In this episode of Mind + Heart, Phillip Holmes interviews Dr. John Fesko. Dr. Fesko is Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology at RTS Jackson. He served as pastor of an OPC church plant in Atlanta, as well as previously serving on faculty at RTS Atlanta. Dr. Fesko has authored or edited more than 20 books, and written 50 published essays for various journals and books.
Holmes asks Dr. Fesko about his background and testimony. Dr. Fesko describes growing up in both Presbyterian and Baptist churches, and his pastor’s encouragement that he pursue a seminary education. He also describes his educational and theological journey into Presbyterianism, his Ph.D. work, and his time on RTS’ faculty. In light of Dr. Fesko’s recent move from California, Holmes and Dr. Fesko also discuss their mutual enjoyment of life in Mississippi and the benefits thereof.
Holmes replays Dr. Fesko’s previous Wisdom Wednesday episode, “What is the best method of apologetics?” Afterward, Holmes asks Dr. Fesko about the differences between common and special grace, and how these things are evident in people’s lives. Dr. Fesko explains common grace’s function in creation itself and the lives of believers and unbelievers. He also describes the necessity and exclusivity of special grace as a gift to those who are believers.
Holmes asks Dr. Fesko to distinguish between general revelation and special revelation. Dr. Fesko explains non-salvific general revelation as that which reveals God in creation, and salvific special revelation as God’s self-revelation through scripture. Holmes follows up by offering a doctor’s medical training as an example of general revelation. Dr. Fesko expounds by explaining the limits of common grace.
Holmes talks about some common misunderstandings of reformed theology and asks Dr. Fesko to explain a portion of his Wisdom Wednesday episode in which he discusses Calvin’s metaphor of Scripture as “corrective lenses.: Dr. Fesko discusses the effects of sin upon the mind and the ways in which this limits human kind’s ability to discern what is true. He describes the medieval metaphor of creation and Scripture as two books authored by God, intended to be read together, and expands on Calvin’s metaphor of Scripture as corrective lenses for spiritual vision.
Holmes and Dr. Fesko discuss the importance of an awareness of the noetic effects of sin for believers, both in terms of personal self-awareness, and as a necessary foundation for doing good apologetics. Holmes asks Dr. Fesko about the role of aesthetics in apologetics, and Dr. Fesko explains the necessity of a theology of beauty, rooted in God, as a tool for doing apologetics with both unbelievers and believers.
Holmes closes by asking Dr. Fesko how a knowledge of unbelievers as image-bearers can practically change our approach to apologetics. Dr. Fesko explains that image-bearing allows believers to have commonality with unbelievers, thus making it possible to have conversations about truth, the gospel, and Christ. Holmes invites Dr. Fesko to offer some final words, and Dr. Fesko discusses the importance of ensuring that believers communicate about what they are for, not merely what they are against.
Mind + Heart Season 2 Episode 4: Apologetics
Keith Pinckney: Hi, this is Keith Pinckney. As a current student at Reformed Theological Seminary, I’ve been incredibly thankful for how RTS supports my fellow students and me, as we prepare for a life of ministry. One of the ways that I’ve felt supported is by the seminary’s commitment to helping students graduate from seminary without additional student debt. As part of that commitment, RTS will participate in Giving Tuesday on November 30th, seeking 100 donations for need-based student aid. To partner with us, visit rts.edu/giving-tuesday. And if you’re listening to this episode after Giving Tuesday, it’s not too late to join us. Visit rts.edu/give to learn more.
Phillip Holmes: Welcome to the Mind + Heart Podcast, which features interviews and more from the faculty and friends of Reformed Theological Seminary. We created this podcast to assist you in your daily quest to love God and love your neighbor. I’m your host, Phillip Holmes, and this week I’m joined by my guest, Dr. John Fesko.
