Origin Challenges Pt 2: Theology and Apologetics

Before the hustle and Bustle of Charlottesville, and the answer provided to questions of the Alt-right and its relationship to Christianity, I had started a discussion on origins and Christianity and was taking it in two different directions. The first direction is towards my own growing thoughts on apologetics, something I will call Mere Evangelicalism to honor one of the influences that is leading me in this direction, C S Lewis. Like a lot of apologists, I started reading Lewis as a teller of tales about Narnia, but I have come to understand him as one of the masters of my art.

A Tale of Two Disciplines

When it comes to origins, the question falls into a lot of different disciplines. This includes, for the believer, questions of the exegesis of Genesis 1 and 2, and their impact on the Scriptures throughout the text following. There are also scientific questions, and with this questions of science, and these questions are often resting on unanswered (and perhaps even unasked questions) of philosophy of science. For example, in many cases, Christians are applying an approach to science that is not necessarily considered current, when Christians start discussing evolution they start applying falsification criteria, and seem far more reminiscent of the approach to philosophy of science appealed to by Karl Popper. These in turn point towards other issues, how do we deal with the questions of philosophy, theology, exegesis and science? The scientist, of course, sees his own field as the paramount source of data for a solution, but fails to note that there are no such thing as an unbiased observer and the process of interpreting science has a number of subjective aspects.


It seems to me, at least from within a Christian worldview, the questions of origins actually affect two disciplines, one is that of the systematic theologian, who draws from Biblical theology, historical theology, exegetical works, philosophy, etc., and puts forward a statement of how the world came to be and how it fits into God’s economy. Someone who is an Evangelical should at the least make sure this fits within the basic boundaries of orthodoxy, a good test of which are the five fundamentals of the faith. Thus, for example, the moment someone claims the Bible is not infallible, we no longer have a Christian theory to work from.  My argument last time, discussing not that we should weaken our position, but that we should be kinder and more careful about the rhetoric we use when we discuss the issue of origins is primarily based on the way we handle the systematic theological aspect.

A second issue, however, is that of apologetics. Apologetics is a very large field, and like Biblical studies, it requires a great deal of knowledge about a number of different fields, although many apologists, like Lewis have a specialty in some area. Apologists discuss origins from a different angle. A theologian is ultimately interested in the question of which sub-school is correct, an apologist is more interested in the atheist who argues God is unnecessary because of natural selection, and therefore does not exist. There is a danger here, just as theological liberalism developed from Friedrich Schleiermacher and others trying to synthesize Christianity with anti-supernaturalism, it is possible to move into areas that are compromise,[1] but it also means that the apologist must confront different issues from the systematic theologian.[2]   Therefore, I propose a different way of crossing the division to remove systematic theological concerns from apologetics, and apologetics from systematic theological concerns.


Mere Evangelicalism

Lewis, in his seminal work, Mere Christianity, which is one of the most influential works outside of the Bible on Christianity, suggested that his goal was not to argue for a specific branch of Christianity. Rather he argued his book was a like a hallway between rooms, and the various rooms were differing denominations and understanding of the faith. While I am unabashedly an Evangelical, I think this makes good sense. While we may, from time to time, defend the trinity with an unbeliever, we do not require someone to be able to write out a theological definition of the trinity before they come to Christ. Nor do we believe someone must understand someone must take a stand on Calvinism and Arminianism—at least not most of us, C H Spurgeon being an eminent exception. Similarly, the apologists concern is not that someone accepts a specific approach to the questions of Genesis, this is something where the complexities of the discussion can be absorbed, to the degree of their ability, as they grown in Him.

Secondarily, as I noted before, I don’t debate inerrancy with an unbeliever, it simply makes no sense. The belief that the Bible contains no errors in faith or no errors in any matter is an important point of Christian theology and frankly, a necessary point for a believer to cross. However, our view of the Bible in theology is itself a conclusion of our belief that the Christian religion is true, we do not believe the Christian religion is true because we believe in the infallibility of the Bible. Therefore, as I’ve noted for some time, I instead want to focus on the reliability of the Bible for apologetics not it’s epistemic and theological character. The latter is important in dealing with heretical forms of Christianity or for answering questions of life and godliness, but to the unbeliever it is as nonsensical as explaining green to someone that has never been able to see.

In apologetics, then, I prefer an intelligent design approach for apologetics rather than discussing a specific theory of origins. While we may need to deal with arguments against Genesis (and we should answer them forthrightly as they come up), the unbeliever will scoff at Genesis not because it is false, but because his understanding is limited to the naturalistic worldview. Jesus did not argue with the woman at the well about where they should worship, He instead shifted the discussion upwards, with unbelievers; the discussions of cosmic fine tuning, for example, are prior to any discussion of biological origins because the universal constants must be in a very narrow band for life to exist at all, micro-biologists such as Behe have noted structures that are not consistent with neo-darwinian evolution, and if evolution were true, it cannot provide an answer to the nature of man (since evolution cannot explain why we like art and literature, our ability to make reliable grounds-consequence statements of belief, nor our moral beliefs). In effect, the goal is to jump over the modern logjam to the questions they do not have an answer for.

[1] Before someone thinks I am going back on my statements in Mea Culpa let me phrase it this way, there is a difference between one who argues there is no error in Genesis, but we have misunderstood it because of errors in translations or because of some point of grammatical phenomenon (ie Genesis does not err, but our interpretation has), and someone who argues that there is a scientific or historical error in the text.

[2]It is true that a theologian may serve as an apologist, and an apologists may do theology, but of course, all this means is that there focus must shift