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What is a Reformed apologetics methodology?

This video of K. Scott Oliphint serves as a good introduction to what a Reformed Apologetics Methodology would entail. Note that Oliphint himself is a Covenantal Apologist (but please don't let that take away from the video below), we'll also draw from his material later on.

This article is divided into seven sections:

  • What Does it Mean to be Reformed?

  • Sola Scriptura (Bible Alone) Expanded

  • The Command of Apologetics (Oliphint exegesis with added thoughts)

  • Concerning Truth and Knowledge

  • Concerning Knowledge of God

  • Concerning Sin

  • How to Answer the Fool

The important part that we want to stress in the article, as that our apologetic methodology must square with our theology. There cannot be a disconnect.

What does it mean to be Reformed?

One hammer in the hand of an obscure Augustinian monk changed the world forever. Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses on the church door in Wittenburg, Germany calling his fellow professors to examine issues of supreme theological importance. Thus began the Reformation through which the light of God's Word was brought out of the darkness to shine with clarity once more. Because of that affirmation Luther was involved in serious controversies—controversies that culminated in his being brought to trial before the princes of the church and even before the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles the V.
And there at the Diet of Worms, summoned in Germany, Luther was called upon to recant his views. He answered his interlocutors by saying,"Revoco? You want me to say revoco? That I recant? I will not recant unless I am convinced by sacred Scripture or by evident reason. I cannot recant for my conscience is held captive by the Word of God. And to act against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me."
In every generation the gospel must be published anew with the same boldness, and the same clarity, and the same urgency that came forth in the 16th century Reformation.

R.C. Sproul, '1517', Glory to the Holy One

During the Protestant Reformation, the light of God's Word was brought out of the darkness to shine with clarity once more. Luther said that his conscience is held captive by the Word of God. He was asked to recant his views but simply stated that unless he can be convinced by Sacred Scripture or by evident reason, he will not recant his views.

The actual quote reads as follows:

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.

Martin Luther, Diet of Worms, 1521

This is probably one of the first iterations of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) which developed during the Reformation. What the doctrine of Sola Scriptura entails is that the Bible is the supreme authority, sufficient, and clear.

To be Reformed is to be Biblical. It is to affirm that which Scripture teaches as our supreme authority.

Sola Scriptura (Bible Alone Expanded)

The statement that the Bible is the “only rule for faith and practice” is rooted in the sufficiency of Scripture, as revealed in 2 Timothy 3:16–17: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Because God is sovereign, His Word is the absolute authority in our lives, and by it, God equips us for His service. As A. A. Hodge wrote,

Whatever God teaches or commands is of sovereign authority. . . . The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the only organs through which, during the present dispensation, God conveys to us a knowledge of his will about what we are to believe concerning himself, and what duties he requires of us.

Outlines of Theology, chapter 5.

The important part of our current discussion is that the Scriptures convey to us what duties God requires of us, and what we are to believe concerning God.

The command of apologetics

As Reformed Christians, we agree that our Bible is our supreme authority. All apologists would then agree that the Bible provides us with specific commands to engage in Apologetics.

K. Scott Oliphint provides a wonderful exegesis of these passages in his book titled The Battle Belongs to the Lord. We'll share some of his conclusions here.

1 Peter 3:15

But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.

Oliphint notes that challenges to our faith can come from all sides these days: friends at school, family and strangers. To give an answer when challenges come is what is meant by the word apologetics.

1 Peter was written to Christians who were facing severe persecution. They were persecuted simply because they were Christians. They were a suffering group, dispersed, experiencing unjust punishment from the government.

