Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Need for Apologetics: The Defense of the Faith

Sometimes we expect that a few good arguments will unlock salvation’s door. When we find that they don’t and that we are met with a glaring sneer instead of a grateful embrace, we are hurt and conclude that “apologetics doesn’t work.” We then swing to the opposite – “I’m going to simply let my good works speak for the Gospel.”

Admittedly, in our post-Christian society where people have been warned and inoculated against the Gospel, it might be better to lead with good works in most cases. However, we are instructed to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that [we] have” (1 Peter 3:15). Therefore, I want to present a rationale for this.

Apologetics - reasons to believe in the Christian faith – is primarily for us. We have to know why we believe and how to defend ourselves against the many challenges to the faith.

Moses knew that the children of Israel needed reasons to believe – evidences – in order to follow him out of Egypt. In the midst of a burning bush, God had instructed him to return to Egypt to lead His people out of captivity, but Moses was reluctant:

  • "What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, 'The Lord did not appear to you'?" (Exodus 4:1).
Instead, of commanding Moses to tell the people “Just believe,” God  equipped Moses with a quiver of miraculous evidences – a rod turning into a snake, a leprous hand, and water turning into blood – to prove that He had sent Moses.

Jesus also understood that His disciples needed evidences to support their faith. He therefore prophesied to them what would happen to Him so that they would believe once these prophecies were fulfilled:

  • I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. (John 14:29)
We also need supportive evidences to help in sustaining our faith. After the crucifixion, Jesus’ disciples fled, convinced that everything that they had believed in had been for naught. In order to bring them back, they required the proof of His resurrection appearances:

  • After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3)
John the Baptist also had his struggles with his faith in Jesus after he was jailed, prior to his execution. He therefore sent his disciples to Jesus to ascertain whether He was truly the Messiah. Instead of Jesus telling them to tell John, “Just believe,” he told them to relate the various confirmatory miracles they had seen Him perform (Mat. 11).

We need to know why we believe. Doubts are birthed like tsunami waves in our post-Christian world. The highly touted Jesus Seminar proclaimed that only 18% of what Jesus is purported to have said in the Gospels is authentic. In the wake of this pronouncement, the faith of many had been severely shaken.

Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code rattled thousands of others with his claims that the selection of the Bible’s Gospel accounts was merely the product of political in-fighting and church counsels. He claimed that there had been 70 other gospels vying for inclusion.

As a result, one woman wrote that she could never again be able to trust the Gospels as she had. How tragic! Fortunately, there were many able apologists who have exposed the fallacies of both Brown and the Seminar. However, those who don’t believe that apologetics is necessary will neglect such works.

How can we face the world with the confidence and the boldness we need if we can’t be confident about the basis of our faith – the Bible! We can’t! Before I went to seminary, I subscribed to Biblical Archeology Review. Many of the authors wrote approvingly of the Wellhausen Hypothesis – a radical theory of how the Hebrew Scriptures were humanly assembled by cutting-and-pasting from pre-existing manuscripts. They were so confident of this skeptical theory that they didn’t even provide any evidence for it.

I was troubled but decided that I would lock my doubts away, pushing them back into a crevice of my mind until, perhaps, I might have the tools to critically examine them. However, this strategy didn’t work. The doubts that this theory had provoked interfered with both my reading of Scripture and my faith. Consequently, I read the Bible less and with less excitement. The doubt that the Bible might merely be a human creation festered in the back of my mind.

Fortunately, I was struck down with a bad back for several months. Someone had given me a copy of Gleason Archer’s Survey of Old Testament Introductions. Although it was one of the driest texts I’ve ever read, I cried my way through it. Archer dealt conclusively with the Wellhausen Hypothesis, and restored my Bible back to me as if Jesus Himself had returned to me.

I think it inevitable that without understanding the rational foundations of the faith and without knowing how to critique the challenges, our faith and life will suffer.

