A Call To Think
by Owen Carr
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“Sometimes people try to justify their lack of intellectual engagement by asserting that they prefer having a "simple faith." But here I think we must distinguish between a childlike faith and a childish faith. A childlike faith is a whole-souled trust in God as one's loving Heavenly Father, and Jesus commends such a faith to us. But a childish faith is an immature, unreflective faith, and such a faith is not commended to us. On the contrary, Paul says, "Do not be children in your thinking; be babes in evil, but in thinking be mature" (1 Cor. 14.20 RSV). If a "simple" faith means an unreflective, ignorant faith, then we should want none of it. In my own life, I can testify that, after many years of study, my worship of God is deeper precisely because of, and not in spite of, my philosophical and theological studies. In every area I have intensely researched—creation, the resurrection, divine omniscience, divine eternity, divine aseity—my appreciation of God's truth and my awe of His personhood have become more profound. I am excited about future study because of the deeper appreciation I am sure it will bring me of God's personhood and work. Christian faith is not an apathetic faith, a brain-dead faith, but a living, inquiring faith. As Anselm put it, ours is a faith that seeks understanding.” -- William Lane Craig, “ In Intellectual Neutral”.
There isn’t much question among interested observers that the 21st century Church of Jesus Christ here in the west is riddled with problems--everything from the hideousness of the prosperity gospel to the tragedy of people abandoning their faith in favour of atheism and all forms of new age thinking. I find it peculiar that when people speak about the decline of Christianity or the lack of influence the gospel seems to be having on this culture, that the problem, as they see it, comes down to church attendance, Bible reading, and public schools. If only more people were home schooled, going to church, and reading their Bible, we’d witness a titanic revival, seems to be the implication. So churches come up with attendance-marketing schemes, more easy-to-read Bible programs, and urge all parents--whether they can afford to or not--to haul all their children out of public schools.
Yet, Christianity continues to flounder in the west despite having a plethora of Bible colleges, seminaries, and access to enormous resources that few Christians in other countries have. People are departing the Christian faith in droves, especially our youth. Most of the students entering universities that identify themselves as believers are going to be atheists or agnostics by the time they finish, and a lot of them will become not only unbelieving, but bitter as well. So what is going on?
Well, Dr. Craig in the above quote summarized it I think perfectly. The problem isn’t with church attendance, Bible reading, or schools and universities: it is with our minds and the grave reality that most Christians are not using them. It is as Craig put it, a “ lack of intellectual engagement”. While the hearts of many a believer may well indeed be in the right place, their minds are far removed. Somehow evangelicals have come to believe that a thinking Christian mind is somehow worldly, and unbecoming of a true born-again believer. We have come to believe that because Christianity demands faith, that that’s all it requires. That true Christianity is based on nothing but belief without evidence, or that sound logical reasons for believing it are unnecessary. In fact, if you speak to evangelicals, they think reason and logic are the enemies of the gospel because that, as they imply, is what worldly people take up. They take scriptures like 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 to mean that believers in Christ should shy away from intellectual pursuits and the study of logic and so forth, and adopt a purely emotional, and sentimentally fluffy type of experiential Christianity. Since we read 1 Corinthians to mean that wisdom and intelligence are foolishness, we see them as Satanic worldly devices that we ought to avoid. So in other words, according to that interpretation of scripture, godliness entails ignorance.
What 1 Corinthians actually says is that “ God has made foolishness the wisdom of the world”. Systems of thought like atheism, humanism, paganism, liberalism, existentialism, and so on is what is referred to here in the context of the world. This was written during an age when Greek philosophy was in high gear, and its philosophies, for the most part, were not Christian. In fact, Acts 17 tells us that Paul “reasoned” with the Stoics and Epicureans concerning their view of reality. Clearly, Paul was in favour of using his mind in the propagation of the gospel.
Our churches of today are well equipped in many areas and there are a plethora of fine pastors leading them who are preaching a sound doctrinal gospel. There isn’t a shortage of evangelists, teachers, pastors, or the financial resources needed to function--we indeed have all the advantages we require in the prosperous west. However, what modern evangelical churches are lacking is apologetics.