Dr. Fesko has taught at RTS Atlanta since 2000, while he served as pastor in northwest Atlanta, and now as Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology at RTS Jackson. He has been an ordained minister since 1998 in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, serving as a church planter, pastor, and now teacher. Dr. Fesko’s interests include early-modern reformation and post-reformation theology, the integration of biblical and systematic theology, as well as soteriology, especially the doctrine of justification. Dr. Fesko has authored or edited more than 20 books, and written 50 published essays for various journals and books. Dr. Fesko, welcome back to the show. Thank you for joining us.
Dr. John Fesko: Philip, it’s great to be with you. Glad to be on the podcast.
Holmes: Now we usually ask, but for some of our listeners, this may be their first time tuning in. So just briefly, give us a brief overview of just your origin story.
Dr. Fesko: Yeah, I was blessed to be raised in a Christian home. My folks took us always where there was strong preaching. But in the course of growing up, they ended up taking us to a church that had a Baptist pastor who was an ex-Presbyterian. And he started teaching the doctrines of grace. And at the time, I didn’t necessarily figure out what was going on. But as I sensed a call into ministry in my life, early in my teen years, I ended up going to seminary. This pastor told me to go to seminary, and as I did, I began stumbling across works by John Calvin, by Jonathan Edwards, Louis Berkhof and others, as well as through the ministry of R.C. Sproul. And long story short, I figured out that, “Wow, I think I’m more Presbyterian than I am Baptist.” And ended up going into the Presbyterian Church, went and got my Ph.D. in Scotland and really thoroughly enjoyed that, and then became a church planter with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. And I transitioned from church planting to being the pastor of the church, as you mentioned, in northwest Atlanta, as well as, I was, you know, teaching. Then I went to teach at another institution for about 10 years full time, and then from there, ended up coming on full time with RTS here in Jackson, Mississippi. And I’ve been here for about two and a half years or so, and just loving life, living here in Mississippi and being at RTS Jackson.
Holmes: So what has the transition to Jackson been like? Because I think before you were here, you were in California, correct?
Dr. Fesko: Yeah, that’s right. You know, a lot of people think, “Oh, goodness, you poor soul. You had to move from California to Mississippi,” and we look at them and we’re kind of dumbfounded because we’re like, “Oh, no, I mean, don’t get me wrong, California can be nice, but we absolutely love Mississippi.” It’s a beautiful place. There’s fascinating culture, fantastic people, some of the friendliest people I think we’ve ever met in our entire lives.
So I don’t know. I mean, I don’t say this — I’ll go wherever the Lord sends me. But that being said, we’re perfectly content here. We love it. Absolutely love it in Mississippi. So it’s been a fantastic transition and it’s been fertile ground for the family and fertile ground working here at RTS.
Holmes: Yeah, I mean, I’ve lived in Houston and I lived in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and I couldn’t wait to get back to Jackson. And it wasn’t because, you know, there were these big attractions or sites, or — it was because of the people in the community that I left. That was just a really important part of my growth in sanctification early on as a believer.
And since coming back, this community has been a huge blessing to my wife. I don’t know if we can imagine ourselves living, really, anywhere else, especially at this stage of life other than Mississippi. Just as you said, the people here are so great. Mississippi, of course, has its challenges like anywhere. But I think it definitely gets a worse rap than it should. And I think the people are great and deserve more credit for a lot of the good stuff that does exist there. So it’s home, and I wouldn’t want anywhere else to be home.
Dr. Fesko: Hey, I’m with you. It’s great.
Holmes: So on September 8, 2020, we asked you the question, Dr. Fesko, “What is the best method of apologetics?” via Wisdom Wednesday, our weekly Q&A video series. So before we get any further, let’s take a moment and listen to your response to the question, “What is the best method of apologetics?”
Dr. Fesko: What is the best method of apologetics? We want to focus on some key principles that we want to engage with when we defend the faith. The first is, is that we always want to found our apologetic method on the authority of the Scriptures. If the Scriptures are a powerful sword, a double-edged sword, a dividing between soul and spirit, bone and marrow, as we read in Hebrews 4, then we can recognize that this is going to be the most powerful weapon in our arsenal. If the word of God is what created the heavens and the Earth and everything that we see around us, and it’s what raises people from death to life, then this is what we need to use as our chief authority as we defend the faith.
