Why Don't They Believe?
I have the privilege to work at a church and spend a lot of time interacting with Christians. At the same time, due to my role as the Director of Outreach and Evangelism, I also have the opportunity to engage with many non-Christians too. If you think about it, these two groups of people are very different.
One group is completely devoted to Jesus Christ. They worship Him as God, they pray to Him, they sing songs to Him, and they give of their time, money, and effort to the cause of Christ. But then there’s another group of people who would not only deny that Jesus is God, they might even argue that He never even existed, because they would say God only exists in the mind of some very deluded people!
This group would say that Christians are devoting themselves to a fictitious cause, they are worshiping a figment of their imagination, there’s no one listening on the other end of those prayers, and basically Christians are foolish because they’ve been duped into believing things that simply aren’t true. Same topic, yet these two groups come to very different conclusions. Why?
As I have interacted with both groups over the years, I have often asked myself that question. Why do some people come to believe in Jesus and the claims of Scripture, and some don’t. For example, I will put something out there on the World Wide Web that supports my Christian convictions (such as last week’s blog post), and some people will say, “That was great! I really appreciated that! Thank you.”
But then I also receive feedback (like I did last week) that is very critical. A gentleman took the time to write a lengthy critique expressing his disdain for what I wrote and Christianity in general. And let’s just say he was less than impressed with me personally – referring to me as “the poster child for the stereotypical uneducated, narrow minded fundamentalist christian...”
One person will comment that the article was insightful and they found it to be helpful, while another person, after reading the same article, will tell me how stupid I am and that I represent all that is wrong with the world. Why such opposite reactions?
In my (stereotypical uneducated, narrow minded fundamentalist christian) opinion, that is a huge question with many different answers. For our purposes here, I want to seek to answer that question by looking at it from one particular angle. That is, the role that presuppositions play in the conclusions people reach regarding worldviews. Allow me to take the time to define those two terms: presuppositions and worldviews.
Presuppositions are those assumptions that we make before we consider any truth claim. In the word presuppositional, you can hear "pre-suppose". Presuppositions are the thoughts and ideas that we pre-suppose at the outset (whether knowingly or not), and we bring them with us into every discussion. Think of them as our pre-beliefs. They are sometimes hard to identify, yet impossible to deny, but we all have them. You can say that our presuppositions are the lens by which we view and interpret everything that is presented to us.
A worldview is basically how one perceives the world. It is the sum total of all of our presuppositions added together. I like how Dr. James W. Sire, in The Universe Next Door defines it. He states, “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) which 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 being.”
Now, I know those concepts can be quite challenging, but please stick with me, because I hope by the time you’ve finished reading this it will all come together in a coherent way. Let me give you another word that may be new to you – that is the word apologetics.
In terms of Christianity, apologetics can be defined as giving a reasonable, rational defense for the truthfulness of the Christian faith. For followers of Christ, apologetics (defending the faith), is a command from Scripture. 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
In this article, I will try to show what it means to defend our faith using the presuppositional approach. This method can be compared and contrasted with other methods such as the classical or evidential approach. Those two terms are not synonymous, but are very similar in how they are employed. In fact, there are many different apologetic methodologies, but the two main methods argue from either a presuppositional standpoint, or an evidentialist standpoint.
Evidence Isn’t the Issue
Let’s talk about evidence. Does evidence for the Christian worldview exist? Absolutely! Evidence is a gift from God that helps bolster our faith, and can serve as a great comfort to us in times of doubt. Christians love the evidence, primarily for one reason and one reason only – they’re Christians. Unbelievers aren't as quick to embrace the same evidence. Why is that? You guessed it...it's because they’re unbelievers. We all have the same evidence because we all live in the same world. The issue is not so much the evidence itself, but rather how we understand and interpret that evidence.
How is it that the Christian can look at the human body and say – “Wow! What a marvelous Creator! The way our bodies function…the complexity of the human eye…how it works in conjunction with the brain and the rest of the body. Nerve impulses communicating by way of this intricately wired system. The body’s design is absolute proof of a designer.”
