Archive | September, 2014

Does Apologetics Convert People?

Does Apologetics Convert People?

For some Christians, the word “apologetics” is just another piece of seminary jargon. It’s one of those words their pastor uses to prove his degree is from a legitimate theological institution. After all, it has the same word ending as “homiletics” and “hermeneutics.” Words ending in “tics” are clearly very important, but they are for the “religious specialists”, not “lay” persons.

knight-apologetics

Popular Articles on Apologetics

We all have to guard against large or obscure words becoming obstacles to our education. Every word means something (unless it is just gibberish). “Homiletics” is basically sermonizing (giving “homilies”). “Hermeneutics” is simply interpreting things (like ancient texts) to find their true meaning.

How a word sounds may evoke a particular feeling, but that’s irrelevant. The word “medieval” has a dark, ominous sound because we hear the word “evil” in it. But the word “evil” isn’t really in it. It only sounds like it is. “Medieval” only means “middle.”

Apologist sounds, at first, like a term of weakness.

Similarly, “apologist” sounds, at first, to the average English speaker, like a term of weakness, like someone who goes around saying, “I’m sorry” for his or her views. That’s because our common use of the word “apology” has a different meaning than it did when ancient Greeks used it.

What is Apologetics?

The classical definition of the word “apology” is simply “a verbal defense.” It certainly wasn’t used to describe those fake public apologies made by famous people today. It’s high time we redeem the word “apology.” We need fewer spineless apologies and more robust apologists. In other words, stop saying you’re sorry for holding your beliefs and instead defend them.

We need fewer spineless apologies and more robust apologists.

When, in the 4th Century B.C., Plato penned the famous Apology of Socrates, suffice to say, it did not feature his mentor saying “I’m terribly sorry for challenging the status quo with my pointed philosophical questions aimed at self-proclaimed intellectual leaders in Athens, so now can you find it in your hearts to forgive me for corrupting the youth by teaching them how to think critically?”  No sir.

The Apology was Socrates’ characteristically brilliant defense of himself before the Athenian court that had sentenced him to death. Similarly today, an “apologist” for the big oil companies, defends those companies’ rights, privileges and practices.

“Christian Apologetics” is the practice of defending Christianity.

Thus, “Christian Apologetics” is the practice of defending Christianity, either by defending it against the specific accusations of critics or defending the truth of its central claims.

Does Apologetics Convert People?

If we ask the question, “How many people became Christians because they heard a good defense of something like the existence of God, the historicity of the Gospels, or the archeological verifications of biblical narratives?” the answer is probably “very few”.

But the question, “Does apologetics convert anyone?” is a poor question to begin with. This is why I imagine the ghosts of Puritans past cringing when they hear us ask it. They would remind us in stern, puritanical tones that the only theologically correct way to speak of this is that God alone converts people. However, we may inquire as to what means God uses.

We could plug any of these things into the question, “Does x convert people?”

So, is apologetics a means to the conversion of people? I think we can answer in the affirmative. Many things are means to that end: benevolence, care for the sick, music, living a good example, powerful storytelling, Christian drug counselors, etc. We could plug any of these things into the question, “Does x convert people?” The question sounds the same. It’s not the right way to ask it. Yet, they all play important roles.

The diversity of people’s spiritual histories is too wide and profound to make a negative judgment about apologetics or any of the other means by which people come to faith. Over the years, I’ve met people who tell all sorts of stories about the things that played important roles in their conversion:

  • The kindness of a prison guard
  • Supernatural experiences
  • A scene in a movie
  • A death in the family
  • A dream they had
  • One sentence they heard someone utter 10 years ago
  • A Gospel tract
  • A lyric on Christian radio

You can add to that list, those whose pathway to Christian belief was more intellectual in nature and for whom apologetics was, in fact, very important. I have met people like this. Some of the most influential Christian intellectuals and writers in history had conversion stories of this kind.

Let’s put it like this: if lifestyle, the arts, charity ministries, and counseling are important means by which people enter the Kingdom, so is apologetics.

Everyone Practices Apologetics

Everyone practices apologetics. If you hold a belief about anything and seek to defend that belief, you are playing the role of the apologist. Is there anyone who does not hold beliefs that he or she considers important? Is there anyone who, hearing those beliefs discounted, maligned, or ridiculed, will not speak up on their behalf? You would find it very difficult if you tried to never to be an apologist for anything. I doubt you could do it.

