An Example of Wesleyan Apologetics
THE ARMINIAN MAGAZINE. Issue 2. Fall 2010. Volume 28.
Date Posted Nov, 2010
John Wesley gave a very cogent apologia for the God-breathed character of Holy Writ that rides on the tail of the famous trilemma argument of C. S. Lewis. Even with the current resurgence of the discipline of apologetics within Christian culture, it is quite unfortunate that it has still been missed by contemporary theologians, no doubt because John Wesley is usually known as a preacher not an apologist. But while Wesley will forever be immortalized for his apostolic character in Britain and the revival fires that it sparked globally (the BBC ranks him at #50 among the "Greatest Britons"), let us not forget that he still maintained the very practical, not to mention theological uses of Reason. That's why we have maxims from him like: "the plain, Scriptural, Rational way"and "Religion and Reason joined."
The astute Wesley was never one to disparage the proper uses of Reason, especially for Christian Apologetics. He published for his ministers and itinerants the famous "A Compendium of Natural Philosophy, or, A Survey of the Wisdom of God in the Creation," consisting of five solid volumes.
This essay shall attempt resuscitating one example of Wesleyan Apologetics. We shall quote the passage in full below for its historical and poetical value. The reason why the two arguments of Lewis and Wesley are so similar is because both Christ and Scripture are known as the "logos." In Greek logos can have this selected range of meanings: reason, speech, logic, mind, way, thought, explanation, principle, or word.
The Bible is the Word of God and Jesus is the Word of God. We say that the Bible is the inspired reason of written revelation and Jesus is the incarnate reason of walking revelation. Origen reasoned: "He is called the Logos because He takes away from us all that is foolish and makes us truly rational." All of this immediately calls to mind John's foundation for this theology: "In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God."
Let's now examine Wesley's logic in A Clear and Concise Demonstration of the Divine Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures:
There are four grand and powerful arguments which strongly induce us to believe that the Bible must be from God, viz., miracles, prophecy, the goodness of the doctrine, and the moral character of the penmen. All the miracles flow from divine power, all the prophecies flow from divine understanding, the goodness of the doctrine flow from divine goodness, and the moral character of the penmen flow from divine holiness.
Thus Christianity is built upon four grand pillars, viz. the power, understanding, goodness, and holiness of God. Divine power is the source of the miracles, Divine understanding of all the prophecies, divine goodness of the goodness of the doctrine, and divine holiness, of the moral character of the penmen .
I beg your leave in order to propose a short, clear, and strong argument to prove the divine inspiration of the holy Scriptures .
The Bible must be the invention of either good men or angels, bad men or devils, or of God .
1. It could not be the invention either of good men or angels; for they neither would nor could make a book and tell lies all the time they were writing it, saying, "Thus saith the Lord," when it was their own invention .
2. It could not be the invention of bad men or devils; for they would not make a book which commands all duty, forbids all sin, and condemns their own souls to hell for all eternity .
3. Therefore, I draw this conclusion, that the Bible must be given by divine inspiration.[Works, 11:484].
So the Bible is either from something good or bad. If from good, it's either from something imperfect or perfect. These are the only practically plausible options. The trilemma thus emerges: The Bible could theoretically come from three sources: Good, Bad, or God. Again, these are the only viable alternatives (except for the technicality mentioned below). That being the case, we know for certain that it must be one of the three.Good (disciples):
Perhaps great men wrote it? At first glance, you would think this to be an eminently reasonable selection. But they said or did at least three things that would count against this. Please note here that we are speaking of these mere men writing these things alone as the primary efficient causes (i.e., without God).
So why not? Because: 1) They said that God said it, 2) They wrote many embarrassing things about themselves, 3) They died for this belief.
