Evangelism and Apologetics - Pinehurst Baptist Church by jianghongl



  Brian Watson
        We often busy ourselves with what we might call “real life.” We are busy working,
going to school, raising children, taking care of grandchildren, cooking meals, doing errands, or
cleaning homes and ourselves. We worry about money, relationships, to-do lists, grades, and
many other things. We don’t often stop to consider that beyond this “real life,” there is
something greater. Even Christians often get caught up in the business of this life, forgetting that
there is another life and a spiritual reality that we cannot now see. We forget that our lives have
eternal value and that our choices have eternal consequences. We often forget that every human
being is an eternal soul, one that will be with God for eternity in paradise, or one that will be in
hell forever.
        This is the reality. It seems harsh, but it is true, and there is no other way to put it. The
best way to remember this reality is to continually read the Bible. There, in God’s word, we find
numerous reminders that there are two types of people. There are those who believe in the God
of the Bible and those who don’t. People are either children of the serpent (Gen. 3:15; John
8:29-47; 1 John 3:8-10) or children of God (John 1:12-13; Gal. 3:26; 1 John 5:1). There are
many different ways of saying this. There are those who are children of Abraham, the father of
faith (Rom. 4:1-12; Gal. 3:7, 29), and those who are not (see Matt. 3:9; John 8:39-47). In short,
there are those going to heaven and those going to hell.
        This reality is made very clear in Jesus’ teaching. He taught on the reality of heaven and
hell more than anyone did. For example, read what Jesus teaches at the end of the Sermon on the
Mount about the two gates (Matt. 7:12-14), the two trees (Matt. 7:15-20), and the two types of
houses (Matt. 7:24-27). Consider the parable of the weeds (Matt. 13:24-30), the parable of the
net (Matt. 13:47-50), and the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matt. 25:31-46).
        We can also look at the book of Revelation. At the end of time, when Jesus returns, there
will be two types of harvests: the harvest of the saints (Rev. 14:14-16) and the harvest of the
damned (Rev. 14:17-20). There will be those who enter into the new creation to worship God
forever (Rev. 21-22), and those who face eternal torment, a “second death” (Rev. 20:14-15;
        I don’t write these things to be emotionally manipulative or to make anyone feel guilty. I
am simply reporting the truth.

        We often forget that we are in the middle of a battle. Satan has been warring against God
since the Garden of Eden. It is a battle of good and evil, of truth against lies. It is a battle for
God’s glory, and, as in all battles, lives are saved or lost. The book of Revelation is a truly
fascinating book. Unfortunately, it is often misinterpreted and misunderstood. (It’s not easy to


understand, but with some careful study of the text in its biblical and historical context, it can be
understood.) This book pulls back the curtains of the spiritual battle that is usually invisible to
us. In chapter 12, we see Satan raging against God. He attacks God and his people. He even
tries to destroy Jesus. But he is defeated, at least partially. We read these stunning words in
Revelation 12:10-12:
              And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power
           and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the
           accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night
           before our God. 11 And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by
           the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.
              Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O
           earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he
           knows that his time is short!”
Satan’s defeat is assured. In John 12:31, Jesus, looking forward to the time when he will be
“glorified,” or crucified and resurrected, says, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the
ruler of this world be cast out.” Jesus has bound the strong man (Matt. 12:29). Satan has fallen
like lightning (Luke 10:18). Though he is still active in the world, his power is limited.
Therefore, he rages and pursues the people of God. He is prowling around like a roaring lion,
seeking to devour anyone he can (1 Pet. 5:8).
         Our job is to resist Satan (James 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:9). How do we resist Satan? How do we
conquer him? Look at Revelation 12:11. We conquer Satan by the blood of Jesus, the Lamb,
and through the word of our testimony. And we are not afraid, because even death cannot
destroy us. Our victory has been won by Jesus’ sacrificial death. Any victory we have as
Christians is based on Jesus’ finished work on the cross. But we also defeat Satan through “the
word of [our] testimony.” This does not mean sharing our personal testimony. It means the
gospel of Jesus Christ.
         We don’t defeat the powers of evil in this world through political clout or military might.
We don’t defeat evil by using evil schemes. We defeat evil by trusting in Jesus and sharing his
gospel fearlessly. We must proclaim the gospel message to the world. The gospel will not be
spread by our church attendance, our moral and ethical behavior, or even our love. Proclamation
of the gospel is necessary.
         Commenting on Revelation 12, New Testament theologian D. A. Carson writes, “There is
no other way for the gospel to advance. You cannot see people converted by holding the sword
to their throat. You cannot transform society by anything other than the proclamation of the
gospel. What we must have is the promulgation and promotion of the gospel. Yet some of us
have not shared the gospel with a single person in the last year or even five years.” 1 As if that

    D. A. Carson, Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 105.

were not convicting enough, he adds, “Thus, the only way that we can be defeated on this
dimension is to be quiet. Our silence guarantees a measure of victory to Satan.”2
        Let’s consider two other passages of Scripture before we move on. When Paul addresses
the Corinthian church, he is concerned about their spiritual health. He is also concerned about
some other preachers, the so-called “super-apostles” (2 Cor. 11:5; 12:11). Although he was
away from the church when he was writing, he was ready to return to them to assert his authority
and to correct any disobedience in the church. This is part of what he writes to them:
              For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.
              For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to
            destroy strongholds. 5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised
            against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,
              being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.
Paul knew that Christians don’t fight battles like the rest of the world. We don’t use traditional
weapons. We don’t trade insult for insult. Christians use weapons that have “divine power to
destroy strongholds.” What does that mean?
         For an answer, let’s look at something else that Paul wrote. In Ephesians 6:10-20, Paul
writes about the way we are able to “stand against the schemes of the devil” (v. 11). We do this
by being armed. Then Paul uses an extended metaphor about armor. We put on such things as
the “belt of truth,” “the breastplate of righteousness,” gospel shoes (so to speak), “the shield of
faith,” and “the helmet of salvation” (vv. 14-17). These are all pieces of defensive equipment.
In other words, we are to put on Jesus Christ (Rom. 13:14), who is truth, our righteousness, our
salvation, and so on. What is the one offensive weapon? We are to take “the sword of the Spirit,
which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (vv.
17-18). We are on the offense when we yield the word of God, particularly the gospel message,
and we pray that the Spirit would use it skillfully.
         The Bible also says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-
edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and or marrow, and discerning
the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). I am convinced that if we are to do God’s
work, if we are to bring him maximum glory, and if we are to push back the forces of Satan, we
must share the gospel and we must use God’s word to do it.

        After Jesus was arrested, when he was on trial, he was brought to Pontius Pilate, the
Roman prefect, or governor, of Judea. Pilate asked Jesus if he was a king. Jesus replied, “You
say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the
world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate
responded with an odd question, one that John doesn’t comment on: “What is truth?” (John
    Ibid., 106.

        Pilate was obviously confused. He didn’t understand that Jesus was not only the one who
witnessed to truth, but he is truth (John 14:6). Because he didn’t have faith, he didn’t
understand. The situation is the same today.
        People are still confused about the truth. This is probably how it has always been, but it
seems that now more than ever, truth is under attack.
        Where is truth? If you’ve spent any time watching TV, listening to politicians, reading
the newspaper, surfing the Internet, or in the halls of schools, you know that truth is in short
supply. People seem to avoid the truth in all kinds of ways. Most people deny truths,
particularly ones related to God. Others say that all truth is relative (“you have your truth and I
have mine”), and there is no way to know absolute truth.
        Though these trends are disturbing, they shouldn’t surprise us. Jesus called Satan “a liar
and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Satan has been lying from the beginning. He lied in the
Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:1-5), twisting God’s words and tempting Eve. He lied to Jesus,
promising Jesus that he (Jesus) could have all the kingdoms of the world if he worshiped him
(Satan; see Matt. 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-12). He was suggesting that Jesus could be King without
the cross. When Peter did the same thing, Jesus responded, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a
hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of
man” (Matt. 16:22-23).
        Whenever people fail to set their minds on God, they exchange the truth for a lie. Paul
discusses this issue in Romans 1:18-25. Though everyone knows something about God from
observing creation, in our natural state we have suppressed the truth, thus becoming fools who
worship the created things instead of the Creator. Only God, using his word and the Spirit that
authored it, can illuminate our darkened minds to see truth.
        As stated earlier, we give Satan a measure of victory when we remain silent. If we do not
share the truth about God and his universe to the world, Satan will fill the gap with lies. It has
always been this way. We must prepare ourselves to do battle by using God’s word prayerfully
and in the Spirit, with full conviction, but also with love and compassion.

        I know that this introduction has been long and theological. I’m glad you’re still reading
and ready to learn. We must see our role as evangelists, as ambassadors for Christ, and as royal
priests in light of the big picture of the Bible. God has chosen to use his children to proclaim
truth in this world, to witness to his glory, to persuade people to repent and believe in Jesus, and
to make disciples.
        We all know that we should be evangelizing, but we often feel bad about it. We don’t
feel well prepared to speak to others about God, and when we have an opportunity, we are often
frightened or overwhelmed. When we manage to share some bits of gospel truth to people, we
don’t feel like we’ve done a good job, and we often can’t answer the many objections and
questions that come back to us. When we don’t say anything at all, we feel guilty.

         The purpose of this material is to help us become equipped to evangelize. The goal is to
give us information that will prepare us to share the gospel in different situations. While we may
still fumble through evangelism, the more we think about it and prepare for it—and the more we
pray about it—the more likely we are to share the gospel, share it faithfully, and share it
         In Ephesians 4:11-12, Paul writes about the gifts that Jesus has given the church. “And
he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints
for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” As a pastor and a teacher, it is my
role to equip the saints of our church for ministry. Each one of us has a role in ministry. And
while there are some people who are particularly gifted to be evangelists (as this passage
indicates), all of us have a role to play in evangelism. It is not enough for me to say, “Go tell it
on the mountain!” You have to know what to say and how to say it. This material will help you
with that.
         We will be studying both evangelism and apologetics. Evangelism is simply the sharing
of the gospel. Apologetics can be defined as the reasoned argument (or defense) of the Christian
faith. Apologetics can be defensive (asking questions), but it can also be offensive (providing
reasons and evidences for Christianity). Since we are often met with objections when we share
the gospel, it seems natural to study how to answer those questions.
         This material is not intended to be a one-size-fits-all, paint-by-the-numbers approach.
(Hopefully, it won’t be a mix-your-metaphors approach, either.) This material is intended to get
us to think about these issues. I believe that preparing our minds is a helpful prelude to action.
But reading and thinking cannot replace praying and doing. We must be in constant prayer, we
must be obedient to God, and we must love both him and our neighbors so much that we are
willing to proclaim the gospel.

        One more word before we begin: some of us are a bit reluctant to learn. This is
understandable. For some of us, it’s been a long time since we’ve been in school. Some of us
read slowly. We are not all equally fit to read, to study, and to speak. That’s okay. I believe
that God will honor your efforts. But try we must. I suppose you could say that it is one of the
devil’s lies that we can’t learn. Christians should continually grow in many ways. Our love
should continue to grow. Our faith and purity should continue to grow. And our knowledge, our
wisdom, and our ability to use our minds to love God should also continue to grow.
        According to Jesus, the greatest commandment is this: “You shall love the Lord your
God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37).3 We need
to love God with our mind. The way that we love God is by keeping his commandments (1 John
5:3). As we will see, we are commanded to share the gospel. So, if we are to love God with our
minds, we must prepare our minds to obey his command to evangelize. In a similar way, we can

    Mark adds strength to the list, as does Luke (Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27).

obey the second greatest commandment—“You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt.
22:39)—by sharing the gospel with our neighbor.
        Paul tells us that we are supposed to offer our bodies in worship to God (Rom. 12:1).
Part of the way we do that is by renewing our minds, and so being transformed (Rom. 12:2). We
do this by digging into Scripture and by studying the truth. Peter, who has some important
things to say about evangelism and apologetics, writes, “Therefore, preparing your minds for
action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at
the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:13). Paul tells Timothy, “Think over what I say, for the
Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Tim. 2:7).
        Hopefully, you will agree that we must love and worship God with our minds. Sadly,
there has been a tendency in evangelical Christianity not to use the mind. Instead of learning
deeply and thinking deeply, many Christians are happy to learn a few simple things and repeat a
few platitudes and clichés. I believe we must repent of such ways. Jesus told us to use all of
our mind to love God. There is no excuse to be lazy in our thoughts, in our reading, and in our
learning. If we don’t sharpen our minds to enter into this spiritual battle, and if we don’t sharpen
the minds of our children, who will? If we want to influence this world, we must love God with
everything we have: heart, soul, strength, and mind.
                             WHAT IS EVANGELISM?
         God wants to be known. He didn’t have to create anything. No one forced him. But the
Bible says that he made everything for his glory. Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the
glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Isaiah 6:3 says, “Holy, holy, holy is
the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” Isaiah 11:9 reveals God’s plan for his
creation: “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (See
also Num. 14:21 and Hab. 2:14.) Isaiah 43:6-7 indicates that God made his children for his
glory, and verse 21 says that God made his people so that they might declare his praise. Even
the redemption of sinners through the cross of Christ, a plan made before the foundation of the
world, was for the “praise of his glorious grace” and “to the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:6, 11,
         We often hear or read the word “glory,” but what does it mean? The Hebrew and Greek
words translated as “glory” refer to weight, value, riches, honor, or reputation. But theologian
and pastor Jim Hamilton provides a more useful definition: “I would suggest that the glory of
God is the weight of the majestic goodness of who God is, and the resulting name, or reputation,
that he gains from his revelation of himself as Creator, Sustainer, Judge, and Redeemer, perfect
in justice and mercy, loving-kindness and truth.”1
         When God made the first people, Adam and Eve, he made them in his image (Gen. 1:26-
27). This does not mean that they looked like God. Rather, they were made to reflect God, his
character, and his glory within his creation. They were supposed to be fruitful and multiply and
fill the earth (Gen. 1:28). Since they were made in God’s image, and since they were to multiply
and fill the earth, we can assume that they were supposed to have children, who also would have
children, all of whom would reflect God’s glory. If they obeyed God, they would fill the earth
with his glory.
         Think of it this way: imagine the image of God as the logo of a sports team. Fans wear
hats, sweatshirts, and t-shirts (and many other things) that bear the team’s image. Since they are
good fans, they continue to represent the team by sporting the team’s logo (on mugs, bumper
stickers, posters, etc.). Anyone else can see that they are fans of that team, and as the fans
represent the image of the team in the world, they reflect the team’s glory.
         Well, Adam and Eve were supposed to be fans of God, so to speak. They were supposed
to obey his commands and reflect his glory all across the world. As they tended the garden, they
were supposed to subdue the area beyond the garden. The garden represented God’s presence on
earth. In other words, it was paradise. As Adam and Eve multiplied, they were supposed to
subdue the rest of the world, the wilderness beyond the garden. The idea is that they would

    James M. Hamilton Jr., God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 56.


continue to fill the earth until all of it was filled with people bearing God’s image, reflecting his
         Of course, we know the story. Adam and Eve failed. They were cast out of the garden,
and the whole creation was put under a curse.
         God seems to have started over with Noah. After the flood, when everyone outside of
Noah’s family was destroyed in judgment, God gave Noah the command to be fruitful and
multiply and fill the earth (Gen. 8:17; 9:1). It didn’t take long for disobedience to enter into
Noah’s family (see Gen. 9:20-23), as well as curse (Gen. 9:25).
         God seems to have started over, once again, with Abraham. The “be fruitful and
multiply” language appears once again, though in a subtler form (Gen. 17:6; 22:17). This
language is repeated to Abraham’s son Isaac (Gen. 26:22, 24), his son, Jacob (Gen. 28:3-4;
35:11), and his children (Gen. 47:27; 48:4, 16; Exod. 1:7, 12). The basic idea remained the
same: God’s people were supposed to reflect his glory, multiply, and fill the earth, thus filling
the earth with God’s glory. God told Abraham that in him, all the families of the earth would be
blessed (Gen. 12:3). Somehow, blessing and God’s glory would emerge from this one man and
his family.
         After the nation Israel was brought out of Egypt, God made a covenant with them. If
they obeyed his commandments, they would be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exod.
19:6). If Israel obeyed God, they would reflect his glory to the nations around them. They
would bless the nations around them by mediating God’s presence. That’s what priests do. They
mediate between God and man.
         Douglas Stuart, in his commentary on Exodus, understands the theological significance
of this.
          “Israel’s assignment from God involved intermediation. They were not to be a
          people unto themselves, enjoying their special relationship with God and paying
          no attention to the rest of the world. Rather, they were to represent him to the rest
          of the world and attempt to bring the rest of the world to him. In other words, the
          challenge to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” represented the
          responsibility inherent in the original promise to Abraham in Gen 12:2–3: “You
          will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you … and all peoples on earth will
          be blessed through you.” Priests stand between God and humans to help bring the
          humans closer to God and to help dispense God’s truth, justice, favor, discipline,
          and holiness to humans.2
While the text doesn’t say how Israel would be a kingdom of priests, Stuart believes that they
would do this by being a good example to the world, proclaiming the truth of God to the world
and inviting the world to come to God, interceding for the world, and being stewards of the
promises of God.

    Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2006), 423.

        The history of Israel is long, complex, and filled with many ups and downs. Though
there were many faithful Israelites throughout history, as a nation, they failed. This was evident
when the kingdom split after Solomon’s idolatry and apostasy, and it was clear when both Israel
and Judah were besieged by foreign countries because of their own idolatry and apostasy. Israel
did not do a very good job of being a kingdom of priests.
        Eventually, God sent Jesus, his son, to be what Adam, Noah, and Israel could not be.
Jesus was the perfectly obedient son, the true king, the true priest, the true intermediary between
God and man. Just as there were twelve tribes of Israel, Jesus called twelve disciples to himself.
He taught them, he sent them out to preach (Matt. 10; Luke 10), and after he died and rose from
the grave, he gave them the Great Commission:
         And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has
       been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing
       them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching
       them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you
       always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20).
This commission, given to the disciples and to be taught to all other disciples, is essentially the
one given to Adam and to Israel. But there are differences. Like the first people, the disciples
are to be fruitful and multiply, but they do this through evangelism and discipleship, not
necessarily through procreating. (Though you can surely evangelize and disciple your own
children.) Adam and Eve were supposed to have dominion over the earth, under God’s rule.
Now Jesus, the second Adam, is the one who has dominion. Since he has all authority, his
disciples can go out into the world with great confidence. Unlike Israel, which was supposed to
bring people into Jerusalem to worship at the temple, the church, the new temple of God, is able
to go out into world to fill it with God’s glory as they make disciples. Jesus remains with all of
his disciples, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, even to the end of the age.
        At the end of Luke’s gospel, Jesus shares a similar message:
          Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still
       with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets
       and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand
       the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer
       and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of
       sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
          You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of
       my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on
       high” (Luke 24:44-49).
       Then toward the beginning of Luke’s sequel, the book of Acts, Jesus tells his disciples,
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my
witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

After Jesus ascends to heaven, this is exactly what happens. The disciples receive the Spirit, thus
becoming the new temple, the dwelling place of God on earth.
         Interestingly, the “be fruitful and multiply” language continues throughout the book of
Acts. In Acts 6:7, we read, “And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the
disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem.” Acts 12:24 reports that the “word of God increased
and multiplied.” Acts 19:20 says, “So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail
mightily.” One can read this language in Colossians, when Paul writes that “the word of the
truth, the gospel” is “bearing fruit and growing” (Col. 1:5-6). Paul even prays that the
Colossians would be “bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God”
(Col. 1:10).
         The temple theme is picked up by Peter in his letter to Christians in Asia Minor. He
writes, “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy
priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:5). He
then writes, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own
possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into
his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9). Christians are now the “royal priesthood” (or, in Rev. 1:6, “a
kingdom, priests to his God and Father”) and “holy nation.” As priests, we mediate God’s
blessings to the world. We do this by sharing God’s word, worshiping, and making intercessory
prayer for the people, just like priests. And we “proclaim the excellencies” of God.
Commenting on this passage, New Testament theologian Tom Schreiner writes, “The declaration
of God’s praises includes both worship and evangelism, spreading the good news of God’s
saving wonders to all peoples.”3

        Before I define evangelism, it seems natural to address this issue. Who should
evangelize? If you are a Christian, you should. This is why we exist. We are here to glorify God
and to try to point others to him. If you are tempted to think that the Great Commission is only
for “super disciples,” for people who are outgoing and can teach the Bible, you are mistaken.
We all have a role to play in evangelism, as the 1 Peter passage shows.
        Perhaps we should also consider 2 Corinthians 5. Much of the chapter is devoted to
evangelism. After considering the reality of a future judgment, Paul writes, “Therefore, knowing
the fear of the Lord, we persuade others” (2 Cor. 5:11). A few verses later, he writes these
          Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away;
        behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled
        us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God
        was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them,

 Thomas R. Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2003),

           and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are
           ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on
           behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:17-20).
I could appeal to more verses in the New Testament, but I think this is sufficient. We all have a
role to play in bringing people to Christ. As royal priests, as commissioned ambassadors, we are
supposed to implore people to be reconciled to God the Father through God the Son. The basis
for this reconciliation is Jesus’ death on the cross.
         There is a tendency in the church to believe that evangelism is only for certain people,
those who have unique gifts. While it is true that the New Testament speaks of people who are
particularly gifted to evangelize (see Acts 21:8; Eph. 4:11), we all have a role to play in sharing
the gospel.

        Evangelism is simply sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ, with the goal of persuading
people to repent of their sin and believe in Jesus, and thus be saved from eternal condemnation.
The word evangelism comes from the Greek word that means “to announce the good news.”
The good news is the evangel (euangelion, in Greek), or the gospel.
        We will discuss the gospel’s content later, because that is of utmost importance. But for
now, we can say that the gospel is the story of God, sinful humans, and Jesus. If we are to
successfully share the gospel, we need to talk about who God is (the sovereign, almighty, all-
knowing, perfect, Creator and Judge), who people are (created by God, rebelling against God,
spiritually dead and in need of salvation), who Jesus is (Son of God, fully God and fully man,
sinless), what he did (lived a perfect life and died an atoning death), and the only right and
appropriate response to Jesus (repentance and faith).
        I always find it helpful to read multiple definitions of a term, in order to understand it
better. This is what J. I. Packer writes about evangelism:
           Evangelism . . . means presenting Christ Jesus and His work in relation to the
           needs of fallen men and women, who are without God as a Father and under the
           wrath of God as a Judge. Evangelism means presenting Christ Jesus to them as
           their only hope, in this world or the next. Evangelism means exhorting sinners to
           accept Christ Jesus as their Saviour, recognizing that in the most final and far-
           reaching sense they are lost without Him. 4
Packer does an excellent job of showing the necessity of talking about the human need for
salvation, for the Savior.
        The First International Congress on World Evangelism, held in Lausanne, Switzerland in
1974, created another helpful definition of evangelism. The world’s most influential figures in

    J. I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1961), 39.

evangelical Christianity came together to discuss evangelism. This is what they wrote in the
Lausanne Covenant:
                 To evangelize is to spread the good news that Jesus Christ died for our
        sins and was raised from the dead according to the Scriptures, and that as the
        reigning Lord he now offers the forgiveness of sins and the liberating gift of the
        Spirit to all who repent and believe. Our Christian presence in the world is
        indispensable to evangelism, and so is every kind of dialogue whose purpose is to
        listen sensitively in order to understand. But evangelism itself is the proclamation
        of the historical, biblical Christ as Savior and Lord, with a view to persuading
        people to come to him personally and so be reconciled to God. In issuing the
        Gospel invitation we have no liberty to conceal the cost of discipleship. Jesus
        calls all who would follow him to deny themselves, take up their cross, and
        identify themselves with his new community. The results of evangelism include
        obedience to Christ, incorporation into his church and responsible service in the
This is an excellent definition of what it means to share the gospel. Notice that it says, “In
issuing the Gospel invitation we have no liberty to conceal the cost of discipleship.” We must
tell the complete gospel, not a shallow version of it. This definition also hints at what
evangelism it not.

        Sometimes it is helpful to define a term by clarifying what it is not. Because there seems
to be quite a bit of confusion regarding evangelism and the gospel, this seems quite necessary.
1. Evangelism is not coercion.
        Though we know we have the truth, we must never try to force people or manipulate
people to believe the gospel. Most of us would never to think to use force, but there has been a
history of manipulation and pressure in the church. We can never force people to believe.
Pastor Mark Dever acknowledges this truth when he writes, “The Bible presents the human
problem as one that can never be solved by coercive force of imposition. Therefore, all I can do
is present the good news accurately, live a life of love toward unbelievers, and pray for God to
convict them of their sins and give them the gifts of repentance and faith.” 7

  Quoted in D. J. Tidball, “Theology of Evangelism,” in New Dictionary of Theology, ed. Sinclair B. Ferguson and J.
I. Packer (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 240-241. The entire Lausanne Covenant can be found at
http://www.lausanne.org/en/documents/lausanne-covenant.html (accessed January 8, 2012).
  This section modifies information found in Mark Dever, “A Biblical Understanding of Evangelism,” in Nine
Marks of a Healthy Church, expanded ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004); idem, “What Isn’t Evangelism,” in The
Gospel and Personal Evangelism (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007).
  Dever, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism, 71.

2. Evangelism is not personal testimony.
        Sometimes we confuse giving the story our conversion to Christianity with sharing the
gospel. There is nothing wrong with sharing our personal story, but conversion stories are
subjective experiences. The gospel is an objective message about the facts regarding God,
humankind, and Jesus. No one can be saved by believing in my testimony. They must believe in
the gospel.
        I should add that personal testimonies can help us share the gospel. They are useful and
there is certainly a place for them, but they cannot replace sharing the gospel. According to
Dever, “An account of a changed life is [a] wonderful and inspiring thing, but it’s the gospel of
Jesus Christ that explains what it’s all about and how it happened.” 8
3. Evangelism is not good works, social activism, or politics.
         There is also a temptation to think that evangelism is done by doing good things to make
the world a better place. Christians should do good works like caring for the poor, feeding the
hungry, sheltering the homeless, and trying to make their communities and their country more
just. But this is not the gospel. Good works can and should accompany our evangelism. In a
certain way, they substantiate our claims of being transformed by God. Jesus himself said that
the world would know that we are his disciples by our love for one another (John 13:34-35). But
Jesus didn’t say that the world would know him or his gospel by our love for one another. There
is a difference. The gospel has the power to save, whereas our love does not. Like personal
testimonies, good works reinforce our message, but they are not the actual message itself.
4. Evangelism is not apologetics.
         According to one prominent apologist, “Apologetics (from the Greek apologia: a
defense) is that branch of Christian theology which seeks to provide rational justification for the
truth claims of the Christian faith.”9 Put more simply, apologetics is giving people reasons or
evidence for our faith. That Greek word mentioned above is used in 1 Peter 3:15: “. . . but in
your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone
who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. . . .”
The context is not strictly about apologetics, but this has become the key text for apologetics.
         Evangelism and apologetics have similar goals (glorifying God by bringing people to
faith), but they are not the same. Evangelism is sharing the gospel message, while apologetics is
defending or giving proof of the trustworthiness of the message. It has been said that
“apologetics is the handmaiden to evangelism.”10 We will discover later how apologetics can
help us in sharing the gospel.
5. Evangelism is not the fruit of evangelism.
         We must realize that when we share the gospel, we are not in control of the results. If we
tell the gospel truthfully, and we tell people the cost of following Jesus, we must be satisfied
  Ibid., 73.
  William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, 3rd ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 15.
   Mark Mittelberg, “An Apologetic for Apologetics,” in Reasons for Faith, Norman L. Geisler and Chad V.
Meister, ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007), 18.

with that. As Dever writes, “According to the Bible, evangelism may not be defined in terms of
results or methods, but only in terms of faithfulness to the message preached.” 11
        We must also realize that no matter how accurately, persuasively, and lovingly we share
the gospel, some people will still not respond. To some, our message will be the aroma of
Christ, and to others it will smell like death (2 Cor. 2:15-16). Only God can change hardened
hearts to receive his gospel.

        It seems hardly necessary to indicate why we should share the gospel. According to
Michael Green, the apostles evangelized “because of the overwhelming experience for the love
of God which they had received through Jesus Christ."12 He continues: “In a word, Christian
evangelism has its motivation rooted in what God is and what he has done for man through the
coming and the death and the resurrection of Jesus.”13
        God’s love for us should motivate us to share that love, and to share the good news that
Christ died for sinners. If you think about it, when you love someone, you want to praise him or
her. When you know of something very valuable or helpful (a diet, a good book, a good
restaurant), you want to tell someone about it. It should be more natural for us to share our love
for God and the value of the gospel. According to Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, “Christians
whose love for the Lord Jesus flows from new hearts kept soft by the Holy Spirit have an
instinctive desire to commend their Savior to others. At the very least, we want to speak of him
to those who do not love him because we want God to be honored.”14 Peter and John found it
natural to speak of the gospel. When facing possible persecution from the Sanhedrin, they said,
“Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for
we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20).
        In addition to God’s love for us, there are at least two other motives for evangelism.
“There are, in fact, two motives that should spur us constantly to evangelize. The first is love to
God and concern for His glory; the second is love to man and concern for his welfare.” 15 In
observing these two motives, J. I. Packer is echoing the two greatest commandments: love God
and love your neighbor (Matt. 22:37-40).
        If we love God, we will seek to glorify him. As we have seen, this is why everything
exists. We glorify God and love him by obeying his commandments. We glorify him by telling
the world how great he is. We also glorify God by telling the world the great things he has done.
        We evangelize because we want God to be glorified, and sharing the gospel and making
disciples is one of the greatest ways to glorify God. Because we love God, we obey his
commandments, and one of them is evangelizing.

   Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, 135.
   Michael Green, Evangelism in the Early Church, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 274.
   Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Total Church (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 53-54.
   Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, 73.

        Before we discuss the second motive, this must be said: evangelism should be a joy.
Though we face rejection, ridicule, and scorn, we also must realize that we have a tremendous
privilege. We represent Jesus to the world and we have the truth, an always-relevant and much-
needed truth. Though opening the door for evangelism is difficult, it should give us joy to talk to
others about God.
        The second motivation is our love for others. Jesus said we ought to love our neighbors
as ourselves. Who is our neighbor? The parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) tells us
that anyone we see in need is our neighbor. Everyone needs Jesus. Packer writes, “What greater
need has any man than the need to know Christ? What greater good can we do to any man than
to set before him the knowledge of Christ?”16
        If we love people who are not Christians, we will feel compelled to share the gospel with
them. If we don’t share the gospel with those in need, we are being unloving and selfish. If you
know Jesus, it is because someone shared the gospel with you. You should share it, in turn, with
others. If we find ourselves not caring about the soul of our neighbor, we should examine our
hearts. “If we find ourselves shrinking from this responsibility, and trying to evade it, we need to
face ourselves with the fact that in this we are yielding to sin and Satan. If (as is usual) it is the
fear of being thought odd and ridiculous, or of losing popularity in certain circles, that holds us
back, we need to ask ourselves in the presence of God: Ought these things to stop us from loving
our neighbour?”17
        Our limited time should also motivate us. We all know that anyone can die at any time.
We could die today. Our non-believing family, friends, coworkers, neighbors could die at any
moment. Though we don’t like to think about these things, we must realize that if we don’t take
intentional steps to share the gospel with people, we may never have that chance again.

        Let me be brief: we should share the gospel with everyone. According to Millard
Erickson, “if the church is to be faithful to its Lord and bring joy to his heart, it must be engaged
in bringing the gospel to all people. This includes people whom we may by nature tend to
dislike. It extends to those who are unlike us.”18
        We should naturally start with those around us. Are there any non-Christians in your
family? Tell them the gospel. Do you have any unbelieving friends? Tell them the gospel.
What about your neighbors, do they know Jesus? How about your coworkers? The people who
work in the shops that you frequent? Start there. It is always best to share the gospel with
people we know and care for.

   Ibid., 75.
   Ibid., 77-78.
   Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998), 1063.

        We will discuss possible ways to share the gospel later. For now, it will suffice to say
that any way you can communicate the gospel message is a legitimate form of evangelism.
Having a one-on-one conversation about Jesus is one way of evangelizing. Inviting someone to
a gospel-centered Bible study is another way. You could invite someone to church. Some
people preach on the streets or knock on doors. These are all possible ways of evangelizing,
though some methods are more effective than others.
        Perhaps the best way to evangelize is to love someone and become a friend. Get to know
that person. Ask him or her questions. Spend time with that person. When these things occur,
your opportunities to share the gospel will increase, and your friend will be more open to hearing
the gospel message. “The right to talk intimately to another person about the Lord Jesus Christ
has to be earned, and you can earn it by convincing him that you are his friend, and really care
about him.”19
        We should also be prayerful about sharing the gospel. It’s impossible to exaggerate the
importance of prayer in this area. God has the power to bring someone from darkness into light,
from death into life. We don’t have that power. Therefore, we should pray for opportunities to
share the gospel with the people that we know, pray for them to believe that message and so be
saved, and pray that God would lead us to others who need to hear the good news. Of our
evangelistic commission, Packer writes, “It is a commission, not only to preach, but also to pray;
not only to talk to men about God, but also to talk to God about men.”20

        The Bible tells us that God is sovereign. There is nothing he can’t do. He works
everything according to his will (Eph. 1:11). As controversial as this topic can be, the Bible also
says that God has predestined people to become Christians (Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:5). My point is
not to be controversial. My point is this: there are people in the world who do not currently
know Jesus but who will someday be born again. We do not know who they are. It could be the
worst person we know. Yet even though God has a plan to save people, he has chosen, in his
sovereign will, to use human beings to preach the gospel. We are his means, his instruments, to
reach the lost. God is sovereign, but we are responsible for sharing the gospel.
        The apostle Paul, who was once a church-persecuting Pharisee, became a great
evangelist. He is proof that God can save anyone he chooses. In Romans, Paul writes about the
relationship between Jews and Gentiles. Paul shows that both groups are sinners in need of
salvation. Knowing that everyone needs Jesus motivated Paul to preach. He realized that both
Jew and Gentile needed to hear the gospel message. This is what Paul writes Romans 10:14-17:
             How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are
           they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear

     Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, 81.
     Ibid., 124.

       without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent?
       As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
          But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has
       believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing
       through the word of Christ.
       People need to hear (or read) the gospel message in order to be believe in Jesus and be
saved. This is God’s plan. His normal method of operating in the world is to work through his
people. If you are a Christian, God’s plan is to work through you.
                           WHAT IS THE GOSPEL?
        Now that we know that evangelism is sharing the gospel, we need to define what the
gospel actually is. Surprisingly, this is more difficult than you would think. There has been a lot
of confusion concerning the content of the gospel. If you asked ten Christians, “What is the
gospel?” you might get ten different answers.
        Trevin Wax, author of the book, Counterfeit Gospels1, maintains a list of gospel
definitions on his website. 2 While these definitions come from evangelical Christians, they seem
to differ in their exact focus. Some focus on individual salvation of souls. Some focus on the
recreation of the universe. Others focus on God and his kingdom. Most are so long and
complicated that they are hard to remember.
        Here are two definitions that we can compare and contrast. The first is by a pastor,
Alistair Begg:
               Here’s the gospel in a phrase. Because Christ died for us, those who trust
        in him may know that their guilt has been pardoned once and for all.
               What will we have to say before the bar of God’s judgment? Only one
        thing. Christ died in my place. That’s the gospel.3
Here is the second definition, by another pastor, Jim Belcher:
                The gospel is at the center of all we do. The “gospel” is the good news
        that through Jesus, the Messiah, the power of God’s kingdom has entered history
        to renew the whole world. Through the Savior God has established his reign.
        When we believe and rely on Jesus’ work and record (rather than ours) for our
        relationship to God, that kingdom power has come upon us and begins to work
        through us. We witness this radical new way of living by our renewed lives,
        beautiful community, social justice, and cultural transformation. This good news
        bring s new life. The gospel motivates, guides, and empowers every aspect of our
        living and worship.4
        You’ll notice that Begg’s definition of the gospel focuses on the salvation of the
individual. There are a number of elements of the biblical story that he doesn’t mention, such as
creation, sin (though this is implied), the resurrection of Jesus, and the new heavens and new
earth. Instead, he focuses on substitutionary atonement: Jesus, our perfect substitute, died in our
place to atone for our sin. Belcher, on the other hand, does not mention Jesus’ death and
resurrection (though these are implied when he talks of Jesus’ work), nor does he mention sin.
  Trevin Wax, Counterfeit Gospels (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2011).
  The full document can be read at Trevin Wax, “Kingdom People,” http://trevinwax.com/wp-
content/uploads/2009/09/Gospel-Definitions2.pdf (accessed January 13, 2012).
  Alistair Begg, “An Innocent Man Crushed by God,” in Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross, ed. Nancy Guthrie
(Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009), 25.
  Jim Belcher, Deep Church (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2009), 120-21.


Instead, he focuses on the kingdom of God and all that it entails: a new way of living, justice,
and a transformation of the world.
        I think that both of these messages are incomplete, but that is understandable, for reasons
we will soon explore. However, before we try to define the gospel in a more comprehensive and
clear way, let’s think about why this is important.
        For the sake of evangelism, we need to have a clear gospel message. If we don’t have
clear thinking on the gospel, our message will be muddled and confusing. Obviously, that will
not help us if we want other people to know Jesus. However, if we don’t have clear thinking
about the gospel, more than our evangelism will suffer. If we don’t have clarity about the
gospel, it may be that we don’t have a good understanding of the Bible. We may not have an
accurate knowledge of who God is, who we are, and what he has done to redeem us. If we don’t
have a clear understanding of these key issues, our worship of God will suffer. According to
Greg Gilbert, “An emaciated gospel leads to emaciated worship.” 4
        If we are to understand the gospel message, we will have to open our Bibles and look
carefully at the good news that God communicates to us in his holy book.

        The best place to start is with Jesus. When Jesus began his public ministry, he started
preaching the gospel. But what was that message? Mark tells us, “Now after John was arrested,
Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and
the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel’” (Mark 1:14-15). That seems
like a circular definition: “This is the gospel: believe in the gospel.” What did Jesus mean?
        It might be helpful to look at the very first verse of Mark: “The beginning of the gospel of
Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Mark is indicating that his entire book is gospel, the good news of
Jesus Christ. The Greek word for gospel, euangelion, was used in the Greek translation of the
Old Testament, known as the Septuagint, as well as in the Roman Empire. In the Greco-Roman
world, the term was used of victory in battle, which surely is good news for the victors. The
birth of Caesar August (63 BC-AD 14) was hailed as “good news for the world.” Roman
emperors were elevated to god-like status and were viewed as saviors and delivers for the
        However, the Old Testament use of “good news” probably influenced the New Testament
more than the Greco-Roman usage. This term is used five times5 in the second part of Isaiah.
Chapters 40-66 of this book look forward to a time when Israel would come out of exile to
Babylon, when Jerusalem would expand and be transformed, when sins would be forgiven, when
Gentiles would enter into the city and even serve as priests, and when the whole earth would be
renewed. At the beginning of this section, we read:
               Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.

    Greg Gilbert, What Is the Gospel? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 20.
    Isa. 40:9; 41:27; 52:7; 60:6; 61:1.

             Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
                and cry to her
            that her warfare is ended,
                that her iniquity is pardoned,
            that she has received from the LORD's hand
                double for all her sins.
Here we have a message of comfort, of peace, and pardon from sin. Verses 3-5 speak of
the message that John the Baptist would deliver, as he prepared the way for the Lord
Jesus. Then, in verses 9-11, we hear of good news.
          Go on up to a high mountain,
                 O Zion, herald of good news;
            lift up your voice with strength,
                 O Jerusalem, herald of good news;
                 lift it up, fear not;
            say to the cities of Judah,
                 “Behold your God!”
           Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might,
                 and his arm rules for him;
            behold, his reward is with him,
                 and his recompense before him.
           He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
                 he will gather the lambs in his arms;
            he will carry them in his bosom,
                 and gently lead those that are with young.
The good news includes God gathering his covenant people out of blindness, prison, darkness,
and exile (Is. 42:6-7; 43:6-7). It includes multiple promises of forgiveness (Isa. 43:25; 44:22;
52:15; 53:5-6) and salvation (Isa. 45:17; 46:13; 49:6; 51:5; 61:10). It is a message of free grace
(Isa. 55:1-2). It leads to a glorious new Jerusalem (chapter 60); a time of Jubilee (chapter 61); an
invitation of the Gentiles to become part of God’s people and serve in the temple (Isa. 56:1-8;
66:18-23); and a new heavens and earth (Isa. 65:17; 66:22).
        When Jesus proclaims the gospel, he is indicating that the time that Isaiah envisioned has
begun. Allow me to make this as simple as possible, before adding more details. Isaiah foresaw
a time when Israel would come out of exile from Babylon. This was the result of Israel’s
disobedience and idolatry. But the true exile is the one from the Garden of Eden. All humanity
has been exiled from God’s presence because of sin. When Israel returned to the land, as we see
in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, they were still struggling with sin. The true exile was not
over. But when Jesus became a man and began his ministry, he announced that the true exile
was ending. He would lead his people to the true promised land, the new heavens and earth.
Since Christians are not there yet, even after salvation, they are still called exiles (1 Pet. 1:1, 17).

We are wandering through the wilderness in this life, trusting God for guidance and provision.
This is Jesus’ message. He is leading us out of exile and into the presence of God.
        When Jesus proclaims that the kingdom of God is at hand, he is indicating that the Son of
David, promised long ago (2 Sam. 7:12-16), has arrived. The kingdom and its ruler that Isaiah
prophesied (Isa. 9:6-7) has emerged. The Son of Man of Daniel 7:13-14 has come. Even the
suffering servant of Isaiah 53 has come to die for the people’s sins.
        Perhaps the clearest indication that Jesus has come to fulfill Isaiah’s vision is found in
Luke 4:16-21.
          And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his
       custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read.
          And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll
       and found the place where it was written,
                 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
                      because he has anointed me
                      to proclaim good news to the poor.
              He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
                      and recovering of sight to the blind,
                      to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
                 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”
                 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat
       down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to
       say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
At the synagogue, Jesus read Isaiah 61:1-2, which speaks of good news being proclaimed to the
poor. Amazingly, Jesus says that he fulfills this Scripture. Jesus certainly cared about the
materially poor and the physically blind, but the Bible teaches us that, as sinners, we are all
spiritually poor and blind. Jesus came to liberate us from sin, to inaugurate his kingdom, and one
day he will come to judge all people and to recreate the universe. This is Jesus’ message.
         When Jesus resisted Satan’s temptation and when he healed people and drove out
demons, he showed that he was turning back the effects of sin and conquering Satan. Jesus
spoke of his life as fulfilling “all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15). His perfect obedience to God
fulfilled the terms of the terms of the Sinaitic covenant (Exodus 19-24). And he indicated that
his death would pay the penalty for sin (Matt. 26:27-28). He often spoke of grace, forgiveness,
and justification by faith in his parables (Matt. 20:1-16; Luke 15:11-32; 18:9-14). He talked
about a new world that would dawn one day (Matt. 19:28).
         Mark, by beginning his gospel, seems to say that the whole story of Jesus—his life, his
miracles, his teaching, his death, and his resurrection—is good news. “For Mark, the advent of

Jesus is the beginning of the fulfillment of the ‘good news’ heralded by Isaiah.”6 The whole
story of the Bible finds its fulfillment in Jesus.
        This information may help us Christians to understand the gospel better, but it won’t be
as helpful for someone who doesn’t know anything about the Bible. This gospel story assumes
many things, such as a knowledge of who God is and what he has done. It assumes the
knowledge of Adam’s sin and the resulting curse. It assumes some knowledge of Israel’s
        Our job is to communicate the following: A perfect, almighty, eternal God created
everything. God therefore is King, who sets the terms for how he relates to his creation; he
determines what is right and wrong. All humans beings have rejected God. We are fallen; we
have sinned. We deserve God’s righteous judgment and condemnation. We are in need of
salvation. Jesus paid the penalty for our sin and provides a way to be made right with God. We
must respond in faith and repentance.
        Most people don’t know all of this. Since most people do not know the entire biblical
story, we can’t assume that they know God and what he is like. We can’t assume that they know
anything about God’s commandments and our sin. If we are to tell people the good news of
Jesus, we must give them a context for that news.

        Mark Dever, the pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D. C., has a more
useful definition of the gospel, one that gives us some context and an understanding of God’s
plans for his creation.
        Here’s what I understand the good news to be: the good news is that the one and
        only God, who is holy, made us in his image to know him. But we sinned and cut
        ourselves off from him. In his great love, God became a man in Jesus, lived a
        perfect life, and died on the cross, thus fulfilling the law himself and taking on
        himself the punishment for the sins of all those who would ever turn and trust in
        him. He rose again from the dead, showing that God accepted Christ’s sacrifice
        and that God’s wrath against us had been exhausted. He now calls us to repent of
        our sins and to trust in Christ alone for our forgiveness. If we repent of our sins
        and trust in Christ, we are born again into a new life, an eternal life with God.
                Now that’s good news.7
Dever and the ministry he started, 9Marks, articulate the gospel in a way that is easy enough to
remember. They present the gospel under four main categories: God, man, Christ, response.
The God of the Bible, who is eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly good, created
everything, including us. Human beings, made in the image of God, fell into sin when the first

  James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI:
Eerdmans, 2002), 24.
  Mark Dever, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007), 43.

humans, Adam and Eve, disobeyed God. We are therefore under God’s righteous judgment.
The solution to this problem is Jesus Christ, who is fully God and fully man. He perfectly
obeyed God the Father in his life and he absorbed the penalty for sin in his death on the cross,
satisfying God’s wrath. This is good news for all who repent of their sin and trust in Jesus.
        God, man, Jesus, response. These four categories help us understand why Jesus is good
news and how we can be part of the kingdom he came to establish. This is the gospel.
        Right now, if you want, you can skip to page 47. However, if you want more
information, I will explain each of these four categories (God, man, Jesus, response) in detail.
You might consider the next several pages a resource to which you can turn for Scripture
references and more in-depth teaching. Every Christian should know the content of the next
several pages. Let’s examine each category.

        According to a recent Gallup poll, 92 percent of Americans say they believe in God.8
While that may sound promising, we know that the majority of the people around us do not
believe in the God of the Bible. Yet 78 percent of Americans associate themselves with some
form of Christianity.9 I wonder how these poll numbers would change if we started to define
God the way the Bible does. I imagine the numbers would decrease radically.
        When we speak about God to other people, we must be careful to describe him. We must
assume nothing. We should ask, “Who is God?” This is a vital question. To come up with an
answer, we will look at some of the important attributes of God. This list is not exhaustive, but it
speaks of God’s uniqueness, majesty, and power.
God is.
        God is. Period. He has always existed and he will always exist. He is eternal (Ps. 90:2;
Isa. 41:4; Rev. 1:8). He is not only eternal, he is self-sufficient. He needs no help; he is no
man’s debtor. When God revealed himself to Moses at Mount Horeb, he gave Moses his name:
“I AM WHO I AM” (Exod. 3:14). His name is Yahweh, which can mean “I am” or “I cause to be.”
No one created God. Rather, God is the Creator of all things.
        God didn’t create the universe because he was terribly lonely. God is triune, which
means the one God consists of three persons and three persons form one God: Father, Son, Spirit.
They have always had perfectly united fellowship and love. God had no need to create others for
the sake of companionship. Rather, creation is the overflow of this triune fellowship. I once
heard it said, “It was not God for God to be alone.”
        God didn’t create human beings because he needed help in any way. As I have
maintained earlier, he created for his purposes, for his glory. D. A. Carson acknowledges this
when he comments on Genesis 1. “The Bible does not begin with a long set of arguments to
prove the existence of God. It does not begin with a bottom-up approach, nor does it begin with
  Gallup, http://www.gallup.com/poll/147887/americans-continue-believe-god.aspx (accessed January 13, 2012).
  Gallup, http://www.gallup.com/poll/151760/Christianity-Remains-Dominant-Religion-United-States.aspx
(accessed January 13, 2012).

some kind of adjacent analogy or the like. It just begins, ‘In the beginning God’ (Gen. 1:1).” 10
Creation is not some cosmic accident governed by blind forces. It is the result of God’s eternal
God is triune.
        As mentioned above, God is triune. Trinity does not appear in the Bible, but it is a useful
term that describes this three-in-one God. The term Trinity was first used by the church father
Tertullian (AD 155-220) to describe how God is revealed in the Bible.
        The Bible clearly says that there is one God. “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the
LORD is one” (Deut. 6:4; see also James 2:19). Yet we see three distinct persons of God. This
does not mean that God is a human being. When we say “person,” we mean that God is not an
impersonal force. He thinks, he feels, and he speaks; therefore, we think and feel and speak.
        The three persons of God are seen clearly at Jesus’ baptism: Jesus is in the water with
John, the voice of the Father resounds from heaven, and the Spirit descends on Jesus like a dove
(Matt. 3:13-17). Jesus tells his disciples to make disciples and baptize “in the name of the Father
and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). In Paul’s letters, the three persons of the
Trinity are referred to in passages like Galatians 4:4-6 and Ephesians 1:3-14.
        God the Father is, quite obviously, God, and no one has ever doubted the Bible’s teaching
on that issue. Jesus is God, as revealed by Thomas’s declaration, “My Lord and my God!” (John
20:28) and many other passages (John 1:1, 18; 20:28; Rom. 9:5; Phil. 2:5-11; Col. 2:9; Tit. 2:13;
Heb. 1:8, among others). The Spirit is also declared God (Acts 5:3-4; 2 Cor. 3:16-18) and
clearly shares the attributes of God: he is eternal (Heb. 9:14); he had a role in creation (Gen. 1:2);
he is powerful (Mic. 3:8; Acts 1:8; Rom. 15:13, 19), all-knowing (Isa. 40:13-14; 1 Cor. 2:10),
and omnipresent (Ps. 139:7).
        It is hard for some people to understand the Trinity, but we shouldn’t feel embarrassed
about this doctrine. Many people struggle to compare the nature of the Trinity to something
within creation, by way of an analogy. The Trinity is like a transparent pyramid, or the three
states of water—liquid, solid, and gas—some will say. But all analogies will break down,
because it’s impossible to compare God to his creation, and everything besides God that we try
to compare him to is part of his creation. He is the one thing or person in this universe that is not
created, so he is completely unique.
God is creator.
        The Bible clearly states that God created all things. This is clear from Genesis 1 and 2
and many other passages in Scripture. John 1:3 says, “All things were made through him, and
without him was not any thing made that was made.” Clearly, God created all things. Hebrews
11:3 indicates that God created everything ex nihilo, out of nothing: “By faith we understand that
the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that
are visible.” God spoke creation into existence (Ps. 33:6, 9).

     D. A. Carson, The God Who Is There (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2010), 18.

        Scripture also tells us that the Father, the Son, and the Spirit played a role in creation.
Hebrews 1:1-2 says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by
the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of
all things, through whom also he created the world.” God the Father created all things through
the Son. This is clear in John 1:1-3 as well as Colossians 1:15-16. Genesis 1:2 tells us “the
Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” It is best to think of God the Father
creating all things through the Son by the power of the Spirit.
        God’s status as creator is one of the many reasons why we worship him. This is what the
elders in heaven say of God:
       “Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
           to receive glory and honor and power,
       for you created all things,
           and by your will they existed and were created.” (Rev. 4:11)
        We will discuss later the many theories of creation. This will be a point at which many
will doubt the gospel message, because the idea of a personal, intelligent creator is commonly
rejected. When you share what the Bible says about God, and people question the doctrine of
creation, you can ask them some questions: If there is no God, then how did the universe start?
If you believe in the Big Bang, then can you tell me who or what started it? Where did the
material come from? Most people have no grasp of evolutionary theory, intelligent design, or
other theories of the origin of the universe. Simply tell them what the Bible says.
God is King.
       God is the sovereign King over his creation. He made everything; therefore, he owns
everything. Many passages speak about God as the ruler of his creation.
                 Sing praises to God, sing praises!
                       Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
                 For God is the King of all the earth;
                       sing praises with a psalm! (Ps. 47:7)
                 The LORD reigns; he is robed in majesty;
                      the LORD is robed; he has put on strength as his belt.
                   Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.
                 Your throne is established from of old;
                      you are from everlasting. (Ps. 93:1-2)
                 For the LORD is a great God,
                        and a great King above all gods.
                 In his hand are the depths of the earth;
                        the heights of the mountains are his also.
                 The sea is his, for he made it,
                        and his hands formed the dry land. (Ps. 95:3-5)

        God is the King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Tim. 6:15; Rev. 17:14; 19:16) who works
all things according to his sovereign will (Eph. 1:11).
God is all-powerful.
        It should be obvious by now that God is able to do all things. He is omnipotent. He is
the Lord God Almighty (Rev. 4:8). In the Old Testament, we find rhetorical questions such as,
“Is anything too hard for the LORD?” (Gen. 18:14; see also Jer. 32:27). The answer, of course, is,
“No!” God does whatever he pleases (Ps. 115:3). Nothing is impossible with him (Matt. 19:26).
He controls the weather—parting the Red Sea (Exod. 14), making the sun stand still (Josh. 10),
calming the waves of a sea (Mark 4)—and he causes nations and their kings to rise and fall (Dan.
2:21), as seen in his ability to use Assyria, Babylon, and Cyrus/Persia for his purposes.
God is all-knowing.
       God is omniscient. There is nothing he doesn’t know. He knows everything—past,
present, and future. See Psalm 139:1-6; 147:4-5; 1 John 3:20. He knows what is in our hearts
and minds (Jer. 20:12; Rev. 2:23).
God is all-present.
        God is everywhere. He is omnipresent. This does not mean that he is in every rock or
tree (that would be pantheism). Rather, his presence is everywhere. There is no place where he
is not. See 1 Kings 8:27-29; Psalm 139:7-12; Jeremiah 23:23-24.
God is all-wise.
        God is portrayed in the Bible as the source of all wisdom and all truth. In fact, Jesus is
both truth (John 14:6) and wisdom (1 Cor. 1:24, 30). The Holy Spirit is the “Spirit of truth”
(John 14:7; 15:26; 16:13; 1 John 4:6). God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours (Isa. 55:8-
9). His understanding goes far beyond what we can measure or imagine (Ps. 147:5; Isa. 40:28).
After writing a passage in Romans that is difficult to understand, Paul writes:
         Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How
       unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
                  “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
                       or who has been his counselor?”
                  “Or who has given a gift to him
                       that he might be repaid?”
         For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory
       forever. Amen.
God is good and perfect.
       There is a refrain, oft-repeated in the Old Testament: “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he
is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” (1 Chron. 16:34; 2 Chron. 5:13; Pss. 106:1;
107:1; 118:1; 136:1; Jer. 33:11). This idea is also in the New Testament. Jesus says that only

God is good (Mark 10:18; Luke 18:19). Furthermore, God is perfect (Matt. 5:48). He bestows
every good gift and does not change or act duplicitously (James 1:17; Mal. 3:6; 1 John 1:5).
God is merciful, gracious, and loving.
       John famously declares that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). God is love because there never
was or will be a time when he didn’t love or will not love. Before creation, he wasn’t jealous or
wrathful, and after the end-time judgment, he will have no need for wrath or jealousy. God is the
author of love, so it is not surprising that it is part of his character. In the book of Exodus, God
tells Moses who he is:
             The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God
           merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and
           faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and
           transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the
           iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and
           the fourth generation.” (Exod. 34:6-7)
God is holy, righteous, and just.
        The last passage brings us to something very important. God is holy, which means that
he is other, set apart, unique. “To say that God is holy is to ascribe a uniqueness to him that is
almost incomprehensible. It indicates that he is set apart from all that is creaturely and corrupt,
that he is distinct from this physical and fallen world.”11 Habakkuk 1:13 says that God is “of
purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong.” He cannot leave sin unpunished. This is
because he is righteous and he is the Judge of the earth (Gen. 18:25; Ps. 7:11). His judgment is
sure (see Rev. 16:4-5). A good, righteous judge must convict the guilty. And God is no mere
judge; he is King, Judge, and Lawgiver (Isa. 33:22). He who rules, who gave the laws, must also
judge breaking of his law strictly. This situation creates quite a dilemma. After all, how can a
God who is merciful, gracious, and forgiving also be a God who punishes sin justly?
God is beautiful.
       One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Psalm 27:4.
           One thing have I asked of the LORD,
               that will I seek after:
           that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
               all the days of my life,
           to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
               and to inquire in his temple.
Of course, David asked God for many things, but above all, he wanted to be in God’s presence
forever, so that he could gaze upon God’s beauty and inquire of him. God is beautiful. Imagine
the most stunning sunrise or sunset you have ever seen. God is more beautiful than that. He is
greater than his creation. We get a sense of his majesty and beauty in Revelation 4-5 and 21-22.
     Allen P. Ross, Recalling the Hope of Glory (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2006), 43.

        When we tell people about God, we should mention his uniqueness, his power, and his
holiness. We should also emphasize the winsome qualities of God, such as his love, his beauty,
and his desire for a relationship with us.
        If we are going to tell people the gospel, we have to tell them who God is. We may not
have time to give a full list of his attributes, but we should tell people that God is the creator, he
is King, and he is good and just. Therefore, he does what he pleases and what he pleases is
perfect and right. To rebel against such a God is the heart of folly.

       “Man” doesn’t just refer to men. It refers to mankind, or humankind. Just as we must
define God, we also must define people. Who are we? The Bible indicates both positive and
negative aspects of humanity.
Humans are made by God and made in his image.
        God created us. Genesis 1 indicates that we are the height of creation. This is
acknowledged in Psalm 8:3-8 as well. Human beings are not mere animals. They are made in
the image of God. We are therefore like God in some ways, and we were made to reflect God’s
glory in his creation. Human beings were created to know and worship God.
        As stated earlier, we are made in the image of God. This means that we are made to
reflect God’s glory in the world. But we are also made like God. Like God, we are intelligent,
we possess emotions, and we relate to others. We also have the capacity to create, to love, and to
do noble things. This comes from God.
        Human beings were also made to reign under God’s rule. Adam and Eve, the first
humans, were supposed to be God’s vice-regents, having dominion over the earth. But they
would only reign insofar as they obeyed God’s commands. Humans were never meant to be
independent from God or autonomous.
Humans rebel against God.
         Of course, we know how the story goes. Adam and Eve disregarded God’s clear
command not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They chose to believe the
lies of Satan instead of God’s word. They wanted to be like God. Because of their sin, they
were exiled from God’s presence and the whole creation fell under a curse. Every one of us has
been born “east of Eden,” and “in” Adam. We are, by nature, sinful. Paul says that all human
beings, before becoming Christians, are “by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3).
         In his book on idolatry, Greg Beale writes, “God has made humans to reflect him, but if
they do not commit themselves to him, they will not reflect him but something else in creation.
At the core of our beings we are imaging creatures. It is not possible to be neutral on this issue:
we either reflect the Creator or something in creation.”12 Everyone has to worship something,
and if we’re not worshiping God, we’re worshiping idols.

     G. K. Beale, We Become What We Worship (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008), 16.

        Our sinful nature leads us to deny God, worship idols, and pursue sin. Paul describes this
pattern in Romans 1:18-32. Rejection of God leads to futile thinking, idolatry, and all manner of
sin. Because we all have some knowledge of God, from observing his creation, we are
responsible for our rebellion against God. Paul tells us that God’s creation reveals “his invisible
attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature” (Rom. 1:20). God has also given us
consciences, which give us a general sense of right and wrong (Rom. 2:15). The “preacher” of
Ecclesiastes says that God “has put eternity into man’s heart” (Eccles. 3:11), so that we all have
a sense that there is more to reality than this life. This knowledge of God makes us responsible
for the sin we commit. We all have actively and conscientiously rebelled against God.
Humans sin.
         At this point, we should discuss what sin is. The Bible describes it as missing the mark,
transgressing a boundary God set in place, or even as lawlessness. However, at the heart of sin is
a broken relationship with God. Greg Gilbert writes, “It’s the breaking of a relationship, and
even more, it is a rejection of God himself—a repudiation of God’s rule, God’s care, God’s
authority, and God’s right to command those to whom he gave life. In short, it is the rebellion of
the creature against his Creator.”13 When we sin, it shows how little we value a relationship with
         Our sin is more than just a matter of individual wrongdoings. Our hearts are sinful, and
our sinful actions are merely the overflow of our hearts. We don’t just need atonement for
individual deeds, we need to be cleansed and we need new hearts, to desire God and obey him.
         Lest anyone think that he or she is exceptional and is without sin, both our experience
and the Bible prove otherwise. Our own experience should tell us how many times we have
failed and broken standards, whether those standards were our own or other’s. The Bible’s own
witness is quite clear: all have sinned.
         Paul tells us quite clearly in Romans 1 that all Gentiles have sinned. In Romans 2, he
tells us that all Jewish people, those who had the Law of the Old Testament revealed to them,
were just as sinful as Gentiles. He confirms that both Jews and Gentiles are sinners by putting
together a string of Old Testament quotes in Romans 3:9-18. “None is righteous, no, not one . . .
no one seeks for God. All have turned aside . . . no one does good.” The fact that everyone sins
is recorded in other parts of the Bible. Solomon, in his prayer at the temple’s inauguration,
confessed that “there is no one who does not sin” (1 Kgs. 8:46). Ecclesiastes 7:20 states, “Surely
there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.” A few verses later, we
read, “See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many
schemes” (Eccles. 7:29). John writes, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the
truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).
Sin has consequences.
       There are consequences for this sin. For Adam and Eve, it was the exile from the Garden
of Eden and the promise of physical death. For Israel, it was exile from the land and destruction.

     Gilbert, What Is the Gospel?, 48.

