Thursday, July 31, 2014

Apologetics According to Scripture - Presuppositional, Humble, Bold, Respectful

One does not have to be a gifted critical thinker to recognize that the field of Christian apologetics has become a crowded field full of all sorts of people doing all sorts of things for all sorts of reasons, all in the name of supposedly defending the Christian worldview these days. Unfortunately, what most Christians are doing when they do apologetics in modern culture amounts to little more than inflating their own ego. From what I read, most Christians are simply interested in winning the argument even at the expense of Christian values.

I am not suggesting that we be less than direct, less than honest or heaven forbid, politically correct when we practice apologetics. So please do not misunderstand me. However, it is clearly outside the pale of Christian virtue to engage in the sort of rude, condescending, snobbery so common these days among so-called Christian apologists. There is no reason for us to assign derogatory adjectives to those with whom we disagree even if they do not return the favor. In addition, Christian apologetics is not about proving that Christianity is the superior philosophy. Such an endeavor is terribly misguided. Apologetics is the opportunity afforded a Christian to provide others with an explanation for why they have the eternal hope in the eternal Christ dwelling within them. It is not a matter of intellectual pugilism. The apologetic encounter is not about winning a debate. What the apologetic encounter is actually about is representing the truth of Christ and the ethic of Christ simultaneously. Christian apologetics endeavors to reflect truth and virtue without sacrificing either to emphasize the other. Unfortunately, far too many young men and far too many Christians are engaging in Christian apologetics without realizing just how baptized in the culture they actually are.

What are we doing when we do apologetics?
The text that deals most directly with the idea of apologetics is 1 Peter 3:14b-16. “And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, 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; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.”

Our attitude, according to Peter is first and foremost to make Christ LORD of all especially our defense of the Christian faith. This attitude of complete submission is far from the typical show-boating that I see in what passes as “Christian” apologetics in our culture. What we need is not to communicate a air of superior intellect or argumentation, but rather one of humility. After all, what we know, we know by gift not by our own intellectual dexterity.  On the other hand, Christians are not to be timid or afraid of the threats from the world, be they intellectual, emotion, or even physical. This includes the fear that we may be asked a question that we simply cannot answer in the moment. The Christian is to be in a constant state of readiness to put up a defense or give an answer to everyone who asks, but that does not mean we have all the answers or that there even are answers to some of the questions we might be asked.

Needless to say, the inference in Peter’s words clearly implies serious preparation on the part of the believer. That preparation is both spiritual and mental. Christians ought to be ready at all times to engage the unbelieving culture. Even the most cursory read of the NT informs us that the early followers of Jesus Christ were in constant contact with the hostile opposition of the world. Their faith was forever being challenged by threats without and within. If it was not the threat of Judaism and its legalism from within, it was the threat of Stoicism, Epicureanism, and Skepticism from without. The early Christians had to be prepared to deal with numerous threats to the Christian message.
As sad as it may sound, some Christians think all they need to be prepared to do is vacuum our plush carpet, paint our extravagant buildings, mow our manicured lawns, and build our elaborate sets for our Christmas and Easter performances and somehow Jesus is satisfied with that sort of service. I am convinced that the kind of preparation and service the NT writers had in mind was radically different from the typical modern Christian, especially those in the west.

We are not only commanded to always be ready to provide a defense for the faith, we are told that this defense must be done with gentleness and respect. The idea is that courtesy and profound respect must be extended to those making these demands. The whole idea is to protect the integrity and image of the Church and of her Lord, Jesus Christ. Far too many so-called Christian apologists display far too little Christian virtue in their defense of Christian truth. It is the epitome of irony to ignore virtue in defense of truth. It is much easier to listen to a humble fool than it is a rude genius.  

