Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Ten Commandments of Apologetics--Part Six

This blog concludes my series on the “Ten Commandments of Apologetics,” adapted from my book, Engaging the Closed Minded. The last commandment, number ten, may well be the most important one of all. In my next blog, we'll look at “evolution’s five fundamental assumptions—are they scientific or philosophical?”

9.         Don’t Be Intimidated

Most non-Christians have little knowledge of the Bible, and few have read even a portion of it. They seldom ask difficult questions or need in-depth answers. In fact it’s best to keep our responses as simple and specific as possible.

In many cases, unbelievers are so ignorant of Christianity that they have a hard time even articulating their arguments—let alone offer any evidence for their beliefs. For example, when non-Christians claim the Bible is “full of contradictions” or “The Bible is unreliable because it’s been recopied so many times during the centuries,” they are seldom able—when asked—to point to one such alleged contradiction or to explain why the Bible is unreliable despite its history of transmission. (Apologists know it’s actually just the opposite. With thousands of ancient manuscripts to compare, scholars can pinpoint accurately what the original Bible documents said!)

This is not to say there are no astute non-Christians with sophisticated arguments. But most of the people Christians encounter are friends, relatives, co-workers, fellow students, and neighbors. Their criticisms are usually the product of anti-Christian sentiments that they absorb from the print media, TV and movies, secular colleges and high schools, and so on. More often than not, critics are merely parroting what they hear in popular culture. Seldom are their criticisms well-thought-out arguments.

If you do encounter questions you can’t answer, or arguments you can’t refute, admit it. Our responses to all challenges must be honest. Not having a response at the moment, however, is not the same as saying there is no response. Point this out. Assure the unbeliever that there is an answer to his challenge and that you will find it. This provides an opportunity to meet another time.

If you won’t be seeing that person again, research the answer anyway. Next time you’ll have a response, if the issue arises.

10.       Keep the Right Attitude:

Shortly after I began my apologetic ministry in the mid-eighties, two Mormon missionaries knocked on my door, and I invited them in. The discussion did not go well for them, and they asked if they could return with their “superior.” I agreed, and the four of us met about a week later. As the three were leaving the second time, one of them turned to me and said, “You know, you’re the nicest person we’ve ever talked to!”

People who know me well chuckle when they hear this story because I have a reputation for being rather blunt and outspoken. In other words, their flattering comment does not accurately reflect my normal behavior when engaged in, say, a lively discussion (as  C. S. Lewis put it) on “a tough bit of theology.”  In other words, I was being polite and respectful as any Christian should be when sharing with unbelievers. That’s how we’re supposed to behave.

But their comment brings to mind how rude and self-righteous Christians can be. One can only imagine how many stories cult evangelists can tell about unfriendly, belligerent Christians. Part of the reason for this, as I believe the late Dr. Walter Martin aptly put it, is because the average Christian can be tied up like a pretzel in about five minutes by the average cultist. When that happens, it’s not surprising that Christians become frustrated, angry, and vent with hostility. This is why all Christians should be trained in practical apologetics.

The lesson here is that being discourteous or rude does not create an environment that encourages the work of the Holy Spirit. I could have gotten frustrated, then angry, then argumentative, but that would only reinforce their conviction that Christianity is in error. When unbelievers get rude and defensive with us, don’t we assume it’s because they know they’re wrong and can’t admit it?

The primary apologetic text in the Bible is 1 Peter 3:15: “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense [Greek:  apologia] to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you , . . . ” Unfortunately, this is as far as some Christian apologists go. They leave out the equally important last part of the verse—and the one that creates an atmosphere where unbelievers willingly give us a fair hearing:  yet with gentleness and reverence (emphasis mine).

Critical thinking, persuasive reasoning, and objective facts are the tools of the trade in apologetics. And for a trained apologist, it’s not difficult to thwart arguments raised by non-Christians—even sophisticated challenges. But this does not automatically result in a conversion. We may win the argument, but the unbeliever can still remain far from submitting his or her life to Christ.  Good apologetics is convincing without being aggressive or belligerent.

