The Fatality of “One-Text” Christians

It is my understanding that a defense of the faith transcends every area of study and every area of life. There are implications in relationships, culture and professional living, and ramifications if we ignore the opportunity to defend our faith. Thankfully apologetics is not a specialized field for scientists and philosophers who evangelize to academics. We see weaved in the scriptures that apologetics is a gift from God. In Christ, the Father has given us all wisdom and knowledge needed to defend his faith, in the active work of the Holy Spirit; in the life of the spiritual and the natural man.

He has given all this in the scriptures, this is how we know our faith and defend it. This is where apologetics seems to get sticky or out of reach. Not that we are all not professional scientists or have an advanced degree in philosophy, its we have lost touch with our bibles and the historic faith that has given life to the church for 2000 years. There was a particular way of thinking that Cornelius Van Til addressed, he called these people “one-text Christians.” In David Powlison’s article on the same topic he brings the reader to more clear examples of exactly what this looks like.

“The negative meaning of “proof-texting” describes when a passage is pulled out of its context, meaning, and purpose, and is used improperly. Grotesque examples are easy to come up with. some people use the Bible as a magic book of guidance (the equivalent of a deck of Christian tarot cards): “When I was deciding where to move, I flipped my Bible open and pointed, and my finger landed on Revelation 2:7, so I moved to Philadelphia.” Or Scripture is viewed as an exhaustive encyclopedia containing all knowledge: “In Psalm 102:4, the Bible teaches us about anorexia, and shows that anorexia is God’s judgement on a person.” Or a scriptural narrative is wrenched to presumably teach a normative message: “Just as Nehemiah first explored the broken-down walls of Jerusalem so counselors should first explore the brokenness and pain of counselees,” or “The 10 unfaithful spies suffered from low self-esteem because they felt like grasshoppers compared to the people in the land of Canaan.” (I’m not making up any of these examples!)”

It becomes increasingly apparent what kind of issues derive from this type of biblical and theological undergirding. The bible was not written in some existential abstraction, which is being assumed by the pragmatist. Instead the bible was written as a systematized whole, it is a unified narrative depicting redemptive history. God does not begin particular motifs for individual passages and end them with no conclusion. The bible is not in contingency with itself, in fact the scriptures are beautifully and perfectly in cohesion and harmony. This is been largely misunderstood by most church goers today.

When we take passages of scripture out of their historical, theological and literary context it becomes a very individualized hermeneutic. This is a neo-bartian way of thinking about scripture. The bible does not become God’s word once it is preached or read. Meaning is not derived once we come to the text as though we are the first to read/interpret it. This type of incarnational reading makes the reader ultimately authoritative, which is clearly not the case, or else Paul would never have got away with saying the scriptures were God breathed. That is exactly what is assumed when we say things like “God has a wonderful plan for your life so eat, drink and be merry for we will never die.” A good long look into Jeremiah 29:11 we will shortly realize that God is also promising that his understanding of prosperity comes from an immense amount of judgement and torment, and even after that his prosperity is a life with him.

I fear that modern evangelical paradigms have lent themselves over to this foolish thinking, and willingly. That the Bible is in submission to my life, to help me, instead of realizing its the revelation of God himself, so we know how to live, not to live better. The bible does not lend itself to be bent and molded to my life in order to justify my political preference or even my education pursuits. It is so that the Christian, the regenerate man, the one bought by the blood of the spotless lamb, may indeed glorify God and enjoy him forever!

How does this tangent considering “one-text Christians” have to do with apologetics, where we began our conversation? If we do not have a systemized understanding of Christianity that is historic and orthodox then our defense will be anything other than faithful. It is not by polite suggestion that Peter tells us to make a defense for the faith that is within us, it’s an imperative that assumes we know the system. If we treat the bible like a doctrinal buffet in order to comfort our soul, then our defense will be just as confusing to our audience as it is in our own mind. The scriptures are not in contention with itself, it is a holistic story of the triune God making covenant with the sinful creation.

Question: What is thy only comfort in life and death?

Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.


Patristic Apologetics

In Justin Martyr’s first apology he wrote to Augustus Caesar. The Church was under tremendous persecution for creating social and civil threats as far as Caesar understood. Justin wrote in defense of the Christian faith, to stop the injustice and the wrongly served punishment. Justin Martyr states in his apology

Hence are we called atheists. and we confess that we are atheists, so far as gods of this sort are concerned, but not with respect to the most true God, the Father of righteousness and temperance and the other virtues, who is free from all impurity. But both Him and the Son (who came forth from Him and taught us these things, and the hose of the other good angels who follow and are made like to Him), and the prophetic spirit, we worship and adore, knowing them in reason and truth, and declaring without grudging to every one who wishes to learn, as we have been taught.

When I had come across this passage I caught myself nodding my head in excitement. Two thoughts came to my mind as to why I was so happy to read his apology to Augustus. First, this is packed with theology and second why is this type of apologetic virtually absent today?

The entire apology is bursting at the seams with theological concepts and statments. The thing to notice is that they are not preferential doctrines either, they are ones that have built the christian faith, as taught to us by Christ, like Justin Martyr clearly stated. These doctrines he has brought to the Emperor’s attention are Christian distinctives. Not theistic proofs or rationalistic diagnostics, but rather he makes his defense with Christian theism, trinitarian Christianity! It is through his theological underpinnings that Justin can speak with authority on topics like justice, love and mercy. He was a great theologian and thusly a great apologist.

The second challenge that came to my thinking was why is this not happening in our churches today? Why has the church become so complacent and bogged down with social issues before theological issues. Is it perhaps that we do not know the faith that is within us? Is it possible that we have become so theologically lame that we can’t even get up to defend ourselves. I am convinced that we have thrown away the bible as a formidable use of apology for the sake of cultural relevance and being tolerable.

In our age apologetics has become a largely missed pursuit, which is fundamentally one of the most pastoral disciplines in Christianity. In Peter’s first letter he tells us the means by which we make our defense is to ” do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15), which are very pastoral characteristics. What this mandate does not mean or communicate to the reader is to dilute the truth or water it down. This is the problem that church has, we have little trouble being friendly, welcoming and compassionate. This is not a rule that transcends all Christians but for the grand spectrum of evangelicals this is the case. The only problem is we cannot “friendly” anyone into the kingdom of God, it is by the renewal of our minds, as the Apostle Paul tells us.

We have every reason to look to the Patristics and the confessions of old as example of biblical apology, and a respectful handling on the word of truth. I believe if the church would stand for its biblical and vital doctrines we would live, think and act a lot like Justin Martyr. His theological and persuasive apology is one of the Christian faith is a great example of Cornelius Van Til’s definition of apologetics. “Apologetics is the vindication of Christian philosophy of life against the various forms of the non-Christian philosophy of life.” (Pg.17 Van Til)