Yes – there is something like TSSI (see parts II and III) for the unbeliever and this is attested to both in the Scriptures and in personal experience. Of course, there is much that man is said to know from the fact that He is a creature in God’s creation itself (Romans 1) – and this alone is said to be enough to condemn sinful man! We can even go beyond this, looking at passages like I Kings 18:20-45, Isaiah 41-48 and 52:6, John 16:8-11, and Acts 17:30-31. In these Old Testament passages, as Habermas rightly points out, we see that God Himself challenged the gods of unbelievers to perform great deeds and challenged them to predict and bring to pass the future – something He Himself did, as we have been noting!
In the New Testament passages it is said that the Holy Spirit will convict all persons of unrighteousness – particularly unbelief as regards Christ – (in John 16) and the resurrection is even said to be the Creator-God’s proof for all men that Jesus Christ will indeed one day judge the living and the dead! (in Acts 17:30-31 ; see Romans 1 as well)*
In the previous posts, we basically established that Christianity is made sure in the hearts of men by God creating faith in them through the loving power of His forgiveness-life-and-salvation-bringing, history-telling-and-making words, making plain and testifying in particular to the One who has come (see this post for more on stuff like that). This is something that has “played out” through the history of the God’s church, primitive, and now increasingly mature (in spite of the fact that it is “by schisms rent asunder” and “Men see her sore oppressed”).
On the other hand, it seems that for those outside of this church, the message of Jesus’ miracles, particularly His resurrection (again, see Acts 17:31 and Luke 24), does, without fail, prove His teachings – insofar as we see what constitutes proof for God as well, “condemning their unbelief” (note that this “unbelief” is now personally informed – revealed – unbelief, untrust, real suppression of the truth: unbelievers themselves still claim “I have no compelling evidence, validation, proof….”**)! In sum, what God calls and insists is proof matters.
Further, Jesus’ words also suggest that for some unbelievers at least**** (for example, those in close proximity to the Israelites in the Old Testament), miracles – evidently even apart from prophecies made in the past predicting them! – should be seen as a good indication that only the God of Israel, revealed through His faithful messengers’ words, is true, sure, and supreme: “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.” (Luke 10:13, Matt. 11:21)***
Note that the message in this passage above seems to track with what I in a previous post called the “dual purpose” God can have in performing miracles: not only to reveal His love to us (which strong believers readily embrace for the reasons I have noted above) but to convict believers weak in their faith – as well as those who are presumably members of God’s Church but without true faith. For if even the pagans noted above would have recognized such miracles as showing only the Israelite’s God to be true and saving, you – those who should be the “people of God” – are now doubly without excuse, because of the miracles that accompany this good preaching you know to be right and true – with an emphasis on the resurrection in particular! (see Acts 2:22 here).
And again – all of this occurs so that individual persons might be put right through the power of the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins: the Holy Spirit uses the inspired and authoritative Scriptures to make clear to all men – when and where He chooses to do so – who we are, who God is, and what He has done and will do – not just to men in general, but to particular men – Christ for them! The Apostle’s and Nicene Creed for them! This is TSSI all over the place – for indeed, the Holy Spirit is no skeptic, and the Holy Spirit does not make us into persons who are skeptical of the Creator God’s work for us!
For do we not see? Of all the potential guides who might be able to lead us into life’s way and the truth, only He is alive – not in His grave! Only He is the truly Spirit-filled One Who has defeated death and its sting, sin. Only He is risen indeed – hallelujah! Let us sheep not be sheepish about this! Let us rather be very joyful that it is Christ – and not others gods or their prophets – that reveals the true God. Who is more strong, humble and merciful than Christ? Who else would we want to shape and transform our world – on top of saving us from sin, death and the devil? Again, I say hallelujah! If those who preach falsehood do so with such certainty (see the video in particular for the most revealing aspects covered in this story) how can we who know the truth fail to do so? Humble certainty is needed.
Incidently, as a bit of a side note here, in Peter Nafzger’s recent book that I reviewed, he attempted to see the Scripture in the larger framework of the divine economy. He therefore highlighted the “Trinitarian and soteriological narrative, which he identifies as the basis of a cruciform theology of the Word of God” (Werner Klan, back cover). Joel P. Okamoto summed up Nafzger’s concern in the foreward of the book with these words: “the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus must have constitutive significance for a theology of the Word”. As Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection are certainly absolutely central to the Christian account, I think that Nafzger’s desire to emphasize, highlight, and make sure this is prominent in all of our theological discourse must stand. That said, I am now thinking that Nafzger’s concerns need to be somehow combined with or even embedded into the account I have offered above, looking at more of the broad scope of the written word, ever provided and used by the Holy Spirit, in the history of the Christian church. I would certainly invite further discussion about that.