So, how do we defend our faith with “gentleness and reverence?” The Apostle Paul gives us the answer:

Be wise in the way you act toward outsides; make the most of every opportunity. Let you conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone (Col 4:5-6).

And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to knowledge of the truth (2 Tim. 2:24-25).

By following this advice, Christian apologists will seem not only interested in sharing truth, but genuinely interested in the unbeliever as a person. Which we should be. (c)

Dan Story

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Ten Commandments of Apologetics--Part Five

8 - a.        Know What You Believe (Defensive Apologetics)

The Lord has charged us with the responsibility to evangelize the lost (Acts 1:8) and to defend our faith (1 Pet. 3:15; Jude 3). In order to do this, however, we must be able to do three things:

  1. We must understand and be able to explain orthodox biblical doctrine, especially the essentials of our faith (which revolve around the person and work of Jesus Christ). 
  2. We must be able to demonstrate these doctrines from Scripture—backup what we say the Bible teaches. This requires a consistent and systematic study of the Bible.
  3. We must be able to defend Christian truth-claims; that is, present rational and verifiable apologetic evidences whenever necessary.

This is defensive apologetics. It entails being prepared to answer the challenges and objections unbelievers raise with regard to Christianity, as a world and life view.

8 - b.        Know What Unbelievers Believe (Offensive Apologetics)

Whereas “defensive” apologetics is defending Christianity, “offensive” apologetics is challenging the unbelievers’ beliefs. This entails two steps. On the one hand, it is crucial that we know what an unbeliever believes. An analogy can be made with missions. Before a missionary goes into a foreign culture, he or she learns as much as they can about the culture: religious beliefs, the language, social customs, moral behaviors, religious and cultural taboos, and so on. Such insights help a missionary to discern the best way to initiate an evangelistic strategy.

In a similar fashion, Christian apologists must learn what unbelievers believe. This is especially necessary for apologists witnessing to non-Christian religions and Christian cults. The lesson here is to be prepared. Do your homework. Learn what you can about the religious and secular worldviews you are likely to encounter in the neighborhood, at work or school, and in social activities.

The second step is to apply an offensive apologetic tactic referred to as the “Socratic method.” It entails asking specific questions that puts the burden of proof on the unbelievers; challenges them to explain and justify their position on the issue at hand (e.g. “The Bible is unreliable because it’s been translated so many times over the centuries!” “Evolution is a fact of science!” “All religions are equal; they are just different paths to the same God!”). The idea is that once unbelievers conclude for themselves that their assumptions about Christianity (or perceptions about their own non-Christian worldview) cannot be substantiated, they will be more willing to seriously consider the Christian perspective. In a later blog, I will summarize how to employ the Socratic method—or you can read my book Engaging the Closed Minded, where I thoroughly describe this apologetic tactic. (c)

Dan Story

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Ten Commandments of Apologetics--Part Four

7.         Apply Evangelistic and Missionary Techniques

This means two things. First, as we saw in a previous blog, the ultimate goal of apologetics is evangelistic. The purpose is to bring a person as quickly and efficiently as possible to the point where her or she renounces their existing, non-Christian worldview and accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. In this sense, apologetics is “pre-evangelism.

Second, like all missionary work, apologetics involves seeking unbelievers on their own turf. In Romans 10:14-15 Paul writes:

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in?  And how can they believe in one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

And in verses 15:20-21 Paul adds:

It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. Rather, as it is written: “Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.”

Paul reminds us in these two passages that (1) unbelievers must hear and receive the Gospel before they can be saved, and (2) Christian evangelism (and apologetics as pre-evangelism) should seek new territory.

It’s up to Christians to bring unbelievers saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, wherever they are. Paul set the example. He sought Jews in the synagogues and Gentiles in the market place. He argued with the Greek philosophers before the Areopagus in pagan Athens (Acts 17). Indeed, Paul traveled much of the known world in his quest to share our Lord Jesus Christ.