Common grace . . . enables us to engage unbelievers in discussion about the truths about the gospel, because God in many ways restrains their sin and allows us to have . . . dialogue with them.A second point that we need to keep in mind is that we want to use not only the book of Scripture, but we also want to recognize, as the Belgic Confession speaks of in Article Two, that God has written another book, and that other book is the book of creation around us, and that the entire creation gives witness and testimony to God’s existence, to who he is. It reveals his wisdom. And in particular, it was Calvin who says that with the spectacles of Scripture — in other words, by putting on the lenses, the corrective lenses of Scripture — we can look out into the creation aright, and we can see the artistry, the beauty, the majesty of God’s creation, and that all people, ultimately because they are created in the image of God, recognize these things. And so we should appeal to them. So we should use both of God’s books, both the Scriptures and the book of creatures.
I think a third and final point we would want to note is we always want to approach apologetics as we approach unbelievers with the knowledge that they are made in the image of God. And if they are made in the image of God, this means that they have the knowledge of God written upon their hearts. They have the law of God, as Paul says in Romans 2:14-15, inscribed upon their hearts. They, by nature, do what the law requires. So if they know God because they are image-bearers, and if they have his knowledge written upon their hearts, then this means that we can and should appeal to this knowledge, despite the fact that they might try to suppress the truth in unrighteousness. If we appeal to them and we show them how they truly do know God, this ultimately can be another powerful weapon in our apologetics arsenal.
So resting on the authority of Scripture, appealing to God’s both books, the books of nature and Scripture, and then appealing to the fact that unbelievers, as well as believers, are image-bearers. These three things, I think make for a sound apologetic methodology.
Holmes: Dr. Fesko, can you give us a quick explanation of the differences between common and special grace, and how they reveal themselves in our lives?
Dr. Fesko: We can distinguish between common and special grace this way, first, by defining grace. And we would say that God’s grace is his favor that he gives to both a fallen world and to fallen sinners. And theologians, at least since the time of Kuyper, have attached the name ‘common grace’ and ‘special grace’ to it. The concepts have existed long before that, but we would say that God’s common grace is his favor that he shows to the creation, as well as even to animals, as well as especially to sinners. And we see that the common grace that he extends, for example, in the Noahic covenant in Genesis 9, where he makes a covenant with the whole Earth, with the animals, as well as with human beings, not to destroy the creation by means of water. And so that’s a common dispensation of grace to the entire creation.
It’s one thing to know that God exists and what’s right or wrong, but as far as the knowledge of the Trinity, the gospel, who Jesus Christ is, that Jesus Christ has come— that’s knowledge that only comes to us by means of special revelation in the Scriptures.But more specifically, there’s common grace to sinners that otherwise deserve God’s judgment. And the way that Jesus describes it, we find in Matthew 5:43 and following, where he says of the love that his Father gives to the creation, where he says, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy is what you’ve heard. But I say, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.” And so that would be a manifestation of God’s common grace. And by his common grace, we would say that he upholds the creation, he governs the world, as well as he also restrains sin so that he doesn’t let sin run rampant in the creation.
But we would, conversely, just define special grace as his saving favor in Christ that he gives specifically to those who have been chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world. And it’s that grace that comes to us that saves us. And so we can say that, yeah, God has his favor that he shows to sinners. But there’s one type that only the church receives, those who believe in Jesus. And then there’s a type that the entire creation receives, or that all people, whether they’re saved or not, receive. And it’s often this common grace that enables us to engage unbelievers in discussion about the truths about the gospel, because God in many ways restrains their sin and allows us to have, in the simplest of ways, dialogue with them.
Holmes: I feel like often the — and I’m going off script here just a bit — but I feel like often common grace, special grace, general revelation, special revelation — these terms are used interchangeably [in] a lot of this discussion. Can you distinguish between the two?
Dr. Fesko: Sure. In terms of general revelation, we would say that’s the knowledge of God that is available in the creation. Psalm 19: “The heavens declare the glory of God,” and that there is no language in which their voice is not heard. Whereas, we would say that special revelation is the information and the knowledge of God that he gives solely through the Scriptures. And so with Paul, for example, in Romans 1:19-20, we would say that by God’s general revelation, we know that God exists. In Romans 2:14-16, Paul says that God has written the work of the law upon all of our hearts so that all of us, believer or unbeliever, know what’s right and what’s wrong as our conscience accuses or excuses us our conduct.
It has to be the sovereign work of the Spirit to open somebody’s eyes to see Christ and to receive him.Whereas, it’s one thing to know that God exists and what’s right or wrong, but as far as the knowledge of the Trinity, the gospel, who Jesus Christ is, that Jesus Christ has come— that’s knowledge that only comes to us by means of special revelation in the Scriptures. And so we would say that general revelation, or common grace, is non-saving, whereas special revelation and special grace is saving, so long as it’s accompanied by the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit.
Holmes: That’s good, that’s helpful. The other thing, I guess, as another one more follow up, I would ask is so for example, someone giving medical advice — like, so medical knowledge, knowledge of the human anatomy and how sickness works and all those things — would that be an example of general revelation and common grace?
Dr. Fesko: Yes. And even though human beings are sinful and they’re fallen, and at times their thinking can become so twisted by sin that they become nothing short of evil, at the same time, because of God’s common grace and his restraint of sin, you can go to the doctor’s office, for example, and know that for the most part, even if the person is not a believer, that they’re going to be able to study your physiology. They’re going to be able to look at blood tests and scans and make an accurate diagnosis as to your condition. They’re going to be able to see and perceive the truth aright.
But where that often falls short, or where that falls short, I should say, is that when it comes to the things of God in terms of the knowledge of the gospel, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:14, that the natural person or the person that is unsaved, does not receive the knowledge of God, the things of God as it pertains to the gospel, because they are only spiritually discerned. In other words, it has to be the sovereign work of the Spirit to open somebody’s eyes to see Christ and to receive him. And so, yeah, we can be thankful for the blessings of common grace, and we can also engage the world in a fruitful way on the basis of common grace. But we always want to recognize that it’s only special grace that enables people to believe in Christ.
Phillip Holmes: And I dove a little bit deeper into that line of questioning, because this is a conversation that has been, seems to be very relevant as I watch conversations across social media. As a lot of people who are coming into Reformed theology or Calvinism, but they come from more fundamentalist backgrounds, that that distinction between general revelation, special revelation, special grace, and common grace — they’re not aware of that distinction. And oftentimes, there is sort of a fundamentalist version of Calvinism that presents itself as Reformed theology when it’s basically fundamentalism, plus the five points of Calvinism, right? And we know Reformed theology is a lot bigger. It’s a lot more complex than just five points, just soteriology, for example. So I thought that was really important that we dive into that just a little bit for our listeners who might not be aware of that distinction. And in the episode, you said, by putting on the corrective lenses of Scripture, we can look out into creation aright. How can we use Scripture as a corrective lens for viewing creation? Why is this a necessary practice?
We can be thankful for the blessings of common grace, and we can also engage the world in a fruitful way on the basis of common grace. But we always want to recognize that it’s only special grace that enables people to believe in Christ.Dr. Fesko: I think what we have to recognize — and I’ll throw out a fancy 50 cent word and then explain it, but — we have to recognize what we call the noetic effects of sin, or the effects of sin upon the mind, in that because of our fallen nature, because we’ve inherited it from Adam, as well as because even the sins that we ourselves commit, they can twist our thinking. And that means that when we look at the creation, as Paul says in Romans 1:18 and following, that we know that God exists. And even though we know he exists, we know he’s all-powerful, we know his invisible being and attributes, we nevertheless suppress the truth in unrighteousness. And so John Calvin talks about the Bible being the corrective lenses to correct our sin-blurred vision so that apart from the Scriptures, we know that God exists, but we don’t know he is triune. Apart from the Scriptures, we know that God must be worshiped, but we’re not exactly sure how. Apart from the Scriptures, we know that we are guilty of sin and that God is holy, but we don’t know how quite to remedy the situation unless we put on the lenses of Scripture to see Christ given to us in the gospel.
