Wednesday, August 1, 2007

"We don't offer a system"

I admire what Lee Strobel is doing in defense of the Christian faith, and I really admire him for posting so many good video clips on his website, free of charge, featuring some top Christian thinkers addressing important subjects. One clip brought to my attention today, however, is a little problematic from my perspective (and puzzling, because it seems to undercut Strobel's whole enterprise, though to be fair, it's not Lee's position). It features a portion of an interview with Scot McKnight and seems to be focused on Gnosticism and the reliability of the New Testament texts. Pay close attention to the last half, when Scot addresses Lee's second question. Here it is.

OK, done? I don't know about you, but it looks to me like another stroll down Self-referential Lane:

Just after making an argument for the latecomer Gnostics' attempt to make themselves the heroes and the earlier orthodox church the dopes, and in the midst of making his argument about what brings people to Jesus and presenting a system in which this view operates, McKnight says,

"The reason [the Gospel account of Jesus] is believable is because it's Jesus. This is all the church has to offer. We don't offer arguments, we don't offer a better system, we offer Jesus."

We don't offer arguments? Tell that to Paul. Or to the many other Christians who are busy doing just that. Furthermore, why then are you arguing this point?

We don't offer a better system? What does McKnight think he is offering when he effectively says that "offering Jesus" is the best way to go? It's a system, too.

Now, don't get me wrong. I agree that we do, in a very real way, offer Jesus, and that an important way God draws people to Christ is through this kind of direct encounter through the pages of the New Testament. I would actually argue that an encounter with the risen Jesus on a personal level (and by that I mean "seeing" Jesus through the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit) is necessary for a saving faith. I even agree with McKinght's very next statement: "Jesus is good enough to attract people to himself."

What I don't get is the false dichotomy. It's as if you either present Jesus, or you present rational arguments and a coherent system, but heaven forbid you try to offer both. That kind of radical dichotomy is not only unreasonable, but it is downright unbiblical. I wonder how much time McKnight and others who at least seemingly view it like this have spent studying Paul's apologetic and proclamatory methodology. McKnight must have a woefully anemic view of "system" to think that the worldview inherent in the message of Christ is free from any systematic element. If we offer, through the person of Christ, a true view of reality, then we are indeed offering a better system, and you can't separate the person of Christ from the way Jesus in fact saw the world.

HT: Brett Kunkle/Stand to Reason


Jeff Noe said...


McKnight's comment is curious ... perhaps he made it without thinking through its implications.

Yes, we offer the Person of Christ as the only way, truth and life. But to say we don't offer arguments for the truth about that Person is quite bizarre and historically ignorant. Can you imagine saying that to Athanasius who passionately argued - at the risk of his life - for the deity of Christ at the Council of Nicea?

Good stuff ... thanks for posting.


Aaron Snell said...

Thanks, Jeff. Athanasius is a great example. I wonder if McKnight would clarify his comment by saying that offering arguments and superior systems, while done by the church (it would be ludicrous to say that we aren't and haven't been doing this for millenia), is really beside the main point of offering the person of Jesus. I think I'd still have a beef with this, particularly in light of 2 Corinthians 10:5 -

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

Now tell me Paul isn't saying the nature of our warefare doesn't require offering arguments and a better system? It is the world system, the empty deception and philosophy according to men rather than Christ, that we are to combat (Colossians 2:8). THAT'S spiritual warefare in a Pauline sense - and notice that we are to combat it with the truth of another system, another philosophy - one "according to Christ."

mattghg said...

Clearly we do offer arguments and a system. But we don't rely on them, because "Jesus is good enough". As you say, Jeff, it comes across as not quite fully thought through

Aaron Snell said...

Maybe a good way to say it, Matt, would be that we do offer arguments and a system, but we do not offer merely those, nor are they bare and empty things. They are always and everywhere anchored to the person of Jesus Christ, who is alive and at work through our arguments and is the reality that gives the system its structure.

mattghg said...


Paul said...

I'd respond by asking the following:

Just offer them Jesus? Who's Jesus, what did He do, and why offer Him?
. . .
Where's that information coming from?
. . .
Oh, the Bible? How do you know that's accurate or any better than the Qu'ran? Why not just offer people Muhammad, Buddha, or Joseph Smith?