In 1 Cor. 9:19-22, Paul provides guidelines on how an evangelist/ missionary/apologist interacts with unbelievers in order to get a fair hearing for the Gospel.

       Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jew I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself are not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law [Gentiles] I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.

In Acts 16:1-3 Paul puts this teaching into practice. In this instance Paul circumcised Timothy so that he would be accepted among the Jews—although Timothy was not obligated to be circumcised (also see Acts 21:17-26). Paul was willing to conform to Jewish ritual in order to witness to the Jews—as long as it didn’t compromise the Gospel or violate biblical principles.

Likewise, we too can be apologetic missionaries. Our neighborhoods, work places, and social clubs are fertile missionary fields. We can invite unbelievers to church, home Bible studies, and into our homes. Like Paul, we can leave our comfort zone and seek unbelievers in “new territory.” This may include door-to-door or street corner evangelism, college classrooms, New Age fairs, and “open forum” Bible studies designated specifically for unbelievers, such as used by Search Ministries.

Our goal in all cases is to present the Christian worldview by responding to misconceptions about Christianity, by answering tough questions, and by demonstrating the relevance of Christianity in a post-Christian world. As Francis Schaeffer said, “Apologetics should not be merely an academic subject, a new kind of scholasticism. It should be thought out and practiced in the rough and tumble of living contact with the present generation (The God Who Is There). In sum, apologetics, as a species of evangelism and missionary work, means that we seek opportunities to share the Gospel and to defend our faith, as Paul says, “In season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2).  (c)

Dan Story

(The full presentation of the Ten Commandments of Apologetics can be found in my book, Engaging the Closed Minded—Kregel Publications).

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Ten Commandments of Apologetics--Part Three

This blog focuses on the sixth “commandment” for doing good apologetics.

6.         Avoid Distractions:  Apologists encounter two varieties of distractions.

Lifestyle:  Unless the unbeliever makes it an issue, don’t get distracted by a person’s lifestyle. Apologetics deals with intellectual obstacles, not moral issues. That a man or woman are living together out of wedlock should not prevent us from sharing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Nor should we let it interfere with an apologetic discussion.

I was once discussing this particular point in a class when one of my students raised her hand and asked, “I have a relative who is a homosexual. Every time I witness to him, we eventually come to this issue, and I just can’t get beyond it. What do I do?”

My answer was to go around it. God will deal with moral issues once a person sees their need to become a Christian. It is the Holy Spirit who convicts people of sin (John 16:8). He will show unbelievers' those areas in their lives that need to be changed—and then empower them to make the necessary changes—once He calls them into the family of Christ.

Sanctification is a process that begins after we’re saved—it’s not a requirement before we’re saved. A past life of sin is not an obstacle to faith, but our condemnation and threats of divine punishment can be. Jesus came to heal the “sick” (sinners) not the healthy (Mark 2:17). One would not need Christ if he or she weren’t a sinner.

Peripheral Issues:  The second distraction to avoid when engaging in apologetic discussions is peripheral issues—issues that are not apologetic in nature or do not further the cause of evangelism. Some unbelievers like to argue just for the sake of arguing and are unwilling to critically examine the decisive issues: Who is Jesus Christ? Is salvation only through Him? Is the Bible true? These people characteristically interrupt, change the subject, wander off on ridiculous rabbit trails, or ask a question but won’t let you answer it before they jump to another question.

A favorite tactic is to argue over some inane matter that has nothing to do with whether Christianity is true or not, such as the death penalty. Christians involved in cult evangelism frequently encounter this ploy. In order to avoid discussing relevant issues, many cultists prefer to argue over soul sleep, blood atonement, or some other irrelevant dogma.

How do we respond to these individuals? By controlling the conversation. Keep them on tract by constantly returning to the issue at hand. Try to move the conversation to “who is Jesus Christ.” Point out that you are willing to listen to them, but they in turn must give you the same respectful attention—or there is no use continuing the discussion. Insist they let you respond to one issue before they raise another one. If they try to dominant the conversation, point out that a conversation is two-sided or it’s a lecture. Again, control the conversation.