And so, you see the Apostle Paul doing this very thing when he’s at Mars Hill in Acts 17, and he tells the philosophers, the Stoics and the Epicureans that were gathered there, “I saw an inscription to an unknown god. Let me tell you who that unknown god is. And even some of your own poets have said, ‘We are all his offspring, and in him we live and move and have our being.'” Well, he takes that blurred truth that they can perceive to a certain extent, he gives them the corrective lenses of scripture to say, “Here is who this God is, it is the one true living God of the Scriptures, and here is the one man whom he has appointed to be judge over all things. And this is Jesus Christ, and he was raised from the dead.” And so it corrects their eyesight, if you will, and it allows them to see things clearly.
So, we can look at the creation and the way that the Reformed tradition has described, I think beautifully — and it goes back to the Middle Ages, but — is that God has written two books: the book of nature and the book of Scripture. But we can only understand the book of nature correctly if we first read about the creation in the book of Scripture. So you can change metaphors. It’s either the lenses of Scripture or reading the book of Scripture and then reading the book of nature. But that gives us the correction that we need so that we see things aright.
Apart from the Scriptures, we know that God exists, but we don’t know he is triune. Apart from the Scriptures, we know that God must be worshiped, but we’re not exactly sure how.Holmes: No, excellent answer. You know, there’s something that you said when you were talking about the noetic effects of sin and how it affects the mind, the intellect. And I think that is so important. It’s become more and more apparent that we as Christians often neglect our Bibles. And so we know enough about what the Bible teaches about God — right? some of the basic tenants — but many often depend on others or on somebody else’s preaching. And of course, means of grace, very important, local church, pastor. But as you were talking, it just occurred to me that when I am not constantly in the Word, I find my — the noetic effects of sin are ongoing.
So Scripture is constantly correcting these false views of what worship is, or who God is, and what God is like, and what makes God angry, right? You begin to see all over, all the time, via social media or wherever — and of course, I keep talking about social media because I’m very engaged digitally with what’s going on; it’s a part of my job, but — I often find people saying things about God that aren’t true, and making bold statements about what God cares about and what he doesn’t care about. And I find oftentimes that they are unable to basically base these things in Scripture. They’re unable to. They’re not pulling these things from Scripture. They’re pulling these things based on their feelings about — and that’s when I think we best and most clearly see the noetic effects of sin right there, right? Because they have neglected the Word and they are unable to see — they know they ought to worship, but they don’t know how to worship, right? They know that marriage is good, but they don’t know what makes a healthy marriage, right? And that’s not to say that only Christians have healthy marriages or anything like that, but I’ve oftentimes even realized that people don’t understand that the call to marriage is a call of self-sacrifice. So it seems to me, oftentimes as I’ve watched friends and loved ones go through divorce, there’s a selfishness that tends to exist. Now, this is just my personal experience. There’s all types of complex reasons why people — but there’s a certain level of self-protectiveness.
So to your point, I think the noetic effects of sin are ongoing at any time, even as Christians, right? It’s not just unbelievers. Any time, as Christians, we neglect the reading of God’s Word, we have to always go to God’s Word to constantly correct the false views that we have about God, about salvation, about who we are in Jesus, how we should engage to all these things where scripture speaks to. We have to constantly go to Scripture to make sure that we haven’t, in very subtle ways, adopted the mentality or the philosophies of the world.
