Philosophy: The Love of Big Words (Part Two)

by Cliff McManis

Note: You can read Part One of this two-part article here.

The Reformation Reaction
Not every prominent theologian in church history ignored the warning of Colossians 2:8. Some took it quite seriously. Two paramount examples include the great Reformers, Martin Luther and John Calvin.

Martin Luther (AD 1483-1546)
Martin Luther, the father of the Reformation, was born at Eisleben in Germany on November 10, 1483 and died there on February 18, 1546.1 He was 62. His parents were strict, honest, middle class Catholics. He began formal study in Latin at age thirteen in Magdeburg and then in 1498 at Eisenbach. “There, with other poor students, he was obliged to sing in the streets begging for bread.”2 Luther would go on to be an accomplished musician, playing the lute, the flute, singing, and even composing hymn books in German for the common man. At eighteen he went to the University of Erfurt and studied under the nominalists, Trutvetter and Arnoldi, and earned a bachelor degree in 1502 and his Master of Arts in 1505, next destined for a law career. Instead, he entered the Augustinian monastery at Erfurt in 1505, and although religious, he had minimal Bible training or knowledge to date. In 1507 he was ordained a priest and in 1508 he was appointed as the “Chair of Philosophy” at Wittenberg.3 He received the doctorate of theology on October 18, 1512 and three years later was appointed vicar.

While at the monastery in Wittenberg, between 1515 and 1517, Luther gave himself to studying the Scriptures voraciously for the first time. The mere study of the Word of God began to transform him: “Turning from philosophy, he sought the kernel of the trust of salvation in the Bible, especially in the Epistle to the Romans and in the Psalms, which he interpreted entirely from the New Testament.”4 He immersed himself in the study and preaching of Galatians, Hebrews and Titus next. Although still devoted to the Catholic Church, his mind had been steeped in gospel truth, and the living Word continued its transforming work from the inside out. By age thirty-two the simple truth of salvation by grace apart from works had gripped the budding Reformer—there would be no turning back. He began viewing the work of the ministry through the lens of Scripture, which would pit him more and more head-on against the established institution that employed his services.

His growing scriptural knowledge increased his discernment and intolerance for religious compromise among the leaders of the established Church. And fueled by a righteous zeal and inestimable personal courage, it all providentially came to a head with one event that would open the floodgates of the historic Protestant Reformation. While rector (president) of Wittenberg University, at about noon, Luther made public his grievances with his hand-written Ninety-five Theses:

The sale of indulgences by Johann Tetzel near Wittenberg incited Luther to a polemic attitude…He began assailing the misuse of indulgences, while his dogmatic views concerning them gradually developed out of the cardinal principles of his belief. On Oct. 31, 1517, he nailed his ninety-five theses on the castle church at Wittenberg, though he had no intention of making a decisive attack nor did he wish them to be generally circulated.5

The content of his theses caught on and spread like wild fire, creating angst within the ranks of the established Church and fascination and loyalty among the people and his colleagues. His theses spread throughout Germany within two weeks and over the next two years his teachings would spread to France, England, and Italy. In the ensuing ten years his preaching and writing would transform the entire nation, disrupt over 1,000 years of Roman Catholic tradition and dogma, render him an official heretic by the Church of Rome, and pave the way for a simpler, more scriptural brand of Christianity for the next five hundred years.

In the last thirty years of Luther’s life there was a discernible, incremental shedding of Roman Catholic dogma, which he exchanged in favor for biblically-driven convictions and practices. Salvation was wholly the work of God; human works could not merit God’s favor. Bishops were to be given to preaching the Word, not maintaining the status quo of ecclesiastical compromise. There were only two sacraments instituted by Christ, not seven as the Catholic Church maintained. Every believer was a priest and a king, not just the professional clergy. He rejected transubstantiation and the sacrifice of the Mass. With time, and exposure to deep Bible study, his ecclesiology changed. He came to reject the old view that said the Church was fundamentally a sacramental agent, but instead it was a community of believers. He put Scripture in the language of the common man for all to read and learn, in contrast to the Catholic Church which outlawed Bible reading.6 He completed his German translation of the Bible in 1531. He rejected the role of the Pope as the Vicar of Christ, and championed the binding authority of Scripture.  Further, after living a celibate life for forty-one years, he realized from Scripture that the practice was baseless and then married a wife, the ex-nun, Katharina von Bora, on June 13, 1525.7 They had six children together.

