Doing Apologetics “within” the Church

wolf in sheepGuest Post by Jeff Mindler

[Jeff graduated from Lancaster Bible College in 2014 with a B.A. in Biblical Studies, as well as an M.A. in Counseling. He currently works as the Event Coordinator for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals in Lancaster, PA. His wife, Joe’l, and he worship at Grace Baptist Church of Millersville in Millersville, PA where they both serve as members. He enjoys studying several different disciplines including Biblical Studies, Systematic Theology, Apologetics, Church History, and Practical Theology, while having a keen and passionate love for Apologetics and Systematic Theology in particular.]

“Doing apologetics within the Church” – this statement may sound strange at first, particularly to the reader who says, “I thought apologetics was done with unbelievers or those of differing religions?” While that is certainly true that we are called to practice apologetics to those of differing religions and unbelievers, there is another setting in which apologetics is to take place and that is within the Church. That’s right; apologetics is also to be done in the body of Christ. What do I mean by this? Read on, it’s in here.

To help us understand this topic, perhaps it is best to give a Biblical example of defending the faith within the Church, but before I do so, allow me to briefly define what apologetics is. Biblical apologetics is at its most basic level a defense of the Christian faith, giving a reason for the hope that is within us, just as Peter instructed in 1 Peter 3:15. This in its most basic form is what apologetics is. Now, let us consider the book of Jude, in which we see an example of defending the faith within the Church. Jude 1:3 states, “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”

This is one of the classic passages on practicing apologetics. Jude is directly commanding the Church to do apologetics, but to whom are we to contend for the faith in this passage? The very next verse Jude addresses the reason why we are to contend for the faith. Verse 4 states, “For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” It is interesting to note, then, that the purpose and intent of this book is an encouragement to do apologetics. Scott Oliphant makes an astute observation on this point when he writes, “Jude writes to a church, or group of churches, to help them defend themselves against a specific attack on the gospel, an attack that is taking place within the church itself.” [1]

While these people are not exactly identified, Jude does give us many useful descriptions of these people, saying that they have “crept in unnoticed.” This is something we should take seriously today and must recognize the deceptiveness of sin, we should be on high alert for those who are amongst us but nevertheless pervert the grace of God. Jude also describes these people as those who “pervert the grace of our God” and “deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” These people are false teachers to the core. This is why we must defend the faith within the Church, to protect the body of Christ from false teachers who would pervert the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jude’s exhortations to defend the faith against those inside the Church who would attempt to pervert the Gospel is an exhortation to believers everywhere to stand firm and to fight the good fight for the faith once for all delivered to us. With this exhortation, we are to wage a battle, to practice apologetics not only to unbelievers outside of the Church, but also to those inside the Church. In the process we seek to apply biblical truth to unbelief, including the unbelief within our own hearts. An example of this is found in Titus 1:9 where Titus outlines one of the duties of an elder. Titus writes, “9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sounddoctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”

To rebuke those who contradict sound doctrine is to engage in apologetics, the defending of the faith against those who would seek to undermine it. Elders must be ready to engage in apologetics and to lead others in the defending of their faith as well, and by so doing, they will protect those in the congregation against others who would seek to teach what does not accord with sound doctrine.

May we as the Church be strengthened daily, may we continue to preach the Gospel to ourselves every day, and may we engage in battle against unbelief while doing so with gentleness and respect. And finally, may our prayer continue to be “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).

 

1.         Oliphint, K.S., The Battle Belongs to the Lord: The Power of Scripture for Defending Our Faith. 2003: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Company

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Distinguishing between Academic and Practical Apologetics (and Why You Should Start with the Practical)

PracticalThe distinction between academic and practical is not a formal one recognized by most people, but there is a definite difference between apologetics that is designed for an academic environment and that which is focused on engaging people in a one-on-one conversation about the gospel.

Academic apologetics refers to arguments for the Christian faith using high-level disciplines such as philosophy, science, history, linguistics, and more. Debates between scholars using reasoning that is beyond the average person’s grasp are helpful for demonstrating that Christianity can stand up to any legitimate challenges raised against it. Some of the best academic apologists in the world today include philosophers, Bible scholars, and theologians, such as William Lane Craig, J. P. Moreland, Paul Copan, Alvin Plantinga, Dan Wallace, Scott Oliphint, Vern Poythress, Vince Vitale, Richard Bauckham, Simon Gathercole, Peter Williams, and Darrell Bock, to name a few. These and others are wonderful gifts to the church by pursuing expertise in fields of study that few Christians have the opportunity to pursue. They are able to contend with the top critical scholars in the world and demonstrate the rationality of the Christian faith.

