So there has been some recent hooplah apparently stemming from a Ben Shapiro interview of Matt Walsh over whether it is wise/helpful for Christians to appeal to Scripture when arguing with non-Christians. We actually interviewed Ben Shapiro back in the day on CrossPolitic and this same topic came up with him – which you can check out here.
So is it wise or helpful for Christians to appeal to Scripture when arguing with non-Christians? Is it helpful to appeal to an authority that someone does not acknowledge in trying to convince them of the legitimacy of that authority? My answer is yes absolutely, and it sort of depends.
Scripture is a Smart Bomb
Here’s what I mean: first off, the Bible says that the Word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword, able to divide between soul and spirit – it discerns the thoughts and intents of the heart, neither is any creature not manifest before God, but all things are naked and open before His eyes (Heb. 4:12-13). Appeal to Scripture is appeal to the Word of God, what Paul calls elsewhere the “sword of the Spirit” (Eph. 6:17). The Bible is what you might call a smart weapon. This does not mean that everyone who wields the Bible is a smart person or even a good or wise person. But the Bible itself is the Word of God, and it is more powerful than any other word, any other proof, any other human authority. This is because it is, well, the Word of God. If you have the choice between a heat seeking missile and rubber band gun, which one are you going to go with? God’s Word does not return empty, but most of our rubber bands end up on the floor. “So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isa. 55:11).
Let me says something really deep and profound: compared to the infinite wisdom of God, people are not smart. People are finite, prideful, foolish, and clumsy, even with the best intentions and maximum IQ, especially with Harvard Divinity degrees. But people are still insanely proud. We think we know stuff. We think we understand. We think we are brilliant. We are a race of six year old boys full of beans who think we are faster and stronger than everybody, maybe even than God! Now given this proclivity to arrogance and boasting and insolence, it may seem to some a bit irresponsible for God to have entrusted His Word to us, a badly head-swollen race, and in particular the Christian Church frequently suffering from the same malady, nevertheless, that’s precisely what He has done. He has given us His Word. This does not justify twisting Scripture to our own self-serving ends, or misleading people, or heresy, or any of the other millions of ways sinful people certainly can botch life all while quoting Bible verses – that’s our own damn fault, not God’s. But despite our sin, despite our folly, God’s word is still true and sharp and the most powerful weapon in every Christian’s arsenal. How could it not be? How could the word of any man, even our most brilliant men: scientists, historians, philosophers all – how could any analysis, data points, proofs rise to the authority or power of the One who holds every atom in the universe together by His Word (Col. 1:17)?
So there is a very important sense in which the fact that people don’t accept the authority of Scripture is utterly irrelevant. I don’t see scientists tripping over themselves trying to make their claims more plausible or more palatable because some people are still geocentric. Denying the authority of God is like denying gravity. Let me saying something else verging on profound: we shouldn’t be bothered by gravity-deniers. They are walking proofs of the existence of the law they deny. So too every unbeliever, every atheist, every agnostic – they are walking proofs of the existence of the God they blaspheme with every breath He gives them. They don’t accept His authority? Ha. That’s a good one.
But It Also Sort Of Depends
But I also said that whether we appeal directly/explicitly to Scripture sort of depends. And what I mean is that as it turns out, this world is God’s world. He made it. He runs it. It obeys Him. The astrophysics of the universe exist in complete obedience to Jesus. Every atom in every cell on the backside of every bumble bee obeys Jesus. And Jesus is the Truth, and therefore all truth really is His truth. And therefore, it need not be capitulation to humanism or secularism to argue from truth in this world to the Truth that upholds it all, so long as we understand that all truth is compelling and persuasive because God is true. It is legitimate and frequently helpful to argue from the known to the unknown, from the concrete to the abstract, from the material world to the immaterial, spiritual world. But the reason it is helpful and compelling is because God made it all and upholds it all.
I don’t have any problem appealing to the authority of science or logic or history or sociology because I believe any legitimate authority or power of persuasion those fields of human study actually wield is derived from God. If I appeal to the authority of cops, I’m not necessarily negating the superior authority of Jesus or Scripture, so long as I am constantly remembering that a cop only has legitimate authority as he is submitted to the ultimate authority of Christ. If a cop orders me to do something contrary to Scripture, I must cheerful disobey him because Jesus is my higher power. And I can’t believe I just wrote that Jesus is my higher power. But it’s true.
