Responding: Is Apologetics a ‘Sad Replacement’ for Bible Study?

The Four Elements of Effective Communication

Is apologetics a “sad replacement” for Bible study?

Recently, on my ministry Facebook page, a fellow believer in Christ commented that apologetics was unnecessary and a deterrent to true Bible study. Though I made a few comments to him, and he retorted, I wanted to treat this objection with just a little more thought here.

respondingFirst, as you would notice upon visiting my page, I am not shy about telling other believers when their method of communication leaves much to be relationally desired. Is it necessary to handle this aspect of the question posed? Yes. I have found far too many believers “policing” the Internet for people with whom they disagree[1]; who then engage in strident and unChrist-like retorts of fellow Christians all within view of seekers, people of different faith, and people of no belief in God. If Christians want to maintain a respectable voice in the public square, they must remember Christ’s teaching that “as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them” (Luke 6:31), or Paul’s teaching of “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phillipans 2:3-4). Though we all mess up at times, these admonitions should constantly weigh on our hearts.

Christians, who proclaim the great love and forgiveness of Christ, are supposed to be a testimony to that truth. If we cannot engage in disagreements, even in an online forum, without using negatively charged wording to tear one another down, why would a non-Christian be interested in our beliefs? When I was atheist, this kind of strident behavior turned me off, no matter what you said you believed (it still does).

Second, as my response indicated, to suggest that a person either does one or the other is a false dichotomy. A person may study the Bible in various ways: for meditation, for memory, for exegesis, for context, for prayer, for relationship, for instruction in righteousness, for philosophy, for archaeology, for anthropology, for theology, or even for apology. These areas may overlap in any given study time or may not overlap. One reason for studying does not inherently exclude another. I may study the text for exegesis, which leads to instruction in righteousness, thereby influencing my theology and philosophy, and further, my apologetic. However, I do agree with the gentleman that studying the Scripture is a lifelong process of moving from milk to strong meat. And I’m sure I haven’t covered nearly all the reasons for studying.

Third, I believe this is a narrow view of apologetics, something close to “arguing someone into the Kingdom of God,” or “arguing for the sake of arguing.” However, no one can be argued into the Kingdom of God; neither can anyone be “studied” into the Kingdom of God. We can sit around and pat ourselves on the back for how awesome our exegetical study of the Book of John was, but that doesn’t equal lives that have trusted in Christ for salvation. Salvation is the work of the Spirit and is between the individual and God. Study, including apologetics, can aid an individual in understanding the revelation and person of God, which can help open one up to the truth. Study, however, cannot make a believer; only surrender and trust can do that.

Further, arguing for argument’s sake, or being argumentative, is a character flaw, usually coupled with a belligerent attitude and a lack of graciousness. Believers are to have nothing to do with a lifestyle of argumentativeness.

Fourth, we have examples of apologetics given in the Scriptures, as well as formal apologetic writings from the early church fathers. Some examples of those who either argued and/or reasoned with people or gave a formal defense of belief in the resurrection of Jesus are:

– Paul: Acts 17 (vv. 2-3, 16-34), Acts 18:4, Acts 19:8, Acts 26
– Apollos: Acts 18:28
– Peter: 1 Peter 3:13-17 (commanded that the persecuted believers be ready to give a defense of the reason of their hope; the hope being the resurrection of Christ)
– Early church father, Justin Martyr, “The First Apology of Justin.”

Finally, it looked as though his real concern with me stemmed from my current fundraising campaign. He never formalized his view on why apologetics ministries cannot raise funds for their work, but he seemed quite opposed to the endeavor. So on that note: I do two online fundraising events per year. One is right now and the other is at the end of the year. We raise enough money ($10K) to support our administrative assistant and to continue taking events that cannot afford the full burden of expense to host us. My desire is to continue to give of my time and energy toward teaching on effective conversation through knowing, listening, questioning, and responding. When you give, no matter how much, you are a part of reaching that goal! So thank you, Facebook commenter, for mentioning my fundraiser!

Apologetics isn’t a sad replacement for Bible study. The statement belies an error of thought. Apologetics is part of a lifelong commitment to understanding the revelation of God in His creation: the Word, the Person, and the universe. Apologetics is a part of Bible study.

[1] In this case, the gentleman stated that I appeared in an ad on his Facebook or possibly in his newsfeed. It is therefore possible that he was not “policing” for apologists with which to argue. However, Facebook ads run on algorithms, which adjust to the things of which you show a patterned interest. So, I’m not entirely sure how I just “popped up.” Perhaps a promoted post made its way to his eyes or perhaps he’s been looking at apologetics sites, as he implied in his refutations: “I see many things for apologetics on FB…”

Questioning Modeled by Jesus

The Four Elements of Effective Communication

Excerpted from “Why Do You Believe That? A Faith Conversation apologetics bible study, LifeWay Christian Resources, 2012.

