The Obvious God

The Obvious God

Genevan Institute for Reformed Studies
by Bob Burridge ©2011

When I was very young, in my early years of elementary school, my grandfather on my mother’s side took me to see New York City. Along with the Statue of Liberty and the famous subway, one of the things I wanted to see was the Empire State Building which I believe was then the tallest building in the world. We wandered around for a while looking for it. Finally we stopped a policeman on the street. When we asked where it was, he just pointed — we were right in front of it.

Sometimes we miss things not because we can’t see them, but because we just don’t recognize the obvious.

Our main duty here is to declare the glories of God.

Toward other believers in Christ, that means daily encouragement. We can help one another see and obey the revealed ways and truths we find in our Bibles. We can also remind one another about God’s amazing providence and the wonders of creation surrounding us.

However, when we declare his glory to the unbelieving world, there’s a problem. We need to remember that we are speaking to those still blinded by sin. It’s like declaring the colors of the rainbow in a society where everyone is totally blind. They have heard about colors, but have no conception of what they really are.

In their unbelief, in their blindness to the way things really are, they believe that God can be tested by their own set of rules, and measure up to their standards. They presume they are able to see things as they really are, and are able to rule out what they don’t want to believe is possible. All their theories, as improbable as they may be, are unquestionably accepted if they help them explain away the truly supernatural workings of an infinite God. It goes deeper than just their assumptions about science, philosophy, and theology. The real motive is to convince themselves that they aren’t accountable to the God who made them.

Here’s where the problem comes in. When they assume they can test God by their own man-made rules, they already presume that God isn’t what he is, and they aren’t what they are. By this circular reasoning, man puts himself, the creature, over the Creator. He makes up the test with the prejudice of his fallen heart. The test is designed with the expected outcome already in mind.

Paul shows how foolish this is in Romans 9:20, “But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?”

How do we urge the unbeliever to believe in God?

Our duty is quite simple. We are to tell the unbeliever what God has made known, even though we know he will at first deny them because of his blindness. We can do this with confidence because God isn’t a hidden secret. Everything God made declares him to everybody all the time.

In Psalm 19:1-2 it says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, And night unto night reveals knowledge.”

In Romans 1:18-21 Paul says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

Even the human conscience, while fallen in sin, testifies to truths fallen men neither want to see, nor to admit.

In Romans 1:22-25 Paul goes on to say, “Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man —and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.”

It’s not that God’s word in nature and in our conscience is unclear. It’s that sin prejudices fallen humans so that they miss the obvious.

Not every believer in Christ has the knowledge to debate the philosopher, the evolutionist, the social liberal, the nihilist, or the post-modern theologian. But all have God’s truth in the Bible. Our job is to declare what’s already obvious, and to patiently pray leaving the results in the hands of God who alone can change the disposition of the heart.

We need to be careful so that the declaring of God’s truth is done well. We all have a duty to understand the Scriptures as well as we can. We need to take advantage of every opportunity to be taught well and systematically.

We need to be sure that the word is growing in our hearts, not just in our heads. If our lives contradict what we say, our message will be confused too. This doesn’t mean we need to be sinless. That attitude would directly conflict with Scripture. We need to admit our sins humbly. By example as well as by our words, we show what it is to trust Christ for forgiveness, and to be sincerely working to overcome our sins out of love for God.

This approach isn’t always going to bee well received. We shouldn’t expect it to be. Nobody likes to be told that he’s so prejudiced that he denies the obvious. What’s even worse to the unbeliever is to be told that aside from God’s grace he is unable to do anything about it. However, the facts stand out clearly on the pages of Scripture.

These ideas have been under attack for a long time. Not only from those outside the church, but also from those who manage to sneak in as wolves dressed as God’s sheep. It shouldn’t surprise us that Satan would infiltrate, promote his ideas, and battle us by trying to weaken us from within. This is what human enemies have done for ages.

