Does the Trinity Matter in Apologetics?

The truth that God is Triune (“God is Three, God is One”) was not something I had previously given much thought to in doing apologetics. However, at a time when many Christian apologists are trying to convince non-believers of “bare theism,” I have now come to see that the Doctrine of the Trinity is absolutely vital to the defense of the Christian faith.

I came to this conclusion while researching and writing one of my Capstone papers (like a Master’s thesis) for Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, which addressed the question, “What is the role of the Trinity in John Frame’s Apologetics?”

In the paper, I dig into the writings of John Frame (in my opinion, one of the most important theologian-philosophers doing work today) and his unique contribution to the world of theology, namely triperspectivalism. Don’t know what that is? You aren’t alone. It’s unfamiliar to many, but incredibly important, and incredibly cool once you find out how it works. I submit this paper as a resource for thinking about doing apologetics in a more biblical way.

Access the white paper at the Resources tab or here.

Read more by Dr. Frame here.

Why I Believe the Bible’s “Crazy” Stories (or: What Shrek Can Teach Us about Knowledge)

The movie “Shrek” features a talking donkey (creatively named just, “Donkey”). Did you ever stop to think that Donkey was a subtle dig against the Bible? Here is why: the characters of Shrek are ostensibly all from fairy tales (Pinocchio, the Ginger Bread Man, etc.). By including the talking donkey, Dreamworks is basically lumping the Bible in with the “other” fairy tales.

Because the Bible has a talking donkey in it. Read on.

The other night, at a certain weekly discussion group of which I am a part, the question came up concerning the stories of the Bible that seem, not merely miraculous (such as Jesus turning water into wine or raising the dead), but actually outlandish. You know, the Bible reports as historical fact such events as the following:

The difficulty of these stories

These stories seem far-fetched to our (post)modern sensibilities. They really seem like fairy tales–unbelievable. The stuff of story books and CGI movies for children.

Of course, these stories undoubtably seemed far-fetched even to many of the pre-modern people who read the accounts. Talking snakes and donkeys were not everyday occurrences then, either.

Certainly, pre-moderns had myths of all shapes and sizes, but the Bible does not present itself as myth. It presents as historical truth–a factual account of a rational Creator who loves, judges, and communicates with His people. Yet this historical account is peppered with stories that stick out like a sore thumb, stories which stretch our sense of plausibility.

So why do we, and I am speaking of followers of Jesus today, believe those stories? Why do we not simply accept the “reasonable” stories, and discard the others as myth–as good-natured attempts of pre-modern theocrats, doing their best to make sense of the world using nature imagery and metaphor? Why not do that? I can think of many reasons (including the astounding archaeological evidence that corroborates the Bible), but I want to focus in on just two, and one is far more important than the other.

Because genre matters

The first reason is this: to discard the unexpected, outlandish-seeming stories from Scripture is to do damage to the text. These stories were not written as fairy-tale add-ons to an otherwise sensible historical narrative. They are part of the warp and woof of the tapestry of the God’s story. They belong in Scripture, and they are written as history. Sure, we could ignore all that and simply decide to only accept what seems appropriate to us.

But in doing that, we would be ignoring all meaningful categories of genre and authorial intent.

Far from making the Bible more intelligent, chopping it up that way–with total disregard to what the biblical authors intended–is a far less intelligent way of interacting with ancient texts, or any texts for that matter. More than being un-faithful, it would be un-intelligent and incoherent.

Because Jesus matters

The second reason why we should believe the stories in the Bible that offend our sense of reasonability is simply this: Jesus believed them.

To read the Gospels (the four accounts of Jesus’ life in the New Testament) is to read about a Messiah whose life and ministry were deeply rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures (what we call the Old Testament–which contains many of the aforementioned “outlandish” stories).

For example, Matt Slick (in this excellent article) that Jesus believed in…

Jesus believed in the Bible. All of it. Even the hard parts. And that matters, because of who Jesus is.

He is God’s ultimate prophet, conveying God’s truth in an infallible way–He cannot be wrong.

He is the king of the universe, and He commands His people to believe God’s word–of which word He claims to be the central theme.

He is the ultimate counselor, who lovingly guides his people like a shepherd leading his sheep, by the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit and through the Bible.

When the King of Everything tells us to believe and obey something, our first response ought to be absolute, unquestioning belief and obedience. Of course, we all stumble and struggle in many ways. None of us has totally perfect faith (as my dad says, “only one person was ever perfect, and they crucified Him”).

However, there can be no question that Jesus believed the Old Testament is true. We can rest confident that God the Son knows what He is talking about.

What this means about everything else the Bible teaches

I do not have time to get into it right now, but there are some wonderful implications of the above.

The Bible lays out the world’s most comprehensive, cohesive and coherent worldview ever. No other system so satisfyingly, so scientifically, so truthfully answers the deepest questions of life:

  • Who are we?
  • What’s wrong with us?
  • How do we fix it?
  • Where are we going?

I have argued elsewhere (though I am certainly not the first to do so!) that the Bible, taken as a whole, alone provides an adequate basis for science and knowledge–for thinking we can know anything at all. But that means it all must be true, even the part about the talking donkey and the big fish. All 66 books of the Bible, and everything in them, must be true, or none of it is.

To conclude: because Jesus believes the Bible, we must believe it too. So while Shrek may have been poking fun at something unexpected in Scripture, it turns out to have been getting at something much deeper. We really can know, because the Bible told us so. Now sing it with me: “some-BODY once told me….”

How Did Jesus Argue?

Jesus was a master of apologetics (what John Frame calls “the theological discipline that defends the truth of the Christian message). Of course, He is the Master of everything, so it makes sense that He would defend truth in a masterful way. In the New Testament, there are many examples of Jesus engaging with His opponents in apologetical discussions. A brilliant example of this is found in Mark 3:22-30:

The scribes who had come down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul in Him!” and, “He drives out demons by the ruler of the demons!”

So He summoned them and spoke to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan rebels against himself and is divided, he cannot stand but is finished!

“On the other hand, no one can enter a strong man’s house and rob his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he will rob his house. I assure you: People will be forgiven for all sins[b] and whatever blasphemies they may blaspheme. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”because they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”

In this encounter with his perennial opponents, Jesus is engaging in presuppositional apologetics. He begins with a claim of theirs–it happens to be common ground they both agree with–that a demon has been cast out of someone.
Then Jesus hits them with a one-two punch. First He goes on offense: “Answer a fool according to his foolishness, or he’ll become wise in his own eyes” (Prov. 26:4). Then He plays defense: “Don’t answer a fool according to his foolishness or you’ll be like him yourself” (Prov. 26:4).

(vv. 23-26) Offense

Jesus goes on the offense against their argument. Jesus steps into their worldview for the sake of argument and shows them that their reasoning is self-refuting and therefore necessarily false.
His argument:
  1. If I were possessed by Beelzeboul, then I would be working for Satan’s kingdom.
  2. If I am casting out demons, then I am working against Satan’s kingdom.
  3. If I am casting out demons by Beelzeboul, then I would be working for and against Satan’s kingdom.
That is logically incoherent and self-refuting. It is necessarily false. (Side note: this shows that the scribes could not actually believe this in any kind of rational way. Jesus is betraying their heart commitments. They couldn’t really believe that Jesus was working for Satan, but because they refused to believe in Him, they were forced to accept an obvious, irrational falsehood. This is what inevitably happens to all non-biblical world views.)
I suppose they could have argued back, “Well then Satan is obviously stupidly working against himself!” But this is refuted by considering that their whole argument was based on the craftiness of Satan’s strategy. So is Satan being crafty or stupid? Jesus implicitly says (as one commentator has pointed out), “Satan is evil, but he is not stupid.” This would have been accepted by all.

(v. 27) Defense

Jesus defends the truth. Jesus refuses to accept their presupposition (that He is not the divine Messiah), and demonstrates that the only possible correct view is that He is more powerful than Satan. The only one more powerful than Satan is God. The scribes believed this. Therefore Jesus is forcing them, by their own worldview, to admit that He is God. Of course, this entails that they owe Him their allegiance and faith. But the only way around that is to deny what they already claim to believe. Look at their options:
  1. They could argue that a demon was not really cast out–but the exorcism was so obvious that this would turn them into radically skeptic anti-supernaturalists–not even an option in that culture, and surely this would disqualify them from being scribes!
  2. They could argue that a mere man could possibly cast out demons without God’s approval and power–but this too would force them to abandon their pretense of a biblical worldview, disqualifying them from being scribes.
  3. They could admit that Jesus actually is the Messiah sent from God, operating in God’s power, and actually is God (because He’s claimed divine attributes and clearly has God’s approval for doing so), and is casting out demons by God’s power and authority.
What they cannot argue is that Jesus was casting out demons by the “ruler of the demons.” Jesus has brilliantly taken that option away from them and masterfully backed them into an inescapable corner.
It’s interesting that, after Jesus speaks, we don’t hear from the scribes again in this exchange. After all, what could they say? Their argument and lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God has been destroyed, and their thoughts have been taken captive to obey Christ, the Master Apologist.

Application for us

When we face challenges in spiritual conversations we may (must!) follow the Lord’s example.
  1. Go on the offense. Demonstrate that our conversation partner “can’t get there from here.” Their worldview doesn’t lead them to where they want to go, and in fact it refutes itself.
  2. Defend the truth. Show that the biblical teaching is the only possible way to get there.
For example, a man who says God can’t exist because evil exists, has no way of accounting for a meaningful definition of evil according to his worldview. However, the Bible not only accounts for evil but also provides a solution for it in the Gospel, which they have an obligation to hear and obey (believe).
In this passage, Jesus teaches important truth about His identity as the God-Man Messiah, also on blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, but He also gives us a template for handling challenges and objections in spiritual conversations.

A Christian Perspective on Morality

Last Wednesday I had a fun time moderating a lively discussion on the subject of morality as part of my monthly MeetUp series, “Ask A Pastor (Far Northwest Side Spiritual Discussions).”

Before we opened up the floor to questions and discussion, I gave a brief talk on the topic. Here are the notes I taught from, unedited (which means my sources aren’t cited, and it’s really formatted better for speaking than reading. Please don’t tell Larry Mroczek, my junior year Honors English teacher).

Morality Talk – Let’s discuss right and wrong!

Biblically, morality comes from God.

God’s moral proclamation is not an arbitrary decree, nor is it a higher standard. Rather, the Bible teaches, “Be Holy, because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16).

At creation, God gave Adam one command: “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”

Notice that God did not have to command the man not to murder, not to steal, or even how to practice religion correctly. There was one command, and it was a simple one. Really, the command amounted to this: “Respect God and obey what God says.” This is what is summarized as the “whole duty of man” in Ecclesiastes 12:13, “Fear God and keep his commandments.”

If you know the story, you know Adam did not keep God’s commandment. He was tempted by his wife, Eve, who had been tempted by the devil. Adam sinned, and his sin we now refer to as “The Fall.” Immediately after Adam sinned, God brought the earth under a curse, but the worst curse was for the devil. In Genesis 3:15, God promised that one of Eve’s offspring would destroy the devil, even though in the process the offspring would himself be fatally wounded. So God promised a self-sacrificing Savior at the dawn of human history. It is significant that this promise comes even before any of the moral codes God would soon give humanity.

The next moral code the Lord gave was to Noah, in Genesis 9, allowed the eating of meat, forbade eating meat with blood, prohibited murder, and gave a mandate for human reproduction.

After this, God began to establish a special relationship with a certain genealogical line of people, who were descended from Noah, through the biblical patriarch Abraham. It was with Abraham’s descendants, through his son Isaac and grandson Israel, that God established what we now refer to as the “Old Covenant.”

The Old Covenant was a legal-theological system based on conditional promises God gave to the nation of Israel, through the prophet Moses. If Israel kept their end of the bargain, they would receive life and blessings (Deuteronomy 30:19), but if they disobeyed God’s law, they would receive curse and exile from the Promised Land (Leviticus 26:33).

At the heart of the Old Covenant were the Ten Commandments.

