Titus 1:15, Epistemology, & Apologetics [Just Some Notes]

Fall of ManIn the seemingly endless back and forth between presuppositionalist & non-presuppositionalist apologetes, one question rests in the center and functions like a pivot. It is this –

Did man’s fall into sin only partially compromise his mind, ruin and warp it, or fully destroy it?

If the fall only partially compromised the mind of man, then it follows that one can reason to the Christian faith by merely laying out the “bare facts” and addressing any questions that serve as obstacles to one’s evangelistic prospect. If not, however, then he requires a supernatural work from God to cause him to think properly not only about moral and spiritual realities, but also about reality in general. But if the fall fully destroyed the mind of man, such that he cannot reason properly in any sense about reality in general, let alone about moral and spiritual realities, then does this not result in something like hypercalvinism, a full on rejection of the ordained means by which God has chosen to regenerate and save men (i.e. the preaching of the Law and the Gospel)?

Since we can’t deny that the fall affected the mind of man negatively (cf. Rom 1:18-32), and we can’t deny that the effects of the fall are not such that the preacher and apologist’s job to preach the Law and the Gospel to the unregenerate is one that is completely disconnected from how the elect will hear and respond to the Gospel. we are left with only one conclusion, namely –

The fall warped, and thereby ruined, the mind of man as regards his ability not only to reason about moral and spiritual realities, but also in his ability to reason about  reality in general.

The mind of man is not simply bad at perceiving, reasoning about, believing, and living in accordance with moral and spiritual realities, but also fails to perceive, reasoning about, believing, and living in accordance with reality in general.

Mind & Conscience Are Both Ruined By The Fall

This is, in fact, what the Scriptures teach. Note, for instance, what Paul says in Titus 1:15 –

To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.

In this one sentence, Paul the apostle makes it clear that the warping and ruining of man’s mind by the fall covers not merely man’s ability to correctly perceive, reason about, believe in, and live in accordance with moral and spiritual realities, but also his ability to do those things as they apply to reality in general.

Note how Paul differentiates between the “mind” and the “conscience” in this short passage. Seeing as the mind (Gr. νοῦς, nous) is the place where thinking about all subjects takes place, by stating that it and the conscience (Gr. συνείδησις, syneidēsis) are corrupted/defiled by sin, Paul is teaching that man’s mind in general is warped/corrupted/ruined by sin, i.e. as a consequence of being an unregenerate man.  And if  the mind in general is ruined/corrupted/defiled by sin, i.e. the fall, then it inexorably follows that the mind of man is so when engaged with any particular idea.

Paul’s differentiation between the mind in general and the conscience (i.e. the mind in a particular mode of operation, viz. moral and spiritual reasoning) seems to stress how the fall even more acutely affected the mind of man when it comes to spiritual and moral matters. Matthew Poole puts the matter simply –

…their mind, their notion and understanding, is defiled; and their conscience, which is the practical judgment they make up about things, is defiled…

Gill rightly comments on this passage, explaining that “there is nothing that defiled persons can do, but what is unclean; as are their persons, so are their offerings and works.” And since the injunction to give the glory to God covers all things (cf. 1st Cor 10:31), then it follows necessarily that those who are in the flesh cannot think in general in a way that glorifies God, for “those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom 8:8).

You Must Be Born Again

If the mind of fallen man is warped in its basic functions, it follows that tools like debate, study, discourse, and friendship are only as effective as God causes them to be. Some may object to the idea that the mind of man is thoroughly warped, for, they would argue, this would seem to suggest that a man must believe in order to be able to believe, which would not only render preaching and teaching and doing apologetics unnecessary, it would also be self-contradictory. But this objection is based on that false assumption that if God commands men to do something (e.g. believe the Gospel) then man is able to do that thing (e.g. understand the Gospel and believe it). The reason why this assumption is false is simple – commands do not imply anything.

Logically, then, what one is commanded to do does not imply that the one receiving the command is capable of obeying it. What is more, Scripture teaches us that God commands men to do what they are incapable of doing. Jesus commanded the paralytic to get up and walk (cf. Mark 2:10-12), the man with a withered hand to stretch it out (cf. Mark 3:1-5), and a dead girl to rise from the dead (cf. Mark 5:-42). None of these people had the ability to do what they were commanded by God to do, yet he clearly commanded them to do the impossible. And perhaps most famously, he did the same in the case of Lazarus in John 11:43-44. In none of these cases did the command of Christ imply that his hearers were capable of obeying him – for (i.)commands do not imply anything, and (ii.)God clearly does command men to do what they are incapable of doing.

What is needed is a supernatural work in the heart of fallen man, the work of regeneration performed by the Holy Spirit wherein the sinner is brought to spiritual life, receiving  the ability to reason in general correctly about himself and the world in which he exists, and, most importantly, receives the ability to reason correctly about moral and spiritual matters. The mind of man is only restored by this divine work of regeneration that results in the transformation of his nature and, consequently, the transformation of how he thinks about anything at all.

Apart from this, the minds of fallen men are corrupt in general, and even more corrupt as regards moral and spiritual realities.

