Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Arguing people into the Kingdom. . .

Every pastor has had folks who wanted to argue over this and that.  Occasionally we even find a real Calvinist who wants to debate double predestination.  Once in a while a Mormon or JW will approach with a willingness to engage.  Our arguments with Rome are old enough to be enshrined in our confessional documents.  But there is something wrong with the idea that you can argue someone into God's Kingdom.

I have no doubt of the sincerity and integrity of many of those who are engaged in Christian apologetics.  By all means, we should have them present a defense of the hope that is in us and give witness to the world of what we believe, confess, and teach.  That said, I do not think it is possible to argue someone into the Kingdom of God.

I do not stand alone in this.  John Henry Newman was likewise underwhelmed by the idea that Christian apologetics can reason or argue someone into the Kingdom: “I have no intention whatever of denying the beauty and the cogency of the argument which these books contain; but I question much, whether in matter of fact they make or keep men Christians.” Reason is good, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and useful to the faith but reason cannot bring someone to faith.  It is the Holy Spirit alone calling, gathering, enlightening, and sanctifying the Church and each individual member of it.  Faith comes by hearing and that is true because the Word is a means of grace through which the Spirit is at work.

I have had a few debates with folks over the likes of infant baptism, predestination of the unelect, the liturgy, the Real Presence, etc...  But never have I been able to reason someone to my point of view.  Luther said it best.  Captive to the Word (and therefore captive to the Holy Spirit) is the only way the blinders are taken off, the blindfolds removed, and the heart and mind opened to God.  So when a more recent opportunity to argue came up, I deferred after a few goes at it.  It was not that my heart was not in it -- I thoroughly love to argue/debate.  But I have come to the conclusion that it is downright impossible to argue someone into the Kingdom of God.

Newman went on.  Faith is not a vague impulse, but a habit of mind: “assenting to a doctrine as true, which we do not see, which we cannot prove, [only] because God says it is true.” God does not require or expect us to understand Him or His ways.  They remain a mystery to us -- a mystery as oblique as the Trinity, for example.  But hidden in the darkness of this mystery that will not submit to the reason of our minds, God is.  God is there.  Hidden so that only faith can see Him and faith can only come from the impulse of the Spirit and the prompting of the work and power of God.  It is not a matter of a checklist of primary doctrines one must check off but our assent to God -- in the same way as blessed Mary:  Let it be to me as you have spoken.  Submission to divine truth cannot be argued into the heart and will of man but remains the work of the Spirit through the Word and faith is its best and most noble fruit.  Minds can and will be changed but it is not the force of our words or the cogency of our defense or the authority of our arguments.  It is and remains the work of the Spirit, working in us that which is well pleasing to the Father.


Carl Vehse said...

"I do not stand alone in this."

Of course not. You can refer to Mt. 16:17 for the words of Jesus, or to those of St. Paul in 1 Cor. 2:14; 12:3 , Rom. 8:7, and Eph. 2:8-9.

And Martin Luther, in his SC explanation of the Third Article, also noted the futility of using reason as a way to become a Christian.

A Lutheran doesn't have to rely on an Anglican-turned-papist to confirm this truth.

Anonymous said...

Pastor Peters said, "Newman went on. Faith is not a vague impulse, but a habit of mind: “assenting to a doctrine as true, which we do not see, which we cannot prove, [only] because God says it is true.”

Here is where there is a problem with trying to convert Roman Catholics to Christianity. They consistently equate "what God says is true" with "what Rome says is true." In a recent e-mail exchange with an RC friend, he said that the RC "civil service," the vast army of permanent Vatican employees essentially govern even the pope. Thus, it seems to me that, "Thou art Peter ..." which is the central point on which the RCs claim universal jurisdiction and authority, is now taken to authorize a "deep state" in the Church. What a stretch!!


Sean said...

I think the exercise of apologetics is a useful tool to proclaim the gospel. Often though, the person whom you are engaging in the dialogue of apologetics is not your actual intended audience. The reason you are engaging that person frequently is because that person is entrenched in their thinking and they are presenting sometimes serious, or sometimes ridiculous challenges to the faith. However, to the onlooker hearing your response to these challenges, as you are presenting a reasonable defense that clarifies misunderstandings or misrepresentations and presents the gospel, this can be the means through which the Holy Spirit works. I agree you can't argue someone into faith, but you can use apologetics as a tool to proclaim the gospel and let God's word do what it does.

John Joseph Flanagan said...

We are called to share the Gospel truth. If we are Christians, that is what we do. If we are too afraid to talk about it with others, it means we are ashamed of our faith, and our witness is meaningless.

Anonymous said...

1 Peter 3:15

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect...