This article first appeared in the From the Editor column of the Christian Research Journal, volume 36, number 06 (2013). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal please click here.
Few if any Bible passages capture the driving impulse of the Christian Research Journal as well as Jude 3: “Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (NASB). Why contend for the historic Christian faith? As someone who had sought for ultimate truth as a possession more valuable than gold, but had no assurance that any such truth could be found, this passage is extremely meaningful to me. God has undertaken through divine inspiration to make Himself, His will, and His plan and work of salvation known in sixty-six books bound as one (2 Tim. 3:16). It is our responsibility to study, apply, preserve, and defend this infinitely precious gift.
Note the finality of the words “once for all” (Greek: απαξ, pron. apax). The content of this faith was revealed progressively over a period of two millennia, but God’s special revelation reached its climax and completion in the person and work of Jesus Christ, as proclaimed and taught by His designated apostles, all of whom were eyewitnesses of His majesty (Heb. 1:1– 3; cf. Matt. 28:19–20; 2 Pet. 1:16; 1 Cor. 9:1). As we see in verse 3, Christ is the “exact representation of [God’s] nature.” He has so successfully effected human salvation that “He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” There will consequently be no further revelation until the promulgation of this salvation is completed by His disciples and He returns to Earth as King of kings and Lord of lords.
This written word, the Bible, which reveals the Living Word, Christ, must never be subordinated to church authority, eclipsed by human philosophy or science, diminished by so-called supplemental revelation, or dismissed as outdated and obsolete. Just as the God who spoke it does not change (Mal. 3:6), and the Lord it reveals does not fade away (Heb. 13:8), so the Scripture itself has a timeless relevance, remaining ever vital, dynamic, and effectual (1 Pet. 1:24–25; Heb. 4:12; 2 Tim. 3:15–17). Those who live by its teachings know as a matter of daily experience that this is true (James 1:22–25).
Every article published in the Christian Research Journal in one way or another contends for this faith. To demonstrate this, I will point out how each article in the current issue serves this purpose. I have not selected this issue because it will be easier to do this than most but because it will be more challenging (e.g., in the past couple of issues, articles such as “Answering Muslim Objections to the Gospel” and “Authenticating Biblical Artifacts” were so clearly concerned with contending for the Christian faith that no explanation would have been required).
Our lead feature this issue, a debate between Michael Austin and Ron Gleason on gun control laws, is a good place to start. What could this debate possibly have to do with contending for the faith once delivered? It is easy for American Christians to be caught up in the strong emotions on either side of this debate and base their positions on interpretations of the Second Amendment, crime statistics involving firearms, and so forth. While these considerations should be factored in, the Christian, unlike secularists both on the Right and on the Left, is both privileged and responsible to consult the Word of God for any explicit teaching or implicit principles that bear on the debate. If we do not make a practice of searching Scripture for light on the ethical debates of the day, we are more likely to take the wrong position in the name of Christ (since no position we take is in a vacuum but all reflect on our Christian profession). Thus, nonbelievers who through the light of natural (general) revelation have embraced a wise and righteous position on the subject could mistakenly conclude through our example that the Bible supports a different position. This would only strengthen their resistance to the gospel. What is the biblical position on gun control? That’s not for us to legislate! Read this issue’s debate, do further research, and decide for yourself.
What does Dean Halverson’s critique of Lawrence Krauss’s A Universe from Nothing have to do with apologetics? Because all truth is God’s truth, what God has revealed in Scripture must ultimately cohere with what He has made known through creation, and as seekers of truth we can safely operate under that assumption. If science and Scripture appear to be in conflict, we can be assured that at least our interpretation of science or our interpretation of Scripture is wrong; but creatio ex nihilo (creation out of nothing) is not a doctrine that Scripture leaves open to debate. For Christians, the Big Bang Theory is quite consistent with this doctrine, although it is also possible that the universe was created at some point prior to the Big Bang. For atheists or naturalists, the situation is more desperate. Both science and logic tell us that only nothing emerges from nothing, and so for the naturalist the natural realm must always have existed in some form. The temptation is therefore strong for them to press science and logic, and stretch them if necessary, so that the “nothing” out of which the Big Bang is thought to have emerged may be defined in a manner that avoids an encounter with God at the beginning of it all. By pointing out the problems with this approach, Halverson’s article supports the biblical doctrine of creation.
Like Halverson, William Lane Craig uses science and philosophy rather than Scripture itself to support the scriptural doctrine of creation. The astounding ability of mathematics to describe the structure and predict the behavior of the universe is very difficult to explain apart from God.
How do two men in a Russian prison camp (gulag) who desperately dream of taking even just a few drags off a cigarette respond to the sight of a third man with a nearly finished one in his hand? Stephen Mitchell’s article “Alexander Solzhenitsyn Confronts the Grand Inquisitor” brilliantly uses the unlikely image of a cigarette butt to defend the biblical doctrine of imago dei (that human beings are created in the image of God).
While the truth of salvation through Christ would stand even if no one had spilled his blood for it, a powerful confirming witness to the gospel both in Scripture and in church history has been the martyrs of the church (in fact, martyr literally means “witness”). In her recent book, The Myth of Persecution, Notre Dame scholar Candida Moss seeks to rewrite history on this subject. In his review of her book, evangelical historian Paul Maier convincingly demonstrates that Moss has uncovered nothing that alters the traditional under standing of the role of persecution and martyrdom in the historic church.
There should be no difficulty in seeing how my article on 1 John 4 contends for the faith once for all time delivered to the saints. “Metaphysical” teachers have appropriated the biblical phrase “God is love” to support their pantheistic belief that God is an impersonal Principle and then proceeded to use that same phrase to attack the biblical doctrine of Christ’s atonement. It is important to point out to their followers that the very passage in 1 John 4 where that phrase first appeared is teaching the doctrine of Christ’s atonement. We then can use their error as a springboard to share with them the gospel of true salvation from sin, sickness, and death (the very conditions they would most like to eliminate from the universe).
Finally, how could Kevin DeYoung and Jason Helopoulos’s article on church attendance have any connection to apologetics? Contending for the faith does not merely involve answering challenges from outside the church. It even more critically entails preserving biblical doctrine and practice within it. Church attendance is not only enjoined by Scripture but also is necessary for the preservation of New Testament Christianity. The currently fashionable practice of Christian spirituality sans membership or even attendance at a local church is therefore a demonic shot at the heart of Christianity that must not go unanswered.
As we have seen, Christians need to contend for their faith across a wide range of human concerns, from the extremely abstract (mathematical formulas and creatio ex nihilo) to the extremely incarnational (how one behaves if imprisoned and physically attending church). As I have often stressed in this column, the biblical call to apologetics has never been optional. If it was essential even in the previously “Christian” culture of the West, how much more critical is it in today’s post-Christian, postmodern, and increasingly pagan Western world? The Christian Research Journal is therefore not merely a magazine for apologetics enthusiasts and countercult evangelists; it is a strategic resource in the hands of every Christian. — Elliot Miller