To help clarify some of the terminology used in the study of apologetics, Dr. Dean has begun developing an Apologetics Glossary.
Giving an Answer – Part 8
Elijah Confronts Paganism
1 Peter 3:15; 1 Kings 19
1 Peter Lesson #090
May 11, 2017
“Our Father, we’re thankful for this opportunity to come together as a body of believers to fellowship around the teaching of Your Word. Father, we’re reminded of our dear friends who are suffering what may be life-threatening diseases.
Father, we pray that we, as a congregation, will be really sensitive to those in our congregation who are homebound now and who are facing different health challenges, that we can encourage them, remember them, call them, let them know that they are in our prayers and our thoughts, and encourage them with the Word.
Father, we pray that we will be encouraged with the Word tonight as we study and focus on what You have to teach us this evening. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
Let’s open our Bibles this evening.
1 Kings 17. We’re continuing our study in apologetics, coming out of 1 Peter 3:15, that we are “to give an answer for the hope that is in us.” What we studied in the past few weeks is showing how God confronts human viewpoint thinking, and that’s essentially what we’re doing when we’re giving an answer to people. There are different ways in which we do this, because everybody’s different. So there is no one-size-fits-all.
It’s just like witnessing. There’s no one-size-fits-all. There’s no set thing. I think all of us, when we first start witnessing to people, use certain tracts or tools, because that’s just part of the learning process.
We’re studying how to give an answer, how to talk to unbelievers. That’s essentially what this is—it’s just communication. But, in the process, what we’ve discovered is that there are right ways and wrong ways to do this. The way that a lot of apologetics is presented, as I pointed out in the past, there are compromises that are made in the realm of methodology.
Now, I’m going to point some things out as we go through this this evening, but just a review of basic questions that we’ve answered.
1. What is apologetics?
2. Why should we learn about apologetics?
3. Why do some people object to apologetics? [Usually because they don’t understand it.]
4. The Bible doesn’t use apologetics, why should we?
That’s really the question that we are developing here: how the Bible uses apologetics. We understand that apologetics has to do with giving a rational, organized, thoughtful response to the gospel.
Apologetics is giving a reasoned, thoughtful response to someone who asks, “How can you believe that silly Christian stuff?” Unfortunately, the way the question is often asked puts us on the defensive, and we need to think strategically and not emotionally. We need to figure out how—and think through—how are we going to respond in ways that turn that back on the other person without it deteriorating into an argument or into “who knows more” and “who knows less” and those kinds of things. We’ve all had those kinds of conversations.
We also have to understand that the cultural environment in which we are communicating the gospel is going to differ. We live in a time when there’s a worldview shift going on—from modernism to postmodernism. And some of the people you know really are modernists; for them, facts matter and you can come to understand maybe some measure of truth.
In postmodernism, there is no truth; everything is relative. The only truth is that there is no universal truth, which is a self-refuting proposition. Because if you believe there is no universal truth—and that’s a universal truth—how can you believe that that’s true? But they do; that’s their organizing principle.
The framework we ought to keep in mind I’ve had since the beginning. If you were to go to Thailand, or you were to go to China, or you were to go to Siberia, or you were to go to Mecca as a missionary, and you wanted to as clearly as possible communicate the gospel to those people, you don’t do it by giving them “the four spiritual laws”. You don’t give it by taking a tract like we have out in the back with the cute little question and answer stuff, because that’s not going to work. Those are really geared for people who already have had some exposure to biblical Christianity and have some sort of framework for Christian theism.
If you approached people with some of these tools that were developed 40, 50, 60 years ago when America had more of a Judeo-Christian theistic framework, you could take that for granted. Those don’t work with a lot of people today! You have to think in terms of that culture.
When we had the pastors’ conference, Grace Hensarling spoke at noon one day. Grace and two other women spent about 25 years down in Columbia with a primitive people up in the mountains before they could translate the New Testament into their language. They were working on that, but it took them five years to learn the language, learn the culture, learn how the people thought, before they could even begin to communicate to them.
See, a lot of us get the idea, “Well that’s silly. Let’s just give them the gospel: Jesus died for your sins.” Well, “Who is Jesus? What’s a sin? How does that work? I don’t understand it. Who is God?” You’ve got all these issues that have to be understood.
If you sit there and listen to me say that, and you say, “Well, that’s just silly,” then you need to go back to kindergarten in terms of learning the Word of God! Because that’s the way reality is—we’re talking to people who’ve got layers and layers and layers of truth suppression mechanism and idolatry and false philosophies and false religions that are covering up their God consciousness—that image of God that’s within them and that knowledge of God within them. You can’t just sit down and shoot them with your gospel gun.
Some people say, “Well, I went somewhere, gave somebody a tract, and they responded.” Well, great. Well, did you ask them how many times they’ve heard the gospel before? They’ll probably say, “Well, 15 times. I grew up in church, but it never quite made sense this way before.” You’re not the first person to give them the gospel. In fact, many surveys that are taken of believers indicate that the average person has heard the gospel between seven and nine times before they respond in faith.
