Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Christian and Intellectual Lust: What is Biblical Apologetics?

I work in an area that deals with best practices and routines. When we identify those practices that reflect the very best from all the rest, we refer to them as “best practices.” I think one of the best practices in the Christian community is the practice of continually reminding ourselves of how dangerous a human mind that has been soiled with sin can be. And, make no mistake about it, there is no such thing as a human mind that has not been polluted with sin. To illustrate this point, I direct the reader to Rom. 1:28, I Tim. 6:5 and II Tim. 3:8.

Paul uses the phrase adokimon noun in Romans 1:28 to describe men upon whom the wrath of God abides. Quite literally, the phrase means a worthless mind. It is translated “disqualified” in 1 Cor. 9:27, “fail the test” in 2 Cor. 13:5, and 6 respectively. Finally, it is translated “unapproved” in 2 Cor. 13:6. Adokimon appears twice in the LXX, where it is translated dross in Prov. 25:4, and Isa. 1:22. The Hebrew word is syg. Essentially, this word is used to describe lead oxide that is produced in the refining of silver. The process of separating the dross from the silver was complicated and intense. The point to be discovered here is that in general terms, the word represented something that was considered undesirable and worthless.
The construction of this word involves an alpha privative, which is the Greek practice of placing an alpha in front of a word in order to negate the word. The positive root form is doke, dokimos and it means tested and thus reliable, esteemed, valuable. The idea present in this word is that a thing is valuable not merely on the basis of testimony, but on the basis of its own proof. The value has been demonstrated by rigorous testing.

The opposite of this comes into view as one considers how adoimon was employed in the NT writings. This object had also been subjected to rigorous and intense testing. A thorough examination has been performed. The object has been examined and scrutinized and has in fact failed the test, and as a result, has been deemed useless, worthless, and of no value. This object is the unregenerate mind. We must appreciate the theological significance of the situation. Failure to do so can be tragic for Christian theology and apologetics, not to mention sanctification in the intellectual behavior of Christians.

Paul uses a different word to describe the mind of men who have not been regenerated in 1 Tim. 6:5. He uses the phrase “diephtharmenon anthropon ton noun.” The NAS renders the phrase “men of depraved mind.” The word diephtharmenon means perverse or depraved, as a type of moral destruction, to pervert, to ruin, to cause the moral ruin of something. In this warning to Timothy, Paul describes men who advocate a different doctrine, as conceited, understanding nothing, morbid in their interest, always controversial, disputing about words and so on. You get the picture. In Paul’s mind, a man who advocates the non-Christian worldview would be a man who is without understanding, depraved in his mind, and deprived of the truth.

Louw-Nida provides an interest comment on this “deprivation” of truth: apostereo, to cause someone not to possess something—‘to deprive of.’ ἀπεστερημένων τῆς ἀληθείας ‘being deprived of the truth’ 1 Tm 6:5. Though the resulting state of ἀποστερέωb may be the mere absence of something, nevertheless the implication is that some activity has taken place to cause a person no longer to possess something. This meaning may then be expressed in some languages as ‘to have something taken away from someone.’
The word used in 1 Tim. 6:5 to describe the mind is also used in 2 Tim. 3:8 to describe Jannes and Jambres. These are men who are opposed to the truth, men of depraved minds, rejected in regard to the faith. The condition of the human mind, and hence, the human intellect, as a result of the fall is profoundly devastating. Modern theologians and apologists alike seem to have ignored this at worse or completely forgotten about it at best.

The deadly impact that sin has on the human intellect is of serious import for Christian living, not to mention Christian thought. This truth should place the Christian in a very humble position, recognizing that his intellect, still tainted by sin, still possessing a sin nature, is in need of radical and constant renovation. I think of the song, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” Oddly, my favorite line in the song is, “Prone to wonder, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.” Immediately following that line, “Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above.” My intellect is just as much prone to wonder from God’s standard for human predication and godly living as any other part of me. The depravity that infects the human intellect because of the sin nature represents a clear and present danger to every believer. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the field of Christian philosophy and apologetics.

The amount of egotism involved in contemporary Christian apologetics, from my perspective is simply over the top. Rarely does one find a humble apologist doing his work in a spirit of humility offering simple answers and asking the hard questions in a spirit that reflects Christian sanctification. Instead, we find men who are full of themselves, whose ego gets in the way of just about every answer or question they ask. Modern Christian apologists come across as rude, arrogant, condescending, disrespectful, and generally as ungodly as any crude non-Christian might be. These mostly young to early middle-aged men seem to have little regard for Scripture, except when it provides fodder for their argument. If they were interested in the truth, they would be interested in the truth of Scripture that not only tells us to defend the faith, but how to proceed and in what kind of spirit we should carry out that endeavor. Sadly, this element is missing from the overwhelming majority of contemporary apologists.

It is 1 Peter 3:15 that supplies the content for the apologetic conversation in the Christian community. Contemporary apologists use this text of Scripture to justify dragging apologetic discourse into a complex maze of philosophical conjectures and speculation that, in my mind, takes the conversation in a much different direction than Peter had in mind when he addressed his audience back in the first-century Church. So what exactly is the apologetic mandate?

The context of 1 Peter must be considered in order to understand what Peter was commanding his audience. This is always the case with sound exegesis. I will reserve a more thorough exegesis of this text for a follow-up post, and will focus more on the basic fallacy that this text actually commands Christian to do what many contemporary apologists claim.

