Category Archives: Apologetics

Submission for Tasmania Law Reform Institute

The Tasmania Law Reform Institute (TLRI) recently released an “Issues Paper” addressing “possible reforms to Tasmanian law to respond to sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) conversion practices.” They requested public feedback via their website. My public submission to the TLRI is below. I urge other Bible-believing Christians in Tasmania to also make submissions. The development of this kind of legislation could have dire consequences for our churches, our families, and our Christian schools. The deadline is January 7, 2021.

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Public Submission for Tasmania Law Reform Institute

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Conversion Practices

1.0   Introduction

I am Rev. Dr. Wes Bredenhof.  I have served as the pastor of the Launceston Free Reformed Church since September 2015.  Previous to that, I served two churches in Canada.  I have a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Alberta (1996), a Master of Divinity degree from the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (2000), and a Doctor of Theology degree from Reformation International Theological Seminary (2010).

I am called to be a preacher of the good news of Jesus Christ.  My calling is to show love to everyone I can by first explaining the serious trouble all of us are in.  I am like a medical doctor who explains the disease so the patient can understand the need for treatment and be persuaded to take it.  The serious trouble we all face is that we are all under God’s just judgment for our rebellion against him.  God is infinitely majestic and if you rebel against infinite majesty, the appropriate penalty is infinite too.  However, in his mercy and love, God has provided a way for this judgment to be averted.  God sent his Son Jesus Christ to live and die in the place of anyone who would turn from their rebellion and believe in him.  Jesus Christ lived a perfect life in the place of all who trust in him.  Jesus Christ suffered and died on the cross to take the punishment of all who have faith in him.  Jesus rose from the dead, proving that God accepted the sacrifice he made.  There is now a way to eternal life and my calling is to show that way to everyone I can.  Because I love God and I love people, I preach Jesus Christ as the Saviour of rebels like me.  This is what is most important to me and to the church I serve.  I have prepared this submission because this is what is most important.         

Recently I was involved as an expert witness at a case before the State Administrative of Tribunal of Western Australia.  The case involves a couple from another Free Reformed Church (Baldivis, WA) who were denied the opportunity to be respite foster carers for children ages 0-5 because of their religious beliefs on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI).  I prepared a report for this matter testifying to the religious beliefs of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia.  This report is attached to this submission as Appendix 1.  I attach it in order to demonstrate that there are Bible-believing Christians in Tasmania who have the potential to be affected by any proposed legislation regarding SOGI conversion practices.  This report also demonstrates that our beliefs are historic Christian teachings based on what the Bible says.

I also respectfully provide this submission to alert you to the fact that Christian churches like ours will not change our practices.  Our ultimate commitment is to God and our ultimate authority is the Bible as God’s inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word.  Because we believe what the Bible says, we do respect those in authority over us.  The Bible teaches us to pray for those who rule over us (1 Timothy 2:1-2).  The Bible teaches us to submit to our government (Romans 13:1).  We do all this gladly.  However, if there is a conflict between what God teaches in the Bible and what the state legislates, we will always follow what the Bible teaches.  We cannot compromise on that.  Because we love God who first loved us through Jesus Christ, we will be steadfastly faithful to God and to the Bible.       

2.0   Background and Terms of Reference

I note that the inquiry was initiated by peak Tasmanian LGBTQA+ stakeholder bodies and representatives.  This appears to have slanted the inquiry in a particular direction, one that is only sympathetic to LGBTQA+ concerns.  The Terms of Reference bear this out.  It is assumed from the start that all SOGI conversion practices (as defined by the working definition) are to be viewed as harmful.  The rest of the Issues Paper is consistent with that assumption, making it almost a foregone conclusion that Tasmania must do something about SOGI conversion practices. 

3.0   Inquiry Process

The Issues Paper was prepared by research staff guided by an independent Expert Advisory Group.  I note that this includes “a member of a community of faith” (p.xiii).  In the Acknowledgements (p.xiv), the Expert Advisory Group is thanked by name.  Rev. Jeff Savage, Uniting Church pastor in Hobart, is mentioned.  Was such a choice intentionally aligned with the bias mentioned above in 2.0?  What if the TLRI had selected a Presbyterian pastor instead?  Ideally, the Expert Advisory Group should have included several members from a range of communities of faith, including Bible-believing Christians and even non-Christians.  For example, Hobart has a growing Islamic community – it might be helpful to hear their perspective.        

