Why Does Opposition to Apologetics Come From Mostly Within the Church?

Apologetics is a branch of Christian theology that helps give reasons for the truthfulness of the Christian faith/worldview. The word “Apologia” means “to give reasons, make a legal defense” (Acts 26:2; 2 Tim. 4:16; 1 Pet 3:15). The apostles approach to spreading the message of the Gospel is characterized by such terms as “apologeomai/apologia” which means “to give reasons, make a legal defense” (Acts 26:2; 2 Tim. 4:16; 1 Pet 3:15); “dialegomai” which means “to reason, speak boldly” (Acts 17:2; 17; 18:4; 19:8), “peíthō” which means to persuade, argue persuasively” (Acts 18:4; 19:8), and “bebaioō ” which means “to confirm, establish,” (Phil 1:7; Heb. 2:3). [1]

Over the years, I have the privilege to collaborate with many others who are involved in the apologetic endeavor. One thing is for sure: Most of the opposition to apologetics comes from within the Church itself. But why is this? After all, though Jesus didn’t run around calling Himself an apologist, he did offer reasons and evidence for His Messiahship. As I just said, Paul and the apostles did apologetics on several occasions. I have written about more about here. Recently, I sent an email out to several ministry leaders about the need for apologetics in the local congregation.  Keep in mind, the list had about 100 people on it. I did get one response which led to a radio interviewRobin Schumacher discusses a story about his friend who sent a similar letter to ministry leaders.

So having said all this, let me offer some reasons as to why there is so much opposition in the Church itself:

Ignorance about apologetics in the Bible: I have taught on many occasions where we see apologetics in the Bible. In many cases, Christians have never read the Bible apologetically.

Seminaries: Sure, pastors and ministry leaders are taught to exegete the text. That’s important. But in the end, they probably go to a seminary that doesn’t even offer a class on apologetics. This makes no sense. So they end up doing a lot to equip the people to know and study the Bible correctly. But is it not true that most if not all of our churches start with a set of presuppositions that a fairly large part of our culture rejects?  We can keep training pastors how to exegete the text. But what good does it do to train people to exegete the Bible when the average person doesn’t think that there is a God who can provide a written revelation about his plans and purposes for humanity? Furthermore, how do we know the Bible is the correct revelation? What about other religious texts? I write more on that here.  

The Impact of Postmodernism and Emergent Church: Space precludes me from going deeper on this topic. Paul Copan has two concise articles on the topic here and here. But I run across many false dichotomies in the Church such as the following:

  • The Orthodoxy/Orthopraxy divide: This plays out in the following sayings: “We spend too much time on orthodoxy (right belief). Hence, what really matters is our orthopraxy (right practice).” This is a false dichotomy. After all, it is true a Christian needs to be loving, caring, and feed the poor and show good works. But can’t a Mormon, a Jew, or a Buddhist display good works as well? Sorry but the truth question can’t be left behind.
  • Propositional Truth vs Personal Truth:  The saying goes like this: “Truth is in a person (i.e., Jesus), and is not based on a set of propositions.” Once again, there doesn’t need to be a dichotomy here. Personal and propositional revelation work together! Hence, this gets really old.

Faith vs Reason:  The majority of the culture thinks the word “faith” is something that is just a private and subjective belief that is not grounded in any kind of knowledge.  The problem is that this is the way many Christians define faith as well. My question is the following: How many pastors and ministry leaders teach on  what the Bible teaches about faith? We could use a lot more sermons/teachings on this topic. When I ask my fellow Christians why they think Christianity is true, the average response I get is “It is true because I have faith.” So if this is the case, what would you say if a Muslim or Mormon said they know Islam or Mormonism is true because they have faith? I guess that makes Islam or Mormonism true! Case closed! To read more on this, see our post called Why So Many People Misunderstand the Word “Faith”

Christians Being Spoon Fed By Their Pastors: Many Christians won’t take the initiative to learn anything unless their pastor tells them to. This is tragic and shows the problem with the clergy/laity divide. See the article Laypeople and the Mission of God, part 1 — Killing the Clergy-Laity Caste System. I was recently asked by a Christian how to get an apologetics programs started in their Church. They were shocked to learn how many resources are out there.

