17 April 2009

Truth and Apologetics

by Phil Johnson



ecently I got an e-mail that raised an excellent, but difficult, question about apologetics. My correspondent was trying to make sense of the inevitable tension we face in those moments when we are called upon "to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you . . . with gentleness and respect"—and yet we know that the best biblical answer we have to someone's question or challenge is strongly counter cultural and possibly even offensive to the person we're speaking to.

My friend wrote:

I attended a weekend seminar on "Cultural Apologetics" taught by a well-known philosopher/apologist. Toward the end of the final session, the professor opened up the floor to general apologetics questions.

One gentleman asked, "How do I defend the sacking of Canaan by the Israelites?"

My answer was that the Canaanites were destroyed because they were an abomination unto God. There is scriptural basis for that position: "For every abominable thing that the LORD hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods" (Deuteronomy 12:31). The professor said that was not a good answer, because a non-believer wouldn't care that God's laws had been transgressed.

He then said it was an extremely difficult point to defend against.

I've been wondering ever since. What is the appropriate response? If an unbeliever brings this up, should I divert the conversation and talk about the resurrection instead?

[this was edited somewhat to preserve everyone's anonymity]


My reply:

I have no problem with the answer you gave. "Because they were an abomination to God" is a perfectly valid response: It's true, and it is, after all, the correct biblical answer to the question.

I think it's a serious mistake to evaluate answers to difficult questions by imagining whether a non-believer is likely to respond positively or not. Jesus never did that. He simply proclaimed the truth. That's the same approach we need to take. If unbelievers reject the answer anyway (and some always will, regardless of the cleverness of our strategies), then that's not necessarily an indication of failure on the ambassador's part.

Certainly we should do all we can legitimately do to minimize offense (and eliminate unnecessary offense) to unbelievers, but to dismiss a truthful answer as "not a good answer . . . because a non-believer wouldn't care" is in my view a gross miscarriage of our duty as Christ's ambassadors.

The professor's attitude toward biblical truth reflects in microcosm the very point where contemporary evangelicalism went astray and Protestantism lost its vigor. When people get timid about declaring what Scripture plainly says—especially when that apprehension is driven by fear about how unbelievers might respond—someone has lost sight of what it means to give a defense of the truth.

Being apologetic about the truth of Scripture is something quite different from being an apologist for it.

Phil's signature

63 comments:

theologyofbobby said...

I agree, Phil!

Context is everything. If the unbeliever asks a question about scripture (like the scenario in the post), then we need to go ahead and provide the assumptions that scripture is operating out of; and provide the "context" that way (i.e. God is just, holy, love, merciful, gracious, etc.). Eventually, and quite "logically," the response to the question posed in this scenario leads to the cross of Christ (oh yeah, I believe, off the top, it is I Sam. 2:6 that says that God has the right to give and take life --- there's an assumption of scripture that applies specifically to this example under question).

It sounds like this prof/philosopher might come from the Pelagian side of things (which many do, esp. from Talbot --- "middle knowledge") . . . which definitely places more emphasis on our personal strategies than it does God's ability to "cut the heart" through His spoken and living Word.

Chris said...

With so many cowards in the pulpits of so many churches today, turning Acts 17 upside-down as they try to paint Paul as some sort of groveling accomodator of pagan sensibilities, I'm not surprised that none among their flocks are willing or able to declare truth to their neighbors or coworkers. I once had a pastor try and convince me of just how necessary it is to "nuance" the message in our efforts to "pre-evangelize" people. Huh? Paul did neither of these, nor did Jesus. I'm still trying to figure-out the "pre" part of that sham advice in light of "today" being the "day of salvation."

apologetics-wiki.com said...

Perhaps it also depends if someone is genuinely seeking or not. If they are there for honest answers, I think the response was great.

If they're doing it just to continually bring up these passages, and don't care about any answer you give them, then perhaps it's time to move on...

PuritanReformed said...

Phil:

Excellent advice. Perhaps if such people are offended, we can continue to deconstuct their beliefs too (but of course we would be considered "unloving").

Ian Matthews said...

This depends what the aim of the apologetic is. If it is to justify the truth to believers then you are correct. If it is to persuade non-believers then it is useless. The non-believer will simply shrug their shoulders and walk away.

The problem with the answer to Canaan given is that the children and animals were not committing abomination, and neither, necessarily, was every man or woman. The justification regarding abomination still leaves a lot of questions about justice.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Excellent post. Quite agree with Phil that unhealthy over-concern for offending non-believers has contributed to the decline in vigor of Evangelicals.