Paul says that somebody plants, somebody waters, somebody comes along ... It’s a process. We often get very impatient. We think we can just sit down and give somebody the gospel and—boom!—they’re going to be saved and go into Heaven. It doesn’t work that way, folks. If you take that approach, you’re going to be frustrated.
Or you’re going to get people who say, “Just pray a simple prayer.” They can pray the prayer, but that doesn’t mean they understand the prayer. You can’t believe something you don’t understand, and it takes time to understand who God is, that God is righteous, that man is a sinner, we violated His righteousness, and there’s only one way to solve it. It takes time!
Now, you may be the 8th, 9th, 15th, 20th person that communicates something like that to them, and they get it. You think, “That was simple!” The rest of us are out there, and all we’re doing is planting seeds. Anyway, it’s a process, and we have to learn to think strategically in terms of our communication.
A as I pointed out using this chart, there are four different views of knowledge in the world. Rationalism means man, through the use of reason alone—using logic and starting with innate ideas—can come to truth. That has many fallacies, and it ignores the fact that you can’t learn certain things just from reason alone. God has to tell us things.
Same thing with empiricism. Each of these has their counterpart in apologetics. There is classic apologetics, which emphasizes the law of non-contradiction, logic being the common ground. The weakness with that is that the logic machine in 99.9999% of human beings—100% really—is affected by sin. We can’t assume that their logic machine in their head hasn’t been affected by the corruption of sin. And this is what it presupposes, that logic somehow is that area of neutrality. The weakness with classic apologetics is it only gets you to a 99% probability that God exists and that the Bible is true. It doesn’t give you 100%, because the ground they’re standing upon is this common ground of logic.
Empiricism is the idea of evidentialism—that it’s the facts, it’s history, it’s science; we can go there as common ground. But, once again, you get into the problem that in empiricism you can get to truth through the use of logic. But, once again, that logic machine is corrupted by sin. So that doesn’t mean that God the Holy Spirit can’t use evidence and can’t use logic, but that’s not the common ground.
Then there’s mysticism, which is, “Well, you know, people just aren’t going to respond. So all I’m left with is giving them my personal testimony, and I know it’s true because Jesus lives in my heart.” That’s not how the Bible presents the evidence of the truth of Christianity.
So we’re left with what’s called presuppositionalism, which accepts the truth of Scripture as revelation. Now I’m pointing out examples of this as we go through.
We looked at Genesis 1. We looked at Romans 1. We looked at Genesis 3 and compared that. What we saw when we looked at Genesis 3, compared with Romans 1…
These are critical, these principles we see all the way through.
- People already know they are sinners.
Based on Genesis 3:8 and based on Romans 1:18–23, you don’t have to convince them they’re a sinner. You may have to dig through a lot of their suppression camouflage to get to it, but everybody knows they are a sinner.
- People are not morally or spiritually neutral.
We’re not coming to them as if we’re all neutral, nobody’s had anything affected by sin. They’re reinterpreting all data in terms of their human viewpoint thinking. They have darkened hearts (Romans 1:21).
- God/Jesus often use rhetorical questions to expose human flaws—to get people thinking about what they believe.
Now, that doesn’t mean you ask them a question, you wait five seconds, and then you give them an answer. You let them figure it out and come to an answer. Because they’ve got to have a little self-discovery in the process, and that can take a year, five years, 10 years. It can take a long time! Some people it may not—it may be something that they’re ready for. But it takes time to get people to think.
- We saw that God uses general revelation, He uses the facts of history and various evidences, to expose human sin, rebellion, and responsibility.
So that is what we’re seeing. And we’re going to see this again in the incident we look at tonight.
Elijah is often used as an example, “He’s giving evidence of the existence of God.” Is that what Elijah is doing? When Elijah calls down fire from Heaven, is his goal to prove that God exists and that Ba’al doesn’t exist? Is that what’s going on there? Now, you’ll have some people who’ll take that view. But is that really what’s going on there?
Now, if you believe what I just summarized and you are a presuppositionalist and Romans 1:18–23 is true, then you don’t need to prove God exists, because they already know God exists.
Who is Elijah challenging on Mount Carmel? The priests of Ba’al. Are they religious? Do they have God consciousness? Do they believe there’s a God? Yes; they believe there are a lot of gods. They have suppressed the truth; you don’t have to prove to them there’s a God.
So Elijah is not trying to prove there’s a God; he’s doing something else. He is giving evidence, but he’s not giving it in a way that validates the assumptions and presuppositions of the unbeliever. That’s what’s important here.
The difference, as I pointed out, between apologetics and Christian evidence is that Christian evidence is really a subset; it’s a subtopic within the broader topic of apologetics.
- Christian evidences focus on miracles, what the Bible calls “signs.” John says, “these [signs] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” So signs are important; God validates that. But it’s how they’re used.
- You have miracles, you have the origin and transmission of the Scripture, the resurrection of Christ, the virgin conception and birth, the facts and history of biblical events, people, and episodes. All of that are the evidences of the truth of Christianity.
- Those evidences are our weapons, just like a soldier.