Christians are not sharing their faith: I think this is one of the largest obstacles to apologetics in the Church. I recently taught a class on religious pluralism. I asked people to raise their hand as to how many times they have been asked “How can you say Jesus is the only way to God?” Out of 40 people, two people raised their hand. I was baffled by this one. I assumed everyone had heard this objection. Hence, if people aren’t sharing the Gospel, they aren’t getting challenged!

Let me close by saying this: We are here to help. I know myself and others love the people of God and desire to see our fellow brethren equipped to engage the culture around us. I am not saying apologetics is all that matters. It is ONE BRICK in our foundation. I hope ministry leaders will see the need for this brick in the local congregation.  If you are looking for a basic resource as to how to get apologetics into your church, see here: Sources: 1. Garrett J. Deweese, Doing Philosophy as a Christian (Downers Grove, ILL: IVP Publishers, 2012), 78-79. Note: This post first appeared on the ThinkApologetics Blog

Breaking Down the ‘We’re all Atheists’ Objection

Introduction 

Several months ago, I went to a local “religious freedom” rally here in Fredericksburg. The rally was commemorating Thomas Jefferson’s Religious Freedom amendment, with a parade from downtown to the Religious Freedom monument and included a host of speakers. The keynote speaker was William J. Murray, the son of the late Madalyn Murray O’Hair. Marching in the parade there were a handful of groups, including a local Musim group and three humanist/atheist groups seeking a presence here in “the Burg.”

After the event, I made my way over to the representatives from the local Coalition of Reason and struck up a conversation with a man by the name of “Glen.” Glen was a  representative for the Fredericksburg Coalition of Reason, who was more than happy to share why he became an atheist from Methodism in the 70′s.  All it took was my question on where reason came from, and we were off and rolling for the next 40-45 minutes on a street corner overshadowed by a church.

He had a lot of “pet arguments” for why people of faith were delusional, but it was a favorite atheist “gauntlet” which surfaced during our conversation that I would like to share in this post. Many of us are familiar with the statement from atheists: “We’re all atheists, we just go one ‘god’ further than you.”  What I would like to do is give a response to this objection, knowing that there may be other ways to do so. My hopes to show how this “gauntlet” is really a distraction from getting to the real issues on one’s rejection of the Judeo Christian God.

What about atheism and theism?

Whenever we find ourselves in a conversation with one professing to be an atheist, it is important clarify terms like faith, and in this case the definition of atheism. According to the break down of the word atheism, the “a” is an alpha privative denoting negation, or meaning “no.”  Put the alpha (“a)  of negation with the word, “theos” meaning God or god, and you have the formal definition of atheism. So the word “atheism” (no God/gods) is the belief that denies the existence of God or a supernatural being.[1] There is nothing new here for many of us.

We cannot stop here though. The word, “God” is often misconstrued in conversations with atheists as well. Many atheists think of “God” being a cosmic gum ball  machine, or an old man sitting up in the clouds ready to punish or reward for our bad or good deeds or even something else. If God were any of these, I would not believe in that kind of God either. So when we talk about God, we are talking about the God who exists as being, the personal, transcendent, moral,  timeless (eternal), immaterial or spaceless, Uncaused First Cause and Designer of the universe.

A theist is one who believes in the existence of God. Of course there are different kinds of theists, who  believe differently about the nature and the existence of God. Allow me a quick illustration using monotheism.

Theists who believe in the God of the Bible (Yahweh) could be called ‘Christian theists’ or  ‘Jewish  theists.’ However Islamic monotheism is different in that the Muslim believes that “God” (Allah) is personal, transcendent, timeless, and the one who is the First uncaused Cause of the universe. Islamic mono-theism is different from Judeo Christian monotheism in the understanding of how “God” interacts and intervenes with the creation. With reference to God’s interaction with His creation, Christian theism is providential, where Islamic monotheism is fatalistic (kismet). Space does not allow me to elaborate on this further you can read a post on my blog for more information.