Since I began studying apologetics, I have noticed that Christians are engaged in a lot of defending and supporting their own beliefs. This is a good and productive activity. However, I haven’t noticed as many QuestioningChristians engaging others in the support and defense of their beliefs. We seem to have become caught in a way of seeing the world that suggests Christians (or religious followers, more broadly speaking) are the only ones responsible for evidencing their beliefs. This is entirely untrue. Everyone has beliefs. Those beliefs can be productively and effectively questioned.

This week we will add to our good listening skills and to our foundation of belief in Jesus, the ability to be good questioners who do not assume that others have reasoned through their own beliefs. Our model for asking valuable questions comes from Jesus.

Jesus used questions to challenge his followers as well as to challenge those who opposed him. Sometimes his questions helped the hearer discover a deeper truth about faith in God. At other times his questions served to expose an untruth and/or the dishonesty of a person. Let’s read an example of one instance where Jesus asked a question.

“Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.” Matthew 22:41-46

A couple groups of religious leaders had asked Jesus a series of theological questions just prior to Jesus asking this question. The purpose of these questions was to entrap Jesus to answer in a way that either violated the religious law or violated logic. Jesus, knowing their dishonest intent, asked them a series of questions that would not only reveal an untruth, but would reveal that these religious leaders were knowingly committed to the untruth. So far, Jesus had asked them who the Messiah would be and the religious leaders answered, “the Son of David”; in other words, purely a man.

Now Jesus, quoting Psalm 110:1, asked the leaders how it was that David could call a man who was David’s son, “Lord.” Plus, this “Lord” is the Lord who sits at the right hand of God: it is God himself. This presented a logical problem if the religious leaders considered Messiah as only a man. Jesus’ questions revealed several problems for these leaders. First, the religious leaders did not understand their own Scriptures (yet again; remember Matthew 22:23-33). Second, Jesus demonstrated that the religious leaders were committed to an untruth. They would not listen and take to heart Jesus’ theologically and logically accurate teaching. They were unwilling to change. Nor, as we see in verse 46, were they willing to face the truth at all, for they stopped their interaction with Jesus.

Jesus used questions to draw out deep, personal bias in the religious leaders against his teachings and against his identity. He showed them that their beliefs were not rooted in good arguments or good reasoning.

Have you come across a person who was not making a good argument against the Christian faith? What was their argument?

How did you respond to their argument?

Have you ever been asked a question about your faith that was meant to entrap you? What was that question?

How did you respond?

Have you ever asked a person a question to help them discover a problem with their reasoning? What did you ask?

 

Listening to Minister

The Four Elements of Effective Communication

This post has been excerpted from my apologetics Bible study, “Why Do You Believe That? A Faith Conversation,” LifeWay Christian Resources, 2012.

ListeningThough I’d like to start this week by saying that I’ve completely changed how I engage with people in listening, I cannot. The truth is that I’m not the best listener. I tend to break in while other people are talking. I often take what a person has said and relate it back to something about me. Worse yet, sometimes I don’t actually hear a person because I’m thinking of what to say next.

How well do you listen to others? Rate yourself between 1 and 5 with 5 being the best listener and 1 being a poor listener:

Now apply the same criteria to a situation in which someone is questioning your belief in God. Rate your listening skills.

Did your number change? Why or why not?

It may seem odd to include lessons on listening in a study on apologetics. But as we grow in knowledge of our beliefs, the temptation may also grow to “give” others at least some morsel of our knowledge every time we’re with people. Even after years of ministry, I must remind myself of the Bible tells me about listening.

Knowing: Faith and Reason, Part One

The Four Elements of Effective Communication

“The prospering of God’s cause on earth depends upon his people thinking well.”

“Today we are apt to downplay or disregard the importance of good thinking to strong faith; and some, disastrously, even regard thinking as opposed to faith. They do not realize that in so doing they are not honoring God, but simply yielding to the deeply anti-intellectualist Knowingcurrents of Western egalitarianism, rooted, in turn, in the romantic idealization of impulse and blind feeling found in David Hume, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and their nineteenth-and twentieth-century followers.”

“…Jesus Christ…was and is the most powerful thinker the world has ever known.”

“Many Christians today will be surprised to learn that Isaac Watts – the composer of such well-known hymns as “Joy to the World,” “Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed?” “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” “Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun,” and “O God, Our Help in Ages Past,” along with many others – also taught logic and wrote a widely used textbook, Logic: The Right Use of Reason in the Inquiry After Truth.”