A soldier’s got his pistol; he’s got numerous different types of tactical rifles that he can use, from a sniper rifle to an urban rifle like the Israeli Tavor. He’s got a bayonet. He’s got a knife. He’s got hand grenades, grenade launchers. He’s got all kinds of different tools.
All Christians have these same evidences. The difference is how you use the evidences—that’s strategy. That’s really what we’re talking about. Sometimes it’s hard for people; this gets abstract. I understand that. It took me a lot of time thinking and reading to come to an understanding of this; so I don’t expect anyone here to really grasp what we’re going through right off the bat. Because this gets into some of that deeper, more significant areas of biblical Christianity where we’re really focused on renewing how we think and focusing on our thinking.
- Apologetics, then, is dealing with the strategy and tactics for deploying the weapons, which are Christian evidences.
One of the things I pointed in the past is that even trained fighters only hit their targets in a combat situation about 30% of the time. I had Jeff run through a lot of evidence for me. Trained SWAT team police officers who go through all kinds of training will get in a combat situation and only hit their target 30% of the time—because of the tension, because of the pressure, because everything’s moving and everything is going really, really fast. So that’s the importance of training. I wish we could figure out some way to really engage in one-on-one training like role-play, but we don’t really have a framework for doing that.
One thing I added to your glossary. A couple of things to point out here. I’ve given you definitions for cosmogony. Cosmology, empiricism, and rationalism. I’ve listed the existence of God arguments. So you can read over those terms related to metaphysics and mysticism. I didn’t have it last week, but I added the word “polemic” this time, along with a few other tweaks.
- Polemics is the act of engaging in a verbal or written refutation of another viewpoint. That’s the root definition.
I pointed out that Genesis 1 is a polemic against the Egyptian cosmogony, against the Babylonian cosmogony, against Canaanite cosmogony. God is such a great multitasker that He is able—by the way He presented the original creation in Genesis 1—to basically refute all other attempts to explain origins. Whether it’s Greek, whether it’s modern science, whatever it is, the Bible refutes that in the way Genesis 1:1–2:4 is structured. So a lot of the Bible is polemical.
Now we live in a world today—and this is a difficult thing—where we have a youth culture that’s grown up that has a problem with anybody who is critical of someone else’s beliefs. They think of that as judgmental. So, for them, this kind of judgmentalism is a sin. If God engages in polemics, in their view that’s a sin; therefore, God is sinful. See how crafty Satan is at doing this?
I have had people who have been in this congregation in the past who have reacted; they said, “You’re too polemical.” I’m not nearly as polemical as the Bible. The reason you don’t understand how polemical the Bible is, is because you haven’t spent enough time in Bible class to really understand it. So you’re just using the human viewpoint world’s value system to judge Bible teaching!
This is a problem today, because the Bible is extremely polemical. God is constantly poking His finger in the eyes of all these human viewpoint philosophies and systems, and He doesn’t do it in a nice manner. He’s making fun of people who believe the wrong thing. And that’s what happens here in 1 Kings chapter 18. That’s polemics.
The definition goes on to say,
- Polemics describes an element in a biblical passage, which is designed to show the superiority of Christian theism over other religions and philosophies. Much of the Old Testament is a polemic against the idolatrous pagan religions surrounding Israel.
The only reason people don’t realize that is because they’re so ignorant of what the cultures believed around Israel that they don’t catch it. That’s part of my responsibility to point that out.
We see this. I think one of the greatest polemical chapters in all the Bible is 1 Kings 18. In fact, all of Elijah’s ministry and all of Elisha’s ministry—Elisha, who follows Elijah—is designed to show the superiority of the worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and His revelation of Himself to Israel over against all of the pagan gods and goddesses. Because this is the problem: the Jews are constantly rejecting their God and turning to the gods of the Canaanites and the gods of these other cultures around them.
We see that again and again in the Book of Judges. They are constantly going to human viewpoint to solve their problems, then God disciplines them, and you have that whole cycle.
In the Old Testament what you have is that God enters into a covenant with Israel. He does that when the Israelites have gotten away from Egypt. They go to Mount Sinai. They spend a year at Mount Sinai, and Moses spent 40 days and 40 nights up on Mount Sinai where God gave him the Law. It was a contract; it was a covenant that God entered into with Israel. At the end of the covenant, God has a section where He says, “If you’re obedient, these are the good things I’m going to do for you. If you’re disobedient, these the bad things that are going to happen. That’s called the “blessings” and the “curses”; you find them in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28.
Leviticus 26 has them in a set of five different cycles; they are five different intensified stages of national judgment, or national discipline, on Israel. The fifth stage of which is that they will be overrun by an enemy power. They will be defeated, and they will be deported from the land. Because God promises Abraham and says, “I’m giving you the Land. If you obey Me, you can stay there. If you don’t obey Me, I’m going to kick you out. But the Land is yours.” So the Mosaic Law fits that and says, “If you’re obedient, you’re going to be blessed in the Land. But if you’re disobedient, I’m going to judge you, I’m going to take all the goodies away, and I’m going to kick you out.”