Oliphint begins his exegesis of 1 Peter 3:15 by providing the background to the epistle. He then continues to split his exegesis into three sections:

  1. Who we are

  2. Who God is

  3. A proper Fear

Who We Are

Where do we as Reformed Christians find our identity? Our most basic identity is defined by our relationship to our Creator. As Christians, we are children of God. As with these persecuted Christians, our identity rests in the first place in what God has done for and in us, and not in what our current circumstances are; be it persecution, suffering or prosperity. Because we are identified first and foremost as God's children, we are, as Peter called our 1st-century brothers in Christ, "exiles" in this world

Who God Is

Sometimes we think that if we could only see God, even for a moment, it will give us unshakable faith that will allow us to persevere when the toughest of trials arrive. Almost all we do requires us to use our senses, and if we can't 'sense' or 'see' something, we'd think it probably isn't real.

God is invisible. We can't see Him. But note that Peter, in the build-up to 1 Peter 3, does not ever encourage the suffering Christians to be like the doubting Thomas, constantly seeking signs and wonders. Rather, he reminds them (and us) that our walk of life here on Earth is by faith and not by sight. Paul, while experiencing persecution himself, reminds the Corinthians that it is the invisible things that are eternal.

With this, Peter and Paul mean that the invisible should shape our view of the visible and not the other way around.

A Proper Fear

Oliphint notes that persecution should cause us to remember at least two things:

  1. This world is not our home

  2. We should set our minds on the things above, where Christ is (Col. 3:1-2)

In the first part of 1 Peter 3:15, Peter actually refers back to Isaiah 8:12-13.

Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.

With this quotation, Peter takes up the subject of fear. The kind of fear mentioned here is the particular kind of fear that might cause us to focus our lives on it rather than on the Lord, the kind of fear that might cause us to order our lives in a way that would betray a lack of trust in God. It is a fear that might cause us to lose perspective or to act as if something other than God himself has the ultimate power over us.

The first thing that these first-century Christians had to burn into their hearts according to Oliphint, is proper fear. They had to know that in these situations where they will be required to give a "defence" or "answer", they first had to remember that Christ is Lord. He is the true Emperor, and He ALONE is Lord.

They should not fear the worldly powers or persecutors, they should fear Christ. And we, like they must do the same. We need to remain faithful to the true King of kings.

Remember, either Christ is the Lord or something else is, and that "something else" would always have the power to undo or resist or erase whatever we did that is good. But since Christ is Lord, no amount of opposition can thwart/subvert His good purposes.

The point is this: Jesus Christ is King, we are his servants. We have been given the command to defend His crown, and we do this when we communicate that he alone is Lord.

Lord, Give what You Command

Oliphint closes his section on 1 Peter 3:15 in noting that God, in commanding us to meet the challenges that come, does not leave us without the resources we need to carry out that command. He gives us what we need, and all that we need in His Word.

Indeed Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

Oliphint notes that the word "complete" may also be translated as "fully equipped". We don't need anything else. Indeed this does not mean that we will always have all the answers, we are not omniscient, we only know the God who is.

Therefore, the Reformed Apologetics Methodology is by definition required to:

  1. Affirm that Jesus Christ is King

  2. Honour Christ as Lord/King before it sets out to give an answer.

  3. Affirm that Scripture will make the man of God "fully equipped" for every good work.


Jude wrote to warn the Christians against a specific attack on the gospel, an attack that is taking place within the Church itself.

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.

Here in Jude 1:3, Jude appeals to a church or group of churches to contend for the faith. These attacks coming from within the Church itself is actually the most devastating. The most serious and despicable evils will come to us in harmless attire, dressing itself up as something actually good. We saw a glimpse of this in Genesis 3. Satan did not approach Eve and explicitly set himself up against the Lord, rather, he actually approached as one simply looking for some information: "Did God actually say..?"

Jude uses the word contend. The word translated as "contend" does not appear anywhere else in the New Testament. It was commonly used for either military combat or athletics contests. Jude uses this word to highlight the fact that Christians must view themselves as being in the midst of a fight/battle/contest - even in the midst of the Church.

He also mentions that we must contend for the faith.

The faith is not our own internal beliefs, but rather it is something external to us. This faith is the truth of Scripture. It is those truths that make up the gospel. Of course, this means that before we can actually contend for the faith, we need to know that the faith is!

