Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Tragedy of Contemporary Apologetics

Recently I argued that the nature and character of Biblical Apologetics is, first and foremost responsive. The apologia or apologeomai is a response from the Christian to an unbeliever. The Christian may be responding to a question, a demand, a challenge, charge, or even an indictment. The flow looks like this:

Christian delievers Kerygma
>>> Unbeliever response (question, demand, challenge, charge, indictment) to Kerygma >>>Christian response to unbeliever (apologetic).

This is what it means to engage in the discipline of Biblical apologetics. The idea is that the Christian is responding to the unbeliever's desire that they provide a reason for the hope that is in them.

Notice that Biblical apologetics has nothing to do with Christians taking the offensive by going out and looking for a fight. Too many amatuer apologists, so-called, are very poor representations of the Christian worldview, not to mention the Christian message. These amatuer apologists read a book, gain some knowledge, maybe even a lot of knowledge, marry that with their insatiable lust for the intellect and for intellectual pugalism and the results are tragic and embarrasing. These are men who care far more about their own ego, about being right, about how they appear to others, than they do about lovingly and gently proclaming the gospel with respect in all humility. I am not implying that we soften the Christian message. God forbid we should ever do such a thing. However, what I witness on some blogs and some internet forums has about as much Christian fruit as the Huffington Post. Spirit-filled apologetics is always accompanied by the fruit of the Spirit.

Biblical apologetics is not about winning a debate. It is not about proving that Christianity has the best arguments. Biblical apologetics is a Biblical response from Scripture in love and humility to those who ask, or demand, or even to those who challenge and indict us in response to our proclamation of the gospel. It has nothing to do with winning a debate. It has nothing to do with having the best argument. In fact, I would venture to say that most of the time, where the unbeliever is concerned, the Christian should expect an epistemic standoff. Moreover, we should be perfectly fine with these results.

"Fearlessness toward outside detractors is to be manifested in a readiness to provide a public account of oneself, especially regarding the hope that arouses their curiosity." [Elliot, I Peter, 626]

This is the whole point. For contemporary Christians in America, this should be relatively painless. After all, we are not under threat of death or serious bodily injury or even serious persecution, yet. Still, for some reason, most American Christians either have a very wrong-headed idea about apologetics or are entirely clueless as to what the discipline even means. Neither of these is acceptable.

"Curiosity - the desire to understand and to know - lies at the root of all science and philosophy. Man, as Aristotle said long ago, by nature desires to know. The desire of the scientist or the philosopher to expand the horizons of our understanding is but the mature result that original curiosity with which every human life begins." [Halverson, A Concise Introduction to Philosophy. 3]
There is no excuse for a Christian to be outdone by the world when it comes to natural curiosity. That we should observe all of God's creation with awe and wonder is a given. A right appreciation for God's handiwork naturally leads men to be curious. This is especially true of the study of divine revelation, and as far as that goes, all revealed truth. This curiosity should translate into the believer desiring to know and understand his Maker. While some will bear more fruit than others, nevertheless, that we will bear some fruit is a given. The question is what kind of fruit are be bearing before the unbelieving community?

I have witnessed a plethora of rude behavior on Christian blogs who claim to be reformed, they claim to love Christ, and they claim to be apologetical in nature. Few things are more difficult to deal with than the charge of hypocrisy because of one's experience with another "Christian" who was behaving poorly. Biblical apologetics is not personally offensive. That is to say, it does not argue by ad hominem.

In short, Biblical apologetics is the loving, humble, respectful, BOLD, CONFIDENT response to the unbeliever who asks, demands, challenges, charges, or even indicts. In the order of things it comes in response to an unbeliever's response to the gospel.

Finally, Biblical apologetics is not philosophy. It is not the use of unaided human reason. It is not the use of pure logic. Biblical apologetics is another presentation of the gospel, slightly nuanced in the form of an answer to a question.

This does not suggest that Christians should not study logic or philosophy as such. I believe we must study those subjects. Paul was well informed on philosophy, rhetoric, and Greek literature. However, that we all should engage these subjects at the same level is indeed a pipe dream, not to mention without exgetical warrant. There is a balance that every Christian must seek. Some of us will be more inclined to apologetics, to the languages, to textual criticism, the systematics, exegesis, and hermeneutics. Others will be more inclined in different directions. Each one has his gift. Even still, we cannot miss the fact that Biblical apologetics is not to be viewed as just a gift. Perhaps it is for some. According to Peter, it is a fact of life for every Christian to one degree or another.

The Christian must love the Lord God with all his or her being. This includes engaging in the discipline of right thinking and of Biblical apologetics. Solomon wrote, "How long O naive ones will you love being simple minded?" (Prov. 1:22) He went on to say that fools hate knowledge. The next time you hear a Christian ponding on the idea that we should study Scripture, or seek to understand doctrine and the nature of the God who is, just quote Solomon: fools hate knowledge.

Let us always be ready to give a reasoned defense of the hope that is in us to every who asks, or demands, or challenges, or even indicts. Let us do so with boldness, with confidence, not fearing their intimidation. But let us do so with respect and gentleness, always in the midst of good works, ensuring that our speech is laced with salt from beginning to end.

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