The Myth of Neutrality

I’ve just completed reading the first two chapters of Pushing the Antithesis:  The Apologetic Methodology of Greg L. Bahnsen.  Instead of doing a general review once I finished, I thought I would post about the first central idea of the book and reason it through with you all.  First, let’s define a term.

Apologetics

As Christians, we are called to always have a defense of the faith.  Apologetics, from the Greek word apologia, meaning to speak in defense, is used several times in the New Testament.  When Paul was answering the charges from Agrippa and Festus, he used the word (Acts 26:1-2).  However, the most well known call to defend the faith is 1 Peter 3:15:

“but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being readyto make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;”

Notice how were are called to “always” be able to defend the faith from “everyone” who is against the faith.  This also implies that EVERY Christian should have this ability, this isn’t a selective calling.  Once we understand the commandment God has given us for apologia, we must

“understand that the proper manner, the right method, and the correct procedures for proving God’s existence to skeptics, doubters, and unbelievers are essential to the defense of the Christian faith.  Not just any old method will do.” (pg. 6)

That’s what Pushing the Antithesis is about.

The Call to Neutrality

Since the Enlightenment, there has been a decided effort for intellectual and rational “neutral ground” to be the starting point of all knowledge and discussion.

  • David Hume (1711-1776):  “Nothing can be more unphilosophical than to be positive or dogmatical on any subject”.
  • Oliver Wendell Holmes (1841-1935):  “To have doubted one’s own first principles is the mark of a civilized man.”
  • Bertrand Russel (1872-1970): “In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hand a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted”

Don’t these quotes sound like reasonable assertions?  I know they did to me when I first read them, recognizing the authors and their assertions from high school on up.   In fact, I realized that this has been so ingrained in me, that I don’t even recognize when neutrality is being called for.  When telling someone about the existence of God, Christians are often called to “put away your faith for a second” before speaking.  We are asked to prove God “without depending upon Christianity” to do so.   Can this even be done?

Why Reject Neutrality?

  1.  Neutrality doesn’t exist.

The idea of coming to a place where “brute facts” are interpreted in a vacuum with no outside influence is a philosophical ideal that can never be reached.  Come now, let’s be honest, could we really ever put away the influences, experiences and biases that make us who we are?  “…there simply is no presupposition-free and neutral way to approach reasoning” (Bahnsen).

Especially when it comes the the things of God, neutrality is an impossibility, you are either for Him or against Him.  The Bible makes this very clear.

“So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart;” (Eph 4:17-18 )

The worldly man’s heart is not “neutral” it is “hard”, their understanding is “darkened” and their thoughts are “futile”.  That isn’t to say that every unbeliever knows nothing, but it is to say that they don’t know any thing truly.  God created man, the world, and all the things in it for a purpose, to know facts and ideas while denying that purpose, is to not know those things truly.  “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other” (Matt. 6:24).

2.  Christians are called NOT to be neutral

We believe that Christ is our Lord and Savior right?  We seek to obey His word?  We want to honor Him in all that we do?  Right?  Then how can we be neutral?  How can we put aside the words of our Savior during argument?  Bahnsen puts it that, neutrality “strikes at the very heart of our faith”.  The reality of Scripture teaches that the mind is not neutral, so we should not stoop to this imaginary level of thinking.

Our Savior calls us to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength (Mark 12:30).  Are we really loving God with all our mind if we are putting aside His words during discussion? “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 2:12).  AND, “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,” (2 Cor 10:5).

We can do none of these things if we are striving to be neutral.  In fact, to be neutral in talking about God is to lose the argument before it begins and it to be literally unfaithful to God in our actions.

The worldly nature of neutrality was a kick in the teeth the first time Bahnsen showed it to me.  The Bible is so clearly against neutrality, and shows how it doesn’t exist, that the words of our Savior should be our new starting point when discussing the things of God.  I’m sure that Pushing the Antithesis will delve into more practical methodologies later on, but these two opening chapters have laid a good and necessary framework.

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4 Comments on “The Myth of Neutrality”

  1. Clark Bunch Says:

    Without looking it up, I sure hope I’m right in saying that if we’re not for Christ then we are against him. I know the church at Laodicea was condemned for being netiher hot nor cold. Because they were “lukewarm” God said he would spew them out his mouth. Is lukewarm the same as being neutral?

  2. Eric Kemp Says:

    I think you’re right Clark, a call for Christians to meet at a mythical neutral ground is a call for the Christian to be “lukewarm” in their apologetics. We do so, then wonder why our apologetic doesn’t get us anywhere. That’s a good way to think about it.

    Thanks for the comment.

  3. Sirius Says:

    I don’t believe I’ve EVER been accused of neutrality. Most of the time they won’t even give me credit for being nice. While I will admit I’m about as subtle as a chainsaw, I also note that for many people disagreement is plain rude!

    I wrote something in this vein [but ever-so-slightly off topic] and I’d like your thoughts:

    http://siriusknotts.wordpress.com/2008/04/20/are-christians-too-nice/

    –Sirius Knott

  4. Eric Kemp Says:

    Yea, I’m sure you’ve NEVER been accused of being neutral. In fact, I laughed out loud at the idea. I will for sure check out your post and tell you my honest opinion.

    Thanks for the comment and the request.


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