Is apologetics a fast track to being an outsider in the Christian community? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
Tom Gilson of Thinking Christian recently wrote a post on the Loneliness of the Thinking Christian (In two parts). Let me say at the start this loneliness in a church does not necessarily apply everywhere. Our own church has been highly accepting of my wife and I. Our pastor has put me to use in helping educate our church and I have never felt looked down on by him. In turn, I consider him someone I can go to with my pastoral sorts of questions. (Such as having him recommend a good book on prayer, and for all interested, he recommend Tim Keller’s.)
Our church also has this awesome idea where during the sermon or any time, you can text in a question to a number that the church has. At the end, the pastor comes out and answers the question. What question can you text in? Any question you want. Want to ask about the problem of evil? Go ahead. Homosexuality? Sure. Can God really forgive you for a certain sin? Yep. What does the Bible say about gambling? Ask away. If a question is one that requires a detailed answer, our pastor will put up a webisode answering it later on.
The sad thing is that as awesome as this is, our church I think is an exception.
Generally at churches, I have often been hesitant to tell the pastor I am an apologist. Why? Because pastors don’t really look with favor on apologists for the most part. One reason I can suspect is many pastors can find it hard having someone in the audience who has spent a lot of time studying the text. That person could point out an error that is made very easily. Unfortunately also, many pastors don’t have sufficient training, especially since in some churches all you have to say is “Called to preach” and you get the job, and thus can often be insecure in their approach.
Another problem also is that sometimes I think it could be scary to open people up to the big questions. What happens if they start to doubt? The sad reality is that if we don’t open them up, they will start to doubt anyway when they meet opposition, more and more likely to happen in our world, and then what will happen? They have never heard of this and the church doesn’t say anything about doubt and doubt can often be treated like a disease. Unfortunately, the cure for this disease is being told to have faith. It’s like telling a person with cancer that the cure for cancer is to have health.
It’s even more tragic in that there could be thinking Christians in the church who study the apologetics issues and would be delighted to help such people out. The apologists are unknown to the doubters and tend to think no one really knows about the questions they have, unaware that books have been written by Christian scholars answering such questions. (Unfortunately, at our bookstores, those are buried in the back corner. We have to make more room for Joel Osteen, Blood Moons, and Heaven Is For Real after all.)
And what about our youth? Many of them are asking questions. They’re getting objections even in Middle and High School now. What’s going to help them? If we just go and give them pizza parties and concerts, we’re not doing them any favors. In fact, let’s make a comparison. If we set aside theological blessings, what incentives do we give our youth for coming to church and/or youth group?
Video game nights
Yeah. That’s the kind of thing. What incentives do they get in college for going along with the crowd?
Video game nights.
Acceptance by peers.
Heck. We could have stopped with the first one and in many cases, the world already has us beat. Especially for the virgin wandering around on a college campus with virginity being seen as a mark of shame and having no other reason for saying no other than “The church says so.” Also, as Lauren Winner has pointed out in Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity, what happens when a young man is with a girl and she starts coming on to him? In most cases, a few verses in Paul won’t help when hormones are raging. This is so even if both of them were somewhere together and both were Christians. What happens if the young man gives in and contrary to many Christian experiences, does not have guilt? What will he say afterwards? Will he wonder what else the church was lying to him about?
We are losing many youth to the sexual culture for a reason.
And all of this goes back to the problem that we’re not talking about these issues. This is what leads to the loneliness of apologists.
Let’s also not forget how hard it is to find people who will support your work if you do apologetics. We’re not in the field to get wealthy, but we do need the support a lot of times. Imagine how many ministries could do so much more with just a little bit more support, and yet it doesn’t come in. Oh there is no lack of support for many who are robbing the church blind, such as the televangelists who have people mailing in their Social Security checks, but the vital defenders of the church today are neglected.
In fact, in many cases, we’re practically made the villains of the story.
Why? Well look at you talking about reasons and evidences? You’ve never heard of faith? Don’t you know that you’re supposed to have faith? Now let me tell you about what Jesus did in my life.
If all you have today to share your witness is your testimony, you are going to be destroyed. Unfortunately, people don’t like to hear this. The last time I tried this was in a church small group and I got shot down. If all you have is your testimony, what happens when you meet a Mormon? They have a testimony too. What happens when you meet someone who says “Well I’m happy you found something that works for you, but it’s not for me.” What happens if you meet someone who says “Well if God did all that for you, then why did he let my child die of cancer?”
You’re stuck then.
Churches have really become safety bubbles today. This is what I’ve written about elsewhere. If we’re hiding apart from the world, we can’t fulfill the Great Commission. How can we change the culture if we are not interacting with the culture? We might be trying to build ourselves up, but that’s not going to work when we meet opposition. Too many have also said they just want Jesus to come and have that be it. Well there’s nothing wrong with wanting Jesus to come, but there’s something wrong with neglecting your duty while you wait. Jesus in fact has words of condemnation for the servant who does nothing while his master is away.
Jesus never gave us the Great Commission and then said “And if you don’t do that, here is what will happen instead.” The Great Commission is Plan A. What is Plan B? Nothing. This is one reason I think the Bible doesn’t specifically answer the question about those who never heard. Why should it? Christ has no assurances for you if you do not do your part to fulfill the Great Commission.
In all of this, the apologist is there waiting eager to serve, and yet is neglected. It’s kind of like being in a country that is under attack and being part of the defense and being made a villain.
And this is common. Naturally, every discussion is not meant to be a deep intellectual one, but too many times, we need to get together more and talk about more than our feelings. Sometimes, we need to talk about topics that are a bit over our heads. Maybe that will cause us to reach higher. Believe it or not people, it’s okay to love God with your mind. In fact, He commands us to do so.
If any of you think this is an autobiography, it is not. I meet too many apologists who are in the exact same boat. The church does not discuss these issues any more when these issues are what separates the church. Christianity is a historical worldview with great thinkers in its history that we could benefit greatly from. Many of our heroes like Wesley, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, and others were great thinkers as well as preachers.
What can be done? At this point, the church just needs to wake up. Give an apologist a chance to serve and watch and see what happens. Let people know that it’s okay to doubt and that there are people that can answer their questions. It might sound bizarre, but maybe if some of them learn how true and real their faith is, then it could be that they will actually be more courageous in sharing their faith.
But maybe it’s just a pipe dream.