Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Why Bother?

"Why do I bother? Why are the apologetic arguments I bring not more effective? I am tired of repeating the same arguments until even to me they become less compelling and I wonder if there might be a better way, a more effective way? I still believe fervently but if these "proofs" are so compelling why don’t more respond in faith? Are there, perhaps, better arguments for the truths of God?" We are often asked for a key text to use in witnessing. When we say it isn’t as simple as that people readily acknowledge it – but they still want that "killer" text that would bring a non-believer to God.

The Atheist

There is nothing wrong with the proofs we faithfully bring. The problem is the people to whom we bring them. Take the atheist. You can run through a gamut of proofs for the existence of God and seem not to have chipped the surface of their scepticism. You can argue that since everything changes, and that change is always effected by a prior cause, there must be an unchanging first cause - God. That since the evidence in the universe for design is overwhelming there must be a designer – God. You can argue from the fact that while nature is not self-knowing yet man knows himself and knows nature. The intelligence by which we can "know" is the product of a higher intelligence – God. You can share all these things and more but to no effect because of the nature of the atheist.

The atheist has a vested interest in the non-existence of God. It suits him to live in a universe where God does not exist and he is top of the tree. The Bible says of such "They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator" (Ro.1:25). If the created order is the greatest expression of glory, and man is at the top of that order, man is glorified. But Paul goes on to write that it is the Creator "who is forever praised". The atheist cannot have this.

The Jehovah’s Witness

Take the typical Jehovah’s Witness. You can point out that Rev.3:14 means that Jesus is the Architect of creation and not the first to be created. That in John 20:28 Jesus is glad that Thomas called him "my Lord, and my God". You can show that in John 5:16-23 Jesus is "making himself equal with God", claims to be our judge, demanding equal honour with the Father. You can share all these things but apparently to no effect because of the nature of the Jehovah’s Witness. Paul warned the Colossians:

"See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ." (Col.2:8)

The typical cult panders to the pride of man by replacing the truth of Christ with human tradition and philosophy which man can master. This gives man control over man with special knowledge, exclusive access to truth, and censure over all who do not obediently follow. Paul goes on, "you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the Head over every power and authority" (Col.2:10). All we need is supplied in Christ but the cultist cannot give up control and submit to Christ.

The Mormon

Take the average Mormon. You can show from Ro.3:21-27 that "a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law", and their attempts to be "saved by obedience" (Mormon 3rd Article of Faith) are fruitless. That when Christ died "the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom" (Matt.27:51), and that "through him we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand" (Ro.5:2). That their temple programme is rebuilding what Christ fulfilled and replaced. You can show that God has declared "before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me…You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one" (Isaiah 43:10;44:8). That their notion that "As man is God once was, as God is man may become" is folly. You can show these things and yet not shake their faith.

The Mormon religion replaces Christ’s truth with man’s philosophy. Man’s pride insists that he can at least contribute to his own salvation. Man’s bent to mysteries, secrets and control makes Mormon temples and their initiatory nature very attractive. Furthermore, Mormonism is only a recent incarnation of the oldest heresy in the world:

"You will not surely die…For God knows that when you eat of it (partake of this knowledge, submit to this way and participate in this initiation) your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:4-5).

Man is in open rebellion against God and, whether it is the open denial of the atheist, or the religious deception of the counterfeit, it is all the same to God.

Then why DO we bother?

We have said that you cannot reason someone into becoming a Christian and that:

"Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Eph.6:10).

However, apologetics is an essential teaching tool. It helps us remove some of the obstacles to faith. Each witnessing event plants a seed, and who knows how many Christians reasoned from scripture and from life before someone was ready to hear? When people are ready to hear the gospel they, like the Ethiopian in Acts 8, will be full of questions and expecting answers. Who knows what God will use to affirm His truth in the heart of another? When someone comes to faith we can help them understand the "reason to believe" we share. The Christian walk leads us to fresh questions, from the cry of the jailer in Acts 16, "What must I do to be saved!" to the question of the eunuch, "Why shouldn’t I be baptised?" to the questions of the disciples – what does this parable mean?

Conviction and conversion are gifts from God not simply logical positions we arrive at by reason. Therefore we need to pray in the Spirit on all occasions. They are miracles, and they need to be to overcome man’s fallen, rebellious nature. However, God’s creation and purposes are reasoned and intelligent, even if not intelligible to those who deny him. God’s ways are perfect and he has made them known. They are marvellous, not magical; miraculous, not incredible; intelligent, not implausible. Those of us who have had them revealed are responsible for making them known. One solidly biblical way of doing this is by a reasoned defence of the truth.

Josh Moody, Pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, Newhaven, CT wrote:

Apologetics is what people do when they reason for the truth of Christianity. There are three approaches to apologetics. Some advance ‘evidences’ for Christianity. Others engage with people’s beliefs or ‘worldviews’ and attempt to expose their inconsistency in comparison to the coherance of the Christian worldview. And still others think that any kind of apologetics is compromise with worldly reason and should be avoided.

We may have some sympathy with all three approaches. Our world’s reason does sometimes smack too much of human pride. Why should God be held to the bar of our finite minds? Yet we dare not suggest that God is irrational. There is evidence for Christianity. There is coherence to the Christian worldview. Our particular contribution to reasoning for the truth of Christianity is twofold.

First it is to demonstrate the normality of ‘faith-reason’. God asks us to believe him for the same sort of reasons that we ask people to trust us.

Second, it is to establish the significance of the concept of Christian revelation. This historical revelation of God in Christ stands above all other claims to religious revelations. The twofold contribution may lead to the formation of ‘revelation apologetics’, a reasoning from faith on the basis of revelation, a distinctly scriptural approach to engagement with the world.

(Authentic Spirituality, Josh Moody)

Sounds about right to me.

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