The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried. G. K. CHESTERTON 1 Peter 3:15 (ESV) 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, I am always a little surprised when I begin to hear opposition to Christian apologetics, especially in church.For example, in a Sunday School class I taught a few years ago, a very nice, and faithful follower of Christ rebutted my introduction of the lesson which I said “included apologetics” but didn’t necessarily consist of it. This person said, quite assertively that they didn’t like the word apologetic when used with Christianity. It sounded to them that we were apologizing for God. Now, I knew what they meant, or at least I thought I did. This person was saying that apologetics seemed to say “we’re sorry” for God. I replied with the standard etymology of the word apologia (ἀπολογία apologia-to make a verbal defense), showing the dissenter the semantic mistake they had made, as nicely as I could, but then they replied that they didn’t think it was our place to make such a defense for God as if He couldn’t defend Himself. At this point, I was in a pickle. My lesson, which was an exposition of the first half of John 1:1, really had little to do with formal apologetics and I had about 30 minutes to finish. It wasn’t a lesson on “how to do” apologetics. It wasn’t merely an apologetic in and of itself. Yet, because I had described the lesson in part as having to do with apologetics, this person had balked. I paused, said I understood, and was going to move on when someone replied to this person from across the isle. “We need apologetics”, they said forcefully. They explained briefly their beef with what this person was implying, and I sensed a bit of angst in their reply so i took us quickly into the lesson and left that dog lie. Sometimes you just file one for later, if you know what I mean. What is the deal though? What is all the fuss about? On the one hand, it seems apologetic training and the desire for more is on the rise. People want it, churches are beginning to offer it, and there’s more and more material and resources to use. On the other hand, it seems every so often there’s a church leader or a group of members who, for some reason, want to keep apologetic training out of their church. There’s no way to answer why these things are happening exhaustively, maybe not even thoroughly, but I hope to at least put a dent in it today. First question; why does there seem to be this new excitement or popularity of apologetics? I believe the answer is emotional, historical, and spiritual. Let’s look at those. The new excitement about Christian apologetics is emotional. This stems, I believe from the 35% of the 80%. Several years ago, Barna http://https//www.barna.org/barna-update/millennials/147-most-twentysomethings-put-christianity-on-the-shelf-following-spiritually-active-teen-years#.U9L8RPldW8A research did a survey which resulted in several church leaders greatest fear being realized. What they had suspected was in fact true. Young people were leaving the church after high school at an alarming rate, 80%! Not only were these young people leaving at a greater rate that before, but they were blaming it on something other than their desire to sleep with their girlfriend or smoke pot or drink beer. They were blaming it on shallow teaching from their church. They just didn’t believe what they had been told. All the pizza parties, sleep-ins, bowling or movie nights hadn’t been enough, even if those things had been supplemented with the constant life-lesson theology of most youth groups. The only thing most church leaders seemed to consider was more of the same, along with rock band worship music and light shows. Then came the 35%. Barna’s research had revealed another statistic. Out of the 80% that were leaving the church every year, only 35% were returning after being married and having children. I think this stat was underestimated, not in number but in veracity. Those who had left, spent time thinking. Not only that, but they had only left church, not Christ. One by one they’ve marched back into the pews but as different people. They know why they left and they are slowly realizing why they have returned. They are tired of the same old shallowness in thought. They take Jesus to heart when He says, Luke 10:27 (ESV) 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” These 35 to 50 year old re-turners are ushering in a new kind of revival and it’s catching on with the young and the not so young. They are armed with a testimony of why they left, why they’ve come back, and what they believe needs to be done, and it includes apologetics as well as deep theology.They hate what church had become and are afraid for their own children, so they are taking the wheel and won’t let go! That’s an emotionalism that works! The new excitement about Christian apologetics is historical: Like no time in the recent past, atheism, materialism, agnosticism, and pantheism have taken the offensive on Christianity. Not only in America have our colleges and universities become liberal centers for destroying faith, but in Europe, Christianity is becoming extinct as materialism and Islam slowly change the once Christian landscape. It’s very hard to even get a Western European to listen to the gospel, must less believe it. On every front, education, media, and government, Christianity is being