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    Entries in apologetics (6)

    Friday
    Feb202015

    Apologetics is for Everyone

    Now notice the assumption in the charter that apologetics is for everyone. It is for everyone precisely because it simply calls upon a very natural human ability that we each have--reason. We are to submit that ability to God, so that he might fill it with his Spirit and use it as he uses all of our other natural abilities.

    - Dallas Willard, The Allure of Gentleness: Defending the Faith in the Manner of Jesus, 33

    As a Christian discipline, apologetics is the work of offering a defense of the faith. Dallas Willard is one of my favorite apologists. And he believes every Christian is called to the work of apologetics.

    Willard's approach differs from the common notion of apologetics, without devaluing those presenting logical arguments concerning science, ethics, the reliability of the Bible, or other such matters.

    Willard argues strongly for the context of apologetics being that of a remarkable life that raises questions in need of answering, whether immediately or over the course of years. Willard writes, "I wish many of my colleagues in the work of apologetics would emblazon [these words] on their forehead: 'With Gentleness and Reverence.'" Willard is quoting 1 Peter 3:15-16, a bedrock text for apologetics.

    So often, Christians conclude that the work of apologetics is restricted to the specialist. But Willard says no, it is for every Christian, and it can be done by every Christian. Loving God heart, soul, strength, and mind are possible. Jesus commanded us to do so. He does not command anything he will not assist us in attaining by his grace. Therefore, for those who will become his students, Jesus will help us love God with our minds.

    Have you ever wondered how you love God with your mind? You do it by focusing your mind on him and by submitting all of your powers of mind to him so that he might use them. We use our mind to think seriously about the message he has given us in scripture and in creation, and we teach others to do the same; that's how we love him with our mind.

    Willard writes, "Apologetics is not a contest of any kind, with winners and losers. It is a loving service. It is the finding of answers to strengthen faith."

    Such an apologetics is rooted in the eternal kind of life Jesus has made possible. It is an apologetics of kingdom citizenry, established in an unshakeable hope. More answers are there for the offering, for those who are spokespersons for Christ.

    Apologetics goes beyond the technical. It begins in the everyday. In the grocery line. Mopping floors. Preparing a meal. Having a conversation.

    Apologetics is for everyone.

    Saturday
    Sep132014

    Book Review: Geisler and McCoy's The Atheist's Fatal Flaw

    There is more than one way to refute an argument.

    One way is to argue directly against the assertion, showing it to be wrongheaded.

    But another way is to uncover the weak points and expose fallacies. One such approach is to expose internal inconsistencies, thus rendering the argument self-refuting.

    Norman Geisler and Daniel McCoy use this strategy in establishing the truth of Christianity in their book The Atheist's Fatal Flaw (BakerBooks, 2014). Geisler and McCoy do their very best to outline arguments against theism as they are presented by atheists such as Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Dan Barker, and Christopher Hitchens, quoting from primary sources. Then, through the application of logic, Geisler and McCoy expose problems and impart confidence to those seeking to defend the credibility of Christian claims concerning reality. While this book is technically written, Geisler and McCoy are clear and accessible for those seeking to engage in conversation with skeptics on faith, doubt, and the space between. My familiarity with the classical arguments for theism and for Christian belief, along with my reading of the intellectuals Geisler and McCoy set out to refute, helped my comprehension and enjoyment of this book. But I'd recommend this book to those just getting started with apologetics, as well. The subject matter is broad, and the presentation fresh.

    Regarding the progression within this work, Geisler and McCoy address the problem of moral evil, human autonomy and freedom, submission to the divine will and corresponding favor, death, guilt, divine punishment or pardon, and eternal destinies. They then raise specific inconsistencies, and offer an appeal for open inquiry concerning Christian truth claims as Christians present them at their best, rather than as weakened or distorted versions of Christian theology. In each chapter, Geisler and McCoy demonstrate that the atheist's primary objection is not the issue raised, but rather the notion of God in and of itself. Atheists have no problem with morality, nor with naming certain actions as definitively evil. Rather, they have objections to a God would might set conditions to allow evils to occur, or who is a final arbiter concerning morality. They have no objections to restraint of human autonomy and the limiting of freedom, so long as a divine person has not decreed it so. The primary objection, as noted by Geisler and McCoy in each chapter, is to God.

