Friday, January 6, 2017
Rethinking Apologetics: Chaos, Confusion, or Confession
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Lately I have become dissatisfied with and even somewhat disenchanted with the goings-on in the field of Christian Apologetics. The field has been an area of interest for me for well over 20 years now. When I first discovered apologetics, by way of Ravi Zacharias, I was completely taken with it. We humans are designed this way it seems. I have natural proclivities and am oriented toward fields like philosophy and logic while others are wired differently. It seems there are a lot of people wired the same way I am and this is most obvious where Christian apologetics is concerned. Christian apologetics used to reside under the umbrellas of theology and evangelism. It was not a separate discipline so to speak. But that is no longer the case. Not only is apologetics a separate discipline, there are degrees and even seminaries devoted entirely to the discipline of apologetics. The books and methods and workshops have become quite the industry within Christian circles. But for some reason, I have, as of late, began to feel a sense of dissatisfaction with Christian apologetics that I cannot seem to shake. The purpose of this post is simply to share my heart. I am going to share my thoughts around where I think apologetics is helpful and where I think it is becoming more of a liability than it is an edification in the body of Christ.
There is nothing in the New Testament that provides an apologetic of general theism. In addition to this, there is nothing in the New Testament that provides an apologetic for why one should believe that the Old Testament canon is the Word of God. To be sure, the New Testament presupposes the Christian God, and it presupposes that the Old Testament canon just is the Word of God. The question one must ask is, “is it reasonable for us to follow the New Testament and embrace the same presuppositions about God and Scripture that it’s documents presuppose?” If not, then why not? You see, I am beginning to understand that Christian apologetics has deteriorated into something like a metagospel. If Natural Theology fails as a project because it is proven to be contradictory to Christian dogma, then it stands to reason that we would not find attempts in the Scripture to do what cannot be done. Unregenerate human reason is unable to access the truths and evidence that prove the truth of Christian theism and that includes the truthfulness and supernatural trustworthiness of the Old Testament. And since the Holy Spirit does not bring men to faith by the right use of logical syllogisms, but rather through the preaching of the gospel, it seems only proper that apologetic method should pay attention.
Instead of preaching and proclaiming the gospel, we are spending a lot of time just talking about the gospel. Rather than presupposing the truthfulness of the Christian message and thundering that proclamation, apologists have become enamored with the demands of reason, thinking that every claim of Scripture must be subjected to a rational justification of sorts. And the incredible lengths and seemingly interminable complexities to which this rational justification extend are, in my opinion, far beyond anything that can be defended on exegetical or theological grounds. This is why men like Andy Stanley do not insist that Christians must embrace and believe the Word of God for what it is. This is why men like Mike Licona and William Lane Craig care claim that it is very probably the case that Jesus rose from the dead and expect to be taken seriously. This is why blogs like Triablogue can dispense with Christian charity altogether and still maintain a respectable standing in the Christian community.
The field of Christian apologetics seems more concerned with propositions like: The Gospel of Jesus Christ is rationally defensible rather than Jesus Christ is sovereign Lord over all creation, believe in Him! The claim that God exists is provable has replaced “fear God and keep His commandments, honor Him in all you do and enjoy Him forever!” Belief that miracles are philosophically plausible has become more important than their function as Christological signposts. Divine revelation is a reasonable and respectable epistemology has replaced “thus says the Lord.” I am not suggesting that we erase the blackboard here. I am suggesting that our focus displays numerous clues that is has shifted away from the message of the gospel. For example, when we obsess over making Christianity live up to the rational standards and criteria of unbelievers, it seems that we have clearly moved away from the ancient attitude of Christians like Paul who freely and unashamedly admitted that we should not expect the world to think of the Christian message in intellectually respectable terms. The gospel stands over men and demands; it does not come to men like a beggar with an open palm pleading for a few crumbs of respect and dignity from the academy. The gospel is not that! The gospel insists; the gospel does not politely sit in the doctor’s office, waiting for its turn be examined and evaluated by the mind of the intellectually superior autonomous human. Regardless of how one approaches apologetics, one must never lose sight of the demanding nature of the gospel.
I am not saying that we should dumb anything down. I am also not saying that we should ignore questions and speculations that contradict Christ. We should not! What I am saying is that we have to stop asking for permission and we have to stop submitting to the demands of the godless. We have to stop positioning the gospel as if it is a plea for sinners to come to Jesus. We have to stop asking men for permission before we let them know that God has not surrendered His right to make demands of them. It is a lie. God is not pacing back and forth in the heavenly throne-room crossing his fingers hoping this kid enters the pastorate and that one heads to the mission field and the other one gets his syllogisms down to a science so that he can save as many as will freely choose to believe the gospel. That is, of course, as long as these men frame the gospel and its defense in just the right, non-offensive language. Because, you know, offensive presentations of the gospel never work and they are the reason people reject Christ. We have to “gain” their “permission” to share Christ with them over time and through intense relationship-building. Really? Why didn’t Jesus or Paul or Peter or John tell us this? Better yet, why didn’t they show us just how this is done? Talk to Stephen about relationship-building.
We couch Christian language in philosophical terms, using as many non-offensive words as possible. We scrub Christianity of all the words that “give it away” for what it really is. If we use the term “sin” or “holiness” then they will know we are Christians and just shut us down. It is a vicious cycle of trying not to offend anyone that has led to biblical ignorance in our churches. We are too afraid of offending people that we have stopped evangelizing with the true gospel and we have stopped teaching the rich doctrines of Christian truth. We have fallen in love with method and style in Sunday school and we have become deeply enamored and seduced by enlightenment philosophy where apologetics and evangelism are concerned.
To gain credibility and to make sure we cast the net as wide as possible, we refuse to trust God, instead trusting our own abilities to frame out the Christian message in just the way. We replace biblical theology with philosophy in apologetics. We replace the gospel of repentance with relationship building and rock concerts in evangelism. We replace the deep truths of Christian doctrine with the shallow pop-psychology of the culture in our Sunday schools and men’s groups, flying the plane as high as we can so that no one gets the impression that this Christianity thing is about God not us and so that no one never, ever, ever, gets offended by anything we say. Well, we can talk about free will and the rapture as much as we like. But that’s about the extent of it.
The defense of Christianity must rest upon an undying loyalty and complete submission to Christian doctrine. It must rest upon the divine revelation of Scripture. It cannot be timid, fearing that someone might be offended at something we might say. It cannot shrink back from its confidence in the name of humility because our claims may seem unscientific to some. The Christian gospel is demanding. God demands that you stop your sinning and place your faith in Jesus Christ this instant. No, God does not nod his head and say, “sure, go ahead, check it all out, think about it, and just follow the evidence wherever it leads. I can respect that.” God says to you, repent and place your faith in Christ this instance or else!