Dr. Fesko: Absolutely. You know, so many people, I think, you know, conceive of apologetics as primarily a defense of the gospel against outsiders, and that’s certainly true. But we can also conceive of apologetics as defending the gospel against our own sinful predilections. And so, we need apologetics for our own personal sanctification as much as the unbeliever needs it for his salvation, for the very reasons that you state. So yeah, that’s a great insight.
Holmes: Yeah. Because even to your point, I mean, I know there are Christian traditions who might unnecessarily agree with our soteriology. But the reality is, is that if we have a view of apologetics that apologetics is about convincing and about purely reasoning when we know that, you know—so, we know we ought to share the gospel, we know we ought to contend for the faith, but we don’t know, oftentimes, apart from the Scriptures, how that works, how that process works. So we think from a worldly standpoint, if I’m arguing with you about which sports team is best right, I can try to convince you with my reasoning and my logic and my stats and my numbers, and my mind tells me that, “Well, if I can present him with the facts, he will have no other choice but to believe.” And the noetic effects of sin probably extend a lot, because I find that oftentimes even that doesn’t work.
When I was a kid, I used to think, if people just had the facts, they’ll change. And that’s probably how it should be, but the reality is, we can have the best arguments, — I mean, you know, I’m bringing him up because this is a public figure who was an apologist — but Ravi Zacharias is an excellent example of what we’re talking about, because this was someone who was a world-renowned apologist, but had a life that was completely the opposite. So, you know, people out who don’t necessarily hold to the Reformed faith may look at that and say, “Man, how? He knew everything. This guy can answer any question. Like, how could he out of all people?” And we say, “Yeah, we actually understand exactly how that works. That’s consistent with what Scripture teaches.” It’s like, he knew the answers, but that doesn’t necessarily change the heart.
Beauty is objectively defined as who God is. And then, the degree to which we, as his image-bearers, reflect his character and his image is the degree to which we ourselves can participate, or are, beautiful.This is so, so good and so helpful because I hadn’t been able — I observed this, probably more so by other people, but even as you were talking, I was saying how, no, Scripture is also corrective lenses oftentimes for me as well. And I have to be constantly aware of how the noetic effects of sin affect my ability to know what is right about God. What role does beauty play in apologetics?
Dr. Fesko: You know, I’m glad that you asked that question because it’s not — at least, as I’ve read the literature — not a topic that often comes up, at least in contemporary apologetics. But it’s a topic I think that you could say comes up in older apologetics, say, for example, in the works of Augustine. And you know, we might not realize it, because like you said before, so much of apologetics apparently seems to rest upon just rational arguments. Weigh the evidence. You know, look at the evidence. But if I can work off of one of your analogies there that you’ve brought up when you’re talking about sports, it’s like, “Yeah, you can look at all of the statistics, say for your favorite team or your favorite athlete.” And you know — dare I raise the topic of who’s the greatest, LeBron or Michael Jordan? Tom Brady or Joe Montana? — it’s one thing to lay the stats out. It’s another thing to watch film of them play, and to watch Jordan take off from the foul line as he seemingly is soaring. And I’ve looked at that image multiple times. I swear, he’s five feet in the air, and to come down and to dunk that ball single-handedly — or to watch Lynn Swann back from the late-70s and the Steelers, to watch him just leap so gracefully in the air, that puts a whole other dimension to all of those statistics.
And so, when we’re talking about beauty and aesthetics, we have to recognize that aesthetics and beauty is not just something that’s purely subjective, as most people would say these days, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Well, there’s some little bit of truth to that. But if we recognize that God is the one who is ultimately beautiful, then that means that God — that there is an objective definition and idea of what beauty is. It’s not an abstract concept. And so, like the psalmist, in Psalm 27:4, says, “One thing that I have asked of the Lord, that I will seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.” And the psalmist again, Psalm 50:2, “The perfection of the beauty of God shines forth out of Zion.” And so God, the Scriptures say, is beautiful. And so we see a reflection of God’s beauty in the creation. The psalmist doesn’t use the exact same word, but he says that the glory of God is all over the creation. Who of us hasn’t been captivated by a beautiful sunset or beautiful scene in nature? And the fact that — you know, I try to challenge my students in this — the fact that we can see in color, that we can smell, that we can taste, that we can touch — all of these things show us that God has designed us to detect beauty and to detect these types of things that God has given in the creation.