A similar expression is used in Acts 16:5:

And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

From this Oliphint notes get the idea of a "measuring rod" - something that we can measure ourselves against and become obedient to.

It is also mentioned as something in which we must remain true in Acts 14:22

...strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.

And also something in which we must be strengthened in Acts 16:5

So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.

This is one of the reasons the early Christians set out creeds and confessions, not only to tell others what is believed but to remind ourselves what we believe.

Jude mentions that the faith is "once for all delivered to the saints" meaning it is

  1. Complete

  2. Delivered (Revelation) to the saints

The faith that we have to defend, is given to us by God. Our faith comes from the mind of God. This means that the authority that stands behind our defence of the faith is God.

Oliphint then notes the incredibly important following: A part of our defence must be "Thus says the Lord". Any defence of Christianity, then, must be based on divine revelation. If we are asked or challenged to give a reason for our faith, we dare not think that we believe things that originated with ourselves. We dare not give the impression that we believe what we believe because we are smarter than other people or more perceptive than those who do not believe. The Reformed Apologetics Methodology must affirm that we believe what we believe by the Grace of God. What we believe we believe not because the eye has seen or the ear has heard, or because the heart has imagined, but because, and only because God has revealed it to us by the Spirit. It is to the revelation of God we must go to if we are to defend the faith. It is there that the faith is explained and given.

2 Corinthians 10:3-5

For 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.

Paul claims that the demolition of arguments is accomplished with weapons of divine power. What could Paul mean? Paul's discussion is in many ways similar to his discussion in Ephesians 6:10-18. Here, he lays out just what weapons we are to use "in the strength of his might"

In Ephesians 6 Paul reminds us that we are not in a fleshly battle. Our battle is "other-worldly". A spiritual battle requires spiritual weapons and Paul tells us exactly how we are to arm ourselves for this battle. We fight with

  • The Belt of Truth

  • The Breastplate of Righteousness

  • The Gospel of Peace on our Feet

  • The Shield of Faith

  • The Helmet of Salvation

  • The Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (see also Hebrews 4:12).

These weapons come with the full authority of God, and not of man. There is therefore no stronger weapons we could use.

Important here then is that the Reformed Apologetics Methodology is by definition required to affirm that the Sword with which we fight in this Spiritual battle and with which we demolish arguments to make every thought captive to obey Christ, is the Word of God. Not the autonomous arguments of man.

Concerning truth and knowledge

Since Reformed Christians hold to the Doctrine of Sola Scriptura, we must take with utmost seriousness that which the Bible teaches us concerning truth and knowledge. We will take a look at a few verses relevant to this discussion.

Proverbs 1:7

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

This verse is quite clear to understand. If you don't fear the Lord at the beginning of your thinking process, you can't have knowledge. God is not someone we reason to, He is the God who we can't reason without.


We will first quote a few commentaries before making an analysis, as some has claimed that this verse only pertains to knowledge relating to salvation. The previous verses and context and content of Proverbs does not indicate this reading, rather ALL knowledge is in view here.

The Benson Commentary notes that God is the beginning of knowledge — The foundation and source of it; without which all other knowledge is vain and useless.

Matthew Poole's Commentary notes that "The beginning"; either the foundation, or the top, and perfection, or chief point, without which all other knowledge is vain and useless.

Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible notes that "fear" is a holy, humble, fiducial fear of God; a reverential affection for him, and devotion to him; it includes the whole of religious worship, both internal and external; all that is contained in the first table of the law, and the manner of performing it, and the principle of acting: this is the first of all sciences to be learned, and it is the principal one; it is the basis and foundation of all the rest, on which they depend; and it is the head, the fountain, the root an source, from whence they spring; and unless a man knows God, knows God in Christ, and worships him in his fear, in spirit and truth, according to his revealed will, he knows nothing as he ought to know; and all his knowledge will be of no avail and profit to him; this is the first and chief thing in spiritual and evangelical knowledge, and without which all natural knowledge will signify nothing.

Pulpit Commentary notes that "The beginning"; Hebrew, (reshith). This word has been understood in three different senses:

  1. As initium, the beginning; i.e. the initial step or starting point at which everyone who wishes to follow true wisdom must begin.

  2. As caput; i.e. the most excellent or principal part, the noblest or best wisdom.

  3. As the principium (Vulgate); i.e. the origin, or basis.

And lastly, the Reformation Study Bible notes "is the beginning of knowledge"; The Hebrew means either the starting point of knowledge or its basic, ruling principle. The latter is in view here. While in His common grace God enables unbelievers to know much about the world, only the fear of the Lord enables one to know what anything means ultimately.

Further Thoughts

Let's take a look at the unbeliever from the point of view of Proverbs 1:7. Unbelievers do not fear God, the implication, therefore, is that they cannot have any true knowledge on the grounds of their own worldview. Please note that we specifically mention "on the grounds of their own worldview", as the worldview of the unbeliever does not have the fear of the Lord at its core and, as Proverbs 1:7 indicates, it must have to know.

Does this mean that unbelievers cannot know anything at all? Not at all. Consider as a counter-example that unbelievers know that God exists as Paul teaches us in Romans 1. Romans 1 teaches not only that all people can know God through nature, but that they do know God (mediate and immediate) and his moral requirements because of natural revelation. This will be discussed later on.

To the extent that unbelievers can know things are only so because they must borrow from the God they know exists. Their reason and emotions bear witness against them. The whole universe bears witness against their denial of the truth, and they know it.

Van Til famously said that unbelievers can count, they just can't account for counting. Because unbelievers don't honour God, they cannot know anything on the grounds of their own worldview. But because they are still made in the Imago Dei, they can know things only because they are inconsistent in their own worldview - borrowing from the God they know exists.

Daniel 2:21-22

He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding; he reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers notes that "The wise" i.e., wise men generally. Wise men become what they are, not through their own study and natural ability, but by the grace and mercy of God.

The Reformation Study Bible notes that "he reveals deep and hidden things"Job 28 is a carefully drawn picture of wisdom as “hidden from the eyes of all” (Job 28:21) and inaccessible without God.

Again we see that the Lord is the one who gives us wisdom and knowledge. We begin to see the Biblical model of epistemology which demands to be revelational in nature. Knowledge comes from God.

1 Corinthians 2:1-16

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”—
these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

Matthew Henry's commentary on this section is spot on: "The apostle proceeds with his argument in this chapter, and, I. Reminds the Corinthians of the plain manner wherein he delivered the gospel to them (v. 1-5). But yet, II. Shows them that he had communicated to them a treasure of the truest and highest wisdom, such as exceeded all the attainments of learned men, such as could never have entered into the heart of man if it had not been revealed, nor can be received and improved to salvation but by the light and influence of that Spirit who revealed it"

The Reformation Study Bible also notes that Self-confidence,” if it rests on arrogance concerning one’s own strength, reflects a desire to be independent of God. Paul had learned that God can use human weakness to show forth His own glory (2 Cor. 12:7–10). Because he knew that men and women will be persuaded only “in demonstration of the Spirit and power,” Paul used his talents and training with full confidence.

In the same sense, we see that Paul concedes that he did not bring speech and arguments to convince that reflects the wisdom of the world, but that his speech was in demonstration of the Spirit that our faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but the power of God. Paul was not confident in his own intellectual ability to formulate arguments, but rather he had confidence because he comes with the wisdom and knowledge of that which God as revealed to him, and there is no firmer place to stand which can give us more confidence!

Paul also shows us that the unregenerate will not accept these thoughts of God except those who have been given the Spirit of God, therefore, it would be futile to try and make unbelievers understand the Gospel by dumbing it down. The Bible is clear that the message we preach is foolishness to the world. Once we try to make it not be foolish to the world, it's no longer the Gospel.

So how should the Reformed Apologist approach apologetical situations? "Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual." We don't approach these situations from a supposed neutral perspective to impart wisdom to the unbelievers, but rather we do this with words taught by the Spirit, and where do we find this? Scripture.

