Friday, August 15, 2014

Apologetics in a Postmodern Age

While theology attempts to answer the question, “What to believe,” apologetics attempts to answer, “Why believe.” Admittedly, doing apologetics in the postmodern West has not been very fruitful. This has led many Christians to claim that the old methods no longer work, and that we have to find new methods, namely those that bypass rationality – “modernistic reasoning,” as these critics put it.

While I have nothing against finding new methods, as long as they are biblically supportable, I don’t think we should discard the old. In fact, a rationalistic defense of the faith is part of the entirety of Scripture.

Apologetics is not just a matter of a few isolated verses like Jude 3, 1 Peter 3:15, and 2 Corinthians 10:4-5. Scripture rests squarely on a foundation of reasons-to-believe. Luke prefaces his Gospel with several of these reasons. He claims that he has thoroughly investigated various eyewitness accounts (apologetics), and from them, has drawn up an “orderly account” so that his readers “might know the certainty of the things” (apologetics; Luke 1:1-4).

John, as eyewitness to the events, assured the readers of his Gospel in a similar way:

  • Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)

John’s ultimate goal was for his readers to believe and to “have life in his name.” But the process wasn’t entirely magical. John understood that his readers needed mind food – reasons-to-believe. Therefore, John provided evidence (apologetics) consisting of the miracles of Jesus.

We still need the testimony of John and Luke to provide us with a rational basis for our faith. Therefore, while it is important to explore new ways to reach our generation, we mustn’t forget the old, which continues to sustain us.

Peter also insisted on the importance of evidences - reasons-to-believe. He wanted his readers to remember certain truths, so he didn’t merely state the truths but instead prefaced them for the reasons that they should believe what he would tell them:

  • For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable. (2 Peter 1:16-19)

Peter cited the fact that they, the Apostles, were eyewitnesses to the things they were claiming, but that wasn’t all. He also cited the evidence of the “prophetic Message” – Scripture. None of the Apostles ever asked believers to just take a blind leap of faith. As they understood it, faith had a powerful and necessary evidential basis (apologetics).

However, I want to make an even more radical point. Sometimes apologetics is inseparably built into the substance of theology. Just take Peter’s first evangelistic sermon, where theology was intertwined with Peter’s first concern – apologetics/reason-to-believe.

The disciples had been accused of being drunk at 9 AM as they spoke in tongues on the morning of Pentecost. Understandably, Peter sought to prove that it wasn’t drunkenness that was producing this great outpouring but the Holy Spirit. Instead, Pentecost was divine evidence of the validity of the Christian faith. Firstly, he quoted Joel 2:28-32 to prove that what they were hearing was in fulfillment of God’s plan. The he quoted Psalm 16:8-11 to prove that the resurrection of Jesus was also in fulfillment of the prophecy that God’s “Holy One” would not remain in the grave. Lastly, Peter provided the evidence of Psalm 110:1 to prove that what Jesus had spoken about His ascension had also been prophesied.

Why should his listeners believe? Not because Peter was asking them to take a blind leap of faith but rather because Jesus’ resurrection and ascension represented fulfilled prophecy! Meanwhile, Peter was also making theological points – not only why to believe but also what to believe! The two were actually knit together.

John also demonstrated the inseparable connection between theology and apologetics. After starting his 1 John Epistle with evidential assurances that they were eyewitness, he then progressed to the evidential assurances that they were saved:

  • We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. (1 John 2:3; also 1:5-7; 3:19; 5:2)

This is not just a statement about why we should believe that we’re saved but also a theological statement. We find these theologically loaded statements throughout Scripture. From this, we see that to abandon the head-knowledge kind of apologetics is also to abandon the Scripture that contains it.

In fact, Jesus’ miracles and His fulfilled prophecy all demonstrate the fact that the why and the what of the faith are often inseparable:

  • “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.  I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.” (John 14:28-29)

We can even take this radical principle of the inseparability of apologetics and theology a step further. Living the Christian life is also apologetics and an assurance of its truth:

  • Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me.  Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. (John 7-16-17)

Obedience contains its own evidence for the validity of the claims of Christ. If we follow His commands, we will know! In other words, we are surrounded with the evidence of the truth of the Christian faith, whether testimonial, miraculous, fulfilled prophecy, or just life itself. It all communicates theological and evidential truth - apologetics. Therefore, to reject this head-knowledge apologetics is also to reject Scripture’s teachings about the Christian life. However, if our lives themselves convey evidences in support of the Christian faith, this leaves room for the idea that apologetics is also something that can be experienced.

Let’s just pray that we might grow in awareness of God’s truths around us.

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