Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men… (2 Cor. 5:11).
I‘ve been interacting a bit with a self-described classic apologist. Because my challenger advocates for the apologetic methodology the average church-goer hears on Christian radio and reads in popular level books, my key objective has been to highlight dissenting fundamentals between his methodology and mine and then offer my critique. I provide more background HERE if the reader would like to get up-to-speed.
I stated in that first post that I found the practice and application of classic apologetics in real life encounters with the unbelieving world to be both problematic and offensive. Those are rather bold words, but I am prepared to back up my claim.
Let me begin my evaluation with some introductory remarks.
First, I understand evangelism and apologetics to be one and the same as an endeavor. In other words, I do not separate “evangelism” from “apologetics” as if they are two categories. The mindset among many popular, classic “apologists” is that apologetics is clearing the way for evangelism, or what I understand my detractor to mean when he writes about the use of evidence to clear away intellectual obstacles. Once the obstacles are cleared and the terms of the evidence agreed upon by both the Christian and the unbeliever, THEN we can proceed to the process of “evangelization.”
Rather, I understand apologetics to be evangelization. In one of the key evangelizing passage of the NT, Jesus stated that we are to go into all the world and make disciples of all men (Matthew 28:19). Going into “all the world” means that we will be engaging unbelievers as a matter of course in our daily life. “All the world” entails our family and the people at our schools and work. Without fail they are going to ask you about why you believe what you believe by making comments and asking questions. When we offer our defense, we certainly want to answer their questions, but our overall goal should be focused upon sinners in need of salvation and Christ being the only means they have for their salvation.
Second, I further understand apologetics/evangelism to be a proclamation. I am telling the lost world about the power of a sovereign God, Who in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, overcomes and changes the treasonous hearts of sinners.
Third, When I am discussing matters of “apologetics,” I begin with addressing what is revealed in Scripture concerning what it is all men know in their hearts already: that they know there is a God, they are at enmity against Him, His wrath abides upon them, and the only hope they have is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The classical apologists, however, will argue I am begging the proverbial question with that approach. In other words, I am calling people to believe upon a religious message without giving a reason for the reliability of that message first.
My challenger takes that position against my methodology. He outlined his approach by stating how he first shows the unbeliever that truth is knowable. From there he proceeds to showing that the theistic God exists and that His existence makes miracles possible. He then moves to showing how the New Testament is historically reliable, that the NT said Jesus claimed to be God, and that Jesus proved He was God by His miracles, most significantly, the Resurrection. With that background, the apologist can conclude with the unbeliever that Jesus is God, and anything He says is true. Because Jesus said the Old Testament and the promised NT is the Word of God, the Bible is therefore true and the Christian faith reliable.
That sounds “reasonable,” but the apostolic witness modeled for us in the NT never begins with building a complicated case for Christ first before engaging the lost.
For example, notice Paul’s message to the pagans in Lystra in Acts 14:8-18. Keep in mind they are pagans with no background in Judeo-Christianity, so a person would think Paul would want to “show” them the reasonableness of Christ’s truth claims first. Yet that doesn’t happen. After the people had witnessed a miracle of healing performed by Paul, the pagan crowds began worshiping him and Barnabas as Hermes and Zeus.
I am guessing it seemed perfectly “reasonable” to the Lystrians pagans that the two men were gods who had come down to them. Yet, upon hearing their “confusion,” Paul preached to them. The content of his message directed the people to what they already knew to be true: there was a living God who was their ultimate creator and He revealed Himself through acts of general providence and grace. Paul didn’t get to finish his presentation, because the people wouldn’t listen.
Paul did, however, get to finish when he addressed the Athenian academic elites in Acts 17. Again, he didn’t build a case for Christ by showing them reasonable “proofs.” He began with the same points he did with the Lystrians, but instead of being interrupted, he climaxed his preaching with the proclamation of Christ’s victory over death in His Resurrection.
There is no building a case for Christianity in either of those two episodes. He started with what he knew was true of all men, told them they were guilty before God, and the only remedy for this problem is Jesus Christ. I would think that is where all Christians would try to begin when engaging unbelievers: With an apologetic methodology that is grounded in biblical theology.