During the period in which the Old Covenant was still in effect, God began to make more promises to humanity, building on the original promise of salvation, that he had given to Adam and Eve back in the beginning. He promised that an era would come in which every member of the people of God would know God and live morally—because from a biblical perspective, morality and relationship with God are bound up together. So in Jeremiah 31:33-34, the Lord describes the coming “New Covenant” era, saying, “’I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,’ declares the LORD, ‘for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.’”

Now in the meantime, developments in moral philosophy were being made outside of Israel. Every society has always had some kind of moral code of laws—many of which paralleled the kind of morality God gave to Israel. This is explained in that God gave all human beings a conscience; in Romans 2:14-15 the Bible says that “…when Gentiles, who do not have the Law [of Moses], do by nature what the Law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the Law, since they show that the work of the Law is written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts either accusing or defending them.”

What is also interesting is that two things take place: first, Israel does disobey God and break the Old Covenant, and they are exiled and dispersed. Yet, during that period, in which the Babylon Empire reigned supreme, we find that many non-Jewish societies made radical advancements in their moral philosophy.

According to Christian Scripture, the Hebrew Scriptures (“the Law and the Prophets”) hang on the two commandments, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” That second principle, loving one’s neighbor as one loves one’s self, spread to non-Jewish societies during the time of the Jewish exile.

A form of it reached Egypt between 2040 – 1650 B.C.—roughly corresponding the time when Israel were slaves in Egypt. But it was really primitive “Do to the doer to make him do.” It was just what we call the “law of reciprocity.”

Moses received it in around 1500 B.C.

But around the time of the Jewish Exile in Babylon, between ~597 B.C. and 538 B.C., we see nations under Babylonian rule adopting this Jewish morality. China, India, Greece, Persia and Rome all picked it up.

It was during that period that the Medo-Persian Empire conquered Babylon, and Darius (b. 550 B.C.) issued the decree that, “…all the peoples, nations and men of every language who were living in all the land…in all the dominion of my kingdom men are to fear and tremble before the God of Daniel.

The western end of the empire was Greece. The eastern end was India.

Buddhism was founded in India in the low 500s, B.C.

Confucius wrote around 500 B.C.

Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics was written in 350 B.C.

So it has been proposed that these moral advancements owe their development in part to the influence of Jewish morality on the Babylonian/Medo-Persian empire (which later became the Greek, and eventually the Roman Empire.*

So in the non-Jewish world, you have approximations of biblical morality—though never, or rarely, the heartfelt conviction over sin that is seen in the Psalms, for example—but the revealed morality from God is limited to the Hebrew Scriptures, that is, the Old Testament.

After a period of four centuries of silence, Jesus is born in the town of Bethlehem to a virgin girl, fulfilling further prophecies (Micah 5:2; Isaiah 7:14) about the coming Savior, that God had previously promised back in Genesis.

Jesus completely transcends and transforms morality in a way that is analogous to the great moral shift that took place around the Sixth Century B.C., but far greater than that shift.

The highest moral principle of Jesus is not, “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself,” but rather He says, “A new commandment I give to you that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

Well, if you follow the rest of the story of Jesus’ life, you discover exactly what “as I have loved you” really means. Jesus lay down his life for his people. That model of self-sacrificing love becomes the new norm for the morality of the people of God. So when the Apostle John summarizes how to live in a loving way, He says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16). Indeed, there can be no higher moral principle than this one—a fact that Jesus points out in John 15:13, when he teaches, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

Of course, Christian morality does not limit itself to love only for fellow Christians. Rather, believers are commanded to, “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

Along with the command to love, Jesus gives many other moral imperatives—which echo some of the same morality of the Ten Commandments—recall, they had been at the heart of the Old Covenant—but which reflect the higher love to which Jesus’ followers (in the New Covenant era) are called. Rather than simply prohibiting adultery, Jesus prohibits lust. Rather than just murder, Jesus prohibits hatred and insult. In Matthew 5-7, Jesus lays out a moral code for his followers that is far beyond anything developed prior to that time, whether Jewish or Gentile.

So Christian morality is inseparable from Jesus—and it is only through unity with him that a person can actually live a truly moral life, according to God’s standard.