Soli Deo Gloria

Evil as a Teaching Tool: Refuting the Myth of Gratuitous Evil

Undone-Rosa-Salazar-Bob-OdenkirkAmazon’s new series Undone is a brilliantly acted and animated show that follows the life of a young woman named Alma (lit. soul) after she experiences a nearly fatal car crash, and then begins to see and speak with her long dead father. The show raises questions about the relationship between pagan spiritual experiences, schizophrenia, time travel, multiverse theory, and self-identity. Undone raises more questions than it answers, but there is one answer that it gives to the problem of evil that struck me for some reason.

[Caveat: Some Spoilers]

As Alma spends more time with her father, who is teaching her how to travel into the past to possibly change it, she acquires the ability to go back in time and change things that have gone terribly wrong. Past experiences of evil are not immutable; rather, they are mutable. But not only this, because Alma can experience evil and consciously keep it from ever occurring, she learns from the evil she experiences. From the car crash (natural evil) to her father’s lying (moral evil), Alma learns about herself, her family, and why some courses of action should or should not be taken in her life.

And this is what stuck with me – Alma’s education via the experience of moral and natural evil is universally relatable. The evil Alma experiences is not purposeless, it has a very specific function in her life. For Alma, and for all of us, evil teaches profound lessons. Our experience of evil reveals things to us about ourselves, about the world we live in, about others, and about our moral duties and our failure to perform them.

Evil is not gratuitous, but purposefully instructive.

Evil is Not a Problem

In Undone, and really in all sophisticated narratives, the viewer/reader is shown that evil, as an integral part of the story, is not purposeless.Human authors create characters who use evil for evil ends, but whose evil is overcome by the good it produces for the protagonist, as well as in the mind and emotions of the reader. And this is, again, a universal reality. The hero must undergo adversity in order to become “a better person” (e.g. a more attentive father, a more nurturing mother, a less self-absorbed husband, etc).

As our immediate grasp of evil’s function in narratives demonstrates quite clearly, we universally and intuitively understand that evil forces us to face aspects of reality we had previously not even given consideration to, and promises great rewards to those who survive its attacks on them. We universally and intuitively understand that evil can, and does, have two entirely different end results depending on whose perspective evil is being analyzed from (e.g. whether from the perspective of the one experiencing evil or from the perspective of the author whose intention is to bring about good by that very evil).

We do not question the existence of an author when we see his noble characters experiencing evil while the villain or villains escape detection or judgment. Why, then, has the presence of evil in the real world ever been considered a problem so monumental that it would cause a person to deny the existence of the author of all things, viz. God the Trinity? Is it because evil in real life does not teach us lessons?

Fallen Man’s Real Problem with Evil

The problem with evil is not that it is gratuitous, but that it teaches us truths that fallen man does not want to accept. Regarding the non-Christian, Scripture teaches that evil/suffering/death teach man that God is angry with the wicked every day (cf. Ps 7:11 & Romans 1:18-32). The even greater picture being shown to the Christian is this –

Moral evil that brings about God’s wrath via natural evil reveals that God is just, will not be mocked, and must of a necessity punish the wicked. Rather than present moral and natural evils as things that first and foremost reveal our weakness and flaws so that we might “better ourselves,” the Word of God presents evil as the revealer of God’s attributes and actions to all men. Through moral and natural evil God reveals that we are the problem, our actions against a holy God are evil and, therefore, reproduce effects after their own kind.

And in eternity, the truths about moral and natural evil that fallen men may refuse to acknowledge now will be eternally cemented. The apostle Paul makes this clear with a rhetorical question in Romans 9:22-24 when he says –

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—  even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

The moral and natural evil that surrounds us is not a blank canvas onto which we can paint as the telos of evil those moral lessons we find palatable. Not at all. Rather, the moral and natural evil that surrounds us reveals that men are under the wrath of God, are enemies of God, and have no hope for salvation in the modification of their behavior. It isn’t God’s existence that is being problematized by the reality of moral and natural evil, it’s man’s falsely assumed righteousness, deity, and control that are being directly assaulted by God through moral and natural evil.

Had fallen man even the slightest amount of respect for the Author of Life, comparable to that which he shows to human authors of fictional narratives, he would be identifying evil for what it is: A teaching tool that is intuitively and universally understood to be such. The unbeliever’s problem is not that evil is, but why evil is, for it reminds him that he cannot escape from the omniscient scrutiny of his Creator.

The good news, however, is that just as evil teaches us the immutable truth about fallen man’s condition before a just and holy God, in the moral and natural evil Christ Jesus undergoes for the sake of his elect, the mercy and grace and justice and holiness of God are revealed to us in no uncertain terms. There we see the perfectly good God  experience evil that his elect would learn that God is Father and King and Friend, and a perfectly just Ruler who perfectly punishes evil.

The evil we see in the world will teach all men the truth righteousness, truth, suppression of the truth, sin, and the judgment. The question is only this:

Will it teach you these things now, when there is time to repent and believe the Gospel?
Or will you be an eternal parable constantly displaying in your torments the truth that God is perfectly just and will not be mocked?

If you hear his voice today, do not hesitate. Repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.

Soli. Deo. Gloria.