The following is from the first chapter of Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen’s book The Impossibility of the Contrary, available here.
Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes. — Proverbs 26:4–5
But who is a fool? Sometimes we get a little misled, thinking the Bible is using terms the way we would in contemporary lingo. If you call someone a fool, you’re being abusive, calling people names. But the Bible is not doing that. The Bible uses the word “fool” descriptively, applying it to someone who is spiritually ill-informed, who just doesn’t get it.
Who is a fool in the Bible? “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Ps. 14:1). I hope you can see how foolish that is. What else does the Bible tell us about fools? “The wise man builds his house upon the rock,” Jesus tells us. “The foolish man builds upon the sand” (cf. Matt. 7:24–27). Jesus is saying that His words are the rock, the rock upon which everything is built. The wise man builds upon the rock foundation of God’s Word, while everyone else builds his life on the foolish and destructive sand of human autonomy.
The Impossibility of the Contrary
Those who deny God have no way to account for the uniformity of nature and its laws. Natural man does have knowledge, but it is borrowed knowledge, stolen from the Christian-theistic pasture or range, yet natural man has no knowledge, because in terms of his principle the ultimacy of his thinking, he can have none, and the knowledge he possesses is not truly his own… The natural man has valid knowledge only as a thief possesses goods.Buy Now
In Proverbs 1:7, we read, “The beginning of knowledge is the fear of the LORD, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:18 that “the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
The fool does not understand the gospel and believe, and the fool does not begin with the Word of God and reverence Him. The fool does not even believe in God or act as though there is a God. The fool builds his house upon sand, and as a result, it is easily destroyed because of the inherent instability of its foundation.
The Bible is not using the word “fool” in a name-calling way. It’s referring to a specific spiritual condition, spiritual stupidity, the stupidity that does not know how to live in God’s world and honor God and be successful. The unbeliever is a fool. I don’t recommend that you stand up in class and call your professor a fool. I don’t think it would be good to say to your roommate, “You’re such a fool.” But you do need to know, whether you use that language or not, that the person you are dealing with is a fool in terms of his own autonomy and claiming that he is the ultimate reference point in determining truth from error and right from wrong.
What God has called you to do is to draw out their foolishness or to let them keep talking so they’ll give you the rope by which they’ll hang themselves. Their foolishness will destroy them.
This is what God’s Word is telling us in Proverbs 26:4–5. Do these two verses appear contradictory to you? I don’t believe they are contradictory, but they appear that way because it says, “Answer not a fool according to his folly,” and the next verse says, “Answer a fool according to his folly.” Which is it? One or the other? The answer is that it’s both. What we have here is a twofold procedure that works very well in apologetics.
The first step is to “Answer not a fool according to his folly.” Why not? “Lest you also be like unto him.” When someone who is an unbeliever throws out an objection against your Christian faith, don’t use the presuppositions of the unbeliever. Do not answer the fool according to his folly. Don’t answer in terms of his worldview, because if you buy into his most basic assumptions, if you’re using his presuppositions, you will end up just like him. His presuppositions determine where you can come out in an argument. If you buy into your secular professors’ presuppositions, if you buy into the basic assumptions your friend wants you to use in an argument, you will end up in the same place they’re in. Don’t answer the fool according to his folly, lest you be like unto him.
When you answer the fool, you have to use your presuppositions and your worldview which are based on the Bible’s presuppositions and worldview about God and the world He created. You are going to show him how history and science and morality make sense from within your worldview. You’ll never be able to show how sensible God’s Word is from within his worldview. From within his worldview, Paul tells you, the gospel will seem foolish and ridiculous. God makes foolish the wisdom of this world, Paul says, and that brings us to the second step in Proverbs 26:4–5.