Another by-product of his biblical transformation was Luther’s growing love and allegiance to Scripture and a disdain for the counterfeit as found in human tradition, human wisdom and human philosophy.

Another by-product of his biblical transformation was Luther’s growing love and allegiance to Scripture and a disdain for the counterfeit as found in human tradition, human wisdom and human philosophy. He rightly understood the implications of Colossians 2:8. Once a trained philosophy professor, he became philosophy’s biggest critic. On June 23, 1520, Luther wrote a letter to Nicholas von Amsdorf saying,

What are the universities, as at present ordered…[but] schools of Greek fashion and heathenish manners, full of dissolute living, where very little is taught of the Holy Scriptures and of the Christian faith, and the blind heathen teacher, Aristotle, rules even further than Christ. Now my advice would be that the books of Aristotle, the ‘Physics,’ the ‘Metaphysics,’ ‘Of the Soul,’ and ‘Ethics,’ which have hitherto been considered the best, be altogether abolished, with all others that profess to treat of nature, though nothing can be learned from them, either of natural or spiritual things. Besides, no one has been able to understand his meaning, and much time has been wasted, and many vexed with much useless labor, study, and expense.8

On another occasion he wrote, “How I regret that I did not read more poetry and history, and that no one taught me in these branches. Instead of these I was obliged with great cost, labor, and injury, to read Satanic filth, the Aristotelian and Scholastic philosophy, so that I have enough to do to get rid of it.”9 In contrast to Justin, Clement, Augustine, Anselm and Aquinas, there would be no integration of biblical truth with pagan Greek philosophy for Luther.10 He correctly understood Scripture that says the wisdom of the world is foolishness before God (1 Cor 3:19). The wisdom of the world is “Satanic filth”! Paul called it something similar: scubala! (Phil 3:8)11 For Luther, Aristotle was not to be emulated, but rather excoriated:

Why, this wretched fellow…teaches…As though we did not have the Holy Scriptures, in which we are fully instructed about all things, things about which Aristotle has not the faintest clue! And yet this dead heathen has conquered, obstructed, and almost succeeded in suppressing the books of the living God. When I think of this miserable business I can only believe that the devil has introduced this study.12

Many traditional apologists attempt historical revisionism with Luther’s diatribes against Aristotle in order to preserve the long practiced ploy of religious alchemy of integrating pagan Greek philosophy with the Bible. An example is when Sproul et al fallaciously assert that the reason Luther disparaged Aristotle is because Luther was ignorant of his writings and was not formally trained in Aristotelian philosophy.13 But Luther had an answer for his naïve critics about his criticisms toward “the philosopher”:

[Aristotle’s] book on ethics is the worst of all books. It flatly opposes divine grace and all Christian virtues, and yet it is considered one of his best works. Away with such books! Keep them away from Christians. No one can accuse me of overstating the case, or of condemning what I do not understand. Dear friend, I know what I am talking about. I know my Aristotle as well as you or the likes of you. I have lectured on him and been lectured on him, and I understand him better than St. Thomas or Duns Scotus did. I can boast about this with pride and if necessary, I can prove it.14

Sproul even goes on to accuse Luther of being opposed to reason! Sproul writes, “Luther is notorious for his opposition to reason.”15 But nothing could be further from the truth. Luther was not opposed to reason—he was opposed to worldly, finite, fallen, darkened, human, unbiblical reason. Unsanctified reason was to be condemned:

Reason is the Devil’s greatest whore; by nature and manner of being she is a noxious whore; she is a prostitute, the Devil’s appointed whore; whore eaten by scab and leprosy who ought to be trodden under foot and destroyed, she and her wisdom…Throw dung in her face to make her ugly. She is and she ought to be drowned in baptism…She would deserve, the wretch, to be banished to the filthiest place in the house, to the closets.16

On the other hand, divine reason gleaned from Scripture is to be embraced. Luther exalted heavenly reason; reason and wisdom that came from God, from above, from the Scriptures—supernatural truth that was living and active, that never returned to God void. That’s why he could look back in hindsight at the avalanche of the Reformation and realize it all happened not because of his own doing through human ingenuity, finite learning or fallen reason, but because of the supernatural efficacy of God’s reason—God’s truth as found in the Bible:

In short, I will preach it, teach it, write it, but I will constrain no man by force, for faith must come freely without compulsion. Take myself as an example. I opposed indulgences and all the papists, but never with force. I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philips and Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything.17

John Calvin (AD 1509-1564)
Lastly, we come to the second great father of the Reformation, John Calvin. He was born one of five sons in Noyon, Picardy, France, sixty miles north of Paris. He spent much of his ministry life in Geneva, Switzerland, where he died May 27, 1564.18 His parents were devout Catholics. His father, Gerard, was a notary public for the Catholic bishop of Noyon and an attorney of the cathedral chapter.19 His mother, Jeanne, was remembered for her personal beauty, great religious fervor and strictness. She died when Calvin was a child.20 At age twelve Calvin was given the chaplaincy of Noyon, a duty for which he was paid.

