Asymmetrical Warfare in Apologetics

Asymmetrical Warfare

Apologetics is the rational defense of the faith. We are called to contend for the faith once for all delivered unto the saints; and we are called to give an apologia to any who asks us about the hope we have in Christ Jesus our Savior. As is the case in any war context, it is not simply the weaponry one has at his disposal that will determine whether or not he has fought well, but also the strategy he employs against his enemy. We have the highly advanced weaponry of heaven, the spiritual weapons Paul speaks of in 2nd Corinthians 10:3-5 when he declares —

 …though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…

 We must use these weapons correctly, not getting sidetracked from our ultimate goal by smaller battles intended to keep us at bay.

This is something we must be reminded of especially when dealing with heretics, since they will often pride themselves on being able to “prove” their doctrine from the Scriptures, when in reality they are proof-texting passages of Scripture which only seem to support their heresy. This will often lead us into smaller battles over proof-texts, battles that are seemingly endless. This is a kind of spiritual asymmetrical warfare, in which the enemy, in essence, does whatever he can in order to stay alive and maintain the illusion that he is completely free from any authority other than his own.

 The tactics such technologically underdeveloped enemies employ are —

1. Enlisting anyone, despite their abilities or lack of abilities, in order to make themselves appear to be more powerful.

2. Treating those who are enlisted to fight as completely expendable, abandoning them once they have been fatally wounded in battle.

3. Treating the enlisted as expendable, letting them violent deaths, for the sake of exhausting the will of the stronger power to fight.

4. Using the deaths of these expendable soldiers to gain some more time while the ones who truly hold power (i.e. the leaders of the enemy’s forces) are moved from one secret location to another.

If the analogy is becoming abstruse, we can translate the above into an apologetical context. Less analogically, we have the following —

1. Enemies of the faith will use any text, regardless of whether or not it bears upon the subject under debate, in order to make their evidences appear more numerous.

2. They will treat these proof-texts as completely expendable, abandoning them once they no longer are capable of being twisted to defend the heretic’s heresy.

3. The enemies of Christ will treat these proof-texts as expendable, letting them be argued against and refuted, for the sake of exhausting the will of the Christian to debate/fight.

4. They will use the time Christians spend refuting their abuses of these proof-texts to hide their underlying presuppositions, guarding them quietly behind a sprawling multiplication of logically irrelevant, fallacious, and unbiblical questions and assertions.

While Christians have the truth, we are called to apply the truth wisely. This is the case not only when dealing with personal and ecclesiastical issues, but also when dealing with unbelievers in debate.

 So what does this mean?

We Don’t Have to Answer Every Claim Made by Christ’s Enemies

It’s tempting to think that a thoroughgoing response to each and every abuse of Scripture made by an enemy of Christ will be sufficient to convince him of the truth and lead him to salvation. However, Scripture doesn’t teach this….at all. Even when God himself refutes his enemies, reducing them to silence, this only inspires them to quietly conjure up another argument against him. For instance, after Jesus refutes the Sadducees and Pharisees in Matthew 22:15-33, we read the following —

…when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.

— Matt 22:34-35

You would think that these enemies of Christ would humbly submit to his divine greatness of intellect. Instead, they see this as an opportunity to gather together and conjure up another test for the Son of God. It did not matter a bit that he had just made fools of them by exposing their irrational and unbiblical argumentation. These men really thought they had a fighting chance – and so do all sinners outside of the grace of God in Christ. As the Lord Jesus declares to his enemies

 “…because I tell the truth, you do not believe me….If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”

—John 8:45-47

It was not the absence of the truth of God’s Word from these men’s minds that kept them in unbelief, it was the presence of the truth of God’s Word!

Consequently, not only is it not possible for us to answer every objection that can possibly be raised against the Christian faith, it is also unnecessary. Christ answers the questions of his enemies, thoroughly refuting them, and is still tested by them once they have finished licking their wounds. He flatly explains to them that their problem is not the absence of truth, it is the presence of truth. Fallen man recognizes the truth, the Word of God, and hates him for that truth. We must not fall into the error of thinking that we must answer every single objection made to the Christian faith.

Our Goal Must Be the Enemy’s Highest Authority, his Presuppositions

In the analogy above, the highest authority of the weaker military force is being protected by a seemingly infinite number of expendable soldiers. If the more powerful military force is to dismantle the enemy, it must kill their highest source of authority, the one who gives them their orders and legitimizes, at least in their minds, their kamikaze-esque rush headlong into certain demise. And so it is with apologetics: We must kill the highest source of our enemies’ heresies in order to dismantle their superficially impregnable resolve and seemingly endless supply of rebuttals, counter-rebuttals, and counter-counter-rebuttals. The source of Christ’s enemies’ authority is the set of foundational beliefs they espouse. These are the presuppositions that give their thinking its orders, and which legitimize, in their minds at least, their pepper-spray, off-the-cuff, ad hoc, scripture-twisting argumentation.