Thus, every religion, every cause, every political group, and every shared point of view will have advocates and defenders. There are apologists for Islam, a limited government model, atheism, marijuana legalization, the Roman Catholic Church, and abortion rights.

Every religion, every cause, every political group, and every shared point of view has defenders.

The question is not, “Are you an apologist?” but rather, “For what are you an apologist?” What do you take the trouble to defend, and do you do it effectively?

What Exactly Does Apologetics Accomplish?

What exactly does apologetics accomplish? For starters, it removes unnecessary obstacles; it brings down barriers to belief. It clears away the rubble. This is why some people call it “pre-evangelism.”

My favorite quote on this is by Austin Farrer, the Oxford scholar and Anglican priest who was part of the famous “Inklings” group that featured C. S. Lewis and Tolkien. He explained the importance of apologetics thus:

It is commonly said that if rational argument is so seldom the cause of conviction, philosophical apologists must largely be wasting their shot. The premise is true, but the conclusion does not follow. For though argument does not create conviction, the lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish. So the apologist who does nothing but defend may play a useful, though preparatory, part.

Apologetics also benefits the already converted. Some apologists will tell you that their efforts probably do more for the faithful than the faithless. Sure, a few non-believers are given something to think about when there is a strong argument advanced on behalf of a Christian belief. Maybe some of them are moved in the right direction by it. But almost every Christian who hears that same argument is strengthened and bolstered by it.

The Importance of Apologetics to Believers

As theologian John Stackhouse points out, there is an internal apologetics that actively accompanies external apologetics. Where this is a regular part of the training of Christians, that internal teacher does indispensable work. Stackhouse writes:

As Christians consider the questions raised in the culture at large or within our own communion, we can reconsider just what the best response really should be. As we do so we may find that we should refine our understanding of this Bible passage or that doctrine, or this approach to evangelism or that approach to political activity. … Under the probing of good questions, even fiercely antagonistic ones, Christians can thus find their conception and practice of their religion become more nuanced, more careful, and more mature.

And I might add that in a time of parental hand-wringing over the attrition rate of young people raised in church, it is highly likely that the overlooked missing ingredient is a solid intellectual foundation for the faith these young people so casually cast aside. Were it not such a lightly held and shallow faith, were it instead a deeply rooted and fully orbed worldview, I doubt this regrettable phenomenon would be what it is.

Apologetics is Biblical

Not to be flippant, and not that it is a newsflash to most people, but let’s make sure we remember something: defending the faith is plainly biblical. It is both practiced and taught; it is exemplified and mandated.

The word “apologetics” is used literally, and rather famously, in 1 Peter 3:15; this is probably the go-to apologetics verse:

1 Peter 3:15 – 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, [ESV]

The apostle admonishes the believers always to be ready to give an “apologia” (which is the key term), usually translated “answer” or “defense.” He wasn’t telling them to do anything that wasn’t demonstrated repeatedly in the lives of the apostles themselves.

Just picture Paul in a major foreign city defending the messiahship of Jesus before a hostile crowd in the local synagogue, and later, after being run off, borrowing a lecture hall and “reasoning daily” in discussions and debates with all-comers.

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The early church leaders of the next era followed suit. One such was Justin Martyr, who wrote two defenses of the Christians.

In the generation coming just after the apostles, the growing Christian movement faced accusations within the suspicious culture of the Roman Empire. It was believed that they ritually drank human blood and ate human flesh like primitive cannibals, and held scandalous secret meetings that included men and women (a rarity among Roman religions). They were believed to be atheists insofar as they denied all of the Roman (and other) gods. They were dangerously seditious because they gave allegiance to another king and would not worship the Emperor.

And so, Justin, who would earn the name ‘Martyr’ for the exact reason you might suspect, took up his pen to make a careful and reasoned defense of the worshippers of Jesus against all of these false accusations or mischaracterizations. He addressed his letter to the Roman emperor Antonius Pius, along with his royal household and the Roman Senate. It began,

“I, Justin, the son of Priscus and grandson of Bacchius, natives of Flavia Neapolis in Palestine, present this address and petition in behalf of those of all nations who are unjustly hated and wantonly abused, myself being one of them.”