But the atheist will come along and look at the human body, and say about the very same evidence – “That’s not how I see it at all. Look at how the evolutionary process through millions of years of natural selection has gotten us to where we are today! Absolutely amazing! It’s truly remarkable that time and chance acting upon matter has produced a body that can function the way it does in this godless universe.”
Same evidence, vastly different conclusions.
The question is – why?
Answer: We interpret evidence according to our presuppositions.
Before I explain that, let me ask this question: Are there ever times when evidence shouldn't be presented to an unbeliever when discussing the Christian worldview? At first glance, giving evidence to a non-Christian sounds reasonable. Therefore, it appears to be a good idea. Let me challenge that notion. I submit to you that if we want to honor God in our apologetics, there are times when we should not be presenting evidence.
Consider this question. In our world, where do you see evidence being given? The answer is in a court of law. The evidence is given to the judge and the jury. When we give evidence to an unbeliever, who is the judge? He is. He can either accept the evidence or reject it. Either way, he is the one holding the scales.
Do you see a problem with that?
Isn’t it true that by presenting evidence for the unbeliever to consider, we are in effect putting God on trial and elevating the rebel sinner to a place where he ought not be – that is, in the position of judge over God?
The created saying to the Creator, "Here is my verdict..." Doesn't it seem ludicrous for mere human creatures to decide whether or not God and His revealed Word are worthy of our trust?
God is the judge, not man!
Every situation is different, and different approaches to apologetics can be used based upon the person we are engaging. We don't have to adopt a single methodology when it comes to defending our faith. So, perhaps the question that we need to ask is – when should we give evidence to the unbeliever, and when shouldn't we?
To me, here is the distinction: To the antagonistic, hard-hearted individual who challenges the truth of Christianity, he/she shouldn't be given evidence that they can either choose to accept or reject. This is similar to the biblical command given by Jesus to withhold the pearl of the gospel to those who we know will reject, mock and ridicule it. Providing further light (knowledge of the truth), will only serve to increase their condemnation. This is an act of mercy to those who persist in radical unbelief. Jesus said, “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” Matthew 7:6
Conversely, I don't think we should handle every situation that way. For the person who approaches us with a humble heart, maybe even a skeptical mind, and is earnestly trying to figure things out, a different approach may be utilized. For the person who says, "Will you please help me understand your worldview? I have these intellectual barriers and stumbling blocks that are in my way, so I just want to honestly ask you a few questions that I hope you won’t interpret as objections, because I simply would like to hear your answer."
That is someone to which I would give evidence. It sounds like God may be drawing that person to Himself. Admittedly, this will require wisdom on our part to discern the difference between the various scenarios.
Does the Bible presuppose God? It certainly does.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1
Right from the first verse, the Bible just assumes God.
Later in Genesis chapter 1, it says, God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Genesis 1:27
We have been created bearing the likeness of God. What does that mean? It means that He has endowed us with certain characteristics and faculties – similar to software. We come pre-packaged and pre-programmed with certain understandings. One very important understanding God has given to all people is that He exists. We know He is real. And not just any god, but the one true and living God of the Bible, we know Him!
The objection comes, "Wait a minute, there are many people who say they don't believe in God. There is a whole atheist community out there! What are you saying about them? Are you saying that anyone who says that they honestly don't believe in God is a liar?" I'm not saying that at all.
I'm saying what the first chapter of Romans says, "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 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." Romans 1:18-22
They aren't liars, they're suppressors. The people who say that they need evidence in order to believe, already have all the evidence that they will ever need. In a real certain sense, they know God (not in a saving way), but they have knowledge of Him, because God has shown it to them. The problem is that they suppress that knowledge in unrighteousness. When we ask the question, who needs evidence that God exists? If we are to believe Romans 1, the answer is no one!