Removal from the land represents removal from God’s presence. And the ultimate removal from
God’s presence is hell. Far worse than physical death, this is the “second death” described in
Revelation 20:14 and 21:8. The wages of sin, indeed, is death (Rom. 6:23).
        The first and greatest consequence of sin is alienation from God. Because of our
sinfulness, we cannot be in direct relationship with God. We cannot be directly in his presence.
This is what Isaiah says about the situation:
             Behold, the LORD's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save,
                   or his ear dull, that it cannot hear;
             but your iniquities have made a separation
                   between you and your God,
           and your sins have hidden his face from you
                   so that he does not hear.
              For our transgressions are multiplied before you,
                   and our sins testify against us;
           for our transgressions are with us,
                   and we know our iniquities:
              transgressing, and denying the LORD,
                   and turning back from following our God,
           speaking oppression and revolt,
                   conceiving and uttering from the heart lying words. (Isa. 59:1-2, 12-13)
The human heart realizes this separation from God on some level. According to John Stott,
“There is a hunger in the heart of man which none but God can satisfy, a vacuum which only
God can fill.”14 Augustine, in his Confessions, writes, “Thou hast made us for thyself, and our
hearts are restless till they rest in thee.” Every person has a longing that cannot be filled by the
things of this world. We all have some vague sense that this world, in its current state, is not our
home. This feeling has been observed by Christians such as C. S. Lewis and by non-Christians
such as the German philosopher Martin Heidegger.
         Our separation from God requires us to have a mediated relationship with him. The
worship of the Israelites was mediated through the Levitical priesthood. In fact, their whole
worship system at the tabernacle and temple was a symbol of their sin. There was a physical
barrier between them and God. God dwelled in the Most Holy Place and only the high priest, the
human mediator, was able to enter into God’s presence, and only one time each year, on the Day
of Atonement. A thick curtain or veil separated this area from the rest of the temple. Because of
their sin, the Israelites had to offer animal sacrifices. The animals stood in place of the sinful
Israelites, who would symbolically cast their sins on an animal and kill it, illustrating that the
penalty for disobeying God was death.
         The second consequence of sin is alienation from others. It is no accident that soon after
Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden, one of their sons, Cain, killed the other, Abel. Our sin

     John Stott, Basic Christianity, rev. ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 94.

results in broken relationships with each other. This explains why, even in the best human
relationships, there is tension and fighting.
        The third consequence of sin is our inner sinfulness. We are corrupt and we become
slaves to sin. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin”
(John 8:34). According to Paul, prior to conversion, Christians were enslaved by sin (Rom. 6:17,
20). No one is an absolutely free agent. If we are not “slaves of righteousness” (Rom. 6:18), we
will be enslaved by our sin. This explains addictions and our tendency to return to our foolish
ways, like a dog returns to its vomit (Prov. 26:11; 2 Pet. 2:22). We need to be liberated from this
bondage to sin and given a new nature.
The Bible’s doctrine of humanity best explains who we are.
        It is worth noting that what the Bible says about us best explains who we are. Human
beings are noble creatures capable of performing wonderful acts of love. We are capable of
creating marvelous things. Even non-Christians are capable of sacrificial love and generosity.
But we are also violent, petty, self-centered, and capable of the most monstrous acts.
Christianity acknowledges that humans are made in the image of God, and that God’s initial
creation was good (Gen. 1:31). Even though sin has entered the world, and all of creation is
under a curse, everything—including us—is not as bad as it could and should be. This accounts
for why humans are both bad and good. Dinesh D’Souza writes, “Humans are, in their inner
depths, cauldrons of good and evil mixed together.”15
Telling people about sin.
        If we are to tell people the gospel, we must tell them the uncomfortable news of sin. One
effective way to show up our sin is to go through the Ten Commandments. I remember reading
them with a young man and asking, “Which of these haven’t you broken?” He said, “Well, I’ve
never killed anyone, and I haven’t committed adultery.” Then I read to him a bit of the Sermon
on the Mount, where Jesus says that hating someone makes a person just as guilty as if he
committed murder (Matt. 5:21-23), and where Jesus says that having lustful intent is just as bad
as adultery (Matt. 5:27-28). The young man became rather quiet after that.
        We should also indicate in our message that there is a penalty for sin. Those who are not
reconciled to God face eternal punishment in hell. Jesus taught many parables about final
judgment (Matt. 13:24-30, 47-50; 25:31-46; Luke 16:19-30). Other passages that describe the
final judgment include 2 Thessalonians 1:5-12 and Revelation 14:14-20; 19:11-16; 20:11-15. It
is necessary to deliver the bad news—God is judge and we are guilty of sin—before we get to
the good news of Jesus.

       Fortunately, our message is not all gloom and doom. It is necessary to deliver the bad
news first (or else there wouldn’t be any good news), but now we come to the Good News.

     Dinesh D’Souza, What’s So Great About Christianity (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2007), 261.

        In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the
       elementary principles of the world. 4But when the fullness of time had come,
       God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those
       who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And
       because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying,
       “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an
       heir through God. (Gal. 4:3-7)
                For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the
       ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a
       good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that
       while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now
       been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath
       of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death
       of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.
          More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through
       whom we have now received reconciliation. (Rom. 5:6-11)
         Of course, we could consider many other passages that reveal some aspect of the good
news: that God sent his own Son into the world to pay the penalty for sin, so that those who put
their faith in him and repent of sins can be reconciled to God and saved from condemnation.
Let’s consider who Jesus is and what he did by starting from the beginning.
God had a plan before creation to save people and bring glory to himself.
        One of the things that the New Testament reveals is that Jesus was God’s Plan A, not
Plan B. From before the foundation of the world, God planned to save people through the
atoning death of Jesus. We find this in passages like Ephesians 1:3-6; 2 Timothy 1:9; and
Revelation 13:8; 17:8. Ephesians 1:3-14 reveal that God’s plan is grounded in love, and that he
made it to bring himself glory. That is, God’s grace is motivated by his great love, and his grace
brings him glory by showing how inexpressibly awesome he is.
Jesus’ incarnation was prophesied many times and in many ways in the Old Testament.
        Right after Adam and Eve’s sin, God made a promise while cursing the serpent. He told
the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her
offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). Theologians
consider this the first hint of the gospel in the Bible. As one reads through the Bible, one
encounters many hints of a coming anointed one, the Messiah, who will make things right by
ruling his people and paying the penalty for sin. Other passages include Genesis 49:10; Numbers
24:17; Deuteronomy 18:15-19; 2 Samuel 7:1-17; Psalms 2; 8; 22; 72; 110; Isaiah 9:6-7; 11:1-5;
40:10-11; 42:1-7; 49:1-7; 50:4-9; 52:12-53:12; 61:1-4; Jeremiah 23:5-6; Daniel 7:13-14; Hosea
11:1; Micah 5:2; Zechariah 6:12-13; 9:9; 10:4; 12:3; 14:4; and Malachi 3:1-3. Indeed, the whole
Old Testament anticipates the incarnation of Jesus.

Jesus is the true Son of God.
         One of Jesus’ many titles is, of course, Son of God. We all know this and we have
referred to him in this way. But what does that title mean?
         There has been some confusion about this title, partly due to a less-than-ideal translation
of a single Greek word. If we look at the King James Version or the New King James Version,
we will see that four times in John’s gospel (1:14, 18; 3:16, 18), Jesus is referred to as “the only
begotten Son of God” or something similar. “Begotten” is the past participle of “beget,” which
can mean to give birth to or sire, though it can also refer to acquiring through effort. If we hold
to this word, we might wrongly believe that God the Father somehow sired Jesus. We know this
is not true (though this is what the Mormons believe).
         In the KJV and NKJV, “the only begotten” is a translation of the Greek word
monogenous, a form of monogenēs. This word means “only, one of a kind, unique.” Therefore,
John 3:16 in the English Standard Version (quoted throughout my writing) reads, “For God so
loved the world, that he gave his only Son . . . .” The NIV translates this as “one and only Son,”
as does the Holman Christian Standard Bible. Jesus is the only, unique, one-of-a-kind Son of
God, though he was never made. He has always existed.
         Perhaps we would have a better understanding of this title if we saw how it was applied
to other people in the Bible. Adam, the first human being, is called the son of God (Luke 3:38).
Adam was supposed to obey God, his Father. As long as Adam obeyed, he would receive his
inheritance. Of course, Adam failed to obey, and that father-son relationship was broken. Israel
is also called the son of God in the Bible, collectively (Exod. 4:22-23; Hos. 11:1) and
individually (Deut. 14:1). As a nation, Israel was supposed to do the Father’s work by obeying
his commandments. Of course, Israel failed, too.
         Therefore, God sent his true Son, his one and only, unique and beloved Son, Jesus, to do
his will. The fact that Jesus is called Son indicates a relationship with the Father. Jesus is the
obedient one who listens to the Father and does his bidding. As Jesus himself said, “My food is
to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34). Jesus’ obedience,
particularly when contrasted with Adam’s disobedience, Israel’s disobedience, and our
disobedience, is a significant part of his work. When tempted in the wilderness by Satan, Jesus
obeyed God by recalling his word. He lived a sinless life, as noted several times in the Bible (2
Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 9:14; 1 Pet. 2:22; 1 John 3:5). He fulfilled the terms of the Sinaitic
covenant, which Israel could not do. He perfectly obeyed his conscience, which Gentiles cannot
do. He was even obedient to the point of death on a cross (Phil. 2:8). His death makes it
possible for us to be adopted as sons of God.
The Word became flesh.
        We must be clear: Jesus is God, he has always existed, and God the Father created
everything through Jesus. When Jesus was born as a baby, he became a human being, even
thought he has always existed. We call this the incarnation. John 1:14 says, “And the Word
became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the
Father, full of grace and truth.” Jesus remained fully God, but he also became fully human.

Jesus came to save.
        As Paul writes in Galatians 4, Jesus came to redeem sinners, to purchase their freedom
with his death on the cross. Jesus described his mission in terms of redemption and salvation.
“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for
many” (Mark 10:45). “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).
Jesus is the true sin-bearer.
         After sin entered the world, God graciously allowed people to present animal sacrifices to
him, to atone for sin. As early as Genesis 4, humans were presenting sacrifices to God. Later,
after Israel was established as a nation, God gave his people many rules for presenting sacrifices.
These rules are mostly found in the book of Leviticus. The idea is a fairly simple one: the people
sinned against a holy God. Therefore, they deserved to die. Leviticus 5:17 says, “If anyone sins,
doing any of the things that by the Lord’s commandments ought not to be done, though he did
not know it, then realizes his guilt, he shall bear his iniquity.” As you read through the Law of
the Old Testament, you soon realize that the penalty for sin is death. However, God allowed
them to symbolically transfer their sins to an animal, and kill the animal in their place. The
animal would then bear the sin. It was a substitute for the one who sinned, a life for a life.
Leviticus 17:11 says, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the
altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.”
         On the Day of Atonement, which occurred once a year, the high priest would make
atonement for the people of Israel. He would make sacrifices for his own sin, since he was sinful
like everyone else. Then he would sacrifice a bull and a goat and take some of the blood and
sprinkle it on the mercy seat, the cover of the ark inside the Most Holy Place. “Thus he shall
make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleanness of the people of Israel and
because of their transgressions, all their sins” (Lev. 16:16a). He would also symbolically place
the sins of the people on a goat and release it into the wilderness, outside the camp of the
Israelites (Lev. 16:21). This was the original scapegoat. “The goat shall bear all their iniquities
on itself” (Lev. 16:22a).
         This system of animal sacrifices was not God’s final plan for atonement. As the book of
Hebrews shows, the system was flawed. Animals were standing in for people. The sacrifices
had to be offered repeatedly. Even the high priest, the mediator, was sinful and had to offer
sacrifices for himself. This presents a problem, because “without the shedding of blood there is
no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9:22), and yet “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to
take away sins” (Heb. 10:4).
         The answer to this problem, of course, is Jesus. He is the true sin-bearer. John the
Baptist acknowledged that when he cried, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of
the world!” (John 1:29). Paul calls Jesus “our Passover lamb” (1 Cor. 5:7) and Peter refers to
“the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Pet. 1:19). Clearly,
Jesus is the perfect sacrifice, the one that all the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament
anticipated. Peter writes quite clearly about what Jesus did on the cross: “He himself bore our
sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds

you have been healed” (1 Pet. 2:24). This passage is significant, because Peter is referring back
to Isaiah 53.
        Approximately seven hundred years before Jesus’ incarnation, the prophet Isaiah wrote
about what he would accomplish on the cross. It is worth quoting this passage at length.
         Surely he has borne our griefs
                and carried our sorrows;
       yet we esteemed him stricken,
                smitten by God, and afflicted.
         But he was pierced for our transgressions;
                he was crushed for our iniquities;
       upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
                and with his wounds we are healed.
         All we like sheep have gone astray;
                we have turned—every one—to his own way;
       and the LORD has laid on him
                the iniquity of us all.
         He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
                yet he opened not his mouth;
       like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
                and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
                so he opened not his mouth.
         By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
                and as for his generation, who considered
       that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
                stricken for the transgression of my people?
         And they made his grave with the wicked
                and with a rich man in his death,
       although he had done no violence,
                and there was no deceit in his mouth.
          Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
                he has put him to grief;
       when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
                he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
       the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
          Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
       by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
                make many to be accounted righteous,
                and he shall bear their iniquities.
          Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
                and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,

        because he poured out his soul to death
                and was numbered with the transgressors;
        yet he bore the sin of many,
                and makes intercession for the transgressors. (Isa. 53:4-12)
        This passage clearly refers to one who will bear the iniquities of the people. It is clearly
about Jesus, who did not protest when he was arrested and led to Golgotha to be crucified, and
who was buried in the tomb of a rich man, Joseph of Arimathea. Jesus poured out his soul to
death (v. 12) when he shed his blood, the blood of the new covenant (Luke 22:20). The fact that
Peter alludes to this passage when discussing Jesus’ death comes as no surprise. This is what
Peter writes:
           He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was
        reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but
        continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins
        in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his
        wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now
        returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Pet. 2:22-25)
There are many clear allusions to Isaiah 53 in this passage. The key part of Peter’s message is
verse 24: Jesus bore our sins on the “tree” so that we might die to sin, live to righteousness, and
thus be healed. Peter uses the word “tree” in order to show that Jesus bore the curse of sin
described in Deuteronomy. “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is
put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you
shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God” (Deut. 21:22-23). Paul also
refers to these verses from Deuteronomy: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by
becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’” (Gal.
3:13). Jesus took the curse of sin, the penalty we rightly deserved, when he died on the cross.
        We should also observe that Jesus is the true High Priest who mediates a relationship
between God and man. (Again, the book of Hebrews describes this at length.) Jesus is sinless
and a human; therefore, he is a perfect sacrifice. He is eternal and continually lives; therefore,
his death can cover all sins—past, present, and future. His death was a “once for all” sacrifice.
        It is vital that we talk about Jesus’ death on the cross. In theological terms, this is called
the atonement, because his death makes Christians at one with the Father. An entire strain of
Christianity has minimized or even abandoned the doctrine of substitutionary atonement. In the
middle of the twentieth century, Richard Niebuhr described such Christianity with these words:
“A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the
ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”16 A form of Christianity with no mention of sin and
the cross is not Christianity at all.

  H. Richard Niebuhr, The Kingdom of God in America (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1937), 193, quoted in Justo
L. González, The Story of Christianity, vol. 2, The Reformation to the Present Day,. ed. (New York: HarperOne,
2010), 479.

On the cross, Jesus defeated evil.
        So far, we have barely mentioned Satan or evil. The Bible maintains that there is a devil,
who is served by many demons. Evil forces are at work in the spiritual realm and in this world.
Jesus’ death defeated them, though the total victory will not be won until he returns. Shortly
before he died, Jesus said, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world
be cast out” (John 12:31). Paul tells us that on the cross, Jesus “disarmed the [demonic] rulers
and authorities and put them to open shame” (Col. 2:15).
Jesus rose from the grave.
         After Jesus died on the cross, he was buried in a tomb. But he didn’t stay there. He rose
from the dead on the third day in an immortal, glorified body, one that could never die again.
Though other people come back to life in the Bible, they were revivified (came back to life for a
time), not resurrected (made alive, never to die again). Jesus was the firstborn from the dead
(Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:5).
         Jesus had predicted his resurrection many times before he died (Matt. 16:21; 17:22-23;
20:17-19). The resurrection proves that his words are true. His resurrection proves that he is
God; his disciples worshiped him after he rose from the grave (Matt. 28:9, 17; Luke 24:52; John
20:28). Acts 2:24 says that death could not hold Jesus, who will one day destroy death (1 Cor.
15:25-27). Acts 17:31 says that Jesus’ resurrection gives us assurance that he will one day come
again to judge the world. Therefore, Jesus’ resurrection proves he is God and a powerful judge.
         Jesus’ resurrection also says something very important about God’s plans for his creation.
Jesus enables his followers to be new creations, and one day he will return to make all things
new. I will discuss this in more detail below.
         Jesus’ resurrection insures our justification. This is a vital aspect of the gospel. In
Romans 4:24-25, Paul writes, “It [righteousness] will be counted to us who believe in him who
raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our
justification.” Justification means that we are declared just, or in the right. It is a legal term used
for one who is declared innocent. According to theologian Wayne Grudem,
            “By raising Christ from the dead, God the Father was in effect saying that he
           approved of Christ’s work of suffering and dying for our sins, that his work was
           completed, and that Christ no longer had any need to remain dead. There was no
           penalty left to pay for sin, no more wrath of God to bear, no more guilt of liability
           to punishment—all had been completely paid for, and no guilt remained.” 17
This is the way that a pastor, Tim Keller, describes it.
           “Jesus had risen, just as he told them he would. After a criminal does his time in
           jail and satisfies the sentence, the law has no more claim on him and he walks out
           free. Jesus Christ came to pay the penalty for our sins. That was an infinite
           sentence, but he must have satisfied it fully, because on Easter Sunday he walked

     Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 615.

        out free. The resurrection was God’s way of stamping PAID IN FULL right across
        history so that nobody could miss it.”18
       The resurrection is of such importance that Paul says, “And if Christ has not been raised,
then our preaching is in vain and your faith is futile” (1 Cor. 15:14). However, Paul and the
apostles testify to the truth of the resurrection, which gives us eternal hope.
Jesus satisfied the wrath of God and reconciles Christians to God.
        God hates sin and must punish it. The Bible even says that he hates sinners (Pss. 5:5;
11:4-5; Hos. 9:15). The phrase, “God hates the sin but loves the sinner” does not come from the
Bible, but seems to come from a statement made by Gandhi in his 1929 autobiography: “Love
the sinner but hate the sin.”19 Yet God loved the world—collective sinful humanity—and
therefore he sent his Son in order to save sinners from his wrath and reconcile them to himself.
Therefore, Jesus’ death is called propitiation (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 4:10), an act that
makes God propitious, or favorably disposed, to those who believe in Jesus. Jesus’ death
satisfied God’s wrath, so that those who believe in Jesus will not face his wrath on the day of
judgment. (To be clear, those who do not believe in Jesus will still face God’s wrath, as we see
in John 3:36 and in multiple places in the book of Revelation.)
        Jesus’ death and resurrection reconcile us to God (Rom. 5:11; 2 Cor. 5:18-20; Eph. 2:16;
Col. 1:20). This is why we call Jesus’ death the atonement, which simply means at-one-ment.
Those who believe in Jesus have their relationship with God, once broken by sin, restored.
Through Jesus, Christians have a personal relationship with God.
        One amazing aspect of the gospel is that Jesus enables his followers to know God in a
personal, intimate way. Christians can rightly call God their Father. They can call Jesus their
friend (John 15:13-15) and brother (Heb. 2:11-12). Christians can know their Maker and the
Lord of the universe.
Jesus makes Christians righteous, and this is a gift of God’s grace.
         Unlike other religions, Christianity states that human beings cannot have a right
relationship with God through obedience or good deeds. Rather, acceptability to God is based on
the perfect obedience and work of Jesus. And since the perfect Son of God died to pay the
penalty for sin, those who believe in him are considered “in the right,” or righteous. They are
justified, essentially another way of saying “declared righteous.” Though every human being is,
in fact, guilty of sin, those who trust in Jesus are declared innocent. We have already looked at
Isaiah 53. Verse 11 states that the suffering servant will “make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.”
         On the cross, Jesus paid our debt, satisfying God’s holy justice. Our own righteousness
could never atone for our sins. Isaiah 64:6a says, “We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” No matter how good anyone is, the

  Timothy Keller, The King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus (New York: Dutton, 2011), 219.
  Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010),

presence of sin makes that person unclean. If our righteousness cannot satisfy God, then we
need the perfect righteousness of Jesus to satisfy him. On the cross, Jesus took our sin so that we
could be righteous (2 Cor. 5:21). This is a free gift, not one earned by our works (Rom. 5:16-
17). Those who confess their sin and trust in Jesus for righteousness will be justified (Luke 18:9-
14). This gift must be received by faith.
         Righteousness is a declaration made now. Christians are in the right, clothed in Christ
and his own righteousness. Other important passages regarding justification include Romans
3:21-26; Galatians 2:15-16; Philippians 3:8-9; and Colossians 2:13-14, among many others.
         The entire experience of salvation, from Jesus’ death and resurrection, to an individual’s
faith, justification, sanctification (the process of being made holy), and glorification (the final
stage of salvation, in which Christians receive perfect, immortal bodies and dwell in perfect
harmony in a perfected, sinless new creation) is the gift of God. Paul writes, “For by grace you
have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result
of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).
Jesus makes us clean and holy.
       Related to justification and righteousness is the aspect of becoming clean and holy. Sin
has made everyone unclean and unholy. In order to be right with God, and to have a relationship
with him, we need to be cleansed from our sin and sanctified. One of the clearest pictures of
being made clean and holy comes from the Old Testament.
         Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the
       LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. 2 And the LORD said to
       Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, O Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem
       rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” 3 Now Joshua was standing
       before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. 4 And the angel said to those who
       were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he
       said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you
       with pure vestments.” 5 And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So
       they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel
       of the LORD was standing by. (Zech. 3:1-5)
In this passage, Joshua, the high priest, stands before God in filthy garments. Satan is at hand,
ready to accuse Joshua of his sin. The angel of the LORD (a special representative of God,
perhaps the pre-incarnate Jesus himself) gives Joshua pure clothes and announces that his
iniquity—his sin—has been taken away. This is what Jesus does for those who believe in him.
        According to Hebrews, Jesus’ blood purifies Christians and makes them holy (Heb. 9:11-
14; 10:10, 19-22).
Jesus saves Christians so that they can do the good works God has planned for them.
       It is important to remember that salvation is not the end goal. God’s glory is always the
ultimate goal. But in order to glorify God, we need to be reconciled to him. Salvation is the
beginning of a relationship with God. Once that relationship has begun, God expects us to do

things for him. We must remember to read Ephesians 2:10, not just the two verses that precede
it. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared
beforehand, that we should walk in them.” In Galatians 2:20, after explaining that justification is
by faith, not by works, Paul writes, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live,
but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God,
who loved me and gave himself for me.” Jesus wants to accomplish God’s purposes through
those he has redeemed.
Jesus gives the Holy Spirit to those who believe.
        Before Jesus died, he promised his disciples he would send the Holy Spirit (John 14:15-
31). After his resurrection, Jesus gave his disciples the Spirit (John 20:22). At Pentecost, Jesus
poured out his Spirit on a larger group of disciples in Jerusalem (Acts 2:1-13). The Spirit
enables Christians to believe, by giving them new hearts, so that they can follow Jesus.
        In fact, we can say that the Holy Spirit is the one who causes us to believe and to be born
again. Jesus said that people need to be “born of the Spirit” to enter the kingdom of heaven
(John 3:5-6). The Spirit gives Christians life (John 6:63). Titus 3:5 says that we are saved by the
regeneration that comes through the Holy Spirit.
        At the time of faith in Jesus, the Holy Spirit dwells in the hearts of Christians (Eph. 1:13-
14). According to those verses, the Holy Spirit is also a guarantee of our salvation. He assures
us that we are children of God (Rom. 8:16).
        The Spirit makes Christians more and more holy. This process is known as
sanctification. Romans 8:29 and 2 Corinthians 3:18 indicate that Christians will be conformed to
the true image of God, which is Jesus. This is what the latter verse says: “And we all, with
unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from
one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” Christians are
supposed to live by the Spirit (Rom. 8:14), who guides us as we follow Jesus. He produces his
righteous fruit in us (Gal. 5:22-23). Though we are declared righteous when we believe, we
grow into actual righteousness as the Spirit makes us increasingly holy.
        The activity of the Spirit in our lives is a very important part of Christianity. Jesus’ death
takes care of one major aspect of sin: our separation from God. The Spirit takes care of a second
problem of our sin: our internal corruption. As he changes us, we start to be less self-centered
and more Christ-centered. It is important to know that salvation is a supernatural event, one that
God works through Jesus by the power of the Spirit.
Jesus builds his church.
        Jesus told Peter, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church,
and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). When Jesus poured out the Holy
Spirit on the disciples gathered in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, he built his church. The
church is the body of Christ, the instrument through which Jesus does his will on earth. It is the
temple of God, where God dwells with his people, where people come to worship God and find
forgiveness for sins. The third negative consequence of sin is alienation from each other. This
results in broken relationships. Jesus gives us a way to be reconciled not only to God, but also to

each other, as we live together in love. We are not only saved to good works, but we are saved
into a community of other believers. It is important to stress that we must come to God
individually through faith, but when we are made new creations, we become part of the church.
Jesus gives abundant, eternal life.
        Jesus gives life. We cannot overstress this point. He said, “I came that they may have
life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10b). Life following Jesus is better. But this life is not just
here and now, it is endless. Read the words of Jesus: “For God so loved the world, that he gave
his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal
life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24). “I give
them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John
Jesus makes all things new.
        Believers in Jesus are regenerated, born again. According to 2 Corinthians 5:17, “if
anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
Paul also tells Christians that God “made us alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2:5; cf. Rom. 6:4,
8; Col. 2:12). This is a spiritual reality now, though when Jesus returns, there will be a physical
resurrection for all believers and a recreation of the universe.
        The physical resurrection of all believers is described in 1 Corinthians 15:23, 51-57;
Philippians 3:21; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; and Revelation 20:12-13. Christians will at this time
receive immortal, glorified bodies. Salvation is generally viewed as past, present, and future.
Christians are justified at the time of belief, they become more holy in their lives, and they will
be glorified at the resurrection of the dead.
        One of the most exciting aspects of the whole gospel story is that Jesus will recreate the
entire universe. The promise of a new heavens and new earth is found in the Old Testament (Isa.
65:17; 66:22) and the New Testament (2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1). There is some debate as to
whether the current world will be destroyed (suggested in 2 Pet. 3:10-12) or simply refined and
transformed. Either way, the new creation will be perfect, without sin and the consequences of
the curse: death, disease, mourning, crying, pain, hunger, or thirst. “No longer will there be
anything accursed” (Rev. 22:3). Even better, Christians will be in the direct presence of God.
“They will see his face” (Rev. 22:4).
Jesus will judge the living and the dead.
       When Jesus returns, it will be a time of joy for those who believe in him. But for those
who reject him, there will be judgment. Jesus will judge everyone, both the living and the dead
(Acts 10:42; see also 17:31; 2 Cor. 5:10).
Jesus is the only way.
        In our pluralist society, it is not popular to say that there is only one way to God and
heaven, but this is exactly what the Bible says. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the
life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Peter said, “This Jesus is the stone that

was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in
no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be
saved” (Acts 4:11-12). Somehow, some people who profess to be Christians don’t get this right,
claiming that adherents of other religions worship and pray to the same God, and that all
religions lead to the same place. This is nonsense. Christian worship and prayer is mediated
through Jesus to the Father. If a person does not believe in Jesus, he or she has no relationship
with God.

        The only proper response to the good news of Jesus Christ is repentance and faith.
Repenting and believing are two sides of the same coin. One is a turn away from sin, and the
other is a turn towards Jesus. According to J. I. Packer,
           Faith and repentance are both acts, and acts of the whole man. Faith is more than
           just credence; faith is essentially the casting and resting of oneself and one’s
           confidence on the promises of mercy which Christ has given to sinners, and on
           the Christ who gave those promises. Equally, repentance is more than just sorrow
           for the past; repentance is a change of mind and heart, a new life of denying self
           and serving the Saviour as king in self’s place. 20
       Repentance is not popular, but it certainly is biblical. Both John the Baptist and Jesus
asked people to repent (Matt. 3:2; 4:17). When Peter preached in the book of Acts, he mentioned
           And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of
           Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the
           Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)
             “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, 20 that times
           of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the
           Christ appointed for you, Jesus, 21 whom heaven must receive until the time for
           restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets
           long ago.” (Acts 3:19-21)
Paul was no different. He also spoke of repentance.
             “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people
           everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the
           world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given
           assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31)

     J. I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1961), 70-71.

          “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision,
          but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all
        the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to
        God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.” (Acts 26:19-20)
         Repentance is necessary because being saved from condemnation and becoming a
Christian is a radical change. It requires turning from our sin and our deep-rooted selfishness
and turning to Jesus and following him. The Bible does not leave any room for such a thing as
an unrepentant Christian. (If you have any doubt, read 1 John, particularly 2:4-6; 3:4-10).
         For the Christian, repentance is a way of life. This is best illustrated by two quotes from
Christians of the past. The first comes from Martin Luther, a former Catholic priest who helped
start the Protestant Reformation when he posted his famous Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the
Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517. The first thesis states: “Our Lord and Master
Jesus Christ, in saying ‘Repent ye, etc.,’ meant the whole life of the faithful to be an act of
repentance.”21 The second quote comes from John Owen, the seventeenth century British
theologian: “Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it whilst you live;
cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.”22
        Turning from sin is only part of the equation. We need to turn to Jesus and believe in
him to be saved. When Paul and Silas were imprisoned in Philippi, a tremendous earthquake
shook the prison and opened all its doors. The jailer asked them, “Sirs, what must I do to be
saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your
household” (Acts 16:30-31). In order to be saved, to have forgiveness of sins and eternal life,
one must believe in Jesus.
        I like to think of believing as loving, trusting, and obeying. We love Jesus for who he is
and what he has done, and this love means that our hearts are turned towards him. We trust him
for salvation, knowing that his death on the cross paid the penalty for our sin and makes us
reconciled to God. We obey him, because this is the natural overflow of repentance and love
(see John 14:15, 21, 23). After all, the gospel is something that is not only believed, but obeyed
(2 Thess. 1:8; 1 Pet. 4:17). A proper response to the gospel requires action.
        Another way to understand faith is to look at Abraham, the father of all who believe.
Even though Abraham and his wife Sarah were very old, Abraham believed God’s promise that
he would be the father of a multitude. Give their age, this promise would require a supernatural
birth (of Isaac, who fathered Jacob, who fathered Judah, etc., which led to the birth of Jesus).
This is what Romans 4:20-22 says about Abraham and his faith:
           No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew
        strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to
   Martin Luther, The Ninety-Five Theses, in Henry Bettenson and Chris Maunder, ed., Documents of the Christian
Church, 3rd ed. (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1999), 206.
   John Owen, Mortification of Sin, in The Works of John Owen., vol. 6, ed. William H. Goold (Edinburg: T&T
Clark), 9.

           do what he had promised. 22 That is why his faith was “counted to him as
Abraham believed in God’s promise to do the seemingly impossible. His faith made him willing
to sacrifice his own son, Isaac, because he trusted in a good outcome (Gen. 22; Heb. 11:17-19).
He believed that God “gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist”
(Rom. 4:17). Therefore, his faith was counted righteousness. Everyone who has such faith will
be counted righteous (Rom. 4:23-25).
        The Bible also indicates that such a faith will naturally result in good fruit, or good
works. James, who also uses the example of Abraham, tells us that “faith by itself, if it does not
have works, is dead” (James 2:17). He does not mean that we are justified by our works, which
is impossible. He means that true faith results in a transformation of life, one that will naturally
lead to good works. In the words of Mark Dever, “To be a Christian is to have your life
transformed by God.”23
        It is vital that we explain repentance and faith when we share the gospel.
       We should also tell people that confessing our sins in faith leads to forgiveness and
cleansing (1 John 1:7-9). When we come to Jesus, we step into the light, which exposes our sin
for what it is. When we believe what the Bible says about God, our sin, and Jesus, we can be
forgiven of all sin and unrighteousness. (Psalm 51 is a perfect example of confession and
       If a person believes that this gospel message is true and is ready to repent, we can help
them in this process. We should never be manipulative, but if they sincerely believe and want to
know what to do next, we could advise them to talk to God by praying and confessing their sins.
I’m not a fan of rote prayers, but there are times when such a prayer might help someone who
has no concept of how to pray. If you do help someone pray, tell them that a prayer is not
magical, and that the only thing that will bring about salvation is true faith and repentance, not
mere words.
       John Stott recommends this prayer:
                   Lord Jesus Christ, I acknowledge that I have gone my own way. I have
           sinned in thought, word and deed. I am sorry for my sins. I turn from them in
                   I believe that you died for me, bearing my sins in your own body. I thank
           you for your great love.
                   Now I open the door. Come in, Lord Jesus. Come in as my Savior, and
           cleanse me. Come in as my Lord, and take control of me. And I will serve as you
           give me strength, all my life.

     Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, rev. ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004), 132.
     Stott, Basic Christianity, 162-63.

The Cost of Discipleship
       When we share the gospel, we should indicate something of the cost of following Jesus.
There are innumerable, infinite benefits of Christianity, but there is cost involved as well. We
would do well to listen to Jesus on this matter.
               “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife
            and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my
            disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my
            disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and
            count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has
            laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him,
               saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king,
            going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate
            whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with
            twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a
            delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does
            not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26-33)
                And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and
            take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose
            it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a
            man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:23-25)
            “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of
            God.” (Luke 9:62)
            “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the
            world.” (John 16:33)
        Jesus’ words are, as always, strong. When he says we must “hate” our family and our
very lives, he is comparing our love for him with our love for others. We must love Jesus so
much, that all other loves look like hate in comparison. (In Matt. 10:37, Jesus indicates that
those who love their family more than him are not worthy of him.) When he says we must
renounce all that we have, this does not necessarily mean we have to give everything away. But
we must be willing. To become a Christian is to realize that Jesus is Lord over every area of our
lives. There is nothing we have that is not rightly his. Stott writes, “To make Christ Lord is to
bring every department of our public and private lives under his control.”25
        Becoming a Christian means a death to our own selfish agendas. Paul, who had perhaps
the most dramatic conversion in history, wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no
longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). In case we think this type of self-
denial applies only to Paul, he later adds, “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified
the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24).

     Ibid., 142.

        We should never give anyone a false impression of being a Christian. It is not always an
easy life. According to Stott, “If you want to live a life of easygoing self-indulgence, whatever
you do, do not become a Christian.”26
Being a Christian
        Finally, we should encourage anyone who wants to become a Christian to read the Bible
regularly, pray, and go to church. Perhaps the best place to start in the Bible is with one of the
gospels. Reading the Bible is the way that God speaks to us. Praying is how we speak to him.
And to be a Christian, one must be baptized and become a member of a local church, which
provides teaching, encouragement, a place to serve, and accountability. Of course, if you share
the gospel with someone who wants to know more, you can always invite that person to join you
in attending church the next Sunday.

        The preceding information is for your benefit, Christian. In order to share the gospel, you
need to know its content. I wrote at length because there have been many distortions of the
gospel, even by pastors.
        Do you need to share everything I have written over the previous twenty-plus pages? No.
You will need to find a way to communicate the core concepts of God, man, Jesus, and response
in language that people will understand. I would encourage you to write out your own easy-to-
understand gospel presentation. For my attempt, see the next page.

            How can you present the gospel message in a clear, concise way?
            How can you communicate the gospel message in a creative way? Think about
            presenting these gospel truths in the form of a story, similar to Jesus’ parables.
            Could you share the gospel by telling the story of a King and his kingdom, or a master
            and his servants? Think about the parables in Matthew 18:21-35; 20:1-15; 21:33-41;
            22:1-14; 25:14-30.
            Could you share the gospel by telling the story of a Father and his children? Think of the
            parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32?
            Could you share the gospel by telling a story of a rescue mission, in which the owner
            searches for his lost possessions? Think about the parables of the lost sheep and the lost
            coin in Luke 15:3-10.

     Ibid., 150.
                           A GOSPEL SUMMARY
          Christianity is the story of God, who is eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing, good, perfect,
and loving. He created everything in order to be known. When he created the universe,
including our planet and everything on it, he made it good.
          Christianity is also the story of human beings, who were made to know God and to
reflect his greatness. We were made to be like God, and in some ways we are, but we have all
rejected him and rebelled against him. Even though we see the evidence of God in all of nature,
we do not seek him or listen to what he says. Because the first human beings disobeyed God,
nothing is the way God originally intended it. Because we disobey God, our lives are hard, we
fight with each other, we get sick, and we die. And because we disobey God, he has the right to
punish us. He is a perfect judge, and the evidence shows that all of us deserve punishment,
which means eternal separation from God and anything good.
          Christianity is, finally, the story of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Because he is God, he
is also eternal, but he became man when he was born of the virgin, Mary. Unlike us, he lived a
perfect life, obeying God the Father, and loving others. Though we deserve punishment, Jesus
took our punishment for us when he died on the cross. Crucifixion was a horrible, painful death
that the Roman Empire used for criminals. Jesus, our substitute, died such a horrible death
because our disobedience to God had to be punished.
          The good news of Christianity is that everyone who turns from their rebellion against
God and loves, trusts, and obeys Jesus is forgiven of all wrongdoing. Everyone who believes
this message is declared innocent by God. Everyone who believes this message will one day live
forever in a perfect world, which Jesus will one day create when he returns.
          In order to be part of this good news, you must stop living for yourself and start living
for God. This starts with believing that God is who he says he is in the Bible. It starts by
trusting that Jesus’ death pays the price for everything wrong you have ever done. And it starts
when you follow him. This means learning about him by reading your Bible. It means praying
to God and having a personal relationship with him. And it means becoming part of a
community of other believers, a community we call church.
          Being a Christian is not always easy. It means our lives will be permanently changed.
God changes us by giving us the Holy Spirit, the third person of the one true God. The Spirit
changes us from the inside out, by giving us new hearts, by guiding us, and by helping us follow
          There is nothing better and nothing truer than to know and love the God who made you
and was willing to die for you.

        The following gospel outline was developed for students and staff of InterVarsity
Christian Fellowship. It appears in Speaking of Jesus, an excellent book on evangelism by Mack
Stiles.1 He recommends placing it the flyleaf of your Bible.
                   God loves you (John 3:16).
                   God is holy and just. He punishes all evil and expels it from his presence
                    (Romans 1:18).
               God, who created everything, made us for himself to find our purpose in
                  fellowship with him (Colossians 1:16).
               But we rebelled and turned away from God (Isaiah 53:6). The result is
                  separation from God (Isaiah 59:2). The penalty is eternal death (Romans
               God became human in the person of Jesus Christ to restore the broken
                  fellowship (Colossians 1:19-20). Christ lived a perfect life (1 Peter 2:22).
               Christ died as a substitute for us by paying the death penalty for our
                  rebellion (Romans 5:8). He arose (1 Corinthians 15:3-4) and is alive
                  today to give us a new life of fellowship with God, now and forever (John
               I must repent for my rebellion (Matthew 4:17).
               I must believe Christ died to provide forgiveness and a new life of
                 fellowship with God (John 1:12).
               I must receive Christ as my Savior and Lord with the intent to obey him. I
                 do this in prayer by inviting him into my life (Revelation 3:20).
               There is no cost to you; your salvation comes to you freely (Ephesians
               But it comes at a high cost to God (1 Peter 1:18-19).
               Ultimately your response is a life of discipleship (Luke 9:23-24).

    J. Mack Stiles, Speaking of Jesus (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995), 190.

                           WHAT THE GOSPEL ISN’T
        We should briefly discuss what the gospel is not. Since there is so much confusion about
the gospel message, this is necessary.
        One way to think about what the gospel message is, and is not, is to consider Paul’s
statement in Romans 1:16: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for
salvation to everyone who believes.” This statement will reveal what is, and what isn’t, the
gospel of Jesus Christ.

        This should go without saying, but, alas, it cannot. I have heard such statements as “you
[Christian] are the gospel.” This is nonsense. Paul does not say, “For I am not ashamed of
myself, for I am the power of God for salvation.” We are not the good news. We are
messengers of the good news and ambassadors for Christ, but we are not the good news itself.
Failure to understand this point will hamper our evangelism from the very beginning, because we
won’t think it is necessary to share the gospel message. We will simply hope the gospel rubs off
on others as we live our lives. However, being good people, and even giving and loving
sacrificially, won’t tell people who Jesus is, what he did, and why he did it.
        Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, two pastors, share some wise words. “Francis of Assisi
is alleged to have said, ‘Preach the gospel always; if necessary use words.’ That may be a great
medieval sound bite, but it falls short of what the Bible teaches about evangelism.” “The gospel
is good news—a message to be proclaimed, a truth to be taught, a word to be spoken, and a story
to be told.”1

         Moralism is, in a way, its own religion. It is being moral for morality’s sake. Much
worse, it is trying to justify oneself before God by being moral (though usually not by following
all the Bible’s commands, such as giving to the poor, loving one’s enemies, and renouncing pride
and materialism). The gospel message is not “be a better person” or “try harder.” The gospel
tells us we can’t be good enough to earn God’s favor, no matter how hard we try.
         Of course, we all want a more moral society. It would make life easier. However, we
could have a “moral” society in which men and women do not honor God or even acknowledge
his existence. (Just think about the Pharisees and their legalism.) True morality occurs when
God, by way of the gospel, transfers people from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of

    Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Total Church (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 54.


        A word of warning: when we share the gospel, we are not advocating a political party or
position. We are not telling people how to vote. We are not telling people that Christianity
equals patriotism. Political and nationalistic causes are not perfect and they are not eternal,
unlike the perfectly true and eternal gospel message. Whenever we mix the gospel with other
causes, we end up watering it down and giving people a false impression of Christianity.

        Some people think that the gospel message can be summarized as “Jesus is Lord” or
“Jesus is the true King.” These statements are true, but they are not good news for everyone.
For those who are not yet Christians, the thought that Jesus is Lord should be terrifying.
        Let me provide an example. Say that shares of Apple stock rise ten percent in one day.
This is good news, but not for everyone. It is only good news for those who own Apple stock.
For others, it is not good news. Similarly, the fact that Jesus is the true ruler of the universe is
only good news for those who follow him.

        Many astute theologians summarize the story of the Bible in four words: creation, fall,
redemption, consummation (or recreation). God created, humanity fell when sin entered the
world, Jesus redeems, and eventually Jesus will come again and God will consummate, or
complete, his plan for his creation. This story happens on the universal level (the four main “plot
points” of the Bible mentioned above), but it also happens on the local level (example: God
creates Israel through Abraham, they fall into sin, God “saves” them through a judge or other
leader, and brings them into peace in the Promised Land).
        These elements of the Bible story parallel our main points of the Gospel. But if we
simply tell the story, we may not be calling people to repentance and faith. Greg Gilbert
explains: “Just like the proclamation that ‘Jesus is Lord’ is not good news unless there is a way
to be forgiven of your rebellion against him, so the fact that God is remaking the world is not
good news unless you can be included in that.”2 We need to tell people how to be a part of this
wonderful story.

        There has been a temptation to push the death and resurrection of Jesus to the side of the
gospel story. We must never do this. The cross is the center of the Bible, the center of God’s
plans, and the center of all history. Without Jesus’ death and resurrection, there is no good news.
Never assume that people know about Jesus’ death and resurrection. Don’t assume that they
know why Jesus died. Make sure you lift high the cross, and explain what it means. Tell people

    Greg Gilbert, What Is the Gospel? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 106.

that everyone (yes, even you) are sinners in need of salvation. Tell them that Jesus came to die
because we can’t save ourselves.
                           WHERE DO WE BEGIN?
         We have now discussed the biblical basis for evangelism, the need for sharing the gospel,
and the content of the gospel. However, that doesn’t tell us much about how to share the gospel.
As we start to think about how we are going to share the gospel with others, it might be helpful
to think of how the gospel message has come to us and anyone else. This message is mediated
from God to his people to those who are not yet his people. All Christians heard the gospel for
the first time at some point, most likely over many conversations, or through many sermons, or
perhaps from reading a Christian book or the Bible. God did not tell us the gospel directly.
Instead, he works through his people. That is why, as we have already seen, Peter can call
Christians a “holy priesthood” and a “royal priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:5, 9). We mediate God’s
message to the unbelieving world. Therefore, we need to consider our role as God’s messengers.
         We have already given considerable attention to God and his gospel, and we will spend
time thinking about how to talk to others about Jesus. For now, let’s consider our role as the
ones who stand in between God and unbelievers.

         As Christians, we have a unique position in this world. We belong to God and our true
King is Jesus, but we find ourselves here with a mission to perform for our King. Christians
often make one of two errors. Either they assimilate to the world, trying desperately to fit in with
our culture and disobeying Jesus in the process; or they separate themselves from the world,
failing to engage it for Christ. These two opposite errors are not what Jesus wants us to do.
         On the night that Jesus was arrested, he prayed a rich and beautiful prayer to the Father.
Knowing that his death, resurrection, and ascension would soon take place, he prayed for his
followers. He prayed,
          I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from
        the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify
        them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have
        sent them into the world. (John 17:15-18)
Jesus did not ask his Father to remove the disciples from the world or place them in a Christian
bubble. He asked the Father to keep them from Satan and to make them holy through his word.
Just as the Father sent Jesus, Jesus sent his disciples. Jesus engaged with “sinners,” people
whom the religious leaders considered unclean. He expected his disciples to do the same thing.
He wanted them to be in the world, but not of the world.

 This heading comes from the title of John Stott’s excellent book on preaching: Between Two Worlds (Grand
Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982). In one chapter, “Preaching as Bridge-building,” he focuses on the need for the
preacher to build bridges between God and his revealed word in the Bible and the preacher’s human audience. The
same could be said for the evangelist who tries to connect unbelievers to God.


         According to Jerram Barrs, “The Christian’s calling is never to retreat from the world of
unbelievers into an enclave where there are only fellow Christians, nor is it a calling to personal
separation, where the only people one knows are fellow believers, for as we see in the Gospels,
Jesus lived among those who did not know him.”2 However, to be in the world is not to lose our
distinctive beliefs and way of living. “While Christians are to be in the world, they are to live
not in conformity to the standards of the world, but rather in obedience to the Father’s word, just
as Jesus did.”3 Maintaining this balance between being in the world and not being of the world
is not easy, so devout Christians often give up on the world. “Because it is so difficult to live
faithfully in the world, we are tempted to retreat from the world of sin and unbelief, and to
develop a negative and superior attitude toward our neighbors in the world.”4 Yet when we
retreat, we fail to perform the mission that Jesus gave us.
         We find ourselves between two worlds, the world of God and this present world. A great
chasm separates the two. Jesus, the God-man, perfectly filled that gap. Before his ascension, he
commanded the disciples and all Christians to be his representatives, to stand in the gap and
reconcile others to God.
         This discussion raises a question. How do we successfully negotiate following Christ, on
one hand, and bringing the gospel to the world, on the other?

        The apostle Paul uses an interesting word to describe his role as God’s representative. He
refers to himself and his associates as ambassadors. Since Christians are supposed to imitate
Paul, who was imitating Christ (1 Cor. 11:1), we can surmise that we, too, are ambassadors of
Christ. This is what Paul wrote to the church in Corinth.
                   Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what
        we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. 12 We are
        not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so
        that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and
        not about what is in the heart. 13 For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we
        are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For the love of Christ controls us, because
        we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he
        died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him
        who for their sake died and was raised.
                   From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even
        though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no
        longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has
        passed away; behold, the new has come. `18 All this is from God, who through
        Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that
  Jerram Barrs, Learning Evangelism from Jesus (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009), 12.
  Ibid., 13.

        is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their
        trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
           Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.
        We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he
        made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the
        righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:11-21)
        In the context of 2 Corinthians, Paul often uses the pronoun we to refer to himself and his
associates. He uses you to refer to the Corinthians. This fact might tempt us to think that only
people like Paul, perhaps only pastors and professional evangelists, are ambassadors for Christ.
But there are many reasons to think that all Christians are ambassadors. As noted above, Peter
indicates that all Christians are, in some way, priests, and Paul tells us that all Christians have a
role in ministry (Eph. 4:11-12). Paul also tells the Christians at Philippi that they have an
ambassadorial role. Therefore, it is reasonable to believe that all Christians are Jesus’ diplomatic
representatives on earth.
        Paul Barnett comes to the same conclusion. Commenting on this passage from 2
Corinthians, he writes, “If, as is certain, the us whom God reconciled to himself represents a
group larger than the apostles, then the corresponding us to whom God gave the ministry of
reconciliation (verse 18) must also exceed the limited number of the apostolic circle. It is,
therefore, reasonable to suppose that all believers are to be caught up in the ministry of
reconciliation.”5 Barnett observes something very interesting in this passage. The Greek word
hyper, translated as “for,” appears six times. Christ died for all Christians and it is for our sake
that he died on the cross. He represented us sinners on the cross. In his physical absence, in the
time between his two advents, we represent him on earth. We are ambassadors for Christ.6 God
makes his appeal to unbelievers through us as we share the gospel. We are the instruments he
uses to reach the world.
        What does it mean to be an ambassador? According to one dictionary, an ambassador is
“a diplomatic agent of the highest rank accredited to a foreign government or sovereign as the
resident representative of his or her own government or sovereign or appointed for a special and
often temporary diplomatic assignment.”7 The ambassador is the authorized representative of a
sovereign nation or state, sent to another nation or state. For example, the American ambassador
to China is a US citizen, authorized by the US government to represent America to the Chinese
government. He is sent from his homeland to China, where he lives temporarily, and he is
authorized to represent the US to the Chinese government. This will require that he knows all
things American (law, foreign policy, political interests, customs) quite well. He will also have
to understand the Chinese government, its policies and laws, and Chinese culture. His goal is to
influence China for America. Of course, though he will be diplomatic and friendly toward the

  Paul Barnett, The Message of 2 Corinthians, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press,
1988), 121 (italics in original).
  Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed. (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 2003).

Chinese, he will always side with America whenever there is conflict, because he has sworn
allegiance to his home country.
        Paul certainly saw himself as such an ambassador. He saw himself as one sent by the
King, Jesus, to bring people into the kingdom. According to David Garland, “He is Christ’s
spokesman. He does not act on his own authority but under the commission of a greater power
and authority who sent him. Paul therefore understands himself to be divinely authorized to
announce to the world God’s terms for peace.”8 Though Paul’s loyalty was to the kingdom of
God, he tried to understand the culture and adapt to it without compromising any of his beliefs
and without compromising his obedience to Christ. In his first letter to the Corinthians, he
                    For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I
          might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews.
          To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself
          under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I
          became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the
          law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became
          weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all
          means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share
          with them in its blessings. (1 Cor. 9:19-23)
Of course, this does not mean that Paul became a drunkard to reach drunks, or an adulterer to
reach adulterers. Rather, while being “under the law of Christ,” Paul did whatever he could to
share the gospel with others.
        Paul thought of other Christians as ambassadors, too. When he wrote to the Philippians,
he knew that he was writing to people who lived in a Roman colony, where many of the people
had Roman citizenship. Yet he told them, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel
of Christ” (Phil. 1:27). That phrase can be translated, “Only behave as citizens worthy of the
gospel of Christ.” The meaning of that phrase is clarified later in his letter when he tells the
Philippians, “But our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20). Though they were Roman citizens,
like Paul, the Philippian Christians were, first and foremost, citizens of heaven, of the kingdom
of God. They were never to forget their ultimate allegiance. And while they were away from
their homeland, they were supposed to represent their King to the world. Paul told the
          “14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and
          innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted
          generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the
          word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain”
          (Phil. 2:14-16).

    David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1999), 295.

The Philippians were supposed to shine like lights in a corrupt world, while holding fast to the
word of life. That phrase—“holding fast to the word of life”—can be translated “holding forth
the word of life.” If that is the correct translation, the emphasis is on evangelism. Either way, it
is possible that Paul is echoing the words of Jesus:
           “14 You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do
           people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to
           all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they
           may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt.
We are supposed to reflect the light of this world, Jesus, by our words and our good works. If
we are not active in the world, will anyone see our light? If we are not following Jesus, how can
we light in an otherwise dark world?

       If we are going to be effective and obedient ambassadors for Christ, we will have to do a
few things.
1. Submit to the Lord Jesus Christ
         To become a Christian is to recognize that Jesus is the true Lord of the universe. He is
our Ruler, our King. Our ultimate allegiance is to him. Though it is possible for God to use
anyone to share the gospel—just as he used Balaam to bless Israel—it is more likely that he will
use someone who loves, trusts, and obeys Jesus. If we are truly living our lives for Jesus, it will
become more natural for us to speak about him and point others to him. If we are regularly in
prayer, reading our Bibles, serving our local church, and obeying Jesus, sharing the gospel won’t
feel so foreign to us.
         Mack Stiles, who worked for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship for many years as a
campus minister and evangelist, realized that the best way to be an evangelist is to have a healthy
relationship with Jesus. “The most effective action in evangelism is having a deep and vibrant
faith. So we start with lordship—not a gospel outline or an evangelistic method, but Christ. Our
first step of evangelism is to yield to Christ’s lordship.”9 Stiles believes that this lordship can be
reflected in four ways: practicing spiritual disciplines such as Bible reading and prayer; being an
active member of a church; sharing the gospel; and daring to take a risk. 10
         We should remember that just as an American ambassador has pledged his allegiance to
the US, so we must never forget that our primary allegiance is to Jesus. This will keep us from
assimilating into the sinful culture around us even as we engage the world. We must also realize
that we cannot change the message of our homeland’s government. We have the gospel of the
kingdom of Jesus Christ and we must never alter or tamper with this message.

    J. Mack Stiles, Speaking of Jesus (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995), 28 (italics in original).
     Ibid., 29.

2. Commit to the task of evangelism
         If we are going to be effective ambassadors, we must embrace this role. Taking part in
this training is a good step, but it is just a start. We must take additional steps.
         Mark Dever suggests the following twelve steps.11
        1. Pray. We must remember that “Salvation and glory and power belong to our
        God” (Rev. 19:1). Pray for opportunities to share the gospel and start praying for
        your unbelieving family members, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. Pray that
        you would meet some more unbelievers with whom you could share the gospel.
        2. Plan. If you know unbelievers, plan on spending some time with them. We
        have to be intentional about sharing our faith. “We plan for so many less
        important things; why not plan for our evangelism?” 12
        3. Accept that evangelism is your job. Don’t wait for your pastor or another
        “super-Christian” to share the gospel with people around you.
        4. Understand that every Christian has a role to play in evangelism. “Not having
        the gift of mercy in no way excuses us from being merciful. All Christians are to
        exercise mercy; some will be particularly gifted to do this in special ways at
        certain times, but all are to be merciful. So with evangelism.” 13
        5. Be faithful. We must be more faithful to God than to our employers, our
        friends, and our family. We must obey God first.
        6. Risk. Sharing the gospel will require risk. We may risk looking like fools, or
        losing friends. We may be ridiculed or misunderstood.
        7. Prepare. Get equipped to share the gospel. If you’re reading all of this
        material, you are becoming more prepared.
        8. Look for opportunities to share the gospel. There may be unbelievers in your
        life right now who, for some reason, you’ve overlooked. They need to hear the
        gospel and you may be the only Christian they know.
        9. Love. Love God and love others so much that you share the gospel. “We share
        the gospel because we love people. And we don’t share the gospel because we
        don’t love people.”14
        10. Fear. Fear God, not man. “When we don’t share the gospel, we are
        essentially refusing to live in the fear of the Lord.”15

   Mark Dever, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007), 24-29.
   Ibid., 24.
   Ibid., 25.
   Ibid., 27.

        11. Stop making excuses. When it comes to evangelism, there are a lot of
        excuses we can make, but none of them hold up in the light of God’s word.
        12. Consider all that God is and all he has done for us. Consider God’s glory and
        love. You may need to reconsider your salvation. I don’t mean that you need to
        question whether you are saved. Rather, you might need to remember that you
        are saved only by God’s grace, and that God sent someone to share the gospel
        with you. Our gratitude for salvation may rekindle our love for God, which will
        motivate us to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others.
         We should also commit ourselves to truth. If we do not believe that Jesus is the only way
to be saved from eternal condemnation, if we do not believe that people need to hear and respond
to the gospel in order to be saved, and if we do not believe that the Bible is actually true, we
won’t feel any urgency with regard to the gospel. If the gospel is just one more story among
many, we won’t believe that people actually need it. But if we believe that the gospel is The
Story, the one about the only true God, our sin, and the only way to be reconciled to him, then
we will want to share this story with others.
         Mack Stiles believes that all evangelists need to be motivated, equipped, and available. 16
We are motivated by our love for God and for others and the fact that people need to believe the
gospel in order to be made right with God.
         We become equipped when we study the gospel, the Bible, and theology. We become
equipped when we study apologetics (which we will do later). And we become equipped when
we study the culture in which we live. “Being equipped means understanding the secular
mindset. Study trends. Think what the Bible has to say about events in our world. Our
ignorance of the secular world around us weakens our credibility to non-Christians.”17 Know the
world around you and think deeply about how the message of the Bible speaks to the issues of
today. Think about why things happen in our world. How does the Bible speak to the root cause
of evil and suffering? We can trace all of our problems and our needs back to sin and our
separation from God.
         Randy Newman, another campus evangelist, believes that equipped evangelists need to
be able to do three things: declare the gospel, defend the gospel, and dialogue the gospel. 18 The
last skill involves being able to enter into an actual give-and-take conversation about
Christianity. This requires not only proclaiming the gospel and answering questions; it also
requires asking our own questions of non-Christians, to help them think more deeply about their
own assumptions and beliefs. We will discuss this later.
         Finally, we need to make ourselves available to non-Christians. We need to enter into the
world and venture outside our Christian bubbles. We need to meet people who don’t know
Jesus. And we need to love these people, even when it is difficult.

   Stiles, Speaking of Jesus, 44ff.
   Ibid., 49.
   Randy Newman, Questioning Evangelism (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2004), 14-15.

3. Commit to people
        The previous point brings us to our final prerequisite for being an ambassador for Christ.
We will need to commit to people. It is one thing to commit to a body of knowledge or a task. It
is quite another to commit to actual people. People are messy and complicated. Relationships
require time, patience, and grace. The process of sharing the gospel requires more of us when
we commit to individual people.
        There are many ways of sharing the gospel. Some people simply invite others to church,
so the pastor can evangelize for them. Some churches organize programs in which they knock
on the doors of houses in their neighborhood, hoping to share the gospel with strangers. Others
preach outside large events, such as the Super Bowl. Some people simply show up at public
places like Pike Place Market or the local mall and hand out tracts or do street preaching.
        I don’t think that any of these ways of evangelizing are wrong, but I’m not sure that they
are effective. I think you need to have the gift of evangelism in order to be a street preacher or
engage a stranger in a gospel conversation. Most of us don’t have that gift and would not feel
comfortable evangelizing in such a manner. I tend to agree with Stiles when he writes, “talking
to strangers about faith is a lousy way to see people become Christians.” 19 Tim Chester and
Steve Timmis believe that “People want a form of evangelism they can stick in their schedule,
switch off, and leave behind when the go home.”20 However, personal evangelism—also called
friendship evangelism—requires more time, energy, and love. It requires committing to a
person, not just a message. In short, it requires treating people as people, and not just targets.
        Becoming friends with unbelievers with the intent of sharing the gospel can be a very
effective way of evangelizing. Part of the reason why I believe that this is better is because the
gospel is a more complex message than most of us assume. Telling someone the gospel may
involve several long conversations. Most people come to understand the gospel by repeated
exposure to it. In addition, when we befriend unbelievers, they will have an opportunity to see
Christians who not only tell them the gospel, but also live it out in their daily lives.
        Personal evangelism requires sharing both the gospel and our lives. Notice how Paul
includes the sharing of both the gospel and himself with the Thessalonians: “So, being
affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but
also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:8). Most unbelievers
have not had a friendship with a true Christian, someone who seeks to follow Jesus beyond
Sunday mornings. They need to hear the gospel message, but they also need to see that others
believe it and obey it.
        Committing to people will involve time, but it also involves getting to know the other
person. Before we unload a full presentation of the gospel, we would do well to try to
understand our new friend. You should start with the basics. Find out about this person’s
background. Where were they born? Where did they go to school? What is their family
situation? What do they do for work? What are their hobbies? You will most likely learn these

     Stiles, Speaking of Jesus, 43.
     Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Total Church (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 57.

things just by spending time with this person and by listening. I have found that most people
simply want someone who will listen attentively.
        When you know the basic biographical details of a person’s life, move on to deeper
things. Try to find out how this person views the world. What does he or she care for most?
What do they hope for and what do they dream about? What do they fear? Are they struggling
with a particular issue, like poor health or bad finances or broken relationships? What is/are
their idol/idols? (We all have them and if you’re a sharp observer, you will be able to recognize
someone else’s idols long before they do. You may also be able to help this person understand
that their idol will never satisfy their soul, because only Jesus can do that.)
        You will also want to let your new friend know more about you. Open up with them and
be honest about yourself. Try to find some common ground. See if you can find a common
hobby or at least some activity that you could do together. Here’s a useful equation: gospel
intention + befriending a non-Christian + time spent together = a greater chance of sharing the
gospel with someone in a meaningful way.
        Once you’ve gotten to know someone rather well, you might want to ask that person
some of the big questions in life. We’ll spend more time on asking questions later, but for now,
consider these questions:
           What is the purpose of life? (Or similar questions: What do you believe is the purpose of
           life? What is the point of life?)
           What is your greatest problem?
           What is your greatest joy?
           What are you looking forward to?
           What brings you hope?
           If you won the lottery and never had to work again, what would you do?
           Why, do you think, is there pain and suffering in the world?
Some of those questions are easier to ask than others, but don’t be afraid of asking “big
questions.” People will respond to them. It’s only when you mention God or Jesus that people
start to squirm. I was recently in a restaurant at the airport in San Francisco, waiting for my
flight. Having ordered, I was sitting there reading part of James Sire’s The Universe Next
Door21, a book comparing the Christian worldview with others worldviews. Two young men,
who just arrived in town to see the 49ers’ playoff game, sat near me. They were friendly, excited
to be in the city (they were from Wyoming, I believe) and to see the big game. One of them saw
me with the book opened and asked me what I was reading. I told him it was about worldviews:
how people view reality and the purpose of life. He said something like, “That’s deep stuff.” I
agreed. I didn’t stay much longer, but if I had more time, I could have said, “It is. So, what do
you think the purpose of life is?”

     James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door, 5th ed. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009).

       Asking these types of questions is helpful, because we know that we have the answers.
As John Stott writes, “We are also convinced that Jesus Christ either has the answers to these
questions or—in the case of intractable mysteries like pain and evil—that he throws more light
on them than can be gathered from any other source. Jesus Christ, we believe, is the fulfillment
of every truly human aspiration. To find him is to find ourselves.”22

           Are you “in the world and not of it”? How could you engage the world more fully? How
           can you make sure that you do not become “of the world”?
           Are you submitting to the lordship of Jesus in all areas of your life?
           Of the twelve steps to becoming an evangelist listed on pages 57-58, which ones do you
           need to take now?
           Do you have the proper motivation for evangelism?
           Do you feel equipped to share the gospel? What else do you need to learn?
           Have you made yourself available to meet non-Christians?
           Are you praying for opportunities to share the gospel?
           Are you praying for new non-Christian friends?
           How can you meet more non-Christians? Have you met your neighbors and coworkers?
           Are their people that you come into contact with on a regular basis that you befriend?
           (Think about anyone you see on a somewhat regular basis. Are there shops or restaurants
           that you frequent? Do you see someone in the gym or the park or somewhere else that
           you haven’t met yet?)
           Are you willing to share both your life and the gospel with others? If not, what has to
           change before you can do that?