Once the highest authority is found, lurching around in the recesses of a heretic’s mind, we must bomb it dead, and dump it in the ocean of forgetfulness. This will disband the superficial unity his thoughts against the truth. And it will give us an opportunity to remind him of what he knows already: He is the image of God, responsible for bearing that image in a holy and righteous manner, but who fails to and, therefore, incurs the wrath of God.

From there, we can hope and pray that the Lord will give us opportunity to preach the message of Christ crucified for sinners under the wrath of God, and see him turn to Christ in repentant faith.

The End Goal

Ultimately, the end goal is not the humiliation of God’s enemies, but their conversion. It is to see the sinner come to grips with how absurd his fallen thinking is, and how much in need of the Savior Christ he is. If we are going to kill the highest authority over the heretic’s thoughts, we must also tell him about the true and immortal authority – the Word of God. Let us remember that this is warfare, but not according to the flesh.

Soli Deo Gloria


What Paul Denies of Himself, He Affirms of Christ

The Lystra Eventpaul-snake

Now at Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet. He was crippled from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul speaking. And Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well, said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he sprang up and began walking. And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the entrance to the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” Even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them.

-Acts 14:8-18

When I sat down to reread a few passages from the book of Acts for a personal study I’m doing, I was distracted by a little phrase in Acts 14:8-18. The phrase is “in the likeness of men” (ὁμοιωθέντες ἀνθρώποις), and in this context it means that the gods, who otherwise dwell in the heavens, have come down in the form of men. The gods, that is to say, have become like men, and they have visited the people of Lystra. In Acts 28:1-6, we see the same kind of behavior from the pagans to which Paul ministers. They see his working of a miracle by the power of God and mistakenly believe he is a god. In the case of Acts 28:1-6, the apostle may or may not be aware of what the people have said about him (i.e. that he is a “god”), we don’t know for sure. However, given his response in Acts 14:8-18, I think it is safe to say that Paul would have explicitly denied that he is a god who has come down from heaven in the likeness of men.

This is what makes Acts 14:8-18 so striking. You see, what Paul denies of himself — i.e. that he has come down from heaven in the likeness of men — he openly affirms of Christ. He writes in Philippians 2:1-11 —

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

In this short passage, Paul teaches that Christ was in the form of God, but took on the form of a servant, being born in the “likeness of men” (ὁμοιώματι ἀνθρώπων). Christ was then found in human form, after he had taken on the form of a servant, the ὁμοιώματι ἀνθρώπων.

We see similar language in another significant passage of Scripture as well. In Romans 8:3-4, Paul tells the Romans that

…God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

In these texts, Paul affirms of Christ what he denies of himself, namely:

1. Christ came down from heaven.
2. Christ is worthy of divine honors.
3. Christ has taken on the likeness of men.

Bluntly put: Paul explicitly identifies Christ as God when he states that Christ was found in the “likeness of men.” Why? Let’s look at that passage in Acts 14:-8-18 again, this time focusing in on vv.14-15. There we read that

…when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.

Paul states in no uncertain terms that he is of like nature with the people of Lystra, he shares with them the same human affections/feelings/passions, etc. Paul is not a divine person who has taken on a human nature foreign to himself; Paul is merely a man.

Of Christ, however, Paul says no such thing. Rather, he asserts that Christ took on human nature. Christ was found in the likeness of men, in the likeness of sinful flesh. The Son of God was originally in the form of God, but he came down, was made in the our human likeness, in order not to suffer the bite of a viper and survive, but to die from the sting of God’s wrath, being crushed by the hand of the Father while crushing the serpent’s head underfoot.

Paul clearly understood that saying an individual came down from heaven and took on the likeness of men was equivalent to saying that a divine being had come down from heaven in the likeness of men. So he denied it of himself. Yet when he speaks of Christ, he affirms it more than once: Christ came down from heaven, took on the likeness of men, and purchased our salvation with his divine blood (Acts 20:28).

This is a problem for the proponents of unitarian theologies, for Paul is clearly not a polytheist. Paul is a thoroughgoing monotheist, yet he affirms that a divine person has come down from heaven and taken on human flesh. In other words, while he denies that there are many gods, and he denies that those gods have come down to men, and he denies that he is one of those incarnated gods, he openly affirms that the one God of Israel has come down to men in the likeness of men, in the likeness of sinful flesh.

What Paul denies of himself, he affirms only of Christ —

Jesus Christ is the One Yahweh of Israel, the only God come down to men in the likeness of men. And he has done so for us and our salvation.

Soli Deo Gloria!