Some Christians will begin seeing red just from reading the title of this entry. They will be angry and annoyed and may even jump up out of their seats. Therefore, let me say it again: apologetics is the answer to everything.
Whether it be the rapid decline of the Christian Church in America, the brisk acceptance of homosexual ‘marriage,’ the prevailing and deepening culture of death, the shallow spirituality of many of the Christians who actually remain in the Church- and certainly much of the lack of action- and many other issues can track back to nothing less than disobedience, for the Scriptures themselves command: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” 1 Peter 3:15 In the Greek, ‘answer’ is ‘apologia.’
I have italicized ‘the reason’ and ‘the hope’ as well. Let us begin with what is referred to by ‘the hope.’ It is the hope of the resurrection, in particular. And what might be ‘the reason’? For the famous Bereans, it was convincing argument from the Scriptures- and for them the Scriptures were what we call the Old Testament. (Acts 17:10-12). Before King Agrippa was directed to the Scriptures, Paul pointed out that the events he was describing were “not done in a corner.” (Acts 26:26). In Athens, Paul did not appeal to the Scriptures at all, but the hope was still front and center: “He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:31).
And Jesus himself said, “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.” (John 14:11). There is no question that the most important miracle that evidence would be provided on was the resurrection itself, which, if it did not happen- “we are false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead…. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” 1 Cor. 15
At its bottom, ‘apologetics’ is about communicating the hope that we have in the resurrection of the dead in a manner that we hope will be as persuasive as possible, not necessarily because people can be persuaded into faith, but that they may have no excuse. Still, let it not be said that we give our ‘apologia’ only because obedience demands it. From the New Testament it is evident that ‘apologia’ was integrated in one’s evangelism, and that this is how God chose to expand his kingdom.
Believe it or not, this thread is not an attempt to denounce the numerous Christians who themselves denounce apologetics, although I do hope that they reconsider their view, which I find impossible to support from the Scriptures. I wanted to show how from the Scriptures apologetics was always closely linked to the proclamation of the Gospel itself.
Yet, how does one get from a proclamation of the Gospel and a defense of the resurrection to whomever is in front of us with whatever their background is to the assertion that apologetics is the answer to everything?
The answer will surprise you.
In the passages I provided above- which, I will have you know, do not exhaust the ones I could submit- please note that there was more than just a defense, more than a proclamation of the resurrection, and more than evidence provided to back the claim. Also present was a prevailing unspoken assumption, and for whatever its excesses and occasional mistakes, Christian apologetics takes this assumption for granted. Even presuppositional apologists, though often writing as though they defied this assumption, still tend to acknowledge, when given the opportunity to clarify their views, that this assumption exists.
More to the point, though, nonChristians themselves have this assumption. Or they used to, until the Christian community as a whole abandoned the Biblical model for proclaiming the Gospel. Even so, in words, nonChristians today have this assumption, even though their actions, attitude, and outlook are in contradiction.
And what is that assumption? What is this assumption that the apostles carried with them wherever they went and the unbelieving world they interacted with shared, and generally still tends to share, yet many Christians today have jettisoned?
It is simply this: that what is objectively true and real in the world requires our assent in mind, body, and soul.
In short, apologetics rejects the relativistic and post-modern notions that we all get to make up our own ‘truth’ as we go. Apologetics carries with it the assumption that what is described in the Bible really happened. Jesus, to his very own disciples, appealed to the fact that they themselves had witnessed miracles- that really happened. The Bereans strove to show that what Paul was saying really happened was really consistent with their Scriptures. Paul directed Agrippa to investigate what had really happened. If Jesus did not really rise from the dead, we are to be pitied more than all men.
NonChristians agree: what really happen(s)(ed) matters. At least in paper, the underlying principle beneath the conversation, is that if sufficient evidence for the proposition or event can be put forward, then this would compel their intellectual assent… and their spiritual surrender.
