Saturday, September 18, 2004

I Was Wrong - Apologetics is Important

When I was in Seminary, I hated apologetics. For those who don't know apologetics is the "defense of the faith" discipline. Apologetics is where we defend the authority of the biblical documents and their authorship. Apologetics gets into usually gathering evidence to make a case for faith. Josh McDowell is an apologist.

I hated apologetics because I just never met people on the street who questioned my faith, they just did not want to become Christians because of either shame and guilt or because they wanted to keep partying. I ministered when I was in seminary in homeless shelters and the streets. The questions people were asking in seminary in the 80's just seemed so irrelevant. In the 80's the attacks on the bible were more intellectual. The revisionists, those who create history from speculation and myth, were still in the liberal seminaries and their speculations and grassy knoll theories had yet to reach the street. The Christian seminaries were fighting the battle against the Oxfords and the Yales of the world (the revisionists) and I thought who cares about the elites.

For example, I was given a text to translate from 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 where Paul is comparing the courage of the Thessalonians to the church in Judea because the Thessalonians suffered persecution from their peers just like the Judean Christians did. Paul at the end of the paragraph says, "And wrath has come upon them "fully" or "to the uttermost" or "finally" or "at last". The last phrase is hard to translate in context. The key here is the "has come" tense. The big argument is 1) Thessalonians is a very early writing of Paul written probably about 50AD. BUT 2) He appears, to the liberals, to be talking about the destruction of Jerusalem. So the scholars say, the book was edited and this portion added later. But that is total speculation. It seems far more likely that Paul is talking about what actually was happening in Judea in the 50s which is a famine and persecution of the Jews or maybe we don't really know what Paul was saying here. My point back in seminary was, "Who is ever going to ask me this question? So why should I learn this? Teach me how to disciple not how to argue with the elites!!" I don't minister to the elites. I thought the exercise was irrelevant.

Just an aside: This question that the critics ask about this passage in 1 Thessalonians is actually pretty good. It is a hard question. And I realize in retrospect that it is important to learn the answer. Or for someone to learn the answer and teach us working folks how to answer questions like this in a balanced and thoughtful way with all the facts in hand.

Well, lo and behold, the seminary grads from Yale and the like became high school Social Science teachers or journalists in the 90's and their myths are now part of the fabric of the American Civil religion. I was wrong. Apologetics is important.

For me it has been 15 years since I have asked these kinds of questions and now I am confronted with all sorts of revisionist speculations from folk "on the street" and you really have to know your stuff. I really don't that well. I always figured that answering the "Jesus seminar types" was someone else’s job. But then KCET got Bill Moyers and we now have very strange approaches like “the Da Vinci code” type speculations.
Now, I think this particular example that I was given in seminary is a very obscure one and hasn’t made its way into American Civil religion. Much more common attacks are:
Moses never existed or is a big myth.
The bible is full of contradiction.
The bible was written long after the early church as revisionist history itself.
Paul didn’t write the Pauline literature
John didn’t write John
etc etc etc

Here is the real problem. Guys like me don’t have real good answers. I was praying for the sick and worshiping God for the last 15 years and all the while the world was going to hell in a hand basket.

Answering attacks on the Bible and attacks on the church takes some research.

This reminds me of Rathergate. Rather makes a fraudulent attack on the President. He pulls the wool over the eyes of the ignorant. AND to the rescue come “researchers”. Otherwise known as Geeks. I need some geeks to come and do apologetics for our cause. I simply do not have the time. We know the truth: we live it everyday but people are being deceived and they don’t know any better. So the moral to the story is Geeks have a place in the church too.

We need apologists. I never thought we did. What a fool I have been in this regard.


DennisS said...

While I agree we need apologists, I certainly don't think it necessary for every pastor to be good at this.

"Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence" (1Peter 3:14b-16a).

It seems more appropriate to bring the question around to why you have hope, admitting that there are some details that you don't have a corner upon. Perhaps recommend a resource where the answer might be, and let the person search for themselves. They may find answers to questions they hadn't even thought to ask, and be drawn to God.

I also think of Luke 4, with the devil tempting Jesus to prove himself, and then with the people of his hometown being upset when he refuses to perform miracles for them. To some extent a logical answer is not going to satisfy those with questions.

Are the questions generally tests of you, or of God? If the test is for you, then why not respond with why you believe. If God is the one on trial, then I would want to be careful about responding with an answer. It seems better to respond with questions of the questioner to dig deeper as to what they believe and why.

I like your blog, and have been checking it out at least weekly. Thank you for the thoughtful topics, and for being authentic in your posts.

Anonymous said...

How many times was this article revised before it was published, how many times after it was published? One never knows, nor do you know, how often the bible was revised to fit the religious dogma of the day. two thousand years ago and in an age were most Americans can't even go back three generations on their own family tree. You believe what you want to believe, you believe that which fits your world view.

I thought the Da Vinci code was fact! Apparently millions of other people do too. Many more will think this after the movie is made. Apologetics is important if your faith is to survive.

passthebread said...

In respoonse to anonymous,
Anonymous is being sarcastic. I agree. Not the brightest people will beleive every little theory out there. Like the thousands of revisions theories or the Da Vinci code theories. I do not think to the thinking person or to the honest seeker, truth is so hard to come by. The problem is I do not have the time to do the research BUT I DO NEED TO KNOW GOOD FACTUAL ANSWERS TO EVERYONES PET THEORIES. Theories that they use to protect themselves from change and moral responsibility.

So anyone in Southern California who wants to do the following:
1. Do reasearch on the history of the DaVinci code type theories and show how bogus they are.
2. Do a basic study on the New Testament Documents quaetions.

Then teach me. So I can be more informed.