Destroying arguments with covenantal apologetics

19 Jul

This is Chapter 5 from K. Scott Oliphint’s Book, Covenantal Apologetics: Principles and Practice in Defense of Our Faith. Posted with Permission

If God does exist as man’s Creator, it is as we have seen, impossible that evil should be inherent in the temporal universe. If God exists, man himself must have brought in sin by an act of wilful transgression. Hence, existence, as it now is, is not normal but abnormal. Accordingly, to maintain that existence, as it now is, is normal, is tantamount to a denial of man’s responsibility for sin, and this in turn makes God responsible for sin, and this simply means that there is no absolute God.1

The Good Fight

We destroy arguments (2 Cor. 10:5). That is one of the things that characterizes the ministry of the apostle Paul. We know that there is, and will always be, hostility to the Christian faith. We also know that anything that opposes Christianity is, by that very act, false. We know this not because we are smarter or more rational or more consistent than others. We know it because of what God has said and because of what God’s grace has done in our lives.

Paul knew that the intruders in the Corinthian church were building up their own cause by tearing down his ministry. He knew that an attack on his ministry was an attack on the truth of the gospel message itself. So he wrote the last four chapters in 2 Corinthians to respond to those attacks. The first six verses of chapter 10 form the general introduction to what Paul says in the rest of the letter. So he wants his readers to know the summation of his response: he will demolish arguments.

While it is true that Paul is describing in verses 4 and 5 his apostolic ministry, that does not mean that what he does and says is only descriptive. As an apostle of Christ, he is showing us how we should respond to attacks on our faith. If Paul was ready to demolish arguments, we must be ready as well. In other words, Paul meant for his statement to be applied by his readers also. One reason we know this is that Paul uses expressions in verses 4 and 5 taken from at least two different biblical passages. His notion of demolishing strongholds, in verse 4, is akin to the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) version of Proverbs 21:22. There we are told, “A wise man scales the city of the mighty and brings down the stronghold in which they trust.” Paul no doubt has this in mind as he thinks of the pseudo-sophistry of his attackers.

He also knows that some in the Corinthian church would have made this connection. By using this terminology and by referring them to the book of Proverbs, he is telling his readers that true wisdom consists of demolishing strongholds in which the mighty trust. It is not true wisdom simply to erect an argument, whether true or false, as Paul’s opponents had done. Rather, the wisdom that is from above must, at the right time, tear down the fortresses that are falsely erected. Christians who seek to be wise must also “pull down the strongholds” when the need arises.

The terminology Paul uses is also close to terminology used of the Sophists in Paul’s time. In this way, he is also getting the attention of his challengers. He is telling those “deceitful workmen” that their facades are going to fall. They may be intent on developing and selling arguments meant to refute and destroy Paul’s ministry, and thus the church in Corinth itself, but Paul is putting the church on notice that he himself will demolish the arguments advanced against him.

This is the “good fight of faith” (1 Tim. 6:12). It is the responsibility of every Christian to defend and commend the gospel. That defense is a process of demolition, a demolition of the arguments presented against Christianity. Paul’s word for “arguments” in 2 Corin­thians 10:5 (logismous) is directed specifically against his opponents’ appeal to authority. They were attempting to establish themselves as authorities in the church solely because of their own expertise, their own intellectual power. So their arguments were only as strong as their own ideas.

Paul is reminding us that the arguments presented by these intruders were only as authoritative as the intruders themselves. And their authority, in the end, was merely in their own minds. It was in their own ideas and reasonings—quite literally a figment of their imaginations. So Paul is saying that he is going to go after and demolish the false authority on which these false apostles rested. (More on these false apostles in chapter 6.)

This will be the case whenever we engage in apologetics. Apologetics, in many ways, is simply a battle over authorities. It involves making plain just where we stand, or better, where we rest, with regard to what we claim. It also involves encouraging our opponents to make plain where they rest their own case. The authority issue is always primary.

The idea that Paul presents in the next clause tells us a good bit about the kinds of arguments he was opposing. The clause could be translated “every high thing raised up against the knowledge of God.” While Paul is alluding to the sinful pride of his attackers, he is also pointing out that the sophistry that had taken some of the Corinthians captive came under the pretense of sophistication and erudition. The arguments may have sounded lofty and substantial, and they may have been intimidating because of their vocabulary, but they were really, in the end, just one more rebellious opinion. They had as much authority behind them as did the false teachers themselves.

Paul is pointing out, as well, that these arguments are not just verbal debates. They are arguments that, if believed, will have eternal, and eternally damaging, consequences. Though they carry no authority, their sophistry can lead people to reject the gospel itself. The very danger of the arguments is that they are so subtly subversive of the gospel. They are, in fact, arguments raised up against the very knowledge of God itself.

The Western intellectual tradition is full of these kinds of arguments. This may be one of the reasons why many Christians have chosen to stay well away from that tradition. It can be intimidating and make us feel intellectually inferior.

Two related points might be useful to remember in this regard. First, we recognize that any argument raised up against the knowledge of God can be destructive to any and all who adopt them. Second, we remember that Christianity does have answers to these arguments. Even if we are unfamiliar with the precise terminology and technicalities of the arguments themselves, once we grasp the question those arguments are designed to answer, our understanding of Scripture can begin to supply the true and needed answer. So, in this chapter I hope to show how one particularly predominant argument might be demolished.

As we noted in the beginning, it is sometimes said that the apologetic approach advocated in this book has great difficulty with actual application. “Once the principles of your approach are laid out,” someone might say, “there is nothing left to do but preach the truth. A real argument is foreign to your approach.” Maybe there is some justification for this complaint. It may be that there has been a focus on the truths that make up the approach itself without much application to objections against Christianity. I propose, then, to present another example of an argument raised against Christianity and a response that is consistent with what I have thus far set forth and that demonstrates the force of anargument for Christianity.

Broadly speaking, apologetics includes anything we say or do that fortifies and demonstrates the truth of Christianity. Any time Christian truth is spoken or lived out, it is inevitably done in the context of some kind of opposition, whether from the sin that remains in us, or from the world, or from the Devil—or any combination of these. There is always something(s) opposing the truth. Such is the war that we as Christians are in.

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