I hope that in this essay I have noticed things that other believers will notice to – and that my words will resonate with others. I am counting on the fact that others who have read the word of God will have experienced similar thoughts and realizations. Reading the book Shop Class is Soulcraft by Matthew Crawford I came across this fascinating quotation from Aristotle:
Lack of experience diminishes our power of taking a comprehensive view of the admitted facts. Hence those who dwell in intimiate association with nature and its phenomena are more able to lay down principles such as to admit of a wide and coherent development; while those whom devotion to abstract discussions has rendered unobservant of facts are too ready to dogmatize on the basis of a few observations (p. 23).
A couple final comments: First, I hope that I am not “too ready to dogmatize on the bases of [too few] observations (and yes, I think I can call these “observations” contra 20th c. ideas that say that all human speech about Jesus Christ can only witness to the reality of divine revelation in the believing subjects… and that TSSI works in the midst of this reality). Second, I again note that as brilliant as Aristotle’s observation is here, he, like many Chrisitan theologians, has downplayed the importance of history for our lives, something that all of us must ultimately must admit to.**** According to the Christian theologian Leslie Newbigin, philosophers of ancient Greece and Rome
“believed that history was not a place to locate final truth, for it was transient and not permanent. Rather, final truth was to be determined by the human powers of observation and reason…. by the contemplation of the philosopher or the religious practices of the aesthetic so that the mind and soul grasp some eternal reality that is beyond history….” (from here).
As Newbigin himself noted, this cannot be the Christian’s approach (this is something I covered in my series on what Athens needs from Jerusalem, and I plan on emphasizing this more in the future).
By way of conclusion, we may sum up the key elements in this four part post in the following fashion:
Christianity is true and sure and proven. It is made sure in the hearts of men by God creating faith in them through the loving power of His forgiveness-life-and-salvation-bringing, history-telling-and-making words, making plain and testifying in particular to the One who was to – and has – come. This is what distinguishes Christian TSSI (“testimonium Spiritu Sancti internum”, or the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit) from other religions’ claims of self-authentication. While all men, including Christians, struggle with doubts, no one can claim that God has not proved this message to them, particularly because of the relentless fact of Jesus’s fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. Given the presence of miracle claims that are said to authenticate the teachings of other religions, God has lifted up biblical prophecy and prophecy-fulfilling miracles in particular as those things that demand most forcefully that His messengers be paid attention to – even as persons are still culpable before God when they have not witnessed or heard of these kinds of things – or for that matter, any miracles or Christian preaching (Romans 1).
Again, I hope that in reading the content of my posts here these thoughts have made some sense to you. When I did my series challenging aspects of John Warwick Montgomery’s approach see the introduction and part I, part II and part III), I had in mind to offer my own alternative here, and have now done so. Please do engage me about these issues if you feel so led, either now or in the future.
God’s blessings in Christ.
* Ideally, the unbeliever hears a brief message like the one Paul preached in Athens and, convicted by the Spirit, seeks to learn more. Then it is hoped that from good messengers they will find out that Jesus claimed to be the promised Messiah, identified Himself as being God, predicted His death and resurrection, and most importantly, died on the cross that their sins might be forgiven. Ideally, they will then be led through the whole story told in the Bible by good teachers, from Genesis to Revelation.
And what if an unbeliever is able to get his hands on a Bible, something not possible in Paul’s day when he preached in Athens? Here, I think we must insist that while any careful first-time reader of the entire Bible would not be able to produce the Nicene Creed, which was produced in the midst of certain challenges that arose in history, they certainly would be able to discern its main message – and along with this receive the conviction of the Holy Spirit that it is true – even if they went on to suppress this knowledge.
Also, note that the preaching to pagans in Acts 17 takes place in the context of the wider story about how the One True God has been guiding history and has now provided the man Jesus Christ as the ultimate answer and key. How to preach it? I have in the past said this:
“Why should Christianity and the truths it purports to preach get our attention? Why these claims over the claims of any other world religion? Well, does any other religion claim to vindicate its founder – who incidently, claimed to be God, via a resurrection from the dead? (not to mention all the miracles leading up to that final, crowning miracle – ponder, for example, Mark 2:9-11 here). Does any other world religion claim to offer proof, assurance…. – that we can know who it is who will in the future judge the world? (see Acts 17). None.
I might go so far to say than that anyone who does not take these things seriously – is, by definition, not being rational. Would most philosophers agree with me? I don’t think so. And even if some found it to be an intriguing argument, perhaps they may say, after looking at things, that there is “insufficient evidence” for what Christianity claims. Then what? Again, do they get to decide what sufficient evidence is? Might they be under any obligation to reconsider and look again? Who charges them to do so? How deeply did they look into it? Did they do so prayerfully?”
