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Wrong Reason (6)

Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God.” Matthew 22.29 

The secularist’s mistake
As they think about Christianity, the mistake many secular people make is the same the Sadducees made when they confronted Jesus. They thought their facts and logic would overpower His. But they were quite wrong. Their mistake was twofold.

First, they began by assuming that their basic premise – no spiritual realm, no resurrection from the dead – was instead an established fact. We’ve already dealt with this part of the problem as it pertains to answering our secular and wrong-believing friends. We’ve seen that nothing in the secular worldview can enable it to establish as a fact that there is no God, no spiritual world, and no rising from the dead. The protocols and limits of the secular worldview simply do not allow it to establish their view of such matters as fact. That which wrong-believing folk accept as a fact is simply a premise, that is, a preferred belief that suits all the other planks of their worldview, at least, as they see it.

Their premise is just that, just as the Sadducees’ premise about there being no resurrection was just a premise. As such, the secularist’s basic premise is vulnerable to being exposed and dismissed, given sufficient facts to the contrary.

What a faulty premise requires is more facts, facts which, second, the Sadducees had conveniently overlooked or neglected. So, when Jesus piled more facts against the Sadducees’ premise, the premise – that there is no resurrection or spiritual life – collapsed. What the secular premise requires, besides the demonstration that it’s just a premise, is more facts, and the Christian knows just where to turn in marshaling those facts.

Jesus said the Sadducees were wrong because they did not know the Scriptures. They were no doubt acquainted with the Scriptures and thought they knew them. But Jesus was able to show that they did not know how to understand the most basic teaching of the Scriptures. And this meant that their premise, conclusion, and worldview were not only not in line with the Scriptures but simply and altogether wrong.

Responding with God’s Word
Notice how Jesus approached the Word of God in His response. He didn’t turn to some arcane passage, hoping this was one the Sadducees had somehow overlooked. No. He appealed to a text which would have been very familiar to them, the account of God’s appearing to Moses and calling him to lead Israel out of Egypt.

This text, from Exodus 3, would have been known by every Hebrew child: “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Ex. 3.6). Every Jew in Jesus’ day would have known this passage. But the deeper meaning of this passage eluded the Sadducees, who were blind to it because of their basic premise.

Everybody knows something about the Bible. And almost everybody – including most secular people – will agree with what they know, or what they choose to know, about the Bible. This may not be immediately obvious, so let’s look a little more closely.

For example, if you ask your secular friend, “Do you believe we should love our neighbors as we love ourselves?”, your friend would most likely agree. Or if you ask, “Do you believe in the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you?” your friend will surely affirm it as well. If you point out to your friend that the Bible teaches the universe is real, orderly, and knowable, and that it is the privilege and duty of people to make good use of its many resources, your friend will undoubtedly find that a fact with which he can agree. The Bible teaches we should care about and seek to help the poor and oppressed. The Bible condemns those who take advantage of the weak and helpless. The Bible encourages a love of beauty and the creation of useful works of culture. The Bible insists that civil magistrates can play a good role in society. All these are facts with which any wrong-believing person will surely agree.

It's not hard to find secular and other wrong-believing people who will agree that the Bible teaches many true and useful things, and that many of the things the Bible teaches have benefited people in a wide variety of ways.

What Jesus pointed out to the Sadducees was that while they knew and agreed with some things about the Scriptures, they didn’t really know the Scriptures at all. Their knowledge of Scripture was selective, superficial, and self-interested. If they really read the Scriptures and knew them in their context, they’d see something completely different. Jesus pointed out that God is not the God of the dead; He did not say, “I was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” He said, “I am their God.” Jesus inferred from this that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were alive somewhere, and this He took as proof of the resurrection.

That would have been news to the Sadducees because their basic premise – no angels, no spirits, no resurrection – had blinded them to what Jesus explained. When He explained it, adding a new fact to the issue on the table, the Sadducees had no response. This new fact had undermined their basic premise, revealing it as not a fact at all but merely a point of view.

Jesus’ explanation certainly resonated with the crowds, for when they heard it, they immediately grasped the sense of it, and were astonished at His teaching (Matt. 22.33).

On thin ice
Although, as we have seen, secularists will undoubtedly affirm many things which are taught in Scripture, they are on thin ice in doing so. For the moment they affirm anything as true in Scripture they do two things: First, they put themselves in the position of having to consider that a book which contains any truth probably contains more; and, second, they expose themselves to a charge of willful ignorance concerning the fuller content of the Bible, content which, we know, has a direct bearing on their premise concerning God and spiritual things.

And if they affirm anything about Scripture to be false, they open themselves to the challenge of how they can know that, given that their most fundamental life premise precludes their being able to know anything about God or spiritual matters, whether they are real or not.

We want to respond to those who foolishly deny God and spiritual truth by using reason to demonstrate the folly of such thinking. People cannot know what they will not know. If we can expose the folly of what they consider to be facts, showing them only to be premises or preferences, we may be able to supply more facts for their consideration, facts which can lead them to rethink their false premise and open their minds to the life-changing fact of the Gospel. If they refuse to consider such facts, then at least they will know that they are being willfully ignorant of facts that have a serious bearing on their most cherished beliefs.

For reflection
1. Summarize the mistakes secularists make in denying validity to the Scriptures and the Christian worldview.

2. Do you agree that almost everyone will agree with something in the Bible? Give some examples of some things wrong-believers might affirm.

3. What might you do to help a wrong-believing friend begin to consider the teaching of Scripture more fully?

Next steps – Conversation: Try this out with an unbelieving friend. Ask your friend whether there is anything in the Bible he considers to be true. Then ask this follow-up question: “Given that you accept the Bible to be true at one level, how can you be sure that it’s not true in other ways as well? Do you know enough about the Bible to decide what to accept and what to reject?” Then offer to read the Gospel of John with your friend. Hey, all he can do is say, “No thanks.”

T. M. Moore

You can download all the studies in this series, “Let God Be True,” by clicking here.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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