In 1523, at age fourteen, he was enrolled in the University of Paris to study for the priesthood. Here he earned a masters by age seventeen while studying the basics of classical education, Latin, logic, and philosophy.21 Frustrated with the Church, his father ordered him to change his studies to law in 1528 at Orléans and Bourges. After his father died in 1531, Calvin left Bourges and returned to Paris to study the classics, Greek, Hebrew and Reformation ideas.22 Upon completing his studies he proved to be officially a humanist in the Romanist tradition.23 In 1533 he received his Doctor of Law degree. That same year, as he was exposed more and more to Reformation teaching, especially the writings of Luther, the doctrines of grace took root in his heart. He experienced a sudden conversion that inflamed his soul with the insatiable desire to know the Scriptures more and more.24    

His newfound faith was not welcomed in the city of Paris, so in 1534 he fled, living in several cities over the next two years. Having enemies and hostile critics because of his biblical beliefs would prove to be his lot in life. “His life was at times in danger. Some showed their terrified contempt for him by naming their dogs after him.”25 While a wanderer, he began writing his Institutes of the Christian Religion.26 In 1536, at age twenty-six, he ended up at Basel where he officially issued the Institutes. He would continue working on his classic magnum opus for the next twenty-three years until his death, never having to retract his beliefs as much as refine and expand them.27 In July, 1536, he made a providential visit to Geneva, Switzerland, intending to stay just one day. But God had other plans, for Geneva would be the hub of Calvin’s highly productive, and at times intensely tempestuous, ministry for the next twenty-eight years. In 1540 he married Idelette de Bure and had one son together who died in infancy. Idelette died just nine years later, and Calvin never remarried. Calvin himself died young at age fifty-five, after living much of his life as a chronic invalid. Despite his many foibles, he was a man of faith and integrity: “He was refined, conscientious, pure, faithful, honest, humble, pious. He attracted men by the strength of his character, the loftiness of his aims, and the directness of his efforts. He had the common human affections.”28  

Calvin’s accomplishments and influence are breathtaking. He transformed an entire city in his day. He studied constantly, preached daily, wrote voluminously, and travelled broadly. He established the Genevan Academy to train pastors; he wrote exegetical commentaries on almost the whole Bible; he was an influential citizen among Geneva’s city council. His Institutes is still in demand and his name is invoked ceaselessly by pastors everywhere in sermons today. He reigns as one of the greatest systematic theologians and exegetical expositors in Church history. 

As for Calvin’s influence in apologetics, the great Reformer spurned human reason as folly and gave precedence to God’s divinely given reason revealed in Scripture. He exclaimed, “We are deficient in natural powers which might enable us to rise to a pure and clear knowledge of God…It is necessary to begin with heavenly teaching…if we aspire in earnest to a genuine contemplation of God—we must go, I say, to the Word…Never attempt to search after God anywhere but in His sacred Word”29 Trained and groomed in law and literature, following his conversion in about 1530, “he renounced all secular pursuits and devoted himself entirely to the service of God.”30 He understood the teaching of total depravity, and as a result he broke dramatically from Aquinas and like classical apologists who practiced theological integrationism. Geisler is in gross error when he says of Calvin: “He falls into the general category of classical apologetics.”31 Commenting on Colossians 2:8, Calvin wrote: “philosophy is nothing else than a persuasive speech, which insinuates itself into the minds of men by elegant and plausible arguments. Of such nature, I acknowledge, with all subtleties of philosophers be, if they are inclined to add anything of their own to the pure word of God. Hence philosophy will be nothing else than a corruption of spiritual doctrine, if it is mixed up with Christ.”32 In other words, Calvin rightly concluded that Colossians 2:8 condemned integrating human wisdom with the pure Word of God found in Scripture. Calvin was not a classical apologist. He was a biblical apologist!

