-Wir sein pettler. Hoc est verum.--"We are beggars. This is true."--Martin Luther-

[ Home ] [ Originals ] [ Words of Ones Wiser ] [ Odds and Ends ]

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Witness, Apologetics, and the Law and Gospel.

This is something that I've thought about over the last couple months. I have always been a little wary, or maybe unclear, as to what the role of apologetics are in the witness of the Church. What I have come up with is a distinction between the law and the gospel as they pertain to apologetics.

Werner Elert writes: "[The law] serves not in the construction of the new man but in the destruction of the old." Law and Gospel (trans. Edward H. Schroeder. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1967), 36.

While this is more directed at an understanding of sanctification, I think it works perfectly well as a general statement about the nature of the law and the nature of the gospel: "The law destructs; the gospel constructs."

It is from this perspective that I will base my argument. The argument being: The use of apologetics in witnessing is an act of destruction, and thus correlative to the law, not the gospel. It is an act that tears down, not one that builds up.

The modern thoughts concerning evangelism in most of the Church catholic is that, apologetics should be used, in one way or another, to a lesser or greater extent, to "convince" people into the truth. While most would say that the Holy Spirit is also needed, their synergistic understanding of the acceptance of faith would lead them to believe that the reasoning and arguments behind their words are leading people to faith. This is due to their belief that there is at least some part of man that is able to "believe". Lutherans, of course, would take big issue with this.

The question for a Lutheran should be: Are apologetics a word of the law or a word of the gospel. The Evangelical's understanding would say that man's reasoning is able to lay hold of and believe in the truth, and thus apologetics becomes the gospel. Lutherans would say, no, this is not possible. Lutherans would say that the Holy Spirit is needed who works to build faith, and this only through the gospel.

Now, properly speaking, I don't see how the message of apologetics can be correlated with the word's of Christ's commission:

"Going into all the world, preach the gospel [which, according to Matt. was ενετειλαμην-- enjoined] to all the creation. The one believing and being baptized will be saved. And the one not believing will be condemned." (Mark 16:15-16)

Or the gospel that Paul received:

"Paul, a slave of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ according to the faith of the elect of God and full knowledge of the truth according to godliness, on hope of eternal life which the God who does not lie promised before the eternal times, but revealed in its own times in a proclamation of His Word, with which I was entrusted by the command of our Savior God." (Titus 1:1-3)

This properly is the gospel: "The one believing in me and being baptized will be saved." This is the message that the Holy Spirit works through to produce faith.

The message of apologetics is: the reality of God, sin, and possibly, the reality of Jesus and his resurrection. But properly speaking this is not yet the gospel; it is not the bestowal of the message of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ for the forgiveness of one's sins. I can believe in "God," sin, Jesus, and even the resurrection without being a Christian. In fact, Muslims believe in "God," sin, Jesus, and the bodily ascension of Jesus, and they certainly do not have the gospel.

Apologetics is an appeal to my ratio, my reason, and as such is not able to be overcome my mind because: "the mind of the flesh is enmity towards God; for it is not being subjected to the Law of God, for neither can it be." (Rom. 8:7)

Gerhard Ebeling writes that, Luther believed that,

"under regnum mundi [kingdom of the world] there falls the whole of reality extra Christum [outside of Christ], and that means extra fidem [outside of faith]…[regnum mundi] in the widest sense [includes] everything that concerns man, and thus everything that has to do with his ratio, but also everything that has to do with his will and his passions, and hence absolutely everything from the most trifling human activity to science, morals and religion.” “The Necessity of the Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms.” In Word and Faith. (trans. James W. Leitch, 386-406. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1963), 393.

The benefit of apologetics, therefore, cannot be seen as one of construction (gospel) but destruction (law).

The mind, extra fidem, is a mind that is ultimately enslaved to the flesh, and concupiscence. It is a reason that is faulty and which is inclined to accept the reason of the world and to reject the claims of Christ. Apologetics, therefore, is the attempt to combat this tendency of the mind, it is to show that the claims of Christianity are not illogical, unreasonable, or insupportable. While we cannot "prove" the claims of our faith, we can show that they are at least supportable. The arguments that Christianity are illogical, unreasonable, and insupportable, are things that block the work of the Holy Spirit, they are road blocks and defenses that support unbelief.

Much like sin, therefore, these are things that need to be torn down for the work of the Holy Spirit to proceed with the ministry of the gospel. Apologetics is a function of the law which calls into question minds that are enslaved to the flesh.

Properly speaking, as with any work of the law, apologetics does not produce something, rather it prepares for something. That something is the proper work of the Holy Spirit which comes with the message of the forgiveness of sins.

Therefore we need to be mindful of the fact that, just as one would preach the law against sin, apologetics is a function that will, by itself, produce nothing. We could preach against sin all we want, but if we don't preach the forgiveness of sins, nothing would come about. In the same way, we can "preach" apologetics all we want, but if we don't preach the forgiveness of sins, nothing will come about.

In this society, and in this day and age, man has made a concerted effort to take away from God any claim he might hold on the mind of man. Where apologetics might not be needed, or be as useful in Africa, in our society, on the other hand, we must do battle against the arguments of man. The sinful mind is just as much a roadblock to the Spirit as sin itself is. But this battle is not yet the work of the gospel. We need to be making this distinction clear in the increasingly Arminian church that crops up around us, even in our own synod.

No comments: