Just the Facts: Thoughts on Paul’s use of Reasoning in Proclaiming the Gospel
Yesterday (july 23), I was reading from the Treasury of Daily Prayer. The New Testament Reading, Acts 19:1-22 stood out to me, specifically verses 8-10 and the words “reasoning and persuading them” and “reasoning daily…so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord…”
I suppose it is not too hard to imagine why the term “reasoning” in both these sections would stand out to me. After all, returning from the International Academy of Apologetics, Evangelism and Human Rights, was just about two daysago. Nevertheless, it echoed what I had heard and learned under the tutelage of Dr. John Warwick Montgomery and Prof. Craig Parton: Gospel first, defense second. It was the “defending” portion which taught us to reason: both to give a reason as weell as to give a reasonable defense of the Gospel to the skeptic, the unbeliever.
Proper Use of Reason: Ministerial OR Magisterial?
In Lutheran theology reason is ministerial, it serves the Gospel. In Calvin and Reformed thinking reasoning is magisterial, it directs interpretation and proclamation. In my discussions with Rev. Brent Kuhlman I learned that reasoning has its place (ministerial) in Lutheranism as it is a servant to us as we proclaim the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus. It aids us in giving the Words of Life to those still dead in their sins and trespasses. However, it never leads the charge in interpretation (as in Calvinism's magisterial view). Reason, then in Lutheran use, takes the role of servant to help us bring Christ to a dying world.
Here in this text Paul uses reason to persuade the unbelievers of the truth of the Kingdom of God and then later in the hall of Tyrannus to bring the Word of the Lord to both Jew and Gentile. Sometimes we don’t understand how this took place. What did Paul use to reason with the unbelievers? Paul used the message of the Resurrection in his sermons over and over, so it is very possible and plausible that he spoke of this to the Jews in the synagogue and in the hall of Tyrannus to persuade them that the Messiah had come and conquered death.
Experience is weak proof
As I speak with other women about sharing their faith they often wonder what to share as well as how to share. Many times they ask if they should share their testimony. I try to dissuade from that practice because experience is subjective and other religions have their own experiences. Testimony based on experiences do not bring truth nor are they from the One who is The Truth, the Way and the Life. Testimony is good as far as it goes but it doesn’t go very far. I can speak with a Mormon (LDS) missionary and they will tell me of their experience of the “burning bosom” which proved to them that the Book of Mormon was true and Joseph Smith their prophet. However, their religion is neither true nor verifiable.
Therefore, it is important that when we reason we are doing so with the powerful truth that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself and that because Jesus did rise from the dead, seen by over 500 eyewitnesses (whom Paul says to the Corinthians they can go verify since many of them were still alive to be spoken to), we have been justified from our sins. The gift of forgiveness from sins is through Jesus who conquered sin, death and the devil. I wrote earlier that 1 Cor. 15 has a short section on what the Gospel is and it bears repeating that if we would memorize those verses we would have the necessary tools to proclaim the Gospel to others.
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…
However, do not overlook the very next statement in which Paul appeals to the eyewitnesses themselves, who are still very much alive and able to be questioned:
5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.
Paul is not appealing to some experience in their hearts but rather to a verifiable historical event of which there are over 500 witnesses. That is an enormous number of witnesses and Paul is telling the Corinthians that if they are unsure, if they are doubting, go ask them. Paul actually reasons with the Corinthians by using the testimony of other people. The last ones he references is the apostle Peter and then James and then the other apostles but his first resource is ordinary people…like you and I. We did not eyewitness the physically resurrected Jesus but we have the testimonies of those who did; the Written Word of God and it is from this history of the events that we can reason with those around us about the Kingdom of God so that they too may hear the word of the Lord and be brought to faith, repenting of their sins and being baptized for the forgiveness of their sins.
Peter, in his letter uses this term “reason” as well. He says that we should have a defense for the faith we have:
Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 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; (1 Peter 3:14b-15)
What is that defense?
Let me start by showing what it is NOT.
It is NOT, “I know Jesus lives because He lives within my heart…”
Is that hymn familiar? I grew up with it in evangelicalism (Pentecostal church) and it is based purely on subjective experience and feelings. Feelings are good but they do nothing to verify an event. You don’t know Jesus lives because He lives in your heart. You know Jesus lives because the Word of God and the written testimony of the eyewitnesses tell you this. It is typical for evangelicals of all stripes and types to resort to their experiences, their testimonies. However, those can be destroyed in any argument pretty quickly. What you need are verifiable facts. As the old TV program character Sgt. Joe Friday from Dragnet would say: "Just the facts, ma'am." He, as a detective, did not rely upon the feelings of the witnesses or the victims of a crime. He wanted “just the facts” and that’s what the unbeliever needs to hear: Just the Facts.
You can argue against this all you want but having worked in the field of World Religions for over 5 years I can testify that those of other religions have their “feelings” too. However, they don’t have verifiable witnesses. The stronger case comes with eyewitness testimony and the documents we have, called the New Testament have been ruled in the standards of Law to be verifiable and authentic.
St. Paul reminds us in Romans that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation and that Gospel is all about the Resurrection of Jesus. Giving a defense of the faith, reasoning with the unbeliever is bringing them the Gospel first and answering their questions second. Dear Christian, we have THE truth that even if denied by the unbeliever is still very true because Jesus rose from the dead conquering death, hell and the grave and now offers forgiveness of sins to the world. This is the Good News your friends, family and neighbors need to hear.
Go out with joy confident that Jesus is very much alive and reigning because His Written Word says so.