Finally, it is interesting to note that Paul, when dealing with purported believers in Acts 26, is really arguing about the authority of the Scriptures – that the resurrection from the dead will happen and in fact already has – and not Jesus Christ’s resurrection per se.
** Explaining the position of John Gerhard, Robert Preus writes “If some unbelievers outside the church…. Persistently denies that Scripture is the Word of God, it becomes obvious that Scripture is not an adequate judge or norm in that controversy, since every disputation must proceed on the basis of principles common to both parties. As the philosophers teach, ‘those who wish to arrive at any conclusion must first agree on some sort of principle.’ But such a dispute is not on some article of faith, but on the very source of our faith, which in our discussion we accept as true, known, of primary importance, immutable and needing no demonstration. Hence unbelievers cannot be convinced by the book of Scripture but must be convinced by the book of nature and must first be led to Scripture by certain external criteria.” (Preus, p. 121, The Inspiration of Scripture) I suggest that Gerhard falls down here because he is not taking into full consideration the implications of the testimony in Acts 17:31.
The Holy Spirit convicts men by the testimony of the resurrection of Christ, which is not merely something that has been divinely revealed apart from natural revelation, but which is an event in history that all men must deal with and confront – they must look to this prophet of God and not others. The Christian Church simply presumes that the resurrection is a fact that is not in dispute – to take Paul’s words, it was “not done in a corner” and hence is “true and reasonable” (see also Acts 2-4). At the very least, we can say that it is an event of “local history” that God expects all men, who have “eternity in their hearts”, to be accountable to.
Actually, there is also a time simply to dismiss the person who will not listen not only to testimony about Christ’s resurrection but also the creation. It can occur that intellectual arguments about things like intelligent design remove roadblocks that prevent unbelievers from taking the Scriptures seriously. On the other hand, there are also times simply to inform such persons that the Scriptures assert that they says are fools if they will not acknowledge the Divine Mind responsible for all things.
*** The Lutheran reformer Philip Melanchton, writing in 1555, speaks of “the frightful delusion of those who are scorners and hardened persecutors of the gospel, who continue in the Cain-like poisoned bitterness and rancor of their hate and rage against the truth. Neither sermons nor admonitions, supplications nor entreaties help; and although they are overwhelmed in their hearts and consciences by the public attestation of the Holy Spirit in Holy Scriptures and miracles, they do not cease justifying their godless doctrine and life” (Loci Communes, 1555, 1982 ed., p. 236). Interestingly, as the Lutheran theologian and historian Martin Noland points out, this “view is entirely oppostite from Calvin’s concept of the secret attestation of the Holy Spirit in the heart, and the difference is caused by a difference in the concept of faith” (pp. 31 and 32, Martin R. Noland, “The doctrine of the testimonium Spiritu Sancti internum as a Calvinistic element in Lutheran theology” (Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, M.Div. thesis, 1983, mentioned by Noland here). Noland also directs readers to the Latin form of AC XX, 23, 26 for the Lutheran view of faith, which understands faith not primarily as knowledge (notitia) but confidence (fiducia) that “consoles and lifts up terrified hearts”. In sum, Calvin sees faith as cognition and certainty and Lutherans see it as fiducia, knowledge and assent.
Here is AC XX:23-26:
“23] Men are also admonished that here the term “faith” does not signify merely the knowledge of the history, such as is in the ungodly and in the devil, but signifies a faith which believes, not merely the history, but also the effect of the history—namely, this article: the forgiveness of sins, to wit, that we have grace, righteousness, and forgiveness of sins through Christ.
24] Now he that knows that he has a Father gracious to him through Christ, truly knows God; he knows also that God cares for him, and calls upon God; in a word, he is not 25] without God, as the heathen. For devils and the ungodly are not able to believe this article: the forgiveness of sins. Hence, they hate God as an enemy, call not upon Him, 26] and expect no good from Him. Augustine also admonishes his readers concerning the word “faith,” and teaches that the term “faith” is accepted in the Scriptures not for knowledge such as is in the ungodly but for confidence which consoles and encourages the terrified mind.”
In other words, the Nicene Creed may be believed to be true, doctrinally, historically, etc – but a key question here is do you believe it is *for you* – *in the sense* that we are talking about Christ’s forgiveness, life and salvation *for you*.
**** Also note Lessing in the 18th c.: the accidental truths of history can never become the proof of necessary truths of reason….
Images: Christ crucified – http://www.worldvieweverlasting.com/2014/09/22/every-knee-bowing-blood-lamb/