Each year I teach young people in my pre-confession class how to defend their faith. I’ve long been convinced that they need to know not only what they believe, but why. They should be able to give good reasons for their faith — in line with 1 Peter 3:15. So I teach a unit on apologetics. Ever since starting, I’ve used Richard Pratt’s Every Thought Captive (ETC) as the textbook. There are a lot of things I like about ETC, but especially the last few chapters are weak in some respects. I’ve been on the lookout for something to replace it.
I’m just about finished Tactics by Gregory Koukl and I think I’ve finally found something better than ETC. I was a bit skeptical at first about whether it would be compatible with a Reformed approach to apologetics, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised. It’s more focused on the practical side of engaging unbelievers and their arguments, and so far I’ve found little to quibble with.
Here in Australia, things are heating up for a plebiscite later this year regarding same-sex marriage and there are those wishing to silence the voice of Bible-believing Christians. Koukl has something to offer believers as they face hostility from “progressives.” Australian Christians may face the kind of scenario described here and Koukl shows a good way to respond. This extended quote comes from chapter 6:
Once in a dorm lounge at Ohio State University, a student asked me about the Bible and homosexuality. When I cited some texts, he quickly dismissed them. “People twist the Bible all the time to make it say whatever they want,” he sniffed.
I don’t recall my specific response to him that evening. I do remember, though, that I was not satisfied with my answer. On the drive back to my hotel, I gave the conversation a little more thought. I realized it made little sense to argue with his comment as it stood. It was uncontroversial. People do twist Bible verses all the time. It is one of my own chief complaints. Something else was going on though, and I couldn’t put my finger on it at first.
Suddenly it dawned on me. The student’s point wasn’t really that some people twist the Bible. His point was that I was twisting the Bible. Yet he hadn’t demonstrated this. He had not shown where I’d gotten off track. Rather, he didn’t like point, so he dismissed it with a some-people-twist-the-Bible dodge.
I quickly wrote out a short dialogue using questions intended to surface that problem. I also tried to anticipate his responses and how I would use them to advance my point.
Here is what I came up with:
“People twist the Bible all the time to make it say whatever they want.”
“Well, you’re right about that. It bugs me, too. But your comment confuses me a little. What does it have to do with the point I just made about homosexuality?”
“Well, you’re doing the same thing.”
“Oh, so you think I’m twisting the Bible right now.”
“Okay, now I understand what you’re getting at, but I’m still confused.”
“Because it seems to me you can’t know that I’m twisting the Bible just by pointing out that other people have twisted it, can you?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that in this conversation you’re going to have to do more than simply point out that other people twist the Bible. What do you think that might be?”
“I don’t know. What?”
“You need to show that I’m actually twisting the verses? Have you ever studied the passages I referred to?”
“Then how do you know I’m twisting them?” (Tactics, 94-95)
Koukl’s approach here is helpful in exposing ignorance. A lot of people have been told that “fundamentalist Christians” twist the Bible to support their views on homosexuality, and because a professor, teacher, media figure, or some other authority said it, it is automatically accepted as true. Many people have never studied the matter for themselves and we should call them on coming to the table with that basic failure.
However, it may happen that you will meet someone who claims to have studied the passages in question. In this post from 2014, I describe my experience as a university student in the 90s. These days, more than ever, you do need to be prepared to face people who claim to be Christians, but have no qualms about homosexuality and the entire LBTQ enterprise. You will meet liberal revisionists who believe that they can be Christians and affirm sexual perversity. They’re often familiar with the passages and they think they know how to square a circle. To prepare for answering them, read (and then bookmark) this helpful essay by Dr. Greg Bahnsen. Bahnsen will give you what you need to answer back, “Who’s really twisting Scripture here?”