     Stott, Between Two Worlds, 151.
                          LEARNING FROM MISTAKES
         I could continue writing about evangelism from a theoretical and abstract perspective, but
I realize that is only one way of learning. We can also learn from examples and even from
mistakes. In this section, I want to share an evangelistic experience I had. Two years ago, I
shared the gospel with a good friend of mine. There are some things that I did well, and some
things I did poorly. Since I have had two years to reflect on this experience, I have often thought
about how I could have done things better. The problem with evangelism is that we must share
the gospel in real conversations, which are conducted in real time. It is hard to plan how and
where a conversation will go, and sometimes we say foolish things or steer the conversation into
unfruitful directions. We will be better off if we pray, lean on the Holy Spirit’s guidance,
prepare our minds, and learn to think well on our feet. Please, learn from my experience,
particularly my mistakes.

         I first met Mike1 in 1995 when we were both students at Brandeis University. It was the
toward the end of my freshman year and his sophomore year. We were both interested in sports
journalism; he wrote for the campus paper and I started working for the campus radio station.
We were both covering an early spring baseball game. Over the next two years, we spent some
time together as Mike occasionally worked for the radio station. I can’t recall that we spent a lot
of time hanging out as students at Brandeis, but after he graduated, we became good friends. I
think it happened simply because I was one of the people from college who kept in touch with
him. Sometimes, simply keeping in touch with someone and caring for how he or she is doing is
enough to forge a lifelong friendship.
         Over the years, Mike and stayed in touch, as the paths of our lives diverged and,
occasionally, converged. He moved to Connecticut, then Europe for a year. I moved to Austin,
Texas for graduate school. For a time, he was particularly nomadic, moving every year or even
every few months. At one point, he decided he wanted to consider living in Austin. He visited
me twice before making that decision, and then later he moved into my apartment for a month,
sleeping on a futon before he found his own place to live. (At that time, I had a roommate, also
a Brandeis graduate, who has recently become a Christian.) A few months later, he moved
again, but every year or so we would see each other. In 2006, Mike again was feeling restless,
and Kathy and I allowed him to live in our house in North Carolina for two months. Mike is the
kind of friend who is like a brother. If he ever needed something, I would give it to him, and I
have a feeling that we will always be friends.
         Despite this close friendship, it took about fifteen years before I ever tried to share the
gospel with him. Why is that so? I suppose because my faith was small, my convictions

    I have changed my friend’s real name to Mike, in the event that my friend finds this material.


regarding evangelism were weak, and my love for God was lukewarm at best. I was also aware
that Mike knew me at a time when I made a number of mistakes in my life, before I was truly
committed to following Christ. However, in 2010, the last time I saw Mike, I decided I would
take the opportunity to share my faith with him.
        On this occasion, Mike, who now lives in Virginia, was in the area. He had just been in
Vancouver for the Winter Olympics and he came down to Everett to spend a few days in our
house. Since I was taking classes at the Pacific Northwest Campus of Golden Gate Baptist
Theological Seminary on Mondays, I thought we could drive down to Portland together. (I
thought it would be more interesting for him to spend a day in Portland rather than alone in our
house.) After driving to Portland, I dropped him off in the city, crossed the river to Vancouver
for my classes, and then returned to Portland to get Mike and return home.

        Early on a Monday morning, Mike and I got in my car and drove south on I-5. Since we
had two long drives ahead of us that day—the drive down and the drive back—I wanted to use
one of those legs of our journey to prepare a gospel-centered conversation. I figured it was best
to share the gospel on the way back. After all, if I shared the gospel on the way down and things
went poorly, we would then have a long, quiet trip back that night.
        More than just wanting to avoid awkwardness, I wanted to have a conversation that led
up to the gospel. Most of our conversations over the years were rather trivial: we talked about
sports, television, movies, and the superficial details of our lives. Occasionally, when one of us
dealt with an important life issue, like the loss of a job or a girlfriend, we talked about that.
Usually, however, we didn’t talk about the deep questions of life.
        Sometime after we drove through Seattle, I asked Mike a big question.
        “What is your goal in life? What’s your purpose?”
        Mike looked outside the passenger’s window and said, “Oh.” I instantly worried that he
knew where I was going already. I was suspecting that he was suspecting that I was about to
share the gospel, and I was worried that he would shut down. But I was wrong.
        “Well, I think it’s important to have a family. I think leaving a legacy is important.” We
talked for a while about family. I was surprised to learn that he thought it was important to be
part of a lineage, to recognize ancestors on one side, and to produce descendants on the other. I
was surprised because Mike was, and still is, single though he is a year older than I am. He has
the same girlfriend now that he had then, but they have no plans to marry or have children.
However, Mike told me that he and his girlfriend had several conversations about children and
couldn’t agree on the issue. I was surprised to learn that Mike wanted children but his girlfriend
did not.
        I was also surprised that my friend wanted to be part of something that changed the
world. At least that is what he said. This was his second purpose of life, to be part of a cause. “I
got into journalism because I saw it as a public service,” Mike told me. However, he wasn’t
covering wars or exposing corruption. Instead, he had been involved in sports journalism, often

behind the scenes, working for the websites of USA Today and Major League Baseball. He was
(and is) currently “underemployed,” writing the occasional freelance article on local sports.
Despite his personal lack of involvement in a world-changing endeavor, he told me that it was
important for him to be part of something that was larger than himself.
        Mike’s answers surprised me, though they shouldn’t have. I had known him for fifteen
years, so I should have known these things about him. His answers surprised me because they
seemed so far from his actual life. It looked as though his perception of the purpose of life was
very far away from how he was actually living his life.
        During this conversation, I asked some questions, but for the most part, I listened. At one
point, when discussing his current girlfriend, he mentioned an ex-girlfriend, one who claimed to
be a Christian. From what I knew of her, she was a Christian in name only. However, she told
my friend that her religion was important to her and after dating him for a year, she broke up
with him. I wonder if she used her “faith” as an excuse to break up with my friend, who is
Jewish and, as I learned later, puts no faith in any religion. I took this opportunity to point out
that many people—politicians, athletes, and people we know personally—claim to be Christians
and are not. I’m not sure I told him that the Bible warns of this, though if I didn’t, I should have.
At any rate, that was as close as the conversation came to the gospel.
        I also remembered that we talked briefly about death. I asked him what he thought of
dying. He said something like, “That’s a thought I try to push aside.” What he meant was that
he tried not to think about death. That is what most people do, because death is disturbing,
particularly for someone who has no hope.
What I did well
       As I reflect on this conversation with Mike, I think I did a good job in asking some
questions that could open up the doors for serious conversations, including ones about the
gospel. I am also glad that we had the chance to have a long car ride, which affords the
opportunity to speak at length, with limited distractions. I think one of the harder elements of
evangelism is having the time and the setting to talk at length.
What I didn’t do well
        I shouldn’t have waited fifteen years to have this kind of discussion with my friend. I
should have known these things earlier. However, as I wrote above, our friendship often focused
on less important things. Much of the time we spent together revolved around watching or
playing sports, watching movies, or doing other things for fun. There is nothing wrong with that,
of course, but I should have taken the time to have deeper conversations with him earlier on in
our friendship.
        I also should have spent more time in prayer. I can’t remember how much I prayed
before we got in the car, or even as we were driving.
        I also could have responded to his answers to my questions in ways that would have
pushed the conversation a bit further. For example, when he told me that he wanted to be part of
a cause, something that served the world, I should have asked him, “Why?” I later found out he
was an atheist and if I had known that clearly at the time, I would have challenged him to give

me a basis for wanting to help others. After all, if there is no God, why contribute to society?
Without God, there would be no absolute moral basis for wanting to be part of a family or a
cause, since God is the source of morality. An atheist with a consistent worldview would also
believe that there is no purpose to life other than surviving. Desiring to be part of a biological
chain of human beings would fit into that worldview, but wanting to make an impact on the
world would not.
What I could have done
        I could have directed the conversation in a way that would have led toward the gospel.
Here is what I could have done.
       Brian: Mike, you’ve told me what you believe the purpose of life is, to be part of
       a family and to be part of a cause. Is that right?
       Mike: Yes.
       Brian: Well, are you doing those things?
       Mike: Not really.
       Brian: If you truly believed that those things were the purpose of life, wouldn’t
       you be doing them?
       Mike: I’m not sure.
       Brian: Well, I think if you were convinced that those things were the purpose of
       life, you would. Can I tell you what I think the purpose of life is?
       Mike: Sure.
       Brian: I think the purpose of life is to glorify God. We do this through a
       relationship with Jesus. And since I want to glorify God, I want to tell you about
       Jesus. You see, I’m trying to be consistent with what I believe the purpose of life
General principles
        One, it is important to plan to have longer, deeper conversations than we normally do.
Finding the right environment for these conversations is very important. We may need to make
an appointment to have a gospel conversation with a friend.
        Two, it is also important to get away from distractions. There are simply too many
distractions today, from television to the Internet, to have meaningful conversations. If you are
planning to talk to someone about God, I suggest getting away from any screens (television,
computers, smart phones, etc.) Having a long car ride worked for me—I had a captive audience.
Having coffee at a coffee shop or a meal at a restaurant is good, but there can be distractions in
public places. Having someone over for dinner and conversation is a better option. Going for a
walk or a hike also eliminates some distractions and has the added advantage of calling on
another witness to God: creation.

        Three, it is important to think about how you are going to start a deep conversation that
will lead to your sharing the gospel with your friend. Prepare some questions in advance.
        Four, be sure to pray before sharing the gospel. You can offer up a short, simple,
heartfelt prayer to God, asking him to open the door for the gospel and to give you wisdom and
the right words to say.

        After our trip from Everett to Portland, I dropped Mike off in the city and went to class.
During one of my classes, I felt an increasing burden to share the gospel with my friend. In our
Old Testament class, we were talking about death. This led to a discussion of the urgency of our
mission. I was even more motivated to tell Mike about Jesus.
        After class, I drove back to Portland and met Mike in a bookstore. We hung out a bit,
and then had dinner in a nearby restaurant. By the time we left Portland to drive back to Everett,
it was about 8 p.m. I was tired and it would have been easy to avoid sharing the gospel. In fact,
it would have been more convenient to be quiet. I could justify my failure to share the gospel in
one of several ways, thus relieving myself of the burden. I wouldn’t have to get nervous as I
worried how my friend would react, and I could avoid a potentially difficult conversation. After
driving for about thirty minutes, I decided to begin.
        “Mike, I’ve known you for many years, and I’ve never talked to you about my faith.
Would you mind if I told you about what I believe?”
        At that point, Mike must have been groaning inside. I am sure he didn’t really want to
hear what Christianity was all about. But he reluctantly allowed me to deliver this message.
        From that point, I stumbled through a gospel presentation that I hadn’t prepared. It
would have been better if I gave him a concise gospel summary, but I hadn’t memorized one. So
I began with creation, and probably told him something about how Christians have different
ideas regarding how creation came about, but that all Christians agree that God created
everything. I talked about Adam and Eve, their sin, and their exile from the Garden of Eden. I
talked about Israel and how God gave them a system of animal sacrifices. I eventually got to
Jesus and the meaning of his death and resurrection. I felt like I was rambling for a long time,
and it didn’t go smoothly. It probably wasn’t an attractive presentation of the Christian faith.
What I did well
      I took a chance and shared the gospel. I unashamedly told biblical truths.
What I didn’t do well
        I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t have a concise and attractive way of sharing the core message
of the gospel. I also had no idea what my friend believed. I knew he was Jewish by birth,
though not by faith. I suppose I assumed he was agnostic or apatheistic. In other words, I didn’t
think he was an atheist per se, but I figured he was probably just apathetic towards God (hence
“apatheistic.”) As you will see, my lack of understanding about my friend’s beliefs hampered
my efforts to get him to consider Jesus.

What I could have done
       I should have started the conversation about God in a different way. I should have started
by asking what Mike thought about God or Christianity, and why he thought that way. Here’s
how the conversation could have started.
          Brian: Mike, you know I’m a Christian, right? What do you think about that?
          Mike: What do you mean?
          Brian: Well, what do you think about Christianity? What do you think about
If I had started the conversation that way, it would have saved me time, but it also would have let
me know how to approach the topic of God. My friend let me know what he thought of
Christianity nonetheless, and I was not prepared to deal with his answer.
General principles
        Before sharing the gospel, know your audience. Know what he/she/they believe. Also,
be prepared to share the gospel in a concise, attractive way. There is nothing wrong with being
prepared. It is not unspiritual to memorize a gospel outline. When we prepare, we should ask
for God’s help and rely on him, but that doesn’t give us an excuse to be lazy. I firmly believe
that the Holy Spirit works through our efforts. Sometimes he even works in spite of our poor
and misguided efforts!

        As I wrote in the previous section, Randy Newman believes that evangelists need to be
equipped to declare the gospel, defend the gospel, and dialogue the gospel. 2 I’m not sure that I
was equipped to do any of these. I had already given a poor presentation of the gospel. I had
only read one book on apologetics. And I wasn’t ready for having a dialogue, a real
conversation with questions and answers. I firmly believe that being equipped is the best way to
evangelize. God can use the unequipped, and our training doesn’t guarantee results, but there is
no excuse for not being prepared.
        After I shared my rambling version of the gospel with Mike, there was an awkward
silence? What was he thinking? Would he believe what I told him?
        “Well, what do think about that?” I asked.
        “I think religion is for people who aren’t smart enough to come up with their own moral
code,” Mike replied.
        I still don’t even know what that means. But think about all that my friend assumed. He
was assuming that morality is not objective and authoritative. Rather, in his view, people create
their own morality. He assumed that intelligent people could come with their own reasonable

    Randy Newman, Questioning Evangelism (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2004), 14-15.

moral code. He also assumed that people believe in a religion because they need a moral code.
Finally, he assumed that religious people are unintelligent and needed to be told what to believe.
You don’t need me to tell you how faulty those presuppositions are. But at the time, I didn’t
know how to handle such faulty logic.
        This is how I responded: in pride. Instead of asking, “Mike, you don’t think that I’m not
intelligent, do you?” I stated something about how I got better grades at Brandeis than my friend
did, that I always scored well on standardized tests, that I was working on my third graduate
degree, and that I was confident that I we were to stop and take an IQ test right then and there, I
would easily outscore him.
What I did well
What I didn’t do well
         Everything, I suppose. I reacted out of pride. I wasn’t patient or compassionate.
Obviously, that was not going to be effective. Instead of defending the gospel, I was defending
myself. And instead of getting my friend to think, my response was designed to embarrass and
belittle my friend.
What I could have done
      Here’s how the conversation could have gone.
       Brian: Mike, are you saying that I’m not intelligent?
       Mike: No, I didn’t mean that.
       Brian: Well, what did you mean?
       Mike: I just think that intelligent people can come up with their own morality?
       Brian: Do you think morality is created by people?
       Mike: Yes.
       Brian: Why do you think that?
       Mike: Well, I don’t know, but it seems obvious.
       Brian: Well, it doesn’t seem obvious to me. In fact, I think the idea of creating
       your own morality is immoral.
       Mike: What are you talking about?
       Brian: If each person creates his or her own morality, that person can call evil
       good and good evil. I think that’s immoral. And what happens when two people
       can’t agree on morality? Who is right and who is wrong?
       Mike: I think most people can agree on morality.

        Brian: But they don’t always. So how do you know what is right and what is
        wrong? What basis do you have to call anything moral or immoral?
If I had begun that part of the conversation that way, it could have led to a discussion of the basis
for morality. Christianity says that God is the basis for morality. People who don’t believe in
God and absolute, objective morality can never confidently say that anyone is right or wrong.
        Alternately, I could have told my friend that his statement—“I think religion is for people
who aren’t smart enough to come up with their own moral code”—is a moral statement, and
therefore he made it up, and since it is made up, it is not absolutely true.
General principles
         When debating with people, it can be helpful to do something called reductio ad
absurdum. That is a Latin term from the world of philosophy. According to one definition, “In
its most general construal, reductio ad absurdum—reductio for short—is a process of refutation
on grounds that absurd and patently untenable consequences would ensue from accepting the
item at issue.”3 In other words, if I had assumed my friend’s statement was true, that all morality
is created by human beings, then I could point out that his statement is moral—because it has
moral repercussions. Then I could point out that his moral statement was self-created, and
therefore could not be true.
         I also could have taken apart another aspect of his statement. I could have showed him
that his statement was based not on evidence but on a faith assumption. Therefore, because his
statement, which could not be proven, was a religious one, he needed some type of religion in
order to have a moral code, and both the religion and the moral code were of his own creation.
         To put it more simply: my friend’s statement was inherently unstable and untrue. There
was no evidence that supported it. He was simply making an assertion. He was begging the
question. (In philosophy, making an unsupported assertion is called “begging the question.”)
         If our friends are not open to hearing about Jesus, we may have to show them, in love,
their faulty logic and thinking. It is best to do this by asking questions that direct them to see
their lack of logic. My friend might have thought I was foolish to believe in Jesus, but I could
have pointed out that his assumptions were more foolish. I also could have showed him that his
statements rested on faith: he believed that which was not self-evident and which no one could
prove. Christianity has far more evidence than my friend’s statement could ever have.
         I should stress once again the importance of asking questions. Questions can help people
think through statements that they themselves have never questioned. Questions can open up
dialogue, whereas forcefully made statements can close down an argument. Jesus, as we will
soon see, asked many questions, and we should, too.
The truth of Christianity and the Bible
        After Mike told me that he believed that morality was created, we talked about
Christianity and the Bible. He believed that men fabricated the Bible, which in his view is a

 Nicholas Rescher, “Reductio ad Aburdum,” The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy,
http://www.iep.utm.edu/reductio/ (accessed February 12, 2012).

fairy tale designed either to comfort the self or control others. (I can’t remember which one he
said, though I have heard both arguments.) I tried to tell him that the Bible was very complex,
written over hundreds of years, and that it was very consistent in its message. I said something
like, “No one could have made this up. No one would have made this up, because there are
things in there that are potentially embarrassing, like the weakness of the disciples.” He
countered with the idea that those crafty men who created the Bible could have included those
embarrassing details, in order to lend an air of truth to their creation.
What I did well
       I insisted that the Bible was true and I gave my friend some sense of its beauty and
What I didn’t do well
        I didn’t have any great arguments lined up. I should have questioned why Mike thought
the Bible was made up. What evidence did he have? Where did he hear such things? Did he
actually ever read the Bible?
What I could have done
       I could have defended the Bible’s authenticity by presenting the evidence that comes to
us from thousands of manuscripts of the Greek New Testament. I could have told him about
what James White calls “multifocality,” the idea that the New Testament was written by many
authors at many times in many places and to many places.4 (In other words, no one central
organization or authority produced the Bible, unlike Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon.) I
personally find some of these evidences for the Bible to be very satisfying, but Mike wouldn’t
buy any of these arguments. Here’s how I could have talked to him.
           Mike: The Bible is made up. It’s just a fairy tale that some people created to
           make them feel good.
           Brian: So you’ve read the Bible?
           Mike: No.
           Brian: Then how do you know it’s made up?
           Mike: Well, I’ve heard that it was. And it has to be.
           Brian: Why? What evidence is there that it was made up?
           Mike: Well, I’m sure there is some.
           Brian: But you don’t know what it is?
           Mike: I don’t know off the top of my head.
           Brian: I think deciding whether the Bible is true or not is a pretty big decision.
           No one comes to this subject without some bias. It’s not like discussing some

    James R. White, The King James Only Controversy, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2009), 307.

       other distant historical fact, or whether Babe Ruth was a better hitter than Barry
       Bonds. If the Bible is true, it changes our life. We had better be pretty sure that
       it’s not true if we are going to make that claim. Have you ever thought about
       Mike: Not really.
       Brian: Do you want the Bible to be true?
       Mike: No.
       Brian: So you want the Bible not to be true.
       Mike: Yes, I guess so.
       Brian: Well, I want the Bible to be true. But the fact that you don’t and I do
       doesn’t mean much. The only thing that matters is whether it is true. I have some
       compelling reasons why it is true. But you don’t have any evidence that it’s not
       true. It seems that my decision is better informed than yours.
       Mike: Well, I’ve never thought about it in that way.
       Brian: Would you like to read the Bible? I think reading it is the best way to see
       whether it seems true or not. If you want, I can give you one.
That is but one way this conversation could have gone. That conversation would have been far
more productive than the one we had. It was clear that my friend had never read the Bible, and
he never did any serious research into the question of whether it was true or not. He must have
heard some atheistic arguments at some time, and he was simply repeating them to me. Most
people have never thought through these issues however, and their objections are smokescreens.
Some people don’t want Christianity to be true, because they don’t want a God to whom they are
accountable. So any argument against Christianity, no matter how simple or logically fallacious,
becomes attractive to them. If we can ask them questions that get them to think deeply about
these issues, we may help these people be more open to hearing about the gospel.
        I could have directed that conversation in yet a different way:
       Mike: The Bible is made up. It’s just a fairy tale that some people created to
       make them feel good.
       Brian: What evidence do you have?
       Mike: For what?
       Brian: Do you have evidence that someone made up the Bible?
       Mike: No.
       Brian: Then how do I know your statement isn’t a fairy tale that you made up to
       make yourself feel good?

Of course, that direction would be more aggressive. Since Mike is a long-time friend, I could
have gotten away with being so aggressive. In some cases, such an aggressive defense of
Christianity can be useful, when people are attacking our faith and have no desire to learn about
it. There are times when defending the faith in an earnest way, supported by a great deal of
evidence, is appropriate, and there are times when it is not. We must assess each situation
differently. If people are hostile to Christianity, we may need to be silent and move on, or we
may need to expose their folly. This is the difference between Proverbs 26:4 and 26:5.
General principles
       Most people who attack the Bible have never read it. If they have read it, they have
probably not tried to understand it on its own terms. If they insist that the Bible is untrue, we
should ask for evidence. If the Bible were created the way that the Book of Mormon or the
Qur’an was created, there would be cause for doubt. But this is simply not the way the Bible
came into existence. We will spend more time on the issue of the Bible later.
        At some point in our conversation, we talked about creation. This is a complicated and
divisive issue. If we can show that God created the world, or at least offer evidence to suggest
that someone or something outside the universe is responsible for creation, we can make a solid
argument for God. If, on the other hand, people can offer evidence to the contrary, then we
could doubt our faith. It is clear that a lot is at stake with regard to this issue.
        Atheists assume that the universe is a creator-less entity. They also assume that human
beings are the product of evolution or natural selection. For them, natural selection (or Nature,
or the Universe) becomes a God-substitute, an impersonal, undemanding, unknowable deity. Yet
most evolution-minded atheists have never thought through the scientific and philosophical
arguments. They have simply accepted the dogmatic stance that comes from atheistic scientists
who have begged the question, asserting their theory without proper evidence.
        My friend Mike assumed evolution was true, but it was clear he hadn’t the foggiest clue
regarding evolutionary theory. I believe I brought up the question of creation. To be honest, I
can’t remember just how the subject emerged. It might have gone something like this:
        “Let’s go back to the issue of the Bible. If God created the world, don’t you think he
would want to communicate to us somehow? Don’t you think he would want to make himself
        “I don’t think there’s a God who created the world.”
        “Then what happened?”
        “There were molecules . . . and the sun!”
        That is what he said: “There were molecules . . . and the sun!” This is a ridiculous
answer, which is why I remember it so clearly. At that point, I could have directed the
conversation in this way.
       Brian: Do you believe in evolution?
       Mike: Yes.

        Brian: Can you explain evolution?
        Mike: Explain it?
        Brian: Yes, tell me how we get from the Big Bang to human beings.
At this point, his lack of knowledge would be revealed. He would have nowhere to go. I could
then respond:
        Brian: Claiming that there is no God and that we are the products of evolution is a
        pretty big deal. There’s a lot at stake. If you’re wrong and I’m right, then that
        means eternity in hell for you. So you should consider the evidence. Have you
        ever done a lot of research on evolution?
        Mike: No.
        Brian: Have you done any serious research on intelligent design?
        Mike: No, but it’s not really science.
        Brian: How do you know, if you’ve never done the research?
        Mike: Well, I’ve heard it’s not real science.
        Brian: What if I told you that many scientists with PhDs see holes in evolutionary
        theory? Did you know that many scientists, mathematicians, and philosophers
        believe that intelligent design is a credible alternative to evolution?
        Mike: Well, I guess I’d have to look into that.
Of course, that’s not the conversation we actually had. Instead, we talked about the probability
of a universe evolving from nothing into something. Mike told me that just because something is
improbably doesn’t make it impossible. He said, “If you put enough monkeys in a room with
typewriters, one of them will type a Shakespeare play.” Again, he must have heard this
argument somewhere.
        I didn’t have this information at hand at the time, but the improbability of such a
proposition is, well, hard to wrap your brain around. Robert Marks discusses how improbable it
is to have someone (monkey or human) randomly write the King James Bible, which consists of
3,556,480 letters, not including spaces (which would have to be factored in, since at any moment
the monkey at the typewriter could type any of the twenty-six letters or space, let alone
punctuation marks, numbers, or special characters). The chances of randomly writing the KJB
are 263,556,480 or 3.8 x 105, 032,232. “This is a number so large it defies description.”5
        To allow us to think about probabilities in a more relatable way, Marks suggests we
consider the odds of randomly creating this phrase: IN THE BEGINNING GOD CREATED.
The odds of randomly generating this phrase are 2728 or 1.20 x 1040. That seems a lot smaller,

 Robert J. Marks II, “Evolutionary Computation,” in Evidence for God, ed. William A. Dembski and Michael R.
Licona (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2010), 93.

doesn’t it? “The chance of a monkey typing 28 letters and typing these specific words is the
same as choosing a single atom from over one trillion tons of iron.” 6
        Of course, even if I knew these numbers, I doubt that Mike would be persuaded. Rather,
I should have asked him a simple question: “Who created the monkeys?” To have a proper
analogy between our hypothetical monkeys typing Shakespeare and the origin of the universe,
there would have to be some analogy between the monkeys who created, however blindly, and
someone or ones (or something or things) that created the universe. Of course, if we’re talking
about God, we know that he is not created and he did not create the universe randomly or
blindly. He created the universe with purpose, which is why our lives have meaning.

        After debating some of these issues regarding Christianity, I finally said to Mike, “Look,
I wouldn’t be telling you these things if I didn’t believe Christianity was true. If you had a fatal
disease and I knew of the cure, wouldn’t you want me to tell you?” Mike asked, “What do you
mean?” Here, I dropped a theological bomb: “You’re a dead man.”
        I had Ephesians 2:1-2 in mind: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which
you once walked.” We are all born spiritually dead. We only become spiritually alive if we
believe in Jesus. Perhaps I was being hyperbolic, over the top. Perhaps I just wanted to shock
my friend into thinking about the consequences of rejecting Christ. I can’t say for sure, but I
know he will never forget that comment.
        I tried to explain that to Mike that I needed Jesus as much as he did. I explained that all
of us are sinners. I told him that the more I know Jesus and his holiness, the more I am aware of
my sin and inner corruption. This shocked Mike, as it tends to shock everyone else. When I tell
people that Christianity is not a religion, a manmade system of self-justification, they are always
surprised. I generally say something like, “All other religions say, ‘Do this and you will reach
heaven/nirvana/paradise.’ Christianity says, ‘You can’t be good enough to reach heaven. That is
why God had to come down and become a man.’” I still think this is a good way to talk about
why Christianity is radically different from other faiths.
        This conversation, however, went no further. We were at an impasse. We agreed to
move on to another topic, though the tension of our conversation lingered on.

        Obviously, there were many things that I did wrong: I wasn’t prepared, I didn’t have a
plan, and I didn’t know how to ask the right questions that would lead to a real dialogue. I had
the best of intentions and because I care for my friend, I want to see him believe in Jesus.
However, good intentions are not enough. There is a reason why people say the road to hell is
paved with them.

    Ibid., 94 (italics in original).

        I can second-guess my efforts. Perhaps I should have prayed more. I certainly should
been more prepared. I should have known what Mike believed about God before I tried to tell
him the gospel. All these things are true. But at the end of the day, even if I had done all these
things, I still may not have been successful. I was satisfied that I made a good effort to tell my
friend about Jesus. I should have done this much earlier in our relationship.
        Part of my problem is that I wasn’t patient. I thought I had to have a one-sitting gospel
conversation. I assumed I would only have one time to tell my friend about Jesus. If I had gone
slower, trusting God that he would give me more than one opportunity to tell my friend the good
news of Jesus Christ, I might have been more productive. It is very difficult to balance a sense
of urgency and concern for our lost friends with patience and trust in God.

         A few weeks later, Mike called me. He wanted to talk about our intense conversation. I
was hoping that he had been thinking about my words and decided he wanted to hear more.
Unfortunately, that was not the case. Instead, he wanted to know if we could continue to be
friends. He told me that if he got married, he would want to have me as his best man, because
that is the kind of friend I have been to him. But now he wasn’t so sure. He was worried that I
would always be judging him or pitying him for not believing in Jesus. He was also worried that
I would always proselytize him whenever we talked. I assured him that I didn’t think less of him
for not being a Christian, even though I wanted him to be one. I told him I wouldn’t always
thump him with a Bible or give him a fire-and-brimstone sermon when we talked.
         Even with this understanding, our relationship has certainly been changed, and not for the
better. In the last two years, I have talked to my friend infrequently. He left our house about two
days after this conversation and since he lives in Virginia, I haven’t seen him since. However,
we did talk for about an hour just over a week ago. It was the first time we had talked since the
previous July, a span of about six or seven months. During this last conversation, I didn’t
mention my faith, though I talked about church because it’s an important part of my life. I have
hope that at an appropriate time, perhaps when I see him in person again, I can refer back to the
conversation and try to correct what I did wrong. All I have to do is ask, “Do you remember that
conversation we had on the car trip back from Portland?” The beauty of sharing the gospel with
a friend is that our friendship can continue even if he or she rejects the gospel. Once we have
opened up the subject of Jesus, we can always come back to it, if we are sensitive to our friends
and the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

       How have your attempts at evangelism gone? Have you ever felt like a fool? Have you
       felt ill-equipped and unprepared?

Do you have lost friends that you are praying for now? If so, do you know what they
believe about God and the purpose of life? Can you think of non-threatening ways of
asking them about their beliefs?
Have you ever “blown it” with a friend? Can you revisit the conversation about Jesus?
(Pray that God would give you another chance.)
What are you doing now to become sufficiently equipped for evangelism?
Does the Holy Spirit work through our preparation, or does becoming equipped somehow
interfere with his work? If a preacher prepares for a sermon, can he still trust in the Holy
Spirit’s work?
How does the role of patience enter into evangelism?
How can the right questions help us in sharing and defending the gospel?
                   LEARNING FROM JESUS (PART I)
        Do you think of Jesus as a preacher and an evangelist? We don’t normally think of Jesus
as a preacher, yet he preached: “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the
kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matt. 4:17). And we don’t often think of him as an evangelist,
yet he shared the good news: “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming
the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent
and believe in the gospel’” (Mark 1:14-15). I suppose the reason we don’t think of Jesus as an
evangelist is because he was not only a messenger of the gospel, but in a very real sense he was
the gospel.
        Jesus didn’t have to go around explaining the God-man-Jesus-response message. The
reason is rather simple: he lived in a context in which that wasn’t necessary. The Jews that he
met already believed in God and sin, and they were anticipating the Messiah. They knew the
Old Testament passages that spoke of the Son of David, the Son of Man, and the Suffering
Servant. Jesus simply had to indicate that he was the long-awaited One who would fulfill these
Old Testament prophecies. When people believed in Jesus, they were putting their faith in his
gospel message. When they rejected Jesus, they were rejecting the gospel.
        With this in mind, let us look at how Jesus approached sinners, those who were lost and
in need of salvation. No one in the Bible did this more than Jesus did. As Jerram Barrs
observes, “If we stop and think practically about this issue, it is . . . clear that by far the greatest
number of passages in the Bible that describe encounters with unbelievers, and the
communication of truth to them, come in the four Gospel accounts of the ministry of Jesus.”1
        As Christians, we should all want to be more like Jesus. He is not merely an example,
but in many ways, he serves as the perfect example of how to obey God. “He is the best example
of how we are to live before unbelievers and how we are to love them, serve them, and speak
truth to them.”2

        This famous passage has much to say about worship and Jesus’ identity. But it is also a
great example of how Jesus crossed the barriers of race, religion, gender, and sin in order to save
the lost.
                    Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was
           making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (although Jesus himself did not
           baptize, but only his disciples), 3 he left Judea and departed again for Galilee.
             And he had to pass through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town of Samaria called
           Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob's well was

    Jerram Barrs, Learning Evangelism from Jesus (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009), 17.


            there; so Jesus wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It
            was about the sixth hour. (John 4:1-6)
        Jesus had been in Judea, not far from Jerusalem, when the Pharisees heard about Jesus’
growing ministry. Perhaps to avoid conflict with that group of men, Jesus departed for Galilee,
to the north. The region between Judea and Galilee was Samaria.
        This region had once been part of the united kingdom of Israel. Following Solomon’s
death, the kingdom split into two kingdoms: Judah in the south and Israel in the north. Assyria
besieged Israel and captured Samaria (the name of the capital of the northern kingdom), taking
some of the Israelites into exile. After Samaria was captured, foreigners came into the land and
settled there (2 Kgs. 17:24). These foreigners intermarried with the surviving Israelites.
Therefore, Samaritans were of mixed race and Jews viewed them as unclean half-breeds.
        The Samaritans had their own form of Scripture, which was a corrupted form of the
Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible). The Samaritan Pentateuch said that Mount
Gerizim was the place of worship and around 400 BC, the Samaritans built a temple there, one to
rival the temple in Jerusalem. The Samaritans’ temple was destroyed in the second century BC,
but they continued to believe that worship was supposed to be conducted on Mount Gerizim.
        What is important is the view that Jews had towards Samaritans. “In Jesus’ time the Jews
hated the Samaritans even more than they despised ‘pure’ Gentiles, for they regarded them as
polluting the blood of the patriarchs.”3 When the Jewish leaders tried to slander Jesus, they
asked him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” (John 8:48).
        It has been said that Jews avoided traveling through Samaria at all costs. This is not quite
true. Many Jews passed through Samaria when traveling from Galilee to Jerusalem, because it
was the shortest route. Some would cross the Jordan River and travel on the eastern side, but this
was Gentile territory. Some commentators believe that the statement, “he had to pass through
Samaria” (John 4:4), indicates that Jesus had a divine appointment. The Father wanted him to
speak to this woman.
        Jesus had been traveling for several hours with his disciples and it was now noon. He
would have been tired and thirsty. It would have been natural for him to seek a well so that he
could have a drink.
                     A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me
            a drink.” 8 (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) 9 The
            Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from
            me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus
            answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you,
            ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you
            living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water
            with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater
            than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his

    Ibid., 38.

        sons and his livestock.” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water
        will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will
        never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring
        of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this
        water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” (John 4:7-
        It was about noon. Usually, women came in groups to the well, and they often came
earlier or later in the day, when the heat of the sun was not as strong and oppressive. This
particular woman was probably ostracized by her community because of her immoral life. Jesus,
left alone by the disciples, does not ostracize the woman. Rather, he asks her for some water.
        The woman is incredulous. How can a Jewish man ask a Samaritan woman for water?
Jesus is transgressing two boundaries at once. John lets his readers know that Jews had no
dealings with Samaritans. But here, Jesus is alone with a foreign woman.
        Though Jesus asks the woman for a drink, he is the one who has something to offer. He
lets her know that he is someone special who has come to give “living water.” John 7:37-39
makes it clear that this living water is the Holy Spirit. The woman at first does not understand
what Jesus is saying. She thinks in narrowly literal terms. “How can you give me water if you
have nothing to draw it with?” Jesus lets her know that what he is offering will satisfy her
completely. It is unlike anything else in this world. By describing what he offers in this way,
Jesus is presenting the gospel to this woman in a very positive light. Of course, it is not the full
gospel, but what he says makes her interested in learning more.
        As we will now see, Jesus could have condemned her for her sinful life, but he does not.
He treats her like a human being, with dignity and respect. She is one that he made in his image.
(Jesus is the co-creator of the universe. How wonderful to think of him entering into his own
creation and interacting with people he made!) Though that image is marred by sin, it is not
beyond redemption.
                   Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” `17 The
        woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in
        saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you
        now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” (John 4:17-19)
       Now we learn this woman’s secret. She has had five husbands and is now living with
another man. This is probably why she is alone at the well in heat of day. Mack Stiles believes
she may have been at the well hoping to find yet another man, one traveling through town. 4 This
woman could have interpreted Jesus’ request for water as flirtation. 5 Jesus tells her to go find her
husband. He may be doing this in an effort to repel any possible advances she is making. But he

 J. Mack Stiles, Speaking of Jesus (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995), 112.
 Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press,
1993), 272.

also reveals his knowledge of her life, which is made clear in verses 17-18. Again, Jesus does
not condemn, but he brings her sin into the light.
          The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers
       worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where
       people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is
       coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the
       Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for
       salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the
       true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is
       seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him
       must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah
       is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.”
          Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” (John 4:19-26)
        Since Jesus knows about the woman’s sins and is able to tell her how many husbands she
had, she assumes that he is a prophet. The woman then switches to a theological topic. This
may or may not be a smokescreen. In other words, it is possible that she wants to leave the very
personal topic of her sin and move on to something more theoretical and impersonal, like proper
worship practices. Nevertheless, Jesus answers her and in so doing, he teaches us something
very important about worship.
        Jesus tells her that soon worship will not be limited to Mount Gerizim or Jerusalem, or
anywhere else. True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. I think it is accurate
to say that true worshipers will worship the Father through the Truth (Jesus, our great high
priest) by the power of the indwelling Spirit. Jesus is teaching this woman that true worship will
go through him, the true temple, and will be enabled by the Spirit that he will soon give to his
followers. Thus, Jesus answers the woman’s comment about worship, but he does so in a way
that leads her to consider him as the true object of worship.
        Jesus’ revelation about true worship prompts the woman’s comment about
Messiah/Christ (the Hebrew/Greek words for “the anointed one”). It seems that she is beginning
to understand who Jesus is. Lest she (or we) miss the point, Jesus tells her that he is indeed the
Messiah. This is his way of sharing the gospel with her.
               Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with
       a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with
       her?” (John 4:27)
       When the disciples return, they cannot believe that Jesus is talking to a Samaritan woman.
What is he doing? Why is he talking with her? Of course, the disciples do not say such things,
but they think them. Ironically, their attitudes were much like the Pharisees, who couldn’t
understand why Jesus spent time with sinners. Some rabbis considered talking to women and
teaching them a waste of time—how much more a Samaritan woman!

         So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the
       people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the
       Christ?” 30 They went out of the town and were coming to him. (John 4:28-30)
         After the disciples interrupt her conversation with Jesus, the woman hurries off into town
to tell people about this amazing man. Her encounter with Jesus and her subsequent reaction
provide a model for telling others about Jesus. If we are so captivated by Christ, we should tell
others, too.
                  Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But
       he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the
       disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?”
          Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to
       accomplish his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes
       the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white
       for harvest. 36 Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit
       for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the
       saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for
       which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their
       labor.” (John 4:31-38)
        At first glance, this conversation may seem unrelated to Jesus’ encounter with the
Samaritan woman. But notice how the disciples, like the woman, are focused on literal
nourishment, while Jesus is directing them to greater truths. The woman thought Jesus was
talking about well water, when he was talking about the Holy Spirit. Now the disciples are
thinking about food while Jesus is thinking about his Father’s mission.
        When Jesus says, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his
work,” he may be referring to Deuteronomy 8:3b: “man does not live by bread alone, but man
lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” The Father’s will is what sustains
Jesus. He tells his disciples that there is a crop ready for harvest. The “crop” refers to those who
will become followers of Jesus. The disciples need to reap the labor that God has prepared
through his prophets, from Abraham to John the Baptist and even Jesus himself.
                 Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the
       woman's testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans
       came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days.
          And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is
       no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for
       ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” (John 4:39-
        Now look at the results of Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman. She went to
tell others in town what Jesus had told her. Many Samaritans came to faith through this

woman’s testimony. Jesus stayed in town for two days, preaching the word to them. Ultimately,
many came to faith through Jesus’ words.
Learning from Jesus
        We can learn many things from Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well. The first
and most obvious is Jesus’ willingness to cross all kinds of barriers to reach this woman. We
must not forget how a Jewish male would have viewed a sinful Samaritan woman at this time in
history. “From the perspective of most devout Jewish males at the time, this woman had four
distinguishing marks against her: her race, her religion, her gender, and her sin. These four
things set her apart from the possibility of any kind of social relationship.” 6
        Who are the “unclean” people we would rather not talk to? Imagine the worst “sinner”
you can imagine. Would you be willing to talk to a lesbian working for Planned Parenthood? A
drug addict? A tattoo-covered, dangerous-looking, foul-mouthed man? Imagine this: Jesus
would talk to them. We should also ask ourselves, If we don’t tell them about Jesus, who will?
        Some of us use excuses not to talk to certain people. We tell ourselves that by talking to
certain people, we will be drawn into sin. No one can make you sin but yourself. If you have a
certain weakness, you may not want to be in a situation in which you will be tempted beyond
what you can handle. In certain cases, the best thing to do is flee temptation. But we must not
use this as an excuse. Consider once again the example of Jesus.
        Of course, Jesus was not sinning by talking to this woman. He may have been
transgressing the rules of the Pharisees, who added to God’s law many other rules of their own.
Similarly, many evangelical Christians like to add rules to the Bible. To put it bluntly: this is
wrong and it must stop, for it interferes with evangelism. Some Christians assume certain things
are sins even though the Bible doesn’t call them sins. These same Christians often commit sins
of omission by ignoring commands to love their neighbors (even their enemies) and share the
gospel. In doing these things, they are like Pharisees, to whom Jesus said, “You leave the
commandments of God and hold to the tradition of men” (Mark 7:8). Let us never think that we
know better than God what is sin and what isn’t.
        Jerram Barrs writes, “God forbids us to add to his laws, yet doing so is one of the most
obvious characteristics of much of our evangelical culture. Many of these rules are created for
the specific purpose of preventing us, and especially our children, from being together with those
outside the church.”7 These added rules keep us away from the very people that need the gospel.
They also send the wrong message about Christianity. Instead of communicating that
Christianity is a religion based on God’s grace, when we adhere to a rigid system of manmade
rules, we communicate that Christianity is a religion based on works and merit, just like every
other religious system.
        The second lesson we can learn from Jesus is the way he treats this woman with respect
and dignity. We should treat all people with respect and dignity, for God created them in his
image (even though sin has stained that image). By asking her for a drink of water, he

    Barrs, Learning Evangelism from Jesus, 110.
    Ibid., 47.

acknowledges that he needs help and that she is able to help him. We, too, would do well to
make ourselves vulnerable to unbelievers by acknowledging the good things that they offer.
Asking someone for help is a way of opening lines of communication.
        The third lesson is that Jesus offers the woman a positive message. Though she is a
sinner, he does not condemn her. Think about that for a moment. Jesus is the only one who can
pull off a “holier than thou” attitude, because he is sinless. Every other person is a sinner,
equally deserving of condemnation. But Jesus does not condemn this woman. Instead, he talks
to her about living water. It is an attractive message, and the way he presents it provokes her to
ask a question. When he continues to talk about the superiority of his living water, she tells him
to give her this water. I doubt this woman knew exactly what Jesus was talking about, but she
knew Jesus was offering something desirable and something better than what the world can
        Sadly, Christians are often known by what they oppose, not what they offer. The world
knows we are against certain sins. Yet the world doesn’t know that we offer a message of hope
and love, of forgiveness and grace. We have to tell the world about the positive aspects of the
gospel, not just the negative aspects, like sin and judgment. Jesus revealed this woman’s sin, but
he did it in a non-threatening way. He saw that she was thirsting for the living water, he revealed
her need (her sin), and then he offered himself.
        As we engage people by getting to know them and by asking them questions, we should
be able to determine whether they are interested in hearing about Jesus. If they show some
interest, we can then point out the universal need for salvation and tell them about the Savior.

        Another episode from John’s gospel reveals how Jesus treated sinners. Actually, these
verses do not appear in the earliest Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, as well as the
earliest manuscripts translated into other languages, like Syriac, Coptic, and Old Latin. The
early church Fathers do not comment on this passage. When this passage appears in later
manuscripts, it is often marked off by asterisks. Some manuscripts place this passage after John
7:36, John 7:44, John 21:25, and even Luke 21:28. Apparently, these verses are not part of the
original gospel of John.
        Yet this account of the woman caught in adultery has a ring of truth to it. After
acknowledging that this passage is certainly not part of the original Bible, D. A. Carson writes,
“On the other hand, there is little reason for doubting that the event here described occurred,
even if in its written form it did not in the beginning belong to the canonical books.”8 He then
adds, “The reason for its insertion here may have been to illustrate 7:24 and 8:15 [both concern
judgment] or, conceivably, the Jews’ sinfulness over against Jesus’ sinlessness (8:21, 24, 46).” 9

  D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI:
Eerdmans, 1991), 333.
  Ibid., 334.

        Though the passage appears not to be part of the inspired word of God, it may very well
be a true account of what Jesus did and said, passed on orally until it was written down and
inserted in later manuscripts. We cannot be sure. However, we can read it and learn from it as
long as we are careful not to build an entire theology on it. (The same is true of the ending of
Mark’s gospel.)
                    They went each to his own house, 1 but Jesus went to the Mount of
        Olives. 2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to
        him, and he sat down and taught them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a
        woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst 4 they said
        to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. 5 Now in the
        Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” 6 This
        they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus
        bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 And as they continued to ask
        him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the
        first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once more he bent down and wrote on the
        ground. 9 But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the
        older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus
        stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
           She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and
        from now on sin no more.” (John 7:53-8:11)
        This passage is in some ways similar to the previous one, in that Jesus encounters a sinful
woman. However, here we see the great contrast between Jesus and the scribes and the
Pharisees. These men have caught this woman in adultery. How they caught her, we do not
know. Carson also observes, “Adultery is not a sin one commits in splendid isolation: one
wonders why the man was not brought with her. Either he was fleeter of foot than she, and
escaped, leaving her to face hostile accusers on her own; or the accusers themselves were
sufficiently chauvinistic to focus exclusively on the woman.”10 The man was just as guilty as the
woman was, but these Jewish leaders are not concerned about justice. Rather, they come to test
Jesus, who is teaching at the temple.
        Jesus does not answer them immediately. Instead, he bends down to the ground, writing
something on it with his finger. It is impossible to know what he wrote. One early interpretation
had Jesus writing Jeremiah 17:13: “O LORD, the hope of Israel, all who forsake you shall be put
to shame; those who turn away from you shall be written in the earth, for they have forsaken the
LORD, the fountain of living water.”11 Jerram Barrs thinks Jesus may have written the Ten
Commandments. “The passage that most obviously comes to mind is the account of the tablets
of the law being inscribed by the finger of God [Deut. 10:1-5].”12 Even if his guess is not
correct, somehow his action and his words—“Let him who is without sin among you be the first
   Ibid., 335.
   Barrs, Learning Evangelism from Jesus, 27.

to throw a stone at her”—convicted these self-righteous men, who left without a word. “We
must realize that—whatever it is that Jesus is writing—the effect is to cause each man present to
remember his own most serious sins, the most morally embarrassing moments of his life. It is as
if each one of them is standing half-naked and exposed (just like this poor woman) before the
judgment seat of God and crowds of onlookers.”13
        Once the men leave, Jesus tells the woman that he does not condemn her. But he also
tells her to “go, and from now on sin no more.”
Learning from Jesus
        We can learn from both the negative example of the scribes and Pharisees and the
positive example of Jesus.
        The Jewish leaders came to test Jesus, probably because they knew he interacted with
sinners. He ate and drank with sinners (Matt. 11:19), which caused the religious men of the day
great consternation. They probably assumed that Jesus was soft on sin. By bringing this woman
to Jesus, they would force him to either condemn the woman or prove that he wasn’t righteous.
        The actions of these men show how self-righteous they are. They believe that they are
morally superior to this woman. In a certain sense, they are, assuming they haven’t done
anything as destructive as committing adultery. In God’s view, however, they are just as sinful.
We would do well to remember the words of James:
                       If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall
            love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. 9 But if you show partiality,
            you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For
            whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all
            of it. 11 For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If
            you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the
            law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty.
               For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy
            triumphs over judgment. (James 2:8-13)
         Jesus, of course, corrects these men by showing them their sin. “Jesus shows them that
they also deserve judgment. If they can show no mercy to her, no mercy will be shown to them.
Whoever sees their own sin can no longer accuse and condemn other people, however serious
their sin may be.”14 We are not supposed to be like these accusing men, approaching unbelievers
with condemning words. If we begin with an emphasis on sin, we are neither starting with the
beginning of the gospel message (God), nor are we communicating the attractive and hopeful
parts of it (forgiveness and eternal life). People who do not believe in God do not believe in sin,
and we shouldn’t expect them to.

     Ibid., 28.

        According to the great Welsh preacher D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “To expect Christian
conduct from a person who is not born again is heresy.”15 He was surely overstating the point,
but he meant that we shouldn’t expect unbelievers to behave as though they were Christians. We
can’t say to an unbeliever, “Surely you remember what Jesus said about lust . . .” and expect to
be understood. We do have to talk about sin, of course, but it shouldn’t be the first thing that we
mention. It would be better to mention God’s grace and love first.
        Jesus does not call us to judge the world. Rather, he calls us to be his witnesses in the
world. This means that we will have to witness to sinful people. Some of them will be
committing big sins, like these two women we have seen. When we judge unbelievers, we forget
what Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
                    I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral
           people—10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy
           and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.
              But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name
           of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler,
           drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do
           with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?
              God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Cor. 5:9-
        Jesus reserved his toughest comments for the “insiders,” those who knew the Old
Testament law and acted contrary to the spirit of that law. We must not act like Pharisees.
Rather, we must balance telling the world the truth about God, sin, and Jesus, with being
gracious and loving. When we consider our own sin and our own need for God’s grace, we are
less likely to condemn others. We need to be like Jesus, neither condemning the sinner nor
condoning the sin. Instead, in love and compassion, we need to point people to Jesus.
        This passage is a wonderful one to read to people who do not yet know Jesus. Imagine
asking this simple question: “Can I read to you a short passage from the Bible that shows who
Jesus is?” Then you can read these twelve verses, explain what is going on (who the scribes and
Pharisees are, what the Old Testament said about adultery, etc.), and then highlight how, for the
believer, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom.
8:1). You can also show how believers in Christ are supposed to “go, and from now on sin no

       Yet another episode in the gospels illustrates the differences between Jesus and the
Pharisees. Jesus is the loving and forgiving friend of sinners, whereas the Pharisees are self-
righteous men who try to justify themselves through their outward obedience to the law.

     D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1976), 17.

                       One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the
           Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city,
           who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's
           house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his
           feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the
           hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now
           when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man
           were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is
           touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I
           have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”
                       “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred
           denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of
           both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I
           suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have
           judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see
           this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has
           wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss,
           but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not
           anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore
           I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he
           who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
              Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who
           is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has
           saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:36-50)
        The scene of this passage is the home of Simon, a Pharisee. Simon has asked Jesus to
come to his house and eat. As they are eating, a woman comes to Jesus with a flask of ointment.
She cleans Jesus’ feet in a most unusual way, by wetting his feet with her tears, wiping his feet
with her hair, and then kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. As the whole
passage reveals, she is a “sinner” who has been forgiven by Jesus. Her act of service flows out
of love and gratitude.
        In stark contrast to this woman is Simon. He knows this woman is a sinner, perhaps
because her sin is similar to the Samaritan woman’s. “From the way Simon thinks about her we
should probably assume that she is either a prostitute or a woman who has been sexually
promiscuous in such an open way that the whole community knows about her immoral life.” 16
Simon assumes that Jesus cannot truly be a prophet because he seems not to be bothered by the
sinful woman. Simon wrongly assumed that a man of God could not have fellowship with

     Barrs, Learning Evangelism from Jesus, 133.

        Jesus was aware of his reputation among the scribes and Pharisees. He ate and drank
with unrighteous people; therefore, the Jewish leaders called him “a glutton and a drunkard, a
friend of tax collectors and sinners!” (Luke 7:34). Jesus knows what Simon is thinking, so he
tells him a short parable. A moneylender has two debtors. One of them owed five hundred
denarii, about one and a half year’s wages. The other owed fifty denarii, about two months’
wages.17 The moneylender forgives both the debtors. Who will love him more? (Or, to put it
another way, who will be more grateful?) The answer is easy: the one who has been forgiven
        Then Jesus tells Simon that that he, the host, did not wash Jesus’ feet, but the woman did.
Gracious hosts usually had their servants wash the feet of the guest. Apparently Simon did not
think Jesus was worthy of this honor, but the woman did. Simon did not greet Jesus with a holy
kiss, but the woman kissed Jesus’ feet. Simon did not anoint Jesus’ head with oil, but the woman
anointed Jesus’ feet with ointment. The point is clear: Jesus forgives this woman, and out of her
love and gratitude, she is honoring him. She worships him. Simon, however, does not.
Learning from Jesus
        Though we are not God and do not have the ability to forgive sins, we can be like Jesus in
not holding the pasts of unbelievers against them. This woman has obviously committed many
sins. Jesus says so. However, he treats her with love and respect. He doesn’t use the woman’s
past failures as a club with which to beat her. “We are being shown by Jesus’ example and
teaching that true righteousness, truly knowing God and being a follower of Christ, does not
mean despising sinners or separating ourselves from them—although it is very widely taught
among evangelical Christians today that this is precisely what Christian faith means.” 18
        We can learn from the woman, too. Her actions paint a very beautiful picture of a
forgiven person worshiping her Savior in love and gratitude. Christians should be joyful and
should praise Jesus for making salvation possible. We should show our appreciation of him by
giving him our best, just as this woman does.
Don’t be a Pharisee
        Unfortunately, we can learn a lot from the negative example of Simon. When he looks
upon this sinful woman, all he can see is her sin. Apparently, he does not think of himself as a
sinner in need of God’s grace. Of course, it is clear from this passage that he does not believe
that Jesus is God. Not yet, anyway.
        Self-righteous people, like Simon or the other Pharisees we meet in the gospels, do not
realize the depth of their sin or the height of God’s holiness. If they realized how holy God is,
they would never think for a moment that they could justify themselves through their good
works. Simon should have been familiar with Isaiah 64:6:
                   We have all become like one who is unclean,
                         and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.

     Robert H. Stein, Luke, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1992), 237.
     Barrs, Learning Evangelism from Jesus, 141.

                   We all fade like a leaf,
                          and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
Unfortunately, even Christians can forget that they are justified by God’s grace, not because of
their works. Christians have sometimes looked down on others and paraded their righteous
deeds. Sadly, some Christians even think of this as witnessing.
        I have heard Christians boast of such self-righteous “evangelism.” I remember one man
saying that when he and his family were at the movies, he told the man behind him to stop
swearing. In a separate conversation, I heard his wife say that the other people at her workplace
know she is a Christian because she doesn’t swear. Both the husband and wife thought that they
were witnessing by showing others their good morals.
        I have frequently quoted Jerram Barrs, the author of Learning Evangelism from Jesus. In
this book, he gives two real examples of Christians who gave such witness. These examples are
worth quoting at length.
            One person told me that one day at work, she had criticized her fellow employee
            for the soft porn novels sitting on her desk. She had told the other woman that
            they were offensive to her as a Christian. I asked what the effect of this was. She
            replied that the woman had told everyone else in the office about it during the
            coffee break; and then, the next day, the woman asked her to remove her Bible
            from her desk, because she found it offensive.
                    An even sadder example came from a young man who started working at a
            garage. On the first day he was deeply upset by the ‘girly’ posters prominently
            displayed in the work area. He denounced the posters to the other men, telling
            them how offended he was, and he gave them a stern lecture about sexual purity
            and God’s condemnation of lustful thoughts. The next day the men had obtained
            some far worse posters of pornographic images and tacked them to the walls. The
            young man immediately resigned his position. He told me this story because he
            was proud of his actions. He had been a good witness to Christ, and then he had
            been persecuted for righteousness’ sake. 19
        Some of us may think that those two people were being good witnesses. But let us stop
and think. What message did these people communicate through their actions? Did they
indicate something of God’s love and grace? Or did they just let their colleagues know that they
were morally superior? How were their actions different from a Mormon’s or a Muslim’s?
        Jesus, who was without sin, had the right to look down on sinners, and he did not. The
only ones he condemned were the self-righteous. When he interacted with “sinners” such as tax
collectors, prostitutes, and adulteresses, he offered himself as an alternative to their sin. He
didn’t overlook or condone their sin, but he also didn’t condemn them. He spoke to them with
compassion, grace, and love.

     Ibid., 113.

        Since we are sinners saved only by God’s grace, we should also be compassionate and
loving towards people still enslaved by sin. We should realize that, but for the grace of God, we
would be like them. We don’t ever want to excuse or condone sin, but we do want to have the
opportunity to share the gospel in a loving way. If we act as though we are morally superior to
them—as if we had saved ourselves through our upright behavior—then we are communicating
the wrong message and we won’t have the opportunity to make friends with whom we can share
the gospel. As in the two examples above, we may actually create a wall between unbelievers
and us.
        If we have the chance to communicate one thing about the gospel to unbelievers, it
should be this: we Christians are sinners who have been saved by God’s grace through faith, not
through our righteous works. If we point how we much we need Jesus and tell them about how
God has changed us, we will be more likely to have a positive conversation about the gospel. If
we arrogantly and gracelessly show off our superior Christian ethics, we are not communicating
the gospel to anyone. In fact, we may need to reconsider the gospel message ourselves.

       How have you interacted with unbelievers? Have you ever been like the Pharisees?
       Have you ever acted like Jesus?
       Have you ever added rules to the Bible’s teachings? Does this help or hamper
       How can you point to Jesus and God’s grace when talking to unbelievers? Can you do
       this without condoning their sinful behaviors?
       When you see people in sin, how can you point them to the Savior instead of your
       superior morality?
       Who are the Samaritans in your life? That is, who are the people that seem “unclean” to
       How can you cross barriers like Jesus to reach unbelievers?
       Stop and think about the ways you have come across to non-Christians. If you have been
       self-righteous, take a moment to confess this to God. Repent of having such a proud
       attitude and think of how you can avoid acting that way in the future.
        Let us continue to look at how Jesus interacts with different people, from those who are
eager to know him to those who are eager to test him.

       In this passage, we see Jesus interact with Zacchaeus, whose profession would have made
him an outcast in society, even though he was rich.
          He entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And behold, there was a man
        named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 And he was
        seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because
        he was small in stature. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree
        to see him, for he was about to pass that way. 5 And when Jesus came to the place,
        he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay
        at your house today.” 6 So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully.
          And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a
        man who is a sinner.” 8 And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord,
        the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of
        anything, I restore it fourfold.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has
        come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came
        to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:1-10)
        Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, headed to the cross. Before he makes his “triumphal
entry,” he passes through Jericho. There, he meets Zacchaeus, a wealthy tax collector. In order
to understand this passage, we must remember something about tax collectors. Judea was under
Roman rule at this time, and the occupying force levied various taxes on the Jews. The Romans
imposed a land tax, which required farmers to pay about ten percent of the produce of the land to
Rome. Residents of Jerusalem had to pay a house tax and a city sales tax. A head tax was paid
each year, so that each person had to pay one denarius (a day’s wage) per year (see Matt. 22:19-
21). In addition, a customs tax was collected on goods transported through ports or cities. 1
        Rome collected these taxes through Jewish leaders (the land and head taxes) and “tax
farmers,” the tax collectors we read of in the Gospels. “In this tax-farming system Rome
received its money in advance, and the tax farmer made his living from commissions on tolls and
customs.”2 Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector, which meant that he supervised other tax
collectors, who made their living from collecting taxes for Rome. These tax collectors collected
the customs tax, which meant they would stop travelers and demand a portion of their goods.
  Thomas E. Schmidt, “Taxes,” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, and I.
Howard Marshall (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 804-5.
  Ibid., 805.


