A Mixed Up Minister?
What insights does the book of Jonah have for ministers today?
Led by The Revd Tom Stuckey, a former President of the Methodist Church.
Science: Signpost to God: Part 1
Christian Apologetics is the study of how to make and present, not an apology for the faith, but a defence of the faith, showing how Christianity is both true and reasonable. Apologetics includes positive and negative elements: positively, in stating why the Christian faith is true; negatively, in showing how criticisms of the faith are false. It involves trying to understand the mindset and opinions of those who don’t accept the faith - to understand their presuppositions, that is, the things they assume to be true without giving much, if any, thought as to why they’re true and to understand their objections - the things that act as mental, emotional or cultural blockages to their acceptance of the Christian faith. Logically, apologetics is what happens prior to evangelism and is a preparation for evangelism.
But why is apologetics necessary at all? Why not just give a simple presentation of the gospel itself? The answer is, because we live in times far distant from the Methodist Revival, when the God whom people did not believe in was, by and large, the Christian version of God, and when most people had some awareness of the gospel of Christ. Today, it can’t be assumed that a person even understands what is meant by the word ‘God’, far less has any understanding of the cross. Of those who do, many are deeply suspicious of organised religion, of people who say you need to be born again, and who believe the Bible is God’s revelation. Furthermore, secularism, atheism, and ‘spirituality’ are mindsets that commonly keep people from seriously considering the claims of Christ. Science in particular is commonly used as a weapon against religious faith; yet there is much in science that actually supports belief in God, though for many people the evidence hasn’t been presented to them.
Un-churched people today need convincing that God exists, that God is relevant, indeed vital, and that the God of the Bible is the only true revelation of God. The old-style evangelistic gospel presentation - that God is holy and loves you; that you have sinned and are cut off from God; that Christ died to pay the price of sin; and that you need to respond in repentance and faith - does not, on its own, cut the mustard for many people today. They need reasons to even begin to consider the gospel. They need to hear a defence of the faith appropriate to where they are. It’s a huge task, and one that needs Christians who have a passion for it, and who make it their ministry.
So let me now apologise for apologetics! Why should Christians do apologetics?
Firstly, it honours God and his characterL~
God practises apologetics! In Genesis 12, God appeared to Abram and told him to leave his country, and his clan and his family, and journey to a land God would lead him to. But God then anticipates Abram’s objections and gives reasons why Abram should obey - because he would be blessed and become a blessing to all the earth. God defends his command. In Exodus 3 where God appears in the burning bush, he commissions Moses to become the deliverer of the enslaved Israelites. Moses comes up with a series of objections, to each of which God provides a counter argument in defence. The classic case of God involving himself in apologetics is with Job. After patiently listening to all Job’s complaints, and the misdirected consolations of his friends, God defends himself by pointing out Job’s ignorance of the deep mysteries of creation. And, of course, Jesus too practised apologetics. Again and again we find Jesus having to defend himself from his critics and justify his ways and teaching. So offering reasons for faith and obedience is the imitation of God, and honours him.
Secondly, God’s word commands itL~
When Paul wrote to Timothy, "Always be prepared to give an account of the faith you have in you", he was giving a principle for obedience by every Christian. We’re all called to be witnesses to Christ in word and deed, to help our unbelieving and questioning friends take a step of faith.
The book of Acts is full of stories of the faith being defended. Peter’s Pentecost sermon was all a defence of what God had done through Christ and was now doing through the Holy Spirit. Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill in Acts 17 also contains a defence of the faith. Also in Acts 17, Luke writes of Paul’s missional strategy in Thessalonica that "As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the scriptures..." And in Acts 26, at his trial by Agrippa, when Festus condemns Paul’s belief in the resurrection of Christ as insanity, Paul responds, "I am not insane most excellent Festus. What I am saying is true and reasonable."
This is an excellent definition of apologetics: showing how the Christian faith is both true and reasonable. Coming to faith doesn’t involve leaving one’s brains behind and believing six impossible things before breakfast, but recognising and accepting the truth of God and his saving actions in Christ.