A Closing Parable Of Sorts
So let’s close with a short parable of sorts. Imagine you’re with the Allies at the end of World War II doing the clean up after Nazi Germany has surrendered and Hitler is dead. Suppose you’re in an American unit that pulls into a German city that hasn’t yet gotten word that Hitler is dead and the war is over. As you pull into town, you are met by a hostile German outpost, which (work with me here) for some reason decides not to open fire immediately. You are in the delegation sent out to meet the German delegation. How do you proceed to argue for the legitimacy of your Allied mission and the necessity of their surrender? The most straightforward tact, seems to me, would be to tell the German troops that Hitler is dead, Germany has surrendered, and the war is over – they should disband and go home. Now as it turns out, the German troops do not accept your authority. Their authority is Hitler, the Third Reich, and as far they are concerned, you’re just making stuff up to get them to let you into town.
In this scenario, it’s perfectly legitimate to point out other circumstantial proofs of these facts. You might point to the evidence of other cities surrendering to the Allies. You might have a newspaper from some other German city with a story or headline reporting on the facts. But all of those “evidences” are true because the highest truth is true: The Allies won and Hitler is dead. But what you must not do is pretend that Hitler is still in power. You must not grant legitimacy to their false authority and power. They must be required to stand down, surrender, or else, if you strike some kind of deal with them, convincing them that Hitler said it was OK for the Americans to come into town, while leaving the Germans to remain in power, you have not obeyed your orders, and you have committed a form of treason. The central issue is the fact of different authorities. Surrender means they must repudiate their old authority and accept a new one. And, follow me closely here, you cannot argue for the necessity of their acceptance of a new authority while granting legitimacy to their old authority.
A Longish Conclusion
What presuppositionalists (like me) are concerned to preserve is that fact that all facts are true because Jesus is Lord. There are no facts or truths that exist in the universe independent of God. All truth is true because God made it so. And therefore there is no such thing as neutrality, or neutral ground. I don’t mind arguing from some point in this world that an atheist thinks is neutral ground, but a Christian should never agree with an atheist that it actually is neutral ground. All truth that resides in science and sociology and history and philosophy does so in complete submission to the Lord Jesus Christ. How could it not? We must not grant neutrality to any area of life because to do so is to defy the Lordship of Jesus over that area of life. The unbeliever trusts supremely in himself. It is his insolent pride that keeps him from surrendering to Jesus. It is the fortress of human authority that must fall. It is the folly of human wisdom that must be completely surrendered. The danger of arguing from logic or philosophy or science is the possibility of keeping human authority and pride in power, all while rearranging some of the patio furniture, becoming a secular conservative, say. But a secular conservative, whatever short term gains there may be (and I’m truly glad for the momentary reprieve), is still a servant of the enemy because the enemy is human pride – the insolent pretense of knowing better than God, the arrogance of thinking you can organize a good and moral society without the Triune God, the blasphemous tyranny of human “good intentions” that inevitably reduces to slavery and insanity.
But on the other hand, some zealous presuppositionalists may inadvertently weaken their own position by not admitting reference to any other evidences for the existence of God, the truth of the gospel, the holocaust of abortion, the goodness of heterosexual marriage, etc. Using the authority of science, the arguments of logic, the evidences of history in some measure is actually one of the ways we affirm the absolute and universal authority of Jesus since all true authority and power in this world only exist because Jesus is Lord. This is the true and persuasive authority of natural revelation or natural law.
It is no problem appealing to a non-Scriptural argument so long as we understand that any force or power it has is from the Lord Jesus and His Word. The danger is the temptation to begin to think that we don’t need God’s Word, that certain truths exist apart from Jesus and are authoritative whether or not Jesus rose from the dead. And that is to saw off the branch you’re sitting on. And remember that the Devil would love to have Christians ashamed of God’s Word, ashamed of the gospel proclamation, ashamed of the authority of Christ. This is why Paul insists, to the Romans no less, that He is not ashamed of the gospel since it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16). Sure, throw every rock you’ve got at the giants of unbelief. But remember that the Word of God found in Scripture is a heat-seeking missile, a smart cluster bomb, and it can do what none of our words can do – it can get into the thoughts and intents of the heart, it can divide between soul and spirit, and ultimately, wherever true heart conversion has taken place, it is the Word of God that wrecks the fortress of human pride and takes captive every disobedient human word, every thought to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).