Sequence of my responses upon reading this post.

(1) Phil's friend gave a good and valid response.

(2) A non-believer might respond that the biblical answer is question-begging because it assumes the very thing that the argument is supposed to establish.

(3) Confusion due to conflating of terms or categories. The non-believer's question about the sacking of Canaan presupposes the existence of God, and he/she is then questioning the character of God. The non-believer and the 1 Peter 3:15 apologist both need to distinguish between conversations that address the existence of God from the conversations about the character of God. Mixing them up or allowing them to be mixed up generally does no one any good.

Johnny Dialectic said...

"I think it's a serious mistake to evaluate answers to difficult questions by imagining whether a non-believer is likely to respond positively or not."

I agree. However, we also have so much post modern cultural dross to work through to even get to a point where someone can understand our categories and their own presuppositions. People just don't think clearly anymore.

Brett said...

I recognize this is a little off topic, but what jumps out at me is that if Canaan was an abomination to God for burning their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods, then America is equally an abomination to God for burning our children in the fire (abortion) for our gods (materialistic lifestyle, etc.).

Rick Frueh said...

Brett - Good point. Many Christians pledge allegience to this country even with the knowledge of that which you have identified.

I have never come across the Canaan question from anyone, however it would seem wise to steer away from anything but the claims of Christ and His gospel, if possible. Even Jesus responded with a question to the Pharisees' question about His authority when He could have said "I am the Second Person of the Trinity, I am Jehovah, YHWH in the flesh".

Without compromise and without apologizing, many times we can gently steer some questions that can only be understood by faith to a more effective area of general apologetics.

DJP said...

Down with apologetic apologetics.

SandMan said...

The problem with the answer to Canaan given is that the children and animals were not committing abomination, and neither, necessarily, was every man or woman. The justification regarding abomination still leaves a lot of questions about justice.

@Ian...If I am reading you right, then I offer this for you to consider. God's justice is perfect and requires no justification at all (Job chapters 39-42 among others). The implication that any man, woman, or child is "innocent" before God does no "justice" to God's holiness, and certainly misunderstands the nature of man.

Rather than dodge the issue, I think that a question such as this one leads naturally to the basic need man has to have his abominable deeds forgiven and to be reconciled to a perfect and just God through Christ and him alone. If we leave out God's hatred of sin (perfectly illustrated in Canaan), and mankind's offensiveness in his natural state, then what does Christ save us from exactly?

The Squirrel said...

Wow, actually using the Bible to define and defend your position. What a novel concept!

:)
~Squirrel

Tim Bushong said...

Phil- I agree 110%. It's self-defeating to attempt apologetic backflips in trying to give an "outside the canon" answer to a question like this. The person we should be concerened about in answering these Q's is God Himself, not the pagan. Just tell the truth...

Jack said...

In light of the Biblical teachings about God's holiness and the universal fallenness of man (including children), an equally pertinent question could be "Why did God let the Canaanites live so long?"

Because of sin, God could justly kill all of us tonight, and the angels would praise His righteousness. But He doesn't, because He's merciful.

Re. animals, the natural world suffers when God punishes sin because it's "under" the reign of man. God's wrath can extend to an entire household, because of the headship of parents. However, there is a diff between earthly punishment and eternal wrath. It was not God's will that any of those little ones eternally perish. I expect there to be Canaanites in Heaven, worshiping the Jewish Christ who shed His blood for them, who died under the sword of those Israelites.

Stefan said...

I actually heard a question like this asked recently: "What about the Canaanites?"

The answer (from someone else, not me) was so simple, yet so Gospel-centered:

"They got what I deserve."

Michael said...

I appreciate what Sandman said. This particular question implies that it was unfair or unjust that God used Israel to exact judgement on the Canaanites. Instead of arguing the point about whether God was correct in what He did at that point...Wouldn't it be better to personalize the question and ask, "Is it right that God would destroy you or me for the lawlessness that we have exhibited?" Also the original question implies that the Canaanites did not have the opportunity to repent and become followers of God. The text mentions many times that they were aware of and had heard of the many wonders that God had performed yet they showed no fear of the Lord jsut rebellion. Sounds like the sin nature of man has not changed throughout the ages.....

donsands said...

Nice post.

"Man shall live, not by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God."

When discussing the judgment of God, and His righteous wrath, and sovereign justice, we as the redeemed of the Lord should never stray far from the Cross, but we need to be always in its shadow of mercy and love.
I tryt to share the truth in love, with a grateful heart that Christ had mercy on me, a chief of sinners.

The Word of God is sharp as a razor, and it cuts deep.

SolaMom said...

Never apologize for God.

Citizen Grim said...

When I first wrestled with the apparent ‘genocide’ of the Canaanite peoples, I found this to be a very thorough examination of the subject:
http://www.christian-thinktank.com/qamorite.html

One of the most important points I took away was that the Israelites actually did very little of the sacking, because they didn’t have to. God tells the people over and over that He will drive the Canaanites out ahead of Israel. The Canaanites were fearful of the approaching Israelites, and were aware of what God had already done for them along their way.

Indeed, for the most part, the Canaanite nations were destroyed as political entities, but most of the individual Canaanites peoples survived. (Sadly, presaging the eventual Israelite decline into Canaanite paganism.)

Of course, there are also those like Rahab, who believed and was accepted into the covenant community (she was even in the lineage of Christ!), so it’s reasonable to conclude that the Israelites absorbed other believing Canaanites.

In the end, the Canaanites were punished with dispossession of their land, not genocide. What's more, God tells the Israelites that if they repeat the Canaanites' mistakes, they too will lose the land.

Mike said...

Excellent post, Phil, and perfectly timed with Dan's post yesterday.

The paragraph about the professor's attitude reflecting where Protestantism lost it's vigor was spot-on. I've been reading (slowly) through David Wells' "The Courage To Be Protestant" and this post really hit home.

When combined with Dan's post yesterday about our faith determining how we live I'm hit with a massive dose of conviction that I'll be thinking about all weekend.

Citizen Grim said...

ps - I am not trying to minimize the occasions where God did command the extermination of every man, woman, child and animal.

Still, in these occasions, I don't think they call into question God's justice. God's justice is not a linear tit-for-tat formula.

"[God] makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust."
- Matt 5:45

"What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”"
- Rom 9:14-15

"What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory?"
- Rom 9:22-23

Sharon said...

When people get timid about declaring what Scripture plainly says—especially when that apprehension is driven by fear about how unbelievers might respond—someone has lost sight of what it means to give a defense of the truth.Home run!

(Says one who has been guilty of the above far too many times.)

~Mark said...

What brings this home for me is how much more responsive people are when you don't sugarcoat the answers beyond removing, as stated, "unnecessary offense".

A lot of people, especially the young people, who I encounter are just hungry for someone with an answer who'll actually give them a direct response.

Solameanie said...

BINGO! Exactly the right response. The cross itself is an offense, as we see every day, yet we dare not compromise in its proclamation.

Daryl said...

Let's face it. As soon as we offer an answer that doesn't originate in Scripture, haven't we lost?

The world tends to be better at philosophizing than us anyways...

stratagem said...

For that matter, why would an unbeliever care if he himself has transgressed God's law and is therefore in danger of eternal damnation? Would that professor / philosopher / "whateverheis" have had the same answer to the presentation of the concept of sin to an unbeliever? Something's not quite right with the professor's thinking here.

The Squirrel said...

Daryl: I think you're right on target.

James White spoke to this very topic on yesterdays Dividing Line.

~Squirrel

David McCrory said...

As Christians, we are to speak the truth in love. Both, speaking the truth, and doing it in love, are essential to the Christian's mandate. Too much truth w/o love, and too much love w/o truth only hurts the individual you're trying to reach.

Grace said...

Here is a video on the same subject
http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=111206123250

Deb said...

Great post. Provocative discussion.
The answer that "the Canaanites were destroyed because they were an abomination unto God" is perfectly true and an excellent launch pad into a discussion on our own sinfulness and lawlessness deserving God's wrath.

How about this additional thought:

Doesn't this question also present an even bigger opportunity to share the gospel in its entire reformed and "redemptive historical" context?

Ie, in the OT God commanded the destruction of nations like Canaan also because the nation was being used by Satan to try to stop the lineage of the coming Messiah thru Isreal. Therefore, nations/ethnic groups were divided amongst each other in the epic seed battle that was initiated in Gen 3:18.

On this side of the Messiah, Jesus is about bringing all nations and all people groups together under his headship - Jew and Gentile -

Together into not just one nation, not just one ethnic group, not just one church, but into one holy family of God.

Therefore, don't you think it important to mention that the seed battle today is no longer against flesh and blood? Satan can no longer stop the incarnation, but he tries to kill the seed of God from being spread thru the Gospel message and to kill the seed of God implanted in us by the Holy Spirit from growing our faith to maturity.

Of course, we know who wins, but the point is that I think the whole 'destruction of Canaan' thing provides a great opportunity to share more deeply about the huge epic battle than just how much sin qualifies everyone for destruction by God's wrath (as important and true as that is, of course).

Bob said...

I wasn't sure I could ever be convinced to agree with a guy who dices his own fingers... but here I am, hat in hand - spot on, Phil

Mark B. Hanson said...

Of course, one way to balance this is to cite the Babylonians' dragging of Judah into captivity (including the slaughter of many Judahites) because of their sins. God did not let his own chosen people off the hook...

This might then turn the conversation away from the Canaanites themselves onto the much more profitable issue of why sin is so offensive to God?

trogdor said...

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Cor 2:1-5)

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. (2 Cor 4:1-2)

The apologist's response reeks.

It reeks of Pelagianism, as if the power of salvation rests in intellectual persuasion rather than in God's word.

It reeks of thinking we're smarter than God, as if somehow His word is deficient. His answer may have worked on the ignorant Israelites, but we just know better now, apparently. Or perhaps we think God just needs our help learning to communicate to people today, because He's somehow out of touch?

It reeks of being ashamed of the gospel. It reeks of compromising pragmatism. It reeks of accusing God of being unrighteous in his dealings with Canaan. It reeks of fear of man and disregard for God.

So basically, I'm not a huge fan.

Respectabiggle said...

There's also a problem of presuppositions in the question itself. Why does the questioner think what happened to the Canaanites was evil?
If he's right and there is no God because God commanded evil, then there is no good or evil, which makes it hard to sustain his objection to the existence of God.

Steve said...

From the friends note:

"... The professor said that was not a good answer, because a non-believer wouldn't care that God's laws had been transgressed."

"He then said it was an extremely difficult point to defend against."

OK, what, then, if anything, the the professor actually given as an answer?, or was this just the end of it?

Alan said...

Good comment, Phil. You're on the right track.

BTW, Chris....just as a point of grammar, "try AND convince me" means "he tried, and he convinced me".

"Try TO convince me" better reflects what you meant to say, I believe. A trivial mistake perhaps, but one I see all the time.

andy spaulding said...

I think one of the main problems today is that many unbelievers have heard the message "God loves you." This is not true. God loves only His own. If we are talking about common grace, that is one thing, but God hates the wicked(Ps 5:5, Ps 11:5), He is angry with them(Ps 7:11) and His wrath abides upon them(Jn 3:36).

Now His love is extended to them, that if they repent and believe they will be saved, but anyone who is outside of the cross is under the wrath and hatred of God.

The mantra that "God loves the sinner, but hates the sin" is a soul damning lie, and makes absolutley no so sense. The sin has no moral character apart from the sinner. The very thing God hates is not the mere event, but the doer himself. Men will be tormented in hell, not their sin. If I tell an unbeliever that God loves him, why then should he repent? This gives the sinner comfort and strengthens his sinful hands.

M.W.C. Barker said...

Excellent comment, Phil. Particularly in light of our Lord's words in Isaiah that "the Word of God never returns void, but always accomplishes everything for which it is sent." The power of the Gospel is in the Word of God. It is the Word which accomplishes the Spirit's work of changing hearts and renewing minds. We ought never be afraid of letting the Word of God speak for itself.

The professor would do better (as would we all) to take Spurgeon's advice to let the Bible loose, to let it roar!

Deb said...

I still think you guys are missing a huge piece of the pie. It's not just about God's justice and wrath.

Grace also links to a sermon and sermon notes that reinforces the point I made earlier (see at 9:31 AM).

Without this part, you're missing a huge piece of the narrative.

Sing-Along Steve said...

From the OP:

"When people get timid about declaring what Scripture plainly says—especially when that apprehension is driven by fear about how unbelievers might respond—someone has lost sight of what it means to give a defense of the truth."

Indeed. If the truth is seen as the stronghold of the believer, like a castle, a defense of that castle is never going to be weak or half-hearted, unless the soldier defending said fortress is subconsciously or secretly expectingto be annihilated.