    Christians should be skilled in presenting the reasons for what they believe. This requires familiarity with basic arguments against theism, and ready answers that clear away rubble and roadblocks that obscure the pathway to belief. I will keep this volume at the ready on my shelves, and review it from time to time. This is a helpful book, and will have great value to any Christian apologist.

    Note: I received this book in exchange for a review.

    Wednesday
    Jan222014

    The Question is Not Whether We Live the Spiritual Life.

    Photo by Stefano G.

    The question, rather, is if we live it well.

    Thomas Merton once wrote, "The spiritual life is first of all a life. It is not merely something to be known and studied, it is to be lived."

    In secular cultures, spirituality remains an active concept that nonreligious persons refuse to discard. But spirituality, as concept, remains undefined and contested. It has become an antonym to religion or religiosity. It has become something that, if a person remains open to the supernatural, compels and is thought to enrich one's life. But in the absence of strong traditions, combined with the presence of pluralism, it is the work of bricolage. We piece it together for ourselves with whatever we have on hand.

    For those who spurn religion, who decry the church, or who dismiss Christianity, there is still the matter of spirituality. The spiritual person is an explorer; they are seeking answers, and have found some truths they believe worth sharing. In my conversations with spiritual seekers, I have found that spirituality is a place to begin. The question for these people is not whether we live the spiritual life--it is whether that life is lived well. This is fertile ground for conversation.

    If, like me, you are a Christian, you may ask a spiritual person what it would mean to live the spiritual life--or life--well. You may ask these questions:

    • What are your key beliefs that guide your daily life?
    • What are the sources of authority that guide your decisions and practices?
    • Who are the examples that you follow?
    • What are the teachings that you rely upon?
    • How do those teachings hang together?
    • What questions are your presently considering?
    • What answers have been slow in coming?

    When you ask these questions, truly listen. As a Christian, you might consider these questions:

    • Might there be better answers found in the person of Jesus, in his life and teachings? 
    • Might those who have followed Christ through the ages provide us with examples of remarkable lives, without which belief in God might not make much sense? 
    • What might Jesus have to teach us about living life with God well that might be counterintuitive, but compelling? 
    • How does Christ expose our faults and correct our steps?
    • What questions is this person asking that Christianity addresses?
    • How does Jesus lead us to become someone that not only does good, but is good?

    If given the opportunity, you might offer ways Christianity addresses questions about what it means to be human, our purpose on earth, or how one lives a virtuous life (don't assume too much here--I think an essential aspect of life in Christ is the confession that a virtuous life cannot be lived apart from renovation and redemption by Christ himself). Explore the differences, but do so in a way that is gentle and respectful. Speak truth, even if it might stand in opposition to your conversation partner's perspective. Be ready for sparring. Trust God will be present with you in conversation.

    I am someone who believes that Christianity has content that is definable, even while it is debateable. It is a tradition, one that rests on certain claims about ultimate reality. Christians believe our world was created by God, and that human beings are dignified creatures, made in God's image. Despite this, we believe that something has gone amiss in our world. Sin and brokenness are very real--all is not as it should be. We believe that God has revealed his character and purposes through the formation of a people, Israel. We center our life on the person of Jesus, born of Mary--a Jew. He is the Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah, and we trust in him for salvation. Jesus accomplished victory over sin on the cross. He was vindicated by God in his resurrection. We believe those in Christ receive the Holy Spirit. We believe that in him we have been incorporated as part of the family of God, the church. We believe the Old and New Testament scriptures are inspired and authoritative, that God's people are marked in baptism. We celebrate his meal. We believe Christ will one day come again, judge the earth, renew creation, establish justice, and heal the nations. And we believe, and debate, many other things besides. Those claims within Christianity I believe that are absolute are some of the very same claims that enable me to enter the debate--love of neighbor, the dignity of all human beings, the finitude of my own mind, the power of forgiveness, the hope of reconciliation, and a confidence that God is the God of truth.

