved that day’; the text speaks for itself. God had a purpose ion opening her heart and God’s purposes cannot fail.

So, what does that mean for personal evangelism? It means that we have the great privilege to be God’s ‘gospel’ messengers. Our job is to ‘get the gospel right’ (Christ died for our sins) and share it with others. Our prayer for the lost is simple. “God, open their hearts to hear.”

We don’t need to try and pry open hard hearts with clever presentations. We don’t even need to ask people to open their own hearts. They can’t. That’s God’s business. Unless God opens a heart to hear the truth of the message, our words are just words. But when God opens a sinner’s heart and the gospel is heard, salvation happens.

In summary, presuppositional apologetics –  believing what God says about fallen men and believing what we are told about how God saves sinners actually simplifies our evangelism. Our ‘work’ is knowing and being faithful to the gospel message (See 1 Cor 15:1-5) and being available to share that message as God leads us. No tricks, no gimmicks. We’re not ‘salesmen’. We’re simply messengers. It is God who saves sinners!


[i] John Frame, 2006

[ii] Alistair Begg, Crossing the Barriers

Heavenly Joy

When does all of heaven rejoice?

“Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” Luke 15:7

Notice that it does not speak of rejoicing in heaven over someone who ‘accepts Jesus’, ‘invites Jesus into their heart, or ‘gives their heart to Jesus’. That should be significant  to all that of us who share Jesus with a lost world.

I’ll leave it to you to figure it out. When you think you’ve got it, p,ease feel free to comment!

Food for Thought About the Gospel

“Sinners must hear the gospel, they must believe the gospel, and they must embrace the gospel.” – John Macarthur

“Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” – Phil 1:15 – 18, The Apostle Paul

__________

From John Bunyan’s Conclusion to ‘Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners’

Of all tears, they are the best that are made by the blood of Christ; and of all joy, that is the sweetest that is mixed with mourning over Christ. Oh! it is a goodly thing to be on our knees, with Christ in our arms, before God. I hope I know something of these things.

I find to this day seven abominations in my heart:

(1) Inclinings to unbelief.

(2) Suddenly to forget the love and mercy that Christ manifesteth.

(3) A leaning to the works of the law.

(4) Wanderings and coldness in prayer.

(5) To forget to watch for that I pray for.

(6) Apt to murmur because I have no more, and yet ready to abuse what I have.

(7) I can do none of those things which God commands me, but my corruptions will thrust in themselves,
‘When I would do good, evil is present with me.’

These things I continually see and feel, and am afflicted and oppressed with; yet the wisdom of God doth order them for my good.

(1) They make me abhor myself.

(2) They keep me from trusting my heart.

(3) They convince me of the insufficiency of all inherent righteousness.

(4) They show me the necessity of fleeing to Jesus.

(5) They press me to pray unto God.

(6) They show me the need I have to watch and be sober.

(7) And provoke me to look to God, through Christ, to help me, and carry me through this world. Amen.

________________

Grace Abounding To the Chief of Sinners is John Bunyan’s spiritual autobiography. In it he tells of his conversion and struggle with faith. He wrote it while he was imprisoned for preaching without a license. His main issue was a kind of “spiritual obsessive compulsive disorder” as one reviewer puts it. Bunyan was constantly concerned about the state of his salvation and whether God deemed him worthy enough for eternal life. This story communicates the author’s anguish over his sin, his confession, and the life-changing impact of God’s saving grace. Bunyan’s spiritual struggles will remind readers that even the great minds of faith had issues with belief, and his personal testimony will encourage anyone who is doubting the status of their salvation.

A PDF copy of Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners can be downloaded from Christian Classics Ethereal Library..

Why do we do this?

I have a serious question.

Have you heard anyone beginning a testimony with anything like ‘Ever since I repented of my sin and believed in Christ. . .’?

I haven’t, not lately. They always begin with somethimg like:

‘Since I gave my heart to Jesus. . .’

‘Since I accepted Jesus. . .’

‘Since I received Christ. . .’

‘Since I chose Christ. . .’

Why is that?

“Go with the Gospel and Leave the Saving to Me” – God

One of the most bizarre things I’ve heard recently from someone in a conversation about discussing ‘sin’ when we evangelize was the notion that talking about sin should be reserved for AFTER someone accepts Christ and in order to help new believers overcome sin(s) that seem to hang on. Even when knowing that Jesus died for our sins, don’t bring up the issue of sin until after someone accepts Christ. It’s only necessary to ‘love’ them into the kingdom.

