Defending the Biblical Faith
by what God Shows Us
(The Isomorphic Element of Biblical Apologetics)
by Bob Burridge ©2019
We instinctively want to know what we can rely upon so we can survive and satisfy our natural human desires. There are different ideas about what’s reliable and what will satisfy us. Since we know that contradicting things can’t both be true in the same way at the same time, people who begin with different ideas about what’s true and right run down different paths trying to fit things together.
We all have some basic foundational ideas we accept which we call “presuppositions”. They are ideas we suppose as true before we start thinking things through. Everybody has them. Some deny that they pre-suppose anything. That denial is in itself a “presupposition”.
In trying to support what they accept as true and right, people present their evidences. These are the things they see as supportive of what they believe. Evidences are also used to remove objections presented by those who disagree with what others believe.
Peter gives this challenge to those who rest upon the Bible as God’s revealed word, “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,” (1 Peter 3:15)
The word translated as “defense” in the original Greek text of that verse is “apologia” (ἀπολογία). This is where get the name of the field of study we call “Apologetics”. The question to be answered in this field of study is, “how should we make a defense of the hope that is in us.” This verse also admonishes us to present our defense with gentleness and respect.
Where Do We Begin in Developing
a Biblical Apologetic?
The Bible begins with making it clear that God is the Creator who has designed all things. He created us with five senses to be channels through which he would communicate what he wants us to know. He created our brains to have the ability to store and understand this information. The reason that not all believe in God and accept what he makes known is not because of a defect in the facts which he has clearly displayed. The problem is at a very different level.
There is a defect in the way we deal with what God has revealed. In our fallen condition we suppress the truth and are not able to honestly understand or correct the problem.
By direct revelation from God we have information that doesn’t begin in our human imaginations and speculations. The Bible states directly that we are surrounded with the dramatic display of our Creator’s power and glory. Our senses take in this evidence at every conscious moment of our lives.
Psalm 19:1-2, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.”
Romans 1:19-20, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 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.”
What we know about God, his plans, his promises, and what things please him are made known to us “analogically”. That means there is an analogy between what we can perceive or understand, and what God himself knows about himself and the creation of which we are a part. He created his physical universe to display his nature and glory in a way that his human creatures would be able to behold as true and right.
All we know is understood by us in a form that corresponds with what’s true in the infinite mind of God. Our knowledge is an “isomorphism” of eternal truths. The word “isomorphism” is a compound word where “iso” (same) is combined with “morphism” (form). That means what we can know has a form that corresponds with God’s knowledge of things, but it is only “similar” to those eternal things. God is infinite, he has no boundaries or limitations in his being, wisdom, power, and glory. We finite creatures can only abstractly understand things which are without boundaries. We are finite, not infinite creatures.
God has revealed things to us by things we can see and hear. That includes all the wonders of our vast universe and all the amazing things we see here on earth way down to sub-atomic structures which we have only recently begun to understand. It also includes his word spoken directly by God to chosen messengers, and written by the Holy Spirit’s guidance in the books of our Bibles.
Admittedly, our confident understanding of these revelations of God involves presumptions. The question is, where do these presumptions come from? We also ask the unbeliever where his presumptions come from. These are fair and important questions.
At the root of the Biblical view of truth is the recognition that there are two basic conditions of human understanding. A person is either restored to fellowship with God by grace through the work of Jesus the Christ, or he is still alienated from that fellowship and can’t admit the truth God has revealed in Creation, in his acts of Providence, in his revealed word, and in our own fallen conscience.
Adam was created with the ability to directly take in and believe God’s truth displayed around him and spoken to him. When Adam sinned he lost his ability to recognize God’s glory revealed all around him. He thought he could hide from God, he tried to blame Eve for his sin, his fellowship with his Creator was broken (Genesis 3).
God promised that one born to a woman would come to crush the head of the serpent, Satan, who had deceived Eve (Genesis 3:15). God also provided a covering for these first fallen humans made of the skin from an animal (Genesis 3:21). The shedding of blood to provide a covering for sin was a hint at what that child of a woman would do. We see as God later revealed that Jesus would be that promised child. He would shed his blood in our place, suffering the death we all deserve as descendants of Adam. By grace alone, not by anything Adam had done, fellowship with the Creator was restored. This shedding of blood to cover the results of sin is an isomorphism, an analogy, to what would be accomplished on the cross of Calvary.