Whatever the case may be, I gladly raise my hand to be involved in any future work in this area.  If the TLRI would care to understand the concerns of Bible-believing Christians and how they may be affected by prospective legislation, I would certainly be willing to have such a conversation.  The TLRI should act in good faith and genuinely aim to be as inclusive as possible.  That would mean not excluding sincere Bible-believing Christians.                    

4.0   List of Questions

I have read the entire Issues Paper as background to the questions asked for this consultation.  Some of the questions assume from the outset that all SOGI conversion practices (as defined by the working definition) are harmful.  These questions (by design?) exclude Bible-believing Christians and are, therefore, impossible for me to answer.  I will only answer four of the questions.

4.1   Question 1

After considering the background and working definition (see [1.3.23] on page 13), in your opinion, what are and are not ‘sexual orientation and gender identity conversion practices’?

In my view, the definition of SOGI conversion practices, for the purpose of this consultation, should be narrowly limited to extreme acts that would normally be described as torture – such as non-consensual electroshock or aversion therapy.  However, it should then be proven that such practices take place in Tasmania – the Issues Paper acknowledges in 2.3.1 that there is no data on this question.   

Additionally, I would ask the TLRI to give consideration to reviewing 1.2.8 of the Issues Paper.  In particular, the Paper speaks of “false claims” and “false publications.”  Does preaching from a Bible passage addressing SOGI constitute a “false claim”?  Does asking a parishioner to read a Bible passage addressing SOGI involve a “false publication”?  The TLRI ought to recognize that the Bible does speak about these things, for example, in Romans 1:26-27 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.  Will a consequence of SOGI conversion practice legislation be that the Bible is considered to be a “false publication” which ought somehow to be proscribed?  That seems to be the direction of the Issues Paper. 

Moreover, the presupposition behind 1.2.8 needs to be justified.  The presupposition is that there are false claims and there are true claims.  The language of the Issues Paper is not even provisional about such claims, but rather appears to be grounded on absolute certainty.  However, by what objective standard are we to determine which claims are true and which are false?  The Issues Paper seems to presuppose further that science is the objective standard by which truth is determined and distinguished from falsehood.  Science appears to be the ultimate authority for the Issues Paper.  In Christian terms, we would say that science is “the Bible” here.  However, what do you do when your “Bible” contradicts itself or needs to be constantly updated?  How would you be able to have absolute certainty about what is true or false with such a “Bible”?  In the nature of the case, there is scientific research calling into question some of the claims in the Issues Paper.  In 2016, the journal The New Atlantis published an extensive review of social scientific research regarding SOGI issues.[1]  There is no unanimous scientific consensus on these issues.  So how can the Issues Paper so boldly insist that some claims are false while implying that others are true?  Such absolute claims require a transcendent objective standard.

Finally, in this section of the Issues Paper, there is no discussion about the inherent nature of sexual orientation and gender identity.   For example, are these concepts rooted in biology, are they social constructs, or something else altogether?  More to the point, are they inherently fixed or can they change?  If they can change, what factors might be involved?  Are allowances made for changes in any direction?                  

4.2   Question 3

Have you been involved in or offered, or are you aware of, any forms of SOGI conversion practices in Tasmania?  If so, what were the effects on you, or the person exposed to them?

As evidenced in Appendix 1, our church preaches and teaches what the Bible says, including what it says about sexual orientation and gender identity.  We do this out of our ultimate commitment to God, our love for him, and out of love for the people around us.  We counsel accordingly.  We pray publicly and privately accordingly.  According to the working definition the Issues Paper provides, we are involved in SOGI conversion practices.  We make no apologies for that.  Moreover, as stated above, this is non-negotiable for our church since we believe what the Bible says.  For us to do otherwise would be unloving and disingenuous. 

4.3   Question 4

Do you think that Tasmanian law should be changed to address SOGI conversion practices?  If so, should this be through comprehensive reform, amendment or both (a hybrid)?

No, not if it will prevent people who want to seek Christian, Bible-based help with their sexual orientation and gender identity from getting the help they desire.  Human dignity is most honoured when individuals are allowed choice as to the assistance they want.    

Also, Tasmanian law should not be changed if it will conflict with the sincerely held religious beliefs and practices of people like me and the members of my church.

