Principles & Practice in Defense of Our Faith
“…this means that we cannot begin our discussion with the assumption that the intellectual, moral, or conversational ground on which we and the unbeliever are standing is the same. The very reason there is a debate between us is that our respective authorities are in conflict. Just as an unbeliever will stand on his own chosen ground in order to debate and discuss, so also will we.”
Covenantal Apologetics dragged me kicking and screaming through each paragraph. Oliphint is relentless, ruthless, wearying and painful to read in the best possible way; he lays bare that much of our apologetics, and, by extension, our evangelism (the line has always been fuzzy) is deeply flawed, disobedient even. We do not take the Biblical description of the unbeliever seriously enough, if at all. Rather than perfectly rational, gracious and reflective, the god of this world has blinded her mind to keep her from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4). And if this is the case, clever, philosophical theodicies will not (alone) work. Instead, the power of God in a Scripturally-soaked worldview is the answer.
From this Biblical view of the unbeliever, Oliphint unravels what this will mean for our apologetics through his “Ten Tenets” that build on the presuppositional work of Van Til et al. He works these tenets into a positive apologetic, the presentation of the Biblical worldview, and a negative apologetic that seeks, through the “Quicksand Quotient”, to reveal the ungrounded critiques of opposing worldviews. Of particular note is his masterful demonstration that what should matter to the apologist is persuasion, rather than a proof with universal scope; different people have radically different restrictions on the notion of proof. I can wholeheartedly commend so much of this approach because when I have tried to put it into practice, God has abundantly blessed these opportunities. It works.
Of course, there are problems with Covenantal Apologetics. It is too hasty in some places, there are a few philosophical glosses, and, as with all spheres of life, demarcating a nuanced view is far harder than advocating an extreme view, the latter of which Oliphint flirts with. But what is likely to be the biggest turn-off is a fascinating affair in itself. Oliphint is ungracious to the unbeliever, bordering on rude. I am intrigued by whether his ungraciousness is justified or not. On first glance, some of Covenantal Apologetics is, frankly, vicious. This is such a turn-off because it seems so intolerant. But is this simply a hangover from the secular vice-like grip on our minds? The underlying question is no less than “what does love to the unbeliever look like?” I think back to the placard that appalled me on first sight; hate speech is not telling unrepentant sinners that they are going to hell. But, on reflection, how much of my view of love has been tainted by Western “tolerance”? We are in great danger of exiling the truth in the command to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Oliphint’s unashamed treatise of how to depend intellectually on Scripture might seem too strong because of our own sin.