The tax collectors made a commission of the customs taxes collected, and whole institution
seemed to breed dishonesty. “To stop people on the road and demand a portion of their goods
certainly appeared to be institutionalized robbery, and the only apparent beneficiary was the tax
farmer himself. Although the commission system was regulated, the power of the assessor to
determine the value of some goods encouraged dishonesty.”3 The rabbis regarded tax collectors
as unclean.
        Tax collectors were also hated because they represented Rome. Jewish tax collectors like
Zacchaeus and Matthew (see Matt. 9:9-10) were seen as traitors, because they were making
money by cooperating with the enemy. To understand this situation, it might be helpful for us
Americans to imagine our country being invaded by foreigners (perhaps the Chinese or some
group of Muslims), and then to imagine that a certain group of Americans helped those foreign
occupiers collect taxes for their own government. We might naturally hate any Americans who
helped a foreign government subjugate our country.
        Zacchaeus, though rich, was considered unclean and a traitor. As we will see, he made
his money through unrighteous means. Yet Jesus invites himself to the tax collector’s house.
        Perhaps Jesus invites himself to eat dinner with Zacchaeus because the tax collector
shows such an interest in seeing the Nazarene. Because Zacchaeus is short, he climbs a
sycamore tree to see Jesus. In so doing, he is willing to look rather undignified, acting more like
a boy than a wealthy and powerful man. Jesus sees this man’s enthusiasm and responds by
calling him out of the tree, by name. Once again, Jesus shows his supernatural knowledge.
        Jesus tells Zacchaeus, “I must stay at your house today.” Surely, this is because this
meeting between the Messiah and the tax collector is divinely ordained. The command to
Zacchaeus demonstrates Jesus’ authority. Although it might seem odd or presumptuous,
Zacchaeus is glad to comply with Jesus’ wishes.
        We should note the obvious: Jesus is willing to go into the tax collector’s house to stay
with him. According to the customs of the day, this would make Jesus unclean. “Jesus is
making himself socially, ritually, morally, and religiously unclean by going to Zacchaeus’s
home. He is polluting himself just as if he had gone to the house of a Samaritan or a Gentile.”4
Jesus is not breaking God’s law, of course, but he is going against the customs of his day.
        Jesus’ decision to stay with Zacchaeus elicits grumbling from the crowd. This grumbling
reminds us of Luke 15:2: “And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying ‘This man
receives sinners and eats with them.’” In Luke 15, Jesus tells three parables about the “lost”: the
lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost (or prodigal) son. In context, the message is clear: Jesus
came to save the lost, the “tax collectors and sinners” (Luke 15:1). The Pharisees and scribes are
likened to the older brother of the third parable. Will they rejoice that the lost have been found,
or will they remain outside the party, stewing in their self-righteous, self-justifying attitudes?
        The grumbling also reminds us of those faithless Israelites who grumbled after being
redeemed out of Egypt. Of these people, Moses spoke: “They have dealt corruptly with him;

    Ibid., 806.
    Jerram Barrs, Learning Evangelism from Jesus (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009), 87.

they are no longer his children because they are blemished; they are a crooked and twisted
generation” (Deut. 32:5). Paul alludes to this verse and to grumbling in Philippians 2:14-15.
Christians are to avoid all grumbling in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation of people
who reject God. Luke is subtly telling us that those who are complaining about Jesus’
association with sinners are those who are not actually part of the family of God.
        Jesus does not respond to the crowd. Rather, he is glad to spend time with Zacchaeus.
Zacchaeus’s response to Jesus indicates that he now has faith. He is willing to repent of his
dishonest ways. He is now willing to give half of his goods to the poor and repay (fourfold!)
anyone whom he has defrauded. He is not commanded to do such things, but he chooses to out
of a changed and grateful heart. In fact, the Old Testament law only required that the guilty
party repay the full amount, plus twenty percent (Lev. 6:5; Num. 5:6-7), though Exodus 22:1 and
2 Samuel 12:6 provide a precedent for paying back the victim fourfold.
        Jesus’ response to Zacchaeus’s repentance tells us that the tax collector is indeed saved.
He is a “son of Abraham.” Of course, Zacchaeus was already a Jew, but now he has faith. Like
Abraham, Zacchaeus is accounted righteous because of his faith (see Gen. 15:6). Abraham is the
father of all who believe—both Jew and Gentile (Rom. 4:11-12; Gal. 3:7-9, 29). Jesus also gives
us something of a mission statement: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (v.
10). He could be alluding to Ezekiel 34:11-16, which describes God as a shepherd who will
search diligently for his people.
Learning from Zacchaeus
         Before we consider what we can learn from Jesus, we should think for a moment what
this tax collector teaches us. He wasn’t going to let his short stature keep him from seeing Jesus.
His willingness to climb a tree shows that pursuing Jesus is more valuable than having society
view us as dignified. To the rest of the world, when we pursue Jesus, we look like fools.
         Zacchaeus also gives us a wonderful picture of repentance. When we come to faith in
Jesus, we need to confess our sins and turn from a lifestyle of sin. We should also make
restitution. If we have wronged others and it is in our power to make things right, we should do
so, even when it is costly.
Learning from Jesus
        Once again, we see Jesus willing to break human traditions in order to reach the lost. He
doesn’t care about the crowd’s perception of him. He doesn’t care about manmade rules that say
that “sinners” are unclean. Instead, he sees a man who is willing to learn more about him.
        We, too, may come across unbelievers who show some interest in learning about Jesus.
Are we willing to associate with people who are not only unbelievers, but also outcasts?
        We should also notice that Jesus takes the initiative in this situation by inviting himself to
Zacchaeus’s home. Now, we are not Jesus, but we should be intentional about making
relationships with unbelievers. Jerram Barrs recognizes the importance of following Jesus’
example in this area. “We are to imitate Jesus by being intentional about developing intimate
fellowship with sinners. This means that we are to make the effort to build such close
relationships with unbelievers, regardless of their beliefs or way of life, that we delight to eat and

drink at one another’s tables and visit joyfully in one another’s homes. This will mean that we
are going to get to know people who are considered by some of our churches to be sinners—the
kind of people that God-fearing people should despise.”5
        I realize that the above idea is difficult for some of us to consider. But we must
remember that Jesus was and is the perfect, sinless, and holy God, yet he ate and drank with
sinners. He went into their homes. In fact, the heart of the gospel is that while we were enemies,
Jesus came to pursue us.
        We, too, should pursue unbelievers. Though we are not Jesus, we can seek out the lost
around us, with the hopes that they will believe in Jesus. We shouldn’t wait for “divine
appointments.” Though we should pray for God to give us evangelistic opportunities, we should
also take steps to create them. Whenever we obey God by responding to his revealed will, we
don’t have to wait for a sign from heaven. After all, we don’t wait for God to suddenly put the
Bible in our hands and turn to a certain passage he wants us to read. We don’t wait for a divine
moment to pray or sing God’s praises. Likewise, we shouldn’t wait for God to miraculously
bring unbelievers into our lives, though he may do that. If our family, friends, coworkers, or
neighbors don’t know Jesus, we can invite them over for dinner, or out for coffee. (You may try
to invite yourself to their house, like Jesus, but that might not go over well with everyone.)
        We must remember that we have a priceless message. It is one of great value, yet one
that we can give away freely. Knowing the value of this message and the one who
commissioned us to share it should encourage us to be the ones who initiate relationships with
unbelievers. We shouldn’t wait for them to come to us. This does not mean that we have to be
aggressive or pushy. Rather, it means that we should be the ones who walk across the street or
the lawn to talk to our neighbors, the ones who engage our coworkers in conversation, the ones
who invite these people into our homes and our lives.
        One final word regarding this passage and the many others in which Jesus associates with
“sinners”: there may be contexts in which it is sinful to spend time with unbelievers. If we are
tempted by a certain activity that our unbelieving friends engage in, then it would be best for us
to spend time with them doing other things. If we have struggle with anger or pride, it might be
best to avoid being around angry and proud people. We have to know our weaknesses and
temptations in order to protect ourselves. Though we can be like Jesus in many ways, we are not
perfect like him.
        When considering our attempts at evangelism, we should examine our motives. We
could be spending time with unbelievers because we want to pursue their sin and be worldly,
while convincing ourselves that we are “evangelizing.” We could do the very same things with
pure motives, too. Barrs suggests we ask this question: “Is my motivation for being with people
a desire to imitate their sin and to worship at the shrine of their idols, or is my motivation mercy,
compassion, love, and a desire to serve the purposes of Christ?” 6

    Ibid., 96.
    Ibid., 99.

         By now, we have observed that Jesus welcomes the humble and hurting, such as the
woman at the well and the woman caught in adultery. We have also seen how he welcomes
those who are genuinely interested in him, like Zacchaeus. Jesus always welcomes those who
show great faith, even those who are considered unclean. Two examples are the Canaanite
woman (Matt. 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30) and the Roman centurion (Matt. 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10).
Jesus’ conversations with both of those Gentiles show that the key to being a Christian is faith.
         We have also seen how Jesus responds to the Pharisees, such as those who were ready to
condemn the woman caught in adultery and Simon, who judged both Jesus and the sinful woman
who washed and anointed his feet. In the former case, Jesus asked the Pharisees and scribes to
examine themselves, to see if they were without sin. In the latter case, Jesus indicated to Simon
that the sinful woman who washed and anointed his feet was forgiven and Simon was not.
Whenever people approached Jesus with the intent of justifying themselves, Jesus pointed out
their sin and their failure to follow all the Old Testament law. When sinful people came to Jesus
with humble, broken hearts, Jesus showed them grace.
         We will now examine two episodes in which self-justifying men ask Jesus how they can
inherit eternal life. Instead of giving them straightforward answers, Jesus points them back to
their own sin and their failure to keep all of God’s standards.

        In this passage, a wealthy asks Jesus a very important question about eternal life. Jesus
gives him a surprising answer, one that shows how it is impossible to earn such a thing.
                    And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before
       him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And
       Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.
          You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do
       not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and
       mother.’” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.”
          And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go,
       sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven;
       and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for
       he had great possessions.
                    And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will
       be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples
       were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult
       it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye
       of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 And they were
       exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus
       looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all

       things are possible with God.” 28 Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left
       everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one
       who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands,
       for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this
       time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with
       persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be
       last, and the last first.” (Mark 10:17-31)
        Prior to this passage, Mark shows how different the kingdom of God is from the kingdom
of this world. Jesus says, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all”
(Mark 9:35). Then, immediately before the passage at hand, Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you,
whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mark 10:15).
Those who enter the kingdom of God must be humble servants who exhibit a childlike
dependency upon their heavenly Father.
        The rich man who approaches Jesus in this passage does not seem to be so humble.
Rather, he is proud of his religious accomplishments. The man is eager to speak to Jesus, so he
runs up to him. He also respects Jesus, as evidenced by his kneeling. In that position, he asks a
question that we would love to have unbelievers ask us: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
        Imagine your neighbor or coworker asking you that question. Wouldn’t you love to tell
him or her about faith in Jesus and repentance of sin? Perhaps you would be prepared to give
your concise, winsome gospel summary, with a call to believe and receive Christ at that very
moment. But Jesus doesn’t do this. Jesus knows what is in this man’s heart.
        The man had called Jesus “Good Teacher.” Jesus uses this title as an opportunity to tell
him something very important: only God is good. The point Jesus is making, rather subtly, is
that no human being is good. We tend to speak of “goodness” in a rather flippant way, not
realizing that God is the true measure of goodness, or moral perfection.
        Jesus then reminds the man of some of the Ten Commandments: “Do not murder
[number six], Do not commit adultery [number seven], Do not steal [number eight], Do not bear
false witness [number nine], Do not defraud [possibly a reference to number ten, but also
touching on number eight], Honor your father and mother [number five].” Jesus’ point is to say,
“You know the commandments; do them and you will live.”
        The man claims that he has kept these commandments from his youth. Of course, given
how Jesus further defines the sixth and seventh commandments in Sermon on the Mount, it
would be impossible for this man to say that he has kept all of these commandments perfectly
since his youth. Apparently he wasn’t paying attention when Jesus said, “No one is good except
        In order for Jesus to direct this man to his sinful status and his need of salvation by grace
through faith, he addresses a sensitive subject. In Mark’s account, we see that Jesus does this
because he loves the man. The most loving thing that Jesus can do is show this man that he
cannot save himself through good works and obedience to the law. Paul makes it quite clear that
“all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Paul refers to the law as

something that “imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ
might be given to those who believe” (Gal. 3:22). It was a sort of schoolteacher that told Jews
that the only way to be justified is through faith (Gal. 3:24-26). In the book of Acts, both Paul
and Peter acknowledge that the law was a burden that could not bring freedom (Acts 13:38-39;
15:10). Jesus intended to show this wealthy man that it was impossible for him to earn salvation.
         Even as Jesus shows this man his sin, he does it in a gentle way. He doesn’t say, “You
are a sinner! You have rebelled against God!” Rather, he identifies the man’s idol: his wealth.
Jesus tells him to sell all that his possessions and give to the poor. This is the only time in the
entire Bible where one is told to sell everything. The point is that this man’s love for wealth is
standing in the way of his love for God. He may excel at some of the Ten Commandments, but
perhaps not the first one: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exod. 20:3). Since this idol
stands in the way of his love for God, Jesus tells him to get rid of it. Jesus also says, “Come,
follow me.”
         The rich man apparently is unwilling to part with his idol. He walks away disheartened
and sorrowful. In contrast to the joyful giving of Zacchaeus after he meets Jesus, this rich man
thinks giving away his wealth is a joyless duty.
         Jesus then continues to speak of wealth in front of his disciples. He acknowledges that
those who are wealthy will have a difficult time entering the kingdom of God, probably because
wealth is one of the greatest idols. Jesus tells his disciples that it will be easier for a camel to go
through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom. This is hyperbole, of
course. Jesus uses the Palestinian animal and the smallest aperture to show just how impossible
it is for a human being to earn salvation, particularly one with an idol.
         Jesus’ comments provoke a reasonable question: “Then who can be saved?” Jesus tells
his disciples that salvation is impossible for human beings, but all things are possible with God.
God is the one who saves and salvation is a supernatural event, one that cannot human effort
cannot achieve.
         Peter, ever the bold speaker, reminds Jesus that he and the other disciples have left
everything to follow him. Jesus tells the disciples that though they have given up much, they are
receiving much more in return. They have given up their former occupations and their families
(at least their parents and their siblings), but they are entering into a new family. In their new
family, the disciples have access to so much more. Even though they have left much, they will
not be in need, because the church will share its wealth and take care of others. There will be
persecutions, but this new life available through faith in Christ will lead to eternal life in the age
to come.
Learning from Jesus
        Jesus had obviously earned this man’s respect, because the man came to him hurriedly
and he kneeled before Jesus. Because of this respect, Jesus was able to speak into this man’s
life. We would do well to think of we can earn the respect of unbelievers around us. When we
work hard, do good works, manage our homes well, and prove ourselves reliable, honest, and
caring, we may have our unbelieving friends approach us with important questions.

        Jesus apparently did just that. Jesus then used the opportunity to reveal what was in the
rich man’s heart. He did not give this man a straightforward answer to his question: “What must
I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus instead pointed out the incomparable goodness of God and the
man’s particular idol. We also would do well to tell people how great God is by highlighting his
power, his love, his perfection, and all his other impressive attributes. In contrast, we can show
people the foolishness of idolatry. Jerram Barrs writes, “Showing the beauty of righteousness or
the ugliness of sin is a far more effective way of bringing people to conviction, rather than telling
them directly that they are sinners. Revealing the character of God and helping people see the
impurity of their heart—these open the eyes car more effectively than accusation or
        In other words, we should show people how God is greater than any idol. How can
temporary wealth compare with the eternal glory of God? When we view idols in the light of the
one true God, there is no comparison.
        Of course, when we expose sin and idolatry, it can be difficult for the other person. Jesus
handled this situation graciously and gently, and still the rich man walked away sad. Yet
exposing this man’s idolatry was the most loving thing that Jesus could do. According to
Proverbs 27:5-6,
                     Better is open rebuke
                       than hidden love.
                     Faithful are the wounds of a friend;
                       profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

        There were times when people approached Jesus with sincere questions. There were, of
course, many other times when people tried to test Jesus with questions. Usually, these people
were the scribes and the Pharisees. Jesus would often respond to their questions with a question
of his own, to get them to think and to turn away their attacks. In this passage, a lawyer, an
expert in the Old Testament law, tries to put Jesus to the test and justify himself. With one
parable, Jesus is able to escape the trap and show the lawyer that he is not living up to the Law’s
                      And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher,
           what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the
           Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your
           God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with
           all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have
           answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
                      But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my
           neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho,
    Barrs, Learning Evangelism from Jesus, 78.

       and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving
       him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he
       saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to
       the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he
       journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.
          He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set
       him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the
       next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take
       care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’
          Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell
       among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus
       said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:25-37)
         Before we even read the lawyer’s question, Luke tells us the man’s motives: the lawyer
has come to test Jesus. Perhaps he hoped that Jesus would give a deficient answer, thereby
failing the test. Like the rich man, he asks, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
Once again, Jesus does not provide a direct answer.
         Instead, Jesus asks a question. “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” Jesus
is the master of questions. In the four Gospels, Jesus asks hundreds of questions. These
questions help his conversation partners think. They lead the other person to a correct answer or
reveal what is in the person’s heart. Of course, sometimes Jesus’ questions do both. If this
lawyer had a sincere heart, Jesus would have given him a direct answer. But knowing the man’s
motives, Jesus leads the man to reconsider the heart of the Law.
         The lawyer answers Jesus’ question quite well. In Matthew and Mark, Jesus is the one
who gives us the two greatest commandments and his answer is the same as the lawyer’s. The
greatest commandment is to love God with everything we have (heart, soul, strength, and mind),
and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Jesus tells the lawyer that he has answered
correctly. If the lawyer does these things, he will live.
         Apparently, the lawyer was not satisfied with Jesus’ response. Again, Luke reveals the
man’s motives: he wanted to justify himself (a recurring theme in Luke—see 16:15; 18:9-14).
He wanted to know who is neighbor was so he could obey the law. Surely, he thought his
neighbor was the man next door, or perhaps only Jews. He seems to be looking for the minimum
requirements: “Exactly how much do I have to do to get eternal life?” Jesus does not give a
direct answer. Rather, he answers with a parable.
         Parables often function like questions. They also get people to think. A direct answer
can make someone defensive. One statement can lead to a counter-statement, which is simply
the product of a reaction. We see this in a great deal of political debates. A story, however, has
the advantage of being less accusatory. When a person listens to a story, he or she is less likely
to be defensive.
         Jesus tells the lawyer the parable of the Good Samaritan. We all know the story. A man
has been robbed, beaten, and left for dead on the road to Jericho. A priest passes the near dead

man and walks on the other side of the road without stopping to help. A Levite does the same.
At this point in the story, the lawyer would be waiting for the hero, the one who helps the fallen
man in his distress. Much to his surprise, a Samaritan is the hero. He is the one who goes out of
his way to care for the troubled man. When Jesus asks, “Which of these three, do you think,
proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” the answer is obvious. Of
course, the lawyer cannot bring himself to say, “The Samaritan,” so he says, “The one who
showed him mercy.”
         The lawyer wanted to know who his neighbor is. Jesus responds with a story that shows
that the lawyer had the wrong question. He should have asked, “How can I be a good neighbor?”
or, “How can I be a loving neighbor?” He focused on himself, rather than on others. Those who
try to justify themselves are often the most selfish people.
Learning from Jesus
        When people ask us honest questions, we should give honest answers. However, there
are many times when people want to play theological games. When we try to share the gospel,
people trying to justify their own positions may ask us questions. They are trying to put us to the
test. When this happens, it is best not to give direct answers. We could learn from Jesus by
asking questions of our own.
        Just yesterday, I saw a video clip from a 2009 special edition of ABC’s Nightline. The
special was titled, “Does Satan Exist.” It was a debate between Mark Driscoll, another Christian
(Annie Lobert), New Age spiritualist Deepak Chopra, and Carlton Pearson, a bishop who
embraced the heresy of universal salvation. After the four guests debated, some members of the
audience were allowed to ask the guests questions. A man came to the microphone and asked
Chopra and Pearson a question.
       Man:        “You stated before that all belief is a cover-up for insecurity. Right?”
       Chopra:     “Mm-hm.”
       Man:        “Do you believe that?”
       Chopra:     “Yes.”
       Man:        “Thank you.”
The man simply walked away from the microphone as the audience roared. He proved his point
by asking two questions.
       Our questions can be witty, as in the case above, but they can also be sincere. We need to
understand why people are asking us questions before we can answer. If people are sincerely
open to hearing about Jesus, we should be prepared to answer them to the best of our ability. But
we won’t know their hearts unless we ask some questions first. Though we can follow Jesus’
example, we can’t see into people’s hearts like God can.
       The Christian theologian, author, and apologist Francis Schaeffer used to say that if he
had one hour to share the gospel with someone, he would spend the first fifty-five minutes

asking questions, and then five minutes speaking in light of what he had learned. 8 When we
understand a person better, we are better prepared to point them to Jesus.
        When we adopt an indirect approach, through questions or even stories (such as Jesus’
own parables, narratives from the Bible, or perhaps even creative uses of novels, movies, and
television shows), we help people understand themselves better. Most people do not examine
themselves thoroughly. Unbelievers (and even many Christians) can be blind to their own sin
and idolatry.
        When the prophet Nathan wanted to confront David in the wake of his adultery with
Bathsheba and murder or Uriah, he did not accuse the king and demand repentance. Instead, he
presented David with a parable about a rich man, a poor man, and the poor man’s only lamb (2
Sam. 12:1-15). This indirect approach helped David see how sinful his own actions were,
whereas a direct approach might have elicited defensiveness and even more evil.
        Some people need to be shown their hypocrisy, the inconsistency of their beliefs and their
actions. Some people need help seeing the sin and idolatry in their hearts. By asking questions
and answering indirectly, we may end up pointing people to Jesus.
        We will soon move into our study of apologetics. This method of asking questions will
help us defend our faith. Our goal, of course, is to help people believe in Christ. When we ask
questions of others, we hold up mirrors to their lives, helping them see truth and their need for

            Do you have a Zacchaeus in your life, someone eager to learn about Jesus?
            How will you be like Jesus, by inviting yourself further into that person’s life?
            How can you be intentional about reaching unbelievers?
            Do unbelievers respect you enough to ask you important questions about life?
            Do you know any “rich men” or “lawyers” who try to justify themselves through their
            good works? In other words, do you know people who think they will be in heaven
            because they have lived good lives?
            How can you help people like that see the holiness of God? How can you gently show
            them that they do can never please God by being good?
            How do you respond to people who try to test your faith?

    Ibid., 62.
        We will soon turn our attention to apologetics, which is a key part of evangelism,
particularly in our culture. Christianity is far less influential than it once was in our country and
we continually see more people who are not only indifferent to the gospel, but who are actually
attacking the faith of Christians. I suspect that this will continue. Therefore, we need to learn
how to rationally present and defend our faith.
        Before we address that subject, however, we should first consider a few more ways of
sharing the gospel. We have studied our message, we have discussed ways of sharing it, and we
have learned at the feet of Jesus. Now let us consider how we can use our lives, our stories (or
testimonies), and our church.

        Our lives should reflect the gospel to others around us. If we are Christians, we have
been changed by God, and that change should be evident. “He has delivered us from the domain
of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption,
the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14). Our lives should somehow reveal this change in
        Our goal in living out the gospel is to glorify God. We should never lose sight of that.
Our primary goal should be to please our Father in heaven, not other humans on earth. People
may even hate us simply for being Christians, something that Jesus warned his disciples about
(John 15:18-19). Paul also taught that some people will think Christians are “a fragrance of
death” while other people will think they are “a fragrance of life” (see 2 Cor. 2:15-16). Whether
people love us or hate us, the way that we live should be provocative. That is, our lives should
provoke people to ask questions and to think.
        Jesus called us salt and light (Matt. 5:13-16). We should be people who help preserve
life and who point others to the true light of this world, Jesus. Jesus said, “Let your light shine
before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in
heaven” (Matt. 5:16). Peter said something very similar: “Keep your conduct among the
Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good
deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Pet. 2:12). We should never do good deeds to
be noticed (for that would reveal something wrong in our hearts), but as we do good deeds out of
thankfulness and to please the Father, people should naturally see that we are different.
        Mark Dever believes that our lives should be naturally provocative. The Christian life
should stir up questions in unbelievers. Dever instructs, “Try to live in a distinctly Christian
‘salty’ way around them—in your words and actions. Make them thirsty. Make your whole life
before them provocative. I sometimes introduce myself to people as being a fundamentalist,
because I’m hoping there will be an intriguing disconnect between their assumptions of what a


fundamentalist is and what kind of person I seem to be. Live a Christian life before them.” 1
      Perhaps Dever had this passage in mind:
                Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. 6 Let
        your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how
        you ought to answer each person. (Col. 4:5-6)
This passage brings together two important ideas: our lives as lived among unbelievers and the
way that we speak to them. According to N. T. Wright, walking in wisdom means walking
according to the pattern of Christ, or walking in a manner worthy of the gospel. “Blameless life
lays the foundation for gracious witness, as Christians make the most of every opportunity.”2
         However, making the most of every opportunity includes more than how we live our
lives. It requires speech. Right before these two verses, Paul solicits prayer. He asks the
Colossians to pray that he would know “how I ought to speak” (v. 4). Paul tells us that our
speech should be gracious and salty, so that we may know how we ought to answer each person.
This presupposes that people will ask us questions, perhaps because we are “walking in
wisdom.” Their questions may also result from our attempts at evangelism. At any rate, we
must speak graciously as we answer. (Peter says the same in 1 Peter 3:15, a passage we will
look at soon.) “Seasoned with salt” is an interesting phrase. Nearly every commentator believes
it refers to speaking in a “spicy” way; that is, our speech shouldn’t be dull and boring. Rather,
we should speak in a way that leads to more conversations. David Garland summarizes such an
approach: “Christians must leaven a bold, uncompromising witness with civility, gentleness,
kindness, and good humor.”3
         Salt can also refer to a preservative. When we speak gospel truth to people, that truth can
preserve their lives. We must remember to speak the “word of life,” the gospel, to people.
         Finally, salt can also mean wisdom, or the appropriate word. We must know how to give
people an appropriate response, one that suits the time and place in which we live and the
particular person to whom we are speaking.
         Peter O’Brien summarizes verse 6 in this manner. “They [the Colossians] are recipients
of God’s grace: let that grace be evident in the words they speak. Their conversation ought not
to be dull or insipid; instead, they ought to choose the right word as they respond to each non-
Christian who asks them questions about either their beliefs or behavior.” 4
Shining as lights in the world
       When Paul wrote to the Philippians, he urged them also to live blameless lives in the
world so that they would shine like lights. Philippians 2:14-16 says,

  Mark Dever, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007), 66.
  N. T. Wright, Colossians and Philemon, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity
Press, 1986), 157. Italics in original.
  David E. Garland, Colossians and Philemon, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan,
1998), 285.
  Peter T. O’Brien, Colossians, Philemon, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), 244.


          Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and
        innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted
        generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the
        word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain
        or labor in vain.
         The call to shine like lights in the world reminds us of Jesus’ teaching on the Sermon on
the Mount. The Philippians, like all Christians, were surrounded by a “crooked and twisted
generation.” In other words, they were surrounded by people who did not love, trust, and obey
God. In that context, the Philippians were to shine, “holding fast to the word of life.” The word
of life is the gospel message. The Greek word translated as “holding fast,” epechein, can also be
translated “holding forth.” In the context of Philippians, the first option seems to be the best: the
Philippians are to hang on to the gospel and defend it. Clinging to the gospel is essential for
living a blameless life. But the other possibility, “holding forth,” can also be supported. If that
is what Paul intended, the passage takes on an evangelistic thrust: the Philippians are supposed to
offer the gospel to the unbelievers around them.
         I agree with most scholars that the context best supports the first option. But when
Christians hold fast to the gospel, they are also in a position to share it, particularly as their lives
are different from everyone else’s. Alec Motyer believes that if the gospel brings light it is like a
lantern. As we Christians walk through the darkness, the gospel lights our way, and we cling to
that “lantern.” But that same light can be seen by others, and they, too, may want to come to the
light to find direction in life.5
         This passage in Philippians shows us that our lives should be countercultural. The way
that we live should be different from the way that unbelievers live. Our lives should be different
because we are following Christ, and they are not. (There is no sense, of course, in being
different just to be different.) This is not a call to separate ourselves from society, but to live in it
in a very different way. The loving acts we perform, the gracious words we speak, how we use
our money, the way we do not pursue the idols of the world—all these things should provoke
         One aspect that should shine in the darkness is our love for Jesus. Our devotion to him
and our affections for him should be clear. Sadly, people who are not Christians often show
more outward devotion and emotion for worthless causes, like their favorite sports team, musical
group, or television show. In fact, I know that in the past I have shown more enthusiasm for a
particular television show than I did for Jesus.
         Recently, another pastor shared with me a letter that he had received from a woman. She
wanted to thank him for his preaching. She then shared a story about her coworker, an
unbeliever who was “evangelizing” for a certain show on TV. This woman got very excited as
she spoke of her favorite program. She wanted the first woman to know how great the show

 J. A. Motyer, The Message of Philippians, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press,
1984), 133.


was. The Christian woman then reflected on the difference between her coworker’s enthusiasm
for a fictional story and Christians’ enthusiasm for the true story. This is part of her letter:
               I began to wonder why Christians at large are not enraptured with Jesus
       Christ our Sovereign and coming King. I wondered why we do not display even
       one quarter as much passion when we discuss God’s living Word, his eternal
       promises and what he is doing in our lives. I wondered why there are so few
       disciples of Christ . . . who long after him with all that they are moment by
       moment. I wondered why it is so rare for Christians to just sing songs of praise,
       pray, and discuss with passion God’s Word no matter where they are. Where is
       the passion for our Savior in America? I ended this dialogue with the Lord in
       repentance and asking him to increase my passion and that of my husband. To
       bring revival to our churches beginning with me and to give me boldness to
       witness and to freely share what I believe and Who I love because He first loved
       If we want to witness to Christ, we have to speak words of truth. We have to know our
message. But we have to show that that we love Jesus and that this message has made a
profound impact in our lives. Let us show greater devotion to Christ in the way we live, in the
way we think, and in the things we desire. When we do this, we are glorifying God, the ultimate
goal. And we are also letting people know what the greatest treasure is.
The two great commandments
        All of our evangelistic efforts must conform to the two great commandments of the Bible.
When Jesus was asked, “Which is the great commandment in the Law?” he answered, “You shall
love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is
the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as
yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:37-40).
We need to love God primarily, and we must love him with every part of our being. If we are
doing that, then we will shine like lights in the world. If we love God that much, we will want to
tell others about him.
        If we are following the second great commandment, to love our neighbor as we love
ourselves, then we will want them to know Jesus. When we love someone, we want the greatest
good for that person, and the greatest good for anyone is to have a relationship with Jesus.
        If we do not love the people with whom we are sharing the gospel, we are missing
something vital. We can have the greatest gospel presentation and the most convincing
arguments, but if we don’t have love, our efforts will be in vain.
        In the midst of a discussion of spiritual gifts, Paul talked about the importance of love.
This is what he writes in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3:
               If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a
       noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and
       understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove


           mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I
           deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
       Without love, evangelism is like a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal: full of sound and
fury and signifying nothing.

        In addition to showing people the power of the gospel through our lives, we can also tell
people our story, our testimony. Earlier, I stated that our testimony is not the gospel, and this is
true. The heart of the gospel is the objective, factual truth that Jesus died and rose again. In
contrast, our experience of this gospel applied to our lives is subjective. This subjective
experience of salvation does not save anyone else.
        That being said, I believe that telling our story can be an effective way to supplement the
gospel message. We might tell our story before we share the gospel, or we might tell our story
afterward. Telling our story lets people know that the gospel is not simply news from a distant
past. It demonstrates the gospel’s power to change lives.
        Mack Stiles offers a few tips for sharing your testimony. 6 They are:
           1.      Know what a testimony is for. Our story should be like a window. A
           window allows people to see something. People should be able to look through
           our stories and see Christ. The point of our testimony is to allow people to see
           Jesus, not ourselves. Our stories are not the end goal. They are only tools to let
           people see our Savior.
           2.      Keep Christ at the center. This point should be obvious. We should tell
           our stories so that we are giving Jesus all the credit for the ways we have changed.
           In other words, our stories can begin with us, but they should lead to Jesus and the
           gospel message.
           3.      Speak truthfully. Whatever your story is, tell the truth. Don’t try to
           make your story more interesting. Tell the truth about what kind of person you
           were before Christ. Tell people the truth about how you were saved. For some of
           us, the process was long and ugly, while others have more dramatic and sudden
           conversion experiences. Tell people the truth about your Christian life, how God
           has changed you. Tell people the truth about your current sin struggles. It is
           important to tell people that we are not perfect. (And it is extremely important to
           tell people that we were not saved because of our moral performance.)
           4.      Know your story, not someone else’s. You are you. You have your own
           unique story. Perhaps you feel it isn’t exciting or ideal. But don’t apologize for
           your story; own it. People come to Christ in many different ways. Your way is
           one of them.

    J. Mack Stiles, Speaking of Jesus (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995), 142-143.


We should always be prepared to shift from our subjective experience of Christ to the objective
news about him. We should always put more weight on the content of the gospel, but it is still
important to share how God has changed us.

         We can also use our church in evangelism. Sometimes our work as evangelists can feel
very lonely. We envision ourselves as solitary, gospel-sharing soldiers. However, we should be
“striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Phil. 1:27).
         When I say that we can use our church, I don’t mean that we should only invite people to
church services, so that the pastors and teachers can share the gospel. We can and should do
that, but that might not be the best first step.
         Most unbelievers do not feel comfortable entering into a church. Some even feel
threatened. They don’t understand why we do the things we do. This is understandable.
         If we want to use the church to evangelize, we can do much more than inviting people to
church. If we want our non-Christian friends to get a taste of the Christian life, we could invite
them to a gathering of our Christian brothers and sisters. Imagine throwing a party. You invite
many of your Christian friends, as well as some unbelieving friends. That way, your friends who
are not Christians can see how Christians interact and love each other.
         One of the ways that we show that we are Christians is by loving each other. Jesus said,
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you
also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have
love for one another” (John 13:34-35). We first need to love each other. Then we need to let
others see that love. As Tim Chester and Steve Timmis write, “It is our cross-love for each other
that proclaims the truth of the gospel to a watching and skeptical world.” 7 When people see how
we interact, they may become attracted to our community and lifestyle, well before they become
attracted to Jesus and the gospel.
         Chester and Timmis believe that evangelism should consist of three strands: building
relationships with people we want to reach for Christ, introducing them to the Christian
community, and sharing the gospel. “In our experience people are often attracted to the
Christian community before they are attracted to the Christian message.” 8 They believe that
those who are not yet Christians should first experience something of the Christian community.
They don’t mean in a church service, but in a more informal gathering of Christians. The way
that Christians interact should be attractive to them. As Mark Dever said, it should make them
         Of course, to do this, we need to spend time together as Christians. We also need to have
real Christian fellowship, in which we talk about God, our lives, the Bible, and our spiritual
struggles. When Christians act as Christians in front of non-Christians, it demonstrates the truth
of the gospel. Most people who are not Christians haven’t witnessed true Christianity. “People
    Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Total Church (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 57.
    Ibid., 59.


have rejected the gospel word in part because they have not been exposed to credible gospel
        In addition to allowing our unbelieving friends a taste of the Christian community, we
can use the church in other ways. When embarking on any endeavor as a church, we should
consider our spiritual gifts and natural talents. Some of us are naturally outgoing, able to make
friends quickly. Some of us are naturally introverted and shy. Some of us are gifted at teaching
and sharing the gospel. Others are good at serving. Each one of us has different hobbies and
interests. There is a way that we can make use of all of our gifts and talents, and that is by
witnessing to unbelievers as a community.
        Let me provide an example. I have a neighbor with whom I want to share the gospel.
We have talked several times, but our conversations don’t get past small talk. He is significantly
older than me, he’s retired, and he enjoys working outside and working with his hands. I’m
younger, I’m still working, and most of my work involves reading, writing, and speaking. We
have a few things in common (we first met during a snowstorm when some kids in our
neighborhood were riding a snowmobile on our street and we both didn’t like that), but not
much. However, I know some older men in the church who likely have more in common with
my neighbor. I would be wise to invite those men to my house, along with my neighbor. They
may hit it off, and then we might have the opportunity to share the gospel.
        Each one of us has something that we can contribute to evangelism. We may be the one
who makes friends and is hospitable. We may be the one who serves or who has mercy. Or we
may be the one who is more theologically-minded and can share the gospel. But each of us has
something to add. When Chester and Timmis write about their evangelism of three strands
(building relationships, inviting people into the Christian community, and sharing the gospel),
they describe the strengths of such an approach: “One of the practical benefits of the three-strand
mode of evangelism is that it gives a role to all of God’s people. . . . It is lovely to think of us
making up for one another’s deficiencies with our collective community strengths.”10
        In order to accomplish this three-strand evangelism, we must be willing to make
relationships with other people, but we must also let them experience our Christian community.
If we are going to show others what Christian community is like, we must first have that
community. We must spend time together and we must have distinctly Christian fellowship, the
center of which is God. Otherwise, our fellowship is indistinguishable from social clubs and
non-Christian communities. Our conversations and the way we treat each other should be
distinct from the pattern of the world.
        Finally, once we have made a relationship with a person and introduced them to some
form of Christian community, we need to share the gospel with that person. This should come
more naturally if we have followed the first two steps. Once our non-Christian friend has
witnessed Christians in community, he or she may ask what we believe. Our friend may wonder
what makes us different. At that time, we can state unapologetically what we believe.

    Ibid., 67.
     Ibid., 62.


           I will let Mark Dever have the final words of this section:
                   The people around us are lost in darkness; we have the wonderful and
           attractive call to live out a new life in our congregations—a good life that reflects
           the good news. Think about the role of your church in your evangelism. Yes,
           you can invite people to services and special evangelistic events, but also consider
           bringing them into your own life, into the network of relationships that is your
           congregation. That may be to them as a shining star in the dark night of their
           lives. That may provoke them to do some honest soul searching. 11

           In what ways does your life point to Christ?
           Are you “walking in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of your time”? If not,
           what are some practical ways you could improve in this area?
           Is your speech gracious? Salty? How can you always be ready to answer each person?
           Is your devotion to Jesus obvious? Do you speak of him naturally and passionately, or
           does that seem unnatural to you?
           What is your story, your testimony? Practice telling your story in a way that points
           people to Christ and gives him all the credit.
           Are you using your church to share the gospel? If not, how could you start doing that?
           Imagine ways of introducing your Christian friends to your non-Christian friends. How
           could you do this?

     Dever, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism, 68.

         It would be nice if all unbelievers were willing and eager to hear the gospel. It would be
nice if all we had to do was tell them about Jesus, and they said something like, “Sounds good to
me. Sign me up!” However, when we share the gospel, we will often have to prove that it is
true, answer difficult questions, and gently show how the beliefs of the other person are not true.
Telling the good news about Jesus is relatively easy if we have the opportunity. Trying to
convince someone that this news is true and reasonable is another story. For this, we need to
study apologetics. Evangelism and apologetics go hand in hand. That is why Mark Mittelberg
calls apologetics “the handmaiden to evangelism.” 1

       Apologetics has been around for as long as Christianity has existed. In order to
understand what it is, we will turn to some theologians and apologists.
Some definitions of apologetics
        The apologist and philosopher Douglas Groothuis provides the following definition:
“Christian apologetics is the rational defense of the Christian worldview as objectively true,
rationally compelling and existentially or subjectively engaging. The word apologetics comes
from the Greek word apologia, which can be translated as ‘defense’ or ‘vindication.’”2 That
Greek word can be found in 1 Peter 3:15, the key verse to support apologetics: “but in your
hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense [apologian] to
anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and
        The definition given by Groothuis says that we should be able to defend the Christian
faith by showing that it is objectively true, grounded in logic and reason, and also “existentially
or subjectively engaging,” which is to say that we should present the Christian faith as one that is
appealing and that meets our human needs. Groothuis indicates, “Apologetics is linked to
theology, philosophy and evangelism, but it is not reducible to any of these disciplines.” 3
Apologetics touches on theology. If we are going to defend the gospel or show that is true, we
need to have a solid grasp on theology. Apologetics requires some knowledge of philosophy, at
least some laws of logic. And apologetics supports evangelism, because the ultimate goal is
persuading someone that Christianity is true so that he or she will believe in Jesus.
        Another philosopher and apologist, William Lane Craig, gives us a similar definition.
“What is apologetics? Apologetics (from the Greek apologia: a defense) is that branch of

  Mark Mittelberg, “An Apologetic for Apologetics,” in Reasons for Faith, ed. Norman L. Geisler and Chad V.
Meister (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007), 18.
  Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011), 24.
  Ibid., 27.


Christian theology which seeks to provide rational justification for the truth claims of the
Christian faith.”4 In other words, apologetics shows that our Christian faith is based on truth and
reason. I would add that truth and reason come from God for, as John Frame observes, “every
fact witnesses to the truth of God.”5
         Apologetics concerns more than finding the truth upon which our faith is built. “In
addition to serving, like the rest of theology in general, as an expression of loving God with all
our minds, apologetics specifically serves to show to unbelievers the truth of the Christian faith,
to confirm that faith to believers, and to reveal and explore the connections between Christian
doctrine and other truths.”6 Here, Craig shows us that apologetics helps us love God with all our
minds, it helps us show others that Christianity is true, it strengthens our faith, and it helps us see
how Christian faith relates to truths found in other spheres of knowledge, such as history,
science, and philosophy.
         John Frame gives us a more broad definition of apologetics. He writes, “We may definite
it as the discipline that teaches Christians how to give a reason for their hope.” 7 I appreciate
Frame’s definition, because other definitions make it seem as though apologetics is only the
defense of the faith. Frame believes that there are actually three aspects of apologetics. 8
Apologetics offers proof that Christianity is true
         The first aspect is providing proof or evidence that Christianity is true. The Bible does
this, particularly in the New Testament. Near the end of his Gospel, John writes, “Now Jesus did
many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are
written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing
you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31). John intended the book to demonstrate that
Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and God himself. Luke wrote his gospel for similar
purposes (see Luke 1:1-4). In a similar way, when Paul writes of Jesus’ death and resurrection,
he emphasizes the number of witnesses to the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:3-8). Paul is offering proof
that Jesus is Lord.
         There are many ways that we can provide a rational basis for faith in Christ. We can
demonstrate that the Bible is the most trustworthy document of the ancient world. By offering
proof of the Bible’s historicity (its historical authenticity) and accuracy, we can lead people to
trust it as an accurate presentation of God, history, the human condition, and Jesus. (By faith,
people will come to understand that the Bible is the very Word of God, though I don’t think it is
reasonable to expect an unbeliever to view it as such.)
         We can show that the resurrection of Jesus is an historical event. Many lines of evidence
show that the resurrection is a true, historical event. We can also provide archaeological
evidence for other events in biblical history.

  William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, 3rd ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 15.
  John M. Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1994), 14.
  Craig, Reasonable Faith, 15.
  Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God, 1.
  Ibid., 2-3.

        There are also many arguments9 that point one toward God. We can argue that because
there is universe, there must be a cause of the universe, and that cause is God. We can argue that
because we have morals, there must be an objective and authoritative source of that morality and
that source must be God. We can argue that God is the source of logic and reason. We can
argue that he is the reason why we have an orderly universe that seems to be fine-tuned for
human existence.
Apologetics defends the Christian faith
        The second aspect of apologetics is the defense of the Christian faith. Paul praised the
Philippians for their part in “the defense and confirmation of the gospel” (Phil. 1:7, 16). As
Frame observes, “Much of Paul’s writing in the New Testament is apologetic in this sense.” 10
He had to defend the gospel against Judaizers who insisted on circumcision and the observance
of other Jewish rituals such as dietary laws. He told Timothy to guard his doctrine and to beware
of false teaching. Unfortunately, Christians will always have to answer objections and defend
the true faith from being distorted by false teachers.
        Consider what Jude writes:
                  Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common
         salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith
         that was once for all delivered to the saints. 4 For certain people have crept in
         unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people,
         who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and
         Lord, Jesus Christ. (Jude 3-4)
Because “certain people” crept into the congregation, Jude encourages them to “contend for the
faith.” Commenting on this passage, Michael Green writes, “Jude uses the word epagōnizesthai,
contend, in order to emphasize that the defense of this faith will be continuous, costly and
agonizing; the cost of being unfashionable, the agony of seeking to express the faith in a way that
is really comprehensible to contemporary man.” 12 They were to defend the gospel like soldiers,
or strive for it like athletes competing in the arena.
Apologetics as offense
        Apologetics can also have an offensive role. This does not mean that we intend to be
offensive to people. Rather, we can present truths and reasoning to show that the beliefs of
others (atheists as well as adherents of other religions) are not true. “God calls his people, not
only to answer the objections of unbelievers, but also to go on the attack against falsehood.” 13 In
order to bring people to faith in Christ, we may need to show (with gentleness and respect) that

  When I refer to “arguments,” I don’t mean to suggest that we fight or quarrel. An argument is a series of reasons,
evidences, and/or facts that prove a point. To argue is to debate or demonstrate a reason for taking a certain
   Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God, 2.
   Michael Green, 2 Peter and Jude, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity
Press, 1987), 185.
   Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God, 2.

their beliefs are not founded on truth. Often, the inconsistencies of other worldviews can be
revealed quite easily. When we show others that there is no intellectual reason for not believing
in God—indeed, that not believing God is ultimately an anti-intellectual endeavor—we are
bringing a biblical truth to the light: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Ps. 14:1;
        According to Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, “The role of rational apologetics is to
demonstrate that unbelief is a problem of the heart rather than a problem of the head. People
may claim that the obstacle to faith is the problem of suffering or the implausibility of miracles
or the existence of other religions. The role of rational apologetics is to show that these are not
the real causes of unbelief. It is to strip away the excuses and expose rebellious hearts.” 14 In a
similar fashion, Groothuis writes, “Apologetics can be used to remove or diminish intellectual
obstacles that hinder people from embracing Christ as Lord; thus it serves as pre-evangelism.”15
        Some of this aspect of apologetics may sound harsh, but there is scriptural warrant for it.
When writing to the Corinthians, Paul acknowledged his weakness and humility. However, he
also indicated he wasn’t afraid to attack falsehood.
          For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.
          For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to
        destroy strongholds. 5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised
        against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,
          being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete. (2
        Cor. 10:3-6)
What are the arguments and opinions raised against the knowledge of God? David Garland
believes, “These bulwarks may therefore refer to the assortment of intellectual arguments that
humans construct in an attempt to stave off the truth of the gospel.”16 Paul was ready not only to
tear down such thoughts, but also to remove people from the church who held them. (This is
what “punish every disobedience” means.)
        I hope that we don’t have people in our church who hold views contrary to the truth of
the gospel, but we all know other people who do. If we want to win them for Christ, we may
need to reveal the weaknesses and lack of truth in their thinking before they will receive the

       As I stated at the beginning of this section, it would be nice everyone were ready to hear
and believe the gospel. But since that is not the case, we must defend the faith. Gone are the
days of saying, “Because the Bible says so.” If people don’t believe that the Bible is God’s
Word, or if they don’t even believe in God, such a statement will make no impact. (To be clear,

   Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Total Church (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 172.
   Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 28.
   David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1999), 436.

the Bible is objectively true and authoritative, and when we speak from the Bible to people, we
are speaking truth. Without our reasoning, the Holy Spirit is able to demonstrate the truth of the
Bible to people. But the Spirit may also use our “contending for the faith.”)
        We have to come to grips with the fact that Christians make up the minority of people in
this country. I would honestly be surprised if 10 percent of Americans were actually born again.
Many people who claim to be Christians are biblically illiterate, as is our society as a whole. It is
difficult to simply appeal to the Bible without offering some evidence as to why it should be
regarded as authoritative.
        In 2003, George Barna conducted a survey of self-proclaimed “born again Christians.” (I
suspect that the vast majority of people who claim this title are not actually regenerate.) He
reported that only 9 percent of these people possessed a biblical worldview, which was defined
in this manner:
        A biblical worldview was defined [for the purposes of this survey] as believing
        that absolute moral truths exist; that such truth is defined by the Bible; and firm
        belief in six specific religious views. Those views were that Jesus Christ lived a
        sinless life; God is the all-powerful and all-knowing Creator of the universe and
        He still rules it today; salvation is a gift from God and cannot be earned; Satan is
        real; a Christian has a responsibility to share their faith in Christ with other
        people; and the Bible is accurate in all of its teachings. 17
Since we live in an environment in which biblical truth has been abandoned by many people,
even by those who claim to be Christians, we must be ready to offer evidences of why the Bible
is trustworthy. We must also be ready to use various forms of reasoning and argumentation to
persuade people to believe in Christianity.
Apologetics aids evangelism
        As stated earlier, apologetics is the handmaid to evangelism. They both have the ultimate
goal of glorifying God by bringing people to faith in Jesus. When we share the gospel, we must
be ready to give people a reason why they should believe it.
        If you are like me, you have failed to share the gospel in the past because you didn’t
know how to answer difficult questions that an unbeliever might ask. These questions could be
about science and the origins of the universe, or about why there is evil in the world if God is
good. A non-Christian may point out some potentially embarrassing things in the Old
Testament, such as the arcane regulations in Leviticus or the destruction of other people groups.
If we don’t know how to answer such questions, we may never share the gospel.
        William Lane Craig believes that is the case.
               Many Christians do not share their faith with unbelievers simply out of
        fear. They’re afraid that the non-Christian will ask them a question or raise an

  “A Biblical Worldview Has a Radical Effect on a Person’s Life,” Barna Group, December 1, 2003,
persons-life?q=biblical+worldview (accessed March 7, 2012). Quoted in Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 120.

           objection that they can’t answer. And so they choose to remain silent and thus
           hide their light under a bushel, in disobedience to Christ’s command. Apologetics
           training is a tremendous boost to evangelism, for nothing inspires confidence and
           boldness more than knowing that one has good reasons for what one believes and
           good answers to the typical questions and objections that the unbeliever may
           raise. Sound training in apologetics is one of the keys to fearless evangelism. In
           this and many other ways apologetics helps to build up the body of Christ by
           strengthening individual believers.18
         I believe that apologetics aids evangelism because it supports the gospel with evidence.
But the best arguments alone cannot convert people to Christianity. Only the Holy Spirit can
make someone a Christian. He may choose to use apologetics as the means of bringing someone
to faith, but good reasoning and plenty of evidence alone will never save someone. Some have
said, “You can’t argue people to heaven.” That may be true, but only in the sense that we can’t
save anyone, even by sharing the gospel. However, if God chooses to use our arguments and our
gospel presentation to save someone, he is capable of doing so.
         One more point related to evangelism: because Christianity has such little influence in
our society, we may need to work harder to present the rationality of the Christian faith so that
people will listen to us at all. Because many people consider Christianity foolish, we must
demonstrate that it is logically consistent. In an earlier age in our country, we wouldn’t have to
work so hard to show that Christianity is an intellectually viable option, but we do now. As
Craig puts it, “If the situation is not to degenerate further, it is imperative that we shape the
intellectual climate of our nation in such a way that Christianity remains a live option for
thinking mean and women.”19
Apologetics helps us engage the culture for Christ
        We cannot control the results of our evangelism and apologetics. We can share the
gospel accurately and lovingly and people may never believe. We can defend the gospel and
give plenty of reasons why it is true, and still people may refuse to come to faith in Jesus. Those
things are out of our hands.
        However, Christians still need to engage the world with Christian values and a Christian
worldview. If we are in the world arguing why abortion should be illegal, for example, we need
to have a rational argument to show it is morally wrong. The same can be said for many other
issues that arise in the public square. We will examine how we can give a rational argument for
Christian values as we continue our study of apologetics.
Apologetics strengthens the faith of believers
         During my first semester of seminary, I was fortunate enough to take an elective course
titled, “History of the English Bible.” I always wanted to know how the Bible came together and
why we acknowledge it to be the Word of God. In that course, I learned that there are thousands

     Craig, Reasonable Faith, 21.
     Ibid., 17.

of manuscripts (hand-written copies) of the Greek New Testament, which is far, far more copies
than of any other ancient book that we have. I heard the very convincing argument that the Bible
has to be authored by God because it was written by many different human authors in different
times and locations (and, in the case of the New Testament, to different locations), and yet it is
remarkably coherent. As I read about these things, I found that my faith in God increased.
        Apologetics can give us a similar benefit. Our faith is something that God has given to us
(Eph. 2:8-9; Phil. 1:29). It is supernatural to believe in God, in that God must open up our hearts
to believe in him. Though we believe in God by supernatural faith, there is still a logical,
rational, evidential foundation to that faith. God actually created the universe. He truly became
flesh and died on a cross. He really did rise from the grave. These objective truths undergird
the Christian faith. In fact, one of the things that make Christianity different from some other
religions is that it is based on objective historical facts, not subjective spiritual “realities.”
        John Frame declares, “For the believer, apologetics gives reassurance to faith as it
displays the rationality of Scripture itself. That rationality also gives to the believer an
intellectual foundation, a basis for faith and a basis for making wise decisions in life.”20 The
Christian faith does not rest on blind faith. It is a faith that engages the mind, one that is
reasonable and promotes a vibrant intellectual life.
        When we are trained in apologetics, we are less likely to be “tossed to and fro by the
waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful
schemes” (Eph. 4:14). When we are grounded in truth, we will “See to it that no one takes you
captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the
elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Col. 2:8).
Apologetics helps us prepare our children to face the world
        Our world is dominated by secularism, a philosophy that denies God a voice at the table.
Our public schools will allow nearly any philosophy or faith other than Christianity to be taught.
The belief that science is the ultimate source of truth is a faith, as is the belief that there is no
God. Any philosophy ultimately rests on faith assumptions, ideas that no human can prove
empirically. We live in a time that is seeing increasing hostility towards Christianity. To those
who are perishing in their unbelief, the cross is not only foolish: it is an offense.
        No matter how we educate our children—public school, home school, Christian school—
at some point, they will enter into a secular environment, most likely in college or the workplace.
If they are not prepared to deal with attacks on their faith, they will have a difficult time. They
will either be miserable, hide their faith by becoming “closeted Christians,” or will be separated
from the world and therefore unable to evangelize.
        Craig fears in particular for Christian children who enter public high schools and
           In high school and college Christian teenagers are intellectually assaulted with
           every manner of non-Christian worldview coupled with an overwhelming

     Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God, 26.

           relativism. If parents are not intellectually engaged with their faith and do not
           have sound arguments for Christian theism and good answers to their children’s
           questions, then we are in real danger of losing our youth. It’s no longer enough to
           teach our children Bible stores; they need doctrine and apologetics. Frankly, I
           find it hard to understand how people today can risk parenthood without having
           studied apologetics.21
He then adds, “We’ve got to train our kids for war.”
        There are probably several other reasons why we should study apologetics. Personally, I
find that that it strengthens my faith and gives me confidence to share the gospel. I also find it
intellectually satisfying, as I see that all truth comes from God and is compatible with the
message of the Bible.

        If you have read up to this point, the answer to this question should be obvious. Some of
the more prominent verses in the Bible that support apologetics are 1 Peter 3:15; Jude 3;
Philippians 1:6, 17; 2 Corinthians 10:3-6; and Colossians 4:6. However, these are not the only
passages that encourage apologetics.
        Throughout the Bible, there is a sense in which God is an apologist. He doesn’t just say,
“I’m God, so believe in me!” He accompanies his words with miraculous actions. Throughout
the Bible, he proves his deity through numerous miraculous acts of power, which are often called
“signs and wonders.” Jesus showed his deity through miracles, the greatest of which was the
resurrection. God doesn’t merely assert facts about himself; he proves them with his actions.
        Jesus was able to defend himself when the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes tried to test
him. See, for example, Matthew 16:1-4, when the Pharisees and Sadducees come to test Jesus by
asking him for a sign from heaven. Consider Matthew 22:15, when the Pharisees plot “how to
entangle him in his words.” Jesus gives them a brilliant answer about paying taxes, one which
teaches a powerful truth about God’s sovereignty over all powers, including Caesar (Matt. 22:16-
23). In the passage that immediately follows, Jesus answers the Sadducees’ question about
marriage in a way that astonishes them (Matt. 22:23-33).
        Paul was also a master apologist. Consider the following passages from Acts:
             And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned
           with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for
           the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I
           proclaim to you, is the Christ.” 4 And some of them were persuaded and joined
           Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the
           leading women. (Acts 17:2-4)

     Craig, Reasonable Faith, 19.

         Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within
       him as he saw that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue
       with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with
       those who happened to be there. (Acts 17:16-17)
       And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and
       Greeks. (Acts 18:4)
       And they came to Ephesus, and he left them there, but he himself went into the
       synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. (Acts 18:19)
       8And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and
       persuading them about the kingdom of God. 9 But when some became stubborn
       and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he
       withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall
       of Tyrannus. 10 This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia
       heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks. (Acts 19:8-10)
       And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming
       judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, “Go away for the present. When I get an
       opportunity I will summon you.” (Acts 24:25)
        When Paul was reasoning in those passages, he was usually doing so with other Jews.
Since their basis of knowledge was the Old Testament, Paul reasoned from the pages of Scripture
that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of David and Son of Man that they had been awaiting. In
Athens, however, Paul had to reason with the Greeks in a different way. He used an altar to an
idol, “the unknown god,” as a starting point before talking about the true God who made
everything, including nations and their inhabitants (Acts 17:22-27).
        Paul then quoted a couple of Greek poets, showing that all truth is God’s truth, even
when it comes from unlikely sources (Acts 17:28). He then used that truth (that all human
beings are, in a broad sense, “God’s offspring”) to show that the real God must be a personal
being, not a hunk of gold or silver or stone, made by a man (Acts 27:29).
        Paul followed this information with a warning that the “times of ignorance” are now
over, and that God calls people to repent, because one day he will judge the world through Jesus,
who is risen from the dead (Acts 17:30-31).
        When we discuss apologetic methods, we will consider the two ways that Paul reasoned
with people (from Scripture and by using various evidences and arguments).
        Paul also commanded Timothy to use apologetics. He told him that “the Lord’s servant”
must be “able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God
may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to
their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” (2
Tim. 2:24-26).
        Now that we know what apologetics is and why we are supposed to study it, we will
begin to look at various methods for giving people the reason for the hope that is in us.
         Our goal in apologetics is to point people to what is true. We want people to know the
truth about God, and then believe in him. Our goal is always leading people to faith in Christ, to
the glory of God. Therefore, we must discuss not only truth and propositional knowledge of
facts, but also a relational knowledge (belief/trust) of Jesus. Christianity is a religion based on
true historical events. When Paul related the historical details of Christ’s resurrection to the
Corinthians (1 Cor. 15:3-8), he stated that if Christ has not been raised, then his preaching and
their faith was in vain and futile (vv. 14, 17). Christianity is based on truth.
         Before learning certain arguments for God or evidences of his existence, it is necessary to
lay some philosophical groundwork. Often, when we are trying to convince people that God is
real and the only way to know him is through a relationship with Jesus, it will require more than
offering certain lines of evidence. We will have to challenge the root of someone’s faith. We
will have to question how that person knows what he or she knows. In other words, we must
ask, “What is truth?” and “How you know that?”
         Therefore, it is necessary to get to the foundation of truth, knowledge, and belief. If you
can get to the root of the issue, it may not be necessary to know everything about history,
science, and biblical evidence. We will study answers to popular objections to Christianity, but
apologetics is more than memorizing answers. Rather, it is a way of thinking. We must think
about what is true, how we know truth, and how faith factors into that knowledge.
         Let’s think of a concrete example. Think of a simple fact: it is raining. Now, that
statement is true only if it is actually raining. But how do I know it is raining? Well, I can look
out a window and see the rain. If I’m unsure about what I see, I can step outside and feel the
rain. I can quickly verify through two of my five senses that it is indeed raining. Therefore, the
statement “it is raining” agrees with reality, and I can know that through my senses. That is quite
         However, imagine I were working in a windowless office on the tenth floor of a building.
My friend calls me on the phone and tells me it is raining, which means we will have to postpone
our plans to play tennis. Now, I have no access to a window, so I can’t see it is raining and I
can’t step outside to feel the rain. I must trust my friend. I must believe that he is telling me the
truth. There may be other ways to verify my friend’s statement—by calling other friends or
checking the weather on the Internet—but these methods, too, will require faith in those sources.
         Our personal ability to know truths beyond the shadow of a doubt is actually quite
limited. We often require faith or belief to know that something is true. When I board a plane, I
can’t know with my own senses that the plane is able to operate properly and that the pilot knows
how to fly the plane and is mentally and physically fit to do so. Even if I were in a position to
inspect the plane, I wouldn’t know what to look for to be sure it is mechanically sound. And
how does one verify that a pilot is competent? But I trust (or believe) that the plane will reach its
destination safely on the basis of that airline’s track record. Once again, we see that our


knowledge of the truth is often mediated by faith, a trust that is reasonable but not empirically
        If we ponder these things at length, we might find them quite disturbing, were it not for
our faith in God. Christians believe that people have access to many truths because God is
faithful and true, because he has created an ordered universe, and because he has revealed
himself through creation and through Scripture. Ultimately, we can know certain truths because
of the character and actions of God.
        Let us know examine truth, knowledge, and belief and how they relate one to another.

        What is truth? In the example above, the statement “it is raining” is true if it is actually
raining. If it were not raining, the statement wouldn’t be true. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? This
is the correspondence view of truth, which means that the proposition (the declarative statement)
corresponds to reality. To put it another way, a true statement agrees with reality. According to
Douglas Groothuis, “A belief or statement is true only if it matches with, reflects or corresponds
to the reality it refers to. For a statement to be true it must be factual.” 1
        Most people would agree with this definition of truth, and in certain contexts, nearly
everyone would agree with this definition of truth. When dealing with financial matters, every
reasonable person would agree that the number of dollars on their bank statement agrees with the
actual amount of money they possess. Unless the bank had made a gross error, few people
would question the meaning of the number on their bank statement. If the statement says five
hundred dollars, then the person only has five hundred dollars. There is no haggling over the
meaning of the number 500. No honest and reasonable person would say, “500 is your truth; but
my truth is 5,000.” No right-thinking person would say, “There may a definite number of dollars
in my account, but there’s no way that we can truly know that number.” Again, this is simple,
something we take for granted.
        In the worlds of business, science, and medicine, most people don’t question truth. When
it comes to history, some conspiracy theorists may challenge conventional historical reporting
(by insisting, for example, that the CIA, Fidel Castro, and the Mafia assassinated JFK), but we
tend to think of those people as a bit unrealistic.
        However, in the fields of theology and philosophy, this common sense view of truth, the
correspondence view, is regularly questioned. Other views of truth have become more prevalent
in the world of philosophy. Though most people do not study philosophy, these ideas have a
way of trickling down from academic philosophers who teach at universities to their students and
into the non-academic world, as these students become public school teachers, writers,
journalists, and other people who subtly influence our society.

    Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011), 124.