4.4   Question 9

Are there any other matters that you consider relevant to this Inquiry and would like to raise?

The federal government has indicated its intention to introduce a Religious Discrimination Bill.  Surely it would be reasonable for Tasmania to wait and see what this bill entails and how it may impact SOGI conversion practice legislation. 

Also, I believe it would be reasonable for the TLRI to engage in more comprehensive community consultation before moving forward.  TLRI especially needs to understand the concerns of Tasmanian Christians around religious freedom.  I am confident many pastors and churches would be willing to discuss this with the TLRI.  Such a reasonable step could go a long way towards preventing unnecessary legal conflicts in the future.

There may also be far-reaching unintended consequences for such legislation, especially as regards parents and Christian schools: 

Appendix 1 was submitted as an expert witness report in a case involving a Christian couple who wished to be foster parents.  Their religious beliefs as they relate to SOGI resulted in Wanslea Family Services determining they were not fit even to be respite foster carers for children ages 0-5.  The WA State Government intervened in the hearing and supported Wanslea’s position.  The couple involved have their own natural children.  Would not consistency demand that Wanslea and the WA State Government hold that this couple are not fit to have any children in their care?  I would urge the TLRI to give careful consideration to the consequences of any proposed SOGI conversion legislation – will this require the government to remove children from the homes of Christian parents who hold to what the Bible teaches about SOGI?  Will this result in a new “stolen generation”?

While it is not operated or governed by our church, members of our church community operate a Christian school in Launceston.  This Christian school is also unreservedly committed to what the Bible teaches about SOGI.  The children who attend this school are taught accordingly, because their parents want their children to be taught in a way which corresponds with their Christian faith.  In fact, the parents have all made public vows to this effect – this is taken very seriously in our community.  There are several similar Christian schools throughout Tasmania.  The TLRI ought to give careful consideration to the consequences of any proposed SOGI conversion legislation as they relate to Christian education.  Will it continue to be lawful for Christian parents to have their children educated in a context where the teachings of the Bible about everything are communicated and honoured?  Or is this legislation going to have the consequence, intended or otherwise, of destroying Christian education which follows the teachings of the Bible?

Finally, I would urge the TLRI to give due consideration to the recent Bell v. Tavistock case, decided by the High Court in the United Kingdom.  This case illustrates the harm that may occur when children and young people are pushed towards gender transitioning.  Furthermore, it opens up the question of whether a government adopting SOGI conversion legislation might be held liable under similar circumstances.            

5.0 Conclusion

Thank you for this opportunity to contribute to discussions around this potential legislation. 

Let me conclude by reassuring you that my concern and that of my church community is not to oppress or injure anyone.  We are not motivated by hatred or animus – quite the opposite.  Rather, we sincerely believe that following what the Bible teaches leads to human flourishing.  This is a genuinely held religious belief.  There are many examples of individuals who identified as gay or lesbian, but, when they became Christians, they found a different identity which gave them joy and peace.  They identified with Jesus Christ.  They became disciples of Jesus, committed to following him as Lord in every area of their lives.  You can research some of their stories for yourself:  Sam Allberry, Jackie Hill Perry, Rosaria Butterfield, and Becket Cook.  They did not become Christians because of some extreme form of SOGI conversion practice (like electroshock therapy).  It happened just because someone talked about the Bible with them and prayed with them – and the Holy Spirit worked through that to change their lives.  That is simply what we aim to do in our church.  In other words, we strive to carry on in the historic Christian tradition as Reformed Christians have done for centuries.

If you so desire, I would welcome the opportunity to add to this submission in person or in writing.    

Submitted respectfully this 17th day of December, 2020

Rev. Dr. Wes Bredenhof

Free Reformed Church of Launceston


[1] https://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/introduction-sexuality-and-gender


Follow the Evidence?

There was a refrain frequently heard on early episodes of TV’s CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.  Gus Grissom was training rookie crime scene investigators, sharing with them his many years of experience in the field.  Grissom would often say, “Follow the evidence…”  The understanding was that just following the evidence would lead to the perpetrator of the crime.  Following the evidence would lead to the truth. 

In the world of TV crime scene investigation, that might usually work as a sound philosophy.  Even there occasionally writers and producers have explored the possibility that the evidence can be tainted by factors related to those investigating it.  The evidence isn’t always interpreted objectively and thus conclusions (right or wrong) can still ultimately be reached on the basis of prejudice or gut feeling.  The philosophy sounds good in principle, but it doesn’t always work out in practice.

