Approaching Apologetics Like A Chess Match

Image courtesy of tigger11th at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of tigger11th at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Working in apologetics is not something that should be done carelessly. While no one can claim to be the perfect apologist, it is important that as we approach these discussions, we come to the table with a strategy for engagement. I do not know if any of you are chess players like I am, but as I was thinking about the way that we help those around us understand the rationality of the Christian worldview, there are many lessons that we can learn from one of the most heavily analyzed board games in world history.

I think that there is first a comparison in regards to the structure of the game itself. As you know, every chess piece has a different function, but all of them can be used to make a checkmate. One of my favorite checkmates was one where I pinned my opponent with two pawns and the king. I think that this points towards the fact that everyone can and should be involved in apologetics. We might not have all of the ability of William Lane Craig or Ravi Zacharias, but we can still be used by God for His glory. God can use whatever pieces He wants to; He is very good at using even the most unlikely people to do great things. All of us should have a reason for the hope that we have.

Next, when you approach a chess match, you know what you want to do. I know that when I play, I have a preferred strategy, and I always open the game the same way. In apologetics, you will also probably have your area of strength. We might be drawn to different topics. You could be interested in the resurrection of Jesus Christ or the historicity of the Bible. It is important to have these areas that we have extensive knowledge in and are comfortable with on a more substantial level.

An important consequence of having a specialty is that we are all different. We can strengthen the field as a whole by being strong in different areas. Since it is hard for any individual to become an expert in everything, we can work together based upon our own interests and specialties. However, you can only do that if you have specialties to begin with. [Read more...]

Articulating One’s Beliefs Can Be A Challenge

images-11Introduction.

Despite the fact of my not posting since the beginning of the month, I have not lost sight of the mission. Working with the people I work with, some of them being some of the most profane people that I have ever come across, I have not lost sight with how I am “wired” and the ministry mission. Even though where I am (on my job) during a good chunk of the week, I know the presence of the Lord and the conviction of His Holy Spirit, even while I “occupy Mordor” and pray for a change.

Thankfully I still do get to enjoy a day off during the week, and I am going to be protecting that day in the coming weeks for specific reasons, that I will not mention here. In spite of all the demands of my job, this week was a wonderful day off and allowed me to speak to a repair man for one of our appliances, and a handful of students at the Germanna campus.

What was the nature of these conversations? They were spiritual in nature, and I would like to share here some thoughts on what I learned about these conversations.

The Need for Articulating the Christian Faith

One of our appliances stopped working and we needed some outside assistance. Even though I was able to unstop a bathroom sink and our bathtub drain (thank you YouTube), I was not able to work this task.

The appliance repair company “rep” that came and assisted us is a Christian and attends a large local Baptist church regularly and adult Bible fellowship on a regular basis.  How did I know he was Christian?

Thankfully he shared that with my wife and me, by sharing the message on the back of his business card. When I asked him his understanding of his message, he started sharing with me a basic message of salvation and how Jesus died  for our sins on the cross. Of course I was happy to see him start there. However when I continued with him on his understanding at a deeper level, he started struggling. Why was there a struggle?

Allow me to share my concerns, as they are very similar ones that I am hearing in other conversations. [Read more...]

Youth, Popularity, and Apologetics

Students Love Answers More Than the Church Loves AnswersI was listening to J. Warner Wallace’s podcast recently, and it’s one I encourage all of you to listen to. He talked about presenting talks on apologetics and how youth get enthused about it. I started pondering then why that might be, and I’d like to share a suspicion I have on the matter.

I have written much on how the ancient world was an honor/shame culture where we’re a more individualistic one, but that does not mean that we are totally devoid of any idea of shame. Social status is everything to many a teenager. This is why so many of them buy clothes they might not care for and get into fads that they wouldn’t care for otherwise. They want to fit in with their peers and not be embarrassed. [Read more...]

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. [Read more...]

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/.