        Skepticism is a position of doubt. A skeptic is uncertain whether anyone can know truth.
As with all philosophical positions, there are degrees to which a person may hold a position.
Some skeptics are mildly doubtful; they require a great deal of evidence in order to believe
something is true. Others would say there are objective realities, but we have no access to them.
J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig offer a definition of the traditional view of skepticism:
“There is some controversy over what the Academic skeptics have actually affirmed, but the
traditional view is that they asserted two things: (1) The skeptical thesis: All things are
inapprehensible, no one has any knowledge. (2) Regarding the skeptical thesis itself, we can
dogmatically affirm that we know that no one has any knowledge.” 2 If you are paying attention,
you can see that this statement contradicts itself. It says, “We truly know that we cannot know
truth.” For a skeptic to be consistent, he would have to be skeptical about his own skepticism,
doubtful about his own doubt. But such a view is untenable for everyday living. You can’t
doubt everything.
        C. S. Lewis recognized such when he wrote The Abolition of Man. In it, he writes,
        But you cannot go on “explaining away” for ever: you will find that you have
        explained explanation itself away. You cannot go on “seeing through” things for
        ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it.
        It is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden
        beyond it is opaque. How if you saw through the garden too? It is no use trying
        to “see through” first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is
        transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To “see
        through” all things is the same as not to see.3
Lewis uses the term “first principles.” These are what others may call presuppositions or
touchstone truths. We all reason from foundational things, whether it is the Bible, human reason,
the laws of science, or other things that are more subjective, like our intuition and emotions.
But if we are skeptical about everything, we have no foundation from which to make any
judgments. We will have to doubt whether we know anything, even first principles like the idea
that we can trust our minds to work properly or that our five senses do not betray us. We will
have no truth to stand on, and we will have to doubt our own position.
        The skeptical position towards God could be expressed in such a way: “There may be a
God, but there is no way of knowing him.” Perhaps the skeptic may say, “There is no way of
proving any religious belief.” Some have even said, “Each religion sees the part of spiritual
truth, but none can see the whole truth.”4 These statements sound powerful when you first hear
them, but if you stop and think, they are all self-refuting. The first statement says that there is no
way to know God, but that statement itself asserts a type of knowledge of God. The second

  J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove,
IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 92.
  C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York: Macmillan, 1947), 91.
  Timothy Keller refutes this claim in The Reason for God (New York: Riverhead Books, 2008), 8.

statement concerns religious belief, and if there is no way of proving religious belief, there is no
way to prove that statement is true. Whoever speaks the third statement assumes that he or she
sees the whole of spiritual truth. Otherwise, how could he or she know that each religion only
sees part?
        This last idea may require an illustration. The British missionary to India, Lesslie
Newbigin, reported that Indians often told him that no one is able to see the whole of spiritual
truth. They told him a story: A king and his courtiers witness blind men who encounter an
elephant and start to feel it to see what it is. Each blind man feels a different part of the
elephant. One man feels the trunk and states that the animal is long and flexible, like a snake.
Another man feels a leg and states that the animal feels round and thick, like a tree trunk. A third
man feels the elephant’s side and states that the animal is large and flat. The point is that no one
can describe the whole elephant, just as no one religion can describe the whole of God. This
sounds reasonable, but there is a flaw in this story. Newbigin makes this devastating
           The story is told from the point of view of the king and his courtiers, who are not
           blind but can see that the blind men are unable to grasp the full reality of the
           elephant and are only able to get hold of part of the truth. The story is constantly
           told in order to neutralize the affirmation of the great religions, to suggest that
           they learn humility and recognize that none of them can have more than one
           aspect of the truth. But, of course, the real point of the story is exactly the
           opposite. If the king were also blind there would be no story. The story is told by
           the king, and it is the immensely arrogant claim of one who sees the full truth
           which all the world’s religions are only groping after. It embodies the claim to
           know the full reality which relativizes all the claims of the religions and
Skeptics may sound wise, but we must remind them of their own skepticism. To be consistent, a
skeptic cannot claim to know anything with certainty, even his own skepticism. If he says, “We
cannot know truth, we must respond, “Then I cannot know your statement is true.” When people
assert “truths,” they must apply that truth to their own statements.
        According to Tim Keller, “If you say all truth-claims are power plays, then so is your
statement. If you say (like Freud) that all truth-claims about religion and God are just
psychological projections to deal with your guilt and insecurity, then so is your statement. To
see through everything is not to see.”6
       Another attack on truth has been mounted by postmodernism. This term needs some
explaining. Premodern thought is associated with the time up until the Renaissance. Premodern
people thought that ultimate truth came through faith in a god, though many other truths could be

    Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989), 9-10.
    Keller, The Reason for God, 38.

known through exploring the world and using reason. The modern era began with the European
Renaissance (about 1420-1630) and flourished in the Age of Enlightenment, approximately
1650-1800, and beyond. Modern thinkers believed that most everything could be known through
science and reason. Perhaps some spiritual truths could be learned through a religious faith, but
humans were capable of learning almost anything on their own. (This brief historical sketch is,
of course, a generalization.) Postmodern thinking, developed in the twentieth century, however,
calls into question the very notion of absolute, objective truth.
         By its very nature, postmodernism is very difficult to define. Moreland and Craig explain
           For one thing, postmodernism is a loose coalition of diverse thinkers from several
           different academic disciplines, and it would be difficult to characterize
           postmodernism in a way that would be fair to this diversity. Further, part of the
           nature of postmodernism is a rejection of certain things—for example, truth,
           objective rationality, authorial meaning in texts along with the existence of stable
           verbal meanings and universally valid linguistic definitions—that make accurate
           definitions possible. 7
The key elements in that definition are the rejection of truth and as “authorial meaning.” A
premodern or postmodern thinker would assume that there are absolute truths that can be known.
A postmodern thinker assumes that truth is relative, simply the product of any particular culture.
A premodern or modern thinker would accept that the meaning of a text was what the author
intended to communicate. A postmodern thinker assumes that the meaning is up for grabs.
Postmodern thinkers believe that the reader is able to decide what the text means. (This has
enormous implications for how one reads the Bible or any other authoritative document.)
        This may sound like ivory tower material to you, but as with all philosophical
movements, there is a trickledown effect. When you try to share the gospel with someone and
hear, “That may be true for you, but not for me,” that is postmodern philosophy at work. When a
Christian, who should have a premodern way of thinking, talks with a postmodernist, there is a
clash of worldviews. According to James Sire, “The ‘premodern’ Christian had too clear a view
of human depravity, and the ‘postmodern’ mind has too dim a view of any universal truth.” 8
        Postmodern thought generally says that there is no truth but what you decide to be true.
Postmodernists believe that truth is the product of language, which is created by societies. This
is another way of saying that we create our own realities. This way of thinking is the natural
result of people who drift from God. The first step is deciding that we don’t need God to know
truth. (Or, perhaps, that we know truth better than God!) The next step is saying there is no God.
When one denies God, there is no reason to believe in universal truth or objective morality.
Once you part ways with God, the purpose of life is what you make it.

    Moreland and Craig, Philosophical Foundations, 144-45.
    James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door, 5th ed. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 218.

        This way of thinking may sound absurd to some of us, with good reason, but it affects the
thinking of many people. Not too long ago, I asked a teenager, “What is the purpose of life?”
He responded by saying, “Each person has their own purpose and they have to find it for
themselves.” His answer assumes that there is no one true purpose of life.
        Perhaps the easiest way to get a sense of postmodernism is to see what postmodern
philosophers write. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) is, perhaps, the
father of postmodernism. This is what he said about truth:
        What, then, is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and
        anthropomorphisms—in short, a sum of human relations, which have been
        enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and which
        after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people: truths are illusions
        about which one has forgotten that this is what they are; metaphors which are
        worn out and without sensuous power; coins which have lost their pictures and
        now matter only as metal, no longer as coins. 9
Truth, according to Nietzsche, is nothing more than something made by human beings, illusions
as worthless as old coins that no longer count as currency. Perhaps it should be noted that
Nietzsche had a mental breakdown in 1889 and suffered from mental illness during the
remaining years of his life. At any rate, if truth is an illusion, then Nietzsche’s statement is
illusory, a product of his imagination. There is apparently no basis for his statement. No other
truth exists to which he can appeal.
        A more contemporary postmodern philosopher, Richard Rorty, states that truth is the
product of language, which we made for ourselves.
        The world does not speak. Only we do. The world can, once we have
        programmed ourselves with a language, cause us to hold beliefs. But it cannot
        propose a language for us to speak. Only other human beings can do that. . . .
        Languages are made rather than found, and . . . truth is a property of linguistic
        entities, of sentences. 10
Rorty says that truth is a property of language, and we “program” ourselves with that language.
Therefore, human beings create their own truth. If that is so, Rorty’s statement has no absolute
truth to support it. It is simply his truth. I can refute his comments, and my comments are true,
too, because they are a property of my own linguistic entities. Of course, Rorty may not
appreciate that. He may think I am misinterpreting his comments, which means that, at heart, he
is not truly a postmodernist.
         Postmodernists often obscure the inherent instability and incoherence of their statements
by using complex language. They don’t come out and say: “This is absolutely true: there is no

  Friedrich Nietzsche, “On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense,” in The Portable Nietzsche, ed. Walter Kaufmann
(New York: Penguin Books, 1954), 46-47.
   Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony and Solidarity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 6-7. Quoted
in Sire, The Universe Next Door, 223.

absolute truth!” If they did, it would be clearly absurd. Instead, they wrap their absurd thoughts
in layers of, for lack of a better word, gobbledygook. J. Budziszewski, a philosopher and a
Christian, noticed this trend. “C. S. Lewis said that a good test of whether you understand
something is whether you can express it in uneducated language, in street talk. . . . The problem
is that once postmodernism is translated into street talk, anyone can see how silly it is.”11
         If we actually used this philosophy in everyday life, we would see just how absurd it is.
Imagine going to the doctor and being told you have cancer. Imagine responding to him in this
fashion: “You say I have cancer, which may be true, but only insofar as truth is a property of
linguistic entities, of sentences. And we all know that we have programmed ourselves with a
language, which cause us to hold beliefs. While I appreciate your concerns, I say that I do not
have cancer. That sentence—that linguistic entity—causes me to hold the belief that I am
perfectly healthy.” In essence, you told the doctor, “That may be true for you, but not for me,”
and you have avoided the reality of the situation. That is not philosophical sophistication; it is
         No one in real life is postmodern. It would be impossible to live in such a way.
Postmodern philosophers only apply this way of thinking to more abstract concepts, like God,
religion, and morality. Some postmodern philosophers believe that any claims of truth are power
plays, ways of asserting authority over others. That very statement, however, is a truth claim and
thus a power play. “If we hold that all linguistic utterances are power plays, then that utterance
itself is a power play and no more likely to be proper than any other.”12 Postmodernism, like
skepticism, is inherently unstable. By its own logic, it cannot stand. It devours itself.
         Unfortunately, postmodernism has subtly shaped the way that many people think. It has
affected the thinking of younger generations and it has even crept into Christendom. All
Christians should reject this way of thinking. I agree with J. P. Moreland when he writes, “I am
also convinced that postmodernism is an irresponsible, cowardly abrogation of the duties that
constitute a disciple’s calling to be a Christian intellectual and teacher.” 13 He then adds, “Faced
with such opposition and the pressure it brings, postmodernism is a form of intellectual pacifism
that, at the end of the day, recommends backgammon while the barbarians are at the gate.”14
Instead of courageously facing reality, postmodernists play games that help no one deal with the
major issues of life, like death and evil. All Christians should reject any thinking that leads them
away from truth, particularly truth related to God, sin, salvation, and judgment.

   J. Budziszewski, “Practical Responses to Relativism and Postmodernism, Part 1,” in Philosophy: Christian
Perspectives for the New Millennium, ed. Paul Copan, Scott B. Luley and Stan Wallace (Addison, TX; Norcross,
GA: CIM; RZIM, 2003), 94. Quoted in James W. Sire, Why Good Arguments Often Fail (Downers Grove, IL: IVP
Books, 2006), 114.
   Sire, The Universe Next Door, 238.
   Moreland, “Postmodernism and Truth,” in Reasons for Faith, ed. Norman L. Geisler and Chad V. Meister
(Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007), 125.
   Ibid., 126.

Coherence and pragmatism
         There are two other views of truth opposed to the correspondence view. One is
coherence. The coherence view holds that if a set of beliefs is coherent (logical and consistent) it
is true. However, fiction writers often create fantasy worlds that are coherent, but are not true.
And it is possible that two equally coherent set of beliefs could have completely different ideas
about God and the meaning of life. Only one can be true, so coherence won’t help us assess if a
set of beliefs is actually true.
         Pragmatism when related to truth says that something is true if it produces a beneficial
outcome. That is, something is true if it “works.” For that to be true, however, one would have
to know what is beneficial (what works) and what the effects of a belief would be. So, for
example, someone could say, “I believe in God. My belief is true because it works for me.” But
what does it mean to work? Does it mean you feel better, or you have a sense of purpose? How
do you know believing in God accomplishes that? And couldn’t some other belief accomplish
the same goal? In the end, the pragmatic view of truth doesn’t address reality.
Truth according to the Bible
        In contrast to skepticism, postmodernism, coherence, and pragmatism, the Bible states
that truth can be known. We can trust God’s word because it is true.
       And now, O Lord GOD, you are God, and your words are true, and you have promised
       this good thing to your servant. (2 Sam. 7:28)
       This God—his way is perfect;
          the word of the LORD proves true;
          he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. (Ps. 18:3)
       Your righteousness is righteous forever,
          and your law is true. (Ps. 119:142)
       But you are near, O LORD,
          and all your commandments are true. (Ps. 119:151)
       The sum of your word is truth,
          and every one of your righteous rules endures forever. (Ps. 119:160)
         Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I
       have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also
       may be sanctified in truth. (John 17:17-19)
God’s words are true. What he has revealed in the Bible is true (see Eph. 1:13; 2 Tim. 2:25).
Not only are his words true, but he is true. Jesus is full of grace and truth (John 1:14) and is true
(1 John 5:20). Moreover, Jesus himself is truth (John 14:6). Likewise, the Holy Spirit is the
“Spirit of truth” (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13; 1 John 4:6).

         In contrast to God, Satan is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44). He lied to Eve in the
garden (Gen. 3:4; 2 Cor. 11:3) and he is trying to deceive the whole world (Rev. 12:9). All truth
comes from God and all lies come from Satan.
         We can even say that God is the source of logic and reason. The above statement, that all
truth comes from God and all lies come from Satan, reminds me of one of the laws of logic. The
law (or principle) of bivalence states that every proposition is either true or false. The statement,
“2 + 2 = 4,” must be true or false. The statement, “The Declaration of Independence was signed
in 1776,” must be true or false.
         There are three other key laws of logic. A similar one to the law of bivalence is the law
of the excluded middle, which says that any factual statement and its denial cannot both be true.
“2 + 2 = 4” and “2 + 2 ≠ 4” cannot both be true.
         Yet another law of logic is the law of noncontradiction, which, according to Aristotle,
states, “It is impossible for the same attribute at once to belong and not to belong to the same
thing and in the same relation.”15 Jesus cannot be both God and not-God. (Though he can be
both fully God and fully human.)
         Finally, the last law is the law of identity, expressed as A = A. A is what it is and is
nothing other than itself. 16
         These laws of logic seem so commonsense that we often take them for granted. Non-
Christians take them for granted, too. But the question we should ask is, Why do laws of logic
exist? We could ask the same question of mathematical and scientific laws. Why is our universe
orderly, and what (or Who) keeps these laws in place?
         In 1985, a Christian theologian, philosopher, and pastor named Greg Bahnsen debated an
atheistic scientist named Gordon Stein at the University of California, Irvine. Dr. Bahnsen
overmatched Dr. Stein, in part because he offered the transcendental argument for God’s
existence, which Dr. Stein had never heard of. Bahnsen defined that argument in this way:
         The transcendental proof for God's existence is that without him, it is impossible
         to prove anything. The atheist worldview is irrational and cannot consistently
         provide the preconditions of intelligible experience, science, logic, or morality.
         The atheist worldview cannot allow for laws of logic, the uniformity of nature, the
         ability for the mind to understand the world, and moral absolutes.17
Bahnsen means that God is necessary for there to be laws of logic, laws of science, and
universal, objective morals. If there is no God, why should be there be an orderly existence? If
there is no God, and we have simply evolved out of nothing, why should we trust our minds to
know truth? If we were the product of blind, evolutionary forces, our minds would only be
suited for survival, not for exploring the truths of human existence, the world, and the universe.

   Aristotle, Metaphysics 1005b.19-20, in Aristotle in 23 Volumes, Trans. Hugh Tredennick. (Medford, MA:
Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd., 1933, 1989).
   These laws are discussed briefly in Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 46-48.
   The recording and transcript of the debate are available at http://bryanlopez.com/2012/01/17/the-great-debate-
does-god-exist-is-atheism-valid/ (last accessed March 31, 2012).

        In the same debate, Bahnsen showed that laws of logic are immaterial (nonphysical), just
as the Christian God is immaterial. The implication is that if the universe consisted of only
material things—if there was no immaterial, supernatural Being—then we could not account for
immaterial forces and realities. If we have evolved out of impersonal matter, then how do we
account for our very personhood, the things that separate us from rocks and trees, like self-
consciousness, thought, rationality, and emotions?
        During the debate, the two speakers cross-examined each other. Bahnsen questioned
Stein first.

        DR. BAHNSEN: Do you believe there are laws of logic then?
        DR. STEIN: Absolutely. . . .
        DR. BAHNSEN: Are they material in nature?
        DR. STEIN: How can a law be material?
        DR. BAHNSEN: That's a question I'm going to ask you.
        DR. STEIN: I would say no.
        MODERATOR: Dr. Stein, you have an opportunity to cross-examine Dr.
        DR. STEIN: Dr. Bahnsen, would you call God material or immaterial?
        DR. BAHNSEN: Immaterial.
        DR. STEIN: What is something that is immaterial?
        DR. BAHNSEN: Something not extended in space.
        DR. STEIN: Can you give me an example of anything other than God that's
        DR. BAHNSEN: Laws of logic.
I’m not sure how Gordon Stein walked into that situation, but he essentially proved Greg
Bahnsen’s point. The laws of logic are immaterial, like God, because they come from God and
reflect his character.
        The only reason we can think, know truth, and use logic is that all of these things come
from God. If there were no God, there would be no reason why we should trust our thoughts,
have access to truth, or have logic that is universal and unchanging. Rather, we would fully
expect to live in a universe that was capricious, constantly changing, and disordered.
        The Bible tells us that God is reason why the universe is orderly. John 1:1 says, “In the
beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The “Word” is
a translation of the Greek word logos. This word could mean many things. To Stoic
philosophers, this word meant reason, “the impersonal principle governing the universe.” 18 It
could also refer to wisdom, or to the words spoken by God. (We must remember that God spoke
creation into existence—“By the word of the LORD the heavens were made” [Ps. 33:6a]).
According to Vern Poythress, “John responds to the speculations of his time with a striking

  Andreas J. Köstenberger, John, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker
Academic, 2004), 26.

revelation: that the Word (logos) that created and sustains the universe is not only a divine
person ‘with God,’ but the very One who became incarnate: ‘the Word became flesh’ (1:14).”19
        The author of Hebrews expresses this thought when he writes,
                Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by
        the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he
        appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is
        the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he
        upholds the universe by the word of his power. (Heb. 1:1-3a).
God the Father created the universe through Jesus, who sustains the universe through his
powerful word. The reason the universe continues to be orderly is because of God. In a proper
sense, each moment of our life is a supernatural event, governed by the power of God. Because
God is an intelligent person (which is not to say a created being or a human, but One who is
personal), we are intelligent people.
        John Frame presents this argument in his book on apologetics. He writes, “Granted that
the universe contains both persons (like you and me) and impersonal structures (like matter,
motion, chance, time, space, and physical laws), which is fundamental?” He then adds, “If the
impersonal is primary, then there is no consciousness, no wisdom, and no will in the ultimate
origin of things. What we call reason and value are the unintended, accidental consequences of
chance events.” 20 However, we do have personal traits. We are not robots, the sum of all our
material parts.
        Frame then considers life created by a personal being. “But if the personal is primary,
then the world as made according to a rational plan that can be understood by rational minds. . . .
If personality is absolute, there is one who cares about what we do, who approves or disapproves
our conduct.”21 An absolute Creator—One who is immaterial but capable of making material
things, One who is personal, who is all powerful—best accounts for everything we see and
experience. If that is so, then why don’t all people see it? “When scientists seek the causes of
things, they almost always assume that the personal elements in the universe can be explained by
the impersonal (matter, laws, motion), rather than the other way around. . . . Is it not initially at
least equally plausible that impersonal matter, motion, and force can be explained by the
decisions of a person?”22 After all, we have seen people make impersonal things (like
computers), but we’ve never seen an impersonal thing (like a rock) make a person.
        Why do so many scientists and other normally rational people not see the error in their
                “The only even remotely plausible explanation of this situation is that
        given in the Bible: that though God’s existence is clearly revealed to all (Rom.
        1:18-20), rebellious mankind seeks to suppress that revelation and thus to operate
   Vern S. Poythress, Redeeming Science (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006), 21-22.
   John Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1994), 35.
   Ibid., 36.
   Ibid., 39.

           on the assumption that the God of Scripture does not exist. Is this not the most
           likely reason for the almost universal, but irrational, preference for impersonalism
           over personalism?”23
Unbelievers suppress the truth about God
        Everyone knows there is a God. Deep down, in some part of our minds, we are aware of
God’s existence. We all see evidence that points to him. Like laws of logic and an innate sense
of right and wrong, our very existence, along with all of creation, points us toward God.
        In Romans 1:18-23, Paul writes,
                       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. 20 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. 21 For although they
           knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became
           futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be
           wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for
           images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Because people are unrighteous by their very nature, they suppress the truth about God. Yet God
has revealed some of his attributes, like his eternal power and divine nature, plainly to everyone.
This means that everyone knows God in a general way. Simply by living in this world, everyone
knows something about his eternal power and divine nature. Theologians call this natural
revelation: God has revealed himself in nature. Everyone knows him. Therefore, everyone has
no excuse for their sin, their suppression of truth and their idolatry.
         According to this passage, when people suppress the truth about God, they become
“futile in their thinking” and their foolish hearts become darkened. Suppressing the truth is
always a foolish thing to do. Denying God cuts one off from the root of truth. That is why
David writes, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Pss. 14:1; 53:1).
         The problem of why normally intelligent and reasonable people do not know God does
not have an academic solution. It can’t be solved merely through education. The problem is not
an intellectual one; rather, it is a moral one. People suppress the truth of God because they don’t
want there to be a God. As Tim Chester and Steve Timmis put it, “The problem is not that we
cannot know God. The problem is that we will not know God. It is a problem of the heart rather
than the head.”24
         However, the problem of the heart leads to a problem of the head. Unrighteousness leads
to the suppression of the truth, which leads to futile thinking. Ephesians 4:17-18 says, “Now this
I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of

     Ibid., 40.
     Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Total Church (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 167.

their minds. They 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.” Hard hearts lead people to dismiss
the truth of God (thus producing ignorance) and to think in ultimately unproductive ways. That
is why normally brilliant physicists, when confronted with evidence that the universe had a
definite beginning, which suggests creation, start making up fantastic ideas that sound more like
fairy tales than science. Even when some brilliant atheists realize the universe had a definite
beginning, they make inane claims. The Oxford-educated atheistic philosopher and cognitive
scientist Daniel Dennett writes, “What does need its origin explained is the concrete Universe
itself. . . . It . . . does perform a version of the ultimate bootstrapping trick; it creates itself ex
nihilo [out of nothing]. Or at any rate out of something that is well-night indistinguishable from
nothing at all.”25
          Amazingly, sometimes unbelievers admit that they are led to certain conclusions by their
hearts or their commitments to immorality. Nietzsche clues us in on this tendency when he
writes, “To explain how a philosopher’s most remote metaphysical assertions have actually been
arrived at, it is always well (and wise) to ask oneself first: what morality does his (does he) aim
at?”26 In other words, the philosopher’s desired morality (or immorality) explains their
philosophy. They try to justify their desires with their philosophical beliefs.
          Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), author of Brave New World, gives us a clearer example. In
a 1937 essay, he writes,
        I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; and consequently
        assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying
        reasons for this assumption. . . . For myself, as, no doubt, for most of my
        contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument
        of liberation . . . from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality
        because it interfered with our sexual freedom; we objected to the political and
        economic system because it was unjust. The supporters of these systems claimed
        that in some way they embodied the meaning (a Christian meaning, they insisted)
        of the world. There was one admirably simple method of confuting these people
        and at the same time justifying ourselves to our political and erotic revolt: we
        could deny that the world had any meaning whatsoever.” 27
Huxley and his contemporaries wanted sexual freedom, so they denied a system of morality
based on Christianity. To defend their stance, they denied that the world had any meaning. It
might not surprise you to know that Huxley took LSD over the last few years of his life and
encouraged others to do the same.

   Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (New York: Viking , 2006), 244. Quoted
in William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, 3rd ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 151.
   Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil. Quoted in Chester and Timmis, Total Church, 166.
   Aldous Huxley, Ends and Means (London: Chatto & Windus, 1937), 272-73. Quoted in Chester and Timmis,
Total Church, 166.

        One more example shall suffice. The contemporary philosopher Thomas Nagel goes a
step further: he admits that he doesn’t want there to be a God.
        I am talking about something much deeper—namely the fear of religion itself. I
        speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism
        to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and
        well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t
        believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope
        there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be
        like that.28
Nagel supposes he is not alone. He ponders, “I am curious whether there is anyone who is
genuinely indifferent as to whether there is a God—anyone who, whatever his actual belief about
the matter, doesn’t particularly want either one of the answers to be correct.”29 (Some atheists
believe that the Christian belief is “wish fulfillment.” We can just as easily assert that atheism is
“wish fulfillment,” too.)
        In all of these statements, we see a truth that Jesus articulated well. “And this is the
judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light
because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not
come to the light, lest his works should be exposed” (John 3:19-20). With this passage in mind,
William Lane Craig writes, “No one in the final analysis really fails to become a Christian
because of lack of arguments; he fails to become a Christian because he loves darkness rather
than light and wants nothing to do with God.”30
Christians need to defend the truth
         Scripture warns us about people who are “always learning and never able to arrive at a
knowledge of truth” (2 Tim. 3:7). We are told that these are people who “oppose the truth, men
corrupted in mind and disqualified in the faith” (2 Tim. 3:8). Though people like this surround
us, we need to defend the truth. In particular, we need to defend truth about God. True words
about God help sanctify us, bring others to Christ, and ultimately glorify God. We must
remember that all truth comes from God. Christians should therefore be people who speak truth,
who bear no false witness. (Sometimes, this means that Christians must admit what they don’t
know. We need to speak truthfully about all things, not just the things of the Bible. Better to
say, “I don’t know,” than to speak false things about history, science, politics, or anything else.)
After all, the church is supposed to be “a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).
         Satan intends to deceive the world by telling lies. Since human beings, in their fallen
state, suppress the truth, they are glad to listen to him. Paul warns Timothy, “For the time is
coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will
accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening
   Thomas Nagel, The Last Word (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 130. Quoted in Groothuis, Christian
Apologetics, 143.
   Nagel, The Last Word, 130. Quoted in Keller, The Reason for God, 123.
   Craig, Reasonable Faith, 47.

to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim. 4:3-4). What must Timothy do? “Preach the
word” (2 Tim. 4:2). We, too, must be committed to the truth of the Bible, the word of God. We
must defend the gospel (Phil. 1:7, 16), contend for the faith (Jude 3), make a defense and give an
answer for the reason for the hope within us (1 Pet. 3:15), and destroy arguments raised against
the knowledge of God (2 Cor. 10:5). This means that we will often have to point out how
unbelievers do not have a proper basis for their “truth” claims. We must point out how their
philosophies refute themselves. When we show them their claims are not grounded in truth, we
are exposing the fact that rebellion against God is not an intellectual issue. The problem is not
that Christianity is not logical, reasonable, or based on fact. The problem is they don’t want to
believe in Jesus and let him be Lord over their lives. “The role of rational apologetics is to
demonstrate that unbelief is a problem of the heart rather than a problem of the head. . . . It is to
strip away the excuses and expose rebellious hearts.”31
         Of course, we must also present biblical truth to people. We must insist that we can
know the truth about God, because he has revealed it to us. We must never forget that the goal
of apologetics is similar to the goal of evangelism: leading people to the truth of the gospel with
the hope that they will believe and so be saved, for their good and God’s glory. We must
remember that God “desires all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1
Tim. 2:4).
An objection
        Many people object to the idea that there is only one way to God, only one true religion.
They think believing that Christianity is the only true faith is narrow-minded. There are three
things to say about this. One, when people claim that all religions are equally valid, they don’t
really mean all religions. No one thought that David Koresh’s Branch Davidians was a valid
religious group. Two, when people make the claim that all religions are equally valid, they show
a great ignorance about religions. They assume that religions are only moral codes. While it is
true that major religions have similar ethics, they say very different things about God, the
purpose of life, and what happens after death. No right thinking Jew, Christian, Muslim, or
Mormon, for example, would agree that all religions lead to God. Rather, they would all claim
that their religion offers the truth about God. Three, all truth is narrow. Mathematical truths are
very narrow. Two plus two equals four, not three or five. When we divide the circumference of
a perfect circle by the diameter, we get pi (3.14159 . . .), a very narrow number. Historical truths
are very narrow: things happened on exact dates in exact places. Scientific truths are also
narrow. The force of gravity is specific. The boiling point of water at sea level is very specific.
In these areas, very few people question truth.
        When people assume the truth about God is not very narrow, they are making assumption
that has no authoritative basis. Their claim is motivated by the fact that they don’t want to
subscribe to any particular religion and its norms. Furthermore, their claim assumes that no
religion is true. We must expose this claim and reveal that there is no authoritative basis for it.

     Chester and Timmis, Total Church, 172.

        “How do you know?” That’s a legitimate question to ask anyone who makes a truth
claim. Whether the claim is a Christian one (such as “Jesus is Lord”) or an atheistic one (“there
is no god”), we should question how people know what they claim to be true. As we continue
our look at the philosophical backgrounds to apologetics, we would do well to ask this question:
How do we know anything at all? More specifically, we want to ask the question, How do we
know God?
        The study of knowledge is known as epistemology. It concerns how and why we know
what we know, and it is one of the major concerns of philosophy. As we will see, all knowledge
rests of faith, belief in certain truths that we can’t actually prove. James Sire illustrates this idea
when he writes, “I believe lots of things. From the simple matter of believing that my computer
will work when I turn it on to the much more questionable belief that my broker is honest or my
fiancée loves me in ways she loves no one else, everything I do is predicated on belief.” 32 It is a
false idea to believe that one must be a person of either reason or faith. It is disingenuous to put
science against faith. Reason and science require faith in order to work.
        However, this does not mean we can’t know anything, or that faith is blind faith. We
have ways of testing what we believe to be true, to gain more certainty of that our knowledge.
Ultimately, we can claim to know truths because we trust in God, the author of all truth.
Ways of knowing
        Generally, we know something when we think it, when the thought of something is in our
mind. Every bit of knowledge comes to our minds by way of our five senses, as well through
direct communication from God. (The materialist, of course, assumes there is nothing
supernatural. Therefore, he or she would not acknowledge this “sixth sense.”) The following
diagram illustrates this idea.

                            Sense of sight                             Sense of hearing

                                                  Your thoughts
Sense of touch                                      Your mind                                    Sense of smell

                                           Your emotions and dreams

                            Sense of taste                             Spiritual communication

     James W. Sire, Why Should Anyone Believe Anything at All? (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 16.

In this diagram, our mind is “inside the box,” along with all previous knowledge and anything
our mind creates, such as our emotions, our dreams, and our imagination. When we learn
something, it comes from “outside of the box” and into our mind through our five senses. When
we read something, we are relying on our eyesight. When we hear something (someone speak,
the sound of a siren, a piece of music), we rely on our hearing. The same is true for the things
we touch, taste, and smell. We have no way of knowing almost anything outside of using these
senses, which we trust are reporting accurately to us. In order to know any truth (or claim to any
truth), we must trust that our mind and our senses do not betray us. We must trust that they
function properly and report to us what is real.
        In this scenario, there are many outside-the-box issues. Everything, beyond our feelings,
dreams, and imagination, is outside of the box and reported to our minds (inside the box) through
our senses. (Christians should also acknowledge that God is able to communicate directly to us
through the Holy Spirit. However, this communication is in a sense subjective and must always
agree with the objective content of the Bible.) Our certainty of our knowledge of the truth rests
in our belief that our senses are working properly.
        Once again, Sire illustrates how much our knowledge rests on belief.
                Take an illustration from practical living. We believe the milk is fresh
       when we pour it in the glass; we recognize our mistake when we begin to drink it.
       We have started with a belief based on past experiences, of course. We have
       acted on that belief, and we have found ourselves mistaken. Quite an ordinary
       occurrence, to be sure.
                But do we recognize that what looked like an application of simple basic
       reason is itself based on belief, actually at least two beliefs? First, we trust our
       senses: we believe what our taste tells us. Second, we trust our reason to draw the
       proper conclusion from the sense of taste. In a strict sense, we can actually prove
       neither one. Every test for the validity of our senses relies on our senses
       themselves. Every test for reason relies on reason.
                We can test the performance of our senses against a standard outside our
       own sense. For example, we can ask a friend to taste the milk. But there is no
       standard outside human taste for human taste. Likewise we can ask a friend
       whether she thinks the milk is sour. Actually she might say, “No, it’s fresh milk,
       but it’s from a dairy that gets its supply from a special kind of cow. Its milk just
       tastes different. You’ll get used to it and learn to like it!”
        In that example, our knowledge of the quality of the milk rests in our trust of the friend.
Once again, we see how knowledge rests on faith. However, this does not mean that we are
always in doubt. I have no reason to doubt that my senses work properly, that they can indeed
report reality to my mind. I also trust that my mind works properly, though I understand that at
times my emotions can distort my thinking. If, for some reason, I doubt that one sense, such as
my sight, is not working properly, I can test something with another sense, such as touch. I look
out the window and can’t tell with certainty that it is raining, I can go outside and feel the

raindrops. In the example that Sire provides, we could ask several friends to see if the milk is
spoiled or if it tastes different because it is organic or from special cows or whatever.
        This thought leads us to another level of knowing, represented in this diagram.

                             Parents                                   Teachers

                                          Your knowledge and beliefs
Experts                                                You                                      Authorities

                                       Your observations and experiences

                            Journalists                                Friends

In this diagram, the box includes you and everything you know (or, perhaps more accurately,
everything you believe you know). The things that you can know on your own (assuming your
senses are working properly!) are things you can observe and things that you can test on your
own. In other words, you can know with more certainty the things that you directly experience.
In this category, we could include knowing people (whom we experience directly), the weather (I
can experience the local weather right now), general patterns in life, and even science, should we
be scientists. (If we are scientists, we must not only assume that our senses work properly, but
we must also assume that our instruments work properly. Science requires a great deal of faith.)
These are the inside-the-box issues.
         However, if we are being honest, we must realize that there are many things that we can’t
know directly through observation and experience. We often rely on others (by faith) for
information. Everything that comes to us from others are outside-the-box issues, such as history,
areas of study about which we know little or nothing, events that happen in different parts of the
world, and so on. As Dinesh D’Souza writes, “We frequently make decisions based on faith.
We routinely trust in authorities and take actions based on their claims that we don’t or can’t
         Our parents and other family members teach us things and if we trust them, we believe
that what they teach us is true. The same is true of public school teachers and college professors.
If they have a certain education and degree of proficiency, we usually assume they are teaching
us things that are true, even if we can’t prove it. For example, I studied music as an
undergraduate and graduate student. I can’t prove that a man named Beethoven actually

     Dinesh D’Souza, What’s So Great About Christianity? (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2007), 196.

composed a symphony we know as “Beethoven’s Fifth.” I have seen paintings of this Beethoven
person, but I didn’t see him set pen to paper and compose any works. But I trust professors as
well as those who write books about music history and I have no reason to doubt that Ludwig
van Beethoven actually composed some of the greatest pieces of music in history.
         In the same way, we trust many authorities such as government officials and scientists.
We often trust journalists and media outlets to report truth, though we often maintain some level
of skepticism concerning the media (as well as the government and scientists). We also trust
friends, pastors, and many other people to tell us things that are true, even though we have no
way of proving that what they are saying is true. To give another example, I have seen pictures
of the Great Wall of China, but I have never been to China. I have no way of knowing that such
a wall is actually in China. I must trust that the ones relaying those pictures are telling the truth.
I have at least one friend from college who has walked on that wall—or so he says. Could he be
lying? Can I trust his report about the existence and location of such a wall? I could look at
satellite images of China to find the Great Wall, but how do I know those images weren’t
doctored? The only way to know is to go there myself, and I may never do that, though it is
within the realm of possibilities to travel there.
         When it comes to knowing history, we must rely on the reports of historians, as well as
evidence such as artifacts (coins, ancient inscriptions, bits of pottery, etc.) and any primary
documents, like original letters. It is impossible to go back in time to witness historical events
firsthand, so we must rely on historians. Verifying the authenticity of artifacts requires a level of
faith, so we must rely on archaeologists and other experts.
         However, this does not mean that we can’t know any outside-the-box issues. We often
verify information by checking several sources. If I read several books about Beethoven from
different authors writing from different times and places, I must assume there actually was a man
named Beethoven who composed music. The only other conclusion I can come to is that a
massive, worldwide conspiracy exists to fool everyone, when in actuality a native African
actually wrote those famous pieces of music, not a German. Since no evidence supports such a
conclusion, I determine that it is unreasonable.
         On other occasions, we will some evidence that contradicts our conclusions (or the
conclusions of the experts and authorities we normally trust). In those moments, we either
continue to trust the authorities or we can try to weigh the evidence ourselves to determine what
is true.
         What if we put all of humanity inside the box, along with all knowledge acquired through
human effort? This diagram would look something like this:

                                The sum total of human knowledge

                                           All humanity

                              Historical reporting, scientific testing,
                             observation, experience, philosophy, etc.

All the writings of humans from all times would be inside the box. All historical reporting,
scientific testing, and other observation would be inside the box. So would all human wisdom
and philosophy. Because all of humanity knows so much, we seem not to realize we are in a
“box.” Sometimes we think that human knowledge is only limited by time. Given more time
and progress, we will come to know everything—or so we think. If the distance between us (in
the center of the box) and the edges of the box is all human knowledge, we can’t even see the
sides of the box, because they are so far away from us. We can only see the horizon line.
        However, even though human beings know much through historical reporting, reason,
science, math, and philosophy, there are still things we can’t know from within the box. The
outside-the-box issues are things like the purpose of life (why are we here?), the origin of the
universe (how exactly did everything come into existence), the meaning of death (why do we
die?), what happens after death (is there an afterlife?), and the problem of evil (why is there pain
and suffering?). Any knowledge about such issues has to come from outside of the box. The
diagram would then look like this:


                                The sum total of human knowledge

                                           All humanity

                              Historical reporting, scientific testing,
                             observation, experience, philosophy, etc.

We are not able to get to God through reasoning or investigation. There is a ceiling to our
knowledge. “Christianity teaches that while reason can point to the existence of this higher
domain, this is where reasons stops: it cannot on its own investigate or comprehend that
domain.”34 God, who knows all things, is able to reveal things to us through the Bible as well as
through the testimony of the Holy Spirit, the Church, and individual Christians. God is both
transcendent (beyond creation) and immanent (near, able to enter into creation). He is the only
who is able to tell us why we are here, what happens when we die, and other outside-the-box
issues. And we must rely on God through faith, just as we rely on human authorities and our
own senses.
        That is the point: all knowledge requires faith. Faith in God is no less rational than faith
in historians or faith in our own ability to acquire knowledge through observation.

     Ibid., 181.

Presuppositions: how we determine what is true
         Our goal in knowing is to know what is true. It is not enough to take in information. We
must also try to verify whether any information is true. When we debate whether something is
true, we present an argument. Whether we realize it or not, this involves some basic philosophy.
According to John Collins, “Philosophy is the discipline that studies how to think clearly: to
know what is a good argument that deserves our agreement because it makes its point, and what
is a bad argument that we should reject.”35 He then states that our arguments use data (facts) and
good reasoning. Generally, we collect our data and, by using logic, we come to certain
conclusions. However, these conclusions are often based on things that we take for granted.
Collins calls these “touchstone truths,” though others would call them presuppositions.
         A presupposition can mean something that we suppose or assume beforehand. It can also
mean something that we must logically assume before we can know anything else. The Oxford
Dictionary of Philosophy defines a presupposition in this manner: “Informally, any suppressed
premise or background framework of thought necessary to make an argument valid, or a position
tenable. More formally, a presupposition has been defined as a proposition whose truth is
necessary for either the truth or the falsity of another statement.” 36
         Let me give an example of a presupposition. I assume that my mind works well. I don’t
think about this at all (well, except for now) and neither do you. But we assume that our minds
function properly. We also assume that our five senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell) work
properly. Those are basic presuppositions that are often correct, even though we would have a
hard time proving that our eyes actually report to our mind what really exists. (We could
corroborate our eyesight by touching everything we see, but then we are assuming that our
nervous system is functioning properly, and on and on it goes.) I then use my mind and my
senses as criteria for investigating what is true and what is not.
         When we think about history, we often assume that historians have told us the truth.
Even though we can’t prove much, if anything, that happened in history, we presuppose certain
events. I can’t prove when and where I was born, beyond my birth certificate, which I assume is
accurate, and my parents’ testimony, which I assume is true. I don’t go around questioning such
things. I presuppose them.
         When we Christians make arguments for God, we presuppose that he exists. We also
presuppose that the Bible is truly the word of God. The existence of God and the inerrancy and
infallibility of the Bible are touchstone truths for the Christian. They are foundational truths
from which we can argue, though we can’t prove them beyond the shadow of a doubt.
         For the atheist, the touchstone truth may be human reasoning. An atheist assumes his
ability to reason is accurate and trustworthy. He presupposes that his reasoning will not betray
him. He may question why humans have the ability to reason, but he doesn’t doubt his
reasoning, even though he can’t prove it beyond the shadow of a doubt.

     C. John Collins, Science & Faith: Friends or Foes? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2003), 19.
     Simon Blackburn, The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 289.

        Atheists often make science their touchstone truth, their chief presupposition. The
natural sciences are conducted on the basis of presuppositions. The National Science Teachers
Association defines science in this way:
                 Science is a method of explaining the natural world. It assumes the
         universe operates according to regularities and that through systematic
         investigation we can understand these regularities. The methodology of science
         emphasizes the logical testing of alternative explanations of natural phenomena
         against empirical data. Because science is limited to explaining the natural world
         by means of natural processes, it cannot use supernatural causation in its
         explanations. Similarly, science is precluded from making statements about
         supernatural forces, because these are outside its provenance. Science has
         increased our knowledge because of this insistence on the search for natural
         causes. 37
If you look carefully at that definition, you see that it assumes the universe operates according to
regularities. It assumes that laws of physics remain the same and do not change from day to day.
It assumes that certain empirical data can suggest what always happens. So, for example, it
assumes that water always boils at 100°C at sea level, even though it would be impossible for
any human to have tested how all water boils at all times at sea level. Scientists assume that if
the boiling point has remained the same thousands (even millions or billions) of times, then it
must remain constant. Furthermore, this definition of science assumes only natural causes, not
supernatural ones. Though it claims to make no statements regarding supernatural forces, by
assuming the universe operates according to natural forces, it assumes that God is not needed to
providentially maintain and direct his creation. We will return to the issue of science later, but it
is enough for now to realize that scientists presuppose many things, too.38
         Presuppositions are very helpful things. We use them to evaluate whether other things
are true or not. The important thing, however, is choosing the right presupposition. If we have
the wrong presupposition or set of presuppositions, we will distort all facts, which will be made
to fit into our presuppositions. John Frame uses the example of a paranoid person who believes
that everyone is out to kill him. He interprets every act of kindness as part of an evil plot to do

   Quoted in Collins, Science & Faith, 40.
   This definition of science says that it studies natural processes. We should be careful to distinguish
methodological naturalism from metaphysical naturalism. Methodological naturalism is a way of describing the
natural world. Its methods focus on natural causes and effects. This does not rule out the existence of God, who
can direct what appear to be purely natural causes and effects. In fact, that is what he is doing right now as he
sustains his creation through the laws of nature. Everything seems to be functioning normally—naturally—which
allows scientists to study creation. Metaphysical naturalism is equivalent to materialism. This philosophy states
that only natural causes and effects, not supernatural ones, exist. Therefore, metaphysical naturalism does not allow
for the existence of God. Concerning materialism, John Walton writes, “It is unconvincing for a scientist to claim
that he or she finds no empirical evidence of God. Science as currently defined and practiced is ill-equipped to find
evidence of God.” He later adds, “It would be like a fish claiming that there was only water, no air (despite the fact
that they could not breathe if the water were not oxygenated by the air).” John H. Walton, The Lost World of
Genesis One (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 114-15, 116.

him in. There is no reasoning with him because he assumes that you are trying to trick him. 39
Unbelievers—whose presupposition is that there is no God, or who presuppose a false notion of
God—are like that man. They will continue to interpret the evidence for God in light of their
presuppositions. We must continue to present the evidence for God and truths from the Christian
worldview with the hopes that God will open their eyes to see. We can also show the
inconsistencies in their own worldviews, with the hopes of causing them to doubt their own
All reasoning is circular
        Since everyone makes presuppositions about so-called touchstone truths, all reasoning is
circular. This may surprise us, because we generally view circular reasoning as false. If I say,
“The Bible is true because the Bible says so,” it is obviously a circular argument (what
philosophers call a vicious circle). John Frame calls this a “narrowly circular” argument.40 It is
not a good way of arguing. However, if I argue that the Bible is indeed God’s word, I can show
passages from the Bible that state that God’s word is true, and that all Scripture is inspired by
God. I may choose to bring in extrabiblical evidence (such as manuscript evidence) to support
my claims, but I am still saying, more or less, “The Bible is true because it says so.” My
argument can be more “broadly circular,” because it has more data, but it still rests on the
presupposition that the Bible is authoritative and there exists no greater authority outside the
Bible other than God himself.
        This idea shouldn’t cause us great concern. All systems of thought rely on circular
arguments. As Frame explains,
        No system can avoid circularity, because all systems (as we have seen)—non-
        Christian as well as Christian—are based on presuppositions that control their
        epistemologies, argumentation, and use of evidence. Thus a rationalist can prove
        the primacy of reason only by using a rational argument. An empiricist can prove
        the primacy of sense-experience only by some kind of appeal to sense-experience.
        A Muslim can prove the primacy of the Koran only by appealing to the Koran. 41
The rationalist says, more or less, “My reasoning is true because human reason says so.” Of
course, that would be very narrowly circular and unpersuasive argument if put in such terms.
Therefore, the circle is broadened. The scientist says, in essence, “The findings of scientific
methods are true because science says so.”
        Perhaps the easiest way to understand this concept is to listen to what pastor and author
Douglas Wilson says in a documentary called Collision. The documentary showed Wilson in a
series of debates with Christopher Hitchens, a prominent atheist. The film also shows Wilson
and Hitchens separately, talking directly to the camera or to audiences in different forums. In
talking to a group of atheists, this is what Wilson said about circular reasoning:

   Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God, 12.
   Ibid., 14.
   John Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1987), 130.

                I want to base everything on the Bible. If you say, “Why do you do that?”
        and I said, “Well, as it says here in Romans . . .” you’d say, “Wait, wait, wait,
        wait, I’m challenging your authority. You can’t just flip to a verse.” Because
        you’d say I’m begging the question, I’m reasoning in a circle.
                Well, I would say the same thing here: if a person says, “I want to base
        everything—my whole worldview—on reason,” I would say, “Why do you want
        to do that? Why do you do that?” When he turns to give me a reason, what’s he
        doing? He’s flipping open his bible.
        There’s simply no way of escaping circular reasoning. The only question is whether the
foundation of that circle is solid. If we are reasoning from reason, we have to examine reasoning
carefully and ask, Where does reason come from? If we are reasoning from science, we should
ask, Why is science reliable? Why does the universe operate according to regularities? If we
keep asking types of questions, we can conclude that human reason comes from a perfect,
intelligent mind, the very mind of God. (If we don’t come to this conclusion, we don’t really
have an authoritative basis for showing how and why human reasoning is reliable.) We can
conclude that the universe normally operates according to regularities because God upholds the
universe and sustains it at his command. This explanation also tells us why miracles are
possible. God is able to command them, just as he usually commands things to operate in a
regular, “normal” way.
Types of knowledge
        When we discuss truth and knowledge, we should acknowledge that there are different
types of things that we know. Knowing math is very different from knowing a person. Knowing
a historical fact is very different from knowing the sound of someone’s voice. Usually,
knowledge of different things requires different ways of knowing.
        John Collins states four types of knowledge. One, we can know that something is true.
We can know facts of various kinds: historical, theoretical (such as mathematics or logic),
scientific, theological. Two, we can know how to do something, a certain type of skill. Three,
we can know a person. Four, we can know one thing from another. In other words, we can
distinguish apples from oranges. 42
        Philosophers call the first type of knowledge propositional knowledge. When trust
certain facts to be true, we are claiming knowledge of propositions. The second type of
knowledge is skill knowledge, how to do something. The third type of knowledge is knowledge
by acquaintance. 43
        If we stop and think about these types of knowledge, we will realize that knowing a fact
is very different than knowing a person. We know facts by either testing them or directly
observing them, or by relying on the tests and observations of others. We claim to know other
facts by inference, by drawing conclusions based on other facts and logic. We know how to do
   Collins, Science & Faith, 44-45.
   These three types of knowledge are discussed in Garrett J. DeWeese and J. P. Moreland, Philosophy Made
Slightly Less Difficult (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2005), 54-55.

something by being taught that skill and by practicing it. We know people by meeting them,
talking with them, and observing how they live. These are different types of knowledge.
How we know God
        We must acknowledge two things regarding the knowledge of God. First, there is the
propositional knowledge of God. According to Romans 1:18-25, everyone has propositional
knowledge of God. Everyone knows something of his eternal power and divine nature.
According to James 2:19, even demons have propositional knowledge of God: “You believe that
God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” However knowing about
God is very different from actually knowing him. The people of God have relational knowledge
(knowledge by acquaintance) of God. Our goal as apologists and evangelists is to lead people to
tell people facts about God with the hopes that they will actually come to know him, to have a
relationship with him. This will involve both propositional knowledge and knowledge by
acquaintance. And such knowledge leads to eternal life: “And this is eternal life, that they know
you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).
        When we talk to atheists and agnostics, we need to remind them that God is a person. He
is not an impersonal force, much less a physical object to study. He is not a relic from history.
He is a living, personal God. Therefore, we should remember that knowing him requires a
different method of learning and investigating. Getting to know a person requires listening to
him or her, not just studying the person from a distance. I could try to learn about a person by
going through public records and even hiring a private detective. I could do some Internet
stalking and look at the person’s Facebook profile. But that doesn’t mean I know that person.
        This idea is captured in the lyrics of a song by that great philosopher, Sting, in his song,
“Epilogue (Nothing ‘Bout Me).”
       Run my name through your computer
       Mention me in passing to your college tutor
       Check my records, check my facts
       Check if I paid my income tax
       Pore over everything in my c.v.
       But you’ll still know nothin’ ‘bout me.
When a doctor gets to know a patient, he does more than just check that patient’s vital signs.
Good doctors listen to their patients. They ask questions and they consider the answers. How
much more should we be willing to listen to God?
      Tim Chester and Steve Timmis express this idea very well.
                Knowing one another always involves humility. I need to approach others
       with humility because I am dependent on their disclosing themselves to me. This
       is all the more so when another is superior in some way. If I wanted to know the
       British monarch or the American President, I would have to approach them
       humbly, courteously, respectfully. I would have to accept a relationship on their
       terms. I could not ‘investigate’ them from a position of superiority. Even in the

           sciences you have to be humble before data, not imposing a view but being ready
           to accept what investigation reveals. Knowing God also involves humility. We
           come to him on his terms, dependent on him to disclose himself. 44
        We will discuss various evidences for God. But these are never more than the clues of
God. When we discuss the origins of the universe, science, or morality, we are not studying
God, but we are examining clues that he has left behind. In that way, we are like detectives
examining a crime scene, looking at the evidence and coming up with the best hypothesis that
will explain the facts. But that doesn’t lead us to know God, just to know that he exists.
        In order to know God, we must humble ourselves. We must listen to him and we do that
by reading the Bible. However, to know God truly—to have a saving relationship with him—we
must be known by him. Consider these verses.
             For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image
           of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And
           those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also
           justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Rom. 8:29-30)
             I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the
           Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.
           (John 10:14-15)
             My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them
           eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my
           hand. (John 10:27-28)
           But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God . . .
           (Gal. 4:9a)
God knows his people. He knew them before he created anything. To be known by God is to
know him. That is why J. I. Packer writes, “What matters supremely, therefore, is not, in the last
analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it—the fact that he knows
The revelation of God
        As discussed earlier, knowledge of God is an “outside-the-box” issue. We can’t know
God by investigating his creation (though we can know certain things about him that way). In
order to know him, he must reveal himself to us. God has revealed himself through mighty acts
in history (creation, flood, the ten plagues in Egypt, parting the Red Sea, etc.), through
appearances (called theophanies, such as the burning bush, the cloud by day and the fire by night
in the wilderness, etc.), through his audible voice (to Moses and various prophets and leaders),
through the prophets, and chiefly through Jesus. God’s revelation also includes the Bible, in
which he tells us about himself, about redemptive history, and about how to interpret reality.
     Chester and Timmis, Total Church, 170.
     J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 41.

        The Christian way of knowing, then, is what Graeme Goldsworthy calls Christian theism.
                This position recognizes the dependence of man upon God for true
        knowledge. The Word of God must instruct us in the various details of what God
        has said and done to rescue us from the consequences of our rebellion. It must
        also instruct us in the method by which we read and understand the Bible. There
        is no self-evident logic discernible outside the Bible; no naturally discerned rule
        as to what is possible or impossible. God as creator must interpret every event
        and every fact in his universe. 46
Goldsworthy contrasts this way of knowing over against atheistic humanism, which assumes that
there is no God and many can know everything on his own, and theistic humanism, which
assumes that God is only concerned with “spiritual” matters, but still places man above God in
gaining knowledge. Christian theism is another way of saying that God is our presupposition,
and we presuppose that we know him through his word.
        Goldsworthy comes to this same conclusion.
        Presuppositions, then, are the assumptions we make in order to be able to hold
        some fact to be true. . . . In the end we must come to that which we accept as the
        final authority. By definition a final authority cannot be proven as an authority on
        the basis of some higher authority. The highest authority must be self-attesting.
        Only God has such an authority.47
This is why Christians view God’s word as the greatest authority. It is his communication to us.
Because God knows all things (remember, he is outside the box and he made the box and all that
is in it) and because he is true, he alone is able to tell us everything. Of course, we accept the
Bible as the very words of God by faith. We can provide reasons for why we do this (I don’t
advocate blind faith), but in the end we can’t prove it is God’s word. However, by this point, we
shouldn’t let that idea bother us. All knowledge rests on faith.
          Christians have another way of knowing, and that is the person of the Holy Spirit. “The
Holy Spirit convinces us that God’s Word is the truth.” 48 He opens up our eyes to see truth (John
3:3-8). He renews our minds to know truth (Rom. 12:2). He gives us assurance that we are
children of God (Rom. 8:16). We must remember that sin affects everything, including our
ability to think rightly. Theologians call this the noetic effects of sin. Satan blinds the minds of
unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:4). Only
God has the power to make light shine in their hearts so that they know him (2 Cor. 4:6).

   Graeme Goldsworthy, According to Plan (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1991), 43-44.
   Ibid., 44.
   Ibid., 43.

         Finally, we must discuss belief, or faith. We have seen that our knowledge of the truth
rests on faith. It is impossible to separate truth, knowledge, and belief. Therefore, it is
unreasonable for an atheist to pit reason or science against faith. The atheist needs just as much
faith to hold his worldview as the Christian does his.
         In our discussion of the gospel, we talked about what biblical faith is. Faith is trusting
God. It involves knowing him, loving him, and obeying him. The great example of faith in the
Bible is Abraham. He trusted that God could do impossible things, but he didn’t trust blindly.
God spoke to Abraham. God gave him many promises. God lead him out of a problem in Egypt
(Gen. 12:10-20). God helped Abraham rescue Lot by defeating several kings (Gen. 14:13-16).
God blessed Abraham through the ministrations of Melchizedek (Gen. 14:18-20). God gave
Abraham reasons to trust him. Abraham “believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as
righteousness” (Gen. 15:6). God didn’t tell Abraham everything, but he gave Abraham reason to
trust him.
         The author of Hebrews calls faith “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of
things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). Faith is assurance, or certainty, of things we can’t see. But it isn’t
a blind hope. Faith says, “Though I can’t see God’s face, I know he is real.” Christianity is a
historical faith which rests on truth. Christians believe in God because they believe he is true.
They believe Jesus actually is the perfect God-man. They believe he actually lived, died, and
rose from the grave. In other words, we believe the message of Christianity, just as we believe
anything, because we believe it is true.
         James Sire, a Christian philosopher and apologist, wrote a book called Why Should
Anyone Believe in Anything at All? The book is the result of many presentations that Sire gave
on college campuses. In these talks, he discussed the reasons for faith. He gave this presentation
at over 150 universities and colleges. At about thirty of these schools, he had people pass out
index cards that asked the same question: Why should anyone believe in anything at all? He
received many different types of answers. He grouped those answers into four large categories:
sociological reasons, psychological reasons, religious reasons, and philosophical reasons.
         The sociological reasons included:
       My parents believe X. Therefore I believe X.
       My friends believe X.
       My society believes X.
       My culture in general holds X.
       The psychological reasons included:
       X gives meaning, purpose and direction to my life.
       X gives me a sense of identity.
       X relieves guilt and the fear of a future in hell; it gives me a sense of peace.
       X makes me feel good.
       X is a crutch for those who can’t stand reality

        The religions reasons included:
        My pastor/guru/religious authority figure told me.
        I read it in a book (Bible/Qu’ran/Rig Vedas).
        Miracles prove the truth of X.
        I have a direct experience of God.
        I have had a profound religious experience.
        The philosophical reasons included:
        X is true.
        X is reasonable.
        X is logical.
        There is empirical evidence for X.
        I have experienced X.
        X gives the best explanation for the tough issues of life. 49
         After reviewing all the responses, he concluded that people should believe something
only if they think it is true. Sire writes, “For me . . . it is important that an argument for belief (1)
be based on the best evidence, (2) be validly argued and (3) refute the strongest objections that
can be made.”50 He adds, “I became a believer because what was presented to me appeared
         For most of these supposed reasons for believing something, we can find good reasons
not to believe. If your parents taught you things that were wrong, such as racism, should you
really believe them? If you believed something because it made you feel good, would you
actually disregard reality, which often makes us feel bad? Clearly, these are not good reasons.
         The only reason we should believe something is if it is the best explanation of all the
evidence we have. It should account for all the relevant data, the facts. It should be internally
consistent. It should be consistent with all other things we hold to be true. And it should cohere
with all our other beliefs to give us a more coherent picture of the world and our existence than
any other explanation. A belief should therefore have consistency, coherence, and completeness.
         Only a belief in the true God, revealed in the pages of Scripture, can stand up to such a
test. The Christian belief offers the most consistent, coherent, and complete accounting of all
that we experience in our lives. Therefore, it is a reasonable faith. That is why Garrett DeWeese
and J. P. Moreland write, “What should matter in matters of faith is knowledge, not merely
sincere belief; good reasons for faith, not mere hunches; truth, not feelings. We can rightly say
that Christianity is a knowledge tradition, meaning it is more than ritual or emotions.
Christianity claims certain things can be known.” 52

   Sire, Why Should Anyone Believe in Anything at All?, 30-37.
   Ibid., 10.
   Ibid., 12.
   DeWeese and Moreland, Philosophy Made Slightly Less Difficult, 54.

         Truth is what accords with reality, what actually is. This is what we call the
correspondence view of truth. While we may not know all truths in the universe, we can know
many of them. More specifically, we can know truths about God because he has revealed them
to us. All truth is, in some sense, revealed to us, whether it is through our senses, other people,
or divine revelation.
          We have demonstrated that all knowledge relies, to some extent, on faith, whether that
faith is part of an established religion or not. Our knowledge rests on an ultimate touchstone
truth, or presupposition, some concept that we cannot actually prove. Accurate knowledge is a
“justified true belief.”53 If we can show that this belief is grounded in a self-evident truth (what
philosophers call a “properly basic” truth), or a truth supported by a hypothesis that is consistent,
coherent, and able to explain all of the evidence, then we can say our knowledge is justified.
         Of course, our concern is to know the truth about God. All humans have a basic
knowledge of God, but they suppress that truth in order to pursue sinful desires. When God
opens up our hearts and minds to receive his word (through the regenerating, transforming power
of the Holy Spirit), we are able to know the truth about him and, more than that, we can actually
know him. That is, we are able to have a relationship with God.
         In order to pursue truth and the knowledge of God, one must be open to having a
relationship with him. One must be willing to know him as a person, not just a set of facts.
When we present the rational evidence for God, as well as our testimony of how God has
changed us and blessed us, we can offer a winsome case for Christ.

            What are the various theories regarding truth? Which is the true one?
            What do you say to someone who says we can’t know the truth about God?
            What do you say to someone who says there is no one true religion?
            How do we know anything?
            How do we know God?
            How would you respond to someone who claims that he or she is a person of science (or
            reason), and not faith?
            How does knowledge of a person differ from knowledge of various facts?
            How can you help someone consider that knowing God is different from knowing facts
            about God?

     Ibid., 56.
        An effective method of presenting the Christian faith in a rational way is to explain the
Christian worldview. We can compare and contrast our worldviews with other worldviews, to
see which one is true. By thinking about worldviews, we can consider how consistent and
coherent the Christian faith is over against other faiths. Of course, in order to do this, we must
first know what a worldview is.

        It is usually best to start with a simple definition of a term. Therefore, I’ll turn to
Kenneth Richard Samples’s concise description of a worldview: “In the simplest terms, a
worldview may be defined as how one sees life and the world at large. In this manner it can be
compared to a pair of glasses.”1 A worldview is simply how one views the world and everything
in it.
        Philip Johnson offers another simple definition. “Put simply, our worldview is the
window by which we view the world, and decide, often subconsciously, what is real and
important, or unreal and unimportant.”2 He then adds an important statement: “Every one of us
has a worldview, and our worldview governs our thinking even when—or especially when—we
are unaware of it.”3 Even if you’ve never heard the term “worldview” before, you still possess
one. That is because you have a way of looking at the world and making sense of it. Somehow,
you decide what is true, what is important, what is right and wrong. You have probably asked
yourself what the purpose of life is. You want to know what happens when you die. The
answers to big questions are part of the way we view the world, the way we interpret our lives
and all of reality.
        A few more definitions will give us added clarity. Again, we will start with a simple one.
According to Nancy Pearcey, “A worldview is like a mental map that tells us how to navigate the
world effectively.”4 In her brief definition, she describes how a worldview helps guide us
through life, just as a map helps guide us on a journey.
        Douglas Groothuis writes,
        A worldview hypothesis is a broad-ranging theory of everything, in that it tries to
        account for the nature and meaning of the universe and its inhabitants. While
        worldviews can be dissected intellectually, they also reflect and address the
        orientation of one’s innermost being—that is, the heart.5

  Kenneth Richard Samples, A World of Difference (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007), 20.
  Philip E. Johnson, in his foreword to Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004), 11.
  Ibid., 12.
  Pearcey, Total Truth, 23.
  Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011), 49-50.