That is why Scripture says, The fool says in his heart, "There is no God.” Psalm 14:1 They know the truth, yet they willfully suppress that truth in unrighteousness. Why? I think the answer is obvious – it’s sin. People love their sin. They want to live the way that they want to live. They want to be completely autonomous and not have to submit to anyone. They want to be – in effect – their own god.
When defending my faith, I begin with two presuppositions:
1. God exists
2. He has spoken
I begin with that understanding and operate from there. Someone may respond, "To engage an atheist, you can't start with the Bible, he doesn't believe it. You need to meet the unbeliever on neutral ground." Is there such a place? To answer that, I am going to quote the Bible. I can hear the objection now; "You are begging the question by saying the Bible is true by quoting the Bible – that is arguing in a circle." I will address that charge later, but for now, let me first show you the myth of neutrality according to the Scriptures.
Neutrality is a Myth
God is the creator of all things, and that means nothing falls outside the realm of His Lordship. It is impossible to be neutral towards the things of God. All things (including all people), are either in submission to, or are hostile to Christ's Lordship.
Consider these verses:
He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me, scatters. Luke 11:23
For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Romans 8:6-8
You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. James 4:4
No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. Matthew 6:24
Scripture is clear. Everyone is in covenant with God one way or the other. We are all in a relationship with Him. Either you are "in Christ" by grace, or you are "in Adam" according to wrath. Being neutral is biblically impossible. To quote the late great Dr. Greg Bahnsen on this issue of neutrality, he says, "They aren't, and you shouldn't be."
As stated before, we are created in the image of God, with the Law of the Lord written on our hearts. (Romans 2:15) We know that God exists, yet because of the effects of sin on the heart and mind, people suppress that truth in unrighteousness. Before Adam sinned in the garden, he rightly relied entirely upon God's revelation for his knowledge of the world. After partaking of the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, Adam began (not with God’s revelation), but with his own fallen reasoning, and his own (also now fallen) interpretation of reality. From this point forward this became Adam’s starting point for knowledge.
A Proper Starting Point
We as believers, are instructed to lean not on our own understanding, but in ALL our ways acknowledge God. (Proverbs 3:5,6) That means that He is the foundation for our reasoning. He is the supreme authority, and He has the first and last word in everything. Unbelievers, however, have come to believe that their own opinion, rather than God's revelation, is the final word.
The Bible is the proper starting point in apologetics. Consider these verses:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. Proverbs 1:7
In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Colossians 2:3
Author, John Frame puts it this way: ''We should present the biblical God, not merely as the conclusion to an argument, but as the one who makes the argument possible." If Scripture is true, and it is, then it is impossible to argue or even think, without presupposing God.
A Question of Authority
Who is your ultimate authority? You? God? Something, or someone else?
Let's say a scientist found something that supports the truthfulness of the Bible. And due to that discovery, you then conclude that the Scriptures are true and trustworthy. But then the next day he finds something that seems to show that the Bible is in error. It necessarily follows that you would then conclude that the Bible is now no longer worthy of your trust. Who is the ultimate authority in these scenarios? It’s not God and His Word, it’s the scientist.
Our ultimate authority should be the all-knowing, infallible God of the Bible who cannot lie and is therefore absolutely trustworthy. You ask, “How do you know that He is all-knowing, infallible and trustworthy?” Answer: the Bible says so.
Isn’t this Circular Reasoning?
The unbeliever will say, "I don't believe in God. So, he isn't my ultimate authority. In fact, you haven't demonstrated that God is the ultimate authority, you have just stated that he is, and that is an assertion without justification which amounts to circular reasoning."
This popular objection fails to realize something very important. All ultimate authorities are necessarily circular. Christians and skeptics are equally circular in their thinking. For many skeptics, their ultimate authority is their own reasoning. In order to justify their reasoning, they need to employ their reasoning. They reason that their reasoning is valid. It's circular.
If I ask, "Why do you trust your reasoning?" As soon as that person opens their mouth to give a reason, they are engaged in circular argumentation. They’ve just opened their Bible. For the Christian, our ultimate authority is not ourselves, but rather God and His Word.