I don’t have to be told that in actual fact, no amount of evidence can be provided for many people, even if they claim to be bound by the evidence. I’ve been doing this a long time. Trust me, I know. However, contrary to the beliefs of many Christians who would chalk this up to simple sin and depravity, the Christian Church itself has fueled this disconnect, often casting belief as unattached to any underlying realities, and providing crappy reasons and crappier argumentation for the things that are presented as realities. (If reasons and argumentation are presented at all).
Christianity comes to appear like any other religion… a matter of personal preference and taste which is as ‘true’ as any other religion.
At the same time, Science has been on the long march to explain literally everything that has at one time been accounted for by ‘religion.’ And what underlying assumption does Science operate on (at least superficially)? It is that they are exploring that which is actually real, and true. Science uncovers things which we must reconcile ourselves with, because they are the facts of the universe.
I do not need to be told that real, honest to goodness Science, has been co-opted by a lot of scientism, and that much of what Science presents as rock solid brute fact is bunk… empirically speaking, bunk. The ratio between ‘bunk’ and solid science is directly proportionate to just how much a particular ‘scientific’ endeavor restricts itself to what can be empirically verified.
Nonetheless- that all said- Science still carries with it the assumption that it is uncovering unassailable truths about the real world. Evidence and argument permeate the enterprise and religion, Christianity included, has allowed itself to be pushed further and further away from any kind of claim that it bears on actual reality. Christians have not just allowed this, historically and presently they help facilitate this. Thus, Christianity is reduced to a platform of unsupportable dogmas that reduce to personal preference and many of those dogmas have been flatly refuted by Science, anyway. That’s how many Christians feel.
If you walked around thinking that your articles of faith were in fact nothing more than articles of faith without any grounding in reality, how willing would you be to share your views? If this is what you thought, how excited would you be to evangelize? Easily answered: not very.
The resurrection is at the core of a healthy and biblical apologetic but we would be mistaken to take the absurd and inconsistent view that this, and only this, dogma actually bears on reality. At the very least, we can see how certain ‘dogmas’ are intricately connected to the resurrection, like for example the fact of ‘sin.’ The purpose of Jesus’ death and resurrection was to deal with sin, and if sin is dismissed as mere dogma then whoosh goes the purpose of the resurrection. I would suggest that most of the ‘dogmas’ are tied to the purpose and function etc of the resurrection then we might realize, so that in actual fact, dispensing with any of them undermines our defense of the hope that we have. But are these ‘dogmas’ just fabrications which the Scriptures present as important but not because they are actually true? (Like, maybe God just orders us to believe absurdities to test our ‘faith’!)
In point of fact, most of the Bible presents itself as being actually true. The consequences of dispensing with some of them might be minimal… maybe… but the consequences of dispensing others is quite serious, and it is here that we begin to see how allowing our faith to be reduced to personal preference impacts our culture and other larger issues.
The Bible, for example, asserts that we are made in the image of God. If this be actually true, then we cannot treat humans like beasts, or like numbers, or like a market for organs. If people really are the work of God, in his image, then we must steadfastly defend them both in the womb and out, right up to their deaths. If the ‘burden on society’ is higher because we allow poor children to be born and old people to grow older, but we recognize them to be made in the image of God, then this burden will just have to be met. If, of course, we are not made in the image of God, and that is just a pious article of faith, then we can just as well practice careful eugenics and euthanasia, always mindful of managing the resources of the hive for the ‘collective.’
It is hard to imagine that abortion and euthanasia could emerge, develop, and prevail in a society that earnestly believed that it was an actual fact that we are made in the image of God. We may wonder why these pro-death attitudes have grown and flourish, but I don’t wonder at all. I know that it tracks back to the great mass of Christians becoming tentative and nearly embarrassed by their ‘old fashioned’ tenets of faith.
But the impact of believing the alternative, that we all descended from a pile of slop, has obvious and inevitable consequences, especially when presented as an undeniable fact of reality that we must simply resign ourselves to finding a way to reconcile.
