Do Christians Get Brownie Points For Being Ignorant? Is Anti-Intellectualism Biblical?


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Time to Wake Up?

“It is no longer enough for you Christians to believe something. We won’t accept simple belief.” You have to be able to explain your beliefs and defend them to a growing number of skeptics who do not hold to your assumptions. Step up to the plate, or stop trying to present Christianity as a valid system.”

These were some comments made by a listener who phoned into a radio debate between a Christian and an atheist in the Spring of 2007.

All of us in the apologetics endeavor know that there are plenty of people who aren’t familiar with apologetics. And in some cases, I find myself giving an apologetic for the need for Christian apologetics. Of course, God has told us to do apologetics. Peter gives a verbal defense of the faith: 1 Peter 3:15:16 (J.N.T): “But treat the Messiah as holy as Lord in your hearts; while remaining always ready to give a reasoned answer to anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you yet with humility and fear. Keeping your conscience clear, so that when you are spoken against, those who abuse the good behavior flowing from your union with the Messiah may be put to shame.”

In the context of this passage, Peter is writing to a group of persecuted Christians. The word “Lord” (Gr. Kyrios), is an indication of Jesus’ divine status (Acts 2:34-36). In Paul’s letters, the title “the Lord” is often a substitute for Jesus’ name. If Jesus is truly the Lord of our lives, we will desire to make an application of 1 Peter 3:15. Peter does not just suggest we be prepared to give a reason for the hope that is within us, but he commands that we do it! As we are called to give a reason for what we believe, it is imperative that we follow the pattern that Peter has left us. We are called to be both gentle and respectful.

J.S. Reid offers a formal defintion of apologetics:

“The word apology and its cognate Apologetics are of Greek origin. Apologia (in general, meaning defense), and its verbal form apolgoumai (make a defense) are words used in classical Greek, in New Testament Greek, and also in Patristic writings. Their meaning in three linguistic forms does not differ significantly. But it is with their employment in the New Testament that we are concerned. The words appear with some frequency. The lexicons show that apologia occurs about eight times and the verbal form about eleven. This is evidence enough to show pretty accurately what their meaning is. It appears that the verbal form always and the nominal form usually, denote an answer given in reply to a charge leveled against an individual or an argument justifying a claim advanced by an individual.” (1)

In the book Five Views of Apologetics, John Frame says apologetics has three elements for both the Christian and the seeker: (1) proof, rational confirmation for faith; (2) defense, replies to criticisms; (3) offense, bringing criticisms against non- Christian ideas.

So with this is mind, over the years,  here are some of the common questions and statements I have heard about the role of apologetics:

1. Shouldn’t We Just Preach the Gospel?

Response: This is true. By all means, “Preach the Gospel!” But guess what? What do you do when you try to open the Bible and use it with someone who doesn’t think the Bible is an authoritative or inspired book? This happens all the time to Christians. And did you know Muslims and other people think their holy book is just as inspired and authoritative as the Bible? If you keep trying to quote the Bible, you would be “begging the question.”

“Begging the question” is a form of logical fallacy in which a statement or claim is assumed to be true without evidence other than the statement or claim itself. When one begs the question, the initial assumption of a statement is treated as already proven without any logic to show why the statement is true in the first place. In some cases, you may be able to go quote the Bible to many people without any objections. But in other caes, you would need to show the individual the Bible is a reliable historical document before trying to use it as an authoritative text in these types of conversations.

2. Do Apologists Forget the Work of the Holy Spirit?

Response: Anyone who does apologetics knows the Holy Spirit has to play an integral part of the entire process. As Ergun Caner says, “It is impossible to be effective in apologetics without the work of the Spirit in both the apologist and the hearer.” (2) No mature apologist forgets that the Bible stresses that humans are blinded by sin. Therefore, sin has damaging consequences on the knowing process (Is. 6:9-10; Zech. 7:11-12; Matt. 13:10-13; 2 Cor. 4:4). How people respond to God’s revelation depends on several factors such as his/her personal history (both past and present). People can be hardened towards God; sin certainly dampens an individual’s ability to being receptive to God’s invitation to them.

3. Isn’t it just a matter of faith? 

Response: This objection misunderstands the relationship between faith and reason. It is not an either/or issue. Apologetics may serve as a valuable medium through which God can operate, but the mature apologist knows faith is never the product of historical facts or evidence alone. For example, in James 2:19, it says that the demons believe that God exists. But just because the demons think God exists, this doesn’t mean they have saving faith. Objectively speaking, apologetics or evidence for God may help someone believe that God exists. However, the individual still needs to place their trust in God. This can only be done with the help of the Holy Spirit (John 16:12-15).

Furthermore, this person who points out this objection tends to be worried that apologetics 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, in the Bible, the object of faith is sometimes described as resting in God Himself (Gen 15:6; Rom 4:24). Also, while 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).

Remember, when we state that each of us has an epistemic responsibility, this means that we as humans are responsible for the beliefs we acquire. Justification is a term that means a belief is justified in the sense that it is more likely true due to the fact that it is based on solid grounds or good reasons. Our goal is to proportion our beliefs to the strength of the evidence that is available to us.

Perhaps this will help: 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 would not say, “Just have faith.” Instead, I would give them solid reasons for the trustworthiness of the New Testament.

Did you know in Acts 19:8-10, Luke says it was “Paul’s custom at Ephesus was to be engaged in “reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus.” The Greek word translated “reasoning” is “dialegomenos.” Ardnt and Ginrich assign the meaning 1.To discuss, conduct a discussion of lectures which were likely to end in disputations. Here the word is conjoined the Greek word “peithen” which carries the force of “to convince.” (3)

Can we all agree that we see in Scripture that the God of Israel is a rational being, and the principles of good reason do flow from his very nature? For example, “It is impossible for God to lie” (Heb 6:18), and God cannot deny Himself (2 Tim 2:13). Furthermore, since humans are created in the image of God, reason is not opposed to revelation; it is part of it. Learning the rules of clear and correct reasoning play an integral part in our service to our Lord.

3. What about Matthew 18:3-5?

Response: It is true that Jesus says in Matthew 18:3-5, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.” In interpreting this passage, it is important to note that Jesus challenged his followers to be like children morally, not intellectually.

Christians are called to exhibit childlikeness in being sensitive to evil and sin, in being humble and contrite in spirit. Jesus contrasts the need for humility with tough-mindness in Matt. 10:16, when He says, ” Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.” (4)

4. What about 1 Corinthians 1: 19-21: “For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.”

Response: I have heard many people use this passage as a proof-text that God is against reason. Is this correct? It is important to note that Greek orators prided themselves with possessing “persuasive words of wisdom,” and it was their practice to persuade a crowd of any side of an issue for the right price. So, since Paul is most likely condemning hubris (which is the Greek word for a form of pride that is arrogant, self-confident and overbearing), Paul is against false pride, or prideful use of reason, not reason itself. (5)

5. Did Jesus and the Apostles Utilize Apologetics?

Response:Yes, they did. Just read the New Testament. In his book Evangelism and the Early Church, author Michael Green notes that the early church advanced the gospel through the first four centuries because of three things: (1) The ability to engage in persuasive apologetics and outthink her opponents, (2) The transformed character and biblical compassion of believers, (3) The manifest power of the kingdom of God.

In his article Jesus: Philosopher and Apologist, Douglas Groothuis notes that Jesus appealed to evidence to confirm His claims. John the Baptist, who was languishing in prison after challenging Herod, sent messengers to ask Jesus the question: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matt. 11:3). This may seem an odd question from a man the Gospels present as the prophetic forerunner of Jesus and as the one who had proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah. Jesus, however, did not rebuke John’s question. He did not say, “You must have faith; suppress your doubts.”

Instead, Jesus recounted the distinctive features of His ministry:
“Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” (Matt. 11:4-6; see also Luke 7:22).

Jesus’ works of healing and teaching are meant to serve as positive evidence of His messianic identity, because they fulfill the messianic predictions of the Hebrew Scriptures. What Jesus claimed is this:

1. If one does certain kinds of actions (the acts cited above), then one is the Messiah.
2. I am doing those kinds of actions.
3. Therefore, I am the Messiah. (6)

We see in other Scriptures that Jesus continually appeals to His “works” as proof of His messiahship (John 7:3, 21; 9:3, 4; 10:25, 32, 37, 38, 14:10, 11, 12, 15:24). These passages appeal to the individual works of Jesus. The miracles “bear witness’” that He is the Messiah. Remember, the Apostles utilized an evidential model by appealing to prophecy and the resurrection as the basis for the evidence of Jesus’ messiahship (Acts 2:14-32-39; 3:6-16, 4:8-14; 17:1-4; 26:26; 1 Cor. 15:1-8). When the Jewish believers had to reach out to the Gentile or pagan community, they appealed to nature (Acts 14:14-17; Romans 1:18-21).

6. Do Christians Get Brownie Points For Being Ignorant?

I can say from experience that I have seen hundreds of people who have honest questions about God and other issues related to spirituality. And I could share testimonies of those who have come to faith in our Lord through apologetic books and presentations. People are looking for Christians who actually care about what they believe and can give them some answers. As my friend Frank Turek says, “Christians don’t get brownie points for being ignorant.” When someone has an objection to the faith, we can’t blame the Holy Spirit if He has nothing to recall to our minds.

One of the reasons the Holy Spirit was able to use Paul with a variety of audiences was because Paul had a vast knowledge of the Old Testament, as well as Jewish and Greek culture. If someone asks a question that you cannot answer, it allows you the privilege of doing research about a particular apologetic issue. Apologetics takes hard work. So the question is, when will you get started?

Sources:
1. See Reid, J.K.S.Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969.
2. See Hindson, E., and E. Caner, The Popular Encyclopedia Of Apologetics: Surveying the Evidence for the Truth of Christianity.Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers.2008.
3. Sproul, R.C, Gerstner, J. and A. Lindsey. Classical Apologetics: A Rational Defense of the Christian Faith and a Critique of Presuppositional Apologetics. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing. 1984, 18.
4. Clark, D.J. Dialogical Apologetics: A Person Centered Approach to Christian Defense. Grand Rapids MI: Baker Books. 1993, 20-21.
5. Moreland, J.P., and W.L. Craig, Philosophical Foundations For A Christian Worldview. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press. 2003, 18-19.
6. Jesus: Philosopher and Apologist by Douglas Groothuis. Available at http://www.theapologiaproject.org/JesusPhil.pdf.

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