September 9, 2011

A Sentinel For God: An Apologetic of Apologetics

I have recently begun reading Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig. In it he has a rather biting and harsh critique of American evangelical Chirstianity:

"Contemporary Christian worship tends to focus on fostering emotional intimacy with God. While this is a good thing, emotions will carry a person only so far..."

Craig goes on to say:

"It's no longer enough to teach our children Bible stories, they need doctrines and apologetics..."

Ouch. I can still feel the sting from those comments. After reading the entire portion where this is written in his book I find myself concurring with Craig’s assessment of American Evangelicalism. I have found myself making similar broad-sweeping comments (sometimes unfairly). We’re often told by believers in churches it is about how they/we feel or about what they/we think is good for us. The sad fact is the Bible does not use this as the gauge of what is correct or righteous. God is the gauge of what is correct or righteous.

“For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:3-4

As we have drifted away from God and Biblical principles we’ve begun to allow culture to creep into our churches. Proportionally, we see less of what God wants for us and more of what we want for ourselves. We’ve made ourselves our own highest authority in the cult of “Self”. In so doing we’ve created a syncretistic hybrid religion of what we feel is proper and mixed it with a little bit of what we are actually told in the Bible. How strong of a leader there is in a given church and how good of a biblical teacher that leader is stands in direct correlation to how intellectual or anti-intellectual that church might be. The modus operandi of a church should be teaching of God’s truth in a form of Godly intellectualism, not making people feel good about themselves at the cost of doctrine or the Gospel. If apologetics is part of a formula for helping people understand their faith and how it interacts with our world, it should be encouraged. If we cannot give the Body a firm foundation of truth and an ability to defend said truth, we will remain adrift on a sea of emotional easy-believism, ambivalence and postmodernism. In effect what I am doing in this essay is defending a defense. By agreeing with Craig I believe I am defending the defense of the Christian faith, in particular the Gospel of Jesus Christ though apologetics or a rational defense of the Christian as objective truth.

"But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect... 1 Peter 3:15

The heart of the issue Craig brings to light about our churches is that the culture (including the Church) has (1) short attentions spans and a (2) hedonistic approach to church where the desire for feel good-easy believism trumps truth. People within churches do not always care that truth is spoken, they care that they feel “positive” or feel good about what is said. In this respect they have made themselves gods and this is not a biblical approach to doing church. Craig as a point of demarcation from his stinging critique interposes a suggestion to fix the problem. He states that Christian worship fosters emotional intimacy with God; he also states that we should balance it with “substance” in the form of apologetics. While emotion in a relationship with God can never be bad, it tends to be less substantive and leaves a whole realm in the Christian life unaddressed that adds more substance: Rational explanation and logical reasoning. Apologetics adds the intellectualism back into a worldview that is viewed (sometimes rightfully) as over emotional and anti-intellectual.

We are, for the most part an empirically based society driven by the naturalistic/empirical evidences and agnostic/atheistic philosophies that preclude God. This type of mindset basically says that if we cannot observe it, repeat it or rationalize it to its smallest iota, it either doesn’t exist or can’t exist. Atheistic worldviews restrict or limit what they believe is possible because of a myopic view of reality. In the case of the scientific secular humanist world they refuse to recognize the supernatural. They refuse to acknowledge something exists if it does not fit within their criteria of determining what they consider scientific fact (which isn’t always fact, its theory). It is a refusal to acknowledge or believe something even in light of evidences or effects of things unseen on their surroundings or interactions within a human life…in other words: God

The aforementioned naturalistic philosophy has permeated churches and in some cases trumped the rationale of even believer’s thinking. In many cases churches are filled with believers educated in “higher” learning institutions that have been indoctrinated with anti-Christian worldviews. It now becomes a process of deprogramming them. It’s as if the naturalistic view has trumped God’s authority in many mainline churches. It is up to leaders or pastors to have a rationalized or logical argument from Scripture to convince many in the their body otherwise. If the leader is not able to do this, the body remains adrift and ambivalent towards Biblical truth and/or authority. If they will not take Scripture serious, which is the revealed mind and heart of God in words, how can they possibly take God/Jesus Christ serious?

Apologetics looks like an intellectual point-of-contact to do just that. It allows believers to take their faith to a point of engagement and defend it. We as Christians can meet people at their own points of doubt…even our own doubts. We are called to do this in Scripture in 1 Corinthians...

“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” 1 Corinthians 10:4-5

I believe Craig calls this the “cultural milieu”. While emotions are nice, they are nearly ineffective in this area. It is in this cultural milieu that we have at our disposal a time and place to show many things of the world (like science or philosophy) are indeed compatible with a Christian belief in the God of the Bible.

A good way to integrate this into our churches is to give youth (through youth pastors) a toolbox to defend their faith in high school and college. It should also be given to adults in the working world. The best way to integrate anything into a body in a biblical manner is via the Bible. Perhaps doing a sermon series and growth group on Paul’s missionary journey(s) and use them as a case-in-point. Draw parallels between what Paul did in Athens, Mars Hill, with the Berea, Corinth, etc. These were broadly outlined and hinted at in Acts. The disciples didn’t live sedentary lives. They went out teaching and preaching and in some cases used apologetics. We as leaders in the church today can draw cotemporary applications we have the pattern already laid out for us in Scripture. For the teaching to stick in a diverse body (all churches) it is necessary to incorporate everyone into the learning process. Educating part of the body and not others will cause disparity and possibly division.

In the end it was the charge of the disciples (therefore ours) to evangelize and teach all members of the Body both young and old. Those disciples continue this chain of discipleship. If apologetics is a meaningful tool for maintaining this self-perpetuating cycle then all the tools of the church should be used and put at a disciple’s disposal to get the job done. We saw Paul use apologetics to get points across and defend the faith. We also saw the others disciples like Peter follow the same line of thinking…so should we. Through their actions we see that Christ’s immediate disciples including Paul use apologetics to obey the Great Commission. I fear that if we do not educate those in the Body to properly do this we as a Body will be set further adrift from the truth of the Bible with fewer and fewer people able to paddle and direct the body back to a proper anchorage in truth of God. At some point I fear the church will complete break loose from its mooring and the truth will not even be discernable too most of the Body because it will either be too far away from it to recognize it. We already see this happening. Our first line of defense against something like that happening is preaching the God’s word in conjunction with an apologia.

Art: Bill Osbourne


Philsthrills said...

1. Sooo, 20 years ago, "apologetics*" were uber popular in churches across the country. In fact, a lot of youth ministry programs specifically taught apologetics in order to arm their youth in the very way that you have outlined here. The problem is that an unprecedented number of youth ended up leaving the church as they entered adulthood. Why do you think this is?

*apologetics is in quotes b/c I am not sure that we are referring to the same thing, as it was used a little vaguely in your post.

2. What are we defending our faith against?

Andy Pierson said...

Relax Phil, it was a paper on a critique of a biting comment made in my textbook. We in the context of this post are defending against unfounded non-logical knee-jerk attacks against the faith. SOunds like these "kids" you refer to needed a better foundation in the Gospel before they started defending it. Do I sense a caustic edge here? Not like you Phil...

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