The Universal Weapon Against Unbelief
Jeremy Pittsley, CABC Adjunct Faculty
The gospel that the world sees as foolishness is unchanging. Whether the defender of the Christian faith resides in the ancient Roman Empire, modern rural Africa, or urban Europe, he always defends the same gospel.
However the task of apologetics (defending the Christian faith) may vary in form or emphasis from culture to culture. Contrast, for example, the way the Apostle Paul points out the ignorance of supposed Greek wisdom in Athens (Acts 17:23) and the way he highlights Jesus’s fulfillment of the OT prophets while defending the faith in Caesarea of Palestine (Acts 26:27). From context to context, differing arguments, evidences and proofs have their place. As attacks against the faith differ, the apologist may need to learn different ways of disarming them.
Still, because the gospel stays the same from culture to culture, there are certain aspects of its defense that must remain the same. This hels to explain several surprising statements in Romans 1. Whether the apologist is defending the gospel against Western materialism, Eastern mysticism, or the animism of the Global South, it is important to remember that anyone, anywhere who disparages the faith already knows three truths:
(1) Everyone, everywhere knows God. “Although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God” (Rom. 1:21). Of course Paul does not mean that everyone has a personal saving relationship with God, since the following verses center on God’s wrath against them. But neither does Paul mean that everyone knows merely that there is a god, since this would run against the grain of what he has just said about knowing God’s “eternal power and Godhead” (Rom 1:20). Deep down, everyone knows that God—the God revealed in the Scriptures—is eternally powerful and truly divine.
(2) Everyone, everywhere knows that the true God ought to be worshipped. This is what Paul means by saying that people have “exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Rom 1:25). What truth did they exchange? The truth that is made plain to them every day both in nature and in their own conscience: God is eternally powerful! God is God (Rom 1:20)! God is worthy of our worship!
(3) Everyone, everywhere knows that those who reject God “are deserving of death” (Rom 1:32). The world acts oblivious to this, but Scripture makes this fact clear. Every human being has a sense that by violating God’s purpose for life, he or she deserves the death sentence.
When God made humans in his image, he created everyone, everywhere to recognize who He is (the only true God), what they owe him (worship and thanks), and the penalty due for reneging on their created purpose (death).
Unfortunately, those who have this knowledge within will always resist it unless the proclamation of the gospel intervenes. They “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom 1:18). It is not philosophical arguments or hosts of evidences, but only the gospel that can deliver us from our truth-suppressing nature. “The gospel is the power of God to salvation” (Rom 1:16). Within every cultural, societal, religious or economic context, the apologist’s one indispensable weapon to wield against the attacks of unbelief is the power of the proclaimed Word. That weapon is everywhere the same and must never remain hidden in the apologist’s sheath.
Jeremy Pittsley served on faculty at CABC.