In other words, Calvin rightly concluded that Colossians 2:8 condemned integrating human wisdom with the pure Word of God found in Scripture.

Calvin was not impressed with the learned Greek philosophers. He considered them “puffed up with pride.”33 Commenting on 1 Corinthians 1:18-20, Calvin castigates Greek learning and their so-called wisdom: “a knowledge of all the sciences is mere smoke, where the heavenly science of Christ is wanting; and man, with all his acuteness, is as stupid for obtaining of himself a knowledge of the mysteries of God, as an ass is unqualified for understanding musical harmonies.”34 Regarding the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers Paul met in Acts 17, Calvin calls them “enemies” of the truth who were “born only to brawl and cavil”; “stubborn and importunate men”; deluders of men, full of vices; “bent to pamper the flesh”; “filthy surmisers”; corrupt in their thinking; “they knew not what true virtue was, and they did puff men up with pride”; they were filled with a “certain rash and immoderate fierceness.”35 Calvin refers to the musings of Plato and the greatest of philosophers as “obtuse …vulgar…stupidity…absurdities” and “hallucinations” when it comes to their speculations about spiritual and metaphysical realities apart from Scripture.36 Greek philosophy had nothing to offer Calvin when it came to spirituality or truth. 

Calvin’s belief in the complete sufficiency of Scripture and the complete sufficiency of salvation in Christ made it unthinkable for him to even consider integrating human philosophy with biblical truth. He states further,

Without Christ sciences in every department are vain, and that the man who knows not God is vain, though he should be conversant with every branch of learning. Nay more, we may affirm this, too, with truth, that these choice gifts of God—expertness of mind, acuteness of judgment, liberal sciences, and acquaintance with languages, are in a manner profaned in every instance in which they fall to the lot of wicked men.37

Examples abound of Calvin’s disdain for fallen human reason and vain philosophy. Suffice it to say, that, along with Luther, Calvin’s exegesis, preaching, writing and theology, complied with the divine imperative of Colossians 2:8: “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.”

Apologetical Gleanings
There is much to learn from those who have gone before us with respect to biblical teaching, philosophy and apologetics. Here are some highlights to glean from Justin, Clement, Origen, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Luther and Calvin.

  • As the Church fathers accommodated pagan Greek philosophy, at the same time they compromised their hermeneutics; they supplanted the grammatical-historical with an allegorical approach that came from the Greeks by way of Philo the Jew.38 Allegorical hermeneutics has plagued the Church ever since. The Church needs to return to a pure, normal, literal, unfanciful, non-subjective and non-esoteric manner of interpreting the Bible.
  • The early Church fathers too often had an inflated view of human wisdom and thus approached Scripture in a rationalistic39 manner. Instead, in developing our apologetical methodology, we need to approach Scripture with inductive exegesis and humble deference.
  • The early Church fathers practiced “integration,” mixing the Bible with pagan Greek philosophy; the end result was the despoliation of the truth. Integration also directly undermines the sufficiency of Scripture. As apologists we need to reject integration40 and renew our commitment to the sufficiency of Scripture, knowing God’s Word addresses every issue pertaining to this life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3).
  • As the early Church fathers assimilated pagan philosophy into their worldview, they effectively gave preeminence to the metaphysical, which smothered out the soteriological. Their writings are not strongly cross-centered or gospel-centered. We need to be like Paul and the rest of the Apostles who were cross-centered in their apologetics. As Paul said, “But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal 6:14).
  • In integrating pagan philosophy, the early Church fathers diluted the language of the Bible, infusing secular and non-specific terms and concepts into religious and spiritual conversation. Compromising the language of the Bible with alien terminology always creates an artificial barrier separating the mind of the reader from the direct thoughts of God which are found in Scripture—for the writings themselves are “God-breathed” (2 Tim 3:16; NIV), having inherent authority. Biblical parlance needs to be safeguarded and preserved:

Biblically sensitive church leaders will insist that the terminology they use represents, as accurately as possible, the original biblical terms and concepts of [the] New Testament. False teachers have had their greatest triumphs when they redefine biblical words in a way that is contrary to the original meaning…Much of our church vocabulary is unscriptural and terribly misleading…Such terminology misrepresents the true nature of apostolic Christianity and makes it difficult, if not impossible, to recapture it. As a result, most of our churches are in desperate need of language reform.41

In our apologetics we need to resist the temptation toward the draw for the love of big words and instead preserve the purity of biblical vocabulary and concepts.42 Luther and Calvin brought welcomed, redeeming reform that counteracted the pitfalls of accommodation and integration mentioned above. The Reformers returned to exegesis and a literal hermeneutic; they exalted Scriptural authority and not finite human reason; they rejected the so-called wisdom of the world and the polluting practice of integration; they were cross-centered and gospel-centered, knowing that in the pure, simple gospel is the only power for salvation to all who believe; and they tore away the philosophical trappings that smothered the fidelity of pure biblical words. Following the Reformers we need another modern day reformation in our Christian apologetics.

Mumbo Jumbo and Biblical Simplicity
After seminary I went back to school for graduate work in English. One of the required classes was called “Ethnic Literature,” and I had to read a bunch of weird books. One was called Mumbo Jumbo by Ishmael Reed. An avant-garde novel written in 1972, Mumbo Jumbo employed several typographic and stylistic conventions not normally used in novels. I thought it was bizarre. Without the professor’s specialized training I never would have understood the book as I read it. Whenever I read a typical modern day traditional Christian apologetics book, I immediately think of Mumbo Jumbo. Instead of writing in clear, perspicuous, practical, accessible language, they opt for specialized, highfalutin, oft incomprehensible metaphysical terminology that the average Christian does not understand.

Consider just a few examples of smatterings from pop evangelical apologists. In the first pages of the first chapter of his popular book on Christian apologetics, J. P. Moreland writes:

Before we attempt to establish these premises, it is important to distinguish between two kinds of infinity—a potential infinite and an actual infinite. The distinction goes back to Aristotle…A set refers to a collection of objects called the members or elements of the set. For example, the set A, composed of my two children, Ashley and Allison, would be represented as follows:

A = {Ashley, Allison}

Similarly, the set B, composed of all the even integers from one to ten, would look like this:

B = {2, 4, 6, 8, 10}

Now we need to define the notion of a proper subset. A set C is a proper subset of a set D if and only if there is no member of C that is not a member of D, but there is a member of D that is not a member of C. Thus the following set A1 is a proper subset of A:

A1 = {Ashley}

And B1 is a proper subset of B:

B1 = {2, 4}

If a set C is a proper subset of a set D, then C is a part of D or is contained in D, but not vice versa.43

If the above makes you dizzy, you’re normal. Norman Geisler is also dizzying in his basic introductory book on Christian apologetics with this brain-twister:

My nonexistence is logically possible; it is not inconceivable that I exist not. No logical necessity is grounding my existence. Even if I cannot affirm that I do not exist, I can nonetheless meaningfully think that I might not exist. Of course, I must exist in order to conceive of my nonexistence. But the “must exist” does not mean “logically must” but only “actually must.” For unless I actually exist I cannot conceive of anything, for there is no “I” or “me” there at all. But this does not mean that my existence in the first place is based on logical necessity.44

R. C. Sproul can also go adrift into the obscure realm of metaphysical nomenclature when he writes on Christian apologetics:

We are convinced that an epistemology established upon naked empiricism is doomed to travel the road to the graveyard of Hume. If the axiom nihil est in intellectu quod non fuerit in sensu is accepted in an absolute sense, skepticism is unavoidable. That is, if all a prioris, either of principles or abilities or categories, are excluded, we see no way to progress beyond an inchoate blob of sensations. Not a single datum can be discovered without an a priori making discrimination and individuation possible.45

Then there is William Lane Craig’s incomprehensible Baye’s Theorem, which he says constitutes Christian apologetics and a logical corollary to 1 Peter 3:15. But it isn’t. Nor is his stated definition of faith: “The biblical notion of faith includes three components: notitia (understanding the content of the Christian faith), fiducia (trust) and assensus (the assent of the intellect to the truth of some proposition).”46 Craig says three different Latin terms define biblical faith—but he gives no Bible verses to support the notion. Because he can’t—since Latin is not the language of the Bible. This tripartite delineation of faith is “mumbo jumbo,” undermines the true definition of biblical faith and unfortunately is frequently wielded by traditional apologists, creating confusion, not clarity, in the apologetics task.