And so to that end, the nature of beauty is objectively defined as who God is. And then, the degree to which we, as his image-bearers, reflect his character and his image is the degree to which we ourselves can participate, or are, beautiful. And so we don’t — we want to set aside notions of beauty as just something that’s, like, purely visibly beautiful. Because you can take somebody who’s handsome, good-looking, attractive, whatever — and, to borrow the example from Ravi Zacharias — internally, they’re ugly, they’re twisted. And it’s because they’re not in conformity with God, who is beauty itself. And so to that end, we can say that beauty is an attribute of God. And the more that we look like God in terms of our character, in terms of our conduct, the more beautiful that we are, and the more beautiful that you become.
So often as Christians, we can focus upon what we don’t have in common with the unbelieving world that we can forget what the Bible has to say as to what we do have in common with the unbelieving world.And so, I think that you can see the ugliness of sin, and what it can do to twist people in terms of who they are and even what they look like. Well, then, the converse is also true as to, why does Paul say in Romans 10:15, quoting Isaiah, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news?” It’s because those who bring the gospel that brings sinners, who are deformed by sin and idolatry into conformity with Christ, that makes them beautiful. And so they too are beautiful for bringing that good news. And so, yeah, I think aesthetics is a really important aspect. In other words, our idea of what constitutes beauty is a really important part of what apologetics is all about.
Holmes: That’s really good. Excellent answer. One more question before I let you go. How does knowing that unbelievers are image-bearers practically change the way we approach apologetics?
Dr. Fesko: You know, there have been some theologians in the 20th century — like Karl Barth, perhaps, is the most famous for saying that there’s absolutely no point of contact between believer and unbeliever. I think that while most Christians have probably never heard of Karl Barth, how that ends up playing out practically is that a lot of times Christians are scared of interacting with the outside world. I once listened to some young women — they were godly young women, they were very nice, very friendly — I overheard their conversation where they said, “I’m not sure how I would talk to an unbeliever.” And it’s because they felt as if they were so different that they just had no way to bridge the gap. Well, that being said, again, as you asked in the question, we have to recognize that so often as Christians, we can focus upon what we don’t have in common with the unbelieving world that we can forget what the Bible has to say as to what we do have in common with the unbelieving world.
Holmes: Those corrective lenses.
Dr. Fesko: Yes, exactly.
Holmes: About how we view ourselves.
Dr. Fesko: That’s right. Those corrective lenses. And so the question is, what do we have in common with the people that are in our community? Well, we can start with all of us — regardless of who we are, our age, our ethnicity — all of us are created in the image of God. And if that means that we are, all of us, created in the image of God and that we all, because God has inscribed the work of the law upon our hearts, we all know what’s right or wrong. And it’s like I tell my students: the thief knows what he’s doing or what she’s doing is wrong because they often steal under the cover of darkness. They hide because they know that it’s wrong, and they have to be secret about, secretive about what they’re doing.
Moreover, what we can also hopefully point people to is — the way that Saint Augustine expressed it is that all of us have a longing and desire for Christ and for God, and that until that hole is filled with Christ, we will never find satisfaction or contentment. And so, if we can point these things out by virtue of our identity as image-bearers, we can make a connection to the unbelieving world and to our neighbors and to whoever we may encounter to say, “Hey, I have actually a lot in common with this person,” and we can converse about and connect on a lot of things. And we can point to the creation, or we can point to the gifts that they have received by the general work of the Spirit and say, “Where did you get that ability? How can you play that musical instrument so beautifully? And how come you can recognize a beautiful music piece or you can see this beautiful piece of art will pay?” Guess what! It’s because we’re all made in the image of God. And so, yeah, connecting to unbelievers as fellow image-bearers, and then in terms of sin, as fellow covenant breakers, we can, I think, really connect with our neighbors in the unbelieving world in a powerful way.
