Reformed Articles

Demanding a sign
I already did a longer post on Bahnsen:

But now I’d like to revisit this particular claim:

The Christian cannot relinquish his submission to God’s authority in order to reason upon some alleged neutral ground. God makes a radical demand on the believer’s life which involves never demanding proof of God or trying Him. Even the Incarnate Son would not put God to the test, but rather relied upon the inscripturated word (cf. Matthew 4). The Christian does not look at the evidence impartially, standing on neutral ground with the unbeliever, waiting to see if the evidence warrants trust in God’s truthfulness or not. Rather, he begins by submitting to the truth of God, preferring to view every man as a liar if he contradicts God’s Word (cf. Romans 3:4). No one can demand proof from God, and the servant of the Lord should never give in to any such demand (and obviously, neither should he suggest that such a demand be made by the unbeliever). The apostles were certainly not afraid of evidence; yet we notice that they never argued on the basis of it. They preached the resurrection without feeling any need to prove it to the skeptics; they unashamably appealed to it as fact.

1. Frankly, I think there’s a bit of bravado in Bahnsen’s statement. Was he really that confident? Or is he just saying what he thinks he’s supposed to say? 

2. Bahnsen’s comparison with the temptation of Christ is disanalogous. Obviously Jesus has nothing to prove to Satan. And Jesus doesn’t need a sign for himself. He the divine Son Incarnate. So this isn’t a case of demanding a sign to be convinced in your own mind. 

This isn’t even a case of demanding a sign to convince someone else. Satan already knows the true identity of Jesus. This is Satan’s Hair Mary pass. His insane attempt to turn Jesus. 

3. Is it intrinsically wrong to demand a sign from God? I’ll get to that in a moment, but suppose for argument’s sake that it’s always wrong to demand a sign from God. Even so, does it follow that it’s necessarily wrong to ask God for a sign? Asking is different from demanding. Demanding implies conditional belief or obedience, where you won’t do what God requires of you unless he provides a sign. By contrasting, asking implies that you’re prepared to do what God requires of you anyway, but it would be a lot easier if he gave you a sign. Asking for a sign is humble in a way that demanding a sign is not. In distinction to making a demand, asking makes allowance for the distinct possibility that God may turn you down. I don’t think Christians should routinely ask God for a sign, but I can think of situations where that doesn’t seem to be faithless or presumptuous. The worst that can happen is that God will turn you down. Where’s the harm? It’s not like you’re trying to force God’s hand. Of course, there’s the danger of disappointment, but that’s true for prayer in general. 

4. In Scripture, many figures don’t have to demand a sign from God or ask for a sign because they already have signs from God without the asking. So Bahnsen’s logic is dubious in that regard. It fails to address the situation of people who don’t need to demand a sign from God because it came to them unbidden. This doesn’t prove that people have a right to demand a sign from God. It just means there’s a serious gap in Bahnsen’s argument. An in-between situation he fail to address. 

5. It also depends on where people are starting from. If, over centuries and millennia, a large body of evidence has accumulated regarding God and Scripture, then it’s inappropriate to demand a sign. Inappropriate to demand new evidence. Indeed, that’s often just a pretext. An excuse to disregard the preexisting evidence so that you can feel justified in not believing or obeying. 

Oftentimes, the mentality behind demanding a sign is that I’m entitled to firsthand evidence. God is obligated to perform a sign for me, to prove himself to me. 

But that’s egotistical and irrational. I don’t need firsthand evidence to know something is true. It many cases, it should suffice to rely on the experience of others. Indeed, we all rely on testimonial evidence. 

But at earlier stages in redemptive history, individuals don’t have access to that collective body of evidence. So in their isolated situation, it doesn’t seem inherently impious to ask for or even demand a sign. Especially when you consider what God requires of them. It’s pretty important for them to know that God is the one who’s telling them to do something.

And this can have parallels in space as well as time. There are geographically isolated individuals in the Christian era who don’t own a Bible in their own language. 

6. In Scripture, and this also has parallels in church history–especially on the mission field–when an individual has an extraordinary calling from God, God is more likely to provide him with extraordinary signs. 

7. There’s a paradoxical relationship between Christians, the disciples, and Scripture. To my knowledge, there are only two prophecies regarding the resurrection of the messiah–Isa 53 and the typological oracle in Ps 16. So there wasn’t much to go on. To be convinced, the disciples needed more than Scripture–they needed the empty tomb and they needed to see the Risen Lord.

However, the comparison is equivocal because Christians have more Scripture than the disciples have. We aren’t limited to two prophecies about the messiah’s resurrection. Prophecies which, moreover, are a bit obscure without the context of fulfillment. 

Because the disciples were eyewitnesses to the Resurrection, and because the NT provides a record of the Resurrection, Christians can rely on the biblical witness in a way that the disciples were not in a position to while the disciples could rely on firsthand experience of the Resurrection in a way that Christians are not in a position to.