A worldview helps us make sense of everything in nature. It is more than just an intellectual
view of life, far more than the arrangement of our thoughts. It encompasses our hearts and
desires. In his book on worldviews, James Sire defines the term in a similar way.
                    A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that
           can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may
           be true, partially true or entirely false) that we hold (consciously or
           subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of
           reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our
Here, in this explanation of the term, Sire states that a worldview is a commitment or orientation
of the heart. Furthermore, a worldview can be expressed in some type of narrative (what some
would call a metanarrative) or a set of presuppositions. That story and those assumptions may or
may not be true. We might not even be aware of our worldview, or adhere to it consistently.
(Human beings are, by our sinful nature, hypocrites, so usually a worldview is not held to
consistently). We may claim we have one worldview, but our actions reveal that we actually live
by another. Still, we have worldviews, and they are the foundation of our lives.

        Where does this term, worldview, come from? It seems that the German philosopher
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) first used the term, but only in passing. Non-Christian philosophers
like Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) and Ludwig Wittegenstein (1889-1951) also used the term.
However, that does not mean the term is inherently non-Christian. Many Christians have used
the term, notably Francis Schaeffer, James Sire, Ronald Nash, David Naugle, Nancy Pearcey,
and Tim Keller, among many others.
        Though the term is relatively new, the concept is not. In fact, it is very similar to the way
the word “heart” is used in the Bible. Heart can be used to describe the emotional center of a
person (Exod. 4:14; John 14:1). It can refer to the will (such as when Pharaoh’s heart was
hardened: Exod. 7:13; 8:15; etc.). As such, it can refer to both purposes and thoughts (1 Chron.
29:18). Heart can also refer to the intellect (Prov. 2:10; Rom. 1:21). The heart is ultimately the
spiritual center of a person (Matt. 6:21). All of these aspects of the heart seem to be in mind
when Paul writes,
                     For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and
           your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you,
           remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the
           Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the
           knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may
           know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his

    James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door, 5th ed. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 20.

        glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his
        power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that
        he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right
        hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and
        dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the
        one to come. (Eph. 1:15-21)

       A worldview helps us make sense of the world and our lives, which can often be
confusing. If our worldview is correct, it helps bring clarity to our existence. However, a
worldview based on false presuppositions will distort reality. A worldview “supplies a
comprehensive view of what a person considers real, true, rational, good, valuable, and
       The simplest formations of a worldview revolve around three major questions:
        1. What is the purpose of life?
        2. What is the problem?
        3. What is the solution to the problem? 18
Interestingly, these questions align with three parts of the Christian metanarrative (the big story,
so to speak): creation, fall, and redemption. We were created to know and worship God. Sin
creates all the problems in the world. The solution is the redemption found in Jesus.
        A worldview helps us answer these big questions of life. Of course, those three questions
are not the only questions we ask. If our worldview answers more questions, it will be more
complex and multifaceted, addressing the most important issues of our human experience.
        James Sire’s examination of worldviews includes eight questions. They are:
        1. What is prime reality—the really real?
        2. What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world around us?
        3. What is a human being?
        4. What happens to a person at death?
        5. Why is it possible to know anything at all?
        6. How do we know what is right and wrong?
        7. What is the meaning of human history?
        8. What personal, life-orienting core commitments are consistent with this worldview?9
       Kenneth Richard Samples believes that a worldview needs to answer twelve ultimate
        1. Ultimate Reality: What kind of God, if any, actually exists?

  Samples, A World of Difference, 20.
  This is the approach taken by Timothy Keller, Gospel in Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 91.
  Sire, The Universe Next Door, 22-23.

        2. External Reality: Is there anything beyond the cosmos?
        3. Knowledge: What can be known and how can anyone know it?
        4. Origin: Where did I come from?
        5. Identity: Who am I?
        6. Location: Where am I?
        7. Morals: How should I live?
        8. Values: what should I consider of great worth?
        9. Predicament: What is humanity’s fundamental problem?
        10. Resolution: How can humanity’s problem be solved?”
        11. Past/Present: What is the meaning and direction of history?
        12. Destiny: Will I survive the death of my body and, if so, in what state?10
Of course, these lists overlap in significant ways. They all involve the purpose of life, the human
predicament or problem, and the solution. Sire and Samples include reality (the branch of
metaphysics known as ontology, the study of existence), knowledge (epistemology),
ethics/morality (what is right and wrong), and the afterlife.
        Of these authors, Samples has the most comprehensive discussion of worldview. He
believes that the major components of a worldview involve theology (a concept of God),
metaphysics (the view of external reality), epistemology (a theory of knowledge or how we
know what we know), axiology (a study of values), humanity (a view of human nature), and
history (the study of unfolding historical events).11
        Within each of these components, we can ask several questions. Theological questions
        Does God actually exist? Is there one God or many gods? Is God a personal or
        impersonal being? Is God infinite or finite? What is God’s relationship to the
        space-time-matter world? Has God revealed himself to humanity? Does God
        perform miracles? Can human beings have a relationship with God? If so,
With regard to metaphysics, we might ask:
        Is ultimate reality mind, matter, or spirit? Can reality be apprehended by the five
        senses? Is the space-time-matter world the sole reality? Is the origin of the
        universe natural or supernatural? Why is the universe orderly rather than
        disorderly and chaotic? How can such things as time, change, and cause-effect
        relationships be explained?13

   Samples, A World of Difference, 21-22.
   Ibid., 23-27.
   Ibid., 24.

The major questions of epistemology include:
         What is knowledge? How is knowledge acquired? What roles do the five senses,
         reason, and revelation play in the process of knowing? Can one be certain of
         anything and, if so, under what conditions? Is belief in the existence of God
         rational? What is the proper relationship between faith and reason? What is
         truth? Is truth absolute or relative? What is the relationship between knowledge
         and belief?14
The major issues of axiology (values) can be categorized in terms of moral values, value theory,
and aesthetics. The questions of moral values include, “What is the ultimate good? Is morality
relative or absolute? Are ethics invented or discovered? How does one ground or justify one’s
ethics? What is God’s (or ultimate reality’s) relationship to moral principles?” 15
        In the realm of value theory, we might ask, “What do people value (God, material things,
money, pleasure, freedom, education) and why? How does (should) a person assign worth or
value? What is of ultimate value? How do values affect other areas of thought?” 16
        The questions that concern aesthetics include:
         Is beauty merely subjective—‘in the eye of the beholder’—or is there some
         objective standard? Does society imitate art or does art imitate society? Why do
         human beings have an aesthetic and creative sense? How is the aesthetic value
         related to moral values and to other focal points of one’s worldview, such as God,
         ultimate reality, and knowledge?17
The great questions of humanity include:
         Are people merely the product of undirected, natural processes (naturalistic
         evolution) or are they special creations of God? What are human beings in
         relation to animals? Do people possess an immaterial soul? Are human beings
         good, bad, or neutral? Are people innately rational or irrational? How does a
         person derive meaning, purpose, and significance? How does God relate to
         mankind’s basic predicament? What is the final destiny of humankind:
         extinction, immortality, or reincarnation? What kind of afterlife exists, if any?18
Related to the issues of humanity is the problem of evil. The presence of evil in the world leads
us to ask certain questions:
         Why isn’t the world the way many people think it should be? What is the origin
         and cause of evil? Why does God allow evil to exist? Does the existence of evil

   Ibid., 25.
   Ibid., 25-26.
   Ibid., 26.

         prove or disprove an ultimate standard of goodness? What role do humans play in
         the problem of evil? What about natural disasters and calamities?19
With respect to history, people ask questions like:
         What is the meaning and significance of history? Where is history going? Is
         history cyclical or linear? Is history the product of purely natural factors or of
         divine providence? Has God intervened in history? What can be known from
         history? What will unfold in the future for humankind and the physical
These are all excellent questions. If you want to know what another person believes and
thinks—if you want to know another person’s worldview—you should ask him or her such
questions. They open up the door for conversations about the Christian worldview.

         Experience tells us that people answer the big questions of life in different ways.
Sometimes, the answers are radically different. In other words, we possess different worldviews.
There are several major worldviews, such as monotheism (Christianity, Judaism, Islam), deism,
dualism, polytheism, pantheism, and naturalism. Often, people mix and match elements of these
major worldviews, so much so that could say that there are as many distinct worldviews as there
are people.
         In our study of worldviews, we will concern ourselves with the major worldviews. These
are what Douglas Groothuis calls plausible worldviews. “A plausible worldview is one that
holds interest and appeal for a significant number of people at a particular time and place.” 21
This does not mean that each plausible worldview is true or even credible. We are simply
acknowledging that throughout history, there have been several prominent worldviews.
         It should be obvious by now that each worldview cannot be true. Christian theism and
naturalism/materialism offer radically different ways of looking at life. They cannot both be
true. The Christian, the Buddhist, and the atheist cannot possess equally true worldviews. Who
is right, and how do we prove it?
         A number of apologists have offered criteria for testing worldviews. As Samples writes,
“Careful worldview thinking demands a logical evaluation of the various interpretations of
reality offered in the marketplace of ideas. By applying methods of critical thinking to the
various aspects of each particular worldview, the accuracy of that belief system can be analyzed
to determine how well it actually fits reality.”22
         Both Groothuis and Samples offer criteria for testing worldviews. These criteria are
remarkably similar. The following is my own synthesis of their criteria.

   Ibid., 27.
   Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 50.
   Samples, A World of Difference, 32.

           1.) A worldview should not rely on mystery or paradox. It should explain
           2.) A worldview must be logically consistent. Various elements of a worldview
           should not contradict other elements of the same worldview. If a worldview is
           not logically consistent, it is false. If it is logically consistent, it may be true. (In
           other words, logical consistency is necessary, but not sufficient to prove that the
           worldview is true.)
           3.) A worldview must be coherent. The various elements of the worldview must
           be interconnected in a meaningful way. It cannot be a random collection of facts.
           (As above, coherency is a necessary, but not sufficient, proof of a credible
           4.) A worldview must have explanatory power. It must explain what we observe
           and experience in life. It must also have sufficient scope to address the big
           questions of life.
           5.) A worldview’s truth claims should correspond to reality, including facts and
           human experience.
           6.) If a worldview can be verified through “various empirical, scientific and
           historical ways,”23 it is more likely to be true. In other words, what the worldview
           claims to be true should be testable and verifiable.
           7.) A worldview must be existentially viable. It must be livable. A worldview
           that denies there is a purpose to life does not allow a person to live with purpose.
           Such a worldview requires a person to engage in “philosophical hypocrisy” and
           “perpetual doublethink.”24 Similarly, a worldview that denies there is such a
           thing as evil cannot be lived out in an evil world. A worldview that denies truth
           cannot be true. A worldview that denies objective morality would require a
           person never to use words like must, should, or ought.
           8.) A worldview should meet people’s intellectual, spiritual, and practical needs.
           It should provide people with direction and help them to solve problems and
           overcome challenges.
           9.) A worldview should be constant. It shouldn’t be readjusted continually and
           radically in order to accommodate new evidence. If a worldview must change
           radically in the face of counterevidence, it probably wasn’t true to begin with.
           For example, a person living a hundred years ago who believed that humanity is
           every progressing would have needed to alter radically that worldview in light of
           the genocide and horror of the twentieth century.

     Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 55.
     Ibid., 55, 56.

        10.) A worldview should be complex enough to encompass the realities of life,
        but not unnecessarily complex. The principle known as Ockham’s razor demands
        that, all things being equal, the simpler explanation is preferable.
        11.) A worldview should explain better all of reality (empirical facts, history, and
        human experience) better than competing worldviews.
        If a worldview can stand up to such criteria, it is a credible worldview. When we
examine the Christian worldview, we see that it corresponds to reality, is logically
consistent, it is coherent, and it has great explanatory power and scope. We also see that
it helps us live productive lives and it meets our existential needs. When we compare the
Christian worldview to competing worldviews, we see that Christianity measures up quite

         Every Christian should be able to articulate the Christian worldview. This
worldview helps us live as Christians. It is also a benefit in evangelism and apologetics.
According to Groothuis, “when the Christian vision is presented in its wholeness and
significance as a view of all of existence, which has engaged some of the greatest minds
of history, this may constructively influence those in search of a broad and deep
worldview.”25 I am certain that most unbelievers have not been presented with an
accurate and comprehensive version of the Christian worldview.
         We can define the Christian worldview, in its simplest expression, in terms of
creation, fall, and redemption. As stated above, creation tells us what the purpose of life
is: we exist to glorify God and enjoy him forever, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism
puts it. Fall refers to our problem of sin. It tells us why we are alienated from God and
each other, and why we feel internal struggle. The fall also explains why there are
environmental problems. The solution to the problem of sin is redemption, which is
found only in Jesus.26
         If we want a fuller description of the Christian worldview, we can answer Sire’s
eight worldview questions.
        1. What is prime reality—the really real? “Prime reality is the infinite, personal God
        revealed in the Holy Scriptures. This God is triune, transcendent and immanent,
        omniscient, sovereign, and good.”27 In other words, God is the source of all reality. The
        “really real” is grounded in God’s being. Without God, there is nothing.
        2. What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world around us? “External reality is
        the cosmos God created ex nihilo to operate with a uniformity of cause and effect in an
   Ibid., 79.
   Many elements of the Christian worldview, including relevant Scripture references, were outlined in pp. 23-42
and will not be repeated here.
   Sire, The Universe Next Door, 28.

         open system.”28 External reality is the universe that God created out of nothing, at his
         command. The universe functions in a uniform, consistent way. When Sire mentions an
         open system, he means that not everything is predetermined. God can enter into the
         universe and interact with his creation. He can order the normal course of events. If
         there were no god, only blind forces, it would be a closed system.
         3. What is a human being? “Human beings are created in the image of God and thus
         possess personality, self-transcendence, intelligence, morality, gregariousness and
         creativity.”29 Because we are made in the image of God, we possess certain attributes of
         God, such as intelligence, will, the ability to create, and the ability to make moral
         decisions. This is the reason why human beings have inherent worth and dignity. It is
         why we have rights.
                  However, that is not the end of the story. “Human beings were created good, but
         through the Fall the image of God became defaced, though not so ruined as not to be
         capable of restoration; through the work of Christ, God redeemed humanity and began
         the process of restoring people to goodness, though any given person may choose to
         reject that redemption.”30 Humans are capable of doing good because they are still made
         in the image of God, even though that image has been stained by sin. Humans are also
         capable of great evil because of sin. Sin taints everything to some degree. That is what
         theologians mean when they speak of total depravity.
         4. What happens to a person at death? “For each person death is either the gate to life
         with God and his people or the gate to eternal separation from the only thing that will
         ultimately fulfill human aspirations.”31 After death, there are only two options: for those
         who trust in Jesus, there is heaven, an eternity with God. Those who reject Jesus will be
         eternally separated from God in hell.
         5. Why is it possible to know anything at all? “Human beings can know both the world
         around them and God himself because God has built into them the capacity to do so and
         because he takes an active role in communicating with them.” We can know things
         because God has made the world to be orderly and he has given us intelligence. In
         reference to John 1:1-4, Sire writes, “The Word (in Greek Logos, from which our word
         logic comes) is eternal, an aspect of God himself. That is, logicality, intelligence,
         rationality, meaning are all inherent in God. It is out of this intelligence that the world,
         the universe, came to be. And therefore, because of this source the universe has
         structure, order and meaning.”32

   Ibid., 31.
   Ibid., 32.
   Ibid., 38-39.
   Ibid., 41.
   Ibid., 36.

          6. How do we know what is right and wrong? “Ethics is transcendent and is based on
          the character of God as good (holy and loving).”33 God’s character is the standard of
          morality. He has given us consciences, a general sense of right and wrong (Rom. 2:15).
          He has also given us his word.
          7. What is the meaning of human history? “History is linear, a meaningful sequence of
          events leading to the fulfillment of God’s purposes for humanity.” 34 History moves from
          past to present to the future in a linear fashion. It does not operate cyclically, as other
          worldviews would have it. History is meaningful. It is going somewhere, moving to an
          end that God has ordained. What we do matters.
          8. What personal, life-orienting core commitments are consistent with this
          worldview? “Christian theists live to seek first the kingdom of God, that is, to
          glorify God and enjoy him forever.”35 The primary goal of life is to glorify God.
          Therefore, our hearts should be committed first to God’s purposes, not our selfish
          agendas. Human happiness or progress (as defined by human beings) is not the
          purpose of life. However, when we worship God, we begin to find our true
          selves. When we orient our hearts towards God, we find true and lasting
          happiness and we begin to make real progress, as we become the people that God
          intended for us to be. In other words, we begin to be transformed in the true
          image of God, Jesus (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18).
         Viewed in this light, the Christian worldview explains so much. It tells us why we exist.
It tells us how the universe came into existence. It explains why we can know truth and why we
can reason. It tells us why things are wrong and why we die. It explains why humans have
rights. It reveals the source of objective morality. It tells us what happens after death. And the
Christian worldview communicates these things to us in a consistent, coherent manner.

   Ibid., 42.
   Ibid., 43.
   Ibid., 44.
                     NON-CHRISTIAN WORLDVIEWS
        Presenting the Christian worldview in a thorough and attractive way is, in itself, a
powerful apologetic for the Christian faith. The coherency and explanatory power and scope of
the Christian worldview speaks for itself, because it explains everything we see and experience
in this world.
        When we compare the Christian worldview to other competing worldviews, its strength is
evident. We see that the Christian worldview is more consistent and coherent than these other
worldviews. It is also more existentially viable—more livable—than these other worldviews.

        The first non-Christian worldview we will examine is deism. This may not seem like a
current worldview, although I would content it is, even if it is not called deism by name.
        Deism became more prevalent in the Age of Enlightenment, particularly in the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It seems to have arisen, at least in part, because of two
trends: endless disputes over arcane theological points and increased scientific inquiry.
        The premodern era came before the Age of Enlightenment. Premoderns believed
objective truth was found in God and his divine revelation. They were neither unintelligent nor
ignorant of all science and mathematics. Very intelligent and educated people lived in this era.
But they had a humility with regard to how much human beings could know part from God. The
Age of Enlightenment, by contrast, was the birth of the modern era. Moderns believed (and still
believe) that objective truth can be acquired through human reasoning and scientific inquiry.
        Ironically, Christians were the ones who helped advance science and reason. They
believed (rightly so) that God made an organized and rational universe. They believed that by
studying the universe, they could know more of the grandeur of God. After all, the heavens
declare the glory of God (Ps. 19:1). According to James Sire, “A picture of God’s world began
to emerge; it was seen to be like a huge, well-ordered mechanism, a giant clockwork, whose
gears and levers meshed with perfect mechanical precision.” 1
        However, humans, in their pride, started to believe that they could know everything
through reasoning and science. For many people, they believed that God (whoever he may be)
could only be known through rational thought and empirical study. In other words, they denied
that God had revealed himself in a special way. They also denied that God was continually
involved with his creation. Thus, deism was born. “Deism is the historical result of the decay of
robust Christian theism. That is, specific commitments and beliefs of traditional Christianity are
gradually abandoned.”2

    James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door, 5th ed. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 49.
    Ibid., 53.


        John Locke (1632-1704), an English philosopher, was a confessed Christian, yet his ideas
certainly reflect deism. In his Essay Concerning Human Understanding, he writes the following:
                  Whatever God hath revealed is certainly true: no doubt can be made of it.
          This is the proper object of faith: but whether it be a divine revelation or no,
          reason must judge; which can never permit the mind to reject a greater evidence
          to embrace what is less evident, nor allow it to entertain probability in opposition
          to knowledge and certainty. There can be no evidence that any traditional
          revelation is of divine original, in the words we receive it, and in the sense we
          understand it, so clear and so certain as that of the principles of reason: and
          therefore Nothing that is contrary to, and inconsistent with, the clear and self-
          evident dictates of reason, has a right to be urged or assented to as a matter of
          faith, wherein reason hath nothing to do.3
That passage shows that Locke placed human reasoning above divine revelation. His philosophy
allows human beings to judge what is and what is not a word from God.
        Before we look at the worldview of deists, it should be noted that not all deists thought
(and think) in the same way. This statement could be said of all worldviews. There are actually
two forms of deism: “warm” deism, which was more sympathetic to Christianity, and “cold”
deism, which rejected Christianity. The French philosopher and writer Voltaire (1690-1778),
was a cold deist, opposed to Christianity. Locke was probably a warm deist in reality, as was
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790). They believed in the immortality of the soul, for example, even
though they believed in the primacy of human thinking. Warm deists are like people today who
claim to be Christians but don’t believe that all of the Bible is true.
        Other famous deists include David Hume (1711-1776), the Scottish philosopher; Thomas
Paine (1737-1809), the author of Common Sense, which defended the Revolutionary War, and
The Age of Reason, which advocated for deism; and Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), who made
his own version of the Gospels (The Life and Morals of Jesus) by cutting out all supernatural
events, including all miracles and the resurrection.
        In order to understand the worldview of deism, I will use James Sire’s eight worldview
questions as well as his definitions. These definitions reflect cold deism, though there is some
overlap with warm deism.
Worldview question 1: What is prime reality—the really real?
       “A transcendent God, as a First Cause, created the universe but then left it to run on its
own. God is thus not immanent, not triune, not fully personal, not sovereign over human affairs,
not providential.”4 The God of the deism is not the God of the Bible. Deists reject the triune,
personal, living God who sustains his creation and interacts with it. Instead, they believe in a
vaguely defined God who created the universe and then walked away from it.

    John Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding 4.18, quoted in Sire, The Universe Next Door, 50.
    Sire, The Universe Next Door, 51.

Worldview question 2: What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world around us?
        “The cosmos God created is determined, because it is created as a uniformity of cause
and effect in a closed system; no miracle is possible.”5 The universe is closed—God does
interfere with it. Therefore, every event is the result of a previous cause, which is the result of a
previous cause, and so on. God, the First Cause of all things, does not interfere with the process
of causes and events. “Any tampering or apparent tampering with the machinery of the universe
would suggest that God had made a mistake in the original plan, and that would be beneath the
dignity of an all-competent deity.”6
Worldview question 3: What is a human being?
        “Human beings, though personal, are a part of the clockwork of the universe.” 7 Deists
believe that they have intelligence and will, but they have a sense that they, too, are cogs in the
machine of the universe. This idea should lead deists to believe they can’t act in significant
ways, that all of life is predetermined. However, deists don’t believe that. They are usually
quite moral, and the deists in the Age of Enlightenment were very interested in ethics.
        Consider what D. A. Carson writes, rather sarcastically, about the views of deism.
                God is spectacularly great. Think of the unmeasured eons necessary to
        travel from galaxy to galaxy at the speed of light. And how many galaxies are
        there? Where is the end? And God made it all! He is bigger than all of it,
        incalculably huge, transcendently glorious. So of course you cannot expect him
        to concern himself with your two-bit existence down here. You have as much
        significance to him as a nanoparticle has to us. . . . Why should God give a snap
        about you? He may have wound the entire universe up like a big old-fashioned
        watch, but now it is running down without any input from him, doing its own
Worldview question 4: What happens to a person at death?
        “Human beings may or may not have a life beyond their physical existence.” 9 Warm
deists would believe in eternal life, but cold deists would not. However, since deism generally
rejects revelation from God, there would be no way of knowing with certainty what comes after
death. (For, as we saw in our section on knowledge, that is information that is beyond our ability
to know directly.) Since deism was born out of Christianity, deists often retained elements of the
Christian worldview, particularly if those elements suited their liking. Therefore, many retained
the idea of an afterlife.

  Ibid., 52.
  Ibid., 52.
  D. A. Carson, The God Who Is There (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2010), 44.
  Sire, The Universe Next Door, 53.

Worldview question 5: Why is it possible to know anything at all?
        “Through our innate and autonomous human reason and the methods of science, we can
not only know the universe but we can infer at least something of what God is like. The cosmos,
this world, is understood to be in its normal state; it is not fallen or abnormal.” 10 This answer
reveals something quite telling about deists: they do not believe in the Fall. At least, they do not
believe that sin has affected the way people think and act. Rather, they believe that the mental
equipment of human beings is intact, able to function without any problems. Deists believed
they could know God by examining his works. “The God who was discovered by the deists was
an architect, but not a lover or a judge or personal in any way. He was not one who acted in
history. He simply had left the world alone.”11
Worldview question 6: How do we know what is right and wrong?
        “Ethics is intuitive or limited to general revelation; because the universe is normal, it
reveals what is right.”12 Once again, we see how deists reject the notion of total depravity. They
think that humans naturally have the capacity to do good and know right from wrong. Consider
this stunning passage from Alexander Pope (1688-1744) in his philosophical poem, Essay on
        All nature is but art, unknown to thee;
        All change, direction which thou canst not see;
        All discord, harmony not understood;
        All partial evil, universal good;
        And, spite of pride, in erring reason’s spite,
        One truth is clear, WHATEVER IS, IS RIGHT. 13
It hardly takes any reflection to know that whatever is is not always right. There are many
choices and many actions that are evil. As Sire rightly observes, “This position ends in
destroying ethics. If whatever is is right, then there is no evil. Good becomes indistinguishable
from evil.”14 This thought reveals the inconsistency of deistic thought.
Worldview question 7: What is the meaning of human history?
        “History is linear, for the course of the cosmos was determined at creation. Still the
meaning of the events of history remains to be understood by the application of human reason to
the data unearthed and made available to historians.”15 Christian theism acknowledges that
history is linear—it is moving in a line towards a goal. However, Christians know that one day
Jesus will return to judge all humanity and make everything new. The deist, however, believes
that continued study, evidence, and reason will lead humanity toward the proper goal of history.
Given enough time, the deist believes, humans will figure everything out and make everything

   Ibid., 54.
   Ibid., 55.
   Ibid., 56.
   Alexander Pope, Essay on Man 1.289-94, quoted in Sire, The Universe Next Door, 56.
   Sire, The Universe Next Door, 56-57.
   Ibid., 57.

right. All we need is more time, more education, and scientific and technological progress and
all will be well.
Worldview question 8: What personal, life-orienting core commitments are consistent with
this worldview?
         “Cold deists use their autonomous reason to determine their goal in life; warm deists may
reflect on their commitment to a somewhat personal God and determine their goal in accordance
with what they believe their God would be pleased with.” 16 Many of the deists mentioned above
were committed to social welfare. They were interested in the public good, as well individual
         This quest for liberty was both a blessing and a curse. The very thing that gives us the
freedom to worship as we choose also allows human beings to believe they are free from any
authority, even God’s. It can lead people to fool themselves into thinking they are autonomous.
It is no surprise that the Age of Enlightenment gave birth to the French Revolution. (And it is no
surprise that Thomas Paine supported this revolution.) The French Revolution started in 1789, a
few years after the American Revolution. American revolted against England. France revolted
against the monarchy and the Catholic Church. The difference between the revolutions is that
France also rebelled against God.
         The rebels produced the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which
stated, in part, that “the source of all sovereignty is located in essence in the nation; no body, no
individual can exercise authority which does not emanate from it expressly.” It doesn’t take long
to think about the implications of this statement. Nothing outside of France—even God—has
authority over France.
         The French Revolution led to the execution of King Louis XVI in 1793. In that same
year, there came the “Reign of Terror,” a time of violence and a weakened government. At the
end of this period, Napoleon Bonaparte came to power and eventually declared himself to be
Deism today
        Deism might appear to be a thing of the past, but it is not. It is alive and well, even
though it doesn’t go by the name of deism. Remember that over 90 percent of Americans
believe in God. But who is this God? Is he the God of the Bible or a god of one’s own creation?
Most Americans, and surely most people who claim to Christian, are deists. Their God is a kind
old man, a benevolent grandfather, who is not particularly concerned with the day-to-day
operations of the world. But he created everything and he is available to answer our prayers
when we get into a bind.
        Many people today subscribe to a worldview that can be termed “moralistic therapeutic
deism.” This phrase was coined by Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton, who

  Ibid., 59.
  See Mark Noll, Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, 2nd. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI:
Baker Academic, 200), 246-51.

produced a study on the religious beliefs of American teenagers. They summarized these beliefs
in the following way:
        1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life
        on earth.
        2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the
        Bible and by most religions.
        3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
        4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is
        needed to resolve a problem.
        5. Good people go to heaven when they die. 18
The God of that view places no demands on his creation. There is no demand to be holy or
righteous or even good, except for the goal of entering heaven. In this view, the purpose of life
is to be happy and feel good, whereas the purpose of life, in the Christian worldview, is to glorify
        Of course, the Christian worldview also says that God is a personal God who has
demands of us. All of us have failed to live up to those demands. We have all sinned. And sin
is why things are wrong in the universe. Sin affects our reasoning and our morality. This
problem of sin won’t go away by being nice and seeking personal happiness.
A critique of deism
        Deism substitutes human reason for the Bible as the supreme authority. It assumes that
we can think rightly. It also assumes that we can be moral. However, our experience as human
beings shows that even though we can reason, we still have great problems. People do not agree
on what is right and what is wrong. When Christianity was still more prevalent, people tended to
behave in ways that were generally Christian. In other words, the influence of Christianity
helped deists live lives that were moral and upright (in general). But as deism drifted further
from Christianity, people became more and more immoral. Deism does not address the problem
of sin. It doesn’t tell us why we can do good and do evil. It doesn’t tell us why we die and how
we can resolve that problem.
        Deism does not tell us what is right and wrong. However, most people would disagree
with Alexander Pope when he said that whatever is is right. Though we don’t agree on what is
right and what is wrong, every person would claim that certain things are wrong. On March 2 of
this year, Piers Morgan interviewed Kirk Cameron on Piers Morgan Tonight, the talk show on
CNN. Morgan, as he so often does, asked Cameron his views on gay marriage and abortion.
Here is a portion of their conversation.
        MORGAN: Do you think homosexuality is a sin?

  Christian Smith with Melinda Lundquist Denton, Soul Searching: The Religions and Spiritual Lives of American
Teenagers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 162-63.

CAMERON: I think that it's -- it's unnatural. I think that it's -- it's detrimental and
ultimately destructive to so many of the foundations of civilization.
MORGAN: What do you do if one of your six kids says, “Dad, bad news, I'm
CAMERON: I'd sit down and have a heart to heart with them just like you would
with your kids.
MORGAN: If one of my sons said that, I'd say, “That's great, son. As long as
you're happy.” What would you say?
CAMERON: Well, I wouldn't say, “That's great, son, as long as you're happy.”
I'm going to say, you know, “There's all sorts of issues that we need to wrestle
through in our life. Just because you feel one way doesn't mean we should act on
everything that we feel.”
MORGAN: And yet some people would say that telling kids that being gay is a
sin or getting married is a sin or whatever, that in itself is incredibly destructive
and damaging in a country where seven states now have legalized it.
CAMERON: Yes, but you have to also understand that you yourself are using a
standard of morality to say that telling people such and such of a behavior is
sinful. You're using a standard of morality to make that statement and say that that
is terribly destructive. So everyone is going to have a standard against which
MORGAN: No, no, no, listen, listen. I'm not an American. I'm making the point
that seven states in America have now legalized gay marriage.
CAMERON: Well, Piers, you're speaking to a man who's a Christian and I believe
that all of us are sinful. I could stand at the top of the list and say that I need a
savior and I need an overhaul of the heart more than anyone.
         And so that's what I teach my kids. I teach them the values that I hold
dear. I treasure the God that loves me and forgives me of my sin. I would teach
that to my children, as well as having a wonderful relationship with them that my
wife and I work on every single day.
         So your value system, my value system, we're all going to pick a standard
against which we judge behavior morally. All of our laws ultimately, at their core,
are going to be based on a moral evaluation.
MORGAN: So what's your view of abortion?
CAMERON: I think that it's wrong.
MORGAN: Under any circumstances?
CAMERON: Under any circumstances.

       MORGAN: Even rape and incest?
       CAMERON: I think someone who is ultimately willing to murder a child, even to
       fix another tragic end, a devastating situation like rape or incest or things like that,
       is not taking the moral high road. I think that we're compounding the problem by
       also murdering a little child.
       MORGAN: Could you honestly look a daughter in the eye if she was raped and
       say you have got to have that child?
       CAMERON: Yes, and I will help you.
       MORGAN: You would do that?
       CAMERON: Yes, of course.
       MORGAN: I find that amazing that people would say that.
       CAMERON: Because I love my daughter. I love that little child. This is a little
       creature made in God's image. Perhaps—imagine if you were the result of that
       and you had been aborted. We wouldn't be here having this conversation. So I
       value life above all things.
After talking about Cameron’s recent documentary, Monumental, which discusses the roots of
freedom in America, the conversation turned to that very issue.
       MORGAN: When you talk about freedom, a lot of what we talked about before is
       about stopping people having freedom, isn't it? About stopping them getting
       married, if they're gay. It's about stopping them having an abortion, if they get
       raped. That's not freedom. That is stopping people have the right to do things they
       want to do.
       CAMERON: Well, it's a bit of a double standard because you have to understand
       that there are those of us who hold values very dear and precious to us—
       MORGAN: Freedom is fine as long as we subscribe to your values.
       CAMERON: Or your values.
       MORGAN: It can't be both, because we have different values.
       CAMERON: That's right, precisely.
       MORGAN: Whose do you take?
       CAMERON: I take my values. You take your values. What I'm interested in, with
       my documentary, is to reveal the fact that the things that we have come to love in

        our country were ultimately produced by a certain root. And I want to know what
        that is.19
Morgan has said that he grew up a Catholic and that he believes in God. I suspect that he is a
deist. He seems to suggest that whatever is popular is right. This is an ethics of the polls. Since
gay marriage has been approved by several states, it must be right. That is his thinking. Any
attempt to stop gay marriage or abortion is an attack on freedom. You’ll not notice that he
assumes that purpose of life is to be happy. He would tell his son, “Whatever makes you
happy,” even if that happiness infringed on the happiness of another. That’s exactly what
happens in the case of abortion. No one asks the baby in the womb if an abortion will infringe
upon his or her happiness.
         Piers Morgan cannot say why human beings should have freedom, why they should have
rights. His worldview cannot accurately account for what is right and wrong. Therefore, his
worldview and Cameron’s Christian worldview are at odds. Cameron, though, can point to the
root of his morality, because it is found in God and his commands. He believes that human life
is valuable because humans are made in the image of God. This would also be the foundation
for believing that humans have fundamental rights. Morgan wants to borrow those rights from
the Christian worldview, while not adhering to other parts of that same worldview, such as
objective morality which states that homosexuality and murder of any human life is wrong.
         As we have now seen, one of the great problems of deism is inconsistency. This
inconsistency is witnessed in the deist approach to the meaning of life. If God wound up the
universe like a giant lock, then all that is left is for the universe to unwind. There is no
significance to human life. Yet deists continue to believe that life has meaning.
         A second problem also involves inconsistency. Deists believe that humans have
personality (intelligence, will, emotions, etc.). If human beings have personality, wouldn’t their
Creator have a personality? Wouldn’t he also be relational and couldn’t we know him?
         Thirdly, if God is powerful enough to create the universe, isn’t he powerful enough to
interact with it? A God who can create everything can heal people and raise them from the dead.
He has the power to govern his universe as he pleases.
         A fourth problem involves the purpose of life and morals. Assuming that the purpose of
life is happiness or feeling good creates innumerable problems. What happens when the
happiness of one infringes upon the happiness of another? Who decides what is right and wrong
in that case? Freedom and happiness are not sufficient bases for morality.
         If we know any “moralistic therapeutic deists,” we should ask them, “How do you know
your idea of God is right? How do you know that happiness is our goal? What happens if the
happiness of others interferes with our happiness? How do we know if we are ever good enough
to go to heaven?”

  The full transcript is available at http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1203/02/pmt.01.html (accessed April
29, 2012).

        Perhaps the greatest rival to the Christian worldview today is naturalism. This is the
worldview that believes that the only thing that exists is matter. This worldview maintains that
there is no God. It is the worldview of atheistic evolutionists. Sadly, moralistic therapeutic
deists, agnostics, and even some who claim to be Christians have adapted many elements of this
        When deists gave up on the God of the Bible, the natural step was to give up on God
altogether. After all, if everything can be discovered, understood, and solved through human
reasoning, science, and technology, who needs God at all? As Sire explains, “In theism God is
the infinite-personal Creator and sustainer of the cosmos. In deism God is reduced; he begins to
lose his personality, though he remains Creator and (by implication) sustainer of the cosmos. In
naturalism God is further reduced; he loses his very existence.”20
        Let us turn once again to Sire’s eight worldview questions in order to understand what
naturalism is.
Worldview question 1: What is the prime reality—the really real?
        “Prime reality is matter. Matter exists eternally and is all there is. God does not exist.”21
As the astrophysicist and popular science writer Carl Sagan once said, “The Cosmos is all that is
or ever was or ever will be.”22 The cosmos, or universe, is the only thing that matters. It is
interesting how “the universe” becomes a God-substitute, one that elicits religious awe from
naturalists. One need only hear Richard Dawkins marvel at natural selection in order to know
what the naturalist’s religion is.
        Naturalists believe the universe always existed in some form. We will look scientific
issues later, but for now it is enough to know that naturalists believe the universe created itself,
was born of another universe, or came about through some other natural process.
Worldview question 2: What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world around us?
        “The cosmos exists as a uniformity of cause and effect in a closed system.” 23 Once
again, a closed system is not open to adjustments or reordering from the outside. Within this
closed system, everything works in a regular, uniform way. One cause leads to the next effect,
which becomes the next cause that leads to another effect, which itself becomes a cause of still
another effect, and so on.
        Some naturalists are reductive naturalists. They believe that absolutely everything in the
universe is physical and material in nature. Nonreductive naturalists, on the other hand, believe
that everything is physical in nature, but allow for some nonmaterial realities such as
consciousness, intentionality, and values.

   Sire, The Universe Next Door, 67.
   Ibid., 68.
   Carl Sagan, Cosmos (New York: Random House, 1980), 4; quoted in Sire, The Universe Next Door, 68.
   Sire, The Universe Next Door, 70.

Worldview question 3: What is a human being?
        “Human beings are complex ‘machines’; personality is an interrelation of chemical and
physical properties we do not yet fully understand.”24 If the only thing that exists is matter, then
all we are is matter. Our thoughts are simply the result of matter, of biological and chemical
processes that have evolved over the millennia.
        Yet naturalists continue to believe that humans are valuable and unique, even though we
have simply evolved from lesser species. “By stressing our humanness (our distinctness form
the rest of the cosmos), a naturalist finds a basis for value, for, it is held, intelligence, cultural
sophistication, a sense of right and wrong not only are human distinctives but are what make us
Worldview question 4: What happens to a person at death?
       “Death is extinction of personality and individuality.”26 The naturalist does not believe in
heaven or hell. There is no afterlife.
       Consider what Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), a British philosopher, writes about
humankind and death:
                That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they
        were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his
        beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no
        heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life
        beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the
        inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction
        in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of man’s
        achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins—
        all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain that no
        philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only with the scaffolding of
        these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s
        habitation henceforth be safely built. 27
A cheery thought, isn’t it?
Worldview question 5: Why is it possible to know anything at all?
        “Through our innate and autonomous human reason, including the methods of science,
we can know the universe. The cosmos, including this world, is understood to be in its normal
state.”28 Though naturalists reject God, they still believe in truth. Postmodern naturalists would
say that we cannot know the truth. Some naturalists would say we can know certain truths but
perhaps not ultimate truths.

   Ibid., 71.
   Ibid., 73.
   Ibid., 74.
   Bertrand Russell, “A Free Man’s Worship,” in Why I Am Not a Christian (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1957,
107; quoted in Sire, The Universe Next Door, 74.
   Sire, The Universe Next Door, 75.

Worldview question 6: How do we know what is right and wrong?
        “Ethics is related only to human beings.”29 Though naturalists are often ethical, they
have no ultimate basis for their ethics. They may believe that ethics is based on what is practical
and useful. This is the pragmatic view of ethics. They may believe that ethics should be based
on what provides the greatest good to the greatest amount of people. That is the utilitarian view
of ethics. Or they may believe that whatever is popular is right. That, as mentioned above, is the
ethics of the polls.
        However, in order for there to be rights and wrongs, humans must have a higher
consciousness, one that animals do not possess. Otherwise, there would be no right and wrong.
It would only be what we do. After all, we don’t look at the animal kingdom and judge the
various species’ actions as right and wrong. So, for ethics to be possible in the naturalistic
worldview, humans must have a sense of right and wrong and an ability to choose between the
        This presents a great problem for naturalism. In naturalism, there is only the is. That is
what has evolved. But a naturalist must account for the ought. Where does this come from?
Everyone has a sense of duty, a sense of what is right and wrong. Everyone uses ought or should
or must (or their negations). Why should ought come from is? As Sire observes, “The major
question is this: How does ought derive from is? Traditional ethics, that is, the ethics of
Christian theism, affirms the transcendent origin of ethics and locates in the infinite-personal
God the measure of the good.”30 But how does the atheist account for objective morality?
Worldview question 7: What is the meaning of human history?
        “History is a linear stream of events linked by cause and effect but without an
overarching purpose.”31 History is moving in a line to somewhere. It is evolving. But
apparently it is evolving without any goal in mind, without any purpose. Long ago, something
happened—a singularity—that accounts for the origin of this universe. Exactly how this came
about is a matter of speculation. There are no shortage of answers. But exactly why this came
about, no one can say. Or, to be more precise, no naturalist can say.
        There are Christians who believe in evolution. They are called theistic evolutionists.
They believe that God ordained and directed evolution toward his purposes, towards a certain
goal. The atheistic evolutionist, the naturalist, does not believe in any type of divinity, much less
a divine goal.
Worldview question 8: What personal, life-orienting core commitments are consistent with
this worldview?
        “Naturalism itself implies no particular core commitment on the part of any given
naturalist. Rather core commitments are adopted unwillingly or chosen by individuals.” 32
Without a God who tells us what the purpose of life is, and without purpose and meaning in

   Ibid., 76.
   Ibid., 78.
   Ibid., 80.
   Ibid., 84.

history, human beings are left to choose whatever they want. We might even say they have
become their own gods.
The absurdity of life without God
        I do not think that a consistent naturalist can live a meaningful life. In the naturalist
worldview (assuming it is held in a consistent fashion), there is no ultimate or greater meaning to
life. This is what William Lane Craig writes about the atheistic worldview:
           The atheistic worldview is insufficient to maintain a happy and consistent life.
           Man cannot live consistently and happily as though life were ultimately without
           meaning, value, or purpose. If we try to live consistently within the framework of
           the atheistic worldview, we shall find ourselves profoundly unhappy. If instead
           we manage to live happily, it is only by giving the lie to our worldview.33
You are not likely to meet a consistent atheist. If you did, you would find a miserable and
frightened human being. You would find a person who acknowledges that life is without
meaning, without purpose, and without hope. I don’t think that person, if he or she fully
embraced this worldview, would maintain his or her sanity, or life, very long. In other words,
this worldview is not existentially viable.
         Consider all the results of there being no God: There would be no purpose to life, no
greater goal than surviving for as long as possible. There would be objective right and wrong.
Little would separate us from animals. No final punishment would await evil people who escape
this life without retribution.
         Randy Alcorn illustrates the absurdity of the naturalist worldview, particularly when
contrasted with the Christian worldview. This is how Dinesh D’Souza describes Alcorn’s
           The Reverend Randy Alcorn, founder of Eternal Perspective Ministries in
           Oregon, sometimes presents his audiences with two creation stories and asks them
           whether it matters which one is true. In the secular account, “You are the
           descendant of a tiny cell of primordial protoplasm washed up on an empty beach
           three and a half billion years ago. You are the blind and arbitrary product of time,
           chance, and natural forces. You are a mere grab bag of atomic particles, a
           conglomeration of genetic substance. You exist on a tiny planet in a minute solar
           system in an empty corner of a meaningless universe. You are a purely biological
           entity, different only in degree but not in kind from a microbe, virus, or amoeba.
           You have no essence beyond your body, and at death you will cease to exist
           entirely. In short, you came from nothing and are going nowhere.”
                   In the Christian view, by contrast, “You are the special creation of a good
           and all-powerful God. You are created in His image, with capacities to think,
           feel, and worship that set you above all other life forms. You differ from the

     William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, 3rd ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 84.

        animals not simply in degree but in kind. Not only is your kind unique, but you
        are unique among your kind. Your Creator loves you so much and so intensely
        desires your companionship and affection that He has a perfect plan for your life.
        In addition, God gave the life of His only Son that you might spend eternity with
        Him. If you are willing to accept the gift of salvation, you can become a child of
                 Now imagine two groups of people—let’s call them the secular tribe and
        the religious tribe—who subscribe to these two worldviews. Which of the two
        tribes is more likely to survive, prosper, and multiply? The religious tribe is made
        up of people who have an animating sense of purpose. The secular tribe is made
        up of people who are not sure why they exist. The religious tribe is composed of
        individuals who view their every thought and action as consequential. The
        secular tribe is made up of matter than cannot explain why it is able to think at
It seems to me that this approach would be an extremely effective way of exposing the
absurdity—and the utter despair—of a naturalistic worldview. We need to help people see how a
consistent atheistic, naturalistic worldview not only leads to despair, but gives us no ultimate and
objective foundation for truth or morality.
        The Christian worldview presents a better story. It is certainly a more compelling and
attractive story. This does not, of course, prove that the Christian story is true. A bleak story
could very well be more true. Some atheists act as though they are more noble and brave
because they face their meaningless existence unflinchingly. In the end, coherence, consistency,
and explanatory power are greater criteria for a worldview. But it helps to know that our
worldview is more compelling. We should use this to our advantage.
        Kenneth Richard Samples juxtaposes the Christian worldview with the naturalist
worldview in a helpful chart table found in his worldview book, A World of Difference. Once
again, this table shows us how the Christian worldview is superior in every way. 35

  Dinesh D’Souza, What’s So Great About Christianity? (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2007), 17-18.
  The following table is from Kenneth Richard Samples, A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to
the Worldview Test (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007), 214.

                Naturalist Worldview                                       Christian Worldview

Origin of the Universe                                    Origin of the Universe
The physical universe emerged from nothing, by no one,    The universe was created ex nihilo by an infinite,
and without a specific plan or purpose.                   eternal, and tripersonal God for his own glory.

Design in the Universe                                    Design in the Universe
Order, regularity, and fine-tuning in the universe        Order, regularity, and fine-tuning in the universe came
emerged coincidentally (possibly with other worlds).      from God’s creative plan and purpose.

First Life                                                First Life
Life somehow emerged accidentally from nonliving          God, who possesses life in himself (as an eternal and
matter through purely natural processes.                  everlasting being), created the various life-forms.

Personhood                                                Personhood
Persons emerged from the impersonal and unintelligent     As a superpersonal (Triune) being, god made human
natural processes and forces.                             beings personal and intelligent creatures.

Minds                                                     Minds
Mindless and/or nonconscious natural processes            God’s infinite, eternal, and self-conscious mind is the
produced beings with minds that are self-conscious.       cause of the finite self-conscious minds of his creatures.

Rationality                                               Rationality
Human rational faculties and sensory organs came from     Human rational faculties and sensory organs were
a blind, nonrational survival mechanism.                  created in the image of the all-wise God.

Morality                                                  Morality
Blind, impersonal, and nonmoral natural forces stand      God is a perfect moral being, and his holy character is
behind purely human moral conventions.                    the source and foundation of all moral goodness.

Epistemological Content                                   Epistemological Content
Information, knowledge, and truth came from a blind,      Information, knowledge, and truth came from an
impersonal, and unintelligent natural source.             infinitely wise and rational God who is Truth.

Aesthetics                                                Aesthetics
Beauty and elegant theories came from blind,              Beauty and elegant theories came directly from God’s
purposeless, and valueless natural processes.             creative power and infinitely wise mind.

Human Value                                               Human Values
Humans are the product of valueless, purposeless, and     Humans have inherent dignity, moral wroth, and
accidental natural processes and forces.                  absolute rights because they bear God’s image.

Human Volition                                            Human volition
People emerged from mechanistic natural forces beyond     People were created with free agency by a God who has
their personal volitional control.                        supreme freedom of choice and action.

Human Meaning                                             Human Meaning
While there is no ultimate meaning to human life, there   Human beings find their ultimate meaning, purpose, and
may be subjective meaning in life by choice.              significance in their Creator and Redeemer.

A critique of naturalism
        Naturalism is appealing because it claims science and empirical data as its foundational
basis. In a world that trusts science more than God—indeed, in a world that doesn’t want there
to be a God—naturalism provides an attractive alternative. As Sire concludes, “What makes

naturalism so persistent? There are two basic answers. First, it gives the impression of being
honest and objective. One is asked to accept only what appears to be based on facts and on the
assured results of scientific investigation or scholarship. Second, to a vast number of people it
appears to be coherent.”36 I would also add that this worldview has been widely accepted in
academic circles. Those who do not adhere to this view of the universe are often bullied and
accused of being ignorant, naïve, and stupid.
        If this worldview were the true one, we would have to consider what it would mean for
our existence. Without God, we would not have the benefits of God. We would not have a sense
of purpose. We would have no hope after death. We would have no objective basis for truth or
ethics. In fact, we wouldn’t even have a good basis for knowledge.
        There is one fatal flaw in naturalism that will not go away. Naturalism states that
everything has evolved. Natural selection maintains that the main goal in evolution is survival of
the species. If evolution is real, everything is fitted for survival, including our brains. This is
what atheistic evolutionist Richard Dawkins writes:
                   I now want to pursue the point mentioned above, that the way we see the
           world, and the reason why we find some things intuitively easy to grasp and
           others hard is that our brains are themselves evolved organs: on-board computers
           evolved to help us survive in the world.37
Even Dawkins understands that the brain has not evolved to know things as they are, but only in
ways that help us navigate this world. In other words, our brains are not evolved to help us know
absolute truth. Rather, they are evolved primarily to help us to survive. (Also, notice that he
refers to our brains as computers, which are not inherently intelligent, only programmable.
That’s a frightening conclusion.) Absolute truth may, in some cases, help us to survive, but
evolution certainly would not guarantee our ability to ascertain what is true. Think about this: if
it were true that life has no overarching purpose or meaning, it would be advantageous not to
know this, because it could lead to depression and despair, and this would be a hindrance to our
        Since all non-spiritual knowledge comes to us through our five senses to our brains, if our
brains are not evolved to understand absolute truth, how can we know that we are seeing the
world and the universe as they actually are? Perhaps we are only observing what helps us
        Tim Keller captures the evolutionist’s dilemma in a concise fashion.
                   Evolutionists say that if God makes sense to us, it is not because he is
           really there, it’s only because that belief helped us survive and so we are
           hardwired for it. However, if we can’t trust our belief-forming faculties to tell us
           the truth about God, why should we trust them to tell us the truth about anything,

     Sire, The Universe Next Door, 92.
     Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006), 367.

        including evolutionary science? If our cognitive faculties only tell us what we
        need to survive, not what is true, why trust them about anything at all?38
Keller points out that the theory of evolution is a product of human brains. If, as the
evolutionists would have it, that religion is simply an invention of human brains, then what
makes the theory of evolution any different?
        Please do not think that only Christians have come to this conclusion. Charles Darwin
himself acknowledged this possibility towards the end of his life. In a letter written the year
before he died, he wrote, “The horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s
mind, which has developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all
trustworthy. Would anyone trust the conviction of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions
in such a mind?”39
        Samples uses this idea to critique the naturalist worldview.
        According to the naturalist worldview, the source or foundation of man’s
        reasoning was not itself rational (endowed with reason), nor was it personal (self-
        aware, intelligent), and it was not teleological (purposive) in nature. Rather it was
        a nonrational and impersonal process without purpose consisting of a combination
        of genetic mutation, variation, and environmental factors (natural selection). 40
We must remember that the Christian worldview maintains that a personal, immaterial, and
rational God created everything. Because he is rational, we are rational and intelligence is
evident in the design of the universe, including our bodies and all of nature around us. Because
God is immaterial, yet capable of creating matter, we have immaterial realities such as logic,
emotions, thoughts, values, consciences, and so forth. Because God is personal, we are personal,
not mere machines housing on-board computers. Science requires that an effect requires a cause,
and the effect cannot be greater than the cause. It makes no sense for nonrational matter to
evolve somehow into rational creatures.
         Naturalism has a difficult time not only with regards to consistency, but also with respect
to explanatory power and scope. As the table above shows, naturalism seems to explain very
little, particularly when compared to Christianity. Naturalism cannot explain values, aesthetics,
and meaning. It cannot explain morality, particularly why we all feel a sense of right and wrong
inside ourselves. We all know when we do things that disagree with our conscience. The is
(what we do) sometimes violates the ought (our conscience, what we know we should do).
Evolution cannot account for this.
         Interestingly, atheistic evolutionists have to borrow from other worldviews (particularly
the Christian one) in order to make the claim that religion is immoral. The late Christopher
Hitchens made such a claim. His book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,

   Timothy Keller, The Reason for God (New York: Riverhead Books, 2008), 142.
   From a letter to W. Graham (July 3, 1881), in The Autobiography of Charles Darwin and Selected Letters (1892;
repr., New York: Dover, 1958), quoted in Sire, The Universe Next Door, 103-104.
   Samples, A World of Difference, 210-11

makes such a claim.41 However, this claim needs an objective moral basis, something that
naturalism cannot provide.
        A quote by Hitchens reveals something else about naturalism. “And here is the point,
about myself and my co-thinkers. Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith. We
do not rely solely upon science and reason, because they are necessary rather than sufficient
factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason.”42 First of all, as we
have already seen, all knowledge requires faith. There is no way around this. For an atheist to
say his belief is not a belief is special pleading. Secondly, we should ask Hitchens, “Where does
reason come from? If our minds have evolved, can we trust them to be rational?” Thirdly,
science itself does not rest on science.
        I’ll explain that last point. You may recall that accepted definitions of science rest on
presuppositions, assumptions about how the world works.43 Any definition of science cannot
actually be proved through empirical testing or observation. Rather, the definition of science is
actually a philosophical one. It rules out the supernatural (i.e., God) from the very beginning.
Such a definition favors naturalism.
        I have already said much about naturalism. We shall return to the problems of evolution
as well as the claims of atheists. For now, it will suffice for us to consider the problems of the
naturalistic worldview. Should we encounter people who hold such a worldview, we must point
out the inconsistencies within it and show them how the Christian worldview is superior.

         Historically, the Christian worldview was abandoned in favor of deism. Once reason and
science supplanted God as the authority, it was easier to deny God. The denial of God led to
naturalism. However, once naturalism was established, some people grasped the consequences
of this worldview. Naturalism, if consistently held as a worldview, meant that life had no
meaning, no purpose. Those who embraced this inevitable conclusion were nihilists. According
to Sire,
        Strictly speaking, nihilism is a denial of any philosophy or worldview—a denial
        of the possibility of knowledge, a denial that anything is valuable. If it proceeds
        to the absolute denial of everything, it even denies the reality of existence itself.
        In other words, nihilism is the negation of everything—knowledge, ethics, beauty,
        reality. In nihilism no statement has validity; nothing has meaning. 44
According to Douglas Groothuis, “Nihilism has many dimensions, but its core is the denial of
objective value of any kind: moral, aesthetic, intellectual and so on.” 45 As with any worldview,
there are many particular flavors of nihilism. Some nihilists believe that there is absolutely no

   Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (New York: Twelve, 2007).
   Ibid., 5.
   See page 140 above for a definition of science.
   Sire, The Universe Next Door, 94.
   Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011), 342.

meaning. Other nihilists believe that there is no absolute meaning or value. (The difference
between the two is that the latter group of nihilists believe in subjective, or manmade, meaning.)
         Nihilism developed in the early nineteenth century, though it is most famously associated
with Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900). “For Nietzsche, there is no objective order or structure in
the world except what we give it.”46 According to Nietzsche, “Nihilism is . . . not only the belief
that everything deserves to perish; but one actually puts one’s shoulder to the plough; one
destroys.”47 He believed that this denial of meaning not only destroyed everything, but would
one push all of civilization into a type of catastrophe.
         One can most easily see nihilism’s influence by examining its affect on the arts. In the
twentieth century, art devolved from something concerned with beauty and truth into harshness,
ugliness, chaos, and meaninglessness. Consider the composer John Cage (1912-1992), who
wrote a piece of “music” called 4’33”. The piece requires the “performer” to do nothing for four
minutes and thirty-three seconds. The only sounds, if any, are the sounds of the audience.
Cage’s message seems to be, “I have nothing to say and I’m saying it.”
         Playwrights like Samuel Becket; novelists like Franz Kafka; and countless other painters
and musicians also embraced nihilism. They considered what a life without God and meaning
meant. They pondered the absurdity of such a life. They acknowledged that if there is no God,
we have simply evolved. We are the effects of earlier causes, and while it may seem as though
we are free, it is only an appearance. The reality is that we are the products of genetic mutation,
time, and chance. In a closed system, everything is caused by something else.
         Naturalism held that humans can know things through science and reason. But the
nihilist realizes that if naturalism is true, we cannot trust our minds. We cannot know that we
know. For us to know that we know, someone outside the system, outside the “box” of our
existence, would have to tell us. But since there is no god, there is no one who can tell us we
know. There is no one who can tell us life has meaning. There is no one who can tell us what is
right and what is wrong.
         Nietzsche embraced this view. He did not believe in God or objective, moral facts, or
objective truth. However, to embrace fully this view is to have no purpose for living, no moral
compass, not truth to live by. The sad thing is that the nihilist can never be sure of his own
nihilism. It is an inherently unstable and self-defeating worldview. According to Norman
Geisler, “The negation of all being is self-defeating, since one has to exist in order to deny all
existence. Those who do not exist do not deny anything. Likewise, the denial of all value is self-
refuting, since the very denial involves the belief that there is value in making this denial.”48
         That is why we rarely meet nihilists. Most naturalists simply cannot be consistent in their
worldview. They pretend that there is meaning in life. They pretend that there are morals we

   Alan Pratt, “Nihilism,” in The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, http://www.iep.utm.edu/nihilism/ (accessed
May 17, 2012).
   Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power; quoted in Pratt, “Nihilism.”
   Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 540.

can know, truths we can live by. They do this because it is more existentially viable to pretend
that life has meaning than to embrace the consequences of their own worldview.
         James Sire sees a major problem with nihilism. “At every step, at every moment,
nihilists think, and think their thinking has substance, and thus they cheat on their philosophy.” 49
He identifies five reasons for why nihilism is unlivable. One, if there is truly no meaning and
morality, all actions are equally valid. One can commit suicide or go see a movie—it is all the
same. Two, nihilists trust their own thinking, thus cheating on their worldview. After all, if the
universe is meaningless and our minds cannot be trusted, their thinking is meaningless, too.
Three, practical nihilism has limits. Nihilism is essentially a parasite on meaning. But when
everything is denied, what is left? Four, nihilism is the death of art. One need only trace the
history of art music in the twentieth century to know this is true. Five, nihilism creates serious
psychological problems for the nihilist. “People cannot live with it because it denies what every
fiber of their waking being calls for—meaning, value, significance, dignity, worth.”50
         Understandably, nihilism is not a popular or common worldview. It defeats itself from
the start. It is easy to see why nihilism led to existentialism.

        Naturalism logically needs to nihilism, which is not viable for life. Therefore, some
philosophers created a possible solution: existentialism. Existentialism can be defined in this
manner: “A loose title for various philosophies that emphasize certain common themes: the
individual, the experience of choice, and the absence of rational understanding of the universe
with a consequent dread or sense of absurdity in human life.”51 The point of existentialism is to
transcend naturalism and nihilism, to find a way to live in the midst of a universe with no
        Existentialism thrived in the middle of the twentieth century. It has two forms, atheistic
existentialism and theistic existentialism. The difference between the two, naturally, is that the
former denies the existence of God while the latter embraces him.
        Atheistic existentialism is associated with the French authors Albert Camus (1913-1960)
and Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980). These authors wrestled with the absurdity of human existence
in a meaningless world. They wondered how humans can live meaningful lives in such a
        Sire’s worldview questions 1 (about reality), 4 (regarding death), 5 (knowledge), 6
(ethics), and 7 (meaning of history) can be answered this way, according to atheistic
        Matter exists eternally; God does not exist. Death is extinction of personality and
        individuality. Through our innate and autonomous human reason, including the
        methods of science, we can know the universe. The cosmos, including this world,
   Sire, The Universe Next Door, 113.
   Ibid., 116.
   Simon Blackburn, The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 125.

        is understood to be in its normal state. Ethics is related only to human beings.
        History is a linear stream of events linked by cause and effect but without an
        overarching purpose.”52
         The second worldview question, regarding the nature of the universe, receives this
answer: “The cosmos is composed solely of matter, but to human beings reality appears in two
forms—subjective and objective.”53 The world simply is. The objective world is the world of
the material, the physical, which can be measured by science. The subjective world is the world
of the mind, of consciousness and awareness. When one contemplates the objective world in a
naturalistic fashion (assumes there is no God, that all things are matter, including us), the result
is nihilism, which is unlivable. Therefore, the existentialist favors the subjective world. The
existentialist chooses to believe that his or her subjective experience is meaningful and valuable.
         Before we continue to examine existentialism, we should observe something very
important about this subjective-objective paradigm. The Christian worldview maintains that
there is one view of reality. The subjective experience of the individual matches the objective
world. Christians should not separate their faith from science or facts or reason. A relationship
with God should not be separated our experience and knowledge of reality. However, beginning
with the Enlightenment, reality was divided into two stories, to borrow the term that Nancy
Pearcey uses.54 The lower story was the realm of facts, reasoning, and science. The upper story
was the realm of faith, values, and subjective experience. A diagram of this two-story view of
life may looks like this:

                            LOWER STORY: FACTS, REASON, SCIENCE
         Existentialists looked at the lower story, which supposedly represents the world as it
really is, and found no hope. The lower story was the same as naturalism and nihilism: there is
no purpose to life, no god, no heaven and hell, no objective moral law. Since the lower story is
so unlivable, they cheat on their own worldview and leap to an upper story that ignores the
reality of the lower story. In the upper story, the existentialist is able to focus on his or her
existence. There may be no point to life, but existence is all we have.
         The third worldview question, regarding the nature of human beings, finds this answer:
“Human beings are complex ‘machines’; personality is an interrelation of chemical and physical
properties we do not yet fully understand. For human beings alone existence precedes essence;
people make themselves who they are.”55 In other words, humans create their own essence. As
Sartre writes in his essay, “Existentialism,” “If God does not exist, there is at least one being in

   Sire, The Universe Next Door, 119.
   Pearcey uses the upper story-lower story dichotomy, which she learned from Francis Schaeffer, in Total Truth
(Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004).
   Sire, The Universe Next Door, 121.

whom existence precedes essence, a being who exists before he can be defined in any concept,
and . . . this being is man.” He then writes, “First of all, man exists, turns up, appears on the
scene, and, only afterwards, defines himself.”56
         Furthermore, existentialists believe that each person is free to choose his or her own
destiny. Each person is king of his or her subjective world.
         Another part of the atheistic existentialist worldview, which touches on questions 2, 3,
and 4 (the nature of the universe, of humanity, and of death), is that the objective world appears
to be absurd. The objective world of facts is cold. We cannot change it. And we must face the
greatest absurdity of all: death.
         With regards to knowledge and ethics, the existentialist believes that humans can create
value and meaning. According to Sartre,
        If I’ve discarded God the Father, there has to be someone to invent values.
        You’ve got to take things as they are. Moreover, to say that we invent values
        means nothing else than this: life has no meaning a priori. Before you come
        alive, life is nothing; it’s up to you to give it meaning, and value is nothing else
        but the meaning you choose. In that way, you see, there is a possibility of
        creating human community.57
Of course, we all know that we cannot create reality. We also know that ethics cannot be
created. We all have a sense of what is right and wrong, and we know that certain choices are
morally abhorrent. We cannot say a person is creating his or her value or meaning if he or she is
committing genocide. We know better. But if God were truly nonexistent—if God were dead,
as it were—then anything would be permissible. In fact, that is the very thing Russian novelist
Fyodor Dostoyevsky observed.58
        The problem with existentialism is that it does not solve the problems of nihilism.
Rather, it simply shifts to solipsism, an extreme concern for the self or a belief that the only
existent thing is the self. In other words, my existence is the only thing that matters. Not only is
there no hope in such a worldview, but it can easily lead to immorality and a destruction of
        In contrast to atheistic existentialism, theistic existentialism is very similar to Christian
theism. It is associated with Christian philosophers and theologians like Søren Kierkegaard
(1813-1855), Karl Barth (1886-1968), and Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976). The difference
between theistic existentialism and orthodox Christianity is that it does not start with God. It
starts with human existence. This approach to Christianity makes it very subjective. It moves

   Jean-Paul Sartre, “Existentialism,” reprinted in A Casebook on Existentialism, ed. William V. Spanos (New York:
Thomas Y. Crowell, 1966), 278; quoted in Sire, The Universe Next Door, 121.
   Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism and Human Emotions; quoted in Sire, The Universe Next Door, 124.
   “If there is no immortality, then all things are permitted.” Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, trans.
C. Garnett (New York: Signet Classics, 57); quoted in Gregory Alan Thornbury, “Prolegomena: Introduction to the
Task of Theology,” in A Theology for the Church, ed. Daniel L. Akin (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2007), 15.

away from objective truth to the experience of God. It often devalues truth and places a greater
emphasis on unsolvable paradoxes.
        This view is often associated with a liberal view of the Bible. The facts recorded in the
Bible are of little importance. What is important is the story. So, the existentialist would say
that whether or not Jesus actually rose from the grave is unimportant. What matters is that he
has risen in my heart. The Jesus of history (the objective Jesus) is not important. What matters
is believing in Jesus (the subjective Jesus).
        It doesn’t take long to see how dangerous such thoughts are. The Bible claims that the
events it records are true. The birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus are historical facts. They
belong to the objective world. If they were merely subjective, they could stand alongside many
other subjective faiths. This would be pluralism of the highest order.
        If what the Bible states is not true, there is no use in believing in it. It would be wish
fulfillment. Believing in a mythical Jesus does nothing. Only if he actually died on the cross,
satisfying the actual wrath of an actual God, and actually rising from the dead, can that actual
God forgive us our actual sin. Without these historical events, there is no gospel.
        Like nihilism, existentialism is ultimately a dead end. It is a poorly defined worldview
with no foundations.