It was really hard NOT to rebuke the individual who expressed that sentiment, but I’m sure she really meant it! Then I remembered a long time ago when I believed the same thing, and just as sincerely!

So what changed? A combination of things, I guess:

  • Remembering the great big God I was taught as a young teen in Lutheran Catechism. A God who was more than just love.
  • Reading Martin Luther’s ‘Bondage of the Will’.
  • Reading Jonathan Edwards’ ‘Freedom of the Will’.
  • Reading great authors and preachers who talked about the sovereignty of God in salvation.
  • More than any of the above, reading and studying the Bible concerning the true state of fallen men.

There really was a time when I really believed I could just keep telling folks how much Jesus loved them and what great plans he had for them and some would finally catch on and run to Jesus. Another operating assumption – for NOT talking about ‘sin’ when trying to lead someone to Christ is that they might get offended and walk away. If/when we also believe that we need to make Jesus attractive to the lost sinner, we won’t mention that which would be offensive to them. I needed to keep the ‘love’ conversation going if I was going to help God save them!

On the other hand, when we realize, from scripture, that the lost are in love with their sin and hate God, but God opens hearts to the message of the Gospel (see Lydia in Acts 16), we become bold in our proclamation of it, including the offensive bits.

I’m reminded of an old commercial for a commercial bus line. “Go Greyhound and Leave the Driving to Us” I wonder if God isn’t trying to tell us, concerning our sharing of his Gospel: “Go with the Gospel and Leave the Saving to Me”

Food for thought?

We Recognize No One According to the Flesh

by Mike Riccardi

Source: The Cripplegate

from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer.
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

2 Corinthians 5:16–17

Paul speaks about regeneration in this passage. If anyone is in Christ—if anyone has become united to Jesus Christ by saving faith in the Gospel, if anyone has died to sin and self in union with the One who died to sin once for all—he is a new creation. Working backwards, from cause to effect, the second half of verse 16 notes that the very first result of regeneration is a new view of Christ. As unbelievers, we all once regarded Christ from a fleshly point of view, according to worldly standards, paying special attention to the way things looked outwardly and externally rather than internally and spiritually. But the regenerate regard Him in this way no longer. When Almighty God issues His sovereign decree for light to shine forth in the heart that is dead in sin, when the eyes are opened and the ears unstopped, when the heart of stone becomes a heart of flesh, the first thing that changes is the sinner’s view of Christ. We see Him for who He is, in all His beauty, glory, and suitableness to our need.

Working backwards even further to the first half of verse 16, Paul speaks of a second result of regeneration. Not only does the regenerate sinner have a new view of Christ, but he also has a new view of everyone else. When we’re transformed from the inside out in regeneration, and our assessment of Jesus changes, so does our assessment of everyone else in the world.

The Wrecking Ball of Regeneration

In regeneration, the entire person is renovated. The old things have passed away; new things have come—in every aspect of our life. Murray Harris says, “When a person becomes a Christian, he or she experiences a total restructuring of life that alters its whole fabric—thinking, feeling, willing, and acting.” John MacArthur writes, “Old values, ideas, plans, loves, desires, and beliefs vanish, replaced by the new things that accompany salvation. . . . God plants new desires, loves, inclinations, and truths in the redeemed, so that they live in the midst of the old creation with a new creation perspective.” In other words, when you become a new creation in Christ, all your ambitions and your hobbies and your joys—everything about you—are like a building that has been leveled to the ground by the wrecking ball of regeneration. And in its place is an entirely new creation, built by the Spirit of God on the foundation of Christ, with new tastes, new affections, and new joys, and new ambitions!

New Canons of Appraisal

And along with all of that newness comes new ways of assessing other people, new canons of appraisal, new standards according to which we arrive at our estimation of people. Just as Paul once knew Christ according to the flesh—just as he once esteemed or appraised or evaluated Him according to the world’s preoccupation with the outward appearance—so also he “recognized” or “regarded” or “viewed” or “appraised” or “valued” other people according to the flesh as well. “But,” he says, “from now on”—that is, since the time of his regeneration and conversion to Christ—“from this point forward, we recognize no one according to the flesh.” By definition, then, the one who has become a new creation in Christ has put off those fleshly canons of appraisal which judge men only on the basis of superficial, external matters.