    But much of the preceding paragraph is a confession, or a summary of knowledge which may or may not lead to a spiritual life well lived. If a spiritual life is to be lived well, we need more than knowledge. We need conversion. We need outside help. We need the transformation only God can render, which Christians believes comes through faith in Christ. We need a comprehensive grammar, a verbal and nonverbal language of love, an individual and communal expression of life in Christ.

    Merton, again, is instructive:

    Spiritual life is not mental life. It is not thought alone. Nor is it, of course, a life of sensation, a life of feeling--"feeling" and experiencing the things of the Spirit, and the things of God. Nor does the spiritual life exclude thought and feeling. It needs both...If man is to live, he must be all alive, body, soul, mind, heart, spirit. Everything must be elevated and transformed by the action of God, in love and faith.

    The true spiritual life, then, one that is lived well, is one in which the whole person has been renewed by God. That life comes through Jesus Christ, who not only demonstrated and revealed this kind of life, but who continues to make it possible by the gift of his grace. For those in Christ, the greatest witnesses to the gift of the spiritual life, lived well, are those that have been transformed by his love, and trained as his disciples. Our apologetic and our witness is not only excellent when accomplishing the transmission of spiritual knowledge. It is not only accomplished through shared experiences of spiritual sentiment and emotion.

    It is done best as revelation, life lived, fully alive.

    Such a life is a grace, the gift of God.

    Friday
    Nov222013

    Remembering Clive Staples Lewis

    Photo by Shelly Lynn Williams

    While today the nation memorializes President John F. Kennedy on the 50th anniversary of his assassination, many evangelicals remember the death of another notable figure: C. S. Lewis. The writings of C. S. Lewis have been helpful for my journey as a Christian, not because of the overall power of Lewis's arguments in his apologetical works, but because of the extension of friendship to intellectuals through the gift of his imaginative prose.

    In his books, essays, and sermons, Lewis made himself available as a willing conversation partner to those thinking critically about matters of faith and ultimate meaning. I first read Lewis's Mere Christianity as a high school student in East Texas. The underpinnings of some of his arguments were lost on me as I read them, considering the original lectures that served as source material for the book were delivered as radio addresses during World War II. But his tone differed from my peers and classmates who identified as Christians, and Lewis occasionally offered a smooth and penetrating turn of phrase on the nature of morality or the substance of the Christian life that was stirring and inspiring. Lewis helped point me toward a more robust and compelling articulation of the Christian faith that was logically cogent and emotionally compelling. He spoke of God's love for us in way that I not only found reasonable, but that I wanted to be true.

    Evangelicalism would do well to cultivate more apologists who speak and write in like manner to Lewis.  But the combination of historical factors as well as Lewis's personal biography are unrepeatable (as with all our stories), and made for an uncommon forging of character. As I think is always true, evangelicalism is not searching for another Lewis, but a unique voice that rings out with clarity for our own time. There might be echoes of other great apologists and theologians from ages past, but the distinctives arising from context are what fosters connection and results in persuasion. We want voices that speak to us now, even as they transmit eternal truth.

    Lewis fought in and survived the World War I, read widely from the classics, and lectured for the bulk of his career as a university professor in a rapidly changing world. Lewis was a literary scholar, who spoke publicly on matters of theology as an admitted layman. And this, I believe, is what made Lewis accessible and appealing to a broad audience. Lewis possessed depth and sophistication but strove for clarity and simplicity in presentation, and understood that for truth to be grasped it must not only be seen as sound, but helpful. Christianity was presented by Lewis as not only intelligible, but attractive.

    Here are few other other perspectives on Lewis:

    All worthwhile reading.

    As a bonus, a few weeks ago I completed Alister McGrath's biographical work, C. S. Lewis - A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet, and found it readable and enjoyable. Check it out.

