The longer that I have been involved in apologetics, the more frequently I have heard Christians advising other Christians to stop quoting Bible verses in defense of the faith. The typical reason given for this advice is that atheists don’t believe the Bible to be true, and therefore, they will just ignore and ridicule those who quote Scripture at them. Unfortunately, I think that this type of reasoning robs Christians of the use of their greatest defense against the forces of evil.
The Bible tells us in Ephesians 6 that we are to “stand against the wiles of the devil” by taking up “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Most people that teach on this passage make the mistake of saying that the Bible was given to us as an offensive weapon rather than as part of the defensive armour (yes, I know that I used the British spelling), but that is not what this passage is teaching. The Bible lists the sword as part of the “whole armour of God,” and if you’ve ever watched a film with realistic sword fighting like the 1938 film The Adventures of Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn, then you should already know that a sword is used just as much for defense as it is for offense. A soldier without a sword has very little hope of surviving and absolutely no hope of being able to stand his ground.
If the lack of a sword makes Christians more vulnerable to the attacks of Satan, then wouldn’t we expect his emissaries to attempt to take our swords from us? In June of 2006, Barack Obama was introduced as the keynote speaker of that year’s Call to Renewal Conference, and in that speech he offered the following advice to Christians desiring to defend America’s traditional Christian values:
Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God's will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.
Now this is going to be difficult for some who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, as many evangelicals do. But in a pluralistic democracy, we have no choice. Politics depends on our ability to persuade each other of common aims based on a common reality. It involves the compromise, the art of what's possible. At some fundamental level, religion does not allow for compromise. It's the art of the impossible. If God has spoken, then followers are expected to live up to God's edicts, regardless of the consequences. To base one's life on such uncompromising commitments may be sublime, but to base our policy making on such commitments would be a dangerous thing.
As you can see, Mr. Obama was basically telling Christians to leave the Bible out of their political conversations. He said that Christians should focus on universal values and try to win the argument with humanistic reasoning. To do otherwise, he says, would be dangerous. Of course, Mr. Obama neglected to mention that, in his one example of abortion, there is no guiding “principle which is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.” Perhaps that is why he argued so strongly in favor of abortion and even infanticide in opposing the Born Alive Infant Protection Act. But I digress. The main point that I would like for you to consider is that this man who is committed to advancing anti-Christian policies would prefer that Christians not use the Bible when debating those policies with him.
Now, why do you think that those opposed to the teachings of Scripture would want Christians to stop quoting the Bible? Could it be that they realize that their reasoning is no match for the reasoning of God? Absolutely! For we read in Isaiah 55:8-9 that “my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
The Bible tells us in Hebrews 4:12 that “the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” How would you like to go up against an opponent who has a weapon that shows everyone the very intentions of your heart? Wouldn’t you prefer that he leave such a weapon at home and make the battle more of a fair fight?
Or what about a weapon that is so powerful that it can never be blocked or parried? God said this very thing of His Word in Isaiah 55:11. “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” According to this verse, the words of God are always effective. It doesn’t matter how poorly those words are presented. God has promised that His Word will always accomplish His purpose. It’s no wonder that atheists would prefer to keep the Bible out of the conversation.
As Christians, however, we should be seeking for ways to use the Bible as much as possible. In ancient times, a soldier who went into battle without a sword would have had no hope of survival, and it is foolish for us to think that we can survive spiritual battles without the sword of the Spirit. God once asked, “Is not my word like as a fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:29) God has given us the most powerful weapon in the world. A weapon so powerful that not even Satan himself can stand against it. Why in the world would we ever choose to do battle without it?
1/15/2014 05:55:42 am
The most common error Christians make in using Scripture with atheists is in expecting Scripture to work without explanation.
1/15/2014 06:04:12 am
Further, let's recognize that even Scripture supports the use of both Scripture and extra-scriptural sources when reasoning with atheists. Paul tended to use Scripture directly with those who accepted its authority. With others he used scriptural principles more than scriptural quotations. This is a biblical practice to follow. That's not to say it's the only biblical practice, as if it meant, "don't use Scripture with non-believers." More likely the best interpretation and application is Paul's summary of his audience-dependent communication, that, "by whatever means we might save some."
1/15/2014 06:48:47 am
Thank you, Tom. That is good advice to keep in mind. What I usually try to do is slowly guide the discussion toward a point at which Scripture can be cited as part of the normal flow of conversation. Sometimes I am successful and sometimes I am not, but I think that this method is consistent with Paul's approach on Mar's Hill as we read in Acts 17.
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Bill Fortenberry is a Christian philosopher and historian in Birmingham, AL. Bill's work has been cited in several legal journals, and he has appeared as a guest on shows including The Dr. Gina Show, The Michael Hart Show, and Real Science Radio.
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