Setting reasonable expectations
It is best, first and foremost, for the apologist to set expectations for himself before he attempts to do so with certain antagonists in certain settings. We read of the great Paul himself before the Greek philosophers at Athens and how his presentation of Christian truth ended in widespread scorn because in included the non-negotiable claim of the resurrection. The apologist must remind himself that he is an instrument through which Christian truth should flow. His target is truth. His aim is to please God by accurate representing the state of affairs as it has obtained. His hope is that God might grant repentance through the power of the gospel contained in his apologetic. His expectation is that unless God should open the eyes of the opponent of Christian truth, there will be no happy agreement in the end. Either there will be a gentlemen’s disagreement or, as is the case in most instances, there will be a passionate and oft times rude and derogatory response and an abrupt end to the exchange. Nevertheless, the apologist must seek out these engagements in an effort to spread the gospel.

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. (1 Cor. 1:21) This text is clear that we do not win men to the faith because they were able to see the truth of Christ within their own intellectual or philosophical acumen. We must evangelize the world until Christ returns. And it is when we evangelize that we will surely find ourselves engaging in the discipline of apologetics.

A view toward Christian knowledge and understanding
In Matthew 16, Jesus asks his disciples who people were saying that He was. As one might imagine, the disciples had a variety of answers. But Jesus then placed the disciples on the spot and asked them who they thought He was. Peter responded with the profound claim that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. In His response to Peter, Jesus informs us how Christians come to the knowledge of His identity. Jesus informed Peter that flesh and blood had not revealed this to Peter, but His Father who is in heaven. Essentially, Jesus was telling Peter that a true knowledge of who Jesus is comes only by divine, supernatural revelation. Peter did not look at the prophets and other bits of information, put the puzzle together using his unaided human reason, and get the answer right. Jesus did look at Peter and say, “You are the brightest of them all Peter, good job.” Instead, Jesus sealed off true knowledge of His identity from natural means. True knowledge of Christ and subsequently of the Christian message only comes by way of supernatural revelation. Without such a revelation, men will never arrive at a true understanding of Christianity and will never be convinced of its truth.

Jesus was no empiricist
There is a remarkable incident recorded in John’s gospel that many apologists neglect, and in my view, to their own detriment. One of Jesus’ disciples, Thomas to be specific, refused to believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead unless he actually saw Jesus with his own eyes. To make a long story short, Jesus appeared to Thomas and Thomas believed that he had been raised from the dead. But Jesus rebuked Thomas for his unbelief and made this profound statement: blessed are they who do not see but still believe. Quite literally, “blessed are the not-seeing believing ones.” The empiricist demands empirical proof. For him, the standard of truth is what can be empirically demonstrated. For many apologists, this is exactly the kind of opponent they will encounter in the world. No amount of evidence offered from history, be it Scripture or secular, will satisfy their objections to the Christian message. But this incident points us up to the fact that Jesus did not hold empiricism in high regard. In fact, he thought very little about that epistemological method and his rebuke of Thomas if proof that Jesus was not an empiricist.

If you are engaging in apologetics because you want to honor God and be obedient to Scripture, then that is the right motivation. You do not require philosophical training to do that. What you do require is an adequate understanding of the Christian gospel. That is enough to get you started. If this is an area of passion for you, then training in apologetics and philosophy can prove indispensable for your ministry. We each have our calling and we should apply ourselves to that calling with all our being.

Apologetics is not about winning debates or arguments or showing that Christianity is superior to the non-Christian worldview. It is not about making others feel or look intellectually deficient. It is about the humble and yet bold articulation of the gospel of Jesus Christ in confronting the unbeliever with their unbelief. Enter the dialogue in love with humility and expect to be insulted and expect to be asked questions, the answers to which, you do not know. Be polite, be respectful, and be honest. When you are forced to say I don’t know, say it with confidence. No one has all the answers. Acknowledge good questions. Be hospitable. Be firm in your message, without wavering. Do not feel as though you have to present Christianity in such a way that unbelievers accept your method or your answers. Stay true to the truth!

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