What we might call practical apologetics is rooted in all the knowledge and wisdom of academic apologetics, but is focused on the practical application of these truths to real life encounters with unbelievers. References to philosophy and science beyond the basics are avoided to keep the average Christian from despairing that defending and sharing the faith is beyond their ability. Practical apologetics provides simple strategies that can be easily learned and implemented in conversations about the gospel. It does not discourage growth in learning or challenging topics, but it is designed for the average Christian to witness about Christ effectively to the average unbeliever. Sometimes a Christian might encounter a particularly well-read skeptic or faithful adherent of a religion. In this case, the resources of academic apologetics are available to deal with the more difficult challenges. But the truth is, encountering someone like this is the exception rather than the rule in most places.

The reason we need more focus on the practical is that one of the major problems with apologetics in our day is a lack of actual engagement with unbelievers face-to-face. That is, many Christians study apologetics while not actually ever attempting to share the gospel with anyone. They go to conferences and read books and watch videos, and even debate with others online. Yet, when it comes to approaching real live people with the gospel, they are all talk and no action. They accumulate ever more knowledge without using it, and as a result, they often grow arrogant and puffed up. They tend to talk only with other like-minded people and consider unbelievers to be stupid for not believing. They lose their love for the lost and instead regard them with disdain. They are like the Dead Sea, constantly taking in, but never giving out. As a result, they are lifeless and cold to the sake of the gospel.

Part of the problem lies with the fact that academic apologetics is mistaken as the way everyone should defend the Christian faith. Debates and conferences at universities, however are staged events, pitting two people against one another. They are not a good model for evangelism at all. There is no attempt to show the love of Christ (usually), because that is not the purpose of them. They are necessarily combative. The participants have to plead their case to the audience, not one another. So, while these events are immensely valuable, they are not the way we should engage unbelievers with the gospel.

Practical apologetics, by contrast, teaches that we are to love the other person (Rom. 9:1-3), show genuine interest in them, treat them with gentleness and respect (1 Pet. 3:15), and take verbal abuse from them if need be (1 Pet. 2:15; 3:16). We should not see unbelievers as enemies, but as lost souls needing a Savior, just as we did before we were saved by Christ. Therefore, even in our contending for the truth with them, refuting lies, correcting misunderstandings, exposing suppression of the truth, and reasoning with them, we do it in a Christlike, loving fashion, urging them to repent and believe.

Practical apologetics ought to be emphasized more in the church for two reasons. First, if we will begin to engage unbelievers in actual conversations about the gospel, it will compel us to grow in our knowledge of the Christian faith and how to defend and share it. And this desire will arise with an eye to engaging the lost, and not merely accumulating knowledge. Second, while interest in apologetics has grown in recent years, attention on the strategy of using this accumulated knowledge has been lacking. We know more about the reasons why we believe truth of the Christian faith than perhaps we used to, but we don’t know how to communicate it effectively. This has resulted in many confrontational strategies that often feel to the unbeliever like being accosted on the street by a stranger. When such a thing happens to the average person, their only thought is to get away as quickly as possible.

An emphasis on practical apologetics, however, equips the average Christian with a  methodology that encourages conversation and that feels natural to the average person. It is rooted in the advanced truths of academic apologetics, and sometimes utilizes those resources, but it is more so rooted in Scripture itself. As we see time and time again, our primary source of effective gospel witness is Scripture, not philosophy, science, or other academic disciplines, as helpful as they may be.

The Importance of Questions when Sharing the Gospel

Two beautiful young women holding cup of coffee and talking to eApologetics is too often taught as an approach of confrontation–which it is–but a confrontation of monologue, instead of socratic dialogue. This rarely works with an unconcerned or uninterested unbeliever. Start giving your spiel, your pre-packaged sales pitch of “Have you ever lied, stolen, or coveted,” and watch their eyes glaze over. Maybe not every person, but increasingly the norm.

The problem with this approach is that it does not begin where your conversation partner is, because you haven’t taken the time to discover what his opposition to the gospel is yet. There are a thousand ways to suppress the truth, so we don’t know how a particular person is doing that until we take the time to ask questions in a way that encourages conversation. This is especially true of unbelievers that show no concern or interest in the gospel.