So many excellent points here, and all this fruitful discussion points to the fact that so many people have confused the teaching role of a pastor with the responsibilities that are laid on those who are called to be evangelists. Teaching, even preaching expositionally, is inherently focused on feeding the flock. Evangelism is focused on heralding the judgment of God and the gracious salvation He provided through Christ. While preaching/teaching (ala pastoral church ministry) can be evangelistic in the sense that there is a call to those who do not know Christ, it, to me, is very likely that a person sitting under such ecclesiastic preaching has already been led there by God in an intentional way. IOW, the unsaved person sitting under preaching in a church may have been further prepared or led by God to that place. Evangelism, on the other hand, is necessarily confrontational in nature (although not necessarily loud or shocking). The evangelist, like a Whitefield fr'instance, is likely to be found preaching in actively hostile territory where ANY Gospel proclamation is going to be met with totally un-tilled, stony grounded hearts.

Apologetics seems, to me, to be an attempt to bridge the gap between the LOGISTICS of evangelism (usually not in a church setting) and the WORK of preaching/teaching (which is, as others have commented, directed towards those who are genuinely led to seek God's truth, though yet unsaved or immature they may be.

A tightrope it is, and not one that any old joe can navigate safely. Apologists, true and legitimate ones, are rare birds.

Good thing we aren't all hands, arms or eyes... God has built us all into Christ's body. To Him be all glory.

Chris said...

Alan:

Many thanks for pointing-out that grammatical flaw! What a concept for me to consider: actually re-reading (and editing) a comment before I post it :^)

Boerseuntjie said...

Speaking the truth in love - That is the greatest single challenge we have from Scripture.

And may we learn all the more therfore to depend on the Spirit of grace and truth as we prepare and equip ourselves and our families to give a reason for the hope that is in us, without evading the hard truths (When they are required).

May we also season the hard truths with compassion and love in general grace and plead for application of the Particular redemptive love gift Whom is Messiah.

Your servant for the glory of our Great King Alone,
W

ezekiel said...

Then there is always Joh 3:18 and 3:36. The next time ALL the canaanites die for eternity.

Blue Collar Todd said...

@theologyof bobby

It sounds like this prof/philosopher might come from the Pelagian side of things (which many do, esp. from Talbot --- "middle knowledge") . . . which definitely places more emphasis on our personal strategies than it does God's ability to "cut the heart" through His spoken and living Word.I am in agreement with Phil's response and the questioners use of Scripture even though I am a grad from Talbot's MA Philosophy program. It troubles me that there seems to be a trend to divorce Christian ethics from the holiness of God. This leads to acceptance of "pro-choice" Christians, Christians who accept the radical claims of gay activists, and Christians tolerating at best, or propagating at worse, sin. I think Liberal Theology and its twin, Liberalism in politics is to blame for this and it must be confronted.

Steve said...

What does anyone propose that the apologist do now?

Susan said...

Thanks, Phil, for posting this. The professor's response to your friend makes one think.

theologyofbobby said...

Bluecollar Todd,

I have many friends who have graduated from Talbot with the MA in philosophy (in fact I was accepted and slated to go with that program myself, but the LORD had other plans). If you don't mind divulging, when did you graduate from the program there? Maybe we know some of the same people.

My comment on Talbot was a generalization --- but I'm pretty sure, in fact I know, that Libertarian Free Agency (vs. Compatibalism actually one of the grads that I know was in the minority by holding this position, as he shared with me) reigns supreme. I realize that some of this is apples and oranges, but when LFA is transferred into theological parlance semi-Pelagianism seems to be the best fit. I wonder what you think (although this discussion may not be fitting per the topic of this thread).

As far as "Liberal theology" and "Liberal politics" I couldn't agree more. I also think that the enmeshing of God's Holiness and Christian ethics, as it commonly/classically has been done assumes a rather negative approach (by engaging this issue through a 'natural theology' fitted to 'Theology Proper'). Instead if we are going to speak about Christian ethics I think we need to start with Christ (positive), and think through and out of the analogy provided by the Incarnation --- and this discussion also goes further than I think this thread is geared for --- that is a discussion on the relationship between Nature and Grace.

I think we agree in general, Todd; but probably want to get there in different ways (methodologically).

Peace.

Blue Collar Todd said...