That’s the history of Israel. They were kicked out the first time in 722 BC with the Northern Kingdom, in 586 BC with the Southern Kingdom, and then some of them returned after the 70-year Babylonian captivity. They began to return, but not all of them. Most of them stayed in what was called the dispersion or the Diaspora. Then they are kicked out again in AD 70, when the armies of Rome under Titus destroyed Jerusalem and burned the temple. And they’re still out, but God is bringing them back to Israel. So that’s the overview.
Now if you look at Leviticus 26, that’s where God outlines the five cycles of discipline. In the second cycle of discipline you have this statement made: “And after all this [that is the first cycle of discipline], if you do not obey Me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins.” “I’m gonna ratchet it up a little more, and you’re going to have more problems.”
In verse 19, “I will break the pride of your power; I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze.” What is God saying? “I’m going to take away the rain. I’m going to bring a drought that’s going to be so bad you’re going to think that the earth is like bronze—like metal; it can’t absorb liquid at all. The heavens will be like iron—no water is coming through, you’re going to have an economic catastrophe, and people will go hungry because you can’t grow crops.
Verse 20, “And your strength shall be spent in vain; for your land shall not yield its produce, nor shall the trees of the land yield their fruit.” It’s an economic disaster. No fertility in the land, no productivity, no prosperity.
So, in contrast to this, all the different false religions had gods and goddesses whose function was to bring prosperity and fertility. They were worshiped in a very graphic, sexual way. They are called fertility religions. That’s why these temples would have temple prostitutes, and they would reenact sexual acts in order to stimulate the gods to bring fertility to the land. That also included things like human sacrifice in order to get the gods’ attention. That’s the background.
The worst form of this was the worship of a Canaanite religion of Ba’al, who is the storm god and his consort Asherah. Ahab’s wife Jezebel is Phoenician; he goes up to Tyre and Sidon, to that area, and he marries this gal called Jezebel who becomes basically the poster child of evil and wickedness throughout the Bible and idolatry.
Even though the Northern Kingdom was already into idolatry, it was kind of “idolatry light.” Then, when he brings Jezebel in, Jezebel brings all her priests with the Ba’al religion, the fertility religion, into Israel. They introduce all of this sexual perversion into the Northern Kingdom and label it “religion”; and that’s why their system is so evil.
God, now, is going to announce judgment on the Northern Kingdom because of this evil.
So, in 1 Kings 17:1 we read, “And Elijah the Tishbite ...” Elijah is a prophet. This is the first time we hear about him. He’s introduced. He’s a Gileadite. Gilead is on the east side of the Jordan River. He is sent to Ahab the king.
He announces to Ahab, “As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word.” What’s he doing? He’s announcing the second cycle of discipline. He doesn’t have to prove that God exists—everybody knows God exists. He takes his stand on the truth of God’s Word and he’s not going to argue for that; he’s going to say, “This is what’s going to happen, and you are now going to feel the wrath of Yahweh Elohim, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”
So we have the episode that’s described in [1 Kings] 17, where he goes to the Brook Cherith which flows into the Jordan. And God provides for him there. This is a drought. So what’s going to happen? The brook is going to dry up, and then God’s going to provide for him. And He takes him to Zarephath.
If you look at a Bible map, you’ll discover that Zarephath is where? It’s in Tyre and Sidon; it’s in Phoenicia. He takes Elijah right into the heart of enemy territory in terms of religious enemy. That’s like saying, “Elijah, after you announce this I’m going to take you to Mecca, and I’m going to take care of you in Mecca.” Okay? Does that communicate? “And you’re going to be right in the heart of the evil empire of the enemy religion, and I’m going to hide you there and take care of you.” And that’s where Elijah goes. He goes to Zarephath where this widow takes care of him. Of course, they’re suffering from the drought and the economic catastrophe, but God miraculously provides for oil and everything and also is going to raise her son from the dead. That’s the backdrop.
After 3-1/2 years of this drought we’re talking a serious economic depression. Then we read in 1 Kings 18:1, “And it came to pass after many days that the word of the Lord came to Elijah.” So he gets special revelation; he doesn’t just have a feeling; God speaks to him. He says, “Go, present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the earth.”
Now, Ahab has labeled Elijah as public enemy number one, and he’s got his SS troops out scouring every nook and cranny of the Northern Kingdom to find Elijah. But guess what? God took Elijah out of the Northern Kingdom and hid him up in enemy territory. They haven’t been able to find him.
So Elijah goes back to Samaria. The note there: there is a severe famine in Samaria. They can’t grow crops. They go down to HEB and the whole produce section is empty, the meat section is empty, and they can’t find anything.
The people have completely given themselves over to Ba’al, so they’re going through all sorts of religious incantations, and rites, and sacrifices in order to entice Ba’al and the Asherah to save them.
Now why Ba’al? Four things about Ba’al:
1. He’s the chief god in the Canaanite pantheon. He is somewhat akin to Jupiter or Zeus—Jupiter in the Roman pantheon, Zeus in the Greek pantheon. They are also the gods of thunder, lightning, rain, things like that. There is a superior god who is called El, but he sort of got displaced by Ba’al, just as Saturn or Uranus was displaced by Jupiter or Zeus.
