Apologetics, Worldviews, and the Problem of Neutral Criteria -- By: Harold A. Netland

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 12:1 (Spring 1991)
Article: Apologetics, Worldviews, and the Problem of Neutral Criteria
Author: Harold A. Netland


Apologetics, Worldviews, and the Problem of Neutral Criteria

Harold A. Netland

Tokyo Christian University

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

(Matthew 28:19–20a [NIV])

Generally known as the Great Commission, the command of our Lord quoted above has traditionally been regarded as constituting one of the primary reasons for the missionary enterprise. Implicit in the command is the universality of the person and message of Jesus Christ: disciples of Jesus Christ are to be made from “all nations” (πάντα τὰ ἔθνη), regardless of cultural or religious affiliation. The person and teaching of Jesus are assumed to be universally binding and normative, and it is the task of Christ’s followers to endeavor to bring others from all cultural and religious contexts into a relationship of proper allegiance to him. The modern missionary movement is in large measure a testimony to the seriousness with which Christ’s disciples have set about to obey the Great Commission.

But what may appear to the believer to be perspicuous and entirely legitimate often seems to the nonbeliever to be hopelessly muddled and unfounded. The notion that one particular religious figure and one religious tradition can be normative for all peoples in all cultures at all times—an assumption central to the Great Commission—is today increasingly being dismissed as obscurantist and out of touch with the realities of our pluralistic world. A pervasive epistemological skepticism, combined with a highly relativistic ethos, which virtually refuses to reject any perspective as false and which champions an undisciplined tolerance as the quintessence of virtue, compels many today to look with incredulity upon any religious claims for exclusive or definitive truth.

I. Apologetics and Alternative Worldviews

The Christian faith includes some profound and far-reaching truth claims about the nature of the universe, the existence and

nature of God, the human predicament, and the possibility of salvation. Now part of the price of making such claims to truth is exposure of such assertions to rigorous scrutiny and the demand for corroborative justification. For we normally do not blindly accept just any claim to truth, nor should we expect others to do so. Although notoriously difficult to formulate precisely, there is a direct correlation between the proper acceptance of a truth claim p and the w...

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