Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Hesitant about Apologetics?

Many question the value of apologetics, the discipline that provides rational reasons-to-believe for the Christian faith (1 Peter 3:15). One friend commented that he’s seen many come to faith without any rational grease to lubricate this transition. Although this may be true, many others require some form of mental shoehorn to ease them past the doubts and intellectual objections.

I’m not trying to argue for a salvation by rationality. Salvation is clearly of the Lord (2 Tim. 2:24-26) and entirely His free gift to us (Eph. 2:8-9). However, He has demonstrated that He’s not at all adverse to using argumentation (Acts 17:2-4; 18:4), wisdom (2 Tim. 3:15) and evidences (John 10:37; 20:31; Acts 1:3; 2:22; Hebrews 2:4) to accomplish His miraculous work of salvation.

However, the rational underpinning of the faith is of paramount importance to those of us who already believe. I’ve been blessed with weakness-of-faith. My nature is fretful and doubting. Whenever a doubt entered into my anxious thought-life, I was never able to merely dismiss it. It was like an infection that had to be lanced and drained, or else it would spread. I couldn’t make believe that it wasn’t there. It was just too painful. In this way, Christ coerced me to deal with these issues.

Although this process had been so painful, I can now thank God for the weakness, because through it, He created in me assurance and strength. He has comforted me with His knowledge and has privileged me with something precious that I can pass on to others (2 Cor. 1:4). Consequently, I now enjoy going to atheist meetings and blogging in hostile environs. It gives me far more pleasure than playing tennis.

Although having this protective rational defense isn’t the faith itself, it serves as a protective shield for our spiritual life in the same way that the earth’s atmosphere shields us from dangerous rays, while it allows the beneficial rays to enter our lives (2 Cor. 10:4-5). To ignore this shield is to ignore the Bible, which gives us so many warnings against the power of bad teachings to corrupt faith and to draw many away from Christ.

It was for this reason that Paul required that elders possessed a mastery of Scripture so that they would be able to refute false teachings that were leading people away from Christ (Titus 1:7-11). Paul also warned that false philosophies, when embraced, also had such power (Col. 2:8, 18-23). Jesus wasn’t a fear-monger, but He warned His disciples against the corrosive doctrines of the religious leadership (Matthew 7:15; Mark 8:15).

When we ignore apologetics, we ignore the welfare of the Church and the commands of Scripture to defend the Church (Jude 3). Many had been devastated by reading the DaVinci Code, which suggested that the Bible was merely the product of political infighting and that many other equally substantial candidates for canonical inclusion had been arbitrarily rejected. Fortunately, a number of able apologists came forth with books and DVDs to address this potent threat.

However, if I leave apologetics (defense of the faith) at this point, I would fail show the significance of this study. Apologetics isn’t simply defensive – taking captive the challenges that come to us from science, psychology, history, and Biblical criticism, according to the Gospel – it’s also “offensive.” Apologetics also elucidates faith-building and God-glorifying intra-Biblical phenomena. It demonstrates how Christ has fulfilled prophecy. Regarding this, Jesus purposely prophesied to His struggling disciples about what would later occur so that “when it does happen, you will believe” (John 14:28-29). They needed corroborating evidences. So do we! When we lack these, we are easily muscled into silence by those who retort, “What right do you Christians have to tell believers in other religions that you have the truth and they don’t! That’s just arrogant. How do you presume that your religious experiences are any more valid than theirs? They also have their ‘revelations.’” If we can’t argue that Christ is not only our life, but He’s also the truth – and there are reasons to believe this – then their charge of “arrogance” remains.

Too often I’ve heard people say – especially theistic evolutionists – that “The Bible isn’t about proof but proclamation.” Of course, it is about proclamation, but it’s also about proof, at least according to Moses:

• “You were shown these things [miracles] so that you might know that the LORD is God; besides him there is no other. From heaven he made you hear his voice to discipline you. On earth he showed you his great fire, and you heard his words from out of the fire”
(Deut. 4:35-36).

The consistent message of Scripture is that our God doesn’t simply want to feed our hearts but He also wants to sustain our minds. Even Jesus taught that His disciples shouldn’t believe in Him without corroborating evidences (John 5:31-38).

Apologetics also shows off the wisdom of the Bible. I especially enjoy doing this in the area of psychology – showing that faith in Christ best addresses our psychological needs. In comparison, the secular counterparts are grossly inferior and all carry pricey side-effects. This glorifies our Lord and declares, by the stark contrast with the inferior alternatives, His greatness. The study of science also can accomplish this (Psalm 19:1-2).

Also, apologetics closely scrutinizes the unity of the Word of God, demonstrating the singular plan of God that neatly threads it all together. Beholding the consistency between the Old and New Testaments is no less than breath-taking. So many have been encouraged in their faith by seeing that the doctrines of our New Testament weren’t suddenly invented by our creative Apostles, but instead had been strategically placed in the Old to be fully revealed at just the right time (1 Peter 1:10-12). Consequently, apologetics and theology are intimately married.

I might be weak in faith and require more rational reassurances than most, but we all are weak to some extent. Our faith is always under construction (1 Peter 4:11). Jesus referred to John the Baptist as the greatest of mothers’ sons, however he too required rational reassurances as he languished in jail. Even though He had seen the Holy Spirit descend upon Jesus when he baptized Him, it wasn’t enough. From prison, John sent his disciples to Jesus to ascertain whether Jesus was truly the Messiah. Jesus didn’t send them back to John with the reprimand, “Oh, just tell that softy to believe and quit asking for more proofs.” Instead, Jesus provided John with evidences (Matthew 11:5-6). Sadly, I’ve heard so many testimonies where reasons and evidences couldn’t be given to inquiring church youth. They then concluded that there simply weren’t any, and they left the church.

Without the protective shield of evidences and proofs, we become highly vulnerable to the assaults of doubt. Jesus’ crucifixion caused His disciples to doubt and flee. However, Jesus restored them through the compelling proofs of His resurrection (Acts 1:3). Conversely, a rejection of apologetics becomes an invitation to hungry viruses to invade and to take us captive, instead of our fulfilling our mandate to take them captive (2 Cor. 10:4-5).

None of us is above doubting (1 Cor. 10:13). Jesus promised that the power of false teachings and signs can be so overwhelming that even His chosen ones would be deceived (Matthew 24:11, 24). Indeed, He will not allow this to happen. However, don’t count on His protection if we reject the commands to defend His faith (1 Peter 3:15).

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