Romans 1: 18-23 (ESV)
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
As I see it, my best interpretation of this passage would claim following truths:
- Unrighteous people suppress the truth about God — people deep down must know there is a God in order to suppress this truth
- God has provided the unbeliever with enough evidence, through his “eternal power and divine nature” through the the things that have been made so that they are without excuse for their condemnation (even without hearing the Gospel? - which raises the question of the Salvation of the remote tribes)
If these interpretations are slightly off in any way, please help me understand what this really means (I see there are passages in the Word that say that unbelievers don’t know God (e.g Galatians 4:8 … perhaps this is a translation issue, different types of ‘know’?)). If however, these are accurate interpretations, then for me, this raises quite a few practical questions as to how we approach and practise apolegetics.
A few questions:
- When sharing the Gospel with a professed unbeliever, since His Word says they already know God exists, would it be right (and helpful) to challenge them on this truth (that they do know God) or would it be more helpful to seek to provide evidence in a more evidential apologetic style? I realise there are no cookie-cutter solutions when talking about sharing our faith because it depends on the context. I’m interested to know whether you would advise using such a stance in apologetics.
- If unbelievers know the truth (and by implication God) deep down and are merely “truth suppressors”, surely this challenges and changes the way we can often go about apologetics? For the unbeliever to really know the truth, God must first grant repentance (a gift)…
2 Timothy 2:24-26 - And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
How would this change our stance on apologetics? Well, often I find myself wanting to persuade unbelievers of the truth (sometimes by evidential means) but without first addressing this concept of repentance and expressing that they really do know that God exists. What are your thoughts on this strand of apologetics? Is it valid? Useful? Biblical?
It seems to me that if we were to take this Romans 1 approach, it makes the call of 1 Peter 3:15 to do it “with gentleness and respect” all the more pertinent!
I’d appreciate your thoughts on this, both at a theological and practical level — I don’t want to miss the mark here.