Moving into the real world, the principle of “follow the evidence” is the basic philosophy behind much of Christian apologetics today.  Walk into a vanilla Christian bookstore these days and if they have an apologetics section, likely everything there will be based on this principle.  Lee Strobel is popular with his The Case for a Creator, The Case for Faith, and The Case for Christ.  I won’t discount everything he writes in these books, but it should be noted that his basic principle is the same as CSI Grissom:  follow the evidence.  The same is true for the majority of others writing on the subject of apologetics today.  For that reason alone, this principle needs critical evaluation.

In discussions about theistic evolution, the allegation has sometimes been made that young university students are sent into turmoil when encountering the evidence for evolution.  As the story has it, these Christian students were taught creation science at home, church, and school.  They were told how the evidence made it clear that God had created the world ex nihilo (out of nothing) in six ordinary days some thousands of years ago, not millions or billions.  Arriving at university, they encounter a different batch of evidences not previously considered.  This sends their faith into a tailspin and, so the story goes, some of them even end up committing suicide.            

On a superficial level, we can join in bemoaning this approach to such issues.  We can agree that something has gone awry with those young university students.  From the perspective of theistic evolutionists, the problem rests with creation science producing faulty evidence because of certain faith convictions regarding creation.  From our perspective, staking your faith on extra-biblical evidences is always problematic.  Let me explain why.

The Theological Background of Evidential Apologetics      

Evidential apologetics is a method of defending the faith which rests upon the use of evidence.  This system of apologetics is usually traced back to Joseph Butler (1692-1752), an Anglican bishop.  Butler lived during the time of the Enlightenment, also known as “The Age of Reason.”  Serious challenges were being posed against the Christian faith.  Rationalism, the belief that reason could provide the basis of all knowledge, had infiltrated not only society, but also many churches.  Even Reformed theology was affected (or better: infected). 

Butler recognized that Enlightenment philosophy endangered the Christian faith.  In particular, he saw the danger deism posed.  Deism is the belief that God is a clockmaker.  He created the universe and then wound it up like a clock.  He removed himself from it and is no longer intimately involved with it.  According to deism, God takes an arms-length approach to the world.  Butler rightly saw that this philosophy was in conflict with the teachings of the Bible.     

In 1736, Butler published a book entitled The Analogy of Religion.  This work was a response to deism.  It was a defense of the faith.  Butler aimed to show there are no sound objections to the Christian religion.  He said all the evidence, especially the evidence in the natural world, points to the very probable truth of Christianity.  As long as a person doesn’t ignore the abundance of evidence, he or she shouldn’t reject the Bible or any of its teachings.  Unprejudiced minds, said Butler, would see the design inherent in the world and almost inevitably reach the conclusion that there is a Creator.  A fair evaluation of the external evidence would likely push the open-minded unbeliever to accept the Bible.  Butler purposed to demonstrate the truth of the Bible through facts, evidence and logic – and he believed it was not only possible to do this, but also pleasing to God.

When evaluating Butler’s approach, we have to remember the importance of what we call presuppositions.  These are our most non-negotiable beliefs or assumptions about the way the world really is.  Butler was an Arminian and one of his presuppositions was that man hadn’t fallen so far as to completely corrupt his thinking.  He didn’t confess the doctrine of pervasive (or total) depravity found in the Canons of Dort, but repudiated it.  This had consequences for his system of apologetics.  So did another related presupposition:  the freedom of the will of fallen man.  According to Butler and other Arminians, fallen man retains free will to choose for or against God.  He need only use his faculties rightly in order to make the right choice. 

While Butler saw the dangers of the Enlightenment and wanted to combat deism in particular, the weapons of his warfare were earthly and unscriptural.  We might wish that Butler was a mere footnote in the history of Christian apologetics, but unfortunately his approach became widely accepted.  Much of what we see today in non-Reformed (“evangelical”) apologetics finds its historical roots in the Arminian apologetics of this Anglican.

Evidential apologetics, historically and in its modern form, makes its case based not only on the evidence (and the nature of evidence), but also on a certain understanding of human nature.  According to this system, human nature isn’t pervasively depraved.  The human intellect isn’t fallen or dead in sin, only weakened or sick.  Neutrality isn’t only possible, but a reality.  When confronted with the evidence, and with perhaps a little help from God, an unprejudiced person will recognize the truth and turn to the Bible and believe it.  This is Arminian theology applied to apologetics.              

