So we argue transcendentally for the existence of God. That is, we argue from the impossibility of the contrary. If God does not exist, then you cannot make sense of anything whatsoever. The self-contained God is the precondition for the intelligiblilty of all human experience. He spoke the universe into being, and all facts are pre-interpreted by him. No fact makes sense apart from him. In this method, the apologist does an internal critique of the unbeliever's worldview to show its bankruptcy. The apologist 'takes the roof off' or 'tears off the iron mask.' Then you show the consistency of the Christian worldview. This is an indirect argument. You are not going to the unbeliever appealing to brute facts on the basis of common ground, but rather showing that only the Christian worldview makes all aspects of human experience intelligible.
Here is an example. Yesterday I had a conversation with a college student. He believed that the universe started from the big bang, yet he also believed in moral absolutes. This is impossible, both theoretically and practically. Unbelievers hold these contradictory views all the time. Sin makes people foolish in their thinking (Rom 1). No naturalist can appeal to moral absolutes. How does time plus chance plus matter in motion generate moral criteria? It doesn't. Naturalism has no rational grounding for moral absolutes, yet they all live with moral absolutes. Christianity is the only worldview that makes sense out of moral absolutes.The will and character of God is our absolute standard. Apart from God, moral absolutes are flushed and when this happens, society is flushed with them.
Another area is the trustworthiness of reason. On an unbelieving worldview, our brains are nothing more than electro-chemical reactions. There is no mind, only matter on their view. There is nothing that transcends the physical. Unfortunately for the unbeliever, the laws of logic cannot be explained by the materialist. Ironically, some accuse Christians of being irrational, but the unbeliever must borrow the Christian worldview in order to use and trust his reason. As Van Til said, they become like the little girl that slaps her daddy's face, but is only able to because she is sitting on his lap (anti-Theism presupposes Theism). The very act of argumentation makes no sense on the unbelieving worldview. On their view, I am what I am due to chance and the natural world. The use of reason is slain at the altar of chance. We on the other hand, can use and trust our reason because we are created in the image of God, who is orderly and rational Himself.
One great advantage of presuppositional apologetics is you can use any fact in the universe to argue for God's existence: reason, morals, beauty, creativity, sex, love, taste buds, induction, the uniformity of nature, balancing the checkbook, cause, freedom, dignity, responsibility, etc. The self-existing God is the only rational grounding for all these things. As Van Til says, "Christianity is the only reasonable position to hold. It is not merely as reasonable as other positions, or a bit more reasonable as other positions; it alone is the natural and reasonable position for man to take."
So its obvious the there is an absolute antithesis between the presuppositions of the believer and the unbeliever. The two cannot even look at a flower and see the same thing. One sees the beauty of God, manifest in his creation. The other sees the product of a chance-random universe. There are two classes of people: covenant-keepers and covenant-breakers. This fact must be kept in mind at all times when doing apologetics. We are dealing with whole packages. If we were to pile up as much evidence for the resurrection of Christ, the atheist could still say, "Crazy things happen in this world" (See Matt 28.17). The apologist must present the Christian worldview as a unit, not individual and isolated 'brute' facts.
Of course, this does not mean that there is no point of contact with the unbeliever. They live in God's universe, and bump up against reality at every turn. No matter the station, God's voice is heard. Everyone is made in the image of God, and know God deep down. This is the point of contact with the unbeliever.
Non-Christians cannot be neutral either. They have an axe to grind, with all their vision tainted yellow due to their yellow-colored glasses that are cemented to their noses. This is due to the fall, and what theologians call 'the noetic effects of the fall' (the pollution of the mind due to sin). Unbelievers have a 'falsely called knowledge' (1 Tim 6.20), they hate knowledge (Prov 1.29), are foolish for denying God (Ps 14.1), are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart (Eph 4.18), and have become futile in their thinking, claiming to be wise they became fools (Rom 1.22-23).
The apologist must always have the Bible as their starting point and must always keep in mind the far-reaching effects of the fall. In Christ, all the treasures of wisdom are found (Col2.3), the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Prov 1.7), in his light, we see light (Ps 36.9). The apologist must also remain gentle and humble at all times, knowing that he has been saved from moral and intellectual disaster by grace alone, through faith alone, and has absolutely no room for arrogance.
Last night, Alicia and I were reading Piper's 'What Jesus Demands From the World' and he was covering Jesus demand to not be angry (Matt 5.21-22). In a section of the chapter, he mentions that sometimes we get angry at objects, that lack any kind of willful action and do not do things on purpose. He gives the example of a person tripping over a root and turning around and kicking the root in anger. This reaction is simply foolish, but I do the same kind of thing all the time. Particularly, I get frustrated (a nice, acceptable substitute for the word angry) with my CD player that skips even when the CD is brand new. I also get angry at the computer when it will not submit to my demand (although I have never acted on my anger like the man in the video above). This is foolish. God ordains traffic, and slow computers, and dysfunctional CD players, and every other detail in the universe. When our reaction is anger, it shows the sad state of our rebellious heart, which should not complain but relish in the sweet providence of a good and gracious God, apart from whom, not even a sparrow falls to the ground.