Atheists redefine atheism by saying “we’re all atheists”

Atheism over the years has gotten some “bad press,” especially before 9/11, so some atheists have tried to redefine or defang the meaning of “atheism,” calling it a “lack of belief.” So the statement is a smoke screen for the real definition and “a card” for seeking an unfair  advantage in a conversation with a person of faith. But it is not a very good “card” to play. Why?

Since the atheist does not believe in the God of the Bible, the God of Islam or any of the deities of the polytheistic and pantheistic religions, the statement made by the atheist, thatwe’re all atheists,” seeks to put the theistic person of faith in the same position of belief as the atheist. The atheist follows this up with, “we’re just an atheist to one more God than you.” This “one more God” is the Judeo Christian God of the Bible.

But in their faulty attempt to level the playing field, it is really becomes a dishonest and shifty tactic that is easily dissectible.

Let me see if I can do clean job in dissecting it for us.  There are some pretty good reasons for what makes a coherent worldview. Those reasons give a clear understanding for rejecting the other religions’ views, including atheism. Just because there are good reasons for not believing  religion x, that does not make be an atheist to religion x. Why? Because the reasons for believing religion x prove to be inconsistent logically, metaphysically, and existentially, as well as biblically.

Now applying this, as a Christian theist, I don’t believe in the nature and interpretation of Islam’s “Allah” but that does not make me an atheist. There are some major differences between the God of the Bible and the Islamic interpretation of God. There is also a different understanding of the God of the Bible, opposed to the understanding of the pantheon of over 300 million deities in Hinduism, as well as the two major traditions of Buddhism.  Those understandings of God versus the other deities are worlds apart from each other. But just because they are different and I do not agree with them does not make me an atheist to them. Nor does it make me an atheist in the purest sense of the word.

So this statement made by the atheist is really a smokescreen that dissolves  when confronted with the truth. Those who follow one of those religions is based upon the fact that God has placed something in every person to seek truth in hopes that they will cry out to the true God and Creator. Speaking on quantitative terms here, all of the great world religions are merely a reflection of man not being able to find God, and that it is God who seeks us and shows us our need for Him. God in Christ is revealed not just the Bible, but also in history, evidenced by an empty grave.

Conclusion.

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned my atheistic conversant,”Glen.”  Glen and I spent an almost an hour in cordial conversation. When he “threw down” this objection that “we’re all atheists, and I am just atheistic to one more God than you.”  I cordially pointed to the weakness of his assertion. This opened the door for me to press him for the real reasons for why he was an atheist, and address his objections. At the end of the conversation we said our good byes, and shared information with the hopes of a future discussion at the local Starbucks or Blackstones.

Disbelieving in Allah, Brahman, Buddha, Shakti or any of the deities out there, does not make us atheistic to them. We would have to unwind the definition of “belief” if we wanted to go deeper into this subject. But Glen, like many atheists are “atheistic” to the Judeo Christian God. So when someone tries to press you or I with “we’re all atheists,” clear the smoke away from this gauntlet and press the unbeliever to the reasons why they deny the God of the Bible. Stay cordial and pray for them as you converse with them, and leave the results to our Lord.

Hopefully the impression you make with them in your cordiality and your knowledge about the truth of the Christian faith will put the stone in their shoe to further the conversation and quite possible see the truth and respond accordingly.

Note

[1] See the definition at the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy at http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/atheism-agnosticism/.

Review: Covenantal Apologetics: Principles and Practice in Defense of our Faith

With an increasingly hostile culture that preaches a message directly opposed to biblical Christianity, Christians need to be armed now more than ever with the knowledge of what they believe and how that knowledge impacts their lives. Many know a great deal about theology but yet don’t know how their theology should impact their life. Thus, the renewed focus on apologetics should be celebrated in the Church.