Unfortunately, this system has been appropriated by many involved with creation science.  Many creation scientists have been Arminian in their theological convictions, so this shouldn’t come as a surprise.  It’s only consistent for Arminians to adopt evidential apologetics, whether in general, or whether specially applied to the question of origins.  Inconsistency emerges when Reformed believers adopt this approach.  “Following the evidence” isn’t our way.      

A Biblical Approach

When we approach the question of evidence, we need to do so with biblical presuppositions.  There are several of them we could discuss.  However, in the interests of time and space, let me restrict our discussion to two of the most important.  These are the presuppositions — the non-negotiable beliefs that will govern how we consider the place and use of evidence in apologetics.

The first is our confession regarding the nature of fallen man.  As Ephesians 2:1 puts it, the unregenerate person is dead in transgressions and sins.  This spiritual death extends to all the parts of a fallen human being:  heart, mind, and will are all without a sign of life.  When it comes to the Christian faith, fallen humanity doesn’t have the capacity to interpret the evidence rightly.  What fallen people need is regeneration.  They need to be made alive by the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit needs to open eyes so that they may see, understand, and believe.  The Holy Spirit does this work of regeneration through the Word of God.  Therefore, the Word of God, not external evidences, needs to be the focus of our apologetical efforts.  From a Reformed perspective, apologetics involves bringing the Word of God to bear on unbelief to expose its futility and to vindicate and commend the Christian worldview.     

A second necessary presupposition builds on that.  We always start with a belief that the Bible is God’s inspired, infallible, and inerrant Word.  Those doctrinal positions are not conclusions that we reach through reasoning and proofs.  They are held in faith.  We hold to what is called the self-attesting authority of Scripture.  That means the Bible attests or confirms its own authority.  It doesn’t need to be proven.  The Bible claims to be the Word of God and we receive it as such.  This is a settled truth for Christians.  Therefore, the Bible is the basis and standard for all our apologetics.  We’re defending the Bible and the biblical worldview, but the Bible is also the guide for how we defend the Bible.  The Bible gives us the means and strategies to use in defending the Bible.

Where does that leave external evidences?  Well, for one thing, we don’t build our system of apologetics upon them.  Instead, our system has to be grounded on the Word of God.  The Word is the supreme authority, not outside evidence.  The Holy Spirit doesn’t promise to regenerate people through external evidences.  He does promise to do that through the Scriptures, though it isn’t inevitable in every case, obviously.  What’s more, because evidence is always interpreted evidence, and the interpretation is always done by sinful minds, evidence must always be evaluated according to the supreme standard of the Word of God.  Since there are no neutral facts or neutral methods for considering the facts, the Word must always be recognized as standing over the facts.  It must be the grid through which the “facts” are sifted. 

There is a place for evidence in apologetics and in the debate about origins.  Evidence from outside the Bible can corroborate the Bible’s teachings.  However, it isn’t the starting place, nor is it the authority.  Moreover, external evidences can be fickle.  What was thought to be evidence in one generation can turn out to have been misinterpreted by the next.  How do you stay off what one writer called “the evidentialist roller coaster”?  How do you stand firm against humanists and theistic evolutionist compromisers?  Not by retreating to evidence, but by standing firm on what the Word of God teaches.  And by evaluating all evidence in the light of the Word of God.  That also means being open to the possibility that external evidences, whether for or against biblical teaching, may be wrongly interpreted.  When it comes to evidences, one should retain a level of skepticism.  After all, creation scientists and humanists/theistic evolutionists are all human beings, prone to sin and to mistakes.  The only firm foundation is the Word of God.              

Conclusion

“Follow the evidence” might be acceptable for fictional TV characters, but in God’s world his children can’t accept this procedure when it comes to apologetics.  To “follow the evidence,” as if we are all neutral observers of the world is to sell out on our fundamental presuppositions.  It’s regrettable that the surge of interest in apologetics has led some in our Reformed community to dabble with evidentialist apologetics.  It’s sad too that we have often imbibed these apologetics as mediated to us through some creation scientists and their organizations.

