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Set Forth Your Case – Paper #7

Part 7 of a 16 part series…

To catch you up, my father, Dr. Michael Ruth (an author, family therapist, and pastor since the late 70’s) gave me an assignment to read the book Set Forth Your Case by Clark Pinnock and to write a 1-2 page response to each of the chapters.  It might be a little difficult to fully understand my responses to or summaries of the chapters without reading the book, but I wanted to share my work anyway.

Set Forth Your Case by Clark Pinnock
Chapter 7: Validating the Gospel

Pinnock switches his focus in chapter 7 from discussing the fallacies inherent in secular philosophies to discussing the validity and “testability” of the Gospel.  Pinnock admits in his opening paragraph that it is not enough to simply tell someone that what they believe in is wrong; in order to persuade skeptics that the Gospel message is the only way, we have to show that its core truths are able to stand up to rigorous examination.  Pinnock has claimed throughout his book that Christianity is an “intelligent faith.”  As he states, “His (Christ’s) advent and ministry provide both the redemptive content and the epistemological grounding of our faith…Apologetics is concerned to provide evidence that the ground on which the structure rests is firm.”

Pinnock suggests that we can submit our gospel message to all manner of strenuous investigation because its evidence is solid…it is not a matter of faith on some level but rather, as Pinnock states, “…it is a matter of fact.”  How can we be so confident?  Pinnock suggests that the essential basis of apologetics “is the historical datum of the Incarnation itself…For the validation of the Christian claim we make our appeal to history.”  Our major defense is the fact that divine revelation in scripture is supported both by prophecies (supernatural knowledge) and miracles (supernatural power).  We see in the Old Testament that the prophet’s feet were truly held to the fire so to speak.  There were consequences for presenting false prophecies.  Pinnock points out that the distinguishing characteristic of the one true Living God is that, in contrast to false gods and false prophets, He, through the word He gave to His prophets, consistently and accurately announced the future beforehand on almost innumerable occasions.  In the New Testament, Christ is not only the walking embodiment of prophecy, but He is continually performing miracles in the presence of all who would care to see.  The ultimate example is, of course, that Christ not only predicted His own death and resurrection (prophecy), but He appeared to many after His resurrection to fulfill the prophecy and show He overcame death (miracle) for Himself – and for all who would have Him – for all eternity.  Pinnock provides dozens and dozens of Bible references to support His assertions.

While we can have confidence in our message as we share it with unbelievers (if, as intelligent Christians, we will do our faith justice by insisting on presenting intelligent arguments!), Pinnock admits there is still an element of the supernatural that we must allow.  The Holy Spirit still has to draw hearts to Christ.  In other words, there are two variables in the salvation equation.  We have to be witnesses on the one hand, for as Paul said in Romans 10:14, “How are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard?”  We must be convincing presenters and defenders of our faith, but then we must trust the work of the Holy Spirit; and if the message falls on deaf ears we must take care not to lose heart.

My biggest issue with Pinnock’s arguments in this chapter is the fact that he only references scripture when providing evidence for his arguments.  That may sound like an odd statement coming from a Christian, but my contention is this: if we could get unbelievers to accept the authority and divinity of scripture then it becomes much easier to lead someone to Christ.  My feelings are that the Bible has become so marginalized in our society and culture today, it is no longer thought of as sacred and/or true.  It has now become a book of myths and stories…not much different to some than Aesop’s Fables.  In fact, ample studies are available to show that, even in a self-professing “Christian” survey population, shocking percentages do not believe in the authority of Scripture.  I think we have to consider how we can successfully jump this hurdle.

I am sure Pinnock would state that the historical evidence documented in the Bible is or should be enough to sway these skeptics, and he may be correct.  But Pinnock himself in his closing paragraph in this chapter states that, “…the evidence we speak about is of a probable kind.  Not the surest historical evidence for anything is equivalent to mathematical demonstration.  That it is only probable does not mean it is worthless, however.”  I think Pinnock makes a good, honest point here.  The evidence we can present is still not as black-and-white as 2 + 2 = 4 or acceleration due to gravity is equal to 9.8 m/s2; however, as Pinnock astutely points out, all legal and historical decisions are judgments made on probability (not necessarily certainty) based on the evidence presented us.  If we do this in all other areas and aspects of our lives, then our decision to choose one world view over another can be made in this same way; and on the basis of that logic, Christianity provides more than enough probable evidence!

Copyright © 2012 Jonathan Ruth

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