In part one of this essay I put forward two great challenges to Christianity that apologetics cannot answer. To illustrate the weight of this matter, consider the fact that not too long ago I wrote an entry called, “Apologetics is the Answer to Everything.” I stand by that post, still. These challenges have more to do with attitudes then arguments and evidence. Therein lies the difference.
Now, the first two challenges come at us from the non-Christian world. These other three challenges lie firmly in the hands of the Christian Church. Probably, only by meeting these three challenges can we reasonably hope to meet the other two.
3. Lovelessness within the Christian Church.
If anyone bothers to search out the Scriptures looking for how they themselves suggest the Faith will grow and spread- rather than figuring one already knows- a surprising discovery will be made. To sum it up quickly and rapidly, DC Talk’s well known quote will do:
“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”
I would tweak this, but you get the idea. Preaching the Gospel is not a magic wand. People will reason very simply that if Christians don’t live out the Gospel they probably don’t believe it, and if Christians themselves don’t believe it, why should an atheist or anyone else? This is a simple piece of logic. However, the very important tweak that I would make is that the Scriptures do not say that a generalized love- say, for the poor, or random strangers- is what will persuade the world of the truth of the Gospel. The Scriptures submit rather that it is love of each other that does this trick.
Jesus states it explicitly: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35
Many Christians think that all men will know we are Jesus’ disciples if we have a fancy ‘church’ building, meet on Sunday mornings for a few hymns and a fine sermon, and abstain from smoking, alcohol, and swearing. This is not what Jesus said, and to erase all doubt, he stated it as a command. Again and again. I have spoken on this at length on this blog and elsewhere. Here, here, and here are good examples, so if you want more I’ll leave you to that for now.
Now, I should point out the obvious: I fail as much as any other Christian on this point. Thus, I am a hypocrite. And yet to love in this ‘New Testament Church’ way requires those ready to receive it. You can’t meet a need if you don’t know about it or when the community doesn’t expect anything out of you except for showing up on time. This situation will not change so long as people in the Church labor under the illusion that ‘love’ is a secondary concern for the Church. Now, it may be retorted that loving like the ‘New Testament Church’ is nigh impossible and impractical today. Why, yes. If we saw it happening, it’d be practically a miracle. Something supernatural would have to be going on and everyone- Christian and atheist- would know that there really is something out of this world about what was going on. “There must be something to it…”
And that’s the point.
4. Radical compartmentalization of the Faith.
This is huge. There is a distinct impression- within the Church, mind you- that the Christian faith is an entirely private matter concerning one’s beliefs. And these beliefs have no grounding in reality. It isn’t always stated this way, but we tend to behave this way, anyhow, which from my point of view essentially means this is what ‘we’ believe, even if we say otherwise. To illustrate, imagine if someone believed that Jesus rose from the dead, but didn’t think that Jesus actually rose from the dead in history. Imagine if someone considered the doctrine of the Trinity a mere dogma that has no bearing on God’s actual nature. Why, on this view, you might as well ‘believe’ in God without actually thinking he exists. This attitude tends to manifest most dramatically regarding our view on humanity itself. The Scriptures say that we are made in God’s image. We tend to believe that is just a personal proposition we store in our mind. The people around us… not actually in God’s image.
Now, it should go without saying that no unbeliever in the world is going to buy into a system like this. Heck, even believers don’t like it. If a believer thinks this is the way the Church really believes, that believer will be a non-believer in short order. The idea that the Bible describes the real world and the idea that we should actually behave as though that is true is foreign to many… Christians. If we won’t act on our beliefs I doubt very much that we actually have them. And if we have them and won’t act on them, nobody is going to give a lick.
This radical compartmentalization flows, I believe, from chucking out the ‘doctrine’ of the priesthood of all believers (1 Pet 2:9). That is, Christians of all stripes say they accept this but it is hard to see much evidence that they actually believe it.
Throughout the years I have seen this expressed often when talking with devout Christian students about their future careers. More than one have been given the distinct impression that to really serve Christ, that means ‘church’ work. If we’re talking about a guy, well, to the pastoral ministry or priesthood with you! Or teaching. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think we could do with a lot more ‘church’ workers. However, the idea that a person cannot genuinely reflect their faith in a robust manner in any place other than from a pulpit or a classroom desk flies completely in the face of our putative belief in the ‘priesthood of all believers.’ Moreover, it perpetuates- if it doesn’t in fact create it in the first place- the compartmentalization I began with.
So, as it turns out, many people are not really suited for ‘church’ work. Off they go to become… doctors, engineers, lawyers, mechanics, writers, whatever… without any sense that even within these vocations they are called to live out their faith in a bold way- as if their faith is actually true and real and has a bearing on their particular fields. Some fields obviously will touch on this more than others. Nonetheless, with the Christian perspective virtually stripped out of all the vocations apart from the churchly ones, it is no wonder that people think that one’s personal religious beliefs are just that- personal and subjective.
We desperately need Christian doctors, engineers, lawyers (save your jokes!), scientists, scholars, etc,. Not to advance a ‘Christian’ agenda, but to represent a Christian worldview and show by one’s life how that worldview actually informs how they carry out what they do. The Christian scientist who believes that ‘science’ requires acting as though he is an atheist in his job obviously doesn’t really believe that God created the world. Moreover, if God actually created the world, and you behave consistently as though he didn’t, it is plain that science will never find evidence of God’s creative work.
I do not mean to single out the scientists here, though their impact has been disproportionate. The point is that the Christian Church itself continues to fuel the idea that the Christian faith is no more than a set of propositions that have reality only within the minds who hold them and thus there is no basis for behaving otherwise outside the four walls of the ‘church.’
In neither of the two cases in this post can ‘apologetics’ do anything. This boils down to a collections of attitudes common in the Church at large, and these perhaps can be boiled down to something very simple: the simple refusal to obey what the Scriptures plainly say. And apologetics will never be able to make people do what it is they say they believe should be done.