Thankfully, in the last number of years, some creation scientists have adopted a Reformed, presuppositional approach to the question of origins.  Most notable are Dr. Jonathan Sarfati and Dr. Jason Lisle. Dr. Sarfati is associated with Creation Ministries International, and Dr. Lisle with Answers in Genesis.  Some time ago I reviewed Lisle’s book, The Ultimate Proof: Resolving the Origins Debate, and I commend it to you as a good example of how to apply Reformed apologetics to this issue.  Some of Lisle’s final words in The Ultimate Proof provide a suitable conclusion:  “Our defense of the faith comes from learning to think and to argue in a biblical way.  God is logical, and we should be too.  God tells us that all knowledge is in him (Col. 2:2-3), so we should train ourselves to recognize this fact” (173).


New/Old Reformed Apologetics Resources

As a 21 year old young man I was singularly blessed. My introduction to apologetics (the defense of the faith) was directly to Reformed apologetics. In God’s providence, no one told me to read Josh McDowell, William Lane Craig or even Lee Strobel. No, when I came to apologetics, I was brought directly to Cornelius Van Til. My first book on apologetics was Van Til’s The Defense of the Faith (Third Edition). I devoured it over the course of a couple weeks during my first summer off from university. It set my mind ablaze. I started telling everyone who’d listen about Reformed, presuppositional apologetics. You couldn’t shut me up about it.

How I was introduced to Van Til is a peculiar story. It involves a number of Canadian Reformed folks in northern Alberta who were enamoured with a movement known as Christian Reconstructionism. One of the planks of Christian Reconstruction is theonomy. One of the things theonomy teaches is that there is a continuing divine obligation for civil government today “to obey and enforce the relevant laws of the Old Testament, including the penal sanctions specified by the just Judge of all the earth” (Bahnsen, By This Standard, 4). As a young man, I was introduced to this notion and attempted to engage it critically.

However, another plank of Christian Reconstruction is the Reformed, presuppositional apologetics pioneered by Cornelius Van Til. I was reading theonomists and they often mentioned Van Til’s apologetic method. So, one day in mid-1994, I was visiting Reg Barrow at Still Waters Revival Books. SWRB at that time was not only the chief purveyor of Christian Reconstructionism in Canada, but also one of the best sources for Reformed books in general, certainly in Edmonton. At SWRB I spotted Van Til’s The Defense of the Faith. I recalled his name from the theonomists I’d been reading, but was also fresh out of my first year of university and licking my wounds from battles with secularists in academia. I needed this book.

After finishing The Defense of the Faith, I started reading anything else by Van Til I could get my hands on. I noticed that Van Til had students, some better than others. To my mind, there was no better student of Van Til’s apologetics than Greg Bahnsen, especially after I listened to his epic debate with Gordon Stein. I subscribed to Bahnsen’s “Penpoint” newsletters, sent via snail mail back in the day. One thing led to another and, after my B.A., I was even enrolled in the M.A. in Apologetics program at the Southern California Center for Christian Studies for a brief time. However, I didn’t get to study with Bahnsen himself — he died from complications during heart surgery in December 1995.

That was 25 years ago. Over this past quarter-century, Bahnsen’s work on apologetics has been available. Several books were published posthumously, including his magnificent Van Til’s Apologetic. Many of his articles on apologetics (and other subjects) have been freely available all along. But this past week, finally, after 25 years, all of Bahnsen’s recordings are being made freely available (previously only available for sale). This includes all his individual lectures and lecture series on apologetics.

At the moment, you can already download MP3s for free from Covenant Media Foundation here. Apparently, arrangements have been made with two other organizations to also host material from Greg Bahnsen, though the material isn’t yet available. One of those is the Bahnsen Project. The other is Apologia Studios (associated with Jeff Durbin/James White). My understanding is that these two organizations will remaster the audio recordings so they’re of a higher quality.

The other day I heard someone describe our day as a “golden age” for Reformed apologetics. Certainly the wealth of available resources is unparalleled. If you want to learn apologetics from a Reformed perspective, it’s all out there. You are without excuse if you ignore it.

A final disclaimer: Greg Bahnsen was a theonomist — in fact, he popularized the term with his Theonomy in Christian Ethics. By recommending him as a teacher of apologetics, I’m not endorsing every jot and tittle of his political ethics. Still, there’s just no denying the obvious: he was and remains one of the best teachers of Reformed apologetics. Van Til himself is heavy going for many people, but Bahnsen had a way to bring it home. Do yourself a favour and listen to one of his lecture series on apologetics. You won’t regret it!