We’ve been told not to answer a fool according to his folly. Now we’re told to answer the fool according to his folly. That is, accept his presuppositions, take his basic assumptions, and answer him according to the operating assumptions of his worldview. Why would you do that? What will the outcome be? “Lest he be wise in his own conceit,” lest in his own pride and autonomy, his own self-sufficiency, he thinks he is wise.
You answer him according to his worldview so you can show how ridiculous it is. Answer the fool according to his folly so that he’ll have nothing to stand on. He’ll have no reason to be conceited.
Many of your professors and the unbelievers you’re coming in contact with think they have everything in place. They have an answer. They understand life, they think—but they don’t. Answer them according to their folly. You can show them what their folly is all about, lest they be wise in their own conceit.
Again, we can think of this as a twofold apologetic procedure. The first step—where you don’t answer the fool according to his folly—is a positive presentation of the Christian worldview, showing that it does make sense out of science and logic and moral values. It makes sense out of the dignity of man. It makes sense of human freedom. It’s a positive presentation of your worldview, not buying into their assumptions.
That’s the first step—although when I say “first” and “second,” that’s not necessarily the chronological order. You might do step two first because of where the conversation is going and then do step one. But the first one mentioned here in Proverbs 26 is the positive one: Don’t answer the fool according to his folly, because you’ll end up like him. Instead, you answer positively, according to the positive Christian worldview.
The second step is negative. Here, you answer the fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit. Now you use the non-Christian worldview to reduce it to absurdity. What happens is that the unbeliever has a choice now—to use biblical terminology, the choice between life and death, intellectual life and death, as well as spiritual life and death.
You’ve shown that you can make sense out of this moral problem or out of the use of logic because a positive presentation of the Christian worldview explains who God is as the Creator and who man is as made in his image, and so on. The alternative is to try to answer this problem or deal with this issue from within the unbelieving worldview, where everything is chance and there is no God and you’re using arbitrary assumptions—and you reduce that unbelieving worldview to absurdity. Step two is what we’ve been calling an internal critique of the unbeliever’s worldview.
It’s not that hard to do this, but here’s why you might have some difficulty in doing this with the unbeliever’s worldview. You’re accustomed to thinking as a Christian. And it’s difficult for you, in a sense, to put that aside and think like an unbeliever. You almost instinctively go back to thinking as a Christian. But if you do that, the unbeliever will take advantage of that by giving you an answer that is consistent with Christianity.
You’ll say, “I agree with what he said. How can I attack it?” But you must get accustomed to attacking things that you believe—not attacking them because you think they are weak or wrong, but attacking them because within the unbeliever’s system of thought he has no right to them.
The unbeliever might say, “I thought you believed in moral absolutes.” You’ll say, “I do. That was the first step. I’ve given you a worldview where moral absolutes and logic and scientific inference make sense. I’m not attacking that. I believe in those things. But what we’re doing now is standing on your worldview, coming over to your territory, and seeing from this perspective whether we can support these things. From this perspective can we support moral absolutes or logic or science?” The answer is “No.”
Become accustomed to thinking the way an unbeliever must think concerning these basic issues. You’ll do an internal critique, going into that worldview and wreaking havoc. That may sound violent and unkind but understand what I’m getting at. You want to show that this house cannot stand intellectually.
How can you do that? How can you do an internal critique of the unbeliever’s position? Let me outline for you some things that you should be looking for when you talk to anybody who is an unbeliever, some things that will help you develop an internal critique of the unbeliever’s system.
Apologetics 101: Defending the Christian Faith
Apologetics 101 is an in-depth study of defending the Christian faith. The Greek word apologia simply means ‘defense,’ and apologetics is the art and act of giving a defense. Christian Apologetics then is the art and act of defending the Christian faith, not a proof of God in general. The Christian apologist must be ready to answer truth claims about the Bible, not claims about Hinduism, Islam, or any other false religion. The Bible makes the bold claim that Jesus is the ONLY way, and the Christian apologist must set his sights on the Bible alone, not on a defense of arbitrary theism.Buy Now