The term “apologetic” is derived from a Greek word “ apologia”, which means “ in defense of ”. In the context of Christian application it means a reasoned defense of the faith. It is the goal of apologetics to provide good reasons why one thinks the Christian faith is a coherent view of the world. The biblical exhortation to do this is found in 1 Peter 3:15, which says “ But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear”. When a Christian is asked why they have staked their entire lives upon the words and promises of Jesus Christ and the Bible as a whole, a good apologetic seeks to answer the question. It is to give to the questioner some sort of evidence why one thinks the Christian faith is true, because commonsensically, that’s really what they’re looking for. This is because most people separate faith and reason as two mutually exclusive entities that are in conflict, as it is the case with a lot of Christians unfortunately. Those who are not Christians ( the “natural man” as the Bible puts it) and do not possess that inner witness of the Holy Spirit can’t understand faith. They think the idea is preposterous having been conditioned by cultural scientism to think the only measure of truth is the scientific method. What they’ll never understand though, is that the Christian faith has more strengths than the witness of the Holy Spirit. There are good reasons-- logical and evidential reasons-- apart from this that lead myself and millions of others to conclude that Christianity is more than sensible to hold to. So the natural man expects to hear these explanations when he asks you why you are a Christian. Now of course you can tell him that you’re a Christian because you’ve been transformed from the inside out by the power of God unto salvation, but more likely than not he’s going to then say “ Okay, but what else?” And the “ what else” is where apologetics comes in.
I think a lot of sincere Christians would be surprised to learn that there is treasure of good reasons why they ought to believe in Jesus Christ, compiled brilliantly and meticulously by their forefathers as well as theologians, Christian philosophers, and scholars both ancient and contemporary. For instance the study of natural revelation which seeks to offer evidences for the existence of God. Such evidences include The Cosmological Argument; The Teleological Argument; The Ontological Argument; The Moral Argument; The Argument from Contingency, and so forth. Moreover, there are also historical evidences and the field of Biblical criticisms, focusing on the inerrancy, reliability, and veracity of the New Testament documents, as well as the evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, which Dr. Craig specializes in. Additionally, there is also the scientific apologetics which deals with the evidences for creation or intelligent design ( interestingly enough, it was the evidence compiled in this discipline that convinced the late Anthony Flew, one of the most well known atheist philosophers of the 20th century, that God exists). And to add to all this, there is also apologetics centered on comparative religions, which the Christian can use to demonstrate why Christianity is superior in its claims to the claims of other faiths.
Also take note of the story of Simon Greenleaf, a law professor, and one of the key builders of the Harvard School of Law, and an expert on the legal rules for evidence. He believed the resurrection of Jesus Christ was a hoax and actually set out to disprove it using the rules of evidence he helped cultivate. He went through the four gospels with a fine toothed comb, comparing and examining the internal witness of the documents. He ended up concluding that the resurrection of Jesus Christ not only occurred, but that it was of the most credible and well attested facts in all of recorded history. There are legal scholars today who maintain that the resurrection of Jesus Christ would stand up in a court of law.
The faith that Christians share is rooted in truth, and it isn’t that the majority of Christians deny that; on the contrary, Christians believe Jesus, the center of the Christian faith, is the truth. But what they seem to think that this truth is rooted in what the skeptics often call “ blind faith”. We’ve unfortunately earned that moniker for a reason, largely because we believe it ourselves, holding to an almost stubborn type of fideism. Our view of evangelism suggests that if a person is to be brought to God, then the Holy Spirit will do all the work, and we need not do much more than memorize a short presentation of the gospel. Of course when you do this, people who are naturally curious are going to start asking you questions; questions they are entitled to ask. So if all you know is what you’ve memorized from a gospel tract, you’re unlikely to be able to answer anything.
