And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.
– 1 Corinthians 2:1-5
“There is today an evangelical rationalism not unlike the rationalism taught by the scribes and Pharisees. They said the truth is in the world, and if you want the truth, go to the rabbi and learn the word. If you get the word, you have the truth…”
– Rev. A. W. Tozer, Faith Beyond Reason
In the Scripture above, the Apostle Paul says that he spoke through the power of the Spirit. If Paul had spoken in eloquent terms or with precise logic to prove his point, it would take focus away from the cross and place it upon him, Paul. Paul readily admitted that he saved no one. Jesus saves. Thus, the focus must be upon Jesus and the cross, not on the person giving the message.
I have heard evangelists say that we must arm ourselves with an answer against every argument. I have read several books that give such great scientific arguments against the evolutionist beliefs regarding the origins of our universe, arguments for Jesus living, dying on the cross, and being resurrected, and other arguments regarding miracles in the Bible and today. Then the author says that you must have these arguments ready and prepared for battle.
I have heard of people coming to Christ after such battles, but we are not all cut out to be that type of evangelists. Most of us are the simple folk who are like the former blind man in John 9:24-25.
A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”
He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”
My problem with the arguments with non-believers is that many never admit defeat, they just change venues or change opponents when they realize that they will not win that particular battle. For example, I have seen people write lengthy essays on how C. S. Lewis was so horribly in error in The Problem of Pain. In the book, Lewis addresses one of the key questions that non-believers have, “If God is good and all powerful, why is there pain and suffering in the world?” From a believer’s standpoint, I see an excellent argument put forth in Lewis’ book, but those who refuse to accept any argument other than their own see nothing but drivel. In fact, they even go as far as to question Lewis’ conversion to Christianity. They do anything to obfuscate.
But other than an argument leaving a winner and a loser and people siding with one or the other, arguments create fractures. God wants us to be united. And arguments tend to focus on minutia, details that may not be part of the simplicity that is salvation in Jesus Christ. And then there is Paul’s argument, and what Tozer goes on to say, regarding the work of the Holy Spirit.
“But revelation is not enough! There must be illumination before revelation can get to a person’s soul. It is not enough that I hold an inspired book in my hands. I must have an inspired heart. There is the difference, in spite of the evangelical rationalist that insists that revelation is enough. …
“In His day, Christ’s conflict was with the theological rationalist. It revealed itself in the Sermon on the Mount and in the whole book of John. Just as Colossians argues against Manichaeism and Galatians argues against Jewish legalism, the book of John is a long, inspired, passionately outpoured book trying to save us from evangelical rationalism – the doctrine that says the text is enough. Textualism is as deadly as liberalism.”
– Rev. A. W. Tozer, Faith Beyond Reason
Thinking of the first Tozer quote, I am reminded of a boss many years ago. We were driving to the other side of Pittsburgh for a sales meeting. Out of the blue, he started ranting about how the Bible got translated and now “everybody has an opinion!” I asked whether he had an opinion. His reply was much as Tozer described, “If I need an opinion, I’ll ask the priest and he’ll tell me what it is!” I was struck by his choice of words. The priest would tell him what his opinion was, not what it should be. So, in his theology, the priest has a relationship with God, and he’ll go along for the ride. Using the term ‘priest’ narrows the field for what denomination he belonged, but many members in most churches (mainstream or evangelical) have this idea. Let the ‘preacher’ decide. That is a great flaw in evangelical rationalism. If the philosophy is to rely on the text only, that text needs an interpreter to explain the meaning. What if the person interpreting the Bible today interprets a passage differently than the previous pastor or the ones that follow? Creeds, confessions, and catechisms explain the text in straightforward language, but denominations that have even more dogma than just the text seem to be even further from what Paul is preaching, reliance on the Holy Spirit to speak.
When we are not the eloquent speaker, as Paul claimed in this Scripture to not be, and when we don’t have years and years of study to back up our arguments, the bottom line must be “Jesus Christ and Him crucified,” and our best answer to any question might have to be “I do not know, but I do know that I was blind, and now I see.” And in even speaking on those two points, we must remain in a state of prayer and fully trust in the Holy Spirit. I have witnessed first-hand that the Holy Spirit can do amazing things when you rely upon Him. The Spirit will give you the words that you do not think that you have within you.
I am not saying that the ‘hot topics of the day’ are to be thrown away. As Tozer says in the second quote, Paul addressed arguments based on heresies that were creeping into the early church. We must fight for purity. For the faithful believer, we have two sets of armor that is needed. One is to fight the evil from outside and the other is to fight the evil within. Each takes warriors prepared for their specific battlefield.
And when you are faced with a sermon that just doesn’t cut the mustard in your eyes, remember that the Holy Spirit does not only have to be working within the one speaking, but within the listener as well. Even a sermon that is poorly written and poorly delivered can be a gem to the soul who longs to hear words that the Holy Spirit has prepared that soul to hear.
Soli Deo Gloria. Glory to God Alone.