- Part 1 – Motivation and structure
- Part 2 – Is Christianity unique?
- Part 3 – Are we radically sinful?
- Part 4 – Do we need rescue?
- Part 5 – Conclusions
What are some conclusions we can draw from the Argument from the Gospel.
First, I’ve said a lot of positive things about the argument from the gospel, so let me point out one problem. It’s an utter failure. It’s completely useless. Why? Because you will never convince someone to accept it through reason alone. Not in a million years.
It’s possible to convince someone using reason alone that the Kalam cosmological argument is sound. You can convince someone using reason alone that the universe is fine-tuned for life. You can even convince someone using reason alone that Jesus rose from the dead. But I don’t think you will ever convince someone using reason alone that the Argument from the Gospel is sound.
Is that because the premises are false? No, the premises are true.
Is that because we don’t have enough evidence to support the premises? No, not at all. G.K. Chesterton once said that original sin is “the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.” It’s everywhere. How many accounts of genocide and sexual assault do you need to know that human beings are evil? How many self-help books do you need to read and how many therapists do you need to pay before you realize that you’re really messed up?
The problem with this argument isn’t that it’s invalid, or unsound, or evidentially unsupported. The problem is that it cuts right to the heart of our resistance to God. Deep down inside, we desire to be our own savior and our own lord. Deep down inside, we don’t want to admit our rebellion. Premise 3 and Premise 4 are an utter offense to our pride and autonomy because the gospel is an offense to our pride and autonomy, which is why we’ll do everything possible to deny them.
So is the argument a failure? No. It simply points us back to the truth that all of us should know, but many of us can forget as apologists.
The gospel needs to be central because the gospel is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe. The gospel message is the hammer that the Holy Spirit wields to knock down our defenses and crush our heart hearts into powder, so that we can be saved.
Let me be clear: I love apologetics. It’s been my consuming passion for about 12 years now. But it’s not the center of Christianity and it’s not the center of evangelism. The gospel is the center: the good news that Jesus came to die for our sin and to be raised to life for our justification so that we could be reconciled to God. Never, ever, ever take your eyes of that message.
Finally, we began with the question of justification. Even if Christianity is true, are all Christians justified in believing that it is true? I argued that our belief can be justified because of the argument from the gospel. Moreover, I argued that all Christians are already implicitly justified in their Christian beliefs through this argument. How can I make that claim?
What do all true Christians necessarily have? We don’t all have an understanding of natural theology. We haven’t all witnessed miracles. We haven’t all had dreams and visions. But we all have an awareness of our sin and a recognition that we need a savior. These are non-negotiable Christian beliefs. If you’ve never witnessed a miracle, you can still be a Christian. But if you don’t think you are radically sinful and don’t think that you need a Savior, then you are not a Christian.
The argument from the gospel also matches the experience of most Christians today. Imagine that a woman walks into a little church, or an evangelistic rally, or picks up a gospel tract on the bus. She reads it. She’s pierced to the heart. She trusts in Jesus. If you ask her: “Why did you become a Christian?” what will she say? She’ll say: “I realized that I’m a sinner who needed rescue. I’ve never heard that message anywhere else.” What did she just do?
She just affirmed premise 2, 3 and 4 of the argument from the gospel. She’s a sinner: premise 3. She’s needs rescue: premise 4. She’s never heard this message anywhere else: premise 2. She has all the pieces; she’s just never put them together. In the end, I’m not really elucidating a new argument at all, and that’s a very good thing. The argument from the gospel just formalizes what every single regenerate believer already knows.
Then was this whole talk a waste of time? Not entirely.
First, the argument from the gospel should give great confidence to all Christians, especially Christians who don’t feel that they’re well-equipped to “do apologetics” or “defend the faith.” Perhaps they’ve abashed by atheists who ridicule their simple faith. Perhaps they’re even wondering if their beliefs do have merit. You can tell them: all along, you have had an incredibly powerful reason to believe in Christianity; you just never learned to articulate it.
Second, unlike the inner witness of the Holy Spirit, the Argument from the Gospel is something we can communicate to non-Christians. We can argue for premises 2-4 on the basis of reason and evidence. And this is where the ‘inner witness of the Holy Spirit’ dovetails so well with the Argument from the Gospel.
We normally think of the ‘inner witness of the Holy Spirit’ as something non-rational, something like a bolt of lightning from heaven or a strange warmth in our hearts. But what if it’s not? What if it’s exactly the opposite? What if we’re irrationally suppressing painfully obvious truths about our sinfulness and need of a Savior, and the Holy Spirit removes our blindness so that we can think rationally about our true condition?
To conclude, let’s return to the three questions with which I opened the talk: what’s the simplest apologetic argument? the best-known apologetics argument? the most powerful apologetic argument? I think you can see that the Argument from the Gospel should be high on all these lists. It’s simple: you only need to affirm that you are a sinner who needs a Savior and that Christianity uniquely affirms these trues. It’s premises well-known: everyone who has heard the gospel has heard the premises of this argument. And it’s powerful: it doesn’t stop at bare theism; it takes you to Christianity. For these reasons, I think that for all these reasons, the Argument from the Gospel needs to be more widely known and more widely used.
Previous: The Gospel as Apologetic – Part 4