Holmes: That’s good. That’s good. Dr. Fesko, first of all, thank you so much. You know, there is something that you said regarding the thief understanding that it’s wrong to steal. So the law is written on our hearts, right? And I was immediately reminded of Ephesians 4:25, when Paul says, “Let the thief no longer steal.” But he also says something else after that. And all throughout the end of that chapter, there’s this pattern where he basically gives a prohibition and then he tells them what they should be doing. And then he tells them why. And it seems to me that oftentimes we are quick to tell people, almost, kind of what they already know, right? They know that they shouldn’t be stealing, but they don’t understand the alternative to not stealing, right? If I don’t steal — but what this Paul say? Paul says, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands so that he may have something to share.” Why? So that he may have something to share with anyone in need. “Put away falsehood. Let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor for we are members of one another.” Again, I’m fascinated.
I think the world perceives Christians as simply telling people what they shouldn’t do or what we’re against, and we never get around to telling them what we’re for, which is Christ and the gospel.I almost — I mean, this is the Mind + Heart Podcast, and I oftentimes feel like that there’s an over-emphasis on what is wrong with the human heart. But I’m not sure that we have emphasized enough, at least in my Christian experience, the effects of sin on our mind. And I think it’s crucial to apologetics that we understand this because we realize that again, apologetics is not just for unbelievers. It’s for believers as well, because we have to constantly continue to go back to the truth of Scripture to remind ourselves, not only should we just not be stealing, but we should also be working and giving. Sometimes we just think we’re really good Christians just because, you know, what’s the saying? I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. I don’t — something. I don’t chew. I don’t hang with those who do, or something like that. So we kind of assume that, hey, we’re good because [of] all the things that we don’t do, but the Christian life, when we go the Scripture, is defined also by the things that we do. Right?
I almost want to have you back next season for an entire podcast on the noetic effects of sin, and how our minds have been corrupted in the fall. Because I think that we will realize that Fox News and CNN and politics is probably doing a lot more damage on us than we realize. And we have to constantly go back to Scripture in order to correct that wrong thinking that oftentimes presents itself in various ways as some version of God’s truth, what’s right. So I’m really, really happy that we had you on and I really, really benefited personally, even from your answers to today’s questions. Any final words? I don’t want to have — any final words before we go?
Dr. Fesko: I just couldn’t agree more with what you said. I think it’s an important thing to know. So often, I think the world perceives Christians as simply telling people what they shouldn’t do or what we’re against, and we never get around to telling them what we’re for, which is Christ and the gospel. And if we spent, maybe, a little more time telling people about Christ and what we’re for, maybe we wouldn’t have to spend so much time telling people what they shouldn’t do. In other words, yeah, you know, we have to point out sin.
But if we spend as much time or more time on the gospel, we might find that people embrace Christ and repent of their sins, and that, in and of itself, becomes the aesthetic, if you will, of our Christian witness, is that it’s a beautiful thing when sinners turn away from their sin and embrace the one true living God in Christ. So, yeah, thanks for having me on. It’s been a pleasure. And God willing, I look forward to more in the future.
Holmes: Awesome. Well, thank you, Dr. Fesko, for joining us today, and thank you for tuning in. We hope you enjoyed this week’s episode featuring Dr. John Fesko. I also would like to thank the RTS family, church partners, students, alumni, and donors for the many ways you make the work of Reformed Theological Seminary possible. The clip we listened to earlier is from our weekly video series, Wisdom Wednesday, where relevant matters of the Christian faith are addressed by RTS faculty and friends with truth, candor, and grace. Access our entire archive or submit a question to Wisdom Wednesday at rts.edu/wisdom-wednesday. Mind + Heart is powered by Reformed Theological Seminary, where we desire to raise up pastors and other church leaders with a mind for truth, and a heart for God.