Apologetics is also necessary for the health of the church. Jude counseled the church to oppose false teachings and not neglect them:

  • Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. (Jude 1:3-4) 
Elders, therefore, had to have the ability to defend the faith against false teaching:

  • He [the elder] must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it…They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach. (Titus 1:7-11)
The possibility that the faith of the church might suffer damage must be a central concern. Many studies have shown that 80-90 percent of regular church-going youth completely leave the church by the end of their forth year in college. Even many of those who remain do so with a faith severely compromised by their involvement with the surrounding culture.

Clearly, the churches are failing to prepare their youth for the challenges of this world – sexual permissiveness, theistic evolution, multiculturalism, religious pluralism, moral relativism… We are neglecting the life of the mind, the port-of-call where destructive teachings are entering. Arrogantly, some are neglectful of apologetics, claiming, “I know what I believe and what I have experienced, and no one will take that away from me.” They are confident that they can “stand” (1 Cor. 10:12-13) even though they are neglectful of the Biblical instruction to also love God with our minds.

While it is probably true that the Spirit begins His work in our heart, we are nevertheless commanded to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).

We are also instructed to subject all thoughts and worldviews under the scrutiny of the Gospel (2 Cor. 10:4-5). If we neglect the mind, the world will not. It will co-opt our minds at great cost to the church.

Think of the mind as a protective shield. If it is not fully operational, attacks will penetrate freely to our heart of faith, undermining the peace, joy and confidence of the church. We will stumble around in a schizophrenic haze – our minds in conflict with what we believe in our heart.

Apologetics is also required for the seeker. In fact, we are commanded to have in hand the rationale for our beliefs (1 Peter 3:15). I wouldn’t even begin to consider the Biblical faith as long as I believed that evolution was a fact. I was convinced that if Darwin was right, Genesis had to be wrong. However, a Jehovah’s Witness gave me a book critiquing evolution, the theory I had once thought to be unassailable. This made me more receptive to the Bible.

Similarly, in Search for the Truth, Bruce Malone wrote:

  • Prior to graduation from college, I had not once been shown any of the scientific evidence for creation either in school or in church. Little wonder, that by the time I started my career [as a chemist], God had little relevance in my life. It wasn’t as though I had any animosity toward God or religion. It simply held no relevance to the world around me. This should be no surprise when the subject never came up in school and everything seemed to be explained without reference to a Creator.
Apologetics is also helpful for cultural interaction. My apologetics professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, William Lane Craig, stated that people will not believe what they find unbelievable. Today, many deem the Christian faith “unbelievable.” I think that part of the reason for this is that the church has become intellectually lazy and compromised. We have lost the ability to show forth the wisdom of God in the public marketplace of ideas. We are no longer culturally proactive as we must be:

  • The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death. (Proverbs 13:14)
Wisdom is part of our inheritance. We have wisdom regarding so many areas of life – forgiveness, morality, justice, child rearing, and marriage. However, we have hid our light under a bushel basket. Why? For one thing, we have failed to develop the ability to understand and critique the ideas of the world (2 Cor. 10:4-5). Consequently, we don’t know how to speak to the world, and we know it. Therefore, we fear the world and interaction with it. Instead, we need to understand the poverty of their thinking so that we will not be driven to take cover.

What happens when we neglect the life of the mind and apologetics? We will keep our light hidden. However, many are now saying, “Well, my good works are the light.”

However, even though there is some truth in this, it is not adequate. It is like flying a airplane with one wing. It just won’t fly! Instead, Paul claimed that we are “the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved” as we speak “the word of God” (2 Cor. 2:15-17). This is not to leave out good works. Rather, it is an acknowledgement that we need both!

When Paul visited the synagogues around the Mediterranean, he didn’t go there to perform good works alone. He went there to preach the Gospel and also to reason with the Jews according to the Scriptural evidence:

  • As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. "This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ," he said. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women. (Acts 17:2-4; 18:4)
God’s arm has not withered away. He can still save through the Gospel, even in our post-Christian world.

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