Job 38:36

Who has put wisdom in the inward parts or given understanding to the mind?

This comes as one of the responses God gives Job after Job tries to questions God. God begins his response to Job by stating, "I will question you, and you make it known to me."

We have no right to question God, nor to put Him to the test (Luke 4:12).

We have no moral right to put God to the test, but we also see how this is self-refuting. We are created in God's image, and God imparted knowledge to us through revelation so that we may know things for certain. How can we then use our God-given minds to put God to the test, who has given us the mind and knowledge to question things?

Water cannot rise above its source, in the same way, our thoughts and knowledge that was given to us by God, cannot be used to question the existence of God. It's a self-defeating scenario.

The Reformed Apologist must, therefore, realise that any argument that begins with the autonomy of man as being able to obtain knowledge, wisdom and understanding apart from the Christian God first and foremost stands in direct contrast to Scripture. The argument, if successful will actually disprove the verses we are quoting at the moment. The Reformed Apologist must realise that any argument that doesn't start with the necessity of God at the foundation so that we can reason at all, is futile and in contrast with Scripture.

Colossians 2:8

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits[a] of the world, and not according to Christ.

The commentary for this section is adapted from Jason Lisle's article titled, Beware of Philosophy!

Notice that the Apostle Paul does not say that we should abstain from studying philosophy.  Nor does he warn us about philosophy in the general sense of the term.  Rather, he warns us not to be taken captive by a particular kind of philosophy.

Obviously, Paul is not against philosophy in the general sense of answering questions about the nature of reality, truth, and ethics.  When he defended the faith, he did so by answering these very questions (Acts 17:22-31).  Rather, Paul is warning us not to be carried away by a particular kind of philosophy.  And what kind of philosophy does he warn us about?  It is a philosophy that is “according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world.”  Yes, Paul is warning us about secular, anti-biblical philosophy.

This is the main goal of the Christian life: to pattern our thinking and our actions after Christ.  We are to emulate God’s character (Ephesians 5:1), which means we emulate both His thoughts and His ways (Isaiah 55:7-8).  The Reformed Apologist, therefore, is to develop a philosophy, a way of thinking, that is according to Christ by taking captive every thought so that it is obedient to the Lord (2 Corinthians 10:5).  We don’t do this in an attempt to gain favour with God or to earn salvation.  We do it out of love and gratitude to the Lord who saved us by His grace and mercy.

Greg Bahnsen noted that Paul infallibly declares in Colossians 2:3-8 that "All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hid in Christ." Note he says all wisdom and knowledge is deposited in the person of Christ - whether it be about the War of 1812, water's chemical composition, the literature of Shakespeare, or the laws of logic! Every academic pursuit and every thought must be related to Jesus Christ, for Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). To avoid Christ in your thought at any point, then, is to be misled, untruthful, and spiritually dead.

John 14:6

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Truth is that which corresponds to the mind of God.

When Jesus said, “I am the way the truth and the life,” he was making a philosophical (epistemological) claim. Jesus is the truth because He corresponds perfectly to the mind of God since He is God in the flesh (Colossians 2:9).

Read more on this in our article on revelational epistemology.

Jesus did not say that he is "a" truth, rather he is "the" truth. There is no other truth. The Reformed Apologetics Method must, therefore, affirm that there is no other truth than that found in Christ. Truth is not independent of Christ. This is also explicitly brought forward in the following verse:

Colossians 2:2-3

...that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

The Geneva Study Bible notes that there is no true wisdom outside of Christ as taught in these verses.

The verse is clear, only in Christ can we find true wisdom and true knowledge. The idea of obtaining knowledge in some fashion that does not refer to Christ in any way is foolish and contrary to Scripture. The autonomous man, therefore, who tries to reason his way to Christ does so in a futile manner.

The verse doesn't say, "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge is found in Christ except when we're doing apologetics". The verse is unambiguous - ALL knowledge.