Thirdly, apologetics opens people’s minds to the possibility of GodL~
Why do so many people today refuse to give Christians a hearing? Why won’t they listen to what we have to say? It’s often because they’ve taken on board a secular mindset that thinks religion is not only untrue, but a waste of time. This is the well-worn path of Jesus’ parable on which gospel seed has no chance. Apologetics seeks to break up the ground, to open up people’s minds to the possibility that God may exist, in preparation for the gospel. The theologian J. Gresham Machen wrote that the purpose of apologetics is to "mould the thought of the world in such a way as to make Christianity something more than a logical absurdity." This can be done only if we can point to evidence for God from within the realms that people do believe in. Merely quoting scripture at them will only reinforce their prejudice that Christians are sad left-behinds from another era. Many, many people today think science has disproved God. For them, science is the only source of truth, and provides the only description of reality. What such people need to hear is how science itself points to the existence of God - which means Christians themselves need to have at least a basic awareness of how this is so.
Fourthly, apologetics is how some people come to faithL~
People come to faith through two major avenues - reasons of the mind, and reasons of the heart. No one can be argued into the faith by pure reason. What the reason and logic of apologetics can do is remove mental objections to faith, and give the mind reasons for faith. But the heart must ultimately be willing to respond in faith - a personal, deep-felt surrendering of the heart to Christ in trust, devotion and obedience. For some people, it’s the heart that responds first; for others, it’s the mind. But whichever comes first, the other must follow in good time. If only the mind is involved, it will result in a dry, Pharisaical religion. If only the heart is involved, it will result in emotionalism and a faith that has no strength to endure the trials of life and tests of faith that always come eventually. An enduring faith is one where facts precede faith, and feelings follow faith.
Fifthly, apologetics strengthens the faith of believersL~
I spent twenty-five years working in science. As God drew me towards faith, although I wasn’t aware of it at the time I was in fact searching for Truth. I wasn’t keen on this ‘faith’ thing. I wanted proof that God existed, and of which religion was true. I was a scientist and I wanted hard evidence. In the end, it was things of the heart that caused me to submit to Christ. Yet as I continued to grow in understanding the things of faith, I discovered more and more evidence to substantiate Christianity’s truth, the sort of evidence which I’d been searching for all along. Strangely, it was a free Penguin book on cosmology by the agnostic astrophysicist Paul Davies (which I subsequently loaned and lost and cannot even remember the name of, sadly) which opened my eyes to how modern cosmology provides scientific evidence that points to a Mind behind the universe. I shouldn’t really have been surprised. If God has been, and is, actively at work in the world, we should expect to see signs of his handiwork. Yet how that book strengthened my faith!
It sparked an interest in a branch of apologetics that has continued to grow. My faith isn’t founded on such things, but it is strengthened by them. This will be true for others as well.
My hope is that, if you choose to read these articles, you too will discover more and more reasons for the hope you have in you, that you will find your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ strengthened, and that you will be armed and ready to share with those who don’t yet belong to God how science points to his existence. To him be the glory. Amen.
John C. Lennox (2007) God’s Undertaker - has science buried God?
The best book I know of to give a basic understanding of many of the issues that will be presented in this series of articles. Loads of interesting facts, but not too heavy. Lennox is a Professor of Mathematics at Oxford.
William Lane Craig (2010) On Guard - defending your faith with reason and precision.
Craig is a philosopher and theologian, and an outstanding debater who has been invited onto numerous university campuses to present the case for faith. This book aims to provide the committed beginner in apologetics with information and knowledge to develop their skill. Covers both science and how historical research techniques affirm the physical resurrection of Jesus.
William Lane Craig (2008) Reasonable Faith - Christian truth and apologetics (3rd Edn)
A broader and more technical presentation of Craig’s arguments for the existence of God and the truth of the resurrection.
bethinking.org. A Christian Union site, with many articles on basic apologetics. A good place to start.
reasonablefaith.org The website of William Lane Craig. Numerous articles at both popular and scholarly level and videos of some of his debates with major sceptics and atheists. Wonderful stuff.
probe.org Articles on apologetics and Christian lifestyle.