Tag Archives: Reformed apologetics

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.


Book Review: Know Why You Believe

Know Why You Believe, K. Scott Oliphint.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017.  Softcover, 221 pages.

There’s a need for different types of books on apologetics.  We need the books on theory – and there are plenty of them.  Several efforts have been made over the years to write books specifically addressed to unbelieving skeptics.  However, so far as I’m aware, there haven’t been too many books written for believers at a popular level.  I’m talking about the kind of book you could give to your teenage son or daughter when they start asking hard questions about the Christian faith.  This is that book.

As a professor of apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary, Dr. Scott Oliphint is well-qualified to write this kind of work.  He has a great grasp of the background philosophical and theological issues – and this is evident in his more scholarly apologetics books.  Yet he also has a track record of accessible writing for popular audiences – for example, some years ago I reviewed his great series of biblical studies entitled The Battle Belongs to the Lord: The Power of Scripture for Defending Our Faith.  He’s done it again.  Except for a couple of more technical sections, most of Know Why You Believe should be comprehensible to the average reader from young adults upwards.

The book launches with this profound quote from C.S. Lewis at his best:  “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.”  That really sets the tone for everything following.  One of the reasons I really love this book and can highly recommend it is because it takes God’s Word seriously.  It takes Psalm 36:9 seriously:  “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.”  God’s light especially shines forth in his Word.  If you want to see clearly, you need to see things God’s way.  This is also true when it comes to the reasons for believing the Christian faith.  The best and most trustworthy reasons come from God himself – the faithful God who never lies.  That’s the basic approach undergirding Know Why You Believe – a biblical, Reformed approach to apologetics.

Oliphint covers 10 questions we might struggle with:

  • Why believe in the Bible?
  • Why believe in God?
  • Why believe in Jesus?
  • Why believe in miracles?
  • Why believe Jesus rose from the dead?
  • Why believe in salvation?
  • Why believe in life after death?
  • Why believe in God in the face of modern science?
  • Why believe in God despite the evil in the world?
  • Why believe in Christianity alone?

Each chapter deals with one of these questions.  It explains the reasons and then also addresses responses or objections that might arise.  There are also “Questions for Reflection” and recommended readings with every chapter.

Just touching on one chapter, the second last deals with the problem of evil.  It describes the problem and then explores two ways in which Christians have tried to address it, albeit unsatisfactorily.  Instead, Oliphint attempts to offer biblical reasons as to how evil can co-exist with a good God.  He points out that God has recognized the problem of evil from before creation.  Furthermore, God created human beings in his image as responsible agents.  When Adam and Eve fell, God rightly judged their sin.  The real blame for evil is on them, not God.  He then points out how God himself has dealt with, is dealing with, and will deal with the problem of evil through his Son Jesus Christ.  This is a good explanation, but Oliphint might have said more.  For instance, he could have added that because God is good, he must have a morally good reason for allowing whatever evil there is to exist.

Not every Christian ponders the deeper questions of why we believe what we do.  But if you or someone you know does, this will be a great read.  It would also make a great gift for consistories to give to young people who make public profession of faith.


Book Review: How to Defend the Faith

How to Defend the Faith: A Presuppositional Approach, Riley Fraas.  Thaddeus Publications, 2018.  Softcover, 133 pages, $8.99 USD.

I first became interested in apologetics as a university student some 25 years ago.  Back then, we didn’t have a lot of books written about the theory or practice of Reformed apologetics.  I should qualify that:  we didn’t have a lot of books by others besides Cornelius VanTil (who was a prolific writer in the field).  Since then, we have seen a good number of volumes by other authors such as Greg Bahnsen, Scott Oliphint, and John Frame.  However, most of these books lean more towards the theoretical.  There’s still little in print showing how to put it into practice.

In this little guide, Riley Fraas does give a bare-bones summary of the ideas behind Reformed (or presuppositional) apologetics.  However, readers interested in going deeper will have to go elsewhere.  According to the author, “The intent is that this handbook will be a useful resource for the Christian layperson to have at his fingertips, to answer almost every kind of objection effectively:  a segue to the gospel” (131).  How to Defend the Faith demonstrates the principles of Reformed apologetics through a series of imagined dialogues based on the author’s real-life experiences.

