For those of us that are involved in the apologetic endeavor, we are always trying to come up with new strategies for how to get apologetics into the local congregation. We all know it can be a challenge to get our local pastors and ministry leaders to see the urgency for apologetic training. I am convinced that the leadership of the local congregation sets the tone for the people. So I would like to list some of the hindrances and obstacles that we face in attempting to implement apologetics into the local congregations:
It is important to remember that asking questions about what you believe is not necessarily the same thing as doubt. For example, when I was a new Christian, I had all kinds of questions. And I still have questions to this day. Asking questions is a part of spiritual growth.
Let’s look at a more technical definition of doubt. Daniel L. Aiken says:
“It is possible to have questions (or doubts) about persons, propositions, or objects. Doubt has been deemed a valuable element in honest, rational inquiry. It prevents us from reaching hasty conclusions or making commitments to unreliable and untrustworthy sources. A suspension of judgment until sufficient inquiry is made and adequate evidence is presented is judged to be admirable. In this light, doubt is not an enemy of faith. This seems to be the attitude of the Bereans in Acts 17:11. Questioning or doubting motivates us to search further and deeper in an understanding of faith. However, doubt in Scripture can be seen to be characteristic of both believers and unbelievers. In believers it is usually a weakness of faith, a wavering in the face of God’s promises. In the unbeliever doubt is virtually synonymous with unbelief. Scripture, as would be expected, does not look at doubt philosophically or epistemologically. Doubt is viewed practically and spiritually as it relates to our trust in the Lord. For this reason, doubt is not deemed as valuable or commendable.”- Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary, pg. 186
In many cases, our congregations don’t welcome questions. Doubt an be viewed as a sin which leads me to my next point.
Many confuse apologetics as something that will take the place of faith. In other words, if we offer reasons and evidence, God won’t be happy with us because what He can only be pleased by faith (Heb. 11:6). In response, as I have said elsewhere, the Hebrews text is quoted out of context. Furthermore, 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). -Garrett J. Deweese, Doing Philosophy as a Christian (Downers Grove, ILL: IVP Publishers, 2012), 78-79.
Also, in the Bible, the object of faith is sometimes described as resting in God Himself (Gen 15:6; Rom 4:24). Even in the New Testament, Jesus confirms this issue (Mark 11:22). And even as God is the object of faith, the author of the Gospel of John directs his audience to Jesus as being the object of faith as well (John 20:31). But let’s look at Acts 17:1-4: “Paul went into the synagogue reasoning and giving evidence that the Messiah had to suffer and rise again from the dead.”
Just stop and ask yourself this question: What if someone had stopped Paul and said, “Paul, you can’t go into the synagogue and reason with them. After all, they need faith.” I think Paul was more than aware that they needed to have faith. However, he knew that they were going to have objections to Jesus being the Jewish Messiah. He needed to be able to respond to their objections. Likewise, if someone came to me and said they were having a hard time trusting in the credibility of Christianity because of the unreliability of the New Testament, I wouldn’t say, “Just have faith.” Instead, I would give them solid reasons for the trustworthiness of the New Testament. Socrates once said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” Perhaps Christians need to ask, “Is an unexamined faith worth having?”
It could not be more evident that many Christians are hoping we get back to the days when we had a so called predominately “Christian culture.” In other words, I run into many older Christians that are just disgusted by the immorality and how the slide into secularism is becoming the reality of our country. So the thinking goes, “I remember the old days when people just read the Bible and assumed it was an authority.” In many cases Christians have decided to separate themselves from the world and retreat to the local churches where they can find like- minded people. Sadly, the result is that instead of trying to transform the culture, these people have decided it is better for God to take them home or to sit back and wait for Jesus to come back. Perhaps we need to remember that this mindset is not an option and quite frankly is the opposite of how Jesus commanded us to be “salt and light”(Matthew 5:13-16) in the culture.
A ways back, Jim Wallace posted an article called One Important Reason the Church Will Continue to Compromise. In it, he discusses the impact on pragmatism on the Church. Recently, I was told by an atheist that he didn’t even care if Christianity was true. As long as it “works” for me and makes a difference, it doesn’t need to be based in reality. And when we had Wallace here to speak this past year at our Ratio Christi chapter, he said he isn’t a Christian because it “works” for him. Rather, he is a Christian because it is true. Sadly, it is not only atheists and others that fall prey to pragmatism. Christians fall into pragmatism as well! I am reminded of J.P. Moreland’s comments:
“Today, we share the gospel as a means of addressing felt needs. We give testimonies of changed lives and say to people if they want to become better parents or overcome depression or loneliness, that the Jesus is their answer. This approach to evangelism is inadequate for two reasons. First, it does not reach people who may be out of touch with their feelings. Second, it invites the response, “Sorry, I do not have a need.” Have you noticed how no one responded to Paul in this manner? In Acts 17-20, he based his preaching on the fact that the gospel is true and reasonable to believe. He reasoned and tried to persuade people to intelligently accept Jesus.”–Moreland, J.P. Love Your God With All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul. Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress. 1997, 25.
Do Christians have a Theology of Mission?
According to a Barna study, 95% of all professing Christians have never attempted to share their faith. Out of that 5%, only 2% share on a regular basis. Now Jesus said in John 14:15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Since Jesus commands His people to “make disciples of the nations” (Matt.28:19), the Christian who is not ashamed of the gospel (Romans 1:16), will desire to share the good news of Jesus with his neighbor. It is my conviction the reason that there is such a lack of interest in apologetics and critical thinking is because evangelism and outreach are neglected. Perhaps the starting place for motivating people to defend the Christian faith in the public square starts with a proper understanding of theology of mission. Almost every time I have even taught an apologetics class, I always start with this topic. After all, why should we as Christians want to reach out into the culture around us with the Gospel? Why should we even want to defend the Christian faith in the marketplace of ideas?If Christians are not engaging the culture, they are not getting challenged in their faith. So I want to go ahead and give a small overview of a theology of mission in the Bible. I have written about that more here:
There are several other challenges apologists face. But hopefully this has stimulated you to think harder about this issue. The good news is that there are resources for you to start an apologetics ministry in a congregation. See The Apologetics 315 resource here. Also see the article called The Tragedy of the Dumb Church. It is a good read!