Raise a voice. Fly a flag. Sign a petition. March. Behold, the rise of the modern apologetics movement.
These days it’s easy to learn to address issues on suffering, science, philosophy and history.
We convince others our minds are far more open than they think. Before long we have answers to everything others could throw at us. We become liberal. Progressive. Un-fundamental. Our “smart” friends no longer see us as fools, and your Christian brethren thank God for giving you life.
But while faith ought to be earnest and rigorous, apologetics sometimes distracts us from faith’s other elements. Regarding the art and science of apologetics, we need to get some things straight.
APOLOGETICS: DON’T SAY SORRY FOR THE SAKE OF IT
1. There will always be leaps of faith.
First up, regardless of worldview we’re all in the same boat. Perfect knowledge eludes even the most learned men, and the free-thinker isn’t quite free to think whatever he wants. But there are problems with what we do know as well.
I have found the majority of challenges from atheists and agnostics to be red herrings. They appear to be huge obstacles to belief – logical, moral or experiential – but when the dust settles, we find ourselves squabbling over the half-filled, half-empty glass.
Answers to red herrings are likely themselves red herrings.
We could spend ages debating with our friends if the Old Testament God is a “moral monster”, the compatibility between evolution and creationism, or the existence of man’s sinful nature.
We show that it’s expected (but not condoned) for Christians to be hypocrites, not all religions are the same, that the Bible is far more historical than a fairy tale, and our faith is more empirical than a giant spaghetti monster.
But to what end?
While counter-argument is important, it’s insufficient. We need to move from the concept of defence to ultimate reality, and express it in common vernacular.
The right language means we should not claim proof or absolute proof for our doctrine. That said, evidence exists: Jesus rising from the dead. The rapid expansion of the early church against all odds. Most of us subscribe to some form of morality and human rights. Most of us trust our own rationality.
Such evidence must be weighed and discussed without appealing to authority (eg “the Bible says”), because even authority is relative. My authority may not be yours.
While counter-argument is important, it’s insufficient. We need to move from the concept of defence to ultimate reality.
Throw aside the red herrings and we’ll likely conclude: Regardless of evidence, any worldview requires a leap of faith.
The metaphysical claims of Christianity must be taken by faith. It is not blind faith, though, because we trust the historical account of Jesus – recorded in text and alive in the Church. Jesus and the apostles gave authority to much of the Old testament.
If we trust Jesus, we ought to trust in His teachings too. That said, we ought to know a little about how the Bible was put together before we start quoting “blindly” from it.
When we share our faith, we need to present Christianity alongside other worldviews. Challenge all, weigh the evidence, and see where conviction takes you. Ask for the mind of Christ, because indecision is not an option. You might end up with an unpopular choice, but philosophically, your conscience is clear (Acts 23:1, Romans 9:1).
2. Don’t just defend. Pursue, dig and build.
Our pursuit of God cannot be purely intellectual; without experiential relevance, faith itself becomes a red herring.
Not simply the burning bushes and parted seas that compel some to belief, but also the experience of God in the everyday: Answered prayer, favour, peace and hope. The strength to love the unlovable and compassion for those who are different, victory over bondage and habitual sin, healing from brokenness, life transformation.
If your experience of God is regular and life-changing, your testimony grows.
Seek Him in the quietness of our devotions, and intentionally bring Him into every sphere of our lives: The thrills and the mundane, the success and the shame, the joy and the pain. It’s relationship; two-way communication. Acknowledge the gift of every breath and consecrate your entire life for His glory. From the onset, discipline is required. But when conviction grows, passion flows naturally.
If your experience of God is regular and life-changing, your testimony grows.
Share it with others, but don’t wear a mask. Telling people to be good testimonies suggests that the reality of our faith lies in our will. We might perform “not to stumble others”, but revert to old ways in solitude.
We might fall into the trap of hypocrisy, where we act independently from our inner condition. We might start to believe God’s sovereignty subject to ours, as we will ourselves to outward transformation. Do not lose the major battles by throwing all your troops to the small skirmishes.
Pursuit must always precede performance. The journey isn’t always easy, but with God we are never alone. Don’t be distracted by the red herring. Fix your eyes on Him.
3. If you must defend, defend the right things.
We chase the final red herring when we fight the wrong battles.
Throughout history, churches split over what was seen as irreconcilable differences in Christology, doctrine (such as the canon, salvation, hell), and authority. As with any democratic process, majority wins. Large groups tussle for the “apostolic legacy”, while small groups are labelled heretic and jettisoned from communion.
While this looks like bad testimony, it really isn’t. In fact, it might even suggest the contrary. Misplaced zeal is often a distortion of noble conviction. We find this in the Crusades and other atrocities committed in the name of faith, and our personal sin.
I’m not affirming these flawed representations of real faith. But the sober realisation is that good wine often hides within old wineskins.
These days the church is still seen as a political force, albeit a weakened one. Its voice, once having authority to dictate morality and declare war, now seems like the nagging swansong of conservative fundamentalism in an ocean of liberal, progressive thought.
People are eager to stamp on dying embers, while well-meaning Christians try to preserve the institution.
Unfortunately, it’s frustrating to figure out a messier-than-ideal faith intertwined with power and politics. How do you choose which of two fundamentally flawed candidates to support? Sometimes the weight feels all too heavy.
Society often moves contrary to Biblical morality whether we like it or not, and it’s disputable if a Christian ought to fight for every political decision in civil society.
BEWARE THE RED HERRING
The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you. (Luke 17:20-21)
Maybe you can’t see it. Perhaps the journey is hard not because you’re on the wrong track, but the right one. Don’t exhaust yourself in search of mythical red fishes. Look around and you’ll find an ocean of real fish. This is your arena.
Forget the red herring; be a fisher of men.
Ultimately God doesn’t need defence. Neither does truth. Only defend your hope. Only hold fast to Word and Presence. Let go of the weight that hinders and run hard after God’s heart. Forget the red herring; be a fisher of men.
In our quest we plough history, Scripture and the natural world for a glimpse of the Almighty. We plough in faith that we’ll one day know Him as we are fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12).
Our redemptive apologetic should simply be to make Him known – not win every argument, legalise our morals, defend our reputation, get everyone into church or elect the next “Christian” president.
Above all, run with truth and love. By His grace, the red fish shall no longer distract us.