In the early church there were all sorts of cults and mystical claims that attempted to distort what God had really said. The Middle Ages saw the invasion of rationalism into the church which tried to elevate man’s fallen nature so that it was only slightly damaged in the fall. The Bible says we are all dead in our trespasses and sins, not merely wounded.

As time distanced the church councils from the teachings of the Apostles, some adopted ideas that were not in the Bible. At times individuals claimed to receive visions on their own. Some have believed stories of miracles that attest to ideas completely contradictory to the Bible. In each case, information from outside the Scriptures creeps in to confuse God’s message.

When Liberalism came in, it tried to explain away all the supernatural elements in God’s word. Then came Post-Modernism that promotes the idea that it’s not even important to determine if there is real truth or not. It all becomes subjective and unimportant. Man becomes the test of what’s valuable subjectively, and God fades into being a nice but forgotten myth.

Through all this, God has kept his truth alive in his church.

A Biblical way to present God’s truth
is by what we call the Presuppositional Apologetic.

Presuppositional Apologetics is not a simple area of study, which is probably why they use those big words in it’s name. It would be impossible here to get into all the details of it. However, the basic idea is very simple.

The truth about the way things really are doesn’t begin with us and how we see things. It begins with the Creator who made everything, including us. The mistake people make is when they try to understand the world by assuming they can be neutral about everything, and can see without prejudice. The fallen heart dares to believe that it has all the information it needs to decide about what is right and real.

The lost “suppose” ahead of time, that their senses are reliable, that all they need is what their limited intellect and the findings of science tell them. The problem remains: their “supposes” are wrong. All truth has but one source, and that is God the Creator. We as creatures can only know what is true because God has told us. We can only submit to what he says when he changes us inwardly through the the Savior’s work of removing the barrier of guilt that separates us from our Maker.

All of creation declares God’s truth and glory all the time. He made us creatures with a conscience that condemns our sin and points us to God.

But there’s a problem: Sin has blinded us to truth as God presents it to us. The message is clear, but we are prejudiced against it because of sin’s effects. Since the fallen mind begins its thinking with the creature instead of the Creator, it’s bound to come up with a distorted view of everything. To the lost every beam of light, particle of matter, and wave of energy is stripped of it’s message. The truth is suppressed and the measurable facts are explained away as mere products of chance and evolution. In that blindness he believes he is capable of judging what it all means.

So when we talk about God and Creation, the world hears something different. The unredeemed think of God as a religious idea we came up with on our own. They think of him as a bigger, but not an infinite being since he couldn’t keep evil from happening. This makes God either an illusion, or mean, or incompetent, or powerless in moral matters. To the unredeemed who are religious, they think of God as great, but still in some ways limited. They believe God needs us to permit things to go his way. They imagine that the church and our permission control the redemption of individuals. This is why a humanistic or social gospel has taken the place of the message of grace and salvation in so many places.

So how can we deal with the atheist, the cynic,
the confused, and the religiously deceived?

We tell them the truth simply and honestly. We confidently assume that what God himself tells us is what really is. We don’t test the Bible by the inventions or imaginations of men. We test what we believe by the Bible since it was given to us by God himself. We pray as we tell them the truth because we know that only God can change people’s hearts by his grace.

All our evidences, arguments, proofs, and pleadings can’t change the lost heart, but all these can be effective tools when the power of Christ is at work.

Is there a God? You may as well ask if you had parents. Since we are here, we had parents. Their image is stamped all over us. It’s in our eye color, the color and texture of our hair, our bone structure and facial features, and in the skills we inherit and learn. Since the universe is here, there is a Creator – just like the one whose image is stamped all over it.

I like to say, the Bible is the sword of the Spirit. Don’t argue about how sharp it is. Stick them with it. God blesses his word and his faithful people’s use of it.

There is a God. What he’s told us about himself is there reliably in his word. We begin with him, not with ourselves making up tests for him to pass to satisfy us.

