Apologetics: Preparing the Next Generation Part 3

The last two weeks I’ve been discussing the concept of an apologetic culture we need to nourish within our churches. Two weeks ago I discussed this from the standpoint of believers with doubts. Last time, I discussed one approach to apologetics, evidentialism, which I believe for most people is the most accessible “starting point for apologetics. What kind of cultural changes are we talking about?

I think its clear that not everyone is designed or called (however one might define that term) to become an apologetics expert, just as not everyone is equipped to pastor or to teach teenagers. Some people simply have abilities aimed for certain areas of the Christian life; some people are phenomenal children’s Sunday School teachers, the teach and the kids just “get it.” Others are great at carrying forward compassionate outreach, they naturally work through the pitfalls of helping those who are truly needy, without becoming enablers of self-destructive behavior. And yet, we are all called to be compassionate. Similarly, we are all called to answer those who ask of the hope that lies within us – every apologists favorite verse, 1 Peter 3:15. Just as our universal call to be compassionate does not mean that everyone is called to open a homeless shelter, so to our universal call to answer objections doesn’t mean everyone should immediately start debating internet atheists or seeking to become experts.

There are “levels” of expertise at apologetics. There are professionals; Dr. Tim McGrew, a professional epistemologist (a philosopher dealing with questions of how we can claim to know or be justified in believing something) refers to these men as the special forces. The best known examples today would be Ravi Zacharias of “Let My People Think” fame, or William Lane Craig. One of my own influences in starting this site was a column by J Warner Wallace discussing the need for “one dollar apologists.” The one dollar apologist is not a paid professional in apologetics, often they focus on one particular objection, or one particular approach to apologetics, sometimes as in my case, spreading out from that starting point. Most of us have blog sites as well. In some cases, we start moving into greater expertise, some such as I seeking more advanced training in these discussions.

I think, though, these are those gifted in apologetics, given the tools to naturally think through and work through objections. Then there are what I call the “Nickel apologists.” The Nickel apologist makes no pretenses to being an expert, they won’t be debating internet atheists (and avoiding the frustrations incurred). They are not familiar with every nuance of apologetic arguments, but they’ve read a few of the basic books, on the subject, such as those I recommended last time, or Frank Turek’s I don’t have enough faith to be an Atheist. They can answer the easy questions when they are asked on the one hand, and they know where to look for the answers they don’t know – they have mastered the art of saying, “I don’t know, but if you will give me a day or too I can find out.” They are the Sunday School teachers who takes time to read a few apologetics related websites or blogs that they consider credible in order to be able to help others.

A culture of apologetics also means perhaps having a church apologetics conference, or a basic discussion of apologetics in Sunday School Training, or in Evangelistic training. It means making apologetics a part, though not the entirety of a churches life and ministry. Dare I say it, it means improving the quality of our tracts to suggest why someone would accept Christianity. In short, it views apologetics in terms of an aspect of Christian ministry, viewing it in terms of a part of the sanctification process—part of “renewing the mind” for the restoration of the image of God in us. It is a change in the way we view apologetics as not a task just for experts, but as a task for the church as a whole.

Apologetics: Preparing the Next Generation part 2

Last time, I noted that the best way of dealing with the issue of people departing from the faith is to create an atmosphere of apologetics within the church, this is not original with me, Ken Ham discussed this in his book Already Gone. But one of the real difficulties in apologetics is getting started. A lot of people think to learn apologetics you have to dedicate yourself to learning long, logical arguments for the faith and be prepared to handle every objection one might raise against the Christian faith. It is true that there are complicated elements in apologetics, just as there are in any course of study. We need specialists – the apologetic equivalent to special forces. Yet there is a difference between creating a culture of apologetics experts in the church and a culture where believers are familiar with certain elements of apologetics. There is no need for a believer to feel he must dive into the deep-end, its ok to start from the shallows.

But where does someone start? This is the tough part. What many people don’t realize is that there are multiple approaches to answering questions, some people see these approaches as “competing” schools of thought, but I tend to view them as complementary. Different approaches to apologetics have different strengths and weaknesses; different approaches will appeal to different people. One possible strength would be the easiness by which someone can start understanding that approach.

Many of the introductory books on apologetics, in my opinion are diving into the depths. I have a great appreciation for William Lane Craig and the “classical” apologists who make the case first that God exists, and then that Christianity is true, but I don’t think this is the best place to start (though I believe it is a great place to grow); the classical approach is moving into the deep end. Instead, I think the easiest place to start is with a school named “Historicist,” or “Evidentialist;” this approach focuses on the resurrection of Jesus Christ as the evidentiary basis of Christianity, because of this, for someone who has been a believer for a while, this builds on familiar ground.

Here are a few works worth looking into to get started:

My own work, The Positive Case for Christ follows the approach laid down from Gary Habermas, which focuses on the minimal facts of Christianity, but I try to make some introductory statements on the value of the gospels overall, as well as a brief discussion of the major heart objection, the question of miracles. This is a work in progress available on Kindle, and it will be free from the 09-22-15 until 9-26-15.