    Feel free to leave your thoughts on the life and legacy of Lewis, the impact he may have had on your own journey, or his works that have made a mark on you personally. I'd love to read your reflections.

    Tuesday
    Aug102010

    Book Review :: Beyond Opinion by Ravi Zacharias (et al.)

    I have great appreciation for those in the Christian community who endeavor to provide reasonable arguments for Christianity.  Ravi Zacharias has long served as one of those people, and his book Beyond Opinion: Living the Faith We Defend is yet another resource Christian people can utilize to better understand and discuss Christian convictions.  I am thankful for this book.

    My interest in apologetics has surprised me.  Why?  Likely because my experience as a Christian has included few instances where intellectual arguments have been deployed successfully to remove barriers to Christian faith.  This does not mean that there have not been occasions where well reasoned arguments have proved useful.  But on the whole, other factors have been at play when seeing someone come to faith.

    However, as my life has progressed I have found an increasing need to present not only an existential reason for embracing Christianity but also an intellectually satisfying account of why Christianity might be true.  The Christian tradition does possess answers to life's greatest questions.  As I read Beyond Opinion, I found myself evaluating this resource on the basis of several criteria.  Are the essays convincing?  Are the arguments sound?  Can I anticipate the direction the author will take, and can I provide reasonable counterarguments?  Do I think that this essay, as it is written, could be helpful to a Christian person or leader seeking to make an intelligible case for Christian faith?  And, lastly, do the arguments presented apply narrowly to a specific context, or do they lead the conversation partners on to stable ground upon which understanding can be achieved regardless of economic, political, theological, or cultural location?  I'm looking for resources that can equip the reader to serve as a gentle, mature, and sophisticated apologist for the Christian faith.  And while this will require that the reader be formed as a person of Christian character before picking up this book, it is my desire to find and recommend resources that will help reinforce such formation, rather than understanding the task of apologetics as serving the ultimate goal of "winning" or "defeating" someone with an opposing viewpoint.

    Zacharias and his team meet these criteria.  The essays in this collection address specific concerns stemming from postmodern and youth culture, engage challenges presented by the problem of evil, atheism, Islam, and science, and provides an approach to apologetics that stresses conversation, genuine care for the dialogue partner, and philosophical and cultural sophistication that takes in to account context and world view.  In the final section of this book, Zacharias and his team also provide theological underpinnings for apologetics, including a robust view of the Trinity, as well as encouragement for those that endure doubt, persecution, and spiritual struggle while seeking to provide a truthful witness to Christ.  The book concludes with an essay from Zacharias on the role of the church in apologetics, which may have been my favorite.  I appreciate that Zacharias believes the church should not only be a place of emotional satisfaction, encouragement, and healing, but should be a center of intellectual vibrancy in matters of both doctrine and thinking rightly about the world.

    While I do believe this is an excellent resource, and one that touches a number of important and critical issues for apologetics, I did find one significant shortcoming.  In my lifetime I have spent a great deal of time working with children and youth, and while Zacharias and his team present arguments that proceed from sound logic, I wondered from time to time if the approach taken here would adequately connect with those of the upcoming generation.  I sense a need among those in younger generations for not only sound, water tight arguments to life's greatest questions, but also a sense of how those answers can help one to script a life that is adventuresome and true to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  In other words, I think the essays could be strengthened by presenting answers in ways that inspire the imagination and ignite possibilities for the future.  That may have been beyond the scope of Zacharias's project, however, moving forward I believe there will be a great need for approaches to apologetics that not only provides answers, but that inspires action.

    I'd recommend this book for the clarity of prose, the diversity of topics that are addressed, and the simple reason that I've encountered few collections that are better.  More work needs to be done in this area, but this book is a solid start.

    DISCLAIMER: I received this book as a participant in the Thomas Nelson BookSneeze program, meaning, I got it for free in exchange for a review. If I love the book, I will say so. If I hate it, I will say so. Free is nice. But programs like this give books away for free to generate conversation, and I'm glad to help generate some buzz.