2. As the storm god, he is responsible for rain. He’s responsible for lightning. He is responsible for thunder and productivity.
3. Third, as I pointed out earlier, he was introduced into the Northern Kingdom by Jezebel, and this is why she’s going to suffer such a horrible death at the end.
4. In the mythology of Ba’alism, drought indicates the death of Ba’al.
When God says there is going to be a drought, He’s not just saying that because He’s going to bring hard times. God is multitasking over 95% of the time. 100% is over 95% of the time. God always multitasks.
So, when He brings this drought, He is just sticking His finger right in the eyes of all the Canaanites and saying, “See! Your crummy little religious system doesn’t work! And I’m going to show you in a very graphic way why it doesn’t work!” That’s what God is doing.
Remember our principle. The reason for this isn’t to prove that God’s right and they’re wrong; the purpose for this is to get them to turn back to God. That’s a principal for us in evangelism: we are not doing this out of a mean spirit to prove that these people are idiots and they are following false gods, or anything else. Our goal is to win them! That’s why we are to give an answer with grace and humility and meekness. We are to be winning them for the Lord.
So this whole episode in 1 Kings 18 is a polemic. God is showing that their system doesn’t work and that He is the true God. He’s not proving He exists; He’s demonstrating His faithfulness to the Mosaic Law, and He is demonstrating that only if you presuppose and live on the basis of God’s revelation will there be productivity, fertility, and happiness. You’re not going to get it living on the other side.
What Elijah is doing here is demonstrating the inability of false religious systems to answer life’s questions. That’s part of what we can do when we’re witnessing to people by asking questions. Basically, we’re doing the Dr. Phil thing; we’re saying, “How’s that working for you?”
“Is that really solving your problems?” You’ve got to think a little more and be a little more sophisticated in your questions. The idea is to help them think through what they’re trying to do to find happiness and stability and peace in their life. Most people are defensive, “Yeah, it’s working fine for me.” Well, great. That’s wonderful.” And you just have to leave it there and let them now work with what you’ve given them. That takes some time. Not always. Remember, no one situation is the same as another situation; it takes time.
Elijah is going to confront paganism. In the picture, this is a statue that’s up on top of Mount Carmel in Israel, and I just love it! If you look at it, here you have Elijah depicted. He’s got a great prophet’s beard, and he has his sword up here. But if you look down here, there is a priest of Ba’al under his feet. He has his foot on the guy’s shoulder, holding him down, and he is in the act of chopping his head off, which is what happens at the end of the episode. I just love that statue. So he is confronting paganism.
It’s a beautiful area up on Mount Carmel, and it overlooks the Esdraelon Valley. This is a picture from up on the ridge, looking down below. You can see the highway down below and some of the other areas—just a beautiful area. This is the ridge line of the Carmel Ridge.
Here’s another look, looking back at the area where the statue is, and this is where this took place.
Now, look down, in 1 Kings 18:21. Elijah has called to Ahab to assemble all the Israelites there. This is not a small event. Remember, there are 450 priests of Ba’al. There are 400 priests of Asherah. How many is that? 950, plus Elijah, plus Ahab. So you have at least 952. Plus, you have this enormous crowd of Israelites. There might have been 5, 10, 15,000 people who have gathered to watch this challenge from Elijah to the priests of Ba’al. This is a huge event. This is not something that’s done in the back woods without a lot of publicity. Everybody knows what’s going on, because in verse 20 we read that, “Ahab sent for all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together on Mount Carmel.” It’s a huge crowd.
So Elijah comes out to the people and notice what he does. He asks a question. He doesn’t tell them what’s getting ready to happen. He doesn’t tell them what the answer should be; he asks them a question to get them to think about what they’re going to do. “How long will you falter between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Ba’al, follow him.”
What’s interesting here … We all have heard the story before of how they build this huge altar and the priests of Ba’al and Asherah get out there and they start doing everything they can think of to get Ba’al’s attention. Because he’s probably on a break, or using the restroom, and Elijah taunts him. You know, this is a godly thing to do. “What’s the matter? Can’t your god answer your prayer? Maybe he took a break. Maybe he’s in the bathroom. Scream a little louder!”
You know, he’s pointing out the problems in their view. But see, we live in a world where if you’re a Christian and use that kind of sarcasm against Islam, “Oh! You’re just terrible! You’re so insensitive! You’re just one of those nasty little Christians who thinks you know it all and you’ve got the only way to Heaven!”
Look at what Elijah does. He says, “How long will you falter?” The word there has this idea of “hop from one view to another.” It’s the same word that is used when you read down to the priests of Ba’al and Asherah, and they’re dancing and going into all these contortions as they try to get the attention of Ba’al. They are hopping around—that’s the word.
What he’s picturing is that the Jews are hopping back and forth. One minute they’re going to go to God, and the next minute they’re going to go to Ba’al. Whoever is going to do whatever it is they want done, they’re going to go with that guy, and they just go back and forth. They can’t make up their mind; they’re not set on Ba’al or God, they’re just total pragmatists, sort of like Americans today.
So the background for this is in 1 Kings 18:17. As Elijah came on the scene, he’s confronted by Ahab. Ahab calls him “the troubler of Israel.” See, one of the things that you’ll always get if you’re standing for the truth of God’s Word is you will be accused of being the problem. We’re seeing that today. We can’t react to that in anger, or resentment, or defensiveness. That’s not what Elijah does here.
Elijah, though, responds and says, “I have not troubled Israel.” See, he’s not going to grant the assumption of Ahab. He is not going to ignore it; he’s going to confront it. He says, “I’m not a troubler of Israel. You’re the one that’s troubled Israel because of what you have done. You have forsaken the commandment of the Lord, and you follow the Ba’als.” He brings it right back to Scripture. This is the problem: If you follow the Ba’als there are certain consequences. Because we live in God’s world—the God who created everything the way it is—the God who created right and wrong, and morals, and everything—the divine institutions, and when you violate them, there are going to be consequences.”
“Now, on your assumption, there aren’t going to be any consequences; this is just going to be all fine. But we’re going to have a little visual aid demonstration here to show that you can’t really live on the basis of your assumptions. Your assumptions about your religion, your mythology, aren’t going to work in the real world, and so we’re going to have a real test of this.”
In 1 Kings 18:19 he tells Ahab to, “Send and gather all Israel to me on Mount Carmel, the four hundred and fifty prophets of Ba’al, and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.” Now, isn’t that interesting? That means that they’re on the dole; they’re on Jezebel’s welfare system. She’s the one who gives them their meal ticket. She’s the one who gives them their food stamps. They are totally dependent on the government to sustain them. This is an egregious evidence of the collusion of church and state, religion and politics.
1 Kings 18:20, “So Ahab sent for all the children of Israel.” It’s a huge show.
“And Elijah came to all the people, and said, ‘How long will you falter between two opinions?’ ”
What’s going on behind this is something that we need to think about. It’s not part of the content of our witnessing, but it’s part of how we think about what’s going on here. Because the person you’re talking to—the pagan, the unbeliever—thinks according to certain ideas, in certain norms and standards, in certain values, and you think a different set. You have a different assumption about the ultimate nature of reality, of how you know truth, right and wrong, and all this. It’s a package deal. So we’re going to step back and understand what’s at the core here.
I’m going to look at four points on the Elements of a Religion, Philosophy, Worldview, or Approach to Life. All of those are various different things. Religion is going to have the idea of worshiping a certain god or goddess or Pantheon or something like that, a philosophy. It may be, “I’m an agnostic. I’m a rationalist. I’m an empiricist. I believe in science. Science is the key to truth.” So all of these are different worldviews or approach to life.
1. Everybody has a philosophy of life. Some have a conscious philosophy of life; they have thought it through. Some people don’t. Some people have a conscious rational internally consistent view; most people don’t.
They just sort of live life the way it comes. That is a philosophy of life. It may be a disorganized, irrational, inconsistent view of life, but it’s still a philosophy of life.
2. Every worldview contains certain universals, indicated by words like “should,” “ought,” “right,” and “wrong.”
So when you are talking about something … For example, you make some statement that God is going to hold people accountable for their spirituality. Somebody may say, “I don’t believe that. That’s wrong.” “Okay, let’s stop and talk about that a minute. Where do you get this idea of right and wrong? If you say something is wrong, you are appealing to some standard.”
“What’s the standard? Where did you get that idea?” “Well, everybody says so.” “Who? Who is everybody? Where did they get that standard?” You probe these kinds of questions.
So words like “should,” “ought,” “right,” and “wrong” are really windows that we can take advantage of to open up and expose what people believe and help them understand what they believe.
3. This is the entry point to the worldview, and it’s often through values or ethics.
Somebody says, “A terrible thing to do is to drive a car and put all of that carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide—all those exhaust fumes—into the atmosphere. That is going to destroy the planet.” “Really? That’s wrong? Where do you get that idea? What is the evidence for that?” That’s a long conversation.
But that’s what we’re doing; we’re trying to help them understand what is going on. Because so many people just talk to other people who have the same ideas. They just sort of validate one another without thinking through the evidence. So what does that say to us? We’ve got to learn, to understand what these issues are.
4. Ethical principles are based on prior assumptions about the nature of truth or knowledge and the ultimate nature of the universe.
In the past I’ve used this iceberg illustration. I’ve got a little different illustration, a way of organizing it in these slides. There is our little archaeologically discovered statue of Ba’al. He is standing there; he’s got his arm raised. That’s because he probably held a lightning bolt in that hand in the ancient world. So that’s Ba’al.
We’re going to start with ethics. That’s what we were talking about just a minute ago. Ethics, values, right or wrong, are often the starting point for helping to expose people’s belief systems.
Before I get into this, let me talk about one other thing. Part of our responsibility as believers, part of my responsibility as a pastor, is to challenge these human viewpoint, or pagan, beliefs. We all have them, myself included. We have picked them up from the culture around us.
One of the first areas that you can think about, as we go through this, has to do with our own souls—exposing the human viewpoint corruption that is still present in our own souls as we still, in our sin nature, seek to assert our autonomy, or our independence, from God. Because we are products of our culture and our environment, and we pick up these ideas.