I've lived long enough in this world to know that I can be wrong, a lot. In fact, I can be wrong in big ways. I have been wrong, even when I was convinced that I was right! If you are being honest, you know this is true about yourself too. Do not trust your own reasoning and logic. You’re like the rest of us – fallible. We have a very poor track record, whereas God's record is flawless.
To expand upon this, consider what is known as the infinite regression of knowledge. If you ask someone how they know A. (A being anything that they think they know.) He'll respond, because of B. How does he know B is true? He'll respond, because of C. How does he know C is true? He'll respond, because of D. So on and so forth.
This series of justifications will go on forever without end. And because this will carry on for infinity, he therefore cannot even have absolute knowledge of A. The only way to stop this infinite regression is to have infinite knowledge yourself, or have revelation from someone who possesses infinite knowledge. To say it another way, in order to know anything for sure you must know everything, or know someone who does.
The exchange might sound something like this:
The skeptic claims, “Yeah, but I use my senses and reasoning to determine truth.”
“How do you know that your senses and reasoning are reliable?”
The only response that can be offered at this point is, "I know my senses are valid, by using my senses.”
You ask them, "How do you know you can smell that apple pie?" They'll say, "Because I smell it."
"Mr. Unbeliever, how do you know your reasoning is valid?"
"Because I've reasoned that my reasoning is valid."
It's all circular.
Why the God of the Bible?
So much more could be said, but I must mention this last objection. It goes like this. "I see that you are arguing for God, but why does it have to be the God of Christianity? Why can't the Muslim stand on the authority of the Koran and argue the same points?"
That is a valid question. I would like to first note that this objection acknowledges something subtle. If it's an atheist making this charge, he is giving up his atheism (at least in theory), to continue the dialogue. Notice how this form of argumentation reveals the utter bankruptcy of the atheistic position. At this point, the atheist is positing a god, albeit another god, just to continue in his suppression.
Nevertheless, this is still a valid question. “Why does it have to be the God of the Bible?” Answer: “Because He's the only God that exists!” Now that response won't satisfy many people, but again, who are we trying to please with our apologetic methodology, man, or God?
For those who are still unsatisfied with that response, I'd say that we can then conduct an internal critique of that other theistic worldview. In other words, if you want to become a Muslim; we can then take a look at what Islam teaches and examine the veracity of their claims. But, at this point that person is no longer an atheist, but rather he is now a theist. However, this isn’t any better because he has simply swapped out idols. For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens. Psalm 96:5
I recognize that much of this is philosophical and abstract. I’m trying to do the best I can in understanding it myself and explaining it to others given all of my limitations. It feels like we may have gone far afield from the original question. I apologize if that’s the case. The question was – why is it that some people believe and some don’t? Yes, much of the answer to that question pertains to one’s presuppositions, but the ultimate answer has to do with the disposition of their heart.
If we are still in the condition described of in Ephesians chapter 2 – dead in our sins and trespasses – we will reject God and remain in a state of rebellion. It’s not until God opens the heart like He did for Lydia (Acts 16:14), that one can come to embrace the truths of the gospel. God must take out that heart of stone that is hostile in mind towards God (Romans 8:7), and replace it with a heart of flesh as indicated in Ezekiel 36.
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26
That’s what ultimately separates the believer from the unbeliever. The question is – has God done the supernatural work that only He can do in that person’s life?
Even though a large chunk of this post has been philosophical in nature, let’s remember that it’s out of love that we even engage people in the first place. We want to see them saved from their sins. Therefore, love is our motivation.
Yes, we love the lost, but the goal of apologetics is to lovingly stop their mouth. It is to silence critics and bring them to a place where they can see that their worldview (apart from Jesus) is bankrupt. It’s in that silence, in the quietness of their heart, where God can and will work according to His will.
If our apologetic doesn't honor Christ and lead people to Him, we're doing something wrong. The goal is never to win the argument, but rather to win them to Christ. Because in the end, the only thing that really separates us from them is the grace of God.