These three facts count against it being written alone by great men. Why? 1) Because great men usually don't lie and certainly don't lie about things like this. If they said that they didn't write it, but that God wrote it — then they must not have written it, if they truly are "great." 2) If they were liars, they wouldn't have penned so many embarrassing blunders and shameful mistakes about their lives. 3) If they were liars, then why did they die for this lie? We know from history that thirteen out of fourteen (I'm including Judas Iscariot the Traitor, St. Matthias the Chosen, and St. Paul the First Theologian in the mix) of Jesus' original Apostles were martyred (or killed) because of this belief. If it wasn't true, why didn't they confess to it?
Only St. John the Loving Prophet wasn't martyred. Yet he was tortured and banished. If these great men (or even sly devils) were really just making the whole thing up, then they would be the dumbest pranksters in the history of the world. To fabricate a practical joke is a possibility. To die for it is insanity. So, this option of "great men" writing it on their own is so improbable as to appear to the average man of common sense as literally impossible.Bad (deceivers):
Perhaps evil men wrote it? But what was their motive? Evil men always have a motive to fake something good. But the penman got nothing. In fact (as was said above), they were all killed for this deceptive ploy. Evil men might be evil, but they're not dumb. In fact, they're usually very smart. So, when they were caught for treason, they could have simply recanted, which was what the opposition party wanted anyway.
But why would evil men write a book that forbids them to do exactly what they're doing? Why not write a book that approves it, or at least doesn't condemn it, or maybe doesn't mention it at all? And this book says they should also be humble, gentle, honest, meek, forgiving, full of peace and truth? And condemns them to hell? These objections all severely discount the bad men theory.Mad (demoniacs):
Perhaps delusional men wrote it? Although this option was not technically considered by Wesley, it was by Lewis. Yet I'm sure Wesley would voice his technical approval. It can be viewed as a subheading of "Bad" or separately like the "Lunatic" alternative from Lewis. Either way, the same result eventuates.
This "lunatic theory" simply does not fit the facts. They were psychologically whole. No one ever even accused them of being crazy, even though many at that time thought they were wrong. Their letters, hymns, creeds, sermons, prayers, discourses, apologias, virtue, not to mention their patient martyrdoms, all give us more than ample evidence of their beautiful love and sophisticated intelligence.
Plus, they couldn't have attracted so many followers if they were literally suffering from insanity in a true medical sense. Can you really rationally imagine that the most popular religion in the history of the world was founded by a bunch of loonies? Can you imagine that the biggest religion in the history of the world is followed by a bunch of dunces who believe the loonies? This is truly nothing but un-reason and un-reason is truly nothing.
So this "insane in the membrane" theory is actually a little "insane" in the membrane itself. If skepticism postulates further that the Devil did it through their delusions, we say no. For what benefit would the devil get out of "tricking" man to believe in his arch enemy, the True God?
Indeed the biblical record said of them that they "turned the world upside down." Christianity is the biggest and most sublime religion on earth. It stretches the imagination beyond the breaking point to say that it could have started from a rag tag bunch of deceivers and demoniacs.God (Deity):
Perhaps God wrote it? So in conclusion, what is now a quadrilemma rounds off our choices as: Good, bad, mad, or God. If the disciples, deceivers, or delusionaries did not write it, then the only logical option left is Divine. This apologia for the Bible is so simple that some might even say it's too simple, deceptively simple. But C. S. Lewis is quite apropos here:
Do you think I'm trying to cast a spell? Perhaps I am. But remember your fairy tales . . . . Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as inducing them. And you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly a lifetime!
Apologetics is not a philosophical magic trick. Just because it's simple, doesn't mean it's invalid. The simple Truth always wins the day. The Scriptures are sure. The Bible (logos) has won because Reason (logos) has won. And Reason has won because God (logos) has won. This three-fold "logos-ical" connection is like the cornerstone, architecture and capstone of a building; or the introduction, body, and conclusion of a letter; or the mind, hand, and writings on a page. Hence, the Scriptures weren't, aren't, and won't ever be in real doubt. This is the heart pulse of all orthodox apologetics and even more so for Wesleyan Apologetics.