The practice of defending the faith has been characteristic of Christians ever since that time. It is commanded, it is important, and it is frankly not very difficult compared with the much more daunting tasking of living up to the moral standard of a Christian disciple. You’ll end up doing it anyway, so it is imperative that you learn to do it well.

Six Views on What it Means to Be Orthodox

orthodoxy

Have you ever been called a heretic? Have you ever had someone say that your faith is “unorthodox”? Have you ever wondered what it meant to be “orthodox”? No, I don’t mean Greek Orthodox or Eastern Orthodox. I am talking about orthodoxy which carries the meaning of “straight or right teaching and worship.”

The answer is not easy. For some people, “orthodoxy” is a shallow word meaning that you agree with them. For others, it means you agree with their particular denomination or local church confession. For many, it is a meaningless heavy handed designation that should no longer be used.

What does it mean to be orthodox in your beliefs?

There are really six primary views that I find represented in the church today. I am going to try to explain these views using both established and original terminology.

1. aOrthodoxy. Belief that there is no such thing as orthodoxy as a set of “right beliefs” or, at the very least, Christianity should not be defined by our beliefs except in a very minimalistic way. This view of orthodoxy takes a very pessimistic view of the Church’s need and ability to define truth, believing that orthopraxy (”right practice”) is the only thing that should be in focus. This pessimistic approach is influenced by the belief that defining the “boundaries” of Christianity according to beliefs has brought nothing but shame and unnecessary divisiveness to Christianity. This is illustrated most in the bloodshed of the inquisition, Crusades, and wars among Christians. To be labeled “orthodox” or “unorthodox” to the aOrthodox is an arrogant power play that is oppressive to the cause of Christ. Orthodoxy, therefore, is a contextualized subjective “moving target” that cannot be defined.

Primary Adherents:

Progressive Protestants (formerly known as Emerging Christianity)

Strengths:

  • Sees the importance of orthopraxy.
  • Understands the difficulty of defining Christian orthodoxy.

Continue Reading →

Why I Can’t Bear Your Burdens Anymore

I was talking to a good friend not too long ago as she shared the events of her life that were troubling and discouraging to her. I found myself disconnected from her stories, and unable to identify or sympathize with them. I could sense that she was depressed and needed help, being burdened by her problems. As I sat there listening, I thought to myself, “What is my problem? I don’t even act like I care. She can tell. Wait, I don’t really care. Why don’t I care? She is a good friend and I should be more concerned about this.” She left, and I could tell that she could sense the apathy. I was very saddened that I acted so unchristianlike. How is it that I could be so disconnected from someone close to me, while she shared her weighty troubles that were burdening their heart? I had felt that my plate of troubles was so full that I could not fit anything else on it. But, if this were the case, how did it get so full that I could not come to the aid, in any way, with a good friend with whom I have been so close for years?

All of us have been overwhelmed by the images on the news. I can’t believe what we have to endure. To sit and watch as someone’s head is cut off is beyond disturbing, but it produces emotional rage and spiritual confusion. Yet, these images are being shown over and over, and I am sure there will be more to come. We all had to sink emotionally when we heard about Robin Williams. The pain that it takes to take one’s own life is transferred to us, when we imagine what it must have been like in his final moments. Not only this, but the way news travels, all day long we are inundated with every bit of bad news that happens around the world within minutes of it happening. We see the images of those suffering around the world. We get prayer requests on Facebook for God to intervene in tragedies of “friends” that we never thought we could have. I can’t bear all this pain. I really can’t. I makes me fall apart in every way, cowering in a fetal position on the kitchen floor. But Paul tells me to “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). The “law of Christ” in this context seems to be to love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:39). But I can’t. My allotted emotional energy is spent before the coffee is even served. News can be overwhelming. Bad news is discouraging, depressing, and disillusioning. The dictionary defines “disillusioning” as “to free from or deprive of illusion, belief, idealism, etc.; disenchant.” To be disillusioned can be a good thing so long as the “illusion” that you are under is misleading, representing a state of mind that is not in accordance with reality. We should desire to be disillusioned from worldviews that discourage us from the focus or balance that creates stability. However, when we have a correct worldview, to have circumstances that create imbalance and instability–disillusionment–within that worldview affecting us in a negative way. . . Continue Reading →

Suicidal Thoughts on Suicide

“Your packing a suitcase to a place that none of us has been. A place that has to be believed to be seen.”

-Bono
“Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of”

I have needed to write this ever since the death of Robin Williams. Every public suicide gets to me. Well . . . every suicide I hear about gets to me, public or not. I wish it didn’t. I wish it was some distant thing that was as familiar to me as plane crashes, getting struck by lightening, or the death penalty. Sure, I have heard about those things and they are tragic, but they are what happens to those on the other side of the world, not to me. Suicide is different since, as many of you know, my sister killed herself in 2004.

These are suicidal thoughts on suicide because when I think about this subject or put some thoughts to paper, it is almost more than I can bear. To think this world affords us the pain and suffering that it must take to pull the proverbial trigger makes me quite troubled.

Statistics on Suicide

Here are some basic statistics on suicide:

  • A suicide occurs every 15 minutes in USA
  • 35,000 per year
  • Fourth leading cause of death of people ages 18-65
  • There are four male suicides for every female suicide, but twice as many females as males attempt suicide.
  • Firearms account for 60 percent of all suicides.
  • More active duty soldiers die from suicide than from combat

“Hold me now . . . Cause I’m six feet from the edge and I’m thinking, maybe six feet ain’t that far down.”

-Creed
“One Last Breath”

Suicides in the Bible

It might be interesting to note that there are quite a few suicides recorded in the Bible. Here is what I found.

1. Abimelech – Judges 9:54

2. Samson – Judges 16:30

3. King Saul  – 1 Sam. 31:4

4. King Saul’s armour-bearer – 1 Sam 31:5

5. Ahithophel – 2 Sam. 17:23

6. Zimri – 1 Kings 16:18

7. Judas – Matt. 27:5

Questions About Suicide

1. Can Christians Kill Themselves?

The simple answer to this question is “yes.” To somehow make suicide as an unforgivable sin is not only unbiblical but destroys the essence of the Gospel. Despite this, there are many Christians who have been led to believe that suicide cannot be forgiven. Where does this come from? Continue Reading →

On Caring for My Mother

Some of you know the story of my life over the last few years. I have tried to keep things up to date both for you and for myself. I think it is time for me to jot down some things, since there have been some significant changes.

Let me back up a bit . . .

In 2006, my mother, at age 56, had a massive aneurysm rupture. When the dust had settled, she was paralyzed on the left side, blinded on the right side, mentally childlike, and unable to talk. I was in Frisco, Texas pastoring at Stonebriar Community Church. I made what was, at the time, the most difficult decision I had ever made. I could either stay at my dream job, pastoring with Charles Swindoll, or I could move home to Oklahoma City to help take care of my family (my dad, mom, and two sisters). Two factors were influential in my decision to move back home: 1) my sister, Angie, had committed suicide just two years before my mother’s aneurysm and 2) my dad was trying to drink himself to death due to the grief of it all. I knew my dad would either die, or be in jail (multiple DUIs) within short period of time.

I sat down with Chuck Swindoll and talked about my options. He said something that was very influential to me: “You will never regret taking care of your family.” So, that is what I did. In 2007, I packed up my family and moved to Oklahoma to be the “savior” of my family.

I will not say that I made the wrong decision. I don’t really know how to think about this, or communicate it. I wrestle with my emotions all of the time concerning what I thought I could do, and what my exact goals were compared to what happened. Most of all, when I am down, depressed, angry, and/or [insert any word that expresses self-pity], I yell at Kristie and say “I should have never moved from Frisco. I had it all-together then. Now, I have fallen apart!” The reason I yell this at Kristie, my wife, is due to my attempts to place just a little bit of the blame in her lap. After all, she is the one who always wanted to get back home to Oklahoma. However, she knows that these moments are my moments in irrational darkness, and have nothing to do with her.

I need to continue with the story, before breaking out in song from a broken pulpit.

When I returned to Oklahoma, things progressed just about as I anticipated. This does not mean I was ready for it (as I thought I was), or should have done what I did. Dad kept drinking. Mom’s condition never improved. Dad kept getting DUIs. I kept trying to be the “savior”.  Mom still lived at home, just sitting in a chair or laying on a couch watching the same movies over and over and over and over again.

In March of 2010, all the strength I had was exhausted, and I fell into a dark, unfamiliar hole of depression. I limped through the next years emotionally, and found meaning to all this in the Credo House and what it was becoming.  Continue Reading →