Putting God on Trial and Man on the Throne
“The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man the roles are reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock. . . The trial may even end in God’s acquittal. But the important thing is that Man is on the bench and God in the dock.” ~ C.S. Lewis
“Presuppositionalism does not require us to consign God to the dock, awaiting the verdict of an autonomous rebel. Instead, it constantly reminds us that sinful man is in the dock before the awesome bar of God’s scrutiny and judgment. It encounters him with the intellectual challenge of the gospel.” ~ Greg L. Bahnsen
All sin is a result of prideful man’s pursuit of autonomy. The fallen human heart, in its naturally self-referential state, cannot help but act out in prideful pursuit of the role of god over its own life. As such, the self-exalting man seeks to procure the specific titles and position of God for himself. One of the titles of God most coveted by would-be autonomous men is that of Judge.
I AM vs. I Wish I Was
“Personally, I think it’s far more logical to draw conclusions based on the evidence. Let’s not believe in the authority of the Bible merely because the Bible claims to be true. Let’s look at modern cosmology, physics, biochemistry, and genetics, all of which point powerfully toward a supernatural creator who looks suspiciously like the God of the Bible.” ~ Lee Strobel, Author of The Case for Christ (Emphasis added)
“We’re gonna show, through two scientific arguments and one philosophical argument that there’s a spaceless, timeless, immaterial, powerful, moral, personal, intelligent creator out there, and we’re not gonna use the Bible to show you that evidence. We’re just gonna give you the evidence and let you see where it leads.” ~ Frank Turek, Apologist (Emphasis added)
“Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” ~ Jesus, in Matthew 4:7 (Emphasis added)
The formula of man-centeredness is simple: I am.
I am the judge. I am the jury. I decide what is true for me. I decide what is right for me. I decide what is moral for me. I define and measure all evidence by the standards I accept as I see fit, because I am…
Validation of the man-centered “I am” is impossible to miss in the man-centered apologetics that have come to permeate the popular professing Christian subculture in America and the West.
Whether the man-centeredness of most contemporary apologetics is noticed, understood, or intended by its practitioners (a group which included the author of this post at one time, it should be noted), is not the point. It is very likely that many of those most identified with the man-centered apologetics critiqued here are indeed true believers and lovers of the Lord. The point of focus here is that man-centered, philosophical approaches to apologetics are built upon a foundation that exalts the “I am” of the wannabe autonomous rebel above the I AM of Scripture, Who is the personal source and standard of all knowledge, truth, and beauty.
It exalts the person of man while diminishing the Person of God. This “if one goes up, then the other must come down” see-saw principle is always on display when it comes to the presentation of fallen man as anything better than what the Bible describes him to be (“Slave to sin” (Romans 6:17), “Hater of God” (Romans 1:30), “Hater of Christ” (John 15: 18-20), “Hater of Christians” (Matthew 10:22), “Child of Wrath” (Ephesians 2:3) and “Child of the Devil” (1 John 3:10)).
Bad theology produces bad apologetics. Every flaw in theology will produce flaws in the corresponding apologetic. This is inevitable, since the very nature of the one and only true personal God is, as the Word makes plain, the source of all knowledge.
Bad Theology and the See-Saw Principle
He must increase, but I must decrease. ~ John 3:30
“Far too often apologists have failed to recognize the unavoidable and reciprocal relation between one’s theological system and his apologetic method. The result has been methodological inconsistency: a different epistemology for expounding the faith than that used in defending the faith. However, we must not defend our message – that Christ’s word is self-attesting and possessing the ultimate authority of the Lord – with a method that works counter to it – by claiming an ultimate epistemological standard outside of Christ’s word of truth.” ~ Greg L. Bahnsen
Dr.. Donald Grey Barnhouse explained the see-saw principle this way:
We have long since adopted the old-fashioned method of the seesaw to test all doctrines. When children are riding two ends of a plank on a seesaw, we know that if one end is down the other is up, and if the first is up the second is down. So it is in the matter of all doctrines. There is an entire set of doctrinal interpretations, which exalts man and abases God, and there is another set that exalts God and abases man. We may be absolutely sure that the path of truth, in every case, exalts God. How far did man fall? Only part way, say some, so that he still has the power within his lovable self to lift himself back to God. Man is up in that interpretation, and God is down. But did man fall all the way, so that not one man could ever have been saved unless God had moved to do it all? That abases man to the place where God has said he is, but it exalts God, and that is the true interpretation of the Word of God. The same rule of interpretation may be applied to all the doctrines in theology. (Emphasis added.)
Fidelity to our Lord and a true love for the lost requires that we embrace and proclaim the truth about man, the truth about God, and, consequently, the complete necessity of the Gospel, as He has proclaimed these things in His Word.
We do no favors to the Lord or anyone else when we try to be “smarter”, “better”, or “nicer” than the Word in our approach to apologetics. To dismiss the Word is to malign the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. To claim that He can be better sold or marketed through man-centered appeals to those He describes as God-hating, sin-loving, children of the devil is patently absurd and, more importantly, an open insult to the Lord we claim to love. Make no mistake: the watching, sin-loving world notices, and enjoys, such Truth-mocking contradictions.
We must resist the natural, predictable impulse to appease the world by allowing it to sit in judgment of God and His Word.
The apologist Cornelius Van Til expressed concern about a man-centered approach to apologetics through much of his life and academic career, including the following insight:
“The traditional method…is based on the assumption that man has some measure of autonomy, that the space-time world is in some measure ‘contingent’ and that man must create for himself his own epistemology in an ultimate sense.
The traditional method was concessive on these basic points on which it should have demanded surrender! As such, it was always self-frustrating. The traditional method had explicitly built into it the right and ability of the natural man, apart from the work of the Spirit of God, to be the judge of the claim of the authoritative Word of God. It is man who, by means of his self-established intellectual tools, puts his ‘stamp of approval’ on the Word of God and then, only after that grand act, does he listen to it. God’s Word must first pass man’s tests of good and evil, truth and falsity. But once you tell a non-Christian this, why should he be worried by anything else that you say? [sic] You have already told him he is quite all right just the way he is! Then Scripture is not correct when it talks of ‘darkened minds,’ ‘willful ignorance,’ ‘dead men,’ and ‘blind people’! With this method the correctness of the natural man’s problematic is endorsed. That is all he needs to reject the Christian faith.”
Thus Saith the Lord! vs. Well, Whaddaya Think?
“We’re not arguing for Christianity. . . we are arguing for a generic, monotheism that is affirmed by Jews, Christians, Muslims, deists, theists of every sort.” ~ William Lane Craig, Apologist (Emphasis added)
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths. ~ Proverbs 3:5-6 (Emphasis added)
The Christ-centered apologetic is not about arguing for a god. It’s not about arguing for generic theism, deism, or any other sort of self-exalting, Christ-rejecting worldview or belief. It’s not about passing the tests or meeting the intellectual criteria of the debased unbeliever. Generic deists and generic theists, mono- or otherwise, go to Hell when they die. Their deism and theism is just as God-hating and Christ-denying, and therefore just as properly damning, as any other form of insanity embraced by unrepentant rebels throughout human history.
The Christ-centered apologetic is about proclaiming the impossibility of all of those counterfeits by pointing to the clear, convicting, supernatural Person and Word of the God that everyone knows (see: Romans 1).
This post is a slightly modified excerpt from The Beginning of Knowledge: Christ as Truth in Apologetics, which I published late in 2013 as an introduction to Christ-centered apologetics. (An edited and revised version should be available soon.)
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Please see also:
 C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, ed. W. Hooper, 244
 Greg L. Bahnsen, Presuppositional Apologetics, ed. Joel McDurmon, 23
 Greg L. Bahnsen, Presuppositional Apologetics, ed. Joel McDurmon, 12
 Donald Grey Barnhouse, The Invisible War (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1965), p. 119
 Cornelius Van Til, “My Credo,” Jerusalem and Athens, ed. E.R. Geehan, 11
© 2014 Scott Alan Buss – All Rights Reserved.