Is the God of the Bible a Genocidal Maniac?

I love the stuff they’re putting out on this channel.  Reformed Wiki has good, solid teaching on Reformed apologetics, both the theory and practice.  This one fits with the latter category.


C.S. Lewis and Apologetics — A Reformed Assessment

Many Christians admire C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) and enjoy his writings.  I was introduced to C.S. Lewis through my Grade 4 teacher who read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe out loud to us.  I was hooked.  Shortly thereafter I went out and bought my own set of the complete Chronicles of Narnia.  That just got me started.  I’ve long enjoyed his imagination and literary style and I’m by no means alone.

But his influence goes further.  He was a well-known and persuasive advocate for Christianity.  Many people claim to have become Christians through the writings of Lewis.  Books like Mere Christianity and Miracles are still widely-read and touted as powerful tracts promoting Christian truth.  He was one of the most influential Christian apologists of the twentieth century.  But what should a Reformed believer think about his method?  Can we make use of his writings in Reformed apologetics?

Some Background     

Lewis was born in Ireland, but spent most of his life in England.  He was a professor of English at Cambridge University.  He wasn’t trained as a theologian, but did study and briefly teach philosophy.  He’d been an unbeliever for much of his young adult life.  He writes about this in his spiritual autobiography Surprised by Joy:

I was at this time living, like so many Atheists or Antitheists, in a whirl of contradictions.  I maintained that God did not exist.  I was also very angry with God for not existing.  I was equally angry with Him for creating a world.[1]

In the early 1930s, Lewis abandoned his atheism and professed to be a Christian.  He became a member of the Church of England.

Today many Christians believe C.S. Lewis to have been an orthodox, evangelical believer.  However, it’s important to realize that Lewis had some serious theological problems.  For example, he didn’t hold to the inerrancy of the Bible.  In his book Reflections on the Psalms, he insists that the imprecatory psalms (like Psalm 137) are “devilish.”  In Mere Christianity, he affirms the theory of evolution.[2]  In the same book, he writes about the possibility of Buddhists belonging to Christ without knowing it:  “…A Buddhist of good will may be led to concentrate more and more on the Buddhist teaching about mercy and to leave in the background (though he might still say he believe) the Buddhist teaching on other points.”[3]  There are more such issues.  On the basis of some of his statements, one might even wonder to what extent C.S. Lewis really understood the biblical gospel of Jesus Christ.  For myself, I’m not sure.

One thing that is certain is that Lewis has had a huge influence.  In the last few years, this is definitely because of the Chronicles of Narnia books being made into films.  As mentioned earlier, there are many people who claim to have become Christians because they read a book by C.S. Lewis like Mere Christianity or Miracles.  Let’s briefly look at those books and the method Lewis uses.

Mere Christianity 

Mere Christianity was originally a series of radio talks.  It was an attempt by Lewis to argue for a basic (‘mere’) form of the Christian faith.  Early in the book, Lewis uses the moral argument for the existence of a deity.  He says that because there is moral law, there must be a law-giver.  That law-giver must be a deity.  At that point, he wasn’t arguing for the Christian conception of God, but only a generic divine being.  His method becomes clear in what he says here:

We have not yet got as far as the God of any actual religion, still less the God of that particular religion called Christianity.  We have only got as far as a Somebody or Something behind the Moral Law.  We are not taking anything from the Bible or the Churches, we are trying to see what we can find out about this Somebody on our own steam.[4]

Lewis was thus trying to reason to God apart from any revelation from God.  He was asking readers to independently judge the existence of God on the basis of the arguments presented.  This method is found elsewhere in Mere Christianity as well.

Lewis tries to build up his case bit by bit.  Eventually he gets to the question of what should his readers think about Jesus and his claim to be God:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him:  “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.”  That is the one thing we must not say.  A man who was merely a man and said the sorts of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell.  You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.  You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.  But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher.  He has not left that open to us.  He did not intend to.[5]

That’s a brilliant piece of writing, often quoted.  You’ll sometimes hear it condensed down to the idea that people have to decide whether Jesus was Lord, liar, or lunatic.  Yet note again that people are called to judge.  You have to judge the claims of Jesus.

C.S. Lewis wrote another book entitled God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics.  In that book he gets to the heart of the problem with his own approach in parts of Mere Christianity.  He writes:

The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge.  For the modern man the roles are reversed.  He is the judge: God is in the dock…The trial may even end in God’s acquittal.  But the important thing is that Man is on the bench and God in the dock.[6]

That’s exactly what Lewis did in Mere Christianity.   He allowed man to judge God.  He flattered the unbeliever.  Lewis gave him a position of authority over God.  That method was and is not unique to C.S. Lewis.  Many others before and after him have done exactly the same thing.  I should also note that it can sometimes be persuasive.  These types of arguments can work to get people thinking about the Christian faith, and maybe even convince them.  However, just because they work doesn’t mean they’re right or pleasing to God.

Miracles

In his book Miracles, we do find Lewis using a different method at times.[7]  He discusses the philosophy of naturalism, the idea that nothing exists besides nature.  Against naturalism is supernaturalism, which allows for the existence of other things outside of nature, and therefore also allows for the existence of miracles.

Lewis starts off by rightly noting how the disagreement between the naturalist and the supernaturalist over miracles is not merely about facts.  One needs to spend time considering the philosophy of facts held by each side.  Lewis is saying that presuppositions matter.  He writes,

The result of our historical enquiries thus depends on the philosophical views which we have been holding before we even began to look at the evidence.  The philosophical question must therefore come first.[8]

That could have been said by Reformed theologians like Herman Bavinck or Cornelius VanTil.  Lewis recognizes that people have pre-existing philosophical commitments which must be exposed and discussed.

So when it comes to naturalism, Lewis does exactly that.  He does an internal critique of this philosophy and how it fails to account for logic, morality, and science.  To illustrate, let’s just briefly look at what he says about naturalism and logic or reason.

Lewis demonstrates that the naturalist cannot consistently hold to his position without undermining reason itself.  His philosophy cannot account for reason and cannot support reason.  Even though the naturalist tries to talk highly of reason, he actually destroys it.  This is because our reasoning powers are not explainable with naturalism.  Naturalism is materialistic – all that exists is matter.  But what is reason?  Is reason material or non-material?  Because reason is non-material, naturalism cannot account for it, we have no way for knowing whether it’s true, and our reasoning has no legitimacy.  Lewis writes:

A theory which explained everything else in the whole universe but which made it impossible to believe that our thinking was valid, would be utterly out of court.  For that theory would itself have been reached by thinking, and if thinking is not valid that theory would, of course, be itself demolished.  It would be destroyed by its own credentials.  It would be an argument which proved that no argument was sound…which is nonsense.[9]

Naturalism collapses under its own weight when it comes to reason.  Later in the book, Lewis shows that naturalism also collapses when it comes to morality and science.

Instead of naturalism, Lewis argues that supernaturalism can account for everything.  While he doesn’t get to the point of affirming that only the Christian worldview’s supernaturalism can account for everything, he comes close.  Elsewhere in his writings, he did reach that conclusion.  There is this famous quote from his book The Weight of Glory:

Christian theology can fit in science, art, morality, and the sub-Christian religions.  The scientific point of view cannot fit in any of these things, not even science itself.  I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.[10]

That is very well said — completely in line with Psalm 36:9, “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.”  Indeed, only Christianity can consistently account for everything.  Christianity is true because of the impossibility of the contrary.  Lewis didn’t always consistently work with this method, but when he did, he used it to great effect

At the end of the day, Lewis is worth reading, not only to see some wrong ways of doing apologetics, but also to learn to use some right ways — and brilliantly.  Moreover, if you have non-Christian friends, reading Lewis with them might be a great way to bring Christian truth to bear on their lives.  If you do that, I’d recommend Miracles over Mere Christianity.

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[1] C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, New York: Walker and Company, 1955, 170.

[2] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, London: Fontana Books, 1952, 181ff.

[3] Lewis, Mere Christianity, 173.

[4] Lewis, Mere Christianity, 35.

[5] Lewis, Mere Christianity, 52-53.

[6] C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, ed. W. Hooper (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 244.

[7] For this section on Miracles, I am indebted to an unpublished paper by Daniel R. Dodds, “Elements of Transcendental Presuppositionalism as Found in the Works of C.S. Lewis.”

[8] C.S. Lewis, Miracles, New York: Fount Paperbacks, 1947, 8.

[9] Lewis, Miracles, 18-19.

[10] C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, 1980, 92.