attacked. As books, movies, professors, and parliaments attack us though, some have begun to push back, if only by necessity. This has happened before. These type of attacks are what made Christianity orthodox. Push back against outside attack is what brought about the Ecumenical Councils. of the first 600 years of the church. The fight against the early heresies resulted in some of the clearest thinking that the church had had, and some of the greatest minds the church has known. Although this time of Christian thought ended with the middle ages, mostly due to no resistance to the now church/state mixture, resumed in the sixteenth century during the reformation for the same reason. A stagnant church is easily attacked but because the church is an ever changing organism, it always changes to become less vulnerable and more clear on it’s message. I believe this is an historic time for Christianity. The attacks from the outside are slowly awakening the church. In my opinion we are ushering in a new reformation of Christian thought and a new clarity of the gospel. The new excitement about Christian apologetics is spiritual: None of this would be worth a plug nickel if it weren’t caused and led by the Holy Spirit. I believe God is still alive and well and working in His church. He is constantly making her more like His Son. In this way, I believe all of this reformation or renaissance of Christian thought, not only in apologetics but also theology, is Spirit led. We are being checked by our creator. We are being shepherded by the Shepherd. It’s not always easy to see if we only look at our local church, but when we can see the invisible church move as a unit, you better bet orders are coming from the Top! Now how about question two, why all the fuss from those who don’t seem to like this new excitement about apologetics? I believe this is less complicated but not uniform. I see the reasons for this as power, fear, and ignorance. Let me quickly explain. Most churches do not have established apologetic teaching ministries. Most churches do have other established evangelism and/or discipleship ministries. Most people who are excited about apologetic ministries are hands on kind of people. In fact, those are probably the people who need to be leading the apologetic ministry. Unfortunately, the established ministers may see this as a turf war. These new, excited, and probably popular ministries are encroaching on their turf. People are moving from their class to the apologetics class down the hall. New people are coming and joining the apologetics class. Pride cometh before a fall, so down cometh the power hungry minister. It is a shame, but power is an evangelical stumbling block. I don’t know what to do when this happens. I’d advise lots of prayer. It probably won’t be pretty. Not far in the shadows of the ministry turf war, lurks fear. Most of those proud ministers who are protecting their turf, are merely afraid. They don’t know much about apologetics and it seems like a lot of work. How do we deal with all of this logic, critical thinking, and church history, they ask It’s hard to fit a ton of learning into a busy life. Besides that, isn’t logic and reason anti-Christian? Aren’t we supposed to love people into the Kingdom? They have probably heard of Charles Stanley or David Jeremiah, but who in the world is William Lane Craig or John Lennox? Apologetics brings a whole new world to the church, and as most churches say, “We’ve never done it this way before”. It’s gonna be tough but up and coming apologists must tread lightly on those who fear. Remember, Christianity is the only army who shoots it’s wounded. Finally, it is the case that for too long the church has slept in it’s ignorant slumber of theological blissfulness. Oh, we’ve been challenged by the sex wars of the 60’s and the 80’s, the drug wars of the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s, but it’s been a while since the church has taken an intellectual challenge as seriously as it has the new atheists and post-modernism. There is uncertainty in the church about the future and it’s ignorance of it’s own intellectual high ground is amazing, but it’s quickly vanishing. So, what is all the fuss? It’s about reform. It’s about God changing His church. As I said earlier, I believe there is a new age on the horizon. Christians are being awakened to apologetics and classical Christian theology. It’s scary for some, exciting for others, but it’s here for sure. What this age will usher in for the church, what God is preparing His church for, is up in the air. I’ll bet it’s big though.
As I prepare to write a review for Andy Bannister’s newest book The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist or the Dreadful Consequences of Bad Arguments, it occurred to me that the only thing worse than a bad argument for Christianity may be no argument for Christianity. Andy may not agree and to be sure, I mean […]
Our goal ought not be to clone ourselves but to equip people to be ready to defend the hope they have in #Christ. #apologetics
Christians Ought to Hold on to Tradition It’s difficult to articulate why Christians ought to hold to tradition. Often, I’m misunderstood as defending traditionalism. I don’t mean that we ought to defend tradition for tradition’s sake. Rather, I wish to communicate a kind of guardedness against sudden change as well as a sense of worth […]