Apologetics,  Scripture

Should Christians Quote the Bible to Unbelievers?

I remember reading an article by Matt Walsh, conservative blogger and devout Catholic, entitled, “When Christians Shouldn’t Quote the Bible.” In his article, he made a fairly bold statement:

I contend that Christians should not appeal to the Bible when arguing with unbelievers about political and cultural topics. There is no need to quote Scripture when trying to explain, for example, why it’s wrong to kill babies. You don’t need to pull out Genesis to convince someone that a man in a dress isn’t a woman. It’s not necessary to mine the Epistles in order to advocate for free speech rights. And if your interlocutor doesn’t believe in the Bible, then this appeal to authority is not only unnecessary but counterproductive. You have now turned a conversation about logic, reason, or science, into a theological debate with a person who rejects the entire premise of your theology (emphasis added).

Walsh goes on to argue that the above should be an obvious point because if someone does not recognize a particular authority, then appealing to it is futile and will not convince them of anything. However, there are two problems with Walsh’s thought process.

A Faulty Assumption of Human Ability

Being a Catholic, Walsh holds to a semi-pelagian view of human depravity. Essentially this means that mankind is affected by Adam’s fall, but retains their ability to choose good and seek after God.

Yet, according to the Bible there is no one who seeks God or does good (Rom 3:10-12). In fact, the Bible teaches that those who are in the flesh are incapable of pleasing God (Rom 8:7-8). Most evangelicals rightfully emphasize the doctrine of the total depravity of man, which teaches that the will of sinful man is enslaved to sin and will NOT choose the ways of God unless the Spirit of God intervenes.

Walsh believes that if we jettison the Bible, we will find more intellectual footing with those who reject Scripture. Yet, if we believe Scripture on this issue, intellectual argumentation is not a neutral playing field. Mankind is not neutral—all men are by nature enemies of God (Rom 5:10) and they suppress the truth of God (Rom 1:18). Thus, not using the Bible is not going to change human depravity.

A Misunderstanding of the Role of Presuppositional Ultimate Authority

First, there is no reason to reject an authority that is truly an authority. For example, if I am trying to learn to play a game for the first time and learn the rules, and someone shows me what the game-maker says about what the rules are; well, I can reject what the game-maker says or even choose to believe that the game-maker is a valid source—but that reflects my stupidity, not a problem with the way someone is showing me the rules for the game.

Further, this principle is even more important in the issue of ultimate authority. As I have pointed out before, when you are talking about ultimate authorities, they cannot be judged by another authority or else they are not ultimate. In light of this fact, it is not intellectually inferior to utilize an argument from an ultimate authority, even if someone does not believe it. Rather than to back down and remove the very foundation for understanding truth and morality, the proper response is to defend the use of the Bible and to explain how the world is incoherent without the truths contained therein.

A Concluding Note

I’m not against using arguments other than the Bible. I do so often. But, to say we should NOT use Scripture in certain situations is foolish. Scripture alone is completely and ultimately authoritative as an argument. The Bible is not merely human words or reasoning, it is infallible direction from the incorruptible God. When someone needs to know how to think about an issue, that is where we turn.

Follow-up Note: For those interested, Sye Ten Bruggencate has written a helpful response to Walsh and Shapiro.

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He loves studying the Bible and helping others understand it. He also runs the Bible Sojourner podcast.

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