We are influenced by friends and neighbors. We are influenced by films. We are influenced by the music that we listen to. We are influenced by teachers, professors, all kinds of ideas that come into our thinking. So we have to start with ourselves. Jesus talks about that. “How come you can be so concerned about a speck in your brother’s eye when you’re not taking the log out of your own eye?” We have to do that self-reflection in terms of our own worldview.
The next thing that we do is when we have conversations with unbelievers, we need to help them expose their own belief system in a way that’s not antagonistic, argumentative, or combative. That we do this in grace helps a person see the flaws and failures of their own belief systems. That’s what Elijah is doing.
The goal is to get him to change. The goal isn’t to beat them over the head with how stupid and wrong they are. The goal is to help them understand the truth of Scripture so that they can change.
As we look at this, and as I talk us through this, we start off with this idea of right and wrong. So ethics and values and right and wrong lead to something. Once you develop systems of right and wrong, it leads to something that’s built on that. That’s what we’re going to have down below: beauty, order, aesthetics; critical reflection, which is defined as a critical reflection on art, culture, and nature.
What you should see, as I go through this, is that years ago—I’ve done this a couple times—where I’ve critiqued music, especially in the church—the contemporary worship and music. That’s how you get here. You can evaluate everything that’s produced in a culture whether it’s art, music, architecture. If you say, “Well, wait a minute, wait a minute. Architecture is just architecture; it’s just a building; it’s just what works.”
“Oh, so you’re saying there’s something in this world that is not corrupted by sin? Something in this world that’s neutral, that is unaffected by the fall of man? Is that what you’re saying?” There are people who believe that, because we love our music we love our art. We like what we like! “Well, why do you like it?” What is it in your soul that resonates when you look at some pagan art or when you hear pagan music? What is it that appeals to you?”
“Why is it that you are more comfortable?” You walk into, let’s say, a contemporary worship service at a church. Why is a person more comfortable when they hear certain kinds of music than if they walk into a church and they hear traditional hymns? They’ve never heard any music like that, and they don’t feel comfortable. It has to do with your values of right and wrong.
When you’re having a conversation about contemporary worship, I’ll say, “I just don’t believe you’re right.” See, it always comes back to that third stage there—ethics and values and right and wrong. So this is part of apologetics. It’s part of thinking through a worldview that is internally consistent with the Word of God, and it’s from that fortress that we’re able to evaluate the other ideas.
Now if we go back the other way, where do we get ethics and values and right and wrong? We get that from knowledge. How do you know truth? If you say, “That’s wrong,” that’s an absolute statement. “That’s right” is an absolute statement. “Where do you get those absolutes? Where do they come from? How do you know they’re true? How do you know that’s right? How do you know that’s wrong?” Philosophers call that “epistemology”; it’s the idea of how we know what we know.
But that doesn’t operate in a vacuum, either. Knowledge ultimately comes from our view of ultimate reality, which is God. So in the iceberg illustration I use, we start at the bottom with God and we build up; nine-tenths of that is below the surface and we don’t ever talk about it. Here I’m showing the structure. We start with God, and our view of God determines our view of knowledge and truth. Our view of knowledge and truth, then, determines our ethics and our values; that, in turn, determines our beauty.
I’ll tell you something. There is precious little written from an evangelical viewpoint on aesthetics. I first took philosophy when I went to the University of St. Thomas. These are the four branches of philosophy: metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and aesthetics. Yet, when it comes to the area of Christian thought, very few people are writing on this. They used to.
You go back to the Middle Ages and there was a tremendous amount, because these people thought deeply. They had the intellectual tools to do it. But we live in a world of intellectual poverty in the 20th century, because our education system has been so influenced by modernist ideas and modernist ideas of the nature of man. Postmodern ideas of the nature of man affect educational philosophy and theory, and so we become impoverished in our education system. Most people that are listening to me right now are going, “Man! This is really deep stuff!” If you went back 150 years ago, this would be basic third grade information—or maybe junior high.
I was talking to some pastors yesterday and said, “Do you realize?” You go back and you read the commentaries written by theologians in the 19th century (and our commentaries start with the English text), and those commentaries had the Greek text at the top. And everything that they wrote was based on the Greek text, because it was assumed that if you were a pastor you could read and understand Greek. Now we have to start with English and put the Greek in a footnote, because nobody really understands that stuff anymore, so we don’t want to distract him with it. Our level of education has become impoverished. But this is really, really important! So we have to grasp it. Like many important things, it takes time. It takes effort and thought to work our way through these things.
Let me just point out a couple of more things on this slide. When we talk about ethics and values, there’s a contrast between human viewpoint and divine viewpoint. Divine viewpoint is up here. In terms of the biblical view of ethics, values, and right and wrong, we believe in absolute right or wrong, absolute values. It’s based on the essence of God, and values are communicated and revealed by God through the Scripture.
But if you look at human viewpoint, it’s arbitrary. Values are arbitrary. In the ancient world they were priest based. They came from different religions. So the priests would say, “This is right and this is wrong.”