Alvin Plantinga, in his basic apologetics book on belief in God says the following:

Let us say further that a belief is 0th level in N if it is basic in N, 1st level in N if it is immediately based on some belief that is 0th level in N, and, in general, n + 1st level in N if it is immediately based upon at least one belief that is nth level in N. In a rational noetic structure N.47

Presuppositionalist, Cornelius Van Til, had many good things to say about Christian apologetics, but frequently got sucked into the metaphysical malaise of esoteric, specialized jargon. In his classic introductory book to apologetics, he writes,

At the same time phenominalism is still rationalistic in that whatever unity it thinks it finds in this atomistically conceived reality virtually proceeds from the human mind. At least this rationality is not taken as proceeding from the mind of God. The rationalizing effort that is inherent in phenominalism would, if successful, destroy all individuality. Its rationalizing effort is admittedly a step-by-step affair. That this is so is evident from the fact that its rationalizations are rationalizations of admittedly non-rational material.48

One final example is from traditional apologist, William P. Alston—it’s a doozy:

Now back to our initial question about the justifiability of CP. We have seen that Jnw is the most we can have for PP and for our other commonly accepted, basic epistemic practices. How does CP stand in this regard? As for Jns, I shall just assume without argument that we no more have an adequate noncircular reason for supposing CP to be reliable than we have in the case of PP. Here, too, although the practice may well be reliable, and so be Je, we have no sufficient reason for judging this to be the case. And so CP is not Jns, and we lack sufficient basis for supposing it to be Je. If, then, CP is Jnw, it will be in just the same epistemic position as PP and other commonly accepted, basic epistemic practices; and it will be just as rational to take Christian experience to provide prima facia justification for M-beliefs as it is to take sense experience to provide prima facia justification for perceptual beliefs.49  

All the above excerpts supposedly are examples of giving an account to the unbeliever of the hope that is in the believer (1 Pet 3:15). But I would suggest that neither Peter nor God ever intended the Christian hope to be so complicated, ethereal, theoretical or inaccessible to the average person. 

In contrast, the language of the Bible is simple—it is written in the language of the people; newspaper vernacular. God intended for His people to understand His revelation. The Scriptures have a beautiful simplicity about them. This truth is known as the doctrine of the perspicuity of the Scriptures or the clarity of Scripture. Obfuscation is the opposite of clarity, and that is what the philosophers major in.

Jesus was the wisest person in history (and He still is). But listen to the way He spoke in contrast to the philosophizing of the modern-day Christian apologists:

Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor do they reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?…Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these (Matt 6:26, 28-29).

A young child can understand Jesus here, in His most famous sermon, preached on the mount. Jesus never utilized specialized, elitist, metaphysical vocabulary and concepts when He taught and preached. He taught in the language of the people—readily accessible and easily understood. He regularly spoke to large, mixed crowds of people—and all could comprehend the message. And even though His language and illustrations were simple, the truth communicated was profound, authoritative and life-changing. So much so, that “when Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority” (Matt 7:28-29).

In our apologetics we need to be like Jesus—simple, clear and biblical. We need to resist mumbo jumbo and the love of big words that so often puffs up—even though it might win the approval of the elites in academia. We need to discerningly and courageously reject the integration of human wisdom with biblical theology. And we need to stand firmly committed to obeying the heavenly mandate and warning of Colossians 2:8 which states: “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” Then and only then can we rescue biblical apologetics that has been hijacked by philosophy.