J. Warner Wallace Cold Case Christianity – Wallace is a former atheist, and a cold case detective. While an atheist he began to see glimpses of the gospels and realized the sounded like the eyewitness accounts he used in reconstructing crime. Over a period of time, Wallace came to Christianity, and this book tells his story. This work is not as technically oriented as the others, but it meets people, “where they live.” The book is warm and engaging. He is probably the best “starting” place of all the books I’m listing here.

Lee Strobel The Case for Christ and The Case for the Real Jesus– Strobel, like Wallace was an atheist, but took an interest in Christianity after his wife’s conversion. Strobel was a journalist who applied his research skills to the New Testament. Strobel’s first book The Case for Christ presents the case, focusing on discussions of the source material, the gospels, and their value. The Case for the Historical Jesus fills in details involving objections that grew in popularity sine Strobel’s first book.

Tim Chaffey In Defense of Easter My friend, Tim Chaffey, works for Answers in Genesis, and has a book on the resurrection entitled In Defense of Easter. The previous books were written for unbelievers and believers alike. While Tim’s Chaffey’s book is aimed at both believers and unbelievers alike, where he excels is with preparing believers. He brings forward, in lay language, the essential arguments (with his own refinements) of Gary Habermas in defending the resurrection.

All of these men have additional apologetic works as well. So where does one go after the resurrection? Well that will be a subject for another time, but I would focus on your individual interests.

Apologetics: Preparing the Next Generation part 1

Recently, someone who claimed to believe was online and was questioning the faith. He was arguing from several possibilities but the essential point was if he must choose between science and faith, he would choose science, and by this he meant evolutionary theory and philosophical naturalism. My heart breaks when I think about it, and I pray for him that God would lead Him through doubts.

Many times, I see some modern apologists suggesting that Young Earth Creationism is the cause of this problem. It is often stated that when a young earth Creationist first coming into contact with modern theory, he comes into the realization that a Young Earth Creationist model is rationally untenable, and therefore he abandons the faith. (By such a definition, I must clearly not be rational; and if I am rational than this assertion must either be incorrect or an overstatement). This, however, is not the case in this circumstance; the young man was an advocate of theistic evolution; in fact, the argument that is troubling him is the antithesis of my third argument for young earth Creationism: theistic evolution and Old Earth Creationism create a serious question of the origin of evil since death would be implicit in the original design of the world.

I would argue, of course, that there is no distinction between science and faith; this is an artificial distinction. If we maintain any rigorous definition of science, then science is limited in what it can actual discuss and cannot actually prove anything—science is limited to disproving theories, otherwise we engage in the logical error known as “proving the consequent.” On these grounds, I am still waiting on justification to demonstrate that evolution is science in this strictest of senses. The question ultimately comes down the presuppositions we use in the study of science—if we assume that materialism is all there is, then evolutionary theory makes a great deal of sense, if we do not make use of this unfounded presupposition, it does not. I would suggest if Christ rose from the dead, then this presupposition was disproven historically; thus what we really have is a distinction between how to different worldviews use their presuppositions to interpret the evidence. I believe the resurrection is more foundational to my understanding of the world.

So how do we answer these types of doubts? Of course, part of this question comes down to regeneration—but this is a discussion for another time. I would suggest, then, that the best method is preparation for those doubts before they arise. My suggestion however, is that faith can form over time, and faith is not based on an absence of data or reason. My solution then is that these questions need to be inoculated against by means of teaching the connection between the Christian worldview and the world at a younger age. Waiting until high school and college to worry about apologetics is a failing strategy, as Ken Ham has stated in his book Already Gone. What is needed is apologetics training in far younger years, such as using a Sunday School curriculum that more fully explains and integrates a Christian worldview. More than this, apologetics needs to become something that is done in the home as well as the Christian School and the Church.

And yet, if we are going to start teaching children to have a rational faith, we need to have adults that have at least a familiarity with apologetics topics. So how do we get there from here? Often times we assume that apologetics is a difficult discipline made up from arcane theories.  I want to suggest that learning something of apologetics is not, actually, that difficult, and this will be (barring something major in the news or some major assault on the faith) our topic for next time.

C S Lewis, Kim Davis and False Equality

The book that made C S Lewis a household name in England wasn’t the Chronicles of Narnia, it was a small book called The Screwtape Letters in which a senior tempter, Screwtape gave advice to his nephew, Wormwood to help damn the soul of an unnamed Englishman during the second World War. After numerous calls to resurrect Screwtape, Lewis eventually wrote a piece entitled Screwtape Offers A Toast; Lewis’ Diabolic alter-ego advises young devils, newly graduated and preparing (with proper trepidation) to “bring food or be food,” and explains why Hell is winning so many souls, and one of the reasons why is the phrase all American’s love: “I’m just as good as you are.”

Now don’t get Lewis, wrong, he is not arguing against democracy; through his discussion one can easily see that Lewis supports the early growth of the middleclass as a very good thing. Instead, Lewis is rather arguing that this phrase creates a false equality that operates not by building up the lower and middle classes, but rather by tearing down the accomplishments, education and training of others. “I’m just as good as you are” essentially states not that we have political equality at the ballot box, in our rights as citizens, or in our nature as humans, but rather that this is a statement about the choices we make. In short, “I’m just as good as you are” is to move away from any belief that one set of choices or lifestyles is better or worse than another.

Picture for a second two brothers; they both grew up in poor family with an alcoholic mother and an absent father. One becomes a Christian, and it deeply affects his life. He marries and stays married, works productively, has two children with her, and remains involved in their lives. The other brother goes a different route, he doesn’t always manage to stay employed, begins drinking and taking drugs, has several children out of wedlock to whom he is devoted when speaking with his parole officer, but otherwise knows very little about them. If we take this wrong spirited, “I’m just as good as you are,” we essentially diminish the admirable choices of the first brother to comfort the second—failing to realize in doing so that the second brother is no better off; he is still addicted, broke and spiritually destitute. If that second brother would sit and examine himself then there might be hope, but first he must realize his failure. The most important thing to understand about the gospel is that God delights in rehumanizing us from the dehumanization of our sinful nature.

This tells us a lot about Kim Davis, and same sex marriage. The goal of the Supreme Court in legalizing same-sex marriage is to say the homosexual married couple is just as good as the heterosexual couple. Let us leave off questions of taxation for a moment, the question of Social Security benefits, and the legitimate interests of government; let us not ask the jurisdictional question at the heart of my last column (on what grounds does the Supreme Court have the authority to make this decision). This is a religious judgment the court has made (otherwise they would have referred to this as a Civil Union to avoid the religious connotations of the word “Marriage”) declaring all types of unions as being equal. And this is why Kim Davis is being compared to Warren Wallace and other racists.

What Davis has apparently requested is that her name be taken off all licenses, something the judge has the authority to do, but has refused. Her name being placed on the license, she believes means she is consenting to the gay agenda’s statement “we’re just as good as you are, our lifestyle just as moral as yours;” and Davis has effectively replied, “no your choices are wrong, and your lifestyle is sinful.” In this, she is not measuring them according to her own measuring stick, she is simply repeating what our Creator has said. And she speaks this respectfully as someone who herself has found the mercy of God in recent years.

I believe this is why they will seek to destroy her. I believe this is why she was thrown in jail for contempt of court; in other jurisdictions, activist clerks and mayors illegally began providing marriage licenses to homosexual couples while it was clearly against the law, but there were no consequences for their violation of the rule of law. After all, both she and the former mayor of San Francisco were operating on the strength of their convictions but his breaking of the law was somehow meritorious.

The moment we say all lifestyles are the same, we effectively say, “there is no such thing as ethics.” When we say all lifestyles are the same, we say there is no need of a Savior; when we say all lifestyles are the same we remove the spurs that God would use us to bring us to Himself. At its heart, this is a Spiritual conflict and we should therefore remember that this is not ultimately a question of government, civil liberty or even “freedom of religion.” This is about spiritual warfare, and the fate of souls.

Screwtape would be proud.

A foot in two worlds: Kim Davis’ Conscience and Responsibility

Kim Davis is currently sitting in jail for being in contempt of court. The situation is not as easy as it might seem. I have suggested before that the government is, under the first amendment, limited to discussing the civil elements of marriage in terms of law. Ultimately, gay marriage opens a number of different questions, and the questions where the government has the most compelling interest, issues such as taxation, inheritance law, etc. are those cases as a Christian I have the least interest in or concern with; these ultimately are the issues involved in the Davis case. We are not talking about the government imposing itself on private businesses or citizens here; we are talking about government employees. Kentucky’s codes do not currently create the same kinds of issues for Christians in the bakery or floral industries. As a Christian, my advice to Davis might very well be, resign. We all understand, after all, there are some jobs that are simply inappropriate for believers.

And yet, the Supreme Court did not mandate “civil unions” in their recent decision, they advocated gay marriage and in using this term they opened up serious issues of conscience for Christians on the one hand, and legal first amendment issues on the other. Kim Davis was elected during a time when there was no conflict between her position and her faith but the Supreme Court changed the rules in the middle of her term.

There is also the question of whether the Supreme Court acted within their authority in the recent case—many have argued that this is simply the law of the land—yet, I’m not sure this is actually true. The Supreme Court is not delegated in the constitution as a super-legislature and the 14th amendment specifies that Congress, not the courts, has the authority to enforce the protections of a citizen’s civil rights. I am not sure, frankly, whether the court has acted within their discretion and if they have not, what remedy do we have?

Ultimately, I can’t answer the Kim Davis question; I cannot specify whether she should resign or fight, and I will leave that to her conscience. Love for God is the supreme motive for the believer, and there is one thing that has been made clear, we are coming to a time of choice, whether this is that time or not. According to CNN’s reporting, “Bunning [the judge involved] said he, too, was religious, but he explained that when he took his oath to become a judge, that oath trumped his personal beliefs.” On this point, I cannot agree; my duty to Christ outweighs all other commitments I might have, to country, family or church. And whether that is truly the choice that is actually before Mrs. Davis today, since she presumably does have the option to resign, it might be the choice before us tomorrow. And so, ultimately, I will pray for her and admire her courage because if Christ tarries, it may not be a county clerk next time.

Even so, come Lord Jesus.