Next week we’ll see how to apply evangelistic and missionary techniques in apologetic encounters.  I develop all ten “commandments” more fully in my book, Engaging the Closed Minded. By the way, if you would like to receive automatic notices of blog postings, click on “subscribe” at the bottom of my blog page. I’ve been told that Foxfire works better than Google when using links. (c)

Dan Story

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Ten Commandments of Apologetics—Part Two

In my last blog, I presented the first three of my “Ten Commandments” of apologetics. In this blog we’ll look at the next two. Altogether, they lay out the “dos” and “don’ts” of effective apologetic evangelism.  If you would like a fuller description of the commandments,  see my book Engaging the Closed Minded; Presenting Your Faith to the Confirmed Unbeliever (Kregel Publications, 1999).

4.         There is more latitude in apologetics than theology:  The intent of apologetics is to provide intelligent responses that demonstrate what unbelievers think are insurmountable obstacles to Christianity have rational, justifiable explanations. But apologetics is not theology. When a challenging issue arises, we are not obligated to give the definitive theological answer, or even our own personal position on the topic. We must give answers that are theological legitimate and will bear up under biblical scrutiny. If these conditions are met, apologetic responses that avoid dogmatic theological positions are an acceptable means of lovingly removing obstacles that prevent unbelievers from seriously considering Christianity.

Two examples come to mind: the age of the earth and eternal fate of people who never had an opportunity to hear the Gospel message. Christians can legitimately disagree on both these issues, but one’s personal theological position may not be the best apologetic response. Sticking exclusively to a young earth creation model causes some apologists to omit convincing Intelligent Design data because it implies an old earth.  There is nothing wrong with using big bang cosmology or the anthropic principle when doing apologetics, regardless of the age of the earth. 

Likewise, there are at least three views on the fate of people who never heard of Jesus (or lived before His incarnation). One can argue that these people are destined to eternal separation from God, or one can point out that God may well judge them according to the “light” they have received and how they responded to it (i.e. general revelation). Even if you believe the former—and many Christians do—the latter will get you further in terms of removing this particular obstacle to belief in Jesus Christ. By the way, I explore both these topics in my book, The Christian Combat Manual; Helps for Defending your Faith; A Handbook for Practical Apologetics .

5.         Find out the real problem:  Sometimes unbelievers will raise issues against Christianity that do not mirror their real concerns. It may be a person feels more comfortable discussing a popular argument, such as alleged contradictions in Scripture, rather than what’s really bothering him. Or perhaps the real issue is not apologetic in nature at all. A bad experience in church has turned many people away from Christianity.

Whatever the issue, Christian apologists must identify it and respond accordingly. Sometimes we may have to deal with peripheral concerns or non-apologetic matters before we can discover the real obstacle to faith.

Objections to Christianity fall into one of three categories: emotional, willful, or intellectual. Emotional issues, such as anger at God or a bad experience with church or an individual Christian, are not solved through apologetics. These people need to have personal friendships with mature, committed Christians. They need to experience Christian love and observe real Christian faith in action.

What about people who willfully reject Christianity in spite of hearing the Gospel and our best apologetic efforts? These people have made a commitment to unbelief. Their minds are made up, and they don’t want be bothered with the facts. Normally, the best we can do in these cases is to try to maintain an ongoing friendship, and continue to pray that God will open their hearts and minds to truth—and provide us with further opportunities to share.

Finally, to the person with genuine intellectual obstacles, we apply apologetics.

The point of this 5th “commandment” is that if we fail to identify the unbeliever’s real issue, or apply the wrong approach, we will never convince him or her that Christianity is true. It’s crucial that we identify whatever the obstacle is that stands between an unbeliever and faith in Jesus Christ, and then deal with it through Gospel, apologetics, or law. (Law is helping someone to see that they could never be good enough to enter Heaven on their own merits. Jesus applied law with the rich young ruler). (c)

In my next blog, we’ll look at more of the Ten Commandments of Apologetics.
Dan Story