Os Guinness speaks to the importance of questions when engaging unbelievers with the gospel:

[I]n our age most people are untroubled rather than unreached, unconcerned rather than unconvinced, and they need questions as much as answers–or questions that raise questions that require answers that prompt people to become genuine seekers…The goal is to use questions to raise questions, and so to puncture whatever are the walls of indifference, and to do so in a style and language that speaks to the person we are engaging with.

By asking questions we move from having to create interest by force of personality or some gimmick to showing genuine interest in the person and engaging the root of their resistance to God.

Christians have won an insufferable  reputation as always dispensing answers, even when no one has a question. Raise questions well, and we will be known for the searching questions we raise, to which the good news can be looked to for the only satisfactory answers.

Os Guinness, Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion (IVP, 2015), 124-5.

We Can Learn a Great Deal about Suffering from the Puritans

spilled milk

It’s not that we shouldn’t talk about our suffering, but we should stop expecting that we won’t have any and should also not dilute the term with our petty inconveniences. Carl Trueman explains:

First, the Puritans lived in a time before the discovery of antibiotics, analgesics and flush toilets.  Disease and pain and filth were thus part of everyday life.  A good day. a really good day, for a seventeenth century person would have involved something akin to a low-level fever which today would involve time off work.  A bad day would be… Well, best not to dwell on that if you want to sleep at night.   Read Samuel Pepys’s account of his bladder stone operation if you are truly curious.

Second, with catastrophically high infant mortality rates, scarcely a family would have been untouched by something that today would be regarded as exceptional and horrific.  John Owen buried all eleven of his children.  Imagine that.  And in all his voluminous writings, he never mentions these tragedies even once…

But did they have a theology of suffering? Well, few of them dwelt on their suffering in their writings so not really, no.  Not explicitly so anyway.  But implicitly even this silence indicated that yes, they did have a theology of suffering.  It was a theology that denied cosmic significance to the pain and injustice which they personally endured.   They simply did not consider themselves or their experiences to be that important.

Read the whole thing here: Did the Puritans Understand Suffering?.

The nature of idolatry and worship

Image result for celebrity worship

Wow! Here is a piercing explanation of idolatry as a counterfeit to true worship:

At the heart of worship is a sense of ‘giving yourself away’ to another.  Key to worship then are the questions ‘To whom are you giving yourself away and in what manner are you giving yourself?’ Genuine worship is giving yourself to the living God in whom and for whom you ave been created.  Idolatry by contrast is substituting the true object of worship (God) for an imitation (idol) and reorienting the relationship from worship to possession.  One who worships the living God does not possess him for one’s own purposes.  But those who create an idol seek to possess it for their own purpose….

 

An idol is desired as a means to an end, and the end is significance and security on the individual’s own terms.  Since significance and security cannot be fulfilled by the idol, the idol creates a deeper longing for significance and security for that which it cannot provide.  This results in a chasing after the idol, driven by the conviction that eventually the idol will somehow provide the promised significance and security.  The cycle repeats itself.  Longing provides the opportunity to chase, and chasing creates a deeper longing.  Effectively the idol possesses the one who fashioned it.  The yearning for significance and security that initiated the dynamic of idolatry has in fact led to a deeper dissatisfaction and a greater frustration – a dissatisfaction and frustration caused by the inability of the idol to fulfill that which it appeared to promise.

Richard Lints, Identity and Idolatry: The Image of God and Its Inversion (IVP, 2015)

From the Secular Viewpoint, Nothing You Do Will Ever Matter

collapsing universeThomas Nagel, NYU Professor:

Even if you produce a great work of literature which continues to be read thousands of years from now, eventually the solar system will cool or the universe will wind down and collapse and all trace of your effort will vanish…The problem is that although there are justifications for most things big and small that we do within life, none of these explanations explain the point of your life as a whole…It wouldn’t matter if you had never existed. And after you have gone out of existence, it won’t matter that you did exist.

Thomas Nagel, What Does It All Mean?, 96.

How to Answer a Fool

Guest Post by Jeff Mindler

Proverbs 26:4-5 reads, “4Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.”