@theologyofbobby

If you don't mind divulging, when did you graduate from the program there?2002

As far as "Liberal theology" and "Liberal politics" I couldn't agree more.Those of us who understand this need to step up and help those accommodating and compromising to this to see the danger Liberalism poses to biblical Christianity. J.G. Machen and Francis Schaeffer were way ahead of their time in pointing out the incompatibility of Liberalism and Christianity. Now we are witnessing the evil fruit that necessarily results from Liberal Theology.

theologyofbobby said...

Bluecollar Todd,

Do you know Joseph Gorra (he's a Lebanese guy, really nice guy, btw)? I went to undergrad with him a Multnomah.

I agree, "Liberalism," is a problem; especially, insofar, as it has penetrated the walls of "Evangelicalism." And the history of Fundamentalism is rife with the same, ironically, rationalism that it seeks to undercut (see George Marsden's, "Fundamentalism and American Culture"). Thus its current demise, and collapse into the relativism of a belief system "firmly planted in mid-air."

Deb said...

What is the question behind the question?

Quite often when unbelievers or secularly influenced academics ask this question, what they are actually saying is:
How come if American Protestants would never even consider destroying a Muslim nation in the name of God today, the Jews did this in the OT at God's command in the case of the Canaanites?

That is a very different question from "We all deserve God's wrath and obliteration for our sin and the Canaanites were the worst of the worst, so God was just in doing so."

An apologist does not retreat on the Truth of the Word of God, but instead has a bigger picture in view. In the case of why did God command Israel to destroy the Canaanites (but you Christians would never buy that sort of thing today..), you are talking pre-incarnation, post-incarnation.

does this make sense?

Julius Mickel said...

Good stuff, Phil
I agree we must not ASSUME what the unbeliever will think, we are to procaim truth and to allow the Spirit to convict.
Above all i think you only have a right to 'defend' the faith if you have a heart for souls of others.

Must get to the heart of the question (no point leaving a person who's only impression is 'wow, they are really smart')
Talk about an open door, answer the question regarding God's justice then and the turn it onto the person (explaining the justice we all and specifically that person deserves)
Isn't this EXACTLY what Jesus did in Luke 13:1-5 Jesus attacked the question in an evangelistic way: i would say that people speak of the justice of God in two ways: either to prove God's unfairness or to condemn others so they look better (which is what these people are doing).
When it's a matter of eternity, it's not inconsistent with LOVE to interupt and change the subject or the object.

Ian Matthews said...

Sandman

You wrote:

"@Ian...If I am reading you right, then I offer this for you to consider. God's justice is perfect and requires no justification at all (Job chapters 39-42 among others). The implication that any man, woman, or child is "innocent" before God does no "justice" to God's holiness, and certainly misunderstands the nature of man."

My point is not that someone is innocnet of everything, but that a child would have been innocent of the abomination that God meted out punishment for. If God kills your baby for the sin committed by your neighbor (or even you) is that just?

theologshmeolog said...

Phil,
thanks for the post. I didn't read all comments, so if this is a repeat, as my Italian fruit farmer friend says:Mia Pulpa...

One of the wild things about God is that even in the taking of Canaan, as God prescribed, there is an apologetic. Rahab said that she and others had heard of the terror, might and capability of the One True God.

Joshua 2:10-11 10 "For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. 11 "When we heard it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath."

Again, this truth is confrontational, but clearly God uses these means...

Sam Hendrickson

Stevemd said...

Ian, I guess you could ask King David if God was just in taking his child that was fathered via the adulterous relationship.

Ian Matthews said...

Steve. I could, you're right. Although scripture insn't clear that God is pubishing David through the death of the child.

TAR said...

It seems the "newest " methodology for presenting the truth of scripture or the gospel is not to often or to be "culturally relevant ".

Gone is the belief that God draws and opens the understanding or that the Holy spirit opens us to truth..

Now we are to assume the outcome of evangelization rests fully on US.

The story of the destruction of Canaanites is a wonderful lead into the fate of those that are an abomination to God..

The gospel REPENT and believe come to life here.

It is not our job to spare feelings or to change the culture.. but to be faithful in presenting the truth of Gods word and pressing the gospel..

Gunner said...

Phil,

Thanks for the helpful thoughts. You mentioned at the beginning that this is "an excellent, but difficult, question." You also echoed the "inevitable tension" behind your emailer's question. Yet the answer you gave didn't seem to provide much explanation for how we navigate the "difficulty" and the "tension." The answer seemed simple enough (just speak the truth) to deny or at least downplay any sense of tension or difficulty.

Could you expand on how to deal with the tension that you seemed to acknowledge in the first couple paragraphs of the post? Thanks.

Gunner

SandMan said...

"If God kills your baby for the sin committed by your neighbor (or even you) is that just?"

@Ian
Psalm 115:3
Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.

I do not say this lightly, as my wife and I have experienced the loss of two babies (though admittedly not expressed to us as payment of wrath for anyone's sin)-- but unequivocally, my answer is yes. I again invite you to read Job 39-42. In plain words, whatever God does is justice. If He did it, it was right. That may not meet a scholarly standard of debate (I may be accused of circular reasoning). I accept this based on my faith in God as He is revealed in His Word. If He does something that I don't agree with, or understand, I am the one who is limited in my understanding/ sense of justice-- not God.

Please understand that I have no desire to trade banter with you or anyone else for the sake of "winning" an argument. I simply care about the glory of my God and sense from your comments that you question His justice. This is a key element of His character, and to diminish it is to diminish Him. For God's glory, and your edification, I kindly encourage you to reconsider your view of God in this area.

SandMan said...

"If God kills your baby for the sin committed by your neighbor (or even you) is that just?"

@Ian
Psalm 115:3
Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.

I do not say this lightly, as my wife and I have experienced the loss of two babies (though admittedly not expressed to us as payment of wrath for anyone's sin)-- but unequivocally, my answer is yes. I again invite you to read Job 39-42. In plain words, whatever God does is justice. If He did it, it was right. That may not meet a scholarly standard of debate (I may be accused of circular reasoning). I accept this based on my faith in God as He is revealed in His Word. If He does something that I don't agree with, or understand, I am the one who is limited in my understanding/ sense of justice-- not God.

Please understand that I have no desire to trade banter with you or anyone else for the sake of "winning" an argument. I simply care about the glory of my God and sense from your comments that you question His justice. This is a key element of His character, and to diminish it is to diminish Him. For God's glory, and your edification, I kindly encourage you to reconsider your view of God in this area.

Ian Matthews said...

SandMan

So, even though an action seems to contradict the overall thrust of the portrayal of Justice in the Bible we have to accept it on the basis of Job? No - I don't see that. This isn't about God's Justice, it is about our understanding of what a passage means, and what it doesn't mean; and also of how we explain these things to unbelievers.

What you are actually saying is that "on the basis of Job 39 - 42 the way I have been told to understand this passage is the way I have to accept it". That is not the same thing as saying that God is always just, and it is this erroneous hermeneutic that can cause problem to the non-believer.

SandMan said...

Ian

It IS about God's justice because you're very first comment stated that you question the justification of the killing of the Canaanites. That passage plainly states that God commanded it because of their abominations. The understanding I have been told to have about the passage is irrelevant because God speaks for Himself in that passage, quite clearly. The original post was about whether or not WE (believers), should tell unbelievers the truth about why God destroyed Canaan as it is stated in scripture.

I offer the Job passage because God Himself cautions us against questioning His actions and sitting in judgment of His justice.

I imagine that this does not set the issue to rest for you... and in the interest of sparing the rest of these good people any more of the discussion... I invite you to follow the hyperlink on my name to my blog and leave any comment you desire there. I would also like to reiterate that I am not seeking to win an argument... just sharing from a sincere desire to uphold God's glory.

Mike the Bible Burgh Host said...

Maybe this has been said . . . but the contemporary evangelical folks have convinced many that WE have to save people . . . that WE have to present culturally acceptable arguments if we want to have a chance.

It shows us how off many are ( and I was one for a long time ) on God's sovereignty. HE does the saving so we always present HIS Word. SO we need to KNOW it so we can present it . . . "mouthpieces for God", to His glory . . . not our tally of souls won PERSONALLY.

Colin Maxwell said...

Hi Phil,

Does rejecting God on the basis of our limited knowledge and especially rejecting what He has declared about Himself i.e. that He is holy and the Judge of all the earth who always does what is right, bring any advantages? How does it deal with the spectre of the unsaved listener/questioner's personal guilt?

Faith believes that whatever God does is right - 100% right - even when sometimes stumbling for an answer. No one is in hell who does not deserve to be there.

The idea that the unsaved will simply shrug their shoulders and walk away doesn't fit with the facts as given. They cared enough to raise the objection. At least this is a foothold for our evangelistic efforts. A foothold can soon become a strong hold.

Regards,