If you continue to follow the development of moral progress in the world after the time of Christ, what do you see? You see followers of Jesus fighting disease and plague while Roman pagans flee the cities. You see women gaining previously-unheard-of rights. You see Christians fighting against and ending slavery, which had been enshrined in human civilizations for all of history. You see the Church inventing the concept of hospitals and colleges, making huge advancements in art and music and education. Even the concept of childhood owes its existence to Christianity. That’s right, an article came out last year called, “How Christianity invented Children,”[1] explaining how Jesus’ attitude toward children revolutionized the ancient world, leading up to the modern time.

Christian morality is bound up with the person of Jesus. He is the best revelation of God’s moral character (Hebrews 1:1-2). He is the Creator of our world, and has the best understanding of how moral agents are to interact within it (John 1:1-3). He is also the ultimate human representative (Romans 5).

The moral bar he raises is actually an impossible standard to keep. But the Bible provides a solution for this. When Jesus died on the cross, he took all the moral failure of his people on Himself (2 Corinthians 5:21). In place of our moral failure (Romans 3:23), God attributes to followers of Jesus the moral perfection of Jesus Himself, and God gives the Holy Spirit to those same people, to empower them to live according to Jesus’ standard. Perfectly? No. But joyfully. Is it a struggle sometimes? Yes! But it is a struggle the follower of Jesus will ultimately win, by God’s grace.

So what about people who do not follow Jesus?

Can an atheist or non-Christian act in a moral way? Yes and no.

True morality, according to the Bible, is grounded in knowing God and loving him. Non-believers can approximate morality by doing moral things, yet if, in doing so, they are rejecting God, that cannot truly be moral.

Moreover, when a non-believer acts morally, he is actually being inconsistent. This is because, without God and the Bible, there is no way to ground morality in any kind of objective way.

So you have to ask yourself: Has God spoken about morality?

If not, then someone has to decide what is right and what is wrong. Who’s going to do that? It would have to be someone with comprehensive knowledge of the moral universe, in order to lay down any kind of absolutes. None of us possess that quality!

But then, maybe morality is subjective—varying from person to person or from culture to culture? This boils down to there being no morality at all. At least, it becomes impossible to differentiate between moral systems that are correct and ones that are incorrect.

John Frame, a theologian, asks this question, “How do you adjudicate between two different moral frameworks that sit before you, that each believe its morality is superior to the other person’s?”

James White, a Christian apologist, has pointed out, that the reality of the world is such that not every worldview actually desires peace and getting along. Ravi Zacharias, a Christian philosopher, has said this too: some people believe that they would “get along” much better without you in the picture!

How do we differentiate between these various worldviews? The Bible is the morally-infallible norm by which we do this.

So let’s say you answer, “Yes, God has spoken.” And there are moral standards that apply across the board.

Well then, are those moral standards found in the God of the Bible, as revealed in the Bible? If not, then how do we decide?

It boils down to something we have talked about a lot: presuppositions. When you presuppose the Bible to be true—that is, when you start with that assumption—you can make sense of the moral universe in which we live. When you start with anything else, you run into contradictions and self-referential incoherence.

To conclude: there are many moral systems out there in the world, but they ultimately boil down to two options: morality based on the perfect nature of God, or morality based finally on my ever-changing self and my own best judgments. With the radical, self-sacrificial love that Jesus calls us to live out, it ought to be plain to us which one is based on God’s character. Christian morality is not something any mere human could come up with, but it is something God calls each of us to.

The Bible says that, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For He has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the Man He has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).

In other words, one day God will judge each of us by his perfect standard, which is his Son Jesus. Those who are his followers will have our sins forgiven and His moral perfection credited to us. Those who reject God’s offer will be judged according to the Standard. Will your life demonstrate that you loved God or hated Him? Your eternal destiny will reflect that!

So that is my best attempt to (somewhat) briefly explain Christian morality to you. Now, what questions do you have for me?

[1] http://theweek.com/articles/551027/how-christianity-invented-children

*I first heard of this theory from Derek Webster, lead pastor of Grace Pointe Church in Naperville, Illinois, while I worked there between 2013 and 2016.