Ever since those events in Eden humans can be in one of two states. Either they are in fellowship with God, restored by grace based upon the death of Jesus Christ, or they remain alienated from that fellowship which is what we all deserve. Those restored to fellowship with God are made able to see the truth of what God makes known. Those not restored by grace suppress God’s display of truth around them and try to explain things in other ways.
The goal of Apologetics is to answer those in the lost state in a way that directs them to truths God has revealed to us in Scripture. It also assures believers in Christ by clarifying the foundations of their faith as they strive to live for God’s glory.
To solve the problem of convincing unbelievers
we need to understand what the problem is.
As humans, we inherit a defect that leaves us unable to admit to the clear display of God’s wonders and glory that surrounds us. The corruption and depravity inherited by all humans is because we were were all represented in Adam and sinned in him. Romans 5:12 explains, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned”
Jeremiah 17:9 explains the results of that spiritual death. There the Prophet says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Earlier in that book the Prophet wrote in Jeremiah 13:23, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.”
Jesus explained in John 6:44, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”
The Apostle Paul made reference to this total inability of fallen humans throughout his letters. In Romans 3:11 he said, “no one understands; no one seeks for God.” Then in 1 Corinthians 2:14 Paul said, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”
Jesus admitted to the disciples in John 6 that it is a hard teaching to accept in our fallen estate. Some people stopped following him when these truths were explained. Some of his disciples said in verse 60, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” Jesus answered in verse 65, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” repeating what he had said back in verse 44.
In our fallen state we even refuse to admit God’s obvious moral principles which our Creator put in our conscience. In Romans 2:14-16 Paul explained, “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.”
To try to explain everything around him the unbeliever presumes he has a sufficient knowledge of all things, and that the current theories of the universe, the Earth, biology, psychology, and cultural influences explain away God’s clear display of his glory.
While we do our best to bring God’s truth to the unbeliever, left to himself he will continue to try to explain it away. It’s only when God by his redeeming grace changes his heart and understanding by the Holy Spirit applying the work of the Savior so that he will believe what God says is true. The Bible is the “sword of the Spirit” which we must faithfully use as the weapon God provides in defeating error (Ephesians 6:17).
Isomorphisms in life illustrate what’s true
about God, what he’s done, made,
God has put things and relationships into his creation which are there to display truths which by themselves are unseeable. He created us humans with the natural ability to observe these visible things and relationships. He uses isomorphisms to map what is true onto forms we’re familiar with and can understand. These forms can be used when we explain God’s truth to unbelievers and to his redeemed children. Our duty is not to change hearts. It’s to explain away misunderstandings by patiently clarifying what is there for others to see in their own hearts and in the world around them.
The Apostle Paul used this approach as he explained that God is the Creator, Sovereign Lord, which exists as a spirit. He taught those in Athens in Acts 17:24-29 saying, “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.” In our world today the tendency is not to imagine gods made from precious stones, but many imagine nature itself, the physical universe, as the origin and controller of all things.
All the relationships and things God made teach us about the one who made them. In teaching us about godly parenting we learn that God is our perfect Father who protects us, provides for us, and guides us, just as our human fathers are called to do (Ephesians 6:4). Marriage is established to show us the beautiful relationship between God and his people. Husbands are to love their wives sacrificially “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (Ephesians 5:25). The power of great storms and powerful animals are illustrative of the great power of God which no one can tame (Job 40:15-24, 41:1-10, Isaiah 28:2).
God guided human history to develop the idea of Covenants so they could be used to explain God’s gracious promise not to destroy his rebellious race of humans after their fall into sin, but instead to make them his people and to be their Protector and Provider (http://genevaninstitute.org/syllabus/unit-three-objective-soteriology/lesson-2-gods-covenant-with-man/).
When we have the opportunity to give an answer for the faith God has by grace put into our hearts we can offer illustrations like these as we point back to the reality behind them. When we deal with the objections of unbelievers to give a defense of our God’s truth, or when we work with other believers to clear up differences in our views we need to keep some basics in mind:
1. We should always appeal to Scripture as the final authority about what’s true. We should be careful to properly understand the portions of the Bible we use to be sure we know what the words are saying, consider the context of the statements we use, and consider other passages of the Bible that speak to the same subject. Our goal is not to win an argument, but to clarify what the Scriptures teach.
2. As differences are discussed our approach should be to humbly respect the value of each person created by the Creator. Personal anger should never be shown against those with whom we are reasoning.
3. We should prayerfully rest upon the work of the Holy Spirit to open the understanding of those blinded by their lost or confused condition, and be ready to confess our own misunderstandings if found to be out of accord with God’s inspired word.
(Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)