Now, my classic apologist dissenter would claim I am being unfairly misleading, because the classic apologist also has in mind the glory of God when he does apologetics. He doesn’t believe there is any inherent “power” in the evidence, or that the sinner can be reasoned to faith. The classic/evidentialist apologist believes just like me: that the Holy Spirit has to take the work of the apologist and apply it to the heart of the sinner.
Well, perhaps they say that, but I don’t see any consistently meaningful attempt to apply their words. In fact, I see what I consider to be serious obfuscations on the part of popular apologists that circumvents the role Scripture and theology plays in apologetics and evangelism. Let me draw our attention to three problem areas I see with the application of classic apologetic methodology and I’ll offer my evaluation:
1) The appeal to secular philosophy as an interpretive grid to understanding the Bible and presenting theology. When I pointed out how apologist William Lane Craig is notorious for elevating secular philosophy over biblical authority in order to understand theology, my dissenter wrote that he understood WLC’s reason for doing so: because theology and the Bible has to be interpreted. I can only conclude then, that secular philosophy – and I am talking about Greek philosophy primarily – is a necessity to interpreting the Bible.
First: What possible good can we gain learning from pagans and their false views of knowledge? How exactly does their “reason,” which is self-centered and starts with man, teach biblical Christians how we should read the Bible properly and draw conclusions about theology?
The Greeks were all over the map when it came to their ideas. They wrote about demiurges, prime movers, ideas/forms, “substances,” and atomism among other things. What relevance do any of those concepts have with Christ? Honestly, the most useful thing we can learn from studying Greek philosophy is seeing the disastrous consequences of a society groping after God apart from biblical revelation. I am just flabbergasted any right-thinking Christian would believe the Greeks have anything worth teaching us regarding how we interpret the Bible and apply our faith.
Second: How does WLC, or any classic apologist who seeks to utilize Greek philosophy as an interpretative grid for theology, KNOW the philosopher and his philosophy in question is trustworthy as a guide? The only reason the classic Greeks are even considered is because the Muslim philosophers brought the works of Aristotle and Plato with them during the Islamic expansion into Europe. If Islam had been successful going into China, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.
The Muslims, a false, violently anti-Christian religion, used Greek philosophy to interpret their religious faith. When they came to Western Europe, Catholics in the Middle Ages used Latin translations of Arabic translations of the Greek. From that, you have Thomas Aquinas developing his theology and classic apologists claiming it is the best way to do apologetics. Really? And that is supposed to be significant for my understanding of the Bible?
2) Classic apologists tend to accommodate theologically errant perspectives. What I have always found disheartening among the groups of popular apologists is the ease at which they willingly affirm other individual apologists who may share similar methodology, yet are divergent from each other in what I consider important areas of theological faith. The divergence can be so severe at times that it makes me wonder about their ability to discern. But I guess such apologetic ecumenism is expected if you view the Bible as a secondary component to your apologetic efforts.
Consider for a moment the March, 2012 edition of the Christian Research Institute journal. It’s a special issue addressing the question of origins and matters of creation and evolution.
A number of contributors write on such subjects as DNA, biology, stellar evolution, and the meaning of life. Even though the focus of the writers is directed at answering the question emblazoned on the cover, “What were the origins of life on earth?,” because so many of them hold to such radically divergent theological opinions from one another, a person is left with a fuzzy picture of what Christian theism actually says on the subject of origins. Let me point out a few examples of what I mean by noting three contributors.
– William Dembski published in the past a sub-biblical theodicy that is so convoluted it makes one wonder about his overall perspective on God and evil.
– Fuz Rana, apologist with Reasons to Believe, once made some disturbing remarks about ancient man when evolutionists were crowing that the genetic evidence proved modern humans and Neanderthals interbred. The ICR/AIG/Creation.com folks merely pointed out what they had been saying for years: that Neanderthals are an extinct ethnic group of human being, hence the reason for the genetic link. The Reasons To Believe ministries, on the other hand, rather than renouncing their long held position that Neanderthals were soul-less hominids, dug in their heels and had Rana issue a statement suggesting the interbreeding indicates proof of bestiality and the depravity of man. But, of course, that ignores the major problems with adopting such a view.
– Kenn [sic?] Wogemuth, who is a co-contributor explaining why geology tells us the earth is billions of years old and YEC are idiots, is someone I have interacted with personally on a number of occasions. Back in 2010, when Grace to You did an extended blog series defending an historical Genesis, biblical creationism, and exposing Biologos as nothing but a writhing nest of stealth atheists, Kenn (He spelled his name “Ken” in our correspondence), would document-bomb me with papers that allegedly refuted my view. When I pressed him about his understanding of Genesis, the historicity of creation, and the flood, he never gave me a straight answer. Instead, he sent me to blog sites of questionable writers who affirmed his old earth views, but also denied other essential doctrines, along with advocating for gay marriage.
My classic apologist detractors may say those differences are insignificant, minor, or irrelevant. To borrow a slogan from the Bible Answer Man, it’s the things Christians can debate vigorously but never divide over. What I should be concerned with is the ideas put forth by the person, and not what the person personally believes about God, the Bible, and salvation.
But theology does matter. If the main goal of apologetics is providing reasons for the Christian faith and clearing away obstacles that keeps a person away from God, eventually – or at least I would think – the apologist will get a person to the “Christian faith.” I mean, I am only assuming that over time some people will be convinced by the evidence, right? They’ll give the Christian message a fair hearing and even commit themselves to the faith. Okay, now what? What are they to believe about the Bible? Where will they attend church? What the Episcopalian and Catholic “apologists” believe about the Christian faith is much different than what Baptists “apologists” may believe, or the Calvary Chapel “apologists.” Is it at this point we bring the Bible into the conversation?
That leads me to a final problem area,
3) Classic apologists diminish the Bible’s authority in their apologetic presentations. I cannot recall how many times I’ve caught myself talking back to my radio saying “It’s in the Bible, SAY IT!” when I hear a program on which a popular apologist is “defending” the Christian faith against whatever issue under discussion. It seems as though they are embarrassed of the Bible’s authority on the matter.
Take for instance “gay” marriage. I’ll be accused of generalizing with my words when I state this, but most of the arguments against “gay” marriage I hear from popular apologists are purposefully presented so as to leave the Bible out of the debate. The apologist will appeal to what has been “acceptable” in societies since the beginning of human civilization, or the importance of the male/female family unity in society, or collections of statistical data. Sometimes the apologist will boast, “See, I haven’t even used the Bible as my authority when I have argued my case.” It’s like the guy is proud of it. It’s the same thing when I hear them argue against abortion or in favor of intelligent design. Yet the very institution of marriage is a creation mandate. Jesus specifically grounds his argument for marriage in the Genesis record (Matthew 19:5-6), as did Paul (Ephesians 5). Why can’t I?
Of course, that goes back to what my classic apologist dissenter has already stated, that I am begging the question if I were to start with the Bible as my authority. But why should I have to prove the Bible independently first as a reliable depository of truth BEFORE I can appeal to the truth contained within it? Is it not truth? I thought truth was truth, no matter where it was found; yet for some reason the Bible is off limits in the conversation.
Which makes me wonder why the classic apologist engages in apologetics to begin with. If he says, “because God wants us to as Christians,” where exactly does he find that exhortation? If he says in the Bible, was that a “true” exhortation before he was persuaded of the Bibles truthfulness? Or did it become “true” AFTER he was persuaded of the Bible’s truthfulness?
When I defend the Christian faith I want to not only persuade men of my position, but I want to glorify God in the process. The Gospel is His plan and His message. He has entrusted me to present it to a lost world. It behooves me to do so articulately and faithfully, and that involves striving for consistency between the theology I affirm and the message I proclaim.
In practice, I see a disconnect between the theology classic apologists proclaim and the methods they use to present the message. That doesn’t mean I believe they are unsaved, or even have nothing of value from which I can learn. It means that inconsistency must be addressed so that God can be fully glorified.