Indeed, the rise of ‘pagan’ and ‘new age’ ‘religions’ and the fact that people still tend to be religious, even if they can’t stand the traditional religions, goes to the fact that deep down (and probably not really that deep, really) people know that the conventional ‘scientific’ account for Man is itself a load of slop. Since they feel like they have no good reasons to accepting Christianity and know that they can only extend their own private feelings so far, they tend to advocate ‘tolerance’ but fervently oppose it when others extend their feelings ‘too far,’ since of course they know that when people do that, they can only have the same basis that they themselves do, which is… personal preference.
The New Atheists have a difficult task in front of them, for they wish to convince people of a proposition that the people know, even if they can’t put words to it, is rubbish. An apologetic for the ‘image of God’ could put words to that sneaky suspicion, but only if we Christians are actually convinced of it ourselves!
Does an apologetic for the ‘image of God’ tie in with an apologetic for the resurrection? Absolutely, for numerous reasons, but let me just cite one: our creation in the image of God and our consequent fall explains why God thought we were worth rescuing and redeeming. Take that away, and we’re left wondering about why God would trouble himself with sacks of dirt in one tiny corner of the universe.
A great deal is being made about homosexual ‘marriage’ these days, but here again we are seeing nothing but the manifestation of a prevailing sense that all beliefs and attitudes about the family and sexuality are nothing more than a matter of personal preference. On that view, on what possible basis could anyone exclude a particular ‘marital’ arrangement? It is because many Christians aren’t really convinced that God’s plan for marriage is actually real and actually corresponds to reality that Christians themselves are timid and tentative on presenting their views on this in larger society.
In Genesis 2:24 we read: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” This is the Biblical formula for marriage. I note that, by definition, only one man and only one woman are involved, and the result is a singular, and real, unity. The ‘and real’ part is important.
Christians are embarrassed about the book of Genesis, and especially the chapters before chapter 12. But this formula is not restricted to Genesis. It is cited in the last book of the Old Testament, too, in Malachi 2:15, where we are provided God’s rationale for the ‘one flesh relationship.’ That rationale is: “And why one? Because he [God] was seeking godly offspring.”
In short, the formula was not arbitrary, but apparently meant to accomplish at least as part of its purpose, a function: the creation of those who would love the Lord. It might be added, as an aside, that the fact that offspring was part of the purpose is in itself worthy of note, which plain common sense understands can’t be accomplished in a ‘marriage’ of two genders. There is a good example of how what we wish can’t trump what is actually real.
Jesus himself cites this formula, pointing out that God joins the people together, so divorce- except for marital unfaithfulness- is out of order. Paul cites formula as well, pointing out that uniting oneself with a prostitute does the terrible deed of uniting the prostitute also with Jesus himself. In sum, the Genesis formula permeates the whole of Scripture, not just Genesis. If it is a mere article of faith it is evidently an important one. But does it actually correlate to reality?
Is there something expressly unique and special about the sexual union of a man and woman within a monogamous, publicly announced relationship? Really? We will forgive the world if they do not believe us… divorce rates are as high among Christians as nonChristians.
The bitter consequences of divorce are the same, too. The evidence that the biblical model is real and actual and not mere societal construct is everywhere in the broken lives of young children and present in the restless dissatisfaction that so many people are experiencing despite their sexual ‘liberty.’
And do we care only because we want everyone to toe our dogmatic line? Or do we not care because the culture is outside our influence? Do we imagine that God’s plan for the family might be more than an article of faith but is outside the scope of the Gospel- and shouldn’t the Church only concern itself with the Gospel?
