by C Michael PattonApril 22nd, 2013 52 Comments
I love apologetics. It often hurts my head and goes “beyond my pay grade” as far as brain power (especially when I get into all the science stuff—I just don’t know who to trust, and sometimes it’s no one), but I find myself excited about apologetics in general. That said, apologetics is a very personal issue for me. Normally, it is not the case of a “seeker” or a “skeptic” asking me a question, prompting me to run to the apologetics section of my library at Credo House to research the answer. Rather, it is me asking the questions. It is me defending the faith to myself.
As a result, I find that I am much more critical than others who are involved in apologetics. I greatly appreciate what Christian apologists do; nevertheless, there are times when I discover some aspect of their apologetic perspective that bothers me. I can’t always put my finger on the specific thing that troubles me. More to the point, when I do identify the problem, I am too much of a “fan-boy” to confront someone “on my own team” and criticize their game plan. The issue boils down to a matter of honesty. I don’t find very many apologists who are transparent in their approach. I don’t find very many apologists who will readily admit that their viewpoint may have weaknesses. Many are averse to playing the game fairly. I find too many apologists are simply there to defend their prejudices, ignoring honest and, sometimes, well-founded questions. In essence, they are long on “apology,” but short on scholarship.
Notwithstanding my reservations about apologetics and apologists, I am fully aware that this is not always the case. Last weekend, I spend a lot of time with Dr. Gary Habermas. If you don’t know who he is, shame on you! Gary Habermas is one of the greatest apologists I have ever met. We spent two nights (just him and me) in his hotel room talking theology. Initially, we had some fun with the “Calvinist/Arminian” thing for a while. (He said he was neither. . .Rather, he was comfortable just being a Baptist.) Then, we dove into the subject of apologetics. Having read several of Habermas’ works, I already had deep respect for him. But the one-on-one encounter for two consecutive nights was truly a gift in getting to better understand the underpinnings of his perspective on apologetics. For example, we played a game where I was the atheist/agnostic and he was the one trying to win me to the faith. For two hours we role played; I did surprisingly well, if I do say so myself. I surprised even myself by what a “good” agnostic I made. But Habermas proved that he was a much better Christian apologist. With tenderness and incredible wisdom (not just knowledge), he navigated me to the point where I felt I no longer had a legitimate excuse for “being” an agnostic. What a valuable experience this was! I sincerely wish we could have recorded it. The experience most certainly increased my faith, since I was entirely free to unload on him all the doubts that stir in my brain sometimes, when no one was looking. However, what I appreciated most was Dr. Habermas’ honesty. I could tell that he had been there, so to speak. He was a Christian-turned-skeptic for ten years before his faith was restored. The depth of his responses to my skeptical objections revealed that he was truly a scholar/apologist. How encouraging!
I have been reading through Craig Keener’s Miracles book recently. Although I don’t think Keener would ever call himself an apologist, this book is an apologetics jewel. Why? Well, for one thing, Keener has already established himself as a critical scholar. Being such, he is truly worried about getting things right, and dealing with problems honestly. When he wrote this book, I was curious about what might come from it, since Keener is a charismatic. Was he writing to confirm his prejudice relative to his charismatic leanings? Thus far, I have not found this to be the case. As I expected, he is very critical of the data he uncovers concerning the miracles he documents in the book. On many occasions, his conclusions are very tentative. However, the scholarship he provides, along with his accompanying critique, have won me over. I am becoming convinced that I am far too “Western” in my thinking, and that the worldview I subconsciously hold is not shared by the majority of the world. Moreover, I am convinced that the positions it asserts are not sustainable when one truly looks at the evidence.
First comes “Truth,” followed closely by “Defense of the Truth.” It is no exaggeration to say that the transition from “Truth” to “Defense of the Truth” is a difficult one to make. Too often, many of the “internet atheists” who wear the label of “former Christian apologists” choose to follow a different course of action: they defend what they already believe. The result is found wanting not only from a human, rational point of view; this approach inevitably produces an unstable foundation of illogical presuppositions. From a Christian perspective this approach cannot be pleasing to the Lord. We are in pursuit of truth first. Our defense of the faith comes out of this pursuit, and is dictated by it. Our personal struggle with the intel, our ability to admit weaknesses, and our freedom to discover can be dangerous, yet so very essential to our apologetic endeavors.
One of my favorite people in all of Church history is Theodore of Mopsuestia. Though his story is riddled with controversy, I have always admired him for certain particular stands he took that went against the grain of his contemporary culture. First, in contradiction to the teachings of the allegorical school (which ruled the day in his time), he did not believe that the Song of Solomon was a love song between Christ and the Church. Theodore believed it was a love poem written by Solomon to celebrate his marriage to his Egyptian wife. We say, “So what?” However, for the vast majority of Theodore’s contemporaries, his interpretation was nothing short of scandalous. Similarly and significantly, he drew a distinction between Old Testament texts that contained what he believed to be genuine Messianic prophecies and those that, in their historical setting, were not truly predictive prophecies, but merely analogous experiences shared by Christ and certain Old Testament situations (one might call these typologies). This is significant for me because I have always had a problem seeing certain Old Testament prophecies used in apologetic situations as proofs that Christ is the Messiah or that the Bible is inspired. For example, Psalm 22:16, “They have pierced my hands and my feet,” is often used apologetically to prove that Christ was a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Certainly, I believe this verse contains a broad reference to Christ, but for the skeptic, this assertion provides no apologetic value whatsoever. Contextually, it was David talking about himself. As a Christian in “faith seeking understanding” mode, I can accept that this also refers to Christ. Conversely, it does not give any sign that it was a predictive prophecy from a rational perspective. Any honest skeptic or seeker will look at this passage and think, “Boy, these Christians will accept anything, so long as it confirms what they already believe.”
In a postmodern world, the Apologist/Scholar model must be laid to rest. If for no other reason, it should be done for the stability of your own faith. You are one who stands before the living God. You are not responsible to become an apologist for what you already believe, but to become an informed researcher who truly believes. On this basis you can defend whatever beliefs are legitimately produced with integrity and peace of mind. Then, and only then, will you be able to discuss your faith like Habermas. May the likes of him, Daniel Wallace, Craig Keener, Darrel Bock, Richard Bauckham, N. T. Wright, Ed Komoszewski, and Theodore of Mopsuestia increase. May we seek truth first and build our defense from scholarly study and personal engagement with the issues.
- Top Fifteen Must Have Books on Apologetics
- The Problem I Have with Apologists
- Last call!
- A Warning About Pseudo or “Pancake” Apologetics
- Engaging Postmodernism (2): Denying the Horse is Postmodern