We live in a culture where people have heard enough gospel to save Iran, many of whom were brought up in homes where Christianity was the family religion--whether devoutly or nominally. There aren’t too many folks who haven’t been exposed to some form of evangelism at one time or another, or have sat inside of a church listening to a minister preach. They only real exceptions might be our young people, who we’ll get to momentarily. Most folks also believe in God, and the majority of those believe Jesus is His begotten Son. However, they have no real conception of what salvation really means, or who Jesus really is, or who God is, or what Christianity is all about. And the reason for that? The church does not make it a point to answer questions about their faith, believing that they aren’t obligated to because the Holy Spirit will change their minds through a mystical revelation; and I agree with that, but people have to also be led to the Holy Spirit, and the ability to give an answer for your hope is usually the mechanism by which this takes place.
Too much of Christianity today adheres to the notion that gospel is designed simply to corral people into heaven or ensure them comfort and joy. For sure, it’s central objective is the reconciliation of lost persons to God, and it does indeed bring joy when understood in the proper sense, but there’s more to it than that. The truth that resides in the person of Jesus is the truth that answers all questions about the most perplexing questions of human experience. Questions are what people have, and it is the questions non-Christians have that go mostly unanswered by believers, often causing people to leave the faith in droves.
Take our young people for example. Countless are the number of times I’ve heard teenagers say they are no longer Christians because neither their parents nor their pastors could, nor would they bother to, answer their curiosities. In part this is because most pastors and Christian parents, while faithful stewards of Christ, are ignorant themselves of the ordinary curiosities people have about God, Christ, and the universe. Some of these curiosities include:
Why, if God exists, is there Evil and Suffering in the world?
What about evolution and the Bible?
Why Should I Trust the Bible?
What about other religions?
Who Created God?
Why would God send my really nice non-Christian friends to hell?
Is there really any Evidence that God exists?
Why won’t God answer my prayers?
Why is being gay a sin?
They go on and on. Our young people live not in a Christian society, they live in a society predominantly secular in its actions and philosophies. Nowhere is this more intense than in the classroom, where secular ideas are not only assumed, but encouraged, and not primarily in science class either, it spans the spectrum of the whole of the curriculum. Public schools claim to bar religious instruction from the classroom, forgetting however, that humanism is a religion. So it really isn’t opposed to religion, just certain flavours. Public education is akin to a large church for atheism, only it happens to be funded by taxpayer money. That’s another matter though, and truthfully, the influence of godless philosophies bestowed upon our youth in these institutions would not be as detrimental as it is to Christian students if Christian parents and Christian pastors did well to instruct them in the apologetics of their faith.
We are not, however, doing any such thing for the most part. We work to provide them with biblical knowledge, informing them that Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, except that we do not guard them against the inevitable attacks of the counter perspectives, namely those of atheism and humanism. That Christianity is to be believed is one thing, but why this is necessarily so is another; and the failure to equip our children with training in the latter explains the continuing exodus of our young people from the faith. Apologetics is really no more than answering questions, and when the church neglects their duty to answer the inquiring young minds seated in their pews, those minds will turn elsewhere for those answers. To expect our young people to simply close their eyes and believe whatsoever is preached from the pulpit or written in the Bible without at least feasible explanations, is to encourage them towards apostasy. An adolescent comes to think that this Christianity they’ve been made to believe since early childhood is just some sort of mythology their parents imposed on them for moral and cultural purposes, and not grounded in objective truth. And this is further reinforced when they can wrestle no clear answers, or even attempts at plausible answers, to their questions from the people who have taught it to them.
So when they get a hold of books like “ The God Delusion” or “ God is Not Great” without having had an ounce of apologetical experience, you can kiss their faith goodbye. They will tumble like dominoes, and what’s worse is that the books aforementioned contain some of the weakest attacks against the Christian faith ever propagated--I mean we’re not talking Bertrand Russell here. An amateur Christian apologist would have little trouble taking them to pieces, yet it is these atrocious arguments furnished by aggressive, yet intellectually shallow atheists that is tearing our youth away from the faith. This is unsettling to me. That such sophomoric material could be so persuasive to our kids is splendorous evidence that the church is, as Dr. Craig put it, stuck in “ intellectual neutral”.