         We have already discussed the postmodern view of truth. 59 Because postmodernism was
critiqued there, and because the postmodern view is ultimately self-defeating, I won’t spend
much time discussing it here.
         Postmodernism, like naturalism, nihilism, and existentialism, is not a well-defined
worldview. In fact, postmodernists would deny that their views form a worldview. That is
because they deny any metanarratives, or all-encompassing stories that explain the world.
According to French sociologist Jean-François Lyotard, postmodernism is defined by
“incredulity toward metanarratives.”60 Postmodernists do not believe that one single story or
worldview can be affirmed.
         As stated above, postmodernists do not all believe the same things. They are generally
skeptical about absolute truth claims. Some want to deconstruct the meaning of language while
others think our use of language creates reality. Some believe that all truth claims are power
plays, while others say the best we can do is tell our stories, even if they do not reflect absolute
         However, many postmodernists believe in science. A postmodernist could believe in
Darwinian evolution, all the while stating that humans can create their own meaning and
realities. Of course, if evolution is true, human beings are the products of blind forces operating
within a closed system. That means there is no way we can escape being the effects of previous

 See pp. 122-25 above.
 Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian
Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), 24; quoted in Sire, The Universe Next Door, 216.

causes. If we are the products of evolution, so are our brains and our use of language. There is
truly no way to create our own realities.
        The postmodern worldview is marked by such inconsistencies. A postmodernist might
have not two stories (science in the lower story and language in the upper story, perhaps), but
multiple stories, all containing beliefs that contradict the contents of the other stories. As long as
these stories are kept separate, there is problem for the postmodernist. Postmodernism is
therefore truly incoherent, because the various elements of a postmodernist’s worldview do not
cohere into a consistent whole.
        Perhaps the best way to understand postmodernism is to compare it to Christian theism
(the Christian worldview). The table below synthesizes Kenneth Richard Samples’s summaries
of both worldviews.61

                   Christian Theism                    Postmodernism (secular)
God                                                    No supernatural God or gods exist
                   God is an infinite, eternal, immutable,
                                                       (atheism) and even if a deity did exist
                   morally perfect, and tripersonal spiritual
                                                       it could not be known objectively (all
                   being (Triune)—the transcendent Creator
                                                       religions are on equal subjective
                   and sovereign Sustainer of all things.
World     The time-space-matter universe was           Unlike other worldviews, this
          created by God ex nihilo [out of nothing] perspective is not centered upon
          and thus has a real existence, yet is        questions of ultimate reality and being
          dependent upon God’s providential            (but secular postmodernists embrace
          power, control, and guidance.                naturalism).
Knowledge Authentic knowledge (of God, the self,       There is no objective, universal, and
          and the world) is available to man           unbiased knowledge and truth (truth is
          through God’s general and special            solely a matter of context or
          revelation (via the created order and        perspective that is invented or socially
          redemptive actions).                         constructed).
Ethics    Objective, universal, unchanging, and        Moral values are relative to their
          prescriptive moral values exist              cultural context so moral absolutes are
          (absolutes) and find their source and        rejected (though pluralism, tolerance,
          ground in God’s perfect and immutable        relativism, and inclusivism are virtual
          moral character.                             absolutes).
Human     Human beings were created in the image This perspective is suspicious of the
beings    of God (as rational, moral, and spiritual    very concept of an objective “human
          beings) but have misused their freedom       nature,” but secular postmodernists
          in order to sin and thus need redemption generally embrace naturalistic
          in Christ.                                   evolutionary theory.
History   The linear direction of historical events is The concept of “historical progress” is
          ordained by God and unfolds according        viewed as concealing an oppressive
          to his sovereign will (including creation, agenda on the part [of] the modernists
          Fall, redemption, glorification, new         who embrace a failed metanarrative
          creation).                                   encapsulating history.

     Samples, A World of Difference, 277-78.

         There are many problems with the postmodern worldview. One, claiming that there are
no metanarratives is itself a metanarrative. Two, claiming we cannot know absolute truth
becomes an absolute truth, and is therefore “self-referentially incoherent.”62 Three, any
postmodernist who claims that language has no inherent meaning (this would be the
deconstructionist’s view) must acknowledge that his or her own language has no meaning (thus,
the universal acid of deconstruction deconstructs itself). But, of course, a deconstructionist never
does this. Four, all relativists (in truth or ethics) do not make all things relative. In the realm of
ethics, it is assumed that the only absolute ethic is tolerance. But the “tolerant” are intolerant of
the intolerant. To be completely indiscriminating would require not discriminating against those
who discriminate. But no one really does this.

        In order to critique a worldview, we must first examine it. When sharing the gospel with
our family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors, we must first understand their worldview. What
do they believe about truth, the purpose of life, death, ethics, and human history? What is the
nature of the world and human beings? What is the problem of our existence and how do we fix
it? These questions will help you try to understand the other person’s worldview.
        Once the worldview is analyzed, try to identify it. Is it deism, naturalism, or
postmodernism? More than likely, it is a mix of various worldviews.
        When you have taken these steps, think about elements of that person’s worldview. Is
the worldview incoherent or self-contradictory? Does it reflect human experience and human
history? Can a person hold that worldview consistently and still live a productive life?
        The chances are great that any non-Christian worldview contradicts itself and does not
fully reflect human history and human experience. A person who holds a non-Christian
worldview probably cheats on their professed worldview. (This is what happens when the
naturalist assumes that his or her brain is unaffected by evolution, or when the truth-denying
postmodernist insists that certain things are true.)
        We need to graciously and gently point out the inconsistencies of these false worldviews.
The best way of doing this is running a reductio ad absurdum on it. That means we assume their
worldview is true, then we take that worldview and push it to its ultimate and inevitable
conclusions. If evolution is true, then we are products of our evolution, and so are our brains,
which are fitted for survival, not to know absolute truth, including the truth of evolution. Or, if
religious belief is merely a product of evolution, adopted to help us survive, then so is the belief
in evolution. In other words, we take their worldview and reduce it to absurd statements, simply
by saying, if A (evolution is true), then B (our minds are the products of evolution), which leads
to C (our brains don’t necessarily know absolute truth, only that which helps us survive), which
is absurd.

     Sire, The Universe Next Door, 239.
                          THE EVIDENCE FOR GOD
         Now that we have discussed the important background issues of apologetics—including
its biblical basis; the issues of truth, knowledge, and faith; and the concept of worldview—we
need to examine the evidence for the Christian worldview.
         In our discussion of the gospel, we looked described the message of Christianity in terms
of God, man, Jesus, response. Because our goal is to share the gospel, it is helpful to order our
evidence for Christian faith in the same format. Therefore, we begin the evidence for God.
         There are many different philosophical ideas about how best to defend the Christian faith.
Some people believe we should use only (or primarily) Scripture. Others offer classical
arguments for God (the ontological, cosmological, teleological, and moral arguments). Still
others point to historical evidence, such as the evidence for the resurrection. I find that all of
these arguments are useful.
         In the course of defending or rationally presenting the faith, there is often no standard
way of beginning. Our conversations with people rarely will be organized, progressing in a
systematic fashion. Usually, our gospel conversations are a bit disorganized, perhaps even
messy. We need to prepare to use any evidence and any sound arguments. We may start with a
conversation about Jesus (with the deist or with someone who believes in another religion) or we
may argue for the existence of God (with an atheist).
         With that understanding, I will try to proceed in an organized way. I will start with some
classical arguments for the existence of God. These arguments will present a picture of a God
who created everything, including the universe, the design in the universe, and our sense of
morality. However, these arguments will fall short of presenting all the attributes of God. From
there, we will look at the evidence for the Bible, because this is how we know anything specific
about God. It is through the testimony of Scripture that we know that Jesus became a man, died
on a cross, and rose again. Therefore, we will discuss how and why we have the sixty-six books
that comprise the Bible.
         Along the way, we will have to deal with challenging issues. We will look at scientific
issues, since they present challenges to Christianity. We will also discuss the doctrine of the
Trinity, since it is important to know that the one God exists in three persons.
         Therefore, we shall start with non-biblical evidence for God, and then move to the
biblical evidence. There are actually over twenty arguments for the existence of God. 1 Some are
not as powerful as others are, so we will focus only on a few. It is important to note that no
single argument is likely to convince everyone. However, when presented cumulatively and as a
whole, these arguments are very persuasive. The first bit of non-biblical evidence is the
universe. The very existence of the universe bears witness to the Creator.
 Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, “Twenty Argument for the Existence of God,” in Handbook of Christian
Apologetics (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994). See also Alvin Plantinga, “Two Dozen (Or So) Theistic
Arguments,” http://www.calvin.edu/academic/philosophy/virtual_library/articles/plantinga_alvin/two_dozen_or_
so_theistic_arguments.pdf (accessed May 18, 2012).

        The cosmological argument concerns the cosmos, or universe. And what an amazing this
the universe is, filled with galaxies, stars, and planets, including our own. Earth itself is an
amazing thing, teeming with complex life. When we consider the universe, we are filled with a
sense of awe. The philosopher C. Stephen Evans calls this “cosmic wonder.” He writes, “For
different people it is engendered in different ways. For some it comes from contemplating the
wonders of nature, gazing into a vast, starry sky or pondering a soft, dreamy sunset. For others,
it comes at a birth or at the death of a friend or relative. But I am convinced that this experience
is genuine and almost universal.”1
        This cosmic wonder may cause us to wonder why we exist, or why anything exists.
Those of us given to philosophical reflection might ask, “Why is there something rather than
nothing?” The existence of the universe is the subject of the cosmological argument.
        Before we look at the cosmological argument, we should consider something very
important. We are trying to present evidence for a God who is not bound by space, time,
physics, chemistry, or biology. He is spirit, not a man of flesh and bones. We cannot see God,
or conduct an empirical test that proves he exists. Therefore, all our evidences of God are
somewhat indirect. Tim Keller calls them the “clues of God.” 2
        By trying to find the clues of God, we are like detectives. We look for evidence. We
cannot recreate the beginning of the universe in a lab. It is a one-time historical event. Some
atheists require that we present airtight proofs for God. However, this is unreasonable, and
something that they don’t ask of themselves. (They cannot provide airtight proof for evolution,
and they certainly cannot empirically disprove the existence of God.)
        Consider the following discussion of searching for the evidence of God.
                 When a Russian cosmonaut returned from space and reported that he had
        not found God, C. S. Lewis responded that this was like Hamlet going into the
        attic of his castle looking for Shakespeare. If there is a God, he wouldn’t be
        another object in the universe that could be put in a lab and analyzed with
        empirical methods. He would relate to us the way a playwright relates to the
        characters in his play. We (characters) might be able to know quite a lot about the
        playwright, but only to the degree the author chooses to put information about
        himself in the play. Therefore, in no case could we “prove” God’s existence as if
        he were an object wholly within our universe like oxygen and hydrogen or an
        island in the Pacific.3

  C. Stephen Evans, Why Believe? Reason and Mystery as Pointers to God (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996), 34.
  Timothy Keller, The Reason for God (New York: Riverhead Books, 2008). See chapter 8, “The Clues of God.”
  Ibid., 126-27.


        Similarly, in an essay, C. S. Lewis writes, “I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun
has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” 4 We cannot look
directly at the sun (well, not for long, and we shouldn’t do it if we value our eyesight), but we
can learn much about the sun by seeing how it illuminates the world and helps vegetation grow.
In much the same way, we can learn about God.
        At the risk of overkill, I will add one more quote that makes a similar point. It is one
worth stressing, because atheists and agnostics must realize that our knowledge of God cannot be
acquired through scientific testing. This is what Winfried Corduan advises:
         Don’t bother trying to invent some kind of a spiritual magnifying glass to try to
         see God. God’s own nature keeps this from becoming a possibility; after all, if he
         exists he must be an infinite, invisible spirit, just the kind of being who is
         impossible to detect directly. But what you can do is to look at the actual world to
         see if it is put together in such a way that it must have been created by God. In
         fact, someone who believes in God is very likely to say:
                  Unless there were a God, there could not be any world.
         Someone who expresses this sentiment is not just looking for one specific
         attribute of the world. It is the very existence of the world that leads a person to
         realize there must be a God who created it. 5
This is what the cosmological argument addresses. The universe exists; therefore, God exists.

        Prominent Christian theologians, philosophers, and apologists have used various forms of
the cosmological argument over the years. The Dominican priest, Thomas Aquinas (1225-1724),
used it as one of his five proofs for the existence of God in his magisterial Summa Theologica.
German mathematician and philosopher G. W. F. Leibniz (1646-1716) used a different form of
the cosmological argument. Going back further in history, a Muslim theologian, Al-
Ghazālī (1058-1111), formulated the kalām cosmological argument.6 His argument: “Every
being which begins has a cause for its beginning; now the world is a being which begins;
therefore, it possesses a cause for its beginning.”7 We will use a modified version of this
argument. While it may seem strange to borrow a theistic argument from a Muslim, we must
remember that all truth is God’s truth. “Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the
Egyptians” (Acts 7:22), and Daniel was instructed in the literature, language, and wisdom of the

  C. S. Lewis, “Is Theology Poetry?” in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (New York: HarperCollins,
2001), 140.
  Winfried Corduan, “The Cosmological Argument,” in Reasons for Faith, ed. Norman L. Geisler and Chad V.
Meister (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007), 202.
  Kalām is an Arabic word for “speech.”
  Al-Ghazālī, Kitab al-Igtisad fi’l-I’tiqad; quoted in William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, 3rd ed. (Wheaton, IL:
Crossway, 2008), 96.

Chaldeans (Dan. 1:4, 17). We, too, can learn some things from people of other faiths, even if
their faith is wrong. Sometimes it is necessary to plunder the Egyptians.
         The following is a formal statement of this argument:
        1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
        2. The universe began to exist.
        3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
        To which we can add:
        4. The cause of the universe is God.8
We will examine the first two premises to see if they are true. If they are true, sound logic makes
the conclusion inevitable. And the conclusion (the universe has a cause) should lead us toward

        This premise should be self-evident. As Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli wryly state,
“Most people—outside of asylums and graduate schools—would consider it not only true, but
certainly and obviously true.”9
        It is important to know that this premise says, “Whatever begins to exist has a cause.” It
does not say, “Whatever exists has a cause.” Many atheists try to twist this argument into that
shape. Bertrand Russell once wrote, “If everything must have a cause, then God must have a
cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that
there cannot be any validity in that argument.”10 Richard Dawkins likes to say, “Who did God?”
or “Who designed the Designer?” (This latter question is supposed to be a refutation of
Intelligent Design.) These are classic straw man arguments. They build up a false or weak
argument (the straw man), only to knock it down.
        The real argument says that everything that begins to exist has a cause. This means
everything that is not eternal, that is not infinite, has a cause. We can call these things finite or
contingent things. What constitutes such a thing or being? Corduan provides a list of conditions
regarding a contingent/finite thing:
        1. It is restricted by time and space.
        2. It can be changed by something other than itself.
        3. It has a beginning in time.
  This is the way Douglas Groothuis frames the argument in Christian Apologetics (Downers Grove, IL: IVP
Academic, 2011), 214. He is borrowing from the work of Craig in Reasonable Faith, 111-56.
  Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press,
1994), 58.
   Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects, ed. Paul
Edwards (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1957), 6-7; quoted in Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 209. Similarly,
Daniel Dennett asks, “What caused God?” in Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (New York:
Viking, 2006), 242; quoted in Craig, Reasonable Faith, 114.

        4. It needs things other than itself to continue existing.
        5. Its attributes, whether essential or accidental, are to some extent influenced by
        other things.11
The only thing or being that does not meet these conditions is God. He is not bound by time and
space; he cannot be changed by others and he is unchanging; he has no beginning (and no end);
he needs nothing from anyone else; and his attributes are not influenced by others (though we
can debate how much his actions and plans are influenced by prayer.)
        It is also important to remember that in Christian theology, there is a distinction between
the Creator and the creation. God, by his very nature, is eternal and uncaused. He simply exists.
As he told Moses, “I AM WHO I AM” (Exod. 3:14). In different eastern religions and New Age
thought, there is no distinction between God and creation. In atheism, there is only creation. (Of
course, they would simply talk about the universe or the cosmos.) But in Christianity, there has
always been a clear distinction. This doctrine is not one created to support the cosmological
argument; rather, it is as old as the Bible.
        Not only does this first premise support the message of Christianity, it is obvious from
experience. Everything we see and experience has had a cause. You and I have causes (our
parents), and they had causes, and those causes had causes, and so on. As we move backwards
in time, through the great chain of causes, we realize that everything must have a cause, and at
the end of that regress, there must be one uncaused cause.
        Still, as we will see, some atheists try to deny this first premise. According to Quentin
Smith, “the most reasonable belief is that we came from nothing, by nothing, and for nothing.” 12
To such a comment, William Craig Lane responds, “To suggest that things could just pop into
being uncaused out of nothing is to quit doing serious metaphysics and to resort to magic.” 13 He
observes that this claim is not scientific, but metaphysical, or philosophical. However, if
something could truly come from nothing, how could this be? The question Craig asks is, “if
prior to the existence of the universe, there was absolutely nothing—no God, no space, no
time—how could the universe possibly have come to exist?”14 Clearly, for something to come
from nothing would be against all known laws of physics, in addition to being contrary to
common sense.
        Though some atheists may disagree with this first premise, it would seem the burden of
proof rests on their shoulders. As Douglas Groothuis points out, “All we need for a legitimate
and successful argument form is that the premise be more likely than its denial.” 15 Certainly,
“Whatever begins to exist has a cause” is more likely than, “Whatever begins to exist does not
have a cause.”

   Corduan, “The Cosmological Argument,” 204.
   Quentin Smith, Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology (Oxford: Clarendon, 1993), 135; quoted in Craig,
Reasonable Faith, 112.
   Craig, Reasonable Faith, 111.
   Ibid., 113.
   Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 217.

       We will have to spend more time defending this second premise. Of course, Christianity
has always claimed that the universe had a beginning, because the Bible tells us so. However,
various ideas concerning the universe have existed over the years. Certain Greek philosophers,
such as the Stoics, believed that the world went through cycles of destruction and regeneration.
So, even before the rise of science, some people thought the universe was eternal.
Scientific evidence
        At the beginning of the twentieth century, most scientists thought that the universe was
eternal, with no beginning and no end. According to such a thought, the universe was in a fixed
state. Scientifically, this created some problems, as people wondered how the force of gravity
did not compel the universe to contract and collapse upon itself. However, no alternative
hypotheses presented themselves.
        However, at the beginning of the twentieth century, scientific evidence began to reveal
that the universe did have, in fact, a beginning. In 1913, Vesto Melvin Slipher, an America
astronomer, discovered that several galaxies within the range of his telescope appeared to be
traveling away from the earth at incredible speeds—sometimes up to two million miles an
hour.16 Slipher presented his findings at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in
1914. In the audience was Edwin Hubble, who would later be an instrumental figure in
observing the expansion of the universe.
        A few years later, on the other side of the Atlantic, Albert Einstein published his theory
of general relativity in 1917. This theory chiefly concerns gravity. Einstein was trying to
provide a mathematical model for a static universe, one that was not expanding. Privately, a
Dutch astronomer named William de Sitter realized that these equations predicting an expanding
universe, one in which galaxies were moving farther away from one another. However, it was
World War I and communications were interrupted.
        It turns out that Einstein had made a mathematical error in his equation—at one point he
divided by zero, something you cannot do. This error was observed by Alexander Friedmann, a
Russian mathematician. (George Lemaitre, a Belgian astronomer, made the same observation
later.) By 1923, Einstein admitted his mistake. He would later call it the greatest mistake of his
life.17 Apparently, he made this mistake because he didn’t want there to be a universe with a
beginning. “He was disturbed by the idea of a Universe that blows up, because it implied that
the world had a beginning.”18 Surely, this was because such a universe implied a Creator.
        By 1925, Slipher had recorded the velocities of 42 galaxies that were moving away from
the earth. “These accomplishments placed Slipher in the ranks of the small group of men who
have, by accident or design, uncovered some element of the Great Plan.” 19

   The information relies heavily on Robert Jastrow’s God and the Astronomers, 2nd ed. (New York: Norton &
Company, 1992).
   Francis S. Collins, The Language of God (New York: Free Press, 2006), 63.
   Jastrow, God and the Astronomers, 20.
   Ibid., 21. I should point out that Jastrow calls himself an agnostic.

         At this time, Hubble was working at the Mount Wilson Observatory in Los Angeles, the
home of a 100-inch telescope, the most powerful instrument of its kind at that time. (Slipher
only had a 24-inch telescope at his disposal.) Hubble and his assistant, Milton Humason, were
able to see galaxies that were up to 100 million light years away. (A light year is the distance
light can travel in one year, moving at the speed of 186,000 miles per second. This calculates to
roughly six trillion miles.) This powerful telescope showed that these galaxies were very large,
though they appear small because they are at a great distance from earth. He started to judge
their distance by the brightness of the stars: a brighter star meant the galaxy was closer; the more
dim the star, the farther away the galaxy was.
         After calculating the distance of the galaxies, he was able to figure out how fast they
moved. He discovered something amazing, known as Hubble’s law: the farther a galaxy is, the
faster it moves. This revealed that all of space was expanding, not just the stars. This is hard for
us to imagine, but this same law is at work in expanding balloons. Imagine taking a balloon and
putting stickers on it, each sticker one inch apart from the other. Now you blow up the balloon.
Even though all the stickers begin one inch apart, as the balloon expands, the stickers that are
farther away actually move faster. That way, they retain their relative position on the expanding
         Robert Jastrow explains this same phenomenon using the example of a lecture hall.
Imagine the seats are spaced apart evenly by a distance of three feet. Now imagine the lecture
hall rapidly doubles its size. If you are in the middle of the hall, some neighbors are now six
feet. “However, a person on the other side of the hall, who was originally at a distance from you
of, say, 300 feet, is now 600 feet away. In the interval of time in which your close neighbors
moved three feet farther away, the person on the other side of the hall increased his distance from
you by 300 feet. Clearly, he is receding at a faster speed.”20
         The way that Slipher, Hubble, and Humason were able to measure the speeds of the
galaxies is quite fascinating. They noticed that as a galaxy moved away from the earth, its color
became redder. This is called the red shift. Jastrow explains:
            The effect occurs because light is a train of waves in space. When the source of
            the light moves away from the observer, the waves are stretched or lengthened by
            the receding motion. The length of a light wave is perceived by the eye as its
            color; short waves create the sensation that we call “blue,” while long waves
            create the sensation of “red.” Thus, the increase in the length of the light waves
            coming from a receding object is perceived as a reddening effect. 21
This red shift was measured by attaching a prism-like device to the telescope. This would show
the light from the moving galaxy in a band of colors, a spectrum. This spectrum was recorded on
a photographic plate, which was then compared to a nonmoving source of light. Essentially, the
inherent brightness of the star was measured against the apparent distance of the star. The

     Ibid., 53-54.
     Ibid., 55.

distance between the two revealed the distance of the star. (A more precise way of measuring
the distance was provided by Enjar Hertzsprung, who used a method of triangulation to compare
stars in our galaxy with more distant stars.22)
         All of this revealed an important fact: the universe is rapidly expanding. It is not static.
Judging from the current rate of expansion and extrapolating this data backwards would suggest
that at one point the universe was very small and very dense. It would also suggest that the
universe expanded from a single point roughly 15 billion years ago.
         Of course, we don’t have astronomical records that date back that far. But astronomers
do have something very old to look at: the light generated by stars. Consider this: the light
emitted from the sun takes a little over eight minutes to reach the earth. (The sun is about 93
million miles away from the earth and light travels at 186,000 miles per second, which means it
takes eight minutes and 19 seconds for the light of the sun to reach us.) If we dare to look briefly
at the sun, we are not seeing the sun as it currently is. We are seeing the sun as it was a little
over eight minutes ago. When we look at more distant stars, we see them not as they are now,
but as they were thousands or even millions of years ago. “The farther out we look in space, the
farther back we see in time.”23
         Hubble was able to plot the distance and speeds of many galaxies on a graph. Once
again, the farther away the galaxy, the faster it moved. The galaxies and speeds charted on the
graph were plotted along a straight line. Follow that line back a theoretical 20 billion years and
you get to the Big Bang. In addition to this measurement, Allan Sandage and Gustav Tammann,
who built on Hubble’s work, have also measured the age of the universe by testing the age of
globular clusters in our galaxy. “Globular clusters are large clusters of stars that were formed
when the Universe was about one billion years old, shortly after the Galaxy itself had condensed
out of the primordial gases. The age of these clusters is approximately 14 billion years old.” 24
That means the universe is 15 billion years old. The difference between these two figures shows
that the expansion of the universe has slowed down a bit over time.
         The evidence of an expanding evidence lead to an inevitable conclusion: the universe had
a beginning. But many scientists did not like that conclusion, for nonscientific and philosophical
reasons. That is, they didn’t want there to be a beginning of space (and time, which functions as
a fourth dimension), because that would suggest evidence for God. Three British astronomers,
Thomas Gold, Hermann Bondi, and Fred Hoyle, developed the steady state theory in 1948. They
conceded that the universe is expanding, but they argued that the universe is still eternal. They
claimed that new material could be created continuously out of nothing in the empty spaces of
the universe. It is a far-fetched theory based on philosophy, not science. As Edgar Andrews
writes, “For entirely philosophical reasons, they were allergic to the idea of a ‘big bang’

   Edgar Andrews, Who Made God? (Carlisle, PA: EP Books, 2009), 102.
   Jastrow, God and the Astronomers, 61.
   Ibid., 64.
   Andrews, Who Made God?, 99.

        Other evidence that pointed to a Big Bang also shot down the steady state theory. (It
should be noted that Hoyle coined that term, “Big Bang,” around 1950. In his view, it was a
derogatory term.) At the end of World War II, physicists Ralph Alpher and Robert Herman,
working with George Gamow, predicted that a cosmic explosion would “have been filled with an
intense radiation in the first moments following the explosion.” 26 This radiation would be
similar to that of a hydrogen bomb. If the universe “banged” into existence, this radiation should
be found on the edge of space, in a cooled and harmless form. In other words, there should be
evidence of this hot, dense explosion.
        In 1965, a couple of physicists, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, working at the Bell
Telephone Labs, found this cosmic background radiation. They were working on a satellite
designed to detect microwave radiation and they found that such radiation was coming to earth
from all directions of space. They found the very thing predicted should there have been a Big
        There are further lines of evidence that support a Big Bang. These include the elements
found in the universe. A Big Bang theory predicts that 30 minutes after the explosion, 25
percent of the matter in the universe would have been helium. (The initial explosion featured
only hydrogen, the lightest and simplest element. When hydrogen molecules combine, they can
form heavier elements.) By measuring the helium found in the oldest stars, scientists find that
they consist of approximately 25 percent helium. The Big Bang model also shows how the
hydrogen could lead to all of the other elements in the universe. (Burning hydrogen produces
other elements like carbon, oxygen, and aluminum. Supernovae—exploding stars—spray
material into space that combines with fresh hydrogen to form the other elements.)
        In 1992, the Cosmic Background explorer, a satellite, discovered more ripples of cosmic
radiation. George Smoot, leader of this project, said, “What we found is evidence for the birth of
the universe. . . . It’s like looking at God.”27 This discovery confirmed what Penzias and Wilson
discovered in 1965. It also confirmed evidence reported in 1990 that showed that the
temperature of this background radiation was very cold, about three degrees above absolute zero
(or 3° Kelvin or -270° Celsius). This temperature was also very uniform throughout the
universe. This shows that the entropy of the universe is very large. Entropy is the measure of
disorder in a system. It describes the amount of heat that has dissipated. A low entropy system
is a very hot, very ordered system (the hot and dense matter that exploded in the Big Bang). A
high entropy system is increasingly disordered and increasingly cooler. Only a cosmic explosion
could account for the massive amount of entropy found in our universe.
        The entropy found in our universe also supports the idea that the universe is not eternal.
The dissipation of heat throughout the universe from the time of the cosmic explosion until now
shows that the universe is not eternal. If the universe were eternal, all the energy of the universe

 Jastrow, God and the Astronomers, 69.
 Associated Press, “U.S. Scientists Find a ‘Holy Grail’: Ripples at Edge of the Universe,” London International
Herald Tribune, April 24, 1992, page 1; quoted in Hugh Ross, Creation and Time (Colorado Springs, CO:
NavPress, 1994), 129.

would have dissipated and the universe would reach “heat death” by now. This is the way
Douglas Groothuis summarizes this argument:
        1. If the universe were eternal and its amount of energy finite, it would have
        reached heat death by now.
        2. The universe has not reached heat death (since there is still energy available
        for use).
        3. Therefore, (a) the universe is not eternal.
        4. Therefore, (b) the universe had a beginning.
        5. Therefore, (c) the universe was created by a first cause (God).28
        Let’s summarize the evidence:
        1. Astronomers such as Silpher and Hubble discovered that the universe is
        2. The equations of Einsteins’s theory of general relativity, when solved properly,
        suggest that the universe had a beginning (“t=0, a first moment of time, when
        everything was compressed into a point with no dimensions”29).
        3. The cosmic background radiation found in the later twentieth century confirms
        the Big Bang hypothesis.
        4. Entropy supports the idea of a finite universe.
        All this evidence certainly points to God. Hugh Ross explains:
        The big bang together with the equations of general relativity tell us there must be
        a simultaneous beginning for all the matter, energy, and even the space-time
        dimensions of the universe. This beginning occurred only a few billion years ago
        and places the cause of the universe outside, that is, independent of, matter,
        energy, space, and time. Theologically this means that the Cause of the universe
        is independent of and transcendent to the universe. The Christian faith is the only
        religion among the belief systems of humankind that teaches such a doctrine
        about the Creator.30
When Penzias won the Nobel Prize in 1978 (along with Wilson), he said, “The best data we have
concerning the big bang are exactly what I would have predicted, had I nothing to go on but the
five books of Moses, the Psalms, the Bible as a whole.”31

   Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 226.
   C. John Collins, Science and Faith: Friends or Foes? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2003), 233.
   Ross, Creation and Time, 129.
   This was reported in The New York Times, March 12, 1978; quoted in Andrews, Who Made God?, 94.

        Stephen Hawking, a British physicist who essentially holds atheistic views, realized what
the Big Bang meant. “So long as the universe had a beginning, we could suppose it had a
creator. But if the universe is really completely self-contained, having no boundary or edge, it
would have neither beginning nor end; it would simply be. What place then for a creator?” 32
        Hawking, realizing what a universe with a beginning entailed (the presence of a creator)
came up with a different idea of how the universe (one without beginning or boundaries). It is
too complicated to recount here, but the key element was an evasion of a singularity, a moment
of creation or beginning of the universe. But the only way to make this work was to insert
imaginary numbers into Einstein’s equation to yield a universe that has no boundaries. An
imaginary number is the square root of a negative number. However, this number cannot exist in
reality. (The square root of 4 is 2 or -2. But you cannot have a square root of -4, not with real
numbers, anyway.)
        Atheistic scientists have tried to dodge the beginning of the universe in other ways. 33 The
oscillating model suggests that the universe has been in an infinite Big Bang-Big Crunch cycle.
In other words, the universe continually expands and contracts. This would require the universe
to stop expanding at a certain point and then start contracting upon itself, reversing the Big Bang
until the universe was once again incredibly dense. But there is no evidence that the universe
will stop expanding.
        There are many different theories that suggest that there are other universes out there and
that ours is one of many (the multiverse theory) or that our universe is the product of an infinite
regress of universes. For example, the “baby universe” theory can be explained this way: “It has
been conjectured that black holes may be portals of wormholes through which bubbles of false
vacuum energy can tunnel to spawn expanding baby universes, whose umbilical cords to our
universe may eventually snap as the wormholes close up, leaving the baby universe an
independently existing spacetime.”34 That is science fiction, not science, and no data support
such a view.
        If there were such a thing as a multiverse, a collection of potentially infinite universes,
we would have no way of knowing they exist. And even if they did, we would still have to
account for their origins. As Andrews observes, “There is not the slightest scientific evidence—
or any other kind of evidence if you rule out UFOs—to support the multiverse concept. It can
never be more than an inference from scientific data. It might or might not be true, but that is
something we shall never know.”35
        Because other hypotheses are not rooted in science or reality, we can safely assume the
Big Bang hypothesis is the most accurate scientific account for the beginning of the universe.
However, it doesn’t really tell us how or why the universe was started. We need God to tell us
that. Let us consider the words of Jastrow, an agnostic:

   Stephen J. Hawking, A Brief History of Time (New York: Bantam, 1988), 140-41.
   Craig reviews many of these in Reasonable Faith, 128-50.
   Ibid., 145.
   Andrews, Who Made God?, 209.

           A sound explanation may exist for the explosive birth of our Universe; but if it
           does, science cannot find out what the explanation is. The scientist’s pursuit of
           the past ends in the moment of creation.
                   This is an exceedingly strange development, unexpected by all but the
           theologians. They have always accepted the word of the Bible: In the beginning
           God created heaven and earth. To which St. Augustine added, “Who can
           understand this mystery or explain it to others?” The development is unexpected
           because science has had such extraordinary success in tracing the chain of cause
           and effect backward in time. We have been able to connect the appearance of
           man on this planet to the crossing of the threshold of life on the earth, the
           manufacture of the chemical ingredients of life within stars that have long since
           expired, the formation of those stars out of the primal mists, and the expansion
           and cooling of the parent cloud of gases out of the cosmic fireball.
                   Now we would like to pursue that inquiry farther back in time, but the
           barrier to further progress seems insurmountable. It is not a matter of another
           year, another decade of work, another measurement, or another theory; at this
           moment it seems as though science will never be able to raise the curtain on the
           mystery of creation. For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of
           reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of
           ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the
           final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for
A philosophical argument
        In addition to the scientific evidence that supports a beginning to the universe, there is
one philosophical argument that comports with the beginning of the universe. This argument is
hard to grasp, but it essentially questions the possibility of an infinite universe. If there were no
beginning to the universe, then the universe would be an actual infinite number of years (or
months or days, etc.) old. However, an actual infinite does not actually exist in reality. (We can
say the same thing about the number of causes and effects in the universe. There must be an
actual number, not an actual inifinity.
        We must differentiate a potential infinite from an actual infinite. A potential infinite is a
series of numbers that has a beginning and keeps increasing but never reaches an upper limit.
You can simply keep adding one to this number. This verse from “Amazing Grace” proves that
           When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
           Bright shining as the sun,
           We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise,
           Than when we’ve first begun.37
     Jastrow, God and the Astronomers, 106-107.
     John Newton, “Amazing Grace” (1772). Groothuis uses this example in Christian Apologetics, 217.

Why will we have no less days? Because we can simply add one more to our number as our
potentially infinite number of days increases.
         An actual infinite, however, consists of an actual number. It belongs to theoretical
mathematics and set theory, not to real life. Imagine you had this actual infinite number. Then
you divided it in half. What would you have? Would you still have an infinite number, or half
of infinity? Of course, you cannot divide infinity by half. If time were actually infinite (with no
beginning and no end), we would never arrive at “now.” Perhaps it is easier to think of this in
distance. As Groothuis writes, “We can neither count from one to infinity nor count down from
infinity to one. There is always an infinite distance to travel, so we never arrive.”38
         Similarly, we could never have an infinite series of causes, because there needs to be a
first cause that set the series in motion. There cannot be a chain of cause and effects (imagine
them in a circle, so each cause has a previous cause and a subsequent effect, with no discernible
beginning or end). The reason for this is because some cause would ultimately have to cause
itself, or the chain would never exist in the first place.
         Therefore, the universe cannot actually be infinite or eternal. Only God can be eternal,
without beginning or ending, because he is beyond time and space. It is important to note that
existence can be potentially infinite, because it has a beginning. Christians had a time when they
came into existence, but they will never cease to exist.
         Can God be eternal, then? Of course. When God created the universe, he created time in
a physical sense. It would seem that at that time he created the laws of physics and mathematics
and all other natural laws. Before that moment, God existed (he always has), but not in a way
that is differentiated into moments, hours, days, or years. We must remember that God is not
bound by his creation, including time.

       It seems that the two premises of the argument are true. Everything that begins to exist
must have a cause, and the universe began to exist at one point. Therefore, the universe must
have had a cause. But does this mean that cause is necessarily God?

        Let us consider the nature of this cause. This entity must transcend space and time. The
cause must be beginningless and uncaused. Ockham’s Razor dictates the simplest answer, which
means we should not have two or more uncaused causes (such as multiple gods). This entity
must be extremely powerful, able to create something out of nothing. There would be no way of
detecting this first cause through science, because it stands outside of space and time, and
therefore must be immaterial. We will learn from the design argument that the universe is full of
information, seemingly the product of intelligence, which must come from a mind, which means

     Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 219.

this entity must be personal. If the cause is not personal, then it is impersonal, and it seems
incredible to think that an impersonal force could create persons.
        Of course, these attributes belong to the true, living God we read about in the Bible.
Judaism and Islam could also use this argument, as could deists. We have already seen problems
in the deist’s worldview, and we will address other religions such as Judaism and Islam at a later
time. For now, we must content ourselves with the knowledge that the cosmological argument
shows that there must be a God. Other arguments, particularly from Scripture, reveal the
character and nature of the true God.

        At this point, I want to address a very real issue. Some Christians might feel
uncomfortable using this argument, because it relies on scientific evidence that shows that the
universe is billions of years old. Some people think that such a position is not compatible with
the Bible. I understand this concern and appreciate it. I will address the contents of Genesis 1
and 2 later, but for now, I will say that I don’t think the Big Bang theory contradicts what the
Bible actually says. Many evangelical Christians would agree with me. However, to understand
how science and the Bible interact will require an in-depth study of what the Bible says about the
age of God’s creation.
        It should be enough to say right now that the Big Bang does not necessarily support
evolution. It does not support a universe that has come into existence through material or natural
causes. After all, the Big Bang theory suggests that at the beginning of the universe, some
infinitely dense ball of hydrogen came, well, out of nowhere. Only God could account for that.
        We will continue to discuss how science and faith interact. Please try to keep an open
mind, knowing that I have no interest in Scripture twisting.
        Scientific truth will never contradict the truth of the Bible, because both the Bible and the
universe declare the glory of God to us. Remember that Psalm 19:1 states, “The heavens declare
the glory of God.” Day and night “speak” of God (Ps. 19:2-6). Romans 1:18-20 also says that
nature reveals some of God’s attributes. The revelation found in nature is assumed to be true,
because the ungodly and unrighteous men suppress the truth and exchange it for a lie (Rom.
1:18, 25). So if scientists, using actual data, acquired and honestly and interpreted rightly, will
never come up with information that contradicts that which is in the Bible.
                          THE DESIGN ARGUMENT
         The next argument we shall use to reveal the existence of God (or to point to the clues of
God) is the design argument. This is also known as the teleological argument. (Telos is Greek
for “end” or “purpose.” The teleological argument concerns the purpose for which God made
         The universe and its contents fill us with wonder; they bear witness to God. As the
English poet Gerald Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) writes in his poem, God’s Grandeur, “The
world is charged with the grandeur of God.” The universe appears to be designed by our Creator.
When astronomers look into space and see distant galaxies, they see beautiful pictures that reveal
patterns. When we look at nature, including animals, we see a level of complexity that is
amazing. The way the simplest cell functions reveals the presence of machine-like systems
made out of molecules. All of this suggests that the universe and its contents were designed for a
          Even atheists acknowledge the appearance of design in the universe. Richard Dawkins,
chief atheist and neo-Darwinist, claims, “One of the greatest challenges to the human intellect
has been to explain how the complex, improbable appearance of design in the universe arises.”
He then explains this challenge away by claiming that the design hypothesis leads to the greater
issue of “who designed the designer.” Therefore, in his opinion (which he asserts as fact and
necessary conclusion), Darwinian evolution by natural selection is clearly the answer. 1
         Dawkins’s answer to the question of why the universe is filled with the appearance of
design is contrary not only to Christianity, but also to common sense. Can we assume that time
plus chance plus mutations equals design? I don’t think so. Macroevolution (the change from
one species into another) by natural selection is extremely improbable. In addition, it cannot
account for the complex forces such as gravity that must be “tuned” to a very certain number to
allow for human life to exist in the first place. The simplest answer to the appearance of design
is that a Designer planned and made the universe. Not only is this the simplest answer, but it
also accounts for all the evidence we have.

      The design argument can be formulated in many ways. The simplest form of the
argument is:
        1. Every design had a designer.
        2. The universe has highly complex design.
        3. Therefore, the universe had a Designer. 2
 Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), 157-58.
 Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004),


To which I would add:
           4. And that Designer is God.
Of course, the atheist would challenge this argument by stating that the universe has merely an
appearance of design. There are two ways to counter that objection, both leading to the same
conclusion. One is to show that the appearance of design must be accounted for by chance,
design, or some combination thereof. From there, we can show that only design (perhaps with
some admixture of chance) can account for the appearance of design. Another would be to
define design more stringently. If there is a way to define scientifically what design is (as
opposed to just trusting our gut when we see something in nature and say, “Hey, that looks
designed!”), then we can show that the universe is indeed designed. That is what the Intelligent
Design movement seeks to do.
        Let’s take this simple form of the argument and flesh it out a bit.

        This statement is so obvious that it hardly needs explanation. It is what philosophers call
a tautology, because it is necessarily true. It is like saying, “Every child had a mother,” or,
“Every invention had an inventor.” If the apparent design is actually a design, then at some point
it had a designer.

        This second premise of the argument is the one that must bear the most weight. We must
show that the universe actually has complex design, not an appearance of complex design. We
can do this in various ways. However, in argumentation, we need only to show that this
statement is more plausible than its denial, “The universe does not have highly complex design.”
        The design argument has a long history, from Greek philosophers such as Plato and
Aristotle to Christians such as Thomas Aquinas. Perhaps the most famous design argument
comes from William Paley (1743-1805).
Paley and his watchmaker
        William Paley was a Cambridge-educated philosopher and Anglican priest. In Natural
Theology (1802), he presented a famous case for design. Overall, his attempt to prove design in
nature encompassed many examples from science. “Paley combed the sciences of his day for
evidences of design in nature and produced a staggering catalogue of such evidences, based, for
example, on the order evident in bones, muscles, blood vessels, comparative anatomy, and
particular organs throughout the animal and plant kingdoms.”3 Paley begins his book with a
famous philosophical argument. It is worth quoting the passage at length.

    William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, 3rd ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 101.

        In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked
        how the stone came to be there, I might possibly answer, that for any thing I knew
        to the contrary it had lain there for ever; nor would it, perhaps, be very easy to
        show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the
        ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place, I
        should hardly think of the answer which I had before given, that for any thing I
        knew the watch might have always been there. Yet why should not this answer
        serve for the watch as well as for the stone; why is it not as admissible in the
        second case as in the first? For this reason, and for no other, namely, that when
        we come to inspect the watch, we perceive—what we could not discover in the
        stone—that its several parts are framed and put together for a purpose, e.g. that
        they are so formed and adjusted as to produce motion, and that motion so
        regulated as to point out the hour of the day; that if the different parts had been
        differently shaped from what they are, or placed after any other manner or in any
        other order than that in which they are placed, either no motion at all would have
        been carried on in the machine, or none which would have answered the use that
        is now served by it. To reckon up a few of the plainest of these parts and of their
        offices, all tending to one result: We see a cylindrical box containing a coiled
        elastic spring, which, by its endeavor to relax itself, turns round the box. We next
        observe a flexible chain—artificially wrought for the sake of flexure—
        communicating the action of the spring from the box to the fusee. We then find a
        series of wheels, the teeth of which catch in and apply to each other, conducting
        the motion from the fusee to the balance and from the balance to the pointer, and
        at the same time, by the size and shape of those wheels, so regulating that motion
        as to terminate in causing an index, by an equable and measured progression, to
        pass over a given space in a given time. We take notice that the wheels are made
        of brass, in order to keep them from rust; the springs of steel, no other metal being
        so elastic; that over the face of the watch there is placed a glass, a material
        employed in no other part of the work, but in the room of which, if there had been
        any other than a transparent substance, the hour could not be seen without
        opening the case. This mechanism being observed—it requires indeed an
        examination of the instrument, and perhaps some previous knowledge of the
        subject, to perceive and understand it; but being once, as we have said, observed
        and understood, the inference we think is inevitable, that the watch must have had
        a maker—that there must have existed, at some time and at some place or other,
        an artificer or artificers who formed it for the purpose which we find it actually to
        answer, who comprehended its construction and designed its use.4
Should we stumble upon a watch and inspect its craftsmanship, we would be forced to
acknowledge it had a maker. This seems clear enough.
       Even if we had never seen a watch before, Paley continues to argue, we would still
recognize design. It would be like tripping across an ancient artifact whose purpose we no
longer know. We would still recognize the work of a “human agent.”

  William Paley, Natural Theology (1802; repr. New York: American Tract Society, 1881), 9-10. This work can be
read online at http://archive.org/details/naturaltheology00pale (accessed May 26, 2012).

        Also, if the watch sometimes didn’t function correctly, we would still recognize that it
was designed. “It is not necessary that a machine be perfect, in order to show with what design it
was made.”5
        Moreover, even if we don’t know exactly how the watch functions and even if there are
some parts we have yet to discover, that still does not make us uncertain as to the fact that the
watch was made by a watchmaker.
        Paley also rules out natural causes that could have formed the watch, as well as the
possibility of the watch parts being formed together by some natural laws. He seems to
anticipate much of Darwin’s arguments, which would come over fifty years later.
        Paley reasons that the “works of nature” are far more complex than the mechanics of a
watch. As an example, he discusses the complexities of the human eye, to which he compares
animal eyes. He concludes that a creative intelligence—namely, God—is responsible for the
complexity of nature.
        Paley’s argument was a powerful one then, and it remains powerful over two hundred
years later. Naturally, Paley’s argument has been the subject of much scorn from Darwinian
evolutionists. As discussed above, Dawkins doesn’t even properly refute the argument; he
simply asserts that Darwinian evolution by natural selection must be true.
        This argument is powerful because we don’t necessarily need scientific knowledge in
order to recognize nature. We can even distinguish things that have apparent design from things
that are actually designed. For example, in New Hampshire there used to be a rock formation on
a mountain that looked like the profile of a man’s face. It was a famous symbol for New
Hampshire—the image appears on the state quarter. It was called the Old Man of the Mountain.
I say “used to be” because in 2003, the rock face gave way. The Old Man is no more.
        I remember seeing the Old Man when I was younger. (I grew up in Massachusetts and
we would travel to New Hampshire multiple times each year.) From a certain distance and
angle, the rock formation definitely looked like the silhouette of a man’s head. But when you
see pictures of it, you can tell that a number of jagged rocks comprise the Old Man’s face. You
can tell that it was not the work of a sculptor.
        Contrast the Old Man of the Mountain with Mount Rushmore. Imagine some post-
apocalyptic scenario in which nuclear war has wiped out most of the population of the earth.
There is no more America or any other country. Only a few survivors are left. Say some people
from another country happen to wander into western South Dakota. They know nothing of
Mount Rushmore and they don’t recognize the faces of Presidents Washington, Jefferson,
Roosevelt, and Lincoln. When they see this mountain, are they to think that these faces are the
result of nature? No, they would recognize that these faces were chiseled out of the mountain by
human intelligence.
        I first became aware of Paley’s argument when I read The Language of God by Francis
Collins. Collins was the head of the Human Genome Project, which mapped the human genome

    Ibid., 11.

(the entirety of hereditary information, encoded on DNA). He is now the Director of the
National Institutes of Health. He also happens to be a Christian.
        In his book, Collins states that Paley’s argument was flawed. He summarizes Paley’s
argument this way:
           1. A watch is complex.
           2. A watch has an intelligent designer.
           3. Life is complex.
           4. Therefore, life also has an intelligent designer. 6
That is a fair summary, though I suppose it would be better to write Intelligent Designer in the
conclusion. By using a supposedly parallel argument, Collins tries to show the flaw in Paley’s
           1. Electric current in my house consists of a flow of electrons.
           2. Electric current comes from the power company.
           3. Lightning consists of a flow of electrons.
           4. Therefore, lightning comes from the power company. 7
I hope you see a problem here. The problem is that it’s not really a parallel argument. First of
all, it doesn’t deal with intelligent design. But granted the differences in subject matter (from
design to provision), it still has a problem. The only way to make the arguments parallel is to
change Paley’s comment to claim that an actual watchmaker made the universe, or to alter the
second argument’s second premise and conclusion (statements 2 and 4) to focus on the fact that
both electric currents in the home and in nature come from an intelligent source.
         The point is that Collins has created a straw man argument, not a parallel one. He did
this because he believes in theistic evolution, a concept he simply renames BioLogos.
(Apparently, he wanted it to sound like a novel concept that touches on theology.) I suppose
Collins sincerely believes that God created all species through the process of macroevolution.
He bases his belief on the similarity in DNA between animals and humans. I suspect, however,
that one of the reasons Collins doesn’t want to support Intelligent Design is that it is not
acceptable to the scientific world at large. Many powerful scientists in labs and universities
reject Intelligent Design simply because it opens the door to the possibility that God exists.
Scientists in favor of Intelligent Design may lose their jobs or not be granted promotions. I
suppose that if Collins supported Intelligent Design when he wrote this book in 2006, he never
would have been named Director of the NIH in 2009.
         If neither the atheistic evolutionist Dawkins nor the theistic evolutionist Collins can prove
Paley wrong, I suppose his argument actually quite a bit of strength. Stephen Barr, a Catholic

    Francis S. Collins, The Language of God (New York: Free Press, 2006), 87.
    Ibid., 87-88.

and the director of the department of physics and astronomy at the University of Delaware, finds
Darwin’s theory of evolution to be far more incredible than Paley’s watchmaker argument.
(Darwin believed that highly complex living creatures evolved over time, through chance
mutations and natural selection. He actually knew nothing of the great complexity of cells and
their DNA.) Barr finds neo-Darwinian arguments by the likes of Richard Dawkins no more
credible. This is what Barr writes:
        What Dawkins does not seem to appreciate is that his blind watchmaker is
        something even more remarkable than Paley’s watches. Paley finds a “watch”
        and asks how such a thing could have come to be there by chance. Dawkins finds
        an immense automated factory that blindly constructs watches, and feels that he
        has completely answered Paley’s point. But that is absurd. How can a factory
        that makes watches be less in need of explanation than the watches themselves?8
Barr’s conclusion: “Paley was right all along.”9
Intelligent Design
        If there is a flaw in Paley’s argument, it is that he did not define design carefully enough.
He didn’t provide away to prove empirically design. The movement known as Intelligent Design
(ID hereafter) attempts to correct this oversight.
        ID started two to three decades ago when a number of scientists, philosophers and one
prominent lawyer questioned the theory of evolution. Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley, and
Roger Olsen, three scientists, wrote The Mystery of Life’s Origin (1984), which concluded that a
Creator is the best explanation for life as we know it. 10 An Australian molecular biologist,
Michael Denton (who is not a Christian), challenged the evidential basis of Darwinism and neo-
Darwinism in Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, published in 1986.11 One of the major players in ID
is a lawyer named Phillip Johnson, famous for Darwin on Trial, originally published in 1991.12
After starting a successful career as a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley,
Johnson converted to Christianity in his late thirties. He has written several books that question
the naturalistic philosophy that lies behind Darwinism. Other significant ID figures include
Michael Behe, a biochemist and author of Darwin’s Black Box13 and William Dembski, who has
earned PhDs in mathematics and philosophy and has authored books such as Intelligent Design
and The Design Revolution.14 These ID leaders, along with many others, are intelligent and well-

  Stephen Barr, Modern Physics and Ancient Faith (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003), 79; quoted
in Dinesh D’Souza, What’s So Great About Christianity? (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2007), 156. Barr is
referring to Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (New York: Norton, 1986).
  Ibid., 157.
   Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley, and Roger Olsen, The Mystery of Life’s Origins: Reassessing Current Theories
(New York: Philosophical Library, 1984.)
   Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (Bethesda, MD: Adler & Adler, 1986).
   Phillip Johnson, Darwin on Trial (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1991).
   Michael J. Behe, Darwin’s Black Box (New York: Free Press, 1996).
   William A. Dembski, Intelligent Design (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999); idem., The Design
Revolution (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004).

educated. They arguments for design are compelling for those who wish to follow the actual
scientific evidence where it leads.
         Dembski has introduced a method of detecting design. This method is based on
information theory and probabilities. He uses the term “specified complexity” to describe
something that is designed. In his own words, “An event exhibits specified complexity if it is
contingent and therefore not necessary, if it is complex and therefore not readily reproducible by
chance, and if it is specified in the sense of exhibiting an independently given pattern.” 15
         We can best understand this by thinking about a hypothetical Scrabble board. You
probably know how Scrabble works: you draw seven tiles, each with one letter on it, and you
make words out of all or part of those tiles. So imagine you entered into a room in which two
people had been playing Scrabble. For whatever reason, they left the room midgame, leaving the
board with tiles spelling words, but also their tile racks upon which sit seven letters. Suppose
one tile rack has these letters, in this order: HGZEIFT. There is some measure of complexity in
the arrangement of these tiles. After all, if each letter were selected from a possible twenty-six
letters, the probability of that arrangement is one out of 8,031,810,176. (Since Scrabble contains
an unequal amount of the twenty-six letters, the actual probability of drawing and arranging
those tiles would actually be different.) But this seven-letter arrangement is not specified,
because HGZEIFT is not a word in any language, as far as I know.
         Now imagine you look at the second tile rack, and you see this seven-letter arrangement:
GODHEAD. The probability of that arrangement is the same, so it is complex. And it is also
specified, because those letters spell a recognizable word. That means these letters fit a specified
         What are we to assume from these two tile racks? It appears that player one, who had
HGZEIFT on his rack, apparently did not arrange these letters in an intentional way. In other
words, it doesn’t look like he designed that arrangement. (It is possible that he had arranged
these letters according to some inscrutable pattern. Dembski acknowledges that the specified
complexity criterion for intelligent design can yield false negatives. 16) However, the second
player, who had GODHEAD on his tile rack, must have recognized he had the letters to spell that
particularly word. In other words, he designed the arrangement of those letters to hope he could
play them.
         We would assume that GODHEAD is the product of design because it is not likely to be
the product of chance (that particular arrangement of letters is improbable) or necessity. By
necessity, we mean physical necessity. No force or law of nature requires seven tiles to emerge
from the bag of tiles and appear on a rack in that particular arrangement. Since GODHEAD fits
a specified pattern (it spells a word that we recognize), it is not only complex, but also specified.
         That is a simple example of how to detect design. Dembski’s criterion for detecting
design is actually far more stringent. The probability of any pattern or event must be far lower to

   William A. Dembski, “Intelligent Design: A Brief Introduction,” in Evidence for God, ed. William A. Dembski
and Michael R. Licona (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2010), 105.
   Dembski, Intelligent Design, 139ff.

yield a positive case for design. (The lower the probability is, the greater the complexity.
Dembski suggests a threshold of 10-150, which means that the probability of an event or pattern
must be lower than that to yield a positive for design. The probability is incredibly low so that
his test for design cannot yield a false positive.)
         If the above sounds too complex, rest assured that the concept is not. (Just remember
Paley’s argument.) Design has long been recognized in many scientific fields, such as forensic
science, cryptography, and archaeology. If a police detective wants to determine whether a death
has been caused by homicide, suicide, or accident, he or she will look for evidence of a designed
death. If a cryptographer is trying to crack a code, he or she will look for a design. An
archaeologist looks at design to determine whether an artifact was designed (as a tool, an object
of worship, or something else). Even when the purpose of an artifact is unknown, design can
still be detected. “There is a room at the Smithsonian filled with obviously designed objects for
which no one has a clue about their purpose.”17
         The most important discoveries of ID are being made in biology, particularly at the
molecular level. Michael Behe, a biochemist, has written about the amazing complexity found in
cells. He has introduced the idea of irreducible complexity. “By irreducibly complex I mean a
single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic
function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease
functioning.”18 This system could not have developed by evolving through gradual steps,
because without each part in place, the system does not function. “Since natural selection can
only choose systems that are already working, then if a biological system cannot be produced
gradually it would have to arise as an integrated unit, in one fell swoop, for natural selection to
have anything to act on.”19
         Again, this concept is hard to understand without a concrete example. Behe illustrates
this concept with a simple mousetrap. A mousetrap consists of a wooden platform that acts as a
base; a metal hammer, which crushes the mouse; a spring with extended sides that press against
the platform and the hammer when the trap is charged; a catch that releases the hammer when
pressure is applied; and a metal holding bar that connects to the catch, to hold the hammer back
when the trap is charged.20 Without any one of these five simple parts, the mousetrap would be
useless. This trap couldn’t evolve by adding parts together, because four parts would be useless.
If a mousetrap were an organism, it wouldn’t survive without all five parts in place. As Behe
said above, natural selection can only choose systems that are already working.
         The mousetrap is a simple, hypothetical example. Actual examples, which are far more
complex, exist in biology. Behe describes several irreducibly complex biological systems such
as the bacterial flagellum, which is like a small outboard motor that powers the movement of the
bacterial cell. We will explore these examples below. For now, it is enough to know that our
knowledge of such biological complexity has only existed for the last several decades. Darwin

   Ibid., 151.
   Behe, Darwin’s Black Box, 39.
   Ibid., 42.

knew nothing of such molecular machines. What he did know, however, was that discovery of
such complexity would challenge and invalidate his theory of evolution. “If it could be
demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by
numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.”21 Such
complex systems have been found and Darwin’s theory has broken down. The naturalist clings
to Darwin’s theory because it justifies his lack of faith in a supernatural God. However, if truth
prevails, Darwin’s theories will be exposed.
Fine tuning
        An example of design in the universe is the apparent “fine tuning” of many physical
forces in the universe. According to William Lane Craig, “The discovery of cosmic fine-tuning
for intelligent life has led many scientists to conclude that such a delicate balance of physical
constants and quantities as is requisite for life cannot be dismissed as mere coincidence but cries
out for some sort of explanation.”22 The balance of these constants and quantities necessary for
human existence is the subject of the anthropic principle. (The Greek word anthropos means
“human being”; anthropic means “having to do with mankind.”)
        What are these constants? Norman Geisler provides a partial list of the evidence for a
universe fine-tuned for human existence.
        1. Oxygen comprises 21 percent of the atmosphere. If it were 25 percent, fires
           would erupt, if 15 percent, human beings would suffocate.
        2. If the gravitational force were altered by 1 part in 10 40 (that’s 10 followed by
           forty zeroes), the sun would not exist, and the moon would crash into the earth
           or sheer off into space. Even a slight increase in the force of gravity would
           result in all the stars being much more massive than our sun, with the effect
           that the sun would burn too rapidly and erratically to sustain life.
        3. If the centrifugal force of planetary movements did not precisely balance the
           gravitational forces, nothing could be held in orbit around the sun.
        4. If the universe was expanding at a rate one millionth more slowly than it is,
           the temperature on earth would be 10,000 degrees C.
        5. The average distance between stars in our galaxy of 100 billion stars is 30
           trillion miles. If that distance was altered slightly, orbits would become
           erratic, and there would be extreme temperature variations on earth.
           (Traveling at space shuttle speed, seventeen thousand miles an hour or five
           miles a second, it would take 201,450 years to travel 30 trillion miles.)
        6. Any of the laws of physics can be described as a function of the velocity of
           light (now defined to be 299,792,458 miles a second). Even a slight variation
           in the speed of light would alter the other constants and preclude the
           possibility of life on earth.
        7. If Jupiter was not in its current orbit, we would be bombarded with space
           material. Jupiter’s gravitational field acts as a cosmic vacuum cleaner,
           attracting asteroids and comets that would otherwise strike earth.
   Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species, 6th ed. (1872; repr. New York: New York University Press, 1988), 154;
quoted in Behe, Darwin’s Black Box, 39.
   Craig, Reasonable Faith, 157.

