The Bible tells us that we have the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. This metaphor is relevant because it applies to spiritual conflict, which is what happens when a battle of ideas rages between Christians and non-Christians. If our approach to apologetics invokes the word of God, then when unbelievers challenge us, our answer will involve plunging this weapon straight into their hearts. This is a war, and your duty is clear. When you face a non-Christian opponent, you must hurt him. You must attack his pride. You must damage his confidence. You must destroy that which he believes and trusts in. Then you must declare his defeat, and show the world that you have put him under your feet in the name of Christ.
If we will adopt this biblical approach to apologetics when confronting unbelievers or when confronted by them, then they will never be the same. The gospel spells their defeat, their death, their eternal doom. If they refuse to repent, then their darkness will get darker, their hearts will grow harder. They will lose that much more of their sanity and their humanity. They will become even more stupid, and even more evil. They will die in their deaths. As for those whom God has chosen and enabled to believe, he will raise them from the dead and awaken them to righteousness. Either way, once the word of God penetrates, they will never be the same.
A sword implies blood, violence, offense, and conquest. We condemn ourselves if we confess that the word of God is the sword of the Spirit, but at the same time fail to give proper place to the offensive nature of our work. We say that we believe the Great Commission, but insofar as the preaching of the gospel propagates ideas that contradict what the non-Christians believe, the offensive aspect of our work in fact precedes any defensive measure. If we are silent about what we believe, or if we hold our sword in its sheath, though its lively nature protests all suppression, then there would be nothing for the unbelievers to challenge. The fact that they demand an answer or defense from us presupposes that we, or more faithful soldiers than we, have already taken the offensive.
The sword of the Spirit is sheathed in truth, which the Bible likens to a belt that holds other items in place. This weapon of attack is drawn from the truth, out of the truth. In more concrete terms, it is derived or deduced from the Bible. Since this relation obtains, if the sword signifies particular and agile applications, then the belt could refer to the whole biblical system of doctrine. The constant pursuit and growth in the disciplines of systematic theology, of biblical theology, of general biblical knowledge, and of particular biblical passages, strengthen our belt and sharpen our sword.
How grateful I am to the Lord when I look over at my opponents, and also a little amused. They are unkempt, undressed, and unarmed. Some tremble, as they ought. But some are confident – those are the delusional ones, for they have no sense to perceive that a greater one stands before them in the name of Christ. He has not left me unprepared, but has ensured that I am well-trained and well-equipped. He has given me the assurance that I shall win every time, if I will only fight, and slay his enemies with decisive strokes of the sword.
It is agreed among Christians that truth is our foundation, our center, and the source of our thinking. It is doubtful that anyone who does not agree with this is a Christian at all. Thus we draw our presuppositions, doctrines, and arguments from the truth, that is, from the Scripture. However, it is not agreed as to how truth is to be applied and defended. The approach to apologetics that I denounce here has resulted from a false understanding of what it means to provide an answer or defense to those who inquire, and what it means and in what context to do this with “gentleness and respect.”
This false understanding is in turn a result of a disinterest in what Peter really has to say, and a pursuit of a private agenda, namely, to assert an approach to social discourse and interaction that pleases the sentimentalities and cultural standards of non-Christians. Of course, the distortion of Peter’s words is not the only factor contributing to this pagan approach, but the verse is a good and prominent example among others that have been similarly abused. This has resulted in an unbiblical restraint in two main areas of apologetics.
First, the unbiblical approach to apologetics places a restraint on reason. Christians sometimes exhibit an aversion to “reason,” in part because they are confused and disobedient, but in part because the word is often loaded with assumptions that believers should not accept. Whether consciously or instinctively, sometimes Christians detect these assumptions, and rather than challenge them, they become hostile to reason itself. And thus the unbelievers call the Christians unreasonable or irrational. However, it is not reason itself that we need to be wary of, but these assumptions.
For example, rationalism is the way of thinking that claims to utilize reason to discover and to deduce an entire system of truth, with a conscious rejection of revelation from the start. Of course Christians cannot accept this, and no thinking person should. Or, empiricism is often identified with reason. Since the scientific method involves a deliberate application of empirical methods and assumptions, science is often identified with reason as well. But again, it is not necessary to identify empiricism and science with reason.
Instead, reason can refer to the bare laws of logic, the principles that describe the necessary rules of thought. For example, two propositions must not contradict each other. Or, when one item is equal to another, and the second is equal to the third, then the first is also equal to the third. Basic principles like these also form the basis for delineating the forms that valid arguments must take. These are necessary rules of thought that one must follow whether or not we spell them out. And men instinctively and necessarily use them as they speak and debate with one another.
From the Christian perspective, reason is a description of the way God thinks. It is the way he structures creation, and the way he structures his revelation. Thus a rock cannot be a rock and not a rock at the same time and in the same sense. And the Bible assumes the necessity of logic in its teachings and arguments. For example, Jesus assumes that the Bible cannot contradict itself when he contested with Satan, and there is no record that the devil himself argued with him about it. Then, he also used the same principle to confound the Pharisees, as when he noted that the Messiah was to be both the son and the lord of David. The writings of the prophets and the apostles are also full of arguments that assume the laws of logic.
There is nothing wrong with reason itself, if we will remove the unnecessary assumptions from it. And when we do so, we find that reason is an unstoppable weapon in the hands of a Christian. For example, we find that all of science crumbles within several seconds when tested by reason. Of course, if we identify science with reason, then we might not say this, since science would be reason. But if we take reason to mean logic without the baggage of unnecessary assumptions, then the claim that science is rational is annihilated. This is because of its reliance on induction, sensation, and the formal fallacy of asserting the consequent in its thinking and procedures. Any one of these three items would destroy the claim that science is even a little bit rational. Science is only a sophisticated and systematized version of irrationalism.
If we will press this point in apologetics, then all scientific objections against the Christian faith would be destroyed even before they are examined. The method of science destroys itself, and prevents it from discovering anything about reality. The usual approach in apologetics is to flatter science, and to say that it can indeed discover truth if it is properly conducted. Then the defense of the gospel turns into a debate about science, and thus the unbeliever neutralizes the Christian’s purpose regardless of the outcome of the debate. The kingdom of heaven makes no progress.
Even the popular version of presuppositional apologetics endorses science, although it teaches that we cannot account for it without biblical presuppositions. But this is even more ridiculous. Science is irrational in itself, which means that no set of presuppositions can justify it or account for it, except to account for its falsehood. Therefore, this form of presuppositional apologetics makes the Bible an accomplice to a lie. Rather than to defend the faith, it commits blasphemy. Reason belongs to the Christians. We must not let non-Christians hijack it by loading it with their private assumptions. They claim reason for themselves. I am taking it back.
Some Christians have used the informal fallacies to illustrate Scripture’s disagreement with reason. But the informal fallacies are themselves applications of reason, and do not strictly belong the reason itself. These applications might be right, or they might be wrong. For example, the informal fallacy of name-calling points to a genuine logical problem only when it is reduced to a fallacy of irrelevance. That is, if one person insults another with a name or label that is irrelevant to the debate, and if he utters the insult as if it is relevant, then it is a logical fallacy. But there is no logical problem in the act of name-calling itself.
In fact, if the name-calling proceeds from the person’s worldview, then it is a necessary part of what needs to be discussed. For example, Scripture uses the words “sinners,” “fools,” “dogs,” “snakes,” and the like to describe unbelievers. If the Christian avoids using them, then he is no longer speaking for the Christian faith. So in these cases, the insults are not informal fallacies, but part of the Christian worldview. This is what we believe – we believe that the non-Christians are sinners, fools, dogs, and so on. And if the non-Christian disagrees with these characterizations, then that is part of his worldview. The conflict now becomes more clear, and the debate can become more relevant and productive as a result.
Second, the unbiblical approach to apologetics places a restraint on rhetoric. This is another loaded word. It is often associated with sophistry, or a skillful use of language for the purpose of deception or manipulation. This is not what I mean. When emptied of these assumptions, the word can simply refer to an effective use of language, or skill in speaking or writing. The purpose is to bring clarity into our communication, and to bring out the force inherent in our beliefs.
Words are symbols that convey ideas. The symbols are not associated with the ideas by necessity, since one symbol can represent an idea just as well as another. So it does not matter which symbols we use to represent our ideas. But once the symbols are associated with the ideas, then it matters which symbols we use when we communicate our ideas, since the different symbols now represent different ideas. Then, the tone, style, and structure of our communication also affect the precise nuances of the ideas communicated. Thus rhetoric is not for mere effect.
In apologetics, the Christian is to use all the rhetorical devices, forms, styles, and expressions exhibited in Scripture. Many of these are not opposed by believers and teachers in apologetics, but others are denounced as harsh and unloving, even though they come from Scripture. As mentioned, rhetoric cannot be entirely divorced from content, so that to oppose the rhetoric of Scripture is to oppose its content. Scripture denounces sin, but it does this in certain tones, using certain words, and with certain attitudes. If we retain what we think are the ideas expressed, but use only the tones and the words that unbelievers do not find offensive, then we are still not telling the world what the Scripture really says, or what the Christian worldview really is. In addition, the language of Scripture also evokes a certain response. If you change the language, you change the response. Therefore, to present or defend the gospel in this manner is unbiblical and unsatisfactory.
The rejection of biblical rhetoric is a liability in debate, and it is a sin before God, since it implies shame or contempt regarding his word. May God liberate his people from the human traditions that forbid them to follow the Bible in both its content and its language, in both its reason and its rhetoric. It does not matter how many of you are on the other side of this issue. You are wrong. And you cannot fight God and win. My Father is greater than all. As for those who have ears to hear, you are free to speak and write the way that the prophets did it, the way the apostles did it, and the way the Lord Jesus did it. Do not let religious traditions or cultural standards hinder you from following the word of God. Unless you shake yourself from these, you will not find freedom in wielding the sword of the Spirit.
We are to throw off all restraints that limit our use of reason and rhetoric to attack the non-Christians, to criticize their way of life, and to destroy everything that they believe in.
The sword of the Spirit is a spiritual weapon. The Christian wields it in preaching and in argument. But this weapon is the sword of the Spirit in another sense also. That is, it is the Holy Spirit who determines the effect that the word of God has on people. The Christian wields it in speech and in writing, but the Spirit causes it to penetrate into the hearts of men. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would convict the world regarding sin, righteousness, and judgment. The Holy Spirit is the Christian’s secret weapon. He should not be a secret to us, but he is a mystery to the unbelievers. He is the ghost, so to speak, that haunts them. He is the X-factor that they can never plan for, escape from, ensnare, or subjugate.
The Holy Spirit is a tower to the Christians. His influence is not limited to the moment of conflict, but he is the spirit of love, of power, and of a sound mind. He is the spirit of boldness, so that the early disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit when they prayed that God would grant them the boldness to preach his word. He is the spirit of knowledge and understanding, of insight and revelation, of assurance and exuberance in the defense of the faith. So he does not only teach me apologetics, as in words to say and techniques to use, but he makes me an apologist, an able vindicator of the faith. As it is written, he “trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle” (Psalm 144:1). “For by thee I have run through a troop; and by my God have I leaped over a wall” (Psalm 18:29, KJV).
But the Holy Spirit is a terror to the non-Christians. They are helpless and defenseless before his power. They cannot kill him, and they cannot argue against him, and they cannot escape him. Their minds are under his sovereign control. The Spirit can confound them in debate, and convict them of their sins. And even as they leave the scene, he goes with them, introducing doubts into their minds about their beliefs and conviction into their consciences about their sins. He can convert them to the Christian faith at any time he chooses. If the Spirit wills, I can break through the most hardened mind with the gospel just by asserting it. The unbelievers have no defense against me. They cannot prevent the conversion of anyone whom the Spirit has chosen to convert. The chosen ones are ours for the taking. No willpower, argument, education, or experience can resist the Holy Spirit’s direct action in the mind. If God has chosen you for salvation, no power can stop me from claiming your very soul for the Lord Jesus.
Many Christians might find this aspect of apologetics difficult to fathom. This is probably because the Holy Spirit is not subject to our control. Rather, he does what he pleases, and we are under his command. Nevertheless, there are principles about his activities whose nature is such that we may learn to deliberately and intelligently interact with him. For example, he is the spirit of truth who could enable believers to understand the things of God. And Jesus taught that the Father would grant the Spirit to those who ask. So we may petition God for the Holy Spirit to fill us, to make us strong and to make us wise, and to confound the enemies of the kingdom of heaven.