Peter’s audience was not made up of apologists, theologians, or philosophers. His audience was made up of mostly farmers living in Asia Minor. The workload of agrarian societies is far different from contemporary western ones. These families’ labors, day in and day out, were performed in the context of survival. They did not have the luxury to sit around and watch hours of television each day. Moreover, they did not have the time to surf the internet, researching the latest idea put forth by some Epicurean philosopher either. Their time was consumed by the thought of survival and that meant tending the farm or working their trade, whatever that trade might be. It meant long hours of blood, sweat, and tears day in and day out. The demands on their time were far more severe than we can imagine.

It was to these people that Peter issued his famous apologetic mandate. The Christian audience is under threat of persecution. Societal pressures are being brought to bear on the Christian group to get them to stop this nonsense of adopting strange values and separating themselves from the secular group at large. In addition, the pressure to abandon godly living is also high and occupies a central place in Peter’s admonitions. It is in the middle of this discourse that Peter issues his command: “but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” Contemporary apologists employ this text to justify all sorts of incredible and even outrageous claims in my opinion. Indeed, this text has served as the foundation for the unsupported manufacture of an entire branch of ministry to include its own office: Christian apologetics and the office of the apologist. Christian apologetics rightfully belongs to Christian education and as for the apologist, no such office is even hinted at in Scripture. The closest we get is the evangelist. But who wants to preach a gospel that describes itself as extremely simple on the one hand and highly ostracized on the other? It is so much more interesting to grapple and tangle with these highly complex philosophical issues than it is to just “preach.”

The word apologia means to speak on behalf of oneself, or others, against accusations presumed to be false. While contemporary apologetics has become an aggressive campaign to provoke all sorts of debates with various kinds of non-Christian thinkers, Peter’s mandate seems to have been a far different approach. For Peter, this apologetic was in response to an accusation, or a challenge, or perhaps an inquiry. Peter never instructed these believers to establish apologetics ministries and ordain apologists for the purpose of intellectual pugilism. This is basically what contemporary apologetics comes down to. It is about my argument being better than your argument. It is the proverbial parading of intellectual and philosophical acumen all in the name of Christian apologetics. For the most part, there is very little about it that is Christian and so far as the apologetic side is concerned, modern methods ring shallow and empty because they do not rest on the firm ground of biblical systematics, which are the product of sound exegesis. No apologetics program should be without a strong emphasis on language and exegesis either within the program or as a possible prerequisite to enter the program. Hence, the idea that apologia should be viewed as a defense in the context of a formal court proceeding is misleading and without support. That is not how Peter employed the word.

Finally, many contemporary apologists argue that Peter informs us to provide a reasoned defense of the faith to anyone who would ask about the hope that is in us. But the grammar that Peter used does not support this subtle twisting of the text. The word logos, (account, reason) does not modify the word apologia. Logos is a masculine, accusative, singular noun while apologia is in the feminine gender. The argument that Peter has in mind a “reasoned defense” as if he were implying the use of formal Aristotelian logic used in argumentation is not in keeping with the contextual situation of Peter’s audience. That Peter was thinking about apologetics in the way that Aquinas, Geisler, Craig, or even Van Til would think of it is anachronistic conjecture. The range of meaning of this word is really quite broad. It is translated, statement, speech, gospel, treatise, Word, account, reason, event, and so forth. It is used in Matt. 5:32 where Jesus talks about the “reason” of adultery being grounds for divorce. The idea is to offer some justification for why you believe something. We must take care to go between the poles of two extremes. On the one hand, we wish to avoid the thinking that there is no place whatever for apologetics in the Church. We should not waste our time on such a project. On the other hand we want to avoid the thinking that has made the enterprise of apologetics into an idol of sorts, chasing every rabbit of skepticism that escapes from the hole of non-Christian thought. Peter was certainly concerned that every believer should be capable of providing justification for the reason of the hope that is in them, to anyone who would ask. But was he actually inferring that Christians must become skilled in or even acquainted with the finer philosophical nuances of Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, and others so that we could defend the hope that within us?

This way of thinking betrays the influence of pagan thought at its foundation. There is no better justification or reason for believing Christian theism than the evidence provided to us in the Word of God. Some apologists unwittingly posit that Christians must be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in them in a way that it meets the criterion or warrant in unbelieving and hence, ungodly thought. In other words, we are led to believe that our arguments must be constructed in such a way as to demand respect from non-Christian thinkers. Is this what Peter had in mind? I find such thinking incongruent with Christian theism at its foundation. Why would a Christian want to adopt or lean heavily upon a worldview that if Christian theism is actually true, reduces to absurdity on its own claims? Such thinking has far more in common with pagan philosophy than it does with biblical Christianity. Paul tells us without hesitation that the gospel of Christ is foolishness to pagan thinkers and offensive to Jewish ones. Why should we be expected to adopt their methods or submit to their standards?

Peter never tells us to provide an answer that satisfies unbelieving thought. He does not inform us that our apologetic has to conform to Greek standards of philosophy and logic. Nowhere is that implied or inferred in this text. What he says is that we must be always ready to provide the answer, the defense, the justification for the reason of the hope that is in us to everyone who asks. Christians must take control of their intellect. On the one hand, it has to be subdued to think God’s thoughts after Him. We must refuse to give in to the temptation to become premiere debaters for the purpose of propping up our own egos. Our apologetic interactions must center on the gospel of Jesus Christ, and they must always be supported by biblical systematics. The gospel should be laced throughout our response to those who ask or indict us concerning justification for our faith. Make no mistake about it, we are justified in believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God because the Scriptures say that is precisely Who He is. What better justification could be found for such a profound and astounding claim? The truth of Christian theism does not lean upon pagan thought or godless philosophy for its justification. It leans upon the authoritative, self-attesting Word of God.

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