Sharing the Gospel and Back Pocket Apologetics

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

|

August 4, 2021

As Christians we are called to share the Gospel with all people (Matthew 28:16-20). Indeed, the Gospel is literally the “good news” — the best news — a person could ever hear. With this in mind, it is vital for all Christians to grasp exactly what the Gospel message is and also know how to articulate why this is good news.

Sadly, I have found that a large percentage of self-professed Christians cannot clearly articulate this good news. Indeed, often times when I ask a church-goer to explain the Gospel they will look at me as if I am speaking a foreign language. I will never forget asking an adult who was born and raised in the church to share the Gospel. He replied, “Well, the Gospel is Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.”

I gently shared with him that those are the gospels — Greco-Roman biographies written about Jesus of Nazareth. I then helped him to grasp the good news Jesus shared with humanity. As a former youth pastor, I always had my students remember the good news by memorizing the G.O.S.P.E.L. acronym:

G – God created us to be with Him (Genesis 1)

O – Our sins separate us from God (Genesis 3; Romans 3:23)

S – Sins cannot be removed by good deeds (Genesis 4 – Malachi 4)

P – Paying the price for sin, Jesus died and rose again (Matt, Mark, Luke)

E – Everyone who trusts in Him alone has eternal life (John 3:16)

L – Life with Jesus starts now and lasts forever (Acts-Revelation)

Grasping the Gospel is a great place to start, but it did not take long for me to notice that although my students understood the Gospel, and were passionate about sharing it, many would be left discouraged — if not defeated — because they were not prepared to answer the inevitable questions and objections raised against Christianity after sharing the Gospel message. This is one of the reasons why I began to take apologetics seriously.

J. Warner Wallace once told me that the way evangelism is spelled is:

A – P – O – L – O – G – E – T – I – C – S.

Based upon my experience, I could not agree more with Detective Wallace. It is vital to possess knowledge of the Gospel message AND to know why it is objectively true and not just your favorite subjective tradition. So, Christians must know the evidence for God’s existence (see A Half-Dozen of My Favorite Arguments for God), and then we must be able to explain why Christianity, in particular, is true as opposed to all the other competing world-views and religions (see The Kalam + Easter = Mere Christianity). If one does not have these apologetics arguments in their back pocket, one’s evangelistic efforts are likely to fail.

Let me encourage you to keep something else in your other back pocket. Be willing to share views that you do not think are probably true!

I know that sounds crazy, but consider the following.

I have found it extremely beneficial to offer certain views under the big umbrella of Christian Theism that I may not be personally convinced of, but I cannot rule them out. If any of these possible theological views relieve my interlocutors concerns, then, although I might not hold it as “Tim Stratton’s official view,” I will share it with the one I am attempting to lead to Christ.

The Free Will Defense vs the Problem of Evil

My nemesis (or as he has described himself, my “frienemy”), Guillaume Bignon does a fantastic job of this. Bignon is not only a Calvinist, but an exhaustive divine determinist. This means that he sincerely believes that humans do not ever possess libertarian freedom.

The Problem of Evil, however, is often seen as the greatest objection raised against the knowledge of God. Indeed, based upon my experience, it seems to be the primary reason given by atheists as to why they do not believe in God. Christians, however, have access to what is known as the “Free Will Defense” (See Lex Luthor’s Lousy Logic) which provides a defeater to this specific objection raised against God’s existence.

This is a fantastic tool for Christians if the Problem of Evil is standing in the way of a friend or family member accepting the Gospel. Calvinists who do not believe humanity possesses libertarian free will, however, do not seem to have access to this wonderful counter. To Bignon’s credit, he keeps the Free Will Defense in his back pocket and offers it to those who seem to need that important question addressed. Bignon seems to grasp that he might be wrong about exhaustive divine determinism, and thus, it is possible that the Free Will Defense not only solves the problem, but it just might actually be true (even though he doesn’t think it is probably is true). I see nothing wrong with this.

Bignon has noted that views of God’s sovereignty which affirm the libertarian freedom of humanity are

“… better-off than Calvinism to answer the atheist argument from evil against God’s existence. I do affirm that…the libertarian has a resource against the problem of evil” (Human Freedom, Divine Knowledge, and Mere Molinism, p. 263).

I have followed Bignon’s lead and keep views that I do not think are probable in my back pocket — at least if I see that they are possible. Consider the following examples:

Annihilationism vs the Problem of Hell

After sharing the Gospel, I often find that folks have a really hard time with the idea that a perfectly good and loving God would allow anyone to suffer into the infinite future.

I personally believe that Hell is an eternal conscious state separated from God and those who love Him. I have been known to offer other views of Hell to those who are hindered by the concept of Hell. After all, perhaps annihilationism is true (Chris Date, my colleague at Trinity Theological Seminary, makes a strong case for this view). Indeed, I have also argued that universalism is possible on Molinism. In fact, even though I do not think universalism is true, I do believe that Molinism gives universalism its “best shot.” I guess I could be called a “hopeful universalist,” even though I personally reject universalism because it seems to be probably false.

I discuss Hell at length in my book Human Freedom, Divine Knowledge, and Mere Molinism. I encourage you to read it. In the meantime, consider an article I wrote about the different views of Hell and Molinism: True Love, Free Will, & the Logic of Hell.

