SPROUL: I can remember being invited to speak and give the case for the existence of God on a college campus to the atheist club there. I went through a defense of theism, but I also went back to the passage in Romans 1:18–23 and said: “I’m happy to try to discuss with you all the intellectual questions that are involved in trying to prove and demonstrate the existence of God. However, I want to put my cards on the table upfront and tell you that, in light of what the Apostle teaches in this passage, I’m persuaded that I’m carrying coals to Newcastle. You already know very well that there is a God. Your problem is not that you don’t know that God exists; your problem is that you hate the God that you know exists. Your problem is, in the final analysis, not an intellectual one; it’s a moral one. You need to know that is where I’m coming from.” They were ready to tar and feather me.
WEBB: What was their reaction? Did they get riled up?
SPROUL: They were apoplectic. They were absolutely furious about it. But again, I was referring to Paul’s teaching in Romans 1, where he makes it clear that God has revealed Himself through the creation to every human being and that this revelation is not obscure. Rather, it is in the Greek phaneros and in the Latin manifestum—it is manifest, it is clear.
There are some theologians who say: “Yes, there is a clear revelation from God of Himself that He gives in and through nature, or through the created order, but because of the sinfulness of human beings, our fallen nature, and the effects of sin upon our minds, that revelation doesn’t get through. We block it. We suppress it. We flee from it. It never really gets through.” That, however, is not what Paul says.
The judgment that Paul expresses in Romans 1 is this: “Knowing God, they refused to honor Him as God, and they were not grateful.” This is the basis for the universal indictment of the whole human race under the wrath of God. The one excuse that is taken away is ignorance. On the judgment day, no one will be able to plead ignorance of God, because He has revealed Himself, and that revelation gets through. The problem is that fallen man refuses to acknowledge what he knows to be true.
Now, how does all of that influence our defense of theism?
Being Reformed in my theology, I believe that regardless of all the rational defense that I can give, even if I can give a perfect, compelling, irrefutable argument for the existence of God—which, frankly, I believe I can (not that it started with me)—unless the Holy Spirit accompanies that argument and changes the heart of that person who hears the argument, that person will never submit or acquiesce to the argument.
So, some people ask, “Why even bother? Why don’t we just proclaim it and let it go at that?” My response is, as Calvin said, that we do so, first of all, to stop the mouths of the obstreperous. When we give an intellectual defense of the truth claims of Christianity, that puts restraints on the unbeliever and the militant atheists in their arguments.
Second of all, it is preparation for evangelism. We are not called to jump into the darkness in a blind leap of faith and hope that Jesus will catch us. The faith that we propose and the gospel that we preach are not learned by the actions of reason alone or rationalism, but the content of the gospel is reasonable. It is rational. A person can’t submit by faith to something with their heart that their mind tells them is absurd. We don’t ever ask people to jump into the absurd or to jump into the darkness. We ask them to jump out of the darkness and into the light. So, there is a place for the defense of the faith as prolegomena to the preaching of the gospel.
Thirdly, you hear all the time about young people who are raised in the church, make a profession of faith, and then go to college and have an unbridled assault against their faith by the skeptical professors in the classroom. One of the tasks of apologetics, or the intellectual defense of the faith, is to undergird the Christian. I can remember when I was exposed to all that kind of stuff as a college student and as a seminary student. I couldn’t always answer the questions that people raised, but I knew people who could. I was grateful to God that we had scholars in the orthodox Christian faith who gave a compelling intellectual defense for the truth claims of the Christian faith. We should be grateful for that because if we are in doubt, and our faith is mixed with doubt, then we’re less confident, less bold, and less aggressive in the proclamation of the gospel.
So, those are just a few of the reasons we continue to be engaged in this enterprise.