In Covenantal Apologetics: Principles and Practice in Defend of our Faith, Dr. K. Scott Oliphint argues that Biblical apologetics is Scripture driven, Christ-centered, Gospel-centric, and Holy Spirit empowered. His model of apologetics seeks to be rooted in solid biblical exegesis and application. “Covenantal Apologetics” is Oliphint’s revised term for Presuppositional Apologetics. It isn’t anything new but rather something founded upon the historic doctrines of the faith, something very biblical and glorifying to God. Those who have taken issue with Presuppositional Apologetics as a system should take note of the biblical and theological arguments Dr. Oliphint presents. Though his work is fresh in approach, it is firmly rooted in the long tradition of Reformed theology.

Oliphint begins his book with an exploration of what apologetics is about. The author states, “Christian apologetics is the application of truth to unbelief” (29). He also clearly outlines from the beginning what the overarching goal of apologetics is noting “We will not seek to knock down every argument, or even every main argument against Christianity” (29). Oliphint’s objective from the very outset will help the reader understand his comments as well as his overall goal thus eliminating any confusion as to the purpose of the discussion. He provides the root of his argument commenting “The point for the Christian and the point to stand on in a covenantal apologetic is that Christ’s lordship—which includes not only that he now reigns but also that he has spoken and that all owe him allegiance—is true for anyone and everyone. Christ is Lord even over his enemies and ours. And part of what this means is that the authority of Scripture, which is the verbal expression of Christ’s lordship, is authoritative even over those who reject it” (37). This statement is followed with a fundamental element of any apologetical argument, namely “The Bible is authoritative not because we accept it as such, but because it is the word of the risen Lord” (37).

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A Look at Acts 17: Can Apologists Follow Paul’s Example in Today’s Culture

When it comes to apologetics, Acts 17 has always been one of my favorite chapters of the Bible. I have used it in the attempt to motivate others to learn about apologetics which is the rational defense of the Christian faith. The question at hand is whether the culture is the same today as it was in Paul’s day. Also, does Paul’s approach work for Christians today?

First, a little background about Paul: The undisputed letters of Paul that can be used to give us an understanding about who he was and what his mission was are in Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. The rest of the letters yield very little about the life of Paul. From Paul’s Letters, we can gather that: 1. The man’s name was Paul: A Greek name. 2. He had a Jewish name, Saul. Remember, having two names was not uncommon for Jews who lived outside Palestine in the first century. 3. Paul was born in Tarsus, a city in Southwestern Asia Minor. 4. He came from a family of Pharisees of the tribe of Benjamin and was named for the tribe’s most illustrious member, King Saul. 5. Paul studied under the famous teacher Gamaliel (Acts 22: 3), the grandson of Hillel. Hillel is known as the Academy of Hillel, founded by a Jewish sage called Hillel the Elder. The House of Hillel was a school of Jewish law and thought that was very well known in the 1st century B.C.E. Jerusalem. 6. Since Paul’s letters show familiarity with rabbinic methods for interpretation of Scripture and popular Hellenistic philosophy to a degree, this makes it likely that he received a formal education in both areas. Hence, Paul’s exegesis of the Old Testament shows evidence of his rabbinic training. 7. Paul was probably, as an adult, a resident of Damascus.[1] 8. In many places, Paul discusses his Jewish identity. He says “ I am a Jew” (Acts 22;3) “I am a Pharisee” (Acts 23;6), and “I am a prisoner for the sake of the hope of Israel” (Acts 28:20). [Read more...]

Three Essentials for College Student Apologists

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Image credit: nikkibontv.com

Two days ago, I graduated from Amarillo College. It took me four years, but I finally reached a halfway point in my goal to get a B.A. in Mass Communication and a Masters in Apologetics. Over the past four years I’ve had some considerable ups and downs, but one constant that has been ever present is my love for apologetics and apologetics-related campus ministry.

Looking back at the past four years and the growth that took place in my life as an apologist, I felt compelled to write about three essential lessons I learned from my time at Amarillo College.  These points are not profound or deep, but I believe they are essential to the apologist on (and off) the college campus. I know they were for me.

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