An apologetic that can do little more than continually talk about itself is not worth the effort exerted or ink spilled over it. (1)
When I read this sentence something inside of me resonated. I’d thought too much about the process of apologetics. When I wrote my book, Apologetics for the Rest of Us, one of the driving forces was that too many books I’d read on apologetics were written for other apologists. Theologians and philosophers do this too, and if you don’t speak their lingo you don’t get much of what they’ve written. What’s that about? Few apologetics books, if any, were written for the person in the pew, the person apologists are supposed to help. Something is wrong with this picture.
I read a lot of blogs, maybe too many. A good hour of my morning is spent cruising websites and blogs to see what’s being said. However, too many blogs are about the bloggers, what they’re doing and trying to accomplish. What is worse is when i read different apologetic or theological camps that downgrade the camps they don’t agree with. I find it wearisome.
This happens with seminaries, too. Over the last five to ten years more seminaries have entered the arena providing graduate degrees in apologetics. Fifteen years ago, when I was looking for a place to learn apologetics there were two. Biola in California and Southern Evangelical (SES) in North Carolina. I chose SES more because of proximity as I was living in New Jersey. Since then there’s several more schools that have come on board: Liberty University and Houston Baptist Seminary are two that come to mind. There are others as well. The problem I encounter is that this too becomes a place to denigrate the others.
You’d think that the camps that excel in critical thinking would get this one right. Instead of competing we ought to be completing each other. Each school mentioned above has a strength the others lack. In turn, each has weaknesses the others don’t, too. There ought to be a cross fertilization going on, not rivalry.
It is interesting that the quote I began with comes from an author whose apologetic method is different than mine. In fact, these two camps have been outright hostile toward each other at times. Unfortunately, at one time I bought into it. However, fortunately, God is good and changed my intellectual condition. I began to see the merits of other camps and schools. Allies are a good thing.
The real point in all this is the awareness that if apologetics is not helping the person in the pew build and defend their faith as they evangelize the world around them, it really doesn’t matter that we get all the ducks in a row or eggs in the basket. It’s a flop, a waste of time.
The message is about people, always has been. In Genesis we learn God created an extravagant universe right down to a special garden to fellowship with people. Not animals, not amoeba, not plants, trees, or mountains, but people. When God called Abraham it was to build a family of people. Israel became a nation of people. Jesus was born into a family of people to redeem people. The church is made up of people. Ministry gifts are given for people. One day the Lord is coming back for his people. Can we get it straight? We’re here for God’s people. We serve the Lord to reach people, win people and help to build people. It’s all about the people.
When apologetics gets so introverted that it cannot see the reason for its existence, that’s a problem.
1 Oliphint, K. Scott (2013-07-31). Covenantal Apologetics: Principles and Practice in Defense of Our Faith (p. 25). Crossway. Kindle Edition.
Photo credit: "Inside St. Patrick's Cathedral" by Jason Pratt, licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Modified from Original
Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good, but dead people live. - CS Lewis
I would have loved to had said this first, but somewhere CS Lewis wrote it, I read it, and it stuck. Admittedly, this is one of my favorite quotes and I have lots of them. This is so simple, yet it is so profound.
Many Christians in the west seem to care a lot about morals and good behavior. Even when we look at certain lifestyles we seem to be more interested in the behavior of a person rather than the condition of the person. We judge people’s behavior all the time.
The person isn’t necessarily a “bad” person, but a “dead” person. Isn’t this what the Scripture tells us about ourselves? Didn’t Paul say, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins?” Does God help our behavior? Of course, He does, but maybe not the way you think He does.
Reflecting on the role and work of an apologist I must return to the gospel. If we don’t get this right, it doesn’t matter how well we make a defense. The illustration of buttoning your shirt or blouse comes to mind again. If you don’t get the first button right it doesn’t matter how you button the others. You can mess the other up, too, but you have to get that first one right to have a correct starting point.
Knowing the gospel is that first button. What is the gospel? What did Jesus come to do? What happens when we give ourselves to Jesus Christ? Sometimes I hear answers to these questions that make me cringe. Yes, Jesus came to provide forgiveness of sin, but not so I could go on sinning. In fact, the transformation in my life ought to make me go a completely different direction than the one I was traveling on.
The message of the New Testament is that God sent His Son to redeem and restore me. He redeems me to Himself and restores me to Himself. As a result, I am a changed individual. Paul said it this way: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. (Galatians 2:20).
For me, conversion was a catastrophic event. Someone said it was like a “train wreck.” Everything in my life changed. Most of my friends left me; I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing before. My worldview radically changed. Explaining what happened to me was another story. At first, I couldn’t explain it at all. I walked away from a lot of conversations because I couldn’t explain my conversion experience. But that changed too. I began to understand what God did in my life.
Now I go even further and explain why my experience can be validated by the evidence found in the New Testament for the message of the Gospel. Jesus isn’t just one of many, nor is he a false or fake person. Jesus embodies the truth of God to redeem us and put us on the path that continually leads us to the all-loving and all-powerful God.
The gospel is the message - apologetics is the seasoning, the adjunct, the ancillary, the handmaiden to evangelism if you will. If we convey the message correctly and people embrace Jesus because He is the answer to their need, they will have new life, not just new behavior. Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good, but dead people live.