Is every Christian parent reading this absolutely sure their son or daughter actually believes in the existence of God, the Bible, and the work of the person of Jesus Christ? Have you ever asked them? Or do you only assume they do? Judging by the swarms of teenagers leaving Christianity, I’d wager there are many who sit quietly in pews, declaring to their parents and pastor that they indeed believe all this stuff, but whom secretly doubt it, or disbelieve it entirely. Eventually when they become adults and move out from under the supervision and authority of their parents, it is likely they’ll never set foot in a church again, preferring rather to visit bars or nightclubs after Dawkins and company get a hold of them. Is this too presumptuous? It shouldn’t be because what I’ve just described is happening right now.
Unless a person has a strong foundation for what they believe, one of two things, or both are likely to occur: either at some point they will themselves abandon their faith, or they will be unjustified and unable to persuade anyone else that what they believe should be believed by others. If a person does not have good reasons to believe what they do, their faith will disintegrate. The foundation for our faith is of course in Christ, but this doesn’t only entail that we “ have a relationship” with Him via emotional and mystical experiences. Knowing Christ begins with knowing who He is; to know about Him. Knowing about Him is to know his truths, his claims, and how he has communicated with mankind. It is not sufficient of course to simply know about Jesus, but unless you know something about him, how then can one claim to know him intimately? And how would we expect others to come to know him? Apologetics besides being a method of defending what we know about Jesus, also works as a method to know Jesus--to know about His creation, His word, His ministry, and His offer for eternal life. Apologetics isn’t only a tactic we use to persuade the unbelieving, it is also an indispensable way to grasp a deeper understanding of Christ. It is as much for the saint as it is for the sinner. When rigorously compiling a defense of the Christian faith, one finds themselves always learning something they didn’t know previously. My understanding of Christian theology has been tremendously sharpened by studying the arguments for the truth of Christianity.
With the aggressive push the New Atheists are making, no Christian can afford to remain in stagnate ignorance about the treasure of sound arguments there are for their faith, nor can they neglect the art of proper reasoning through the study of basic logic. Do you know what annoys me the most about this problem Christians have with anti-intellectualism? The fact that these new atheists are not intellectual heavyweights. As I said earlier, the arguments of Hitchens, Dawkins, and others are not that hard to counter because these guys are popularisers, not scholars. They are largely ignorant of classical theistic apologetics ( but so are most Christians to be fair) and the arguments they put forth never ascend beyond the level of popular cultural opinion. You ought to see what happens when these people when confronted by a Christian who really studies deeply--they really are left speechless. You don’t have to be a scholar to be a studious defender of the faith ( although it helps) and a laymen like myself has easy access to scholarly material. The work of great apologetic scholars like Dr. Craig, N.T. Wright, J.P. Moreland, Gary Habernas, and others is easy accessible. All we have to do is read it. C.S. Lewis was a laymen, but that didn’t stop him from thinking, nor did it prevent him from defending Christianity.
A good dose of apologetics will not only better arm us for our encounters with unbelievers and non-Christians, but it would also solve most of the problems in our church. It would make feel-good sermons a thing of the past; it would combat the intrusion of heresy, it would nullify all the ridiculous pragmatism going on in mega churches; and it would strengthen the foundations of faith for every believer.
Any worldview that cannot attempt to produce tenable answers to the great questions of our existence, or offer any coherent reason why it should be believed or taken seriously, is not worthy of reverence and is essentially useless to anyone. This is what the majority of people living in the western world think of Christianity now, and that is our burden to bear because we have embraced the emotional and the mystical experience of our faith, but have shunned the intellectual. If people want to feel good, there is a plethora of religions and secular philosophies that will accomplish that for them. But if they want truth; if they want answers, they need the truths and philosophies grounded in the person of Jesus, and the immeasurable glory of God. If we can consecrate our hearts, bodies, and souls, then we can also consecrate our minds.
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