Note 4 things about the text. First, the hope that is in you must be attractive enough for non-Christians to want to ask you about it. An arrogant attitude will never produce such a question. Second, note verse 16. Gentleness and respect are crucial to the apologetic task. Third, Peter expects all believers to be involved in apologetics. He does not reserve the task for only those with theological or philosophical backgrounds. We are all to be able to give a defense to anyone who asks about our hope. Fourth, note that Peter begins by admonishing the believer to regard Christ as the Lord who is holy. Christ is Lord over all aspects of the believer's life. This will be worked out in a later post.
So back to our question. Apologetics is commonly defined as the defense of the faith. This is certainly true, but the Christian must not remain on the defense. We must take the offense, destroying every argument and lofty opinion that is raised against the knowledge of God (2 Cor 10.5). All too often, Christians are backed into a corner and are required to defend, defend, defend. This should not be the case. The best defense is a good offense. Scripture is filled with military language and we are to go on the attack to any philosophy that is according to the tradition of men and elemental principles of the world, and not according to Christ (Col 2.8). We are to show non-Christians that they are morally hopeless, and intellectually bankrupt outside of the self-attesting Christ of Scripture.
Frame defines apologetics as the application of Scripture to unbelief. I am very happy with this definition, as it implies offense and defense. It also shows that apologetics, evangelism, and theology are intimately connected. Theology is the application of Scripture to all areas of life and apologetics and evangelism are the sharing and vindicating of your theology (or worldview) as a whole. It is all a package deal.
Ask yourself if you are being obedient to Peter's admonition. Is the hope you have in Christ evident to those around you? Are you ready to give a defense to anyone who asks?
Following the introduction, Bird goes after God's righteousness and surveys the various debates and views that have been proposed. Bird does not believe that God's righteousness is that which is imputed to believers. He writes, "God's righteousness is all that God does in salvation on our behalf. God's righteousness then is a subjective genitive describing his power in effecting salvation" (16). Bird parts ways with many Reformed exegetes by taking the righteousness of God as forensic and transformative.
Chapter 3 is titled, 'Raised for Our Justification.' This is a very important chapter showing the importance of Christ's resurrection for our justification, with stimulating exegesis of 1 Cor 15.17, Rom 1-5, 1 Tim 3.16. In seeking to be 'cross-centered' many evangelicals have downplayed the importance of the resurrection in Paul's soteriology. Bird rightly shows that it is much more than a 'divine apology' for the cross.
Chapter 4 is called 'Incorporated Righteousness' and can be read here. In this chapter, Bird covers the history of imputation, the current debates, and exegetes Rom 4.1-25, 5.18-19, 1 Cor 1.30, and 2 Cor 5.21 with an eye on the recent debates between Gundry and Piper. Bird (following Carson) proposes that imputation is insufficient in the domain of exegesis, but fine as far as it goes in the domain of systematic theology. He argues quite convincingly that at the exegetical level, it is more appropriate to speak of incorporated righteousness, that is, we are counted righteous due to our forensic union with Christ.
Chapter 5 is called 'When the Dust Finally Settles: Beyond the New Perspective' and can be found here. The aim of this chapter is "not to refute or defend to the NPP[sic], but rather to appropriate the many fruitful insights that the NPP has to offer whilst also critically engaging the more contentious aspects of its position" (89). Here Bird shows that Sander's proposal was reductionistic and Judaism was more variegated that Sanders would like to think. He also examines some critical themes such as works of the law, righteousness, and justification.
Chapter 6 is called 'Justification as Forensic Status and Covenant Membership.' Here, Bird seeks to find a middle ground between Reformed Theology and the insights of the NPP. He spends lots of time exegeting the key passages in Galatians and Romans, a task that is much needed in this debate. The text must stay central! To do justice to Paul's doctrine of justification the soteriological aspects and the social aspects must be taken into consideration. To downplay either is to lose the richness of Paul's theology.
In chapter 7, Bird tackles Romans 2 and judgment according to works. First, he surveys the various views and shows their shortcomings, then proposes his solution. Two key teachings to keep in mind are the fact that justification is a verdict that will be publicly announced on judgement day that has been brought into the present by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Also, faith cannot be divorced from obedience. Works are evidential of true saving faith, rather than instrumental in one's justification.
Chapter 8 is a summary of the book, with a helpful excursus on N.T. Wright and Reformed Orthodoxy. Bird has obviously benefited from Wright's work and contends that he has much to offer the church. I particularly enjoyed this brief section, as I have read many unfair reviews of Wright's work. The book ends with a bibliography on the NPP.
This work is exegetically honest, rigorous (with lots of Greek), and refreshing. Bird's aim is to be tied to the text first, and tradition second. He will probably get fired at from both sides of the debate. I especially appreciate the emphasis on union with Christ, which is vital when speaking of justification. The only drawback is that the book costs $30 from Amazon. Also, for me personally, I had previously read chapters 3, 4, 5, and 6 in theological journals, but enjoyed and greatly benefited from rereading them. Anyone looking to deepen their understanding of the NPP and Paul's theology of justification should have this one on their shelf. By the way, here is Michael Bird's blog.