This, in its simplest form, is the two step procedure of the apologetic task. While engaging in dialogue with someone and defending the faith, it is always helpful to have this verse in mind and to carry out this procedure with the unbeliever. To help us understand what this means and what it looks like, Greg Bahnsen states,

“Here he [Solomon] is instructing you to temporarily stand on the presuppositions of the unbeliever, not as a matter of neutrality and compromise, not as endorsing his worldview procedures. Rather, he does so in order for you to show the unbeliever the vanity of attempting to explain the world and life from his own perspective. You must let him know that you are taking his position only momentarily, just “for the sake of argument.”

This is a critical element to remember at this point, we are not surrendering our ultimate authority of Scripture in this step, but merely answering the unbeliever according to their own worldview temporarily. We do not assume neutrality at this point but we do want to show the unbeliever where his own worldview leads according to its own tenets. Bahnsen continues,

“In this step you will be showing the unbeliever that on his own autonomous presuppositions he cannot justify reality, knowledge, logic, morality, value, meaning, purpose – or anything. You want to show him the outcome of his worldview when his principles are fully followed out. Thus, Solomon allows that you may, “answer a fool according to his folly” – so that the fool will see the error of his being “wise in his own eyes” (Prov 26:5b). If you adopt the unbelievers procedures as your actual apologetic, he will suppose himself to have the correct position. Whereas, if you only theoretically adopt his presuppositions in order to demonstrate his error, then you are being faithful to the biblical model of apologetics.” [1]

Thus, this is our apologetic task and our procedure in answering objections to the christian faith and we do this with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). If we keep this two step procedure in mind while engaging with unbelievers, we will be well on our way in giving a defense for the hope that is within us and by so doing, God will be glorified, and this after all, is our goal in faithful apologetics. Soli Deo Gloria!

[1] Bahnsen, Greg. Pushing the Antithesis. 163

Asking Worldview Questions

Guest post by Jeff Mindler

 

 

 

 

 

Worldviews are everywhere; we simply cannot avoid them. James Anderson states this regarding worldviews, “Your worldview represents your most fundamental beliefs and assumptions about the universe you inhabit. It reflects how you would answer all the “big questions” of human existence, the fundamental questions we ask about life, the universe, and everything.” When one considers what a worldview is, the importance of knowing and identifying them in the apologetic encounter becomes clear, but the question arises: how do we identify a worldview?

James Anderson provides an excellent resource on just this very issue, knowing what questions to ask in order to discover a person’s worldview, in his work What’s Your Worldview? What is unique about this work is that it follows a type of “choose your own adventure” format wherein the reader is provided with several questions and based upon how they answer are prompted to advance to a certain page until they reach a conclusion, that being a particular worldview. The worldview they reach is the logical conclusion to how they have answered various questions about knowledge, reality, truth, goodness, religion, and God. By asking these types of questions we can quickly uncover what a particular person believes about the world and thus what they believe about God, the Bible, Jesus Christ, and the gospel and can thus focus on specific areas where the gospel and the claims of Christ need to be brought to bear.

Anderson also provides a brief analysis of each worldview and then proceeds to critique and expose the weakness’ of any worldview opposed to Christianity. For example, if a person reaches the relativistic worldview they will be met with a brief overview of what the worldview is and then challenged to reconsider a few things in light of its flaws, namely that relativism is self-defeating. It is impossible to be a consistent relativist, just consider the statement, “There is no objective truth.” Is that claim itself objectively true? If so, one can see how the position collapses upon itself based upon the contradiction of saying there is no objective truth but stating it as if it was an objective statement of truth. I believe Anderson’s work provides a helpful tool and resource for any level of apologist as a means to think about careful questions to ask unbelievers and to get them to reconsider what they believe and why they believe it.

Christian Worship Doesn’t Just Teach Us How to Think; It Teaches Us How to Love

Hydraulic Pressure Gauges installed on Hydraulic Equipment

To be conformed to the image of his Son is not only to think God’s thoughts after him but to desire what God desires. That requires the recalibration of our heart-habits and the recapturing of our imagination, which happens when God’s Word becomes the orienting center of our social imaginary, shaping our very perception of things before we even think about them.

James K. A. Smith, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit (Brazos, 2016), 85.

Our Emotionalism Has Left Many Christians Intellectually Defenseless

I’m saddened that atheists are so passionate about what they believe that they will read stacks of books in order to define their beliefs, while we are happy to float along the surface with a “Hillsong-deep theology” and call it good. And we wonder why people are leaving the Church in droves.

Read it all here: The Tragedy of Dumbing Down Christianity