Heddle on Apologetics
Over at He Lives, David Heddle offers this creepy post about Christian apologetics. Apologetics is the branch of theology devoted to proving the various truth claims of Christianity.
Apologetics is the discipline of defending your faith, using logic and reason. It is helping people know what they believe and why they believe it. It is an intellectual defense of the truth of the claims of the Christian faith. However, as a defense, it is not merely defensive, it is also offensive; the proactive construction of a case for Christianity, not just a reactive defense against assaults.
For the average Christian it means this: learn sound doctrine, and learn how to support it biblically. It can be viewed this way:
- Have a way to defend biblical inerrancy. It won’t (and can’t) convince someone who has not been moved by the Spirit (1 Cor. 1:18). Nevertheless, we should be able to do more than simply say “I just believe it.”
- Be able to defend and demonstrate that the bible does in fact teach what we claim to hold as our beliefs. Does the bible teach that if homosexuals are born that way, God would surely never punish them for it? Prove it. Does it, instead, teach that God will in fact punish not only homosexuals but everyone else, not in spite of but because of how they are born (unless they are saved)?, prove it.
My exposure to Christian apologetics came during the years I spent in Kansas. While there I listened to the local Christian radio station on virtually a daily basis, often for several hours at a time. Defending Christianity was one of the most popular sermon topics (bashing evolution was not far behind). Their preachers were constantly offering litanies of arguments for how we can be sure that Jesus was God, that He died on the cross for our sins and was resurrected three days later and all the rest.
The phrase “... helping people know what they believe and why they believe it,” was one I heard over and over again on the radio. Personally, I wouldn't know how to believe something without also knowing why I believe it. The prevalence of this phrase in discussions of apologetics paints a dim view of a large segment of modern Christianity. The implication is that large numbers of people are describing themselves as Christians without really understanding Christianity, and without having any basis in logic or reason for accepting its claims as accurate.
Equally creepy is Heddle's first numbered point above. He instructs his readers to have a way to defend Biblical inerrancy, but then says no such argument will convince a person who has not been moved by the Spirit. That's a pretty stark admission that there is no good argument for Biblical inerrancy. The fact is that if Christians had any good arguments to make in defense of Biblical inerrancy, those arguments would be persuasive to an open-minded person.
What role are these arguments playing if they must be supplemented with divine intervention before they seem persuasive? If I am moved by the Spirit to accept Christianity, why would I need a logical argument to go along with it? Apparently, Heddle is concerned simply with his readers having talking points to spew when confronted by a skeptic. How is simply saying “I just believe it,” different from saying, “The Spirit has moved me to believe these things, and here's an unperusasive argument I learned how to say.”
Heddle closes his essay with this:
Spurgeon’s lion—is it then just a paper lion? Profoundly no. Spurgeon was wrong in assuming that scripture was its own apologetic. Scripture’s power comes not in proving that God exists, but in its revelation about the God it assumes. Once God is proven to be true, independent of scripture, and scripture is proven to be the word of God, then the Spirit makes the word come to life in the hearts of men.
The reference here is to preacher Charles Spurgeon, who, Heddle informs us, took a dim view of apologetics.
This seems to contradict what Heddle said previously. There we heard that before you can be persuaded by rational arguments you must first be moved by the Spirit. Here he is saying that after you are convinced by “proof” that God exists and that the Bible is His word, then the Spirit will start working in your life.
The Christian radio station I listened to never said anything about having to be moved by the Spirit before being convinced by the arguments of Christian apologists. Their attitude was quite the opposite. The arguments they were making were supposed to be persuasive to everyone independent of their starting point.
One of their heroes was Lee Strobel, who seemed to be on every other day. In books like The Case for Faith and The Case for Christ, Strobel was fond of telling people about how he was an atheist for much of his life. He worked as a journalist, and was moved by his Christian wife to take a journalist's approach to the evidence for Christianity. Strobel recounts how he began the project with the intention of refuting Christianity, only to find the evidence was simply too convincing the other way.
If Christianity will only seem plausible to you if you first put yourself in a highly suggestive state of mind, then I would suggest that apologetics is, indeed, a waste of time.
Incidentally, have a look at this article about Strobel, from Hour of Power ministries:
Lee Strobel wasn’t always a believer. As an investigative journalist specializing in legal issues at the Chicago Tribune, he said he was an atheist living a not so wonderful life. Then, in the fall of 1979, his wife became a Christian after being invited by a friend to a church.
“It was really the positive changes I saw in her character and values that prompted me to start intensively investigating the evidence for Jesus,” Strobel says. In January of 1980, he began what would become a nine-month investigation of the evidence proving that Jesus is the Son of God.
I mention this because in the comments to this previous post I wrote:
In fact, as I understand Christiantiy, one of the ways I, as an nonbeliever, am supposed to come around to the belief that Chrisitanity is true is by observing Christians. I'm supposed to be able to see that they have something I want, and currently lack. Call it contentment, or inner peace, or whatever.
Heddle replied with:
No, that is not true. You have to be born again. That is, first you have to be regenerated, and then you will begin to seek God; It is never the other way around. You will never, ever become a Christian by observing Christians. You don't talk yourself into Christianity. You don't “come around” to Christianity, You are “drawn” in by God (John 6:44), not by other Christians (the Greek word translated as “drawn” is translated elsewhere as “dragged” and means “compelled by irresistible force.”
In Strobel's case it seems that my description of things was accurate.
And if the only way I will ever become a Christian is if God draws me in to it, then I can only ask why He has not chosen to so draw me thus far. It is not as if I haven't been doing my part. I have sought Him in every way I know how, and with every ounce of sincerity I possess. Apparently, it's not enough.
There seem to be some theological problems with Heddle's position. It implies that the enormous number of lost people in the world are in that state because of some lack of action on God's part. I don't htink any of my Christian friends would take Heddle's side in this.