Saturday, July 21, 2012

Contending for the Faith

We are instructed in I Timothy 2:1-3 to pray for all those in authority, "that we may live peaceable lives" and so that the gospel may be proclaimed and God may be honored. Prayer is an important responsiblity of the church, and as we see the peril of these days, it should become even more of a pressing need.  For example, many have written that a large percentage of evangelical youth lose their faith in college, and that with so much secular influence, the Evangelical church is expected to shrink by 1/2 in the next decades But for this problem in particular, prayer is not our only responsibility, we are also called to "contend for the faith," (Jude 3) which implies a willingness to engage in the cultural and even political battles that shape our time. A church that is not "always ready to make a defense" (apologia) of its hope (I Peter 3:14) is in trouble, and a case can be made that we are losing our kids precisely because we have not taught them the reasons for believing in Jesus, and the capacity of reasoning itself. We have left them unarmed in the battle of ideas that is raging in our culture today.

As an apologetics teacher I've heard all the arguments. "You can't reason someone into the kingdom," "No one was ever converted by an argument," amd a personal favorite, "People don't care how much you know, until you show them how much you care." At a superficial level, all these staements are true, the problem is, they have become excuses for not dealing with the destructive beliefs and ideas that have taken control of our culture. We have thought that we can wrap ourselves in the protective cocoon of the faith, without recognizing the very real connection between faith and reason. As Clark Pinnock famously said, "The heart cannot embrace what the mind is not convinced is true." As we are discovering with this generation, we are losing our kids, not because we are neglecting their feelings and experiences, but because we are neglecting their minds.

This is not to say that we should read William Lane Craig or J.P. Moreland to our kids at bedtime. I will be the first to admit that a great deal of our apologetics is too intellectual, and thus irrelevant. I understand why this is the case, the attacks of the last 200 years arose from the philosophers, naturalists, and theologians of the enlightenment era, and the defense of the faith was assumed to require a response at the same level. In fact, it doesn't.

In the 1950's, the BBC commissioned C.S. Lewis to create a series of radio "talks" on the Christian faith. Lewis clearly understood that he was not speaking to his fellow scholars, but to the general population of Great Britain. The result was one of the most effective works of apologetics and evangelism ever done. In its book form, Mere Christianity, has led to the conversion of more people than almost any book in history, outside the Bible itself.

What makes the book so powerful is that it is a masterpiece of observation and common sense. This, it seems to me, must become the model for how we contend for the faith in this unbelieving age. We must talk about the things that people know from experience that point them to belief in God. We must also teach ourselves, our children, and all who will listen, the ways that common sense point us in the direction of faith. In essence we need to point out the ways that the law has been written on human hearts (Rom. 2: 15) and the correlation between a beneficial and successful life and living that life in obedience to the teachings of the Bible. We believe in a very real thing called "truth," and truth is that which corresponds to reality. In this relativistic age, when people accuse us of imposing our beliefs on other people, we can respond by saying that we are not imposing a set of beliefs, we are enabling people to discover life as it was meant to be lived, and thus we are giving them the opportunity to discover the truth. The foundation of this, of course, is that we have gone through this process ourselves, and we are simply sharing the steps that we ourselves have taken to enter into a real relationship with the True and Living God.

One of the great battles in the history of the church, if not Western civilization, is the dispute between faith and reason. I believe this has been a harmful mis-understanding of both faith and reason. We are people of the God who calls to us, "Come, let us reason together." (Isaiah 1:18) The greatest act of faith, recorded in the Bible, Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac, was grounded in Abraham's using his reason to sustain his faith (Hebrews 11:19). One of the greatest mistakes the church can make is to abandon reason in a futile attempt to defend faith, to abandon reason is to abandon faith. It seems to me that the 20th century and now the 21st century demonstrate this sad fact. It is time for us, the followers of Jesus, to recover the capacity to defend the faith; our kids and grandkids will thank us.


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Scott Groethe said...

Tom you and I are 31 years from our graduation at Bethany. A lot of proverbial water has gone under the bridge. At the same time nothing is really new.

I hated the changes at the University of Minnesota (where I got my Linguistics degree) that I saw pre-Bethany, post-Bethany and post-China in the three times I went there.

When my kids aren't able to go to church on a given Sunday (say one of us is sick) we go through the main doctrines of the faith ( but I try to make what we go over relevant to their life and try to answer the questions their friends will ask.*

Here in Buddhist Thailand often the question comes up - with their belief in karma - "have I done enough?" My Thai tutor, his wife became a believer because of that very reason. She was taught, as she understood it, that she would get to heaven if she did enough good things that outweighed the bad things. The big big question she had that she could never answer was "have I done enough?"

Because Christianity offered the "it is finished" from God's side, that was the deal breaker for her. She knew she could stop trying. And her new faith brought her great freedom.

*I asked Walter, our oldest (the other two will no doubt have different answers) why his friends aren't Christians. He said his Thai friends said Jesus was a great teacher but that's all he was. Insert here the argument that Jesus (from C S Lewis) can't be just a great moral teacher he either has to be God or crazy or the biggest liar. I will try to remember to tell Walter why Jesus can't be just a great philosopher - those reasons.

Regarding "Mere Christianity" I know that people like Chuck Colson were saved as a result of that book. I was already saved when I read it, but I agree with you that what Lewis wrote is a very good example and guide as to how to share with our family and friends. In our post-modern age - not sure if Lewis addressed this, I think he did in "Abolition of Man" - that "true north principles" (a Steven Covey term) is maybe the most fruitful way to engage people we know.