  1. “Luther, Martin” in The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Thought: Liutprand-Moralities, vol. VII (New York and London: Funk and Wagnalls, 1910).
  2. Ibid.
  3. Kienel, A History, 192.
  4. “Luther” in Schaff-Herzog, VII, np.
  5. Ibid.
  6. “At the Council of Valencia, Spain, in 1229, the Bible was placed on ‘The Index of Forbidden Books’ with the following decree: ‘We prohibit the permitting of the laity to have the books of the Old and New Testament, unless any one should wish, from a feeling of devotion, to have a psalter or breviary for divine service, or the hours of the blessed Mary. But we strictly forbid them to have the above-mentioned books in the vulgar tongue’”; Kienel, A History, 59.
  7. “Luther” in Schaff-Herzog, VII, np.
  8. Martin Luther, Three Treatises (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1970), 4, 92-93.
  9. Kienel, A History, 202.
  10. Luther disagreed with his friend Melanchthon on this matter; cf. Kienel, 246.
  11. All of Paul’s human achievements as an unbeliever—his education, training, reputation, amassed worldly wisdom—he considered to be skubala after he came to know Christ. Skubala is from the Greek skubalon, meaning “human excrement” or “rubbish, dung”; Arndt, William F., and Gingrich, F. Wilbur, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, second edition. Revised by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Fredrick W. Danker (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1979), 758; Max Zerwick and Mary Grosvenor, A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1981), 599.
  12. Luther, Three Treatises, 93.
  13. R. C. Sproul, John Gerstner and Arthur Lindsley, Classical Apologetics: A Rational Defense of the Christian Faith and a Critique of Presuppositional Apologetics (GrandRapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), 197.
  14. Luther, Three Treatises, 93-94.
  15. Sproul et al, Classical Apologetics, 196.
  16. Martin Luther, Works, Erlangen Edition v. 16, pp. 142-148; “Again, his unflagging polemic against the abuse of reason has often been construed as an assault on the very idea of rational coherence in theology, whereas in fact it is aimed only at the ideal of rational autonomy and self sufficiency in theology—the ideal of philosophers and Scholastic theologians, to find out and know God by the use of their own unaided reason. It was in her capacity as the prompter and agent of ‘natural’ theology that Mistress Reason was in Luther’s eyes the Devil’s whore; for natural theology is, he held, blasphemous in principle, and bankrupt in practice….natural theology is bankrupt in practice; for it never brings its devotees to God; instead it leaves them stranded in a quaking morass of insubstantial speculation ….Luther was no foe to the ideal of systematic consistency in formulating and organizing the contents of the theolgia crucis; how could he be, when he found that ideal so clearly exemplified in Scripture itself, in the great dogmatic epistles of St. Paul? ‘Reason in the sense of logic he employed to the uttermost limits,’ says Dr. Bainton”; Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will, trans. by J. I. Packer and O. R. Johnston (Fleming H. Revell Company, 1957), 45-47. In light of the above, it is very disappointing to see how such an admired “Reformed” evangelical, R. C. Sproul, could misrepresent Luther so terribly on this issue—but it makes sense. Remember, Sproul is first and foremost a philosopher, and second a theologian, and hardly a biblical exegete.
  17. Luther’s Works, vol 51; Martin Luther’s basic theological writings, “The Second Sermon, March, 1522, Monday after Invocavit” by Martin Luther, Timothy F. Lull, William R. Russell (Fortress Press, 2005), 287.
  18. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia, 111.
  19. The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia, II: 353.
  20. 123. Ibid., 354.
  21. Ibid.                                                     
  22. Clyde L. Manschreck, The Dictionary of Bible and Religion, 173; and Steven J. Lawson, The Expository Genius of Calvin (Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust, 2007), 6.
  23. The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia, II:354.
  24. Ibid., 354.
  25. Ibid., 356.
  26. Ibid.
  27. Ibid., 355.
  28. Ibid., 358.
  29. Ibid., 358.
  30. Calvin, Institutes, 23, 28, 81.
  31. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia, 113. Calvin was not a classical apologist—not even close. Geisler is not the only one who misrepresents Calvin’s position in this area. Sproul and a host of others claim Calvin explained faith with three Latin terms, which he did not. Sproul also says Calvin used natural theology—another bogus assertion. Plantinga distorts Calvin’s view of the sensus divinitatis. Kelly James Clark, the liberal theologian and philosopher, also tries to claim Calvin as his own in the area of apologetics. Many traditional apologists re-write Calvin’s views in order to gain the Reformer’s endorsement posthumously. Packer noted this trend half a century ago when he wrote, “In each century from his day to ours, self-styled ‘Calvinists’ have claimed him as their patron. But it would not always be safe to judge of his theology by theirs….If we would know Calvin the theologian, we must do more than study the ‘Calvinists’; we must go to the man himself”; J. I. Packer, John Calvin: A Collection of Distinguished Essays, ed., G. E. Duffield (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1966), 150-151. Hall makes a similar pertinent observation: “Too often we look back to Calvin through the distorting lens of our own Protestant religious history, which, however admirable and original in its aims and achievements, is not Calvin’s Calvinism ‘englished’”; Basil Hall, “The Calvin Legend,” in John Calvin: A Collection of Distinguished Essays, 4.
  32. John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, ed. John Pringle (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2003), 180-81. Lawson makes it clear that Calvin believed in the sufficiency of Scripture, and as a result he rejected any kind of natural theology, human philosophy or appealing to human reason void of divine revelation. “He wrote. ‘their [ministers’] whole task is limited to the ministry of God’s Word; their whole wisdom to the knowledge of His Word; their whole eloquence, to its proclamation.’…He knew that ‘as soon as men depart, even in the smallest degree from God’s Word, they cannot preach anything but falsehoods, vanities, impostures, errors, and deceits….A rule is prescribed to all God’s servants that they bring not their own inventions, but simply deliver, as from hand to hand, what they have received from God’….For Calvin, any Bible teachers, small or great, who decide to ‘mingle their own inventions with the Word of God, or advance anything does not belong to it, must be rejected, how honourable soever may be their rank’”; Lawson, The Expository Genius of Calvin, 25-26.
  33. John Calvin, The First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2003), 87.
  34. Ibid., 82.
  35. John Calvin, Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Acts of the Apostles, vol II. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2003), 149-150.
  36. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. by Henry Beveridge (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2009), 18, 22-23, 48, 66, 97, 450.
  37. Calvin, First Corinthians, 83.
  38. Horton, The Christian Faith, 473-74; “Alexandria had been the seat of Philo, the Jewish philosopher who attempted to blend Judaism with Platonism. The catechetical school in Alexandria (under Origen and his successors, Clement and Cyril) followed a similar course with Christianity. For them, Christianity is the true gnosis, the higher enlightenment that Greek philosophy anticipated but could not fully know apart from Christ. Presupposing intellectual ascent from the realm of appearances to the contemplation of eternal Truth, Alexandrian theology frequently displays a tendency toward allegorical (spiritualizing) exegesis. Historical, temporal, and sensual reality serves merely as a stepping-stone to ever-higher, eternal, and intellectual realities. The tendency to assimilate history (the realm of appearances) to eternity and matter to spirit prejudiced Alexandrian theology toward assimilating Christ’s humanity to his deity. Just as the Platonizing tendency led Apollinarianism to replace Christ’s human mind with the Logos, Cyril (early on at least) tended to collapse Christ’s humanity into his deity.” Ramm shows how much of modern day evangelicals inherited their quasi-allegorical hermeneutic from Augustine: “Augustine was driven to the allegorical interpretation of Scripture by his own spiritual plight. It was the allegorical interpretation of Scripture by Ambrose which illuminated much of the Old Testament to him when he was struggling with the crass literalism of  the Manicheans. He justified allegorical interpretation by a gross misinterpretation of 2  Cor. 3:6. He made it mean that the spiritual or allegorical interpretation was the real meaning of the Bible; the literal interpretation kills. For this experimental reason Augustine could hardly part with the allegorical method”; Ramm, Biblical Interpretation, 35.
  39. By “rationalistic” I do not mean “rational,” but rather I mean they ascribed to varying degrees of human autonomy in their thinking. 
  40. Modern day traditional apologists put a premium on integration. For example, listen to Stanley Obitts, philosophy professor at Westmont College, and his frightening recommendation: “In order to encompass as much of God’s truth as possible from natural revelation within a comprehensive view of the universe created and sustained by the…God of Scripture, the Christian must engage in philosophical speculation….All that a Christian must do to pursue philosophy properly is critically to scrutinize the discoveries, insights, and theories that have increased our knowledge of God’s universe, and coherently to weave this knowledge into an adequate whole consistent with Scripture”; Stanley R. Obitts, “Philosophy, Christian View of,” in Evangelical Dictionary  of Theology, edited by Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1987), 853. 
  41. Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership (Colorado Springs, CO: Lewis and Roth Publishers, 2005), 33-34.
  42. J. I. Packer, writes, “Nor, again, may we present the faith as a philosophy, to be accepted (if at all) on grounds of rational demonstration; we must always declare it as revealed truth, divinely mysterious and transcending reason’s power to verify, to be received humbly on the  authority of God. Faith involves the renunciation of intellectual self-sufficiency; we must always proclaim the gospel in a way that makes this clear”; J. I. Packer, ‘Fundamentalism’ and the Word of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1958), 136.
  43. J. P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1987), 19-20.
  44. Norman L. Geisler, Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1976), 144.
  45. Sproul et al, Classical Apologetics, 85.
  46. J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003), 18.
  47. Alvin Plantinga, Faith and Rationality: Reason and Belief in God, edited by Alvin Plantinga and Nicholas Wolterstorff (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983), 53.
  48. Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 1967), 119.
  49. William P. Alston, “Christian Experience and Christian Belief,” in Faith and Rationality, 120. 

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