This is a lesson the church needs to learn. It’s an especially valuable lesson for us given the aftermath of the U.S. Presidential election, and the tensions that exist in American society today. Far too often, Christians have not distinguished themselves from the unregenerate in their personal standards of judgment and evaluation of others. Virtually instinctively and subconsciously, we regard men and women according to the flesh. We appraise people on the basis of their physical attractiveness, their style of dress, their educational achievement, their social status and level of “success,” their political affiliation. And one of the saddest truths concerning the visible church is that so many professing believers still allow their opinions of others, as well as their understanding of their own identity, to be shaped by the color of their skin.

eyeBut the Holy Spirit of God, by virtue of the inspiration of 2 Corinthians 5:16–17, tells us that none of those things has any place in the mind of the one who has been regenerated and united to Christ. None of them. They are not the basis by which we evaluate others, and they are not the sources from which we derive our own identity. No, in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek.” In Christ “there is neither slave nor free.”

Neither Jew nor Gentile

Think about what a radical statement that is from the pen of Saul of Tarsus. This was the most promising young rabbi in Jerusalem, educated under Gamaliel, supervising the persecution and execution of Christians. This is the one circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; a Pharisee, a persecutor, and blameless according to the ceremonial law. Time was when his only canon of evaluation was whether or not someone met the strict Pharisaical standards of Mosaic ceremonialism. If he did, he was a brother. If he didn’t, he was a dog. And now: “There is neither Jew nor Greek.” What happened?

I’ll tell you what happened: Regeneration happened. The one who boasted in his eighth-day circumcision says: “For neither is circumcision anything, nor [is] uncircumcision [anything]; [the only thing that matters is] a new creation” (Gal 6:15). Jew or Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised: doesn’t matter. Your ethnicity doesn’t matter. Your religious rituals don’t matter. What matters is whether or not there has been a new creation. What matters is: Is this person regenerate or not? Is he united to Christ or not? Is he a child of God or not? Does he stand yet in need of forgiveness of sins or not?

Colossians 3:10 and 11: Paul says we’ve laid aside the old self, and have put on the new self (the old has gone and the new has come, 2 Cor 5:17). And that new self is “being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him—a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all and in all.”

See, the regenerate person has been so dominated by Christ that the only point of reference for his view of anyone is whether or not they are in Christ. The new view of Christ that is born in those who have been made a new creation necessarily issues in a new view of others.

And this reaches even to the level of family. Someone lets Jesus’ know his mother and brothers were waiting to speak with him. His response is just stunning: “But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, ‘Who is My mother and who are My brothers?’ And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, ‘Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother’” (Matt 12:48). Jesus regarded no man or woman after the flesh. Not even His own family. What mattered is whether or not they believed in Him.

The Blood of Christ is Thicker than Water

Nationalism means nothing. You have a deeper connection to true Christians in Iraq, in Iran, in Syria, in Afghanistan, than to any unbeliever in America.

Ethnicity is nothing. You have a more intimate union with genuine believers who are black, white, Asian, Hispanic, than to any unregenerate person who shares the color of your skin.

Even family, in comparison to Christ, is nothing. Jesus says He has a thicker bond with the children of God than He does even with His own mother!

Now, of course, that doesn’t mean that national citizenship doesn’t exist, that ethnicity is somehow erased, or that familial ties vanish. But all of those things are absolutely inconsequential in determining one’s status before God or his place within God’s kingdom. They are not how we see others, and they are not how we see ourselves. We regard no man after the flesh. We are not those who take pride in appearance rather than in heart (2 Cor 5:12).

Where this really intersected for Paul was how the false apostles were persuading the Corinthians to regard him after the flesh—to look down upon him and judge him accursed because of how severely he suffered in the cause of ministry. But Paul says, “Those who are truly united to Christ have been born again! They’ve been totally renovated! Entirely renewed! And as a result, they don’t judge men and ministries on the fleshly basis of external appearance, of outward success, of worldly power and prestige! If they did, they’d have to judge Christ and His cross to be a failure!” Paul’s saying, “The false apostles are judging me the same way I used to judge Christ—after the flesh—and in so doing they reveal that they have not experienced the transformation of regeneration that marks all those who are united to Christ in saving faith.”

And brothers and sisters, we make the same error anytime we look at a man or woman and allow their appearance, their résumé, their political affiliation, or their skin color to determine our estimation of them, rather than the state of their heart before God. In our time, when accusations of racism, bigotry, xenophobia, and other epithets are being hurled back and forth, may Christ’s people live out the reality of their regeneration, and regard no one after the flesh.