        8. If the thickness of the earth’s crust was greater, too much oxygen would be
            transferred to the crust to support life. If it were thinner, volcanic and tectonic
            activity would make life untenable.
        9. If the rotation of the earth took longer than 24 hours, temperature differences
            would be too great between night and day. If the rotation period was shorter,
            atmospheric wind velocities would be too great.
        10. Surface temperature differences would be too great if the axial tilt of the earth
            were altered slightly.
        11. If the atmospheric discharge (lightning) rate were greater, there would be too
            much fire destruction; if it were less, there would be too little nitrogen fixing
            in the soil.
        12. If there were more seismic activity, much life would be lost. If there was less,
            nutrients on the ocean floors and in river runoff would not be cycled back to
            the continents through tectonic uplift. Even earthquakes are necessary to
            sustain life as we know it.23
       That is quite an impressive list. But that’s just a start. Consider that the properties of this
universe had to be just right in order for the Big Bang to occur. The rate of the expansion of the
universe had to be perfect or else the universe either would have collapsed upon itself or
expanded too quickly. According to Stephen Hawking:
        If the rate of expansion one second after the big bang had been smaller by even
        one part in a hundred thousand million, million, the universe would have
        recollapsed before it ever reached its present size. On the other hand, if the
        expansion rate at one second had been larger by the same amount, the universe
        would have expanded so much that it would be effectively empty now. 24
In addition to the rate of expansion, the electric charge of the electron and other constants had to
be just right. Just how precise did these forces need to be for the Big Bang to occur? Roger
Penrose (like Hawking, a physicist and an atheist) puts it this way:
        The Creator’s aim must have been [precise] to an accuracy of one part in [10 to
        the 10123th power25]. This is an extraordinary figure. One could not possibly write
        the number down in full in the ordinary denary notation: it would be 1 followed
        by 10123 successive “0”s! Even if we were to write a “0” on each separate proton
        and on each separate neutron in the entire universe—and we could throw in all the
        other particles as well for good measure—we should fall far short of writing down
        the figure needed. [This is] the precision needed to set the universe on its
       Martin Rees, an astrophysicist, has determined that the existence of human life boils
down to “just six numbers.” If these forces and constants did not exist or were changed to the

   Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 26-27.
   Stephen Hawking, The Theory of Everything (Beverly Hills, CA: New Millennium Press, 2002), 104; quoted in
Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011), 250.
   I couldn’t write a superscript on top of a superscript with my computer. That’s how ridiculous this number is.
   Roger Penrose, The Emperor’s New Mind (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 344; quoted in Dembski,
Intelligent Design, 266.

smallest degree, there would be no stars or complex elements, let alone life. These six numbers
        1. The strength of the force that binds atomic nuclei together and determines how
        all atoms on earth are made.
        2. The strength of the forces that hold atoms together divided by the force of
        gravity between them.
        3. The density of material in the universe—including galaxies, diffuse gas and
        dark matter.
        4. The strength of a previously unsuspected force, a kind of cosmic anti-gravity,
        that controls the expansion of the universe.
        5. The amplitude of complex irregularities or ripples in the expanding universe
        that seed the growth of such structures as planets and galaxies.
        6. The three spatial dimensions in our universe.27
What is interesting is that all of these constants are independent of one another. There does not
seem to be any unifying theory that relates them to each other. (If the measurement of one
constant would change, it wouldn’t affect the others.) Therefore, each constant must be precisely
tuned. This fourth number, the so-called cosmological constant, is fine-tuned to about one part
in 10120. This tiny number represents the rate at which the universe’s expansion is accelerating.
         What does all of this mean? The fact that so many constants must be so precisely tuned
in order for anything to exist suggests that the universe is no accident. The various laws of
physics exist in such a way as to allow life to occur. One can imagine a picture of God in some
metaphysical control room, turning many large dials, each representing a constant, to particular
settings. If the dials were adjusted differently—even by a hair—there could be no life on earth.
         This is stunning information. There are two ways that atheists have reacted to this fine-
tuning argument. One way is to be impressed by the improbability of the universe. Astronomer
Fred Hoyle, an atheist, said, “A commonplace interpretation of the facts suggests that a super
intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as chemistry and biology, and that there are no
blind forces worth speaking about in nature.”28 Christopher Hitchens, a prominent atheist,
admitted in the documentary Collision that the fine-tuning argument presented the greatest
challenge to his atheism.
         The other reaction is to suggest that our universe is but one of many. This is the
multiverse theory. The idea is that in each universe (of which there could be a potentially
infinite number), a different set of constants would exist. Ours just happens to be this way. This
is the theory that Stephen Hawking and Martin Rees maintain.
         One illustration shows how incredible the multiverse theory is. This illustration comes
from Alvin Plantinga by way of Tim Keller.

   This summary of these six numbers appears in Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 251. It is based on Martin Rees,
Just Six Numbers (New York: Basic Books, 2000).
   Fred Hoyle, “The Universe: Past and Present Reflections,” Engineering and Science (November 1981): 12; quoted
in Geisler and Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, 106-107.

        Alvin Plantinga gives this illustration. He imagines a man dealing twenty straight
        hands of four aces in the same game of poker. As his companions reach for their
        six-shooters the poker player says, “I know it looks suspicious! But what if there
        is an infinite succession of universes, so that for any possible distribution of poker
        hands, there is one universe in which this possibility is realized? We just happen
        to find ourselves in one where I always deal myself four aces without cheating!” 29
Clearly, this poker player’s statement would not move his fellow players. It is physically
possible to deal twenty straight hands of four aces, but, more than likely, the man is cheating.
         Atheists can also react to the fine-tuning argument by shrugging their shoulders and
saying, “We are fortunate to exist in a universe that seems to be in just such a condition to allow
life to exist. If things were different, we wouldn’t exist. It’s just the way things are.” In other
words, we shouldn’t be surprised that things are the way that they are. If they were any different,
we wouldn’t be here. The philosopher John Leslie shows how incredible this thought is. Dinesh
D’Souza retells his illustration.
        Imagine a man sentenced to death, standing before a firing squad of ten shooters.
        The shooters discharge their rifles. Somehow they all miss. Then they shoot
        again and one more time they fail to hit their target. Repeatedly they fire and
        repeatedly they miss. Later the prisoner is approached by the warden, who says,
        “I can’t believe they all missed. Clearly there is some sort of conspiracy at
        work.” Yet the prisoner laughs off the suggestions with the comment, “What on
        earth would make you suggest a conspiracy? It’s no big deal. Obviously the
        marksmen missed because if they had not missed I would not be here to have this
        discussion.” Such a prisoner would immediately, and rightly, be transferred to the
        mental ward.30
If the fine-tuning of this universe seems improbable, it’s because it is improbable. But not only
is the fine-tuning improbable (or highly complex), it is specified, because it allows life to exist.
As Douglas Groothuis observes, “If there is only one universe, the chances of it containing the
vast panoply of life-permitting features are amazingly infinitesimal.”31 To argue for the
existence of other universes (something we could never know or prove) is to dodge the issue.
The multiverse theory can never rise above speculation and it smacks of being an ad hoc
hypothesis (one adopted specifically for this case).
         One must also deal with the issue of why a universe should have any set of laws, any
constants or forces, in the first place. Then again, we should wonder why the universe even
exists, which brings us back to the cosmological argument. This universe (along with its
attendant physical properties) exists because God created it and designed it.

   Timothy Keller, The Reason for God (New York: Riverhead Books, 2008), 135. He quotes Alvin Plantinga,
“Dennett’s Dangerous Idea,” in Books and Culture (May-June 1996): 35.
   D’Souza, What’s So Great About Christianity?, 136.
   Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 258.

         We can see further evidence of God’s design in the life at the cellular level. The cell is
the basic structural unit of all living organisms. It is the smallest unit of life that can be classified
as a living thing. That is why we have single-cell organisms, such as bacteria.
         Cells are incredibly small: we have roughly ten trillion of them in our bodies. But they
are also incredibly complex. However, before the twentieth century, scientists (including
Charles Darwin) did not realize how complex the cell is. Ernest Haeckel (1834-1919), a German
scientist who helped promote Darwin’s work, stated that a cell was a “homogeneous globule of
protoplasm.”32 He was quite mistaken, but only because scientific instruments in his day could
not detect the cell’s complex structure.
         Robert Hooke (1635-1703) was the first person to discover the cell. In 1665, he
published Micrographia, a book that described his observations obtained by looking through a
microscopic. When studying cork, he discovered the cell, so named because each one resembled
the cell of a monk. To study the cell, Hooke used an optical microscope, also known as a light
microscope. This type of microscope was invented in the early seventeenth century. Some
credit Galileo Galilei with the invention of the optical microscope in 1609.
         Early optical microscopes were simple, and though other scientists improved on their
design, they were still limited. Michael Behe explains the limitations of the light microscope:
        The investigation of the cell pushed the microscope to its limits, which are set by
        the wavelength of light. For physical reasons a microscope cannot resolve two
        points that are closer together than approximately one-half of the wavelength of
        the light that is illuminating them. Since the wavelength of the light is roughly
        one-tenth the diameter of a bacterial cell, many small, critical details of cell
        structure simply cannot be seen with a light microscope.33
In the nineteenth century, when Darwin and Haeckel were formulating and popularizing,
respectively, the theory of evolution, the cell was assumed to be relatively simple, because its
details could not be observed through an optical microscope.
        In the twentieth century, the electron microscope was invented. The electron, the
negatively charged subatomic particle, had been discovered in the late nineteenth century. An
electron has a wavelength about 100,000 times short than that of visible light. Therefore, an
electron microscope is able to provide much greater resolution than an optical microscope. The
electron microscope was developed in the 1930s and refined after World War II. “The same cell
that looked so simple under a light microscope now looked much different.”34 Now scientists
were able to see the amazing details of the tiny cell.
        Cells come in two broad types. There is the simpler prokaryotic cell of bacteria and the
more complex eukaryotic cells of plants, fungi, algae, animals, and human beings. Eukaryotic

   Behe, Darwin’s Black Box, 101-102.
   Ibid., 10.

cells are larger and have membrane-bound compartments in which specific metabolic activities
take place. Behe describes the functions of a eukaryotic cell:
        Just like a house has a kitchen, laundry room, bedroom, and bathroom, a cell has
        specialized areas partitioned off for discrete tasks. These areas include the
        nucleus (where the DNA resides), the mitochondria (which produce the cell’s
        energy), the endoplasmic reticulum (which processes proteins), the Golgi
        apparatus (a way station for proteins being transported elsewhere), the lysosome
        (the cell’s garbage disposal unit), secretory vesicles (which store cargo before it
        must be sent out of the cell), and the peroxisome (which helps metabolize fats).
        Each compartment is sealed off from the rest of the cell by its own membrane,
        just as a room is separated from the rest of the house by its walls and door. 35
Edgar Andrews provides a similar description of the cell and its complexity:
                 Even the simplest single cell is a highly organized and complex structure.
        The living cell has aptly been likened to a factory, complete with a boundary
        fence (the cell wall); gates, docking bays and security systems; entry facilities for
        raw materials; shipping facilities for finished products; internal transport systems;
        power plants (mitochondria); waste disposal plants (proteasomes); machines for
        manufacturing proteins (ribosomes); an army of workers with many different
        skills (enzymes); messengers (mRNA); stock-pickers (tRNA) and blueprints
        Andrews calls it cell the “living factory.” Each cell consists of thousands of different
protein molecules (groups of atoms linked together by chemical bonds). “Proteins provide all
the cellular structural material, they control cell growth and metabolism, and they include
hundreds of worker ‘enzymes’ that carry out activity tasks within the cell—by catalyzing
chemical reactions that would otherwise occur only slowly or not at all.” 37 These proteins form
“molecular machines” that carry out many different functions within the cell. When we look at
these machine-like devices that work in the living factory that is the cell, we see that they are
irreducibly complex.
        Behe offers many different examples of irreducibly complex mechanisms that operate at
the cellular level of life. These mechanisms consist of several parts, each of which is needed to
perform the task for which the mechanism exists. If one part is missing, the mechanism cannot
function. For this reason, Behe argues that the mechanism could not have evolved, because it
would not have evolved from a simpler, non-functioning system. (The theory of evolution states
that organisms produced a positive trait through genetic mutation. This positive trait helps the
organism survive better. Subsequently, that better-functioning organism is “selected” by nature
through a survival of the fittest process. The problem is that an irreducibly complex mechanism

   Ibid., 102.
   Edgar Andrews, Who Made God? (Carlisle, PA: EP Books, 2009), 179.
   Ibid., 181.

doesn’t work until all the parts are in place. If these parts were not in place, the incomplete and
nonfunctioning mechanism wouldn’t be more likely to survive.)
         One example of an irreducibly complex mechanism is the humble cilium. A cilium is a
hair-like structure that beats like a whip. It helps a cell to swim (as is the case with sperm) or it
helps to move liquids over a stationary cell, such as those that line the respiratory tract. For
example, if we inhale a bit of dust or pollen, the cells in the respiratory tract, each possessing
several hundred cilia, beat together like the oars of a galley ship, propelling the dust-containing
mucus up the throat so we can cough it out. 38
         Every device that moves through liquid—whether it’s a boat or our bodies—requires a
minimum of three things to work: a paddle, a motor, and a connector between the two. Without
those three things, the system will not function. Cilia have these three components of course, but
they are much more complex than that. Each little hair-like cilium consists of several
microtubules bound together by proteins. (Think of this structure as a series of hairs “glued”
together by some proteins to form a thicker hair.) The collection of microtubules forms the
paddle. The motor of the cilium are arms of dynein, a protein. The connectors are nexin
proteins that link each microtubule together. When the dynein arms move, it creates a tugging
action on the neighboring microtubules. If the nexin connectors were not there, the microtubules
would come apart. But because the nexin connectors exist, they produce a kind of counter-
tugging, so that the bound microtubules wave back and forth, producing the swimming motion of
the cilium.
         The structure and function of the cilium is actually quite a bit more complicated than that.
For example, it contains over two hundred different proteins. But the key idea is that each hair-
like cilium needs a certain arrangement of parts in order to function. If the cilium did not
function, it would not have survived the evolutionary process of natural selection. Therefore, the
best hypothesis would not be evolution, but design. It would appear that someone had planned
and built the cilium.
         Behe observes that thousands of articles have been written about the cilia in scientific
journals in recent decades. Yet only two articles attempted to suggest how cilia could have
evolved. And those two papers disagreed with each other about how such evolution could take
place. Significantly, neither article presented any mechanistic details that could show how the
cilium might have evolved.39
         Another irreducibly complex structure is the bacterial flagellum. The flagellum helps the
bacterial cell swim, but instead of acting like an oar, it acts like a rotary propeller. The propeller
of the flagellum is a hair-like structure called the filament, which fits into a universal joint called
the hook. The hook attaches the filament to the cell’s outer membrane. On the inside of that
outer membrane, connecting to the opposite end of the hook, is the rod, which acts as a drive
shaft. The rod is connected to the stator, which is embedded in the inner membrane of the cell.
Within the stator is the rotor, which rotates the rod, spinning the hook and filament so that the

     Behe, Darwin’s Black Box, 59.
     Ibid., 67-69. Behe made this observation in 1996.

bacteria can “swim.” Several O-rings and other parts hold the structure together, and the motor
of the flagellum is powered by a flow of acid through the membrane of the cell. The system is
complex—irreducibly so.
        Behe summarizes the scientific literature devoted to the bacterial flagellum:
                    The general professional literature on the bacterial flagellum is about as
            rich as the literature on the cilium, with thousands of papers published on the
            subject over the years. That isn’t surprising: the flagellum is a fascinating
            biophysical system, and flagellated bacteria are medically important. Yet here
            again, the evolutionary literature is totally missing. Even though we are told that
            all biology must be seen through the lens of evolution, no scientist has ever
            published a model to account for the gradual evolution of this extraordinary
            molecular machine.40
        Another example of irreducible complexity in biology is blood clotting. When you stop
and think about it, blood clotting is amazing. “The function of the blood clotting system is to
form a solid barrier at the right time and place that is able to stop blood flow of an injured
vessel.”41 Whenever we have a cut and start bleeding, a series of events occurs that results in a
clot that saves our lives. In order to form the clot, a long series of events results in the
production of fibrin. Fibrin is produced a protein called thrombin shortens another protein called
fibrinogen. Fibrin molecules come together to produce a net-like structure that forms the initial
clot. Many other proteins such as enzymes (which catalyze a chemical reaction) are involved in
the long series of chemical reactions that results in the web of fibrin forming a blood clot. If any
of the steps in this series did not occur, there would be no clot. If there were no clot, we could
bleed to death. In other words, the blood clotting system is irreducibly complex.
        It is amazing to consider how blood clotting works. If we had a cut that did not clot, we
could bleed to death. If we had a cut and the clot formed too slowly or in the wrong place, we
would be in trouble. If we had a clot in the wrong place or when we didn’t have a cut, we would
have a stroke. The fact that that our bodies know when and where to produce a clot through a
long cascade of events points to the work of a designer. How else would our bodies know when
to produce a clot, when to reinforce the clot (which occurs after the clot is formed), and when to
remove the clot (when the wound has started to heal)?
        We could multiply examples of specific complexity in biology, but I want to focus on just
one more example. This might be the greatest evidence of intelligent design. It is what Francis
Collins calls “the language of God”: DNA.
        DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic acid. This structure contains all the genetic
information of a living being. Because the genetic information is written with a code consisting
of four chemicals (represented by four letters—see below), it truly is a language. This is what

     Ibid., 72.
     Ibid., 86.

Richard Dawkins, an atheist, says about DNA: “What has happened is that genetics has become
a branch of information technology. The genetic code is truly digital, in exactly the same sense
as computer codes. This is not some vague analogy, it is the literal truth. Moreover, unlike
computer codes, the genetic code is universal.”42 Of course, while he marvels at this code, he
fails to acknowledge that all codes are the products of intelligent beings. Similarly, Bill Gates
concludes, “DNA is like a computer program, but far, far more advanced than any software
we’ve ever created.”43 Of course, neither Gates nor Dawkins suggests that computer codes are
the product of natural selection.
         DNA is truly amazing. All our genetic information is stored in our DNA, which is
contained in each of our cells. Nancy Pearcey and Charles Thaxton describe it this way: “It is a
superbly economical solution; compared to its size, the capacity of DNA to store information
vastly exceeds that of any other known system. It is so efficient that all the information needed to
specify an organism as complex as a human being weighs less than a few thousand millionths of
a gram and fits into less space than the period at the end of this sentence.”44
         Let’s take a look at the structure of DNA. I’ll try to keep this as simple as possible, but
some technical details are necessary to show just how complex DNA is.
         DNA consists of long-chain molecules called polymers (poly=many; -mer=unit). These
polymers consist of nucleotides. The nucleotide consists of a sugar, a phosphate group, and a
base. Nucleotides are joined together to produce the famous double helix structure of DNA. If
you have ever seen a drawing of this structure, you can imagine how it looks: like a spiral
staircase. Now imagine that this spiral staircase was straightened out so it resembled a ladder.
The sides of this ladder are made of sugars and phosphates. The “rungs” of the ladder are made
of two complementary nucleobases (groups of nitrogen-based molecules). There are about
3,200,000,000 nucleotides in the human genome. The nucleotides form the double helix
structure, which is coiled in the twenty-three pairs of chromosomes present in each human cell.
         The four bases that form nucleotides are cytosine, guanine, adenine, and thyamine.
These chemicals are represented by four letters: C, G, A, and T. These bases are designed so that
C always pairs with G, and A always pairs with T. This means that there are four possible rungs:
C-G, G-C, A-T, and T-A. Because of the way the bases connect, the information of DNA can be
determined when only half of the ladder is on hand. In other words, each strand of the double
helix can be used as a template to replicate more DNA. As Collins writes, “If you split all the
pairs in half, cutting your ladder down the center of each run, each half-ladder contains all the
information needed to rebuild a complete copy of the original.” 45 Portions of the whole DNA,
called genes, are used to build proteins. The “half-ladder” of a gene can be used to built a

   Richard Dawkins, “Genetics: Why Prince Charles Is So Wrong,” Checkbiotech.org, January 23, 2003, available at
http://greenbio.checkbiotech.org/news/genetics_why_prince_charles_so_wrong (accessed June 3, 2012).
   Bill Gates, The Road Ahead, rev. ed. (New York: Viking, 1996), 228; quoted in Groothuis, Christian Apologetics,
   Nancy Pearcey and Charles B. Thaxton, The Soul of Science : Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy, Turning
point Christian worldview series (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994), 222.
   Collins, The Language of God, 102.

protein. If DNA did not have this structure of complementary bases, it could not replicate itself
or produce proteins.
         When the four bases (C, G, A, and T) are formed into three-rung sequences, they form a
codon. There are sixty-four possible three-letter codons, which specify which amino acid will be
used next to form a protein. (There is a bit of redundancy here: one amino acid can be spelled in
different ways. So, for example, glutamic acid can be spelled GAA and GAG.) Amino acids
combine to form proteins, the basic structural and mechanical units of the body. The
arrangement of these codons, which are similar to words, form “sentences” of genetic
information. Some codons even serve as punctuation marks, indicating where an amino acid
chain ends and another one begins. In order to make a working protein molecule, the right
amino acids must be arranged in the right sequence. 46 It is easy to see how this is analogous to
language. I can take any number of letters and mix them together, but only when they are in a
specific order do they form words. And those words must be in a specific order to form a
meaningful sentence. In DNA, however, the sequencing must be much more precise. A change
in one single letter, or one three-letter codon, can mean the difference between health and a
debilitating disease.
         The gene, a particular bit of genetic instruction, consists of hundreds or thousands of
letters of code. A particular gene corresponds to an inherited trait, such as eye or hair color.
There are about 20,000-25,000 protein-coding genes in the human body, each one controlling a
different trait or function. “All of the elaborate functions of the cell, even in as complex an
organism as ourselves, have to be directed by the order of letters in this script.” 47
         What is truly fascinating is how DNA is replicated to form new proteins. This occurs
through the use of messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA). To describe how this all works, I’ll let
Collins and Pearcey and Thaxton explain:
        The DNA information that makes up a specific gene is copied into a single-
        stranded messenger RNA molecule, something like a half ladder with its rungs
        dangling from a single side. That half ladder moves from the nucleus of the cell
        (the information storehouse) to the cytoplasm (a highly complex gel mixture of
        proteins, lipids, and carbohydrates), where it enters an elegant protein factory
        called the ribosome. A team of sophisticated translators in the factory then read
        the bases protruding from the half-ladder messenger RNA to convert the
        information in this molecule into a specific protein, made up on amino acids.48
        Transfer-RNA (tRNA) rounds up the amino acids. Each tRNA molecule grabs
        hold of an amino acid with one hand, so to speak, and seeks out a strand of
        mRNA, where it grabs hold of the appropriate codon with the other hand. It keeps
        holding on until the necessary chemical reactions take place to link that amino

   Andrews, Who Made God?, 185.
   Collins, The Language of God, 103.
   Ibid., 104.

        acid onto the end of a growing chain. In this way amino acids are linked together
        one by one in the correct sequence to form a functioning protein.49
         Let’s think about what this means: DNA is an incredibly complex code constructed of
four letters (chemical bases). These letters form into codons, which specify which amino acids
will be used to form proteins.50 This extremely complex language is transcribed onto mRNA,
and then this information is translated into a new protein.
         Usually, when we see language, we realize it is the product of intelligence. Language
does not arise out of natural causes, just as the ink on this paper did not assemble itself into
words, sentences, and paragraphs. The DNA molecule is the medium (just like the ink on paper),
but not the message. Information operates at a different level than matter. Therefore,
information cannot be reduced to material it is written on. The arrangement of the nucleotides
into codons and the arrangement of codons into genes is information. This information is used to
construct the building blocks of the cell and to regulate human life. We can think of DNA as a
set of instructions written with chemicals, just as the arrangement of the ink on this page forms
information. Information is therefore more than the sum of its parts. It cannot be reduced to
material causes.
         Of course, Darwin knew nothing of DNA. If he had, perhaps he would never have come
up with his theory of evolution, because DNA seems to suggest a designer.
         James Watson and Francis Crick discovered the double helix structure of DNA in 1953.
Crick later reflected on the complexity of DNA and the impossibility of DNA evolving out of
inorganic compounds (the process of life developing from nonlife is called abiogenesis).
According to him, “the origin of life appears to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions
which would have to be satisfied to get it going.”51 Instead of turning to the rational belief that
God could have designed life, Crick turned towards a more interesting solution: He claimed that
aliens sent an unmanned probe to earth to seed all of human life. This process he called directed
panspermia. Groothuis explains:
        He realized that the odds of life accidentally coming to earth through an
        undirected process were far too small. But directed panspermia was the
        “miracle” he deemed necessary to explain the origin of life, since life cannot
        come from nonlife without intelligence. It is a design explanation. However, this
        appeal to design is a classic case of an ad hoc argument. When naturalism fails to

   Pearcey and Thaxton, The Soul of Science, 225.
   Only about 1.5 percent of human DNA is used to build proteins. The rest is so-called “junk DNA,” the function
of which scientists are beginning to discover. Many scientists will argue that this junk DNA is proof of evolution,
but such claims create a “Darwinism of the gaps.” Christians are often criticized for making a so-called “God of the
gaps” when they attribute gaps in scientific knowledge to divine cause. So, for example, if we don’t know how
something works or we can’t explain something now, we can either say “it evolved” or “God did it.” Without
further evidence, either claim could be true. Instead of making claims based on what we don’t know, we should use
the evidence available to decide whether evolutionists’ claims or Christians’ claims are true.
   Francis Crick, Life Itself: Its Origin and Nature (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1981), 88; quoted in Groothuis,
Christian Apologetics, 321.

           explain the origin of terrestrial life, Crick appeals to an unknown and improvable
           alien source.52
Crick was a Nobel Prize winner. Yet when faced with evidence pointing him toward God, he
decided to turn to science fiction instead. And even if his ideas were correct (and they are not),
he would then have to deal with the question of where those aliens came from.
        By now, it should be clear that the universe has highly complex design. The fine-tuning
of the universe, the complexity of simple cells and biological systems, and the information stored
in DNA all point to design, not natural causes achieved by way of time, chance, and mutations.
Only those who stubbornly reject the existence of a designer deny that there is design in the

       The first premise—every design has a designer—must be true. The second premise—the
universe has highly complex design—seems to be true from all that we know. Therefore, the
conclusion follows logically. The universe must have had a designer. Now, the only question is,

        This part of the argument is actually not conclusive. We will need to continue our
presentation of evidence for the God of the Bible in order to show that the God who designed the
universe is the one who sent Jesus into the world to die on a cross.
        While this argument alone may not be conclusive, I believe it shows that God must be the
designer. After all, this designer would have to be intelligent and creative, which is certainly
true of God. And he would have to exist before the universe, since the universe itself, with its
physical laws, seems to be fine-tuned for human existence. He would therefore want to create
humans, and the Bible claims that humans are the height of God’s creation. He would have to
be extremely powerful and have the ability to design and create the type of universe that he
wanted. The God of the Bible fits this description.
        While it is possible the god of deists could be the designer, the true God revealed in the
pages of Scripture is a better fit. To show that this designer is God, we will have to demonstrate
the trustworthiness of the Bible, the evidence of the resurrection, and the problems inherent to
other religions. We will do this in due time. For now, we must be content to use this argument
as one of many to prove God’s existence. This argument gains strength as it is used alongside
many others, such as the cosmological argument and the moral argument, which we shall look at

     Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 321.

        Those opposed to the design argument speak of apparent flaws in nature, such as the
blind spot in the eye53 or the panda’s thumb. Douglas Groothuis summarizes the
counterargument this way:
         1. If God, an all-powerful and all-knowing being, created life, then it would show
         no design flaws.
         2. Live evidences design flaws. That is, it is not optimally designed because we
         can imagine another design improving on it.
         3. Therefore (a), life is not designed by God.
         4. Therefore (b), life is the product of Darwinian evolution (which is non-
         designed and nondirectional).54
Of course, we can admit that there are “flaws” in the design. There are birth defects and
diseases, and people have accidental blood clots that lead to strokes and death. However, when
people claim that the “flaws” of design are proof that there is no designer, they are making a
mistake. They are claiming to know the purposes of the designer. They are assuming that if God
(who is perfect) designed something, he would design it perfectly.
         The Christian response to this counterargument is an easy one. God did not intend to
create a perfect universe—at least not yet. Since the Fall, the universe has been tainted by sin.
Somehow, this was part of God’s plan (after all, he is all knowing and all powerful, and he works
all things according to his will), so he was not taken by surprise. The Bible never claims that the
universe exhibits perfect design. It is wonderful and marvelous in many ways, but not perfect—
at least not yet.
         In Romans 8:20-22, we are told, “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly,
but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its
bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know
that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” But one
day, there will be a new creation, one without sin. We can only imagine what life in a new,
perfected creation will be like, but we can be sure it will be far superior to what we experience

        The cosmological argument and the teleological argument require some scientific
knowledge. It is important to deal with science, because naturalists try to use science to support
their belief that there is no God. In order to disprove their argument, we have to look carefully at
the scientific evidence. This is necessary, but it is not always easy and for some people,
   For a brief description of the eye’s blind spot, as well as a test that reveals this blind spot, see
http://www.doobybrain.com/2008/02/25/the-human-eye-has-a-blind-spot/ (accessed June 7, 2012).
   Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 323-24.

scientific arguments may leave them cold. However, another type of design argument is easier
to understand and it may be more compelling to many people.
        Many Christian philosophers have observed that humans have a “God-shaped vacuum”
that cannot be filled by anything other than God. We have a spiritual longing that nothing in this
earth can satisfy. This is what Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) observed:
                What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there
        was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty
        print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking
        in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none
        can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and
        immutable object; in other words by God himself. 55
Humans try to fill this void with everything they can. And if the stuff we have (relationships,
money, possessions, entertainments, pleasures) doesn’t fill the void, we seek the stuff we don’t
have (more money, other possessions, new relationships, etc.). But nothing will work. Only
Jesus can satisfy the longing we feel. As Augustine wrote in his Confessions, “You have made
us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”
         Most people do not come to Augustine’s realization. Once you realize that everyone has
a spiritual longing that only God can fill, you see how desperately people try to fill it with other
things. I have noticed many friends distract themselves with entertainment in order to avoid
dealing with this hole in their hearts. I have seen other friends try to fill the hole with
relationships. I had a friend in college who always had a boyfriend; I think she was incapable of
going a week without a new love interest. Surely, she was trying to fill that vacuum with the
latest fling.
         This spiritual longing is often expressed in our culture. I often hear it when I listen to
music. In “America,” Paul Simon sings:
        "Kathy, I'm lost," I said, though I knew she was sleeping .
        “I'm empty and aching and I don't know why.”
That’s how most people are: empty and aching, but not knowing why. And when they try to
alleviate that spiritual ache with the things of this world, they fail.
        Many people think that void could be filled if only they could go back to that time and
place when they were happy. You know how this goes: “If only I could back to when I was
young.” “If only I could back to that relationship.” “If only I could have that job again.” I think
this sentiment is behind a lot of popular songs that mourn the loss of a relationship or the loss of
youth. I remember driving in my car recently, listening to a particular album, and noticing that at
least three songs talked about a lost relationship, a lost time, and a lost place. 56 Behind the
mournful quality of those songs lies a desire to go back to that person, that time, and that place

 Blaise Pascal, Pensées 148/428, ed. and trans. Alban Krailsheimer (New York: Penguin, 1966), 75.
 The album, should you care to know, is Cold Roses by Ryan Adams. Adams certainly does not write from a
Christian perspective, but his songs are often more thoughtful than most pop and rock songs.

that was lost. I suppose the thought is that if one could go back, everything would be right, and
the emptiness and hurt that one feels would be gone. All of this is a misplaced longing.
        Our memories have a way of deceiving us. Our minds become colored by nostalgia and
sentimentality to the point where we reinvent the past so that it becomes a veritable Eden. We
think we used to be in Paradise and if only we could return, we would be okay. There is some
truth to that, of course, because we are outside of Eden. But if we want things to be just as they
ought to be, we need to go back farther than our youths, to a better relationship than our lost
love, and to a place more special than our favorite vacation spot. We need to go back to a time
before sin entered the world, to a relationship with God, and a place where he walked among his
people. We need to back to the true Eden. Of course, we can’t go back. Rather, we must go
forward in a relationship with Jesus, as we look forward to the new Eden, the new Jerusalem, the
new heavens and earth (Revelation 21 and 22).
        C. S. Lewis writes about this desire for a “far-off country” that we all have in his sermon,
“The Weight of Glory”:
        We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually
        appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is
        constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a
        name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had
        settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain
        moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to
        those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the
        reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering.
        The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us
        if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came
        through them was longing. These things –the beauty, the memory of our own
        past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the
        thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers.
        For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not
        found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never
        yet visited.57
We all have this desire for a far-off country, for Paradise, for heaven. But we don’t realize we
are longing for heaven. Instead, we tend to believe that we can satisfy this desire with the things
of earth. When we do that, we turn the things of earth into dumb idols, and dumb idols can never
satisfy our longing. Thus, they leave us heartbroken.
        But this desire, even if misdirected, is a very real thing. We actually desire for
something, even if we cannot put our finger on it. Our desire is a clue that something beyond

 C. S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory,” in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (1949; repr. New York:
HarperOne, 2001), 30-31.

this world exists that can fulfill us. In Mere Christianity, Lewis shows how this desire points us
to God.
        Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know
        that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world.
        There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they
        never quite keep their promise. The longings which arise in us when we first fall
        in love, or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some subject that
        excites us, are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning, can really
        satisfy. I am not now speaking of what would be ordinarily called unsuccessful
        marriages, or holidays, or learned careers. I am speaking of the best possible
        ones. There was something we grasped at, in that first moment of longing, which
        just fades away in the reality. I think everyone knows what I mean. The wife
        may be a good wife, and the hotels and scenery may have been excellent, and
        chemistry may be a very interesting job: but something has evaded us.58
If the very best of this world cannot satisfy this spiritual desire, we can do one of three things,
according to Lewis. One, we can blame the things of this world or fool ourselves into thinking
that we should have tried another woman, or holiday, or career. “Most of the bored,
discontented, rich people in the world are of this type.”59 Two, we can become disenchanted,
attribute our desire to adolescence, and give up on a solution to this desire. Or, three, we can
react in the Christian way.
        The Christian says, “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for
        those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A
        duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual
        desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no
        experience in this world can satisfy, the most probably explanation is that I was
        made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not
        prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to
        satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take
        care, on the one hand, never to despise, or to be unthankful for, these earthly
        blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which
        they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the
        desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let I
        get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press
        on to that other country and to help others to do the same.”60
        We were made for another country, for heaven. God made us to glorify him, to reflect
his glory in his world, and to worship and serve him. When we are not doing the things for

   C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (rev. ed., 1952; repr. New York: Touchstone, 1996), 120.
   Ibid., 121.

which we were made, we feel empty, depressed, frustrated, and lost. Not to do the things we are
made for is like not using a hammer to drive a nail, but instead using it to play a violin. Our
spiritual longings lead us to seek out our purpose, and this search points us to our Designer and
        We can imagine this type of philosophical argument outlined in a formal way:
       1. Each one of us has a deep longing for something.
       2. The things of this universe do not satisfy this longing.
       3. Therefore, something beyond this universe must satisfy this longing.
       4. And this something is God.
Perhaps we cannot prove this argument the way we can the other ones, but it has an emotional
and spiritual resonance that science does not. The first and second premises seem to be true, if
we are being honest with ourselves. Of course, none of us has the capability of trying to satisfy
this longing with everything in the universe, because there are many things that we cannot
access, like unlimited wealth, great power, or the ability to travel everywhere we want. But if
there is something outside this universe that can satisfy, it must be God, for he alone is beyond
space and time.
                          THE MORAL ARGUMENT
         The two previous arguments—the cosmological argument and the design (or teleological)
argument—are powerful ways of demonstrating the existence of God. For those who are
scientifically minded or for those who demand scientific evidence, they may be quite effective.
However, they do require some knowledge of science or, at the very least, the ability to learn
scientific concepts. For that reason, these arguments can be difficult to master. A third
argument, one that has greater emotional resonance, is the moral argument. The basic argument
states that if “objective moral values exist, then God exists; objective moral values do exist;
therefore, God exists.”1
         The experience of moral obligations is universal, because each one of us has a
conscience. The fact that we make certain choices but know that we should have made other
choices seems to haunt us. We cannot shake this sense of moral duty, even if we try. Not only
does this sense of morality haunt us, but it also creates a sense of mystery. What could account
for this sense of morality?
         Immanuel Kant, the famous German philosopher of the eighteenth century, once claimed,
“Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the oftener and
more steadily we reflect on them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.” 2
Interestingly, Kant compared creation (“the starry heavens above me”) with his conscience (“the
moral law within me”). Both point to a Creator and Lawgiver. Everyone has this experience,
though many people choose to suppress this knowledge of God (once again, see Rom. 1:18-25).
To reawaken this knowledge of God, we must show people that there are moral standards, a
moral “law,” and that this law was given to us by God.
         A more formal expression of the moral argument can be presented in this way:
        1. Every law has a law giver.
        2. There is a Moral Law.
        3. Therefore, there is a Moral Law Giver. 3
To which we should add:
        4. And that Moral Law Giver is God.
As with the other arguments, we will have to spend much of our time and energy proving the
second premise. However, if we are ready and willing, we can awaken within people their

  Paul Copan, “The Moral Argument,” in Evidence for God ed. William A. Dembski and Michael R. Licona (Grand
Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2010), 20.
  Immanuel Kant, Critique of Practical Reason; quoted in C. Stephen Evans, Why Believe? Reason and Mystery as
Pointers to God, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996), 39.
  Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004),


 inherent sense of this moral law. From there, we must show that only God could implant this
sense of morality within us.

        This first premise is a tautology, a necessarily true statement. Of course, every law has a
law giver. Laws do not exist on their own, as if they were brute facts of nature. If there is such a
thing as a law, it must come from somewhere. It must have an intelligent origin. Because the
moral law is immaterial (there is no gene for morality, despite what evolutionary psychologists
wish to believe), it must have an intelligent and immaterial origin. We will come back to this
idea later.

       This second premise seems obvious to most people, or so it would seem. According to
John Frame, “Moral values, after all, are rather strange. We cannot see them, hear them, or feel
them, but we cannot doubt that they exist.”4 Yet many people in our society would ascribe the
existence of moral values not to God, but to our culture. They believe moral values are
manmade. Therefore, they do not accept the idea of an objective moral standard. People who
hold such beliefs are called moral relativists.
       Though moral relativism is prominent among younger generations, I doubt that many
people who hold this view have thought about the implications of such a moral philosophy.
They simply accept the idea without challenging it. Our job is to get people to think about
morality, to awaken the conscience that God gave them.
       Before we think of ways of awakening the moral conscience, it would benefit us to think
about different moral philosophies.
Christian morality
         This moral philosophy should be very familiar to us. It is derived from the Christian
worldview, which holds that God is the prime reality and that an absolute, objective moral
standard comes from God. You may recall from our discussion of worldviews that this objective
moral standard is based on the character of God.5
         Plato, in his dialogue called Euthyphro, raised a supposed dilemma. This dilemma held
that either something is good because God (or the gods, as he would have it) wills it, or God
wills something because it is good. William Lane Craig explains:
           If it is good just because God wills it, then what is good becomes arbitrary. God
           could have willed that hatred and jealousy be good, and then we should have been
           obligated to hate and envy one another. But that seems implausible; at least some
           moral goods seem to be necessary. But if we say instead that God wills

    John Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1994), 93.
    See page 158 above.

           something because it is good, then whether something is good or bad is
           independent of God. In that case, it seems that moral value exists independently
           of God.6
Of course, if moral values existed independently of God, that would undermine our argument.
However, Plato failed to recognize the possibility that God wills a command because it is a
reflection of his character. We must remember that God says, “Be holy, for I am holy” (Lev.
11:44; 1 Pet. 1:16).
Humanistic morality
        This type of morality is the kind that deists possess. They believe that we can determine
right and wrong through reason and intuition. However, what is our basis for morality when we
reason? In other words, how do we reason our way to an objective moral standard? This task is
impossible if there is not an actual objective moral standard. And if an actual objective moral
standard, a moral law, exists, then we must ask what the source of this standard is. Alternatively,
if we rely on intuition to determine what is right and wrong, we must ask how we can sense
morality. An intuitive sense of morality would require an actual moral standard. God is the one
who gives this moral standard, and he is the one who put a moral conscience within us (Rom.
“Might makes right”
        If we abandon any sense of a divinely given, objective moral standard, then we would be
left with some rather unattractive alternatives. The morality of power, or “might makes right,” is
something quite scary. Some philosophers, such as Thomas Hobbes and Friedrich Nietzsche,
realized that if God does not exist, then the powerful decide what is “right.” (As previously
mentioned, Dostoyevsky suggested that if there is no God, all things are possible.)
        Of course, we have seen this played out in world history, particularly in Nazi Germany.
The Nazis came to power and decided that it was “right” to kill Jews and others. No sane person
finds such “morality” acceptable. Just because certain people (governing authorities, the rich,
media moguls) are in power does not give them the right to decide what is right and what is
Ethics of the polls
        This moral philosophy is closely related to the previous one. It says that the majority
determines what is right. But who would approve of the majority oppressing the minority? If
that were right, we would believe that genocide or the violation of human rights is morally
        The Christian worldview holds that all human beings have value, because they are made
in the image of God. Therefore, all people, whether they belong to the majority or the minority,
should be treated with respect. Martin Luther King, Jr. once wrote, “A just law is a man-made
code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of

    William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, 3rd ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 181.

harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: an unjust law is a
human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.”7 If the laws of the land do not
square with the law of God, they are unjust. King knew that racist laws created by the white
majority were unjust, and he fought against them by appealing to the moral law of God.
“Whatever feels right”
        The ethics of pleasure says, “If it feels good, do it!” This is otherwise known as
Epicureanism (named after Epicurus, the Greek philosopher who lived 341-270 BC), hedonistic
ethics, or the ethics of pleasure. The original form of this moral philosophy was not hedonism in
the sense that we might think of it (pursuing greater and greater amounts of pleasure at all costs),
but rather it sought an absence of pain. However, when pleasure (or the avoidance of pain) is the
ultimate good, there can be problems. What if what is right is painful? What happens when
someone else’s pleasure gets in the way of your pleasure? We cannot simply both be right. This
moral philosophy is built on the shifting sands of our feelings, is therefore not reliable, and
cannot be used to judge or to mediate disputes.
Utilarianism or pragmatism
        This moral philosophy maintains that what is right is what benefits the most people. In
other words, whatever produces the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people is right.
But this, like the ethics of the polls, has the potential to oppress the minority. It is also
contingent upon the definition of happiness. What is happiness? And should happiness be the
ultimate good and the ultimate goal?
Moral relativism
        According to this philosophy, all morals are relative. Generally, it states that all moral
standards are manmade, the products of societies and cultures. The relativist’s argument is that
people disagree on morality, evidenced by the fact that different cultures have had different
morals. We can look at, for instance, the morals of today’s Western culture and compare them
with the Western culture of two or three hundred years ago, or compare them with ancient
societies or third-world countries. Surely, we will see different moral standards. Therefore,
morality is relative to each culture.
        If you recall our study of worldviews, you will notice that this type of morality is typical
of the postmodern worldview. Postmodernism rejects absolute truth and absolute morality.
Instead, postmodernists believe that truth and morality are the products of stories or language,
which themselves are the product of cultures. The same critiques of postmodernism mentioned
previously hold true here.
        While it is true that different societies have disagreed about morality, it does not mean
that there is no absolute and objective moral standard. Imagine a remote tribe in which the
culture indeed creates a morality, one that is offensive to us. Perhaps this tribe practices human

 Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” in The Book of Virtues, ed. William Bennett (New York:
Simon & Schuster, 1993), 260; quoted in Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics (Downers Grove, IL: IVP
Academic, 2011), 337.

sacrifice. If morality is simply relative, we should have no problem with their behavior. After
all, they live in a society where that is simply the norm. If you say there is no absolute and
objective moral law, then what this tribe does is simply what they do. It is neither moral nor
immoral. Of course, we know better than this. We recognize that their practices are immoral.
The fact that we recognize this as immoral, and not just part of their culture, shows us that an
objective moral standard exists. People may disagree about the solution to a math problem, but
that doesn’t mean there are several right answers.
         Similarly, it would be unthinkable for people to say that genocide in a foreign country is
simply the morality of another culture. If a person were presented with news that such a
genocide took place and said, “Well, that’s morally acceptable in their culture,” he or she would
be considered crazy.
         Talk about vastly different moral standards in different cultures has been exaggerated.
This is what Dinesh D’Souza writes:
                Over the last several decades anthropologists have been comparing the
        norms and practices of the various cultures of the world. Two of their findings
        are relevant for our purpose. First, morality is universal. Scholars know of no
        culture, past or present, that does not have a system of morality. Even though
        moral standards may vary from one culture to another, or even within a particular
        culture, every culture distinguishes “what is” from “what ought to be.” It is
        impossible for a culture either to rise above morality or to get out from under it.
                Second, the moral diversity we have all heard so much about is in fact
        vastly exaggerated. In particular, the major religions of the world, which
        represent the vast majority of humans on the planet, disagree quite a bit about
        God but agree quite a bit about morality. All the major religions have some form
        of the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them to do unto you. 8
Cultures often agree on more than the Golden Rule. C. S. Lewis famously compiled a list of
ethical commands from various religions and compared them in the appendix to his book, The
Abolition of Man. Usually, cultures that do go astray from the moral law are ones that are
actively rebelling against God, or ones where Christianity is simply not influential.
        No one is truly a moral relativist. When we react to true evil—Hitler and the holocaust or
9/11—it shows that we know a true moral law has been violated. This reaction has been called
the “argument from damnation,” because people say of villains such as Hitler, “Damn them!”
But if there is no absolute and objective morality—no God, no heaven, and no hell—then such a
sentiment is meaningless. Perhaps that is why one writer, reacting to the evil of 9/11, said, “This
destruction seems to cry out for a transcendent ethical perspective.” 9
        We all go around saying, “He should do this,” or, “She shouldn’t do that.” Every time a
should, ought, or must (or their negations, such as should not) is uttered, the moral law is proved.
 Dinesh D’Souza, What’s So Great About Christianity? (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2007), 234.
 Edward Rothstein, “Attacks on U.S. Challenge Postmodern True Believers,” New York Times, September 22,

        The fact that no one is truly a moral relativist will be seen clearly should you ever
transgress another person’s sense of what is right and wrong. D’Souza offers some advice for
revealing the moral law to relativists:
                If you are confronted by a relativist who insists that all morality is relative,
        go ahead and punch him in the face. If he does not respond, punch him again. At
        some point he will protest, “That’s not right. You shouldn’t have done that.”
        Then you can explain to him that your actions were purely educational. You were
        simply demonstrating to him that even he does not believe his relativist doctrine.
        His objection was not “I don’t like being punched” but rather “you should not
        have done it.” He was appealing to an unwavering standard, which he expected
        you to share, that what you did was wrong. 10
I’m quite sure that he doesn’t actually that course of action, but it’s funny to imagine. He offers
another way to reach a relativist. “So the way to call their bluff and expose their relativism as
purely tactical is to insult the moral values they cherish. For example, you could say, ‘I don’t
know why we have laws outlawing racial discrimination and gay-bashing. How can people
presume to legislate morality?’”11 Of course, he doesn’t mean that Christians believe it is
morally acceptable to be racist or to hate gay people or to punch others in the face. He is proving
a point: everyone has moral standards and everyone assumes, even if they don’t realize it, that
these standards should not be violated. The only reason they shouldn’t be violated is because
they are absolute and objective, not relative.
          Moral relativism is an impossible philosophy to maintain with any integrity. It is like the
postmodern view of truth: it destroys itself. Whenever a relativist makes any absolute comment
on morality—“No one should impose their religious morals on me”—they are assuming that it
would be immoral to do so. This double standard reveals that everyone has a sense of morality.
          We could not escape this sense of moral obligation or duty even if we tried. God made
us to know that certain things are right and other things are wrong. Regardless of what we
believe, our conscience will not go away. Tim Keller observes this fact. “Why is it impossible
(in practice) for anyone to be a consistent moral relativist even when they claim that they are?
The answer is that we all have a pervasive, powerful, and unavoidable belief not only in moral
values but also in moral obligation.”12 He then defines moral obligation. “Moral obligation is a
belief that some things ought not to be done regardless of how a person feels about them within
herself, regardless of what the rest of her community and culture says, and regardless of whether
it is in her self-interest or not.”13 Everyone, with the possible exception of the insane, knows
there are oughts and shoulds and should nots.
          Not only can we not escape an absolute and objective morality, but if we looked at the
issue more carefully, we would soon realize that we would not want to escape such a thing.

   D’Souza, What’s So Great About Christianity?, 235.
   Ibid., 236.
   Timothy Keller, The Reason for God (New York: Riverhead Books, 2008), 151.
   Ibid., 152.

Without the moral law, there can be no moral progress or reform
        One of the great problems of moral relativism—or the lack of an absolute and objective
morality—is that it makes the idea of moral progress impossible. Think about it: if there is no
objective measure of moral goodness or wickedness, then everything is morally equal. If we
accept that moral relativity is true, then right and wrong are nothing but cultural constructs,
things that people decide for a time and a place. If a society decides that slavery or racism is
moral, then it is. Douglas Groothuis writes, “According to cultural relativism, [Martin Luther]
King and all other laudatory moral reformers should be condemned as cultural and moral
deviants who must be deemed immoral when judged by the extant standards of their societies.” 14
The idea of moral progress implies an objective moral standard. If a society is progressing
morally, it is approaching that moral standard. But without an objective moral standard, a moral
yardstick, so to speak, then there is nothing by which to measure “reform.” It is simply change.
Without the moral law, there would be no human rights
         People of varying convictions often appeal to the idea of human rights. The appeal to
human rights has brought us real moral progress. It helped end slavery and racist laws. People
often appeal to human rights to advocate immorality, such as the current gay rights movement.
When people demand certain liberties or privileges because of human rights, we should ask,
“Why do we have human rights?” This question may get people to think about the ultimate
standard of morality.
         When people appeal to human rights, they are essentially claiming that it is morally right
to treat each individual human being with respect and dignity. Furthermore, it is morally right to
grant each person certain liberties. This is a moral philosophy, not one derived from science.
Therefore, it does not belong to naturalism, but to the Christian worldview. The Founding
Fathers claimed that human rights were self-evident, but they also acknowledged a Creator who
endowed people with certain rights. Apart from an objective moral standard that says it is
immoral to deny human rights—and, ultimately, apart from the existence of God—there is no
reason to have human rights.
Without the moral law, it is impossible to have ultimate justice
        If all morals are relative, there is no real sense of justice. Any justice we would have is
the punishment of someone who transgressed manmade ethical norms. However, we all know
that there are people who do evil things and seem to “escape” without facing justice. One
example is Hitler, who did great evil things. But if you are a moral relativist, you cannot claim
that Hitler was terribly evil. He just did what was permissible in his society. And when he
committed suicide, there was no judgment awaiting him. Not only is such a thought foreign to
the Christian worldview, but is unsatisfying, because we know that justice should be done.
Without the moral law, we cannot judge between conflicting moralities
       The only way moral relativism could ever work is if countries or cultures with different
moral rules never encountered each other. In this age of global travel and communications,

     Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 337.

however, we no longer have isolated societies. In fact, we could argue that we have never had
completely isolated societies. Wars have been waged from the beginning of humanity.
        When two countries are at war, it is because of some moral issue. If all morals are
manmade and relative, there is no way of determining which country is right and which one is
wrong. They are both right, in a sense, because they are both acting according to their own
        Similarly, if all morals are manmade and relative, who are we to declare another
government’s actions immoral? Who are we to say a society halfway across the world is
wicked? We could not say such things. To declare one society or government morally inferior
(or superior), we would have to appeal to some objective standard.
        It seems that moral relativism is impossible. Furthermore, it is undesirable. There must
be an objective moral standard. The second premise of our argument, there is a moral law, must
be true.

        The first two premises would seem to be true. However, some people acknowledge an
objective moral standard but still reject a giver of that law. Two things challenge the idea of a
moral law giver: atheistic moral realism and evolution.
Atheistic moral realism
         This moral philosophy maintains that there is no God, yet there are objective moral facts
that exist necessarily. The idea is parallel to the atheist’s view of the laws of nature: they simply
exist, there is no law giver. There are morally despicable actions like rape or child abuse, and
there are morally admirable things like love, yet there is no accounting for these things are so.
         There are many problems with this theory. One problem is that moral facts are
immaterial. They cannot be reduced to part of the material world. Morals cannot be measured,
in the way that the force of gravity can. So, moral facts (objective morals, or the moral law) are
immaterial. They must exist as propositions, true statements. A proposition requires one who
proposes; a statement requires one who speaks. A stated moral fact requires an intelligent agent
who can speak it into existence.
         The truth is that you cannot have both an objective moral standard and no God. Yet
people try. They want to have human rights and the freedom to live as if there is no God.
         Arthur Allen Leff wrote an interesting article in the Duke Law Journal over three decades
ago. He begins the article with the following paragraph:
                I want to believe—and so do you—in a complete, transcendent, and
        immanent set of propositions about right and wrong, findable rules that
        authoritatively and unambiguously direct us how to live righteously. I also want
  Arthur Allen Leff, “Unspeakable Ethics, Unnatural Law,” Duke Law Journal 1979, no. 6 (1979):1229-1249. This
article was brought to my attention by Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 350-56.

        to believe—and so do you—in no such thing, but rather that we are wholly free,
        not only to choose for ourselves what we ought to do, but to decide for ourselves,
        individually and as a species what we ought to be. What we want, Heaven help
        us, is simultaneously to be perfectly ruled and perfectly free, that is, at the same
        time to discover the right and the good and to create it. 16
Notice what he is saying: we all want transcendent and authoritative rules, yet we want to be free
to choose how we ought to live. This is quite a conundrum. We want there to be a God and we
also want to be free to live as if he didn’t exist.
        Leff acknowledges that if God establishes those authoritative moral propositions, then
they cannot be challenged, because there is no one greater than God. “Either God exists or He
does not, but if He does not, nothing and no one else can take His place.” 17 However if God
exists, we cannot have the individual freedom that we desire. We cannot choose our own moral
standard, and so be free to do whatever we want. Yet, if God does not exist, we have problems:
        We are never going to get anywhere (assuming for the moment that there is
        somewhere to get) in ethical or legal theory unless we finally face the fact that, in
        the Psalmist’s words, there is no one like unto the Lord. If He does not exist,
        there is no metaphoric equivalent. No person, no combination of people, no
        document however hallowed by time, no process, no premise, nothing is
        equivalent to an actual God in this central function as the unexaminable examiner
        of good and evil. The so-called death of God turns out not to have been just His
        funeral; it also seems to have effected the total elimination of any coherent, or
        even more-than-momentarily convincing, ethical or legal system dependent upon
        finally authoritative extrasystemic premises. 18
If God doesn’t exist, there is no coherent and authoritative ethical or legal system. Such a
system may be proposed, but if God is not behind this system, we can always ask, “Says who?”
(Or, as Leff writes, “Sez who?”) For instance, we may be told that something is ethically wrong.
We can then respond with the question, “Says who?” If there is a God, we can say, “God,” and
there is no more debate, because there is no greater authority. But if there isn’t a God, then we
can always challenge any moral claim.
        Leff explores this idea for about twenty pages. Obviously, he does not believe in God,
yet he realizes this creates great problems. He ends the article with these words:
               All I can say is this: it looks as if we are all we have. Given what we
        know about ourselves and each other, this is an extraordinarily unappetizing
        prospect; looking around the world, it appears that if all men are brothers, the
        ruling model is Cain and Abel. Neither reason, nor love, nor even terror, seems to
        have worked to make us “good,” and worse than that, there is no reason why

   Leff, “Unspeakable Ethics,” 1229.
   Ibid., 1231.
   Ibid., 1232.

           anything should. Only if ethics were something unspeakable by us, could law be
           unnatural, and therefore unchallengeable. As things now stand, everything is up
           for grabs.
                   Napalming babies is bad.
                   Starving the poor is wicked.
                   Buying and selling each other is depraved.
                   Those who stood up to and died resisting Hitler, Stalin, Amin, and Pol
           Pot—and General Custer too—have earned salvation.
                   Those who acquiesced deserve to be damned.
                   There is in the world such a thing as evil.
                   [All together now:] Sez who?
                   God help us.19
If there is no God, everything is up for grabs. Yet we know things aren’t up for grabs. There are
moral evils (such as napalming babies) and certain people deserve damnation. Sez who? God.
Evolutionary Theories
         Evolutionists believe that we can ascribe morality to the genetic desire to survive. In
other words, our sense of morality is not real, aligning with a transcendent objective moral
standard. Rather, our sense of morality helps us to survive. Darwinists (or, perhaps to be more
precise, neo-Darwinists) believe in kin selection, the idea that we desire to have our descendents
survive and would therefore act in altruistic, noble, self-sacrificing ways in order for our genes to
be passed on. Accordingly, if you saw your children in a burning building, you would rush in to
save them, even though it could possibly spell your doom. Putting oneself into a dangerous
situation would seem to be contrary to the survival of the fittest, but the desire to have your
genes survive another generation would override your desire for safety.
         It is an interesting idea, though I doubt that this could ever be proven scientifically. For
this to be true, one’s DNA would have to possess intelligence. One’s DNA would have to know
that it is desirable for one’s descendants to survive, and would have to know that one’s
descendants were imperiled. That is a lot to ask of our DNA. Of course, the Darwinist could
claim that having one’s children survive helps a parent survive because children bring a sense of
emotional welfare that affects our physical welfare.
         However, altruistic behavior is not limited towards one’s family. Why do people risk
their lives to help strangers? Darwinists explain such sacrifice by talking about reciprocal
altruism, the idea that we do good things for strangers because we expect them to act that way
toward us. Again, there is no evidence for such a theory, and it seems far-fetched to think that
our genes act in such a manner.
         In fact, some scientists are willing to admit that there is no evidence for this concept.
Ernst Mayr, an evolutionary biologist, admits that “altruism toward strangers is a behavior not

     Ibid., 1249.

supported by natural selection.”20 Of course, this doesn’t prevent scientists from claiming that
there is such a thing as an altruism gene.
         However, let’s think about that for a moment. If altruism, the unselfish concern for the
welfare of others, is simply the result of having an altruism gene, then why do we praise
altruistic behavior? You don’t necessarily praise someone who is tall (or has blue eyes) and
condemn someone who is short (or has brown eyes). Those traits are the products of our genes.
But moral behavior is a choice, not something that that is predetermined by our DNA.
         Darwinists confuse what is with what ought to be. According to evolutionary theory,
everything is the result of natural selection. We simply are the way we are, according to Darwin
and his disciples, because of time, chance, and natural selection. Morality, however, is not
simply the way things are. It concerns the way things should be.
         Perhaps no one wrote more powerfully in favor of the moral argument than C. S. Lewis.
He realized that the moral law is different from the natural law. “Each man is at every moment
subjected to several different sets of law but there is only one of these which he is free to
disobey.”21 We are not free to disobey the law of gravity, but we are free to disobey the moral
law. He realized that morality cannot be explained by evolution. This passage shows why:
        Supposing you hear a cry for help from a man in danger. You will probably feel
        two desires—one a desire to give help (due to your herd instinct), the other a
        desire to keep out of danger (due to the instinct for self-preservation). But you
        will find inside you, in addition to these two impulses, a third thing which tells
        you that you ought to follow the impulse to help, and suppress the impulse to run
        away. Now this thing that judges between two instincts, that decides which
        should be encouraged, cannot itself be either of them. You might as well say that
        the sheet of music which tells you, at a given moment, to play one note on the
        piano and not another, is itself one of the notes on the keyboard. The Moral Law
        tells us the tune we have to play: our instincts are merely the keys. 22
Each of us have two instincts (which could be possibly be explained by evolution): the desire to
help the group and the desire to save ourselves. Those instincts are like two different keys on the
piano—we could play either of them. But there is something else, a third thing, which tells us
what we ought to do. It tells us which key we should play. This ought, something immaterial,
which cannot be reduced to brain chemistry or DNA, must come from somewhere. Actually, it
must come from Someone who gave us a conscience, a sense of what is right and what is wrong.

   Ernst Mayr, What Evolution Is (New York: Basic Books, 2001), 259; quoted in D’Souza, What’s So Great About
Christianity?, 239.
   C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, rev. ed. (1952; repr. New York: Touchstone, 1996), 18.
   Ibid., 22-23.

         The moral law is immaterial, like the physical laws that govern our universe and the laws
of logic that govern reason. Immaterial laws must be the product of an intelligent mind. They
do not come from the physical universe itself. In the cosmological argument, we showed that the
universe must have been created by God, for he alone exists outside of space and time.
         Moral absolutes also imply that they are created by a person. All our moral obligations
are interpersonal. For example, I know that it is wrong to hit someone else in the face because it
hurts another person. I know it is wrong not to pay someone for services that I have contracted,
because it hurts that other person. Yet there are immoral things that we do (such as have lustful,
greedy, or angry thoughts) that seem to harm no other person. Yet they do harm a person. They
harm God. (Once again, we must clarify that God is a person, or, actually, three persons and one
God. The word “person” does not mean human being.)
         If we have a sense of moral obligation that we cannot shake (as Keller says), then that
sense of moral obligation must come from a person. And if there is an absolute moral obligation,
there must be an absolute person behind it. According to John Frame, “If obligations arise from
personal relationships, then absolute obligations must raise from our relationship with an
absolute person.”23
         Before we conclude this section, one final point must be made. People do not have to
believe in God to be moral. That is not the argument we are making. Many agnostics and
atheists are very moral people, sometimes more moral than those who claim to be Christians.
You don’t have to be aware of absolute morality, much less the God who created that absolute
morality, to be moral. After all, you don’t have to be aware of a Creator to be part of the
creation, and you don’t have to be aware of a Designer to have incredible design in your body.
Christianity is not a tool to become a moral person. (I’m amazed by how often people argue that
they don’t need religion to be moral, as if that were the point of Christianity.)
         No, the point is not that you need to be a Christian to be moral. The point is that without
God, there is no objective morality. Without God, there would be no universe, no design or goal
to life, and no standard of morality to judge what is good and what is evil.

     Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God, 99.

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