– All quotes taken from Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart

Let’s spend a few moments dwelling on what the late Christian philosopher Dallas Willard said. We see so much in our current culture that rails against people of faith as having any reasoning ability whatsoever. It’s been posted on my Confident Christianity Facebook wall that Christians are wholesale brainwashed (three times in one week in July 2016, in fact). Of course, these ideas are as prevalent on our airwaves as are casseroles at a Baptist potluck! Our minds will be assaulted by this negative imagery, but what can we do about it?

First, we need to turn the focus inward. The Scriptures, especially throughout Proverbs, are explicit to instruct that humans must grow in knowledge, especially knowledge about God. Wisdom in the Christian text is called “supreme” and is worth obtaining though “it cost you everything you have.” (Proverbs 4:7) Pause and think on that statement for a moment. Let God’s Word instruct you; perhaps look up the passage in different translations. Now, consider this: are you gaining wisdom in a way that demonstrates its supremacy in your life? Would people around you testify that you have this attitude? If your answer is either negative or uncertain, than think about how you are coming across to those who do not believe in God. While I adamantly disagree with a wholesale condemnation on Christians as uncritical thinkers—as grossly false—I can also recall many Christians who portray this very trait…as well as many professing atheists or Muslims.

New Blog Posts Ahead!

Things are changing here at Confident Christianity. We’ve updated our look and now we’re updating our blog! Beginning next week, we’ll post regularly (crazy, right?) on the four elements of effective communication: knowing, listening, questioning, and responding. Every week of the month we’ll post on one of these elements. The first week will be an article on knowing. The second week will be an article on listening and so on throughout the month. Each month you’ll have access to training in all of the four key elements of effective communication outlined in Why Do You Believe That? A Faith Conversation and in Living in Truth: Confident Conversation in a Conflicted Culture.Knowing

For those of you who have participated in or read the studies, you’ll engage further with the ideas in these works. For those who’ve yet to encounter these studies, you’ll get a look at how to more effectively engage in conversation on beliefs. Let’s briefly look at what each week will entail.

KNOWING
The Knowing Week will focus on the knowledge of our beliefs. Sometimes, we’ll work through a basic Christian doctrine and/or a Scriptural passage. Sometimes, we’ll “meet” a theologian from the past. Sometimes, we’ll learn how to help others see the need for thoughtfully engaging our beliefs. Other times, we’ll provide links to other resources that help us understand our own Christian worldview.

Orlando Terrorism and the Seeds of Anger

While I do not know the whole story surrounding the Orlando act of terror, I am acquainted with the human story and our propensity for evil. I am grief-stricken and horrified that this is how mankind continues to use the gift of life: by robbing others of their own gift. The Orlando tragedy is part of a historical thread of destruction that has been and will be the way of mankind. I’ve read only a few different responses to the tragedy and it saddens me further that we humans are not simply grieving, but we are finger pointing. “It’s the problem of religion.” “It’s the problem of gun control.” “It’s the problem of certain kinds of sin.” No, it is indicative of the overall problem of mankind. Jesus addressed the problem through his teaching.

In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he explained that though an action has not yet been taken, the thoughts of malice and anger are already working towards an end action. “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.” (Matthew 5:20-22) The seed of anger gives birth to works of evil. Sometimes, the evil born is a great tragedy, such as in Orlando. Sometimes, the evil born is a massacre, such as Joseph Stalin’s starving of the Ukrainian people. Sometimes, the evil born is simply how we treat other humans in our daily life, robbing them of a loving community. And still further, sometimes the evil is the thoughts that we have towards one another that ultimately inform how we engage our world. 

Advice for Future Apologists

Christians are commanded to be apologists. 1 Peter 3:15 says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.

What a high and worthy task! So, how do we go about doing this? In this video, Mary Jo, along with six other experienced Christian apologists (Douglas Groothuis, Gary Habermas, Craig Hazen, Mike Licona, Nabeel Qureshi and Frank Turek) share their thoughts.

Special thanks to Acts 17 Apologetics for this video!

Q & A: Were the Laws of Logic Created by God?

We’re excited to launch a new Q & A series featuring questions submitted by readers and conference attendees. Without further ado, here is the our first featured question, followed by Mary Jo’s answer:

Q: Do you think that the laws of logic were created by God? In other words, if God wanted to, could He have created a totally different set of logical laws?

A: The laws of logic must be grounded somewhere. If God simply created them, it would seem he could simply create any laws. However, if the laws are a natural outworking of God’s own rationality, then: