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Theology > Church > The Purpose of the Church > Mission > Question of Methodology


Truth exists, a revealed Truth that is consistent, unified, adequate, and reasonable (see: Characteristics of Truth and Significance of Truth). And because it is Truth from God it is absolute Truth, the one Truth, the only Truth that is infallible and immutable.  For those who have been confronted by this Truth and captivated by this Truth, there is no debate. It is a fact so obvious that question or denial of it are simply impossible. Conversion creates assurance; salvation establishes confidence.

But that which is so acceptable to the believer is rejected by the unbeliever, a rejection that is decidedly moral. Truth cannot be embraced by the natural man for it then establishes the parameters for his thinking. To embrace Truth is to embrace God, with His Truth bringing a worldview that conditions all considerations. To accept God’s Truth leaves little place for human autonomy, which for modern man is a fact so acceptable as to be unassailable—intellectual freedom will not be made to submit to absolute Truth. In fact, for the most part, absolute Truth is not even an option that is seriously considered by twentieth century thinkers who will accept no limitations or restrictions upon their autonomous reasoning. That which exists, absolute Truth, because the Creator-God revealed it, is by the creature denied to exist. What folly!

 What is the believer to do? How is he to relate to modern man? What approach is best? What methodology should be employed? Does he seek common ground? Does he marshal evidence and seek to prove his position? Does he turn to philosophy in order to lay a foundation? Does he call upon reason, using Athens to establish the certainty of Jerusalem? To what degree does the believer go in order to convince the unbeliever of the truthfulness of the Christian faith? Can the non-believer even be convinced? Will humanism accept the assertions and commands of Theism? Will individual autonomy listen to Divine Sovereignty? Can proper arguments convince the atheist of the truthfulness of Theism? Can man in his natural state, with a depraved reason, properly consider the claims of God? Must the Christian be compelled to present the Christian faith in such a manner so that the non-Christian will be “convinced?” Does the acceptance of the truthfulness of the Christian faith come through human accomplishment? Does an embracing of Truth by the unbeliever arise from the work of man or the work of God? How does Truth get its message to man?

There are two possibilities: begin with man, or begin with God. To begin with God is to move from God to man; to begin with man is to move from man to God. To begin with God is to affirm God; to begin with man is to argue God. To begin with God is to say: “You must believe”; to begin with man is to say: “There is a reason for you to believe.” To begin with God is to begin with Jerusalem; to begin with man is to begin with Athens. To begin with God is to focus on man’s basic problem as moral; to begin with man is to focus upon man’s basic problem as intellectual. To begin with God is to practice dogmatism; to begin with man is to practice evidentialism. Does the believer rely on revelation or does he enlist the assistance of reason? Which is primary: credo or intelligo? Which is secondary: understanding or belief? Can Greek thought give birth to Hebrew-Christian theology? Will Jerusalem claim the children of Athens? One view seeks to understand man by beginning with man; the other seeks to understand man by beginning with God. To begin with God means that God explains man; to begin with man means that man explains God. To begin with man is to seek answers from the perspective of anthropology; to begin with God is to accept the answers from the perspective of theology. Thus, there are only two possible frames of reference: God or man, Theism or humanism, Revelation or reason—proclamation or debate.

These two positions, belief and unbelief, stand opposed to each other and cannot be reconciled—there is no middle ground, no common ground, no area of neutrality. They are always in opposition to each other, with no synthesis possible. And every individual has a position; no one is unbiased. No man reflects upon creation, considering its purpose and meaning, with a neutral mind. The mind has a mindset. And it is with that mindset or worldview that each person considers creation and explains creation. One worldview is embraced by the believer and a different worldview is accepted by the unbeliever. For the believer God created the world with a purpose and it operates as an open system, with God exercising absolute authority. Furthermore, God gave to man Truth which informs man of the salvation that meets his moral dilemma and which also establishes the basis for all morals, as well as the basis for understanding life. For the unbeliever the world came into existence by chance and operates as a closed system, and there is no absolute Truth—everything is relative and man is autonomous, with all events interpreted either by chance or individual determination. Sovereign Providence is not possible. It is obvious that there is no neutral area or common ground between the believer and the unbeliever. The believer begins at one point; the unbeliever begins at a totally different point. If they enter into discussion, each builds his case and argues his points from different foundations, different presuppositions. It is inevitable that the houses of belief that they each build will not be similar; in fact, they will be decidedly alien to each other. Differing blueprints results in dissimilar buildings.

If God is, and if God has revealed Himself in the Truth of Scripture, then man needs to hear what God has said. The Creator knows more about the creature than the creature does. The starting point must be God. The Truth of God is to be proclaimed; and the proclamation takes the approach of affirmation, not debate nor dialogue. Man is not engaged by the Truth mainly in the intellectual area but in the moral area where man’s self-proclaimed autonomy is confronted and set aside. The affirmation focuses more on the moral state than on the intellectual state, for the intellect cannot comprehend and believe until it too is converted. And the conversion is the work of the Spirit using the Truth. There is, of course, the intellect that is confronted with Truth and is convinced by the Truth and accepts the Truth, but the convincing of the intellect is part of the larger supernatural work of grace. Man is not asked; he is told. The Truth comes affirming who God is, affirming that man has forsaken his Creator, affirming that atonement has been made at Calvary, affirming that where sin abounds grace does much more abound, and affirming that man’s only hope is in God. Man is informed and commanded. He is informed of his moral depravity and commanded to repent, and informed of his darkened mind and commanded to believe. To the unbeliever the believer comes with the word from God, a word of affirmation, a word designed to convert more than to convince.

It is not the believer’s responsibility to answer all the questions of the unbeliever, especially questions that arise from presuppositions that are opposed to the Christian faith and the presuppositions preclude the unbeliever from accepting the answers given by the believer. Questions do not necessarily imply teachableness. To an individual antagonistic to Scriptural Truth, the best that can be done, perhaps, is to simply point out that Christian teachings rest on different premises from those of unbelieving thought. Debate, arguments, and proofs will not change the mind of the unbeliever because the real problem is not intellectual, but moral!  Faith cannot be demonstrated; if it could it would not be faith. This does not imply that faith is irrational, but the ultimate basis for faith is not rational consistency or rational argument but the inward confirming work of the Holy Spirit. There must be “the secret testimony of the Spirit” (Calvin, Institutes, 1, 78).

See supporting articles:  Starting Point, Two Options, Approach, Methodology, The Question of Evidence, and Significance of Truth

Return to: Purpose of the Church; Next Article: The Question of Evidence

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