Or it was power based, and we see that today. You go to totalitarian countries. Under Hitler, the government determines what’s right or wrong. You go to Stalin’s communist Soviet Union, the government determines what’s right or wrong.
That’s what’s happening today. We are caught in a culture war today where you go to the halls of Congress and the issue isn’t what is right or wrong; the issue is who has the power to determine what’s right or wrong. It’s all about power! This is destructive! Because we’ve forgotten that there’s absolute truth, and so we don’t want to go back to the standard of the Constitution.
You see this in the great tyrannies of the ancient world, as well as modern tyrannies of the 20th century; they are violent, they are destruction, and they are dehumanizing. So that’s your contrast. In the realm of ethics you go either in the biblical direction of absolutes based on the essence of God, or you go towards arbitrary priest-based or power-based ideas which ultimately lead to that which is dehumanizing.
In the area of knowledge and truth, for the Bible believer knowledge is ultimately revealed. It’s absolute and it’s derivative. What do I mean by that? It’s derived from God. It doesn’t originate from man; it is derived from God. It comes from revelation.
In human viewpoint, it’s all inductive. Transfer this back to the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve are going to observe everything in the garden and come to their knowledge of what right and wrong is. They are missing a piece of information—that God says, “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” That is God revealing it. They couldn’t get that information through induction, through observation and application.
So in human viewpoint all knowledge is inductive, because we ultimately live in a relativistic world and it’s all relative. Truth differs only in degree, not in kind. Therefore, all truth is valid. The truth of a spiritist animist culture is just as valid as the truth in a modernist science-based culture. That’s called what? Multiculturalism. And it’s exemplified in this little mantra, “All truth is God’s truth.”
“They have their truth; we have our truth; it’s all God’s truth.” And that is really an assault. You’ll hear it a lot in certain Christian circles—it’s an assault on the absolute truth of Scripture. Knowledge—you’re either going to be up here, or you are going to be down here, one way or the other.
In terms of God, what we see in this episode is that it is Yahweh versus Ba’al. Yahweh is the Creator God of the universe; He’s holy, He’s righteous, and He speaks to man. He’s the basis for knowledge, the basis for communication, vocabulary, language—all of those things. And, in human viewpoint, He’s always part of creation. As I’ve been doing more reading in the last week, when I talk about the scale of being again and again you see secular scholars talk about this. You’ve probably never heard of it before, other than my references to it. But that God is part of the process; He’s not outside of the process.
Then we come down to the last stage in terms of beauty, order, aesthetics. In human viewpoint, nature is worshiped as God. So that’s exactly what Paul says in Romans, “We worship the creature rather than the Creator.” What this does is that it destroys art and beauty, because we don’t have an external reference point to be able to analyze God’s creation. If the beauty and the intricacy of a snowflake, a leaf, a blade of grass, or a molecule is a product of chance, then you’re destroying it, ultimately, in terms of beauty. And you end up going in a wrong direction.
Then, in divine viewpoint, God is the Creator. So man is in His image, and it elevates man. It elevates what man produces; aesthetics is something that began with God. Who’s the first group to sing in the Bible? The sons of God in Job; when God lays the foundation of the earth, they sing. They’re singing in Heaven! Singing involves words and music. Did the angels invent that? Or was that already in the mind of God from eternity past? That was already in the mind of God from eternity past.
There is a divine prototype for music, for lyrics, for art. The Israelites are coming out of Egypt. What is their frame of reference for art? Egyptian art. What happens at Mount Sinai? God says, “I want you to build a tabernacle.” What does God do? He gives the Holy Spirit to Oholiab and Bezalel, so that the art is going to reflect divine viewpoint standards and not the human viewpoint pagan art standards of the Egyptians. We never think that there’s a right art and a wrong art! Or a right music and a wrong music!
But if everything originates from the mind of God and man perverts it or corrupts it through sin, then we’ve got to rethink everything in our culture. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a culture that can even think about these things anymore, because they are so academically impoverished. But I’ll go over this again. This is hard for a lot of people.
But this is what happens. We are going to have this head-on confrontation between divine viewpoint and human viewpoint right on top of Mount Carmel. I didn’t get there tonight, but we will get there next time. I’ve got 45 slides in this slideshow, and we’re only on 29. So we’ll have to come back next time. This just sets the stage.
What you need to pay attention to is that the lessons we’re learning here are going to be illustrated again in Acts 14 and in Acts 17 when Paul and Barnabas went to Lystra and then when Paul is speaking at the Areopagus in Athens to the pagan philosophers. They all demonstrate the same themes; it’s just tremendous.
“Father, thank You for this time to study these things. Help us to understand that all there is of thought should be under Your control. We’re to renovate our thinking. That doesn’t just mean at a superficial level in terms of what we think, but how we think. This is not easy. It’s hard. And we have to go over, and over, and over it and dig down into what is really going on here. That’s what’s behind what You’re doing in episodes like the confrontation between Elijah and the prophets of Ba’al in this chapter.
Help us to understand that there are vital implications of this—not only in witnessing, but in how we view the reality around us and how we invest our time and our thinking. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”