Fraas spends most of his time on the objections of atheism.  He teaches readers how to reply to the atheist who says, “I believe that the important thing is to be a good person and empathize with fellow human beings.  As long as you do that, no god is needed” (46).  Or the atheist who says, “Show me evidence for any god” (62).  Most Christians will be tempted to immediately start laying out various evidences, allowing the atheist to be the judge of the evidence.  Fraas shows a better way — but to find out that better way, you’ll have to read the book for yourself!

One of the helpful features of this book is the attention given to various false religions.  Not much work has been done in showing how Reformed apologetics responds to the claims of Judaism or Islam, the so-called Abrahamic faiths.  Fraas fills in that gap.   He also addresses Roman Catholicism, Mormonism, the Seventh-Day Adventists, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

When it comes to Islam, Fraas notes that one of Islam’s weak points is its theoretical affirmation that both the Old Testament and New Testament are valid, while at the same contradicting these writings.  The classic example is Islam’s insistence that God has no son.  Fraas argues that this internal inconsistency makes Islam rationally indefensible.  He is correct on that, but more should be said.  What he doesn’t say is that Muslims also claim that Jews and Christians have corrupted the writings of the Bible, and thus the current text of the OT and NT are unreliable.  This is what any Christian will face if he challenges a Muslim on this internal inconsistency in Islam.  In reply to that, Christians must challenge Muslims to prove their claim.  Where is the proof that Jews and Christians have corrupted these writings so that they’re unreliable?

This is a handy little book, especially for those who have already had some basic exposure to Reformed apologetics and are convinced of its elemental premises.  It gives the reader a good idea of how to biblically defend the faith and then also point our unbelieving conversation partners to the gospel.  It’s not just an enjoyable read from front to back; it’ll also be a great reference to keep coming back to when engaged in giving a reason for the hope that is in us.


Essential Latin for Reformed Christians: Sensus divinitatis

English has many Latin roots.  Many Latin expressions can therefore be intuitively decoded without much effort, even apart from a working knowledge of the language.  Sensus divinitatis shouldn’t be too hard to work out as “sense of divinity.”  The idea is sometimes found with a synonymous expression:  semen religionis or “seed of religion.”  The concept behind both is the biblical teaching that all human beings have some sense that God exists.

The key biblical passage is found in Romans 1:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of 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.  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.  So they are without excuse.  (Romans 1:18-20)

The Holy Spirit says here that God has shown certain things about himself to all people.  His “eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived.”  This obviously includes the awareness of his very existence.  God does not believe in the existence of atheists, and neither should we!

When you encounter someone who claims to be an atheist, you are meeting someone self-deceived.  They have deceived themselves into a position they actually know not to be true.  And according to the Holy Spirit in Romans 1, this is not a person with an intellectual problem, but a moral one.  This suppressing of the truth is done in “unrighteousness.”  It is wicked to have the sensus divinitatis and then not acknowledge the Deity.  It leaves unbelievers “without excuse” — literally without an apologetic, without a reasonable defense for what they’re doing.

This suppression of the sensus divinitatis has been compared to a jack-in-the-box.  For those who have no idea what such a thing is, I’ve included a picture at the top of this post.  “Jack” has to be stuffed down into the box.  “Jack” does not cease to exist.  He is still there, but has been pushed down into the box, out of sight.  Our calling as Christians is to turn the crank, so to speak.  Our calling is to bring the truth out into the open, so that the unbeliever might acknowledge God for who he is, and submit to him with faith and repentance.

The concept of the sensus divinitatis is therefore important for defending and promoting our faith, for apologetics.  At the heart of biblical apologetics is the notion that the unbeliever already knows God is there, but is suppressing that truth in unrighteousness.  The unbeliever is sinfully living in self-deception.  Biblical apologetics equips us with the tools to expose this fantasy world of the unbeliever for what it really is.  Through apologetics, we learn how to demonstrate that, while denying God with their lips, unbelievers show with their lives that they are self-deceived.   To use the words of Proverbs 26:4,5, through apologetics we learn both how to “answer not a fool according to his folly” (to lay out the truth), and to “answer a fool according to his folly” (to expose the foolish fantasy of unbelief).

In his spiritual autobiography Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis comments tellingly about his life before acknowledging God:

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.

You see, the sensus divinitatis is real, found not only in the words of Scripture, but also in human experience.  So remember the next time you’re speaking with an unbeliever that not everything is as it seems.  Your unbelieving friend actually knows God to some degree, but wickedly pushes that truth down.  Pray that you can be God’s instrument to pull the truth up and out into the open.