Theistic Evolution vs the Problem of Evolution

The topic of the evolutionary origin of man and the universe has occupied much of the apologists’ time. Indeed, some apologists have devoted their entire career laser-focused on arguing against the idea that humans evolved from a single-celled common ancestor. However, as noted in Mere Molinism, if a student (or anyone) should claim to have become an atheist because of believing in evolution, a response could be crafted as follows:

“Evolution really is not a reason not to believe in God. If God is omnipotent and omniscient (logically prior to his creative decree), then creating the world and man via evolution is no problem for God. Could it not be that what appears to be “random” or by “chance” to humans is actually precisely the perfect plan of God’s intelligently designed and finely-tuned initial conditions of the big bang?” (Mere Molinism p. 274)

A response like this takes the “problem of evolution” off the table so that the apologist/evangelist can then discuss the evidence for the existence of God and the historical data demonstrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This approach to reasoning is not to suggest that theistic evolution actually is true. But, with “back pocket apologetics” in mind, one can point out that if God is omnipotent and possesses full knowledge of what could and will happen and knows what would happen in all other scenarios (middle knowledge), then creating via evolutionary means is simply no problem at all for a maximally great being. The God who knew what a “finely-tuned” universe would require, could have brought it about in any number of ways. This includes the following possibility:

  1. God exists and possesses both natural and middle knowledge.
  2. Fine-tuned initial conditions of the Big Bang (God chooses and actualizes this world and all that will happen in it).
  3. The universe unfolds as planned over time.
  4. Our solar system and earth eventually come into existence as planned.
  5. Life evolves over time exactly the way God knew it would via his intelligent design of the finely-tuned initial conditions of the Big Bang.
  6. Hominids evolve as planned (not by accident).
  7. God “breathes his image” (soul) into the hominid making the first human in another act of special creation (or God literally creates a physically identical human from the dirt).
  8. God does the same thing with a female hominid and then “breathes his image” into her making the first female human (or God literally creates Eve from the rib of Adam).
  9. God separates Adam and Eve from the other “soul-less” hominids (who are physically identical, but not spiritually), and places them in the Garden of Eden with the Tree of Life (as long as they eat of this tree, they will never experience a physical death).
  10. After the fall, Adam and Eve are expelled from the paradise of the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Life (now they will eventually die).
  11. After Adam and Eve’s son, Cain, kills their other son, Abel, Cain is expelled from the world’s only “human tribe.” Cain is scared of the other soul-less hominids who may kill him (Gen. 4:13-14).
  12. Cain finds a physically identical but soul-less hominid female as a wife (Gen. 4:17). The human soul is always passed on to offspring (avoids “bottle-necking” problems).
  13. The human soul is a trait preferred via natural selection as it allows for rationality (see the Freethinking Argument against Naturalism).
  14. Soon, all hominids have souls created in the “image of God.” Therefore, now all hominids are human (all humans are hominids, but not all hominids have been human).
  15. This is exactly the way God planned and designed life to unfold. It all started with the fine-tuned initial condition of the Big Bang.

It is vital to grasp that I am not suggesting that this model is true. I am simply offering a model that is possibly true (a model that is not logically incoherent and one that also “jives” with Scripture) that one can keep in their back pocket. This model shows that evolution and biblical Christianity are not necessarily mutually exclusive views, and they can both be true simultaneously. This application of “back pocket apologetics” allows one to bypass the emotionally charged argument of evolution, avoid the distraction of non-essential matters, and then be free to present the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ—the only thing that really matters (1 Cor. 15:14-17).

This allows Christians to engage the culture and removes this stumbling block with those in academic circles (or otherwise) who are convinced that evolution is true. As my colleague, Scott Olson, likes to say, “Sprinkle a little Molinism on the issue and problems melt away.” Molinism and middle knowledge allows the apologist to show the thinking person that there are models which demonstrate that evolution (and all science) is compatible with biblical Christianity.

William Lane Craig has also employed a similar tactic when debating atheists. In his famous debate against Christopher Hitchens, Craig explained how physicists John Barrow and Frank Tipler show that there are ten steps in the course of human evolution which must occur. Each step is so improbable that before it could occur the sun would have ceased to be a main sequence star, and would have incinerated the Earth. Craig notes that these physicists go on to calculate the probability of the evolution of the human genome by chance and arrive at an astronomical figure: “4 to the negative 180th power to the 110,000th power and 4 to the negative 360th power to the 110,000th power.”

Such a number is unfathomable, but this equation demonstrates that Darwinian evolution is mathematically impossible if naturalism is also true. Craig concludes:

“If evolution did occur on this planet, it was literally a miracle and therefore evidence of the existence of God! . . . Evolution is the only game in town. No matter how fantastic the odds, no matter how improbable, no matter what the fossil record reveals, or what the evidence that a person can empirically investigate via the scientific method can show, evolution has to be true for atheists because it is their only option. Unlike the atheist, Christians are free to follow the scientific evidence wherever it leads.”

Back-pocket apologetics can be a helpful tactic to employ if one has an unnecessary stumbling block preventing them from seeing the Gospel’s truth. An apologist does not have to personally affirm these models as “probably true,” but as long as he sees that they are possibly true, he can share them with those who would benefit from seeing the possibility and also see the good news.

Stay reasonable (Isaiah 1:18),

Dr. Tim Stratton

Tagged with:
Share:

About the Author

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

Timothy A. Stratton (PhD, North-West University) is a professor at Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary. As a former youth pastor, he is now devoted to answering deep theological and philosophical questions he first encountered from inquisitive teens in his church youth group. Stratton is founder and president of FreeThinking Ministries, a web-based apologetics ministry. Stratton speaks on church and college campuses around the country and offers regular videos on FreeThinking Ministries’ YouTube channel.

Learn More

More from this author