Statistics have been rolling in telling us that the best transmitter of the Christian faith are intact families with parents, and fathers in particular, fulfilling their spiritual duties. Shocker! Who could be surprised if they had every uncovered Malachi 2 and God’s purpose for the marital union? And what if we deduced that this purpose was not some arbitrary pronouncement by God? What if it was a command but the purpose of the command was not merely to exact obedience as if this was the sole value of the command, like, we might imagine, was the purpose behind prohibitions against eating shellfish or pork? What if in fact the command was in place because it represented real realities with real consequences if not obeyed? You could argue: God does not need the traditional family to transmit faith to the next generation. Indeed, he doesn’t. Nonetheless, he evidently meant to use just that mechanism- and this before the fall of man!
Still, you will have Christians protesting that the Church’s job is to do nothing more than preach the Gospel. Pro-life issues, traditional marriage, and the like are all cultural issues that are exercises in morality-mongering. This attitude dovetails nicely into the pervasive attitude among Christians that these issues are merely articles of faith that don’t likely reflect reality (and if they do, the issues are too ‘complex’ that they would be afraid to take a stand).
What possible bearing could an apologetic for Biblical marriage have on presenting the Gospel?
Consider the not-so-surprising conclusion of one study: “It is the religious practice of the father of the family that, above all, determines the future attendance at or absence from church of the children.”
Acting as though God’s plan for marriage “might be true for me, but isn’t true for you” actually does in fact have an impact on the Church’s primary mission of presenting the Gospel, because intact, healthy, traditionally structured families are God’s intended incubators for passing the faith to the next generation. So you see, I will happily concede that the central purpose of the Church is to present the Gospel message. What I object to is the notion that all these other issues have no bearing on the Gospel message. In fact, they tend to always impact it in some way, if only because these areas speak to the optimal conditions for the presentation and receipt of the Gospel message.
Apologetics is the answer to everything- in the sense that knowing what you believe and why you believe it is that which gives you the confidence to act in a society that does not share your values and beliefs. The notion that the Church should confine itself to ‘spiritual’ issues has more than passing resemblance to the gnostic heresy. God created ‘earthly’ things, too, and said they were good! Ah, but is that just an article of faith, or is it an actual truth?
The apologetically minded individual tends to be someone who believes that what he is presenting and defending is an actual truth about the real state of affairs. Not presenting and defending the Christian faith implies to Christian and nonChristian alike that Christianity is a collection of arbitrary dogmas. Merely asserting those dogmas accomplishes the same thing. Defending the Christian faith poorly cements the notion in people’s minds (Christians as well!) that ‘faith is believing what we know isn’t true.’
I have gone on the record elsewhere on this blog strongly suggesting that congregations add full time apologists to their staff. This would only begin to address these issues, but it would be a good start, because it would send the message that the congregation believes that the Bible is actually true and that its contents reflect real reality.
Do you think that by this I am proposing that we structure our congregations to be centers of debate, arguing with their communities and passing moral legislation whenever they can? No. I am proposing that there are consequences to giving people, and Christians in particular, the impression that the Church is only about ‘spiritual’ things, which, translated into modern parlance, means: just one’s personal convictions. Every Christian, not just the resident apologist, is called to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you for the reason for the hope that you have.”
The underlying assumption of the passage is that there are reasons for the hope that we have. In short, in order for the passage to be anything more than a jumble of nonsense, there must be actual reasons to present, and we must know them!
This, in turn, means believing that the hope of resurrection is grounded on a real event in real history. It means recognizing that other aspects of Christianity are also grounded in reality, and that the Gospel itself, and its promotion too, hinges on those aspects also being grounded in reality. I doubt this will result in every American Christian spending their time arguing with people and trying to legislate morality. Simply by virtue of the confidence one has in knowing one’s views correlate to actual reality, things will change.
Then follows the hard work of actually understanding how one’s views correlates to actual reality… but already a message is being sent and being received: When Jesus says that he is the way, the truth, and the life, this isn’t platitude. It’s true, and its real, and it relates to real life.
When enough Christians live knowing that their faith represents actual realities a lot of the other problems we often talk about will take care of themselves. When Christians don’t live that way, no amount of programs, pastors, facilities, or legislating will be able to resist the great secular tide. And that’s just a reality.