We should learn and declare by word and life what God has made known. We should encourage others to trust and obey those principles and promises. However we must remember that God alone can change the lost heart, so we pray and live in confidence of God’s power and wisdom.

Dr. Van Til wrote, “no one can see Scripture for what it is unless he is given the ability to do so by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit.”

John Calvin saw this in the Bible too. Without a truly Sovereign God who changes us by grace alone, there is a different gospel that rests somehow more on the creature than the Creator.

Van Til said that for even those who don’t understand theology well. “in practice every evangelical who really loves his Lord is a Calvinist at heart. How could he really pray to God for help if he believed that there was a possibility that God could not help him?”

What could possibly be easier than to simply point out the obvious? We have the power of God and his promise, that everyone who hears our message, and those he intends to believe it, will without fail both believe and come in faith to Christ. Those who don’t come show that he hasn’t worked in them yet. In some he never will.

We are not to try to figure out who will believe or when to give up trying to deliver the truth to them. We are to keep on with the Good Message. If we obey — should the results go either way — we can’t possibly fail in our mission.

(Note: The Bible quotations in this article are from the New King James Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Answering With the Right Attitude

Answering With the Right Attitude

Reasoning With Unbelievers (Part 4)
Genevan Institute for Reformed Studies
by Bob Burridge ©2011

On Thursday night, January 27th, from 9 to 10 pm Eastern, our webchat time will focus on the topic, “Practical Reasoning with Unbelievers”.

[Continued from the previous blog entry, “Difficult Passages in the Bible”]

Just being accurate and correct are not our only obligations as representatives of the Gospel of Christ. As those changed by his work of grace, our attitude should demonstrate respect for the struggle the unbeliever faces.

1 Peter 3:14-15. “But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;”

The fruit of the Spirit must be seen in us, or we are a living contradiction to the message we bring. The list of what should be seen in us is found in Galatians 5:22-23. It includes: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:16) “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

Shining light on truth includes it’s production of good works in our own lives. A truth that does not transform is not the whole truth. Keep the focus on trying to clarify what God has said, not on showing that you are smarter or better educated. It’s the Hoy Spirit that changes the heart, not your flawless logic and command of the facts.

Many great scholars debated with Jesus and heard his lessons. Some were changed by what he said. Others plotted to discredit him and finally to have him killed. We certainly don’t fault Jesus with a poor presentation. You will not be able to satisfy the objections of every lost heart either. When you engage the unbeliever your prayer is that God will use the power of his word to bring life where there is blindness and spiritual death.

Those who continue to disbelieve merely confirm that their condemnation is just. They prove by their obstinance one of the basic facts they usually dispute: that aside from the work of grace no one will understand the truth of God’s word, and no one will want to admit to the True God as revealed in Scripture.

Romans 3:10-12, “as it is written, ‘There is none righteous, not even one’; ‘There is none who understands’, ‘There is none who seeks for God’; ‘All have turned aside, together they have become useless’; ‘There is none who does good, There is not even one.’ “

When we show humble submission to the word of God and to the God revealed in Scripture, we do a better work of bearing testimony to the truth, than if we could merely out-argue the smartest of men.

Difficult Passages in the Bible

Difficult Passages in the Bible

Reasoning With Unbelievers (Part 3)
Genevan Institute for Reformed Studies
by Bob Burridge ©2011

On Thursday night, January 27th, from 9 to 10 pm Eastern, our webchat time will focus on the topic, “Practical Reasoning with Unbelievers”.

[Continued from the previous blog entry, “Objections from Unbelievers”]

There are two classes of questions about legitimate issues of understanding what the Bible is really saying:
1. statements in the Bible which seem internally inconsistent
There are doctrinal matters that don’t fit man’s preconceived notions. Many see tensions between grace and justice, between wrath and mercy, between forbidding murder and the demand for capitol punishment, between the importance of obeying the law and the fact that law cannot save, etc. These things are in no way contradictory if understood as the Bible presents them, but they sound conflicting if forced into the world’s understanding of them.