The Reformed Apologist, therefore, cannot consistently affirm the teaching of Colossians 2:3 and still treat Jesus as someone to be reasoned to when the Bible is clear that there is no knowledge that is not already dependent on him. Jesus is the one who we cannot reason without!

Matthew 22:37

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.

The Reformed Apologist, therefore, is to love God with all his mind. This does not leave open the possibility of acting as if He doesn't exist to prove his existence.

What would you say if someone asks you to prove that your wife is not a 'streetwalker'? Would you start to argue with the person from the perspective that she could be a streetwalker? Of course not! This is your wife. You know your wife! In the same way, why would the Reformed Apologist give any credibility to the unbeliever's claim that God does not exist? If he did so, the argument can be made that this is not loving God with our minds.

God is not in the dock. We are not to use our God-given minds to act as judges over God's existence. This ties in with our assessment of Job 38:36.

Romans 3:4

By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, “That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.”

This verse also provides us with a glimpse as to how the Reformed Apologist should view God's Word vs man's word. Never should we allow the opinions of men to rule over the Word of God. If unbelievers claim that God does not exist, we don't believe them as God calls them fools (Pslams 14:1) and reveals to us that everyone already knows He exists (Romans 1). Further, God has also made foolish the knowledge of this world (1 Corinthians 1:20).

Luke 16:31

But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”

In this parable, Jesus touched on the heart of the apologetic issue. The rich man wanted to go back to tell his relatives to repent so that they do not end up in hell like him.

But Abraham simply tells the rich man that they already have the prophets' (revelation) and that even if the rich man were to rise from the dead and speak to them, they would still not believe.

The Reformed Apologist, therefore, must know that unbelievers don't suffer from a fact or evidence problem, they suffer from an authority problem. They refuse to bow down to the God that they already know exists. The role of the apologist, therefore, is not to convince the unbeliever of something the unbeliever already knows.

This brings us to the next section.

Concerning knowledge of God

We will quote Romans 1:18-23 at length:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

From this passage we can gather a few things:

  1. Unbelievers suppress the truth in unrighteousness,

  2. Because God has made the truth plain to them.

  3. Therefore, they are without excuse.

  4. They know God, but they don't honour Him.

Romans 1 teaches that all men know God, for if someone is yet to be convinced, that would not leave all men without excuse. Unbelievers know God, but they do not honour him or give thanks to him when they steal from Him to deny Him.

Consider our previous discussion on truth and knowledge. Unbelievers use their God-given ability to reason and know the truth to try and dethrone their Creator. This is the suppression of truth in unrighteousness.

Romans 1 also places focus on God's action in making the truth plain to all men, it has a revelational aspect. Therefore, the truth about God's existence is immediate. The Geneva Study Bible puts it nicely: Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath showed it unto them.

Pulpit Commentary also supports the immediate nature of this revelation: Because that which is known (not, as in the Authorized Version, "may be known;" for, though the force of the word γνωστὸν suggests this sense, it certainly means known, not knowable, in the many passages of the New Testament where it elsewhere occurs)

The Reformation Study Bible also note with regards to the truth that is being suppressed by the unbelievers - It is not that the truth is sought but cannot be found, but rather that, confronted with the truth (which is “clearly perceived,” v. 20), fallen humanity seeks to hinder and obstruct its influence, and is therefore “without excuse” (v. 20). The “excuse” in view is an appeal to ignorance.

It, therefore, becomes clear that there is no excuse for the unbeliever (no appeal to ignorance). Everybody knows God, and everybody is without excuse for denying him. The Reformed apologist must, therefore, not believe unbelievers over the Word of God when they come only seeking more information as to whether God exists (like Satan when he only asked Eve for some more information). The Reformed apologist must believe the God who says that everybody already knows He exists, and then proceed to engage with the unbeliever having set this God apart as Lord.

John Calvin notes the important point as to what exactly his knowledge entails: But this knowledge of God, which avails only to take away excuse, differs greatly from that which brings salvation, which Christ mentions in John 17:3, and in which we are to glory, as Jeremiah teaches us, Jeremiah 9:24.

Psalm 14:1 also says:

The fool says in his heart, "There is no God"

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges notes that "fool" means a class of men, not a particular individual. The word here used for fool denotes moral perversity, not mere ignorance or weakness of reason. This enforces what we learned in Romans 1. Those who claim there is no God do not do so due to a lack of information, they do so because of a moral perversity and this already touches on our next section. A fool is not someone who acts out of ignorance, it is someone who knows better and still acts to the contrary.

Therefore, in this context, the fool is the person who knows there is a God and yet claims there isn't. Notice also that the Bible is clear that every person who claims there is no God is a fool. It doesn't say that "those who contemplated the Kalam cosmological argument and still says there is no God are fools". Therefore, all men who claim there is no God, are fools.

The Bible also speaks of another kind of immediate knowledge that all men have, and this relates to God's righteous law.

The apostle Paul teaches us in Romans 2:12-16 that:

For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

Concerning Sin

R.C. Sproul writes on the issue of sin in apologetics:

God Himself in nature, history, and His Word has given incontrovertible proof of His own existence and the true identity of Christ. Yet multitudes who hear and see such proof remain unpersuaded because sin has so clouded their minds and captured their hearts.

The fall into sin has caused mankind to ignore and deny their Creator. Sin has affected our minds and causes our thinking to become futile apart from Christ. This effect of sin upon our minds is known in theology as the “noetic effects of sin.”

Ephesians 4:18 notes that

They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.

What does it mean when we claimed that unbelievers are darkened in their understanding? It means that unbelievers, being alienated from God will refuse to accept or honour him (Romans 1) even when presented with "logical arguments" and "persuasive techniques".

Unbelievers love their sin, and any knowledge of God brought to them, will immediately be suppressed in their unrighteousness. This is also consistent with our previous analysis of Luke 16:31 which states that unbelievers don't have a facts problem, but an authority problem.

The Reformed Apologist must, therefore, take the noetic effects of sin into account in the apologetic situations and know that any method that sets out to convince the unbeliever, fails to note that unbelievers cannot be convinced as they already know God exists, and will just suppress any new knowledge that they receive.

How to answer the fool

At least we conclude. How is the Christian to answer the unbeliever/fool then? Surely the Bible has some advice on this as well?

1 Peter 3:15 gives the first step - sanctify Christ as Lord. Then what? The writer of proverbs teaches us:

Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.

What does this mean?

Pulpit Commentary has some nice insights: - "Answer not a fool according to his folly". Do not lower yourself to the fool's level by answering his silly questions or arguing with him as if he were a sensible man. Lest thou also be like unto him; lest you be led to utter folly yourself or side with him in his opinions and practices. Our blessed Saviour never responded to foolish and captious questions in the way that the questioner hoped and desired, he put them by or gave an unexpected turn to them which silenced the adversary. Instances may be seen in Matthew 21:23, etc.; Matthew 22:21, 22; Luke 13:23, etc.; John 21:21, etc.

Answer a fool according to his folly. This maxim, at first sight, seems absolutely antagonistic to the purport of the preceding verse, but it is not so really. The words, "according to his folly," in this verse mean, as his folly deserves, in so plain a way as is expose it, and shame him, and bring him to a better mind. Lest he be wise in his own conceit; thinking, it may be, that he has said something worth hearing, or put you to silence by his superior intelligence.

These verses can be linked with Psalm 14:1 as well. Who is the fool? The fool is the one who says that there is no God. How are we to answer the fool? Not by assuming the arbitrary standards of the unbeliever and join him in putting God in the dock acting as judges over whether God exists or not, rather we are to assume his worldview for the sake of argument to point of the folly of his own worldview.


Published by Apologetics Central

At Apologetics Central, we are committed to providing biblically grounded, Reformed presuppositional apologetics resources to equip believers in defending the Christian faith. As a ministry, we strive to uphold the truth of God's word and present it winsomely to a world in need of the gospel.


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