Time should be taken to carefully learn about and explain these unique teachings of biblical Christianity. There are many good Theological reference tools to help define the terms so commonly misunderstood.

Many hear about alleged conflicts of historical facts. People sometimes point out where one gospel account describes a part of the life of Christ differently than does another. Similarly there are times when one historical account gives details that are not the same as those given in another Biblical account.

These are not really conflicts. In some cases a similar but not the same event is being described. In other cases the differences are because the same event can be described in different ways from different observers. Each one is fully accurate in telling what was seen or remembered. It may take some study to find out what is actually said in the original language, what the expressions meant at the time, and how the statements might be harmonized. There is much written on such matters and most good reformed commentaries deal with them in great detail.

Some of these matters involve the use of different calendars in biblical times, different use of language in the various nations where events took place, different points of view of the observers of events, and different purposes in recording the events.

Among the works that deal with specific historical issues the following books are very helpful:
Allen A. MacRae “Biblical Archaeology”, Jack Finegan “Light from the Ancient Past”

2. Biblical statements that seem to be inconsistent with human observation or theory
First of all, human ideas come in two different parts: There are observed measurements of things, and there are the interpretations of the things observed.

The unbeliever will argue that he can see things neutrally and without prejudice therefore his observations are objective and absolutely reliable. The Bible doesn’t agree with that assumption. It says that even our observations are effected when we are lost in sin. The primary information that pours forth from creation declaring God’s Glory is distorted. Man suppresses it and replaces it with alternate ideas injected from his own corrupted heart.

Romans 1:20-23, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.”

The “God-declaring information” is stripped away leaving a false observation. The fallen mind interprets this distorted information to support its own theories of reality.

The unbeliever is suppressing the truth God is making known to him both in what he sees of nature (Rom 1:20), and in what he senses in his own conscience (Rom 2:15). Therefore, our duty is more of “reminding him”, “confronting him” with what he, on one level, knows to be true. Considering that the fault is within the observer rather than in the things he observes, God holds him to be without excuse. The problem is that his sin nature so seamlessly distorts what he observes and knows inwardly,that he is self-deceived quite effectively.

Given this distortion of the facts of God’s universe, there will be false arguments that confuse people. There are always facts from science, history, and archeology which can be abused to seem to conflict with the biblical record. However, the history of attacks on the Bible is filled with errors which later were corrected and the facts found to fit in with what the Scriptures said. It was the critics understanding of the facts that turned out to be wrong. Archaeological finds have often balanced upon subjective interpretations. Individual findings are often isolated from the bigger picture which may be very incomplete. To conclude that the Bible is inaccurate presumes that sufficient contradictory information is available and that no other interpretation of the findings is possible. This has never been the case.

Observations of natural science have never contradicted direct statements of the Bible when rightly understood. The problem occurs when human theories are assumed as fact. Arguments from philosophy and from psychology are purely theoretical and present no raw facts in and of themselves.

When answering the objections of unbelievers keep two points in mind:
1. The facts themselves are distorted by the unregenerate mind (Rom 1:20-23)
2. The objections made are based upon assumptions and interpretations

We should do our best to help the unbeliever get information about the questions they raise. We should not work under the assumption that by answering them they will be convinced to believe. People observed the great miracles in the Bible and not only rejected what they saw, they set out to silence those performing the miracles.

Our goal is that by answering the objections calmly, carefully, and with respect of the other person’s legitimate struggle, the real meaning of Scripture will be advanced, and, if the Spirit gives life to their hearts, the liberating truth will replace their distorted preconceptions. The key is to get the person into the word itself by which the Holy Spirit changes the heart.

Psalm 19:7-8, “The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.”

Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

>> To be continued in our next blog: Answering With the Right Attitude