The apologetics movement created a monster...

Tomorrow we will continue our series on faith, doubt, and relationships. In the meantime, let’s discuss an excerpt from Evolving in Monkey Town.

You might say that the apologetics movement had created a monster. I’d gotten so good at critiquing all the fallacies of opposing worldviews, at searching for truth through objective analysis, that it was only a matter of time before I turned the same skeptical eye upon my own faith. It occurred to me that in worldview class, we laughed at how transcendentalists so serenely embraced paradox and contradiction, but then went on to theology class and accepted without question that Jesus existed as both fully God and fully man. We criticized radical Islam as a natural outworking of the violent tone of the Qur’an without acknowledging the fact that the God of Israel ordered his people to kill every living thing in Canaan, from the elderly to the newborn. We sneered at the notion of climate change yet believed that God once made the earth stand still. We accused scientists of having an agenda, of ignoring science that contradicted the evolution paradigm, but engaged in some mental gymnastics of our own, trying to explain how it’s possible to see the light from distant stars. We mocked New Age ambiguity but could not explain the nature of the Trinity. We claimed that ours was a rational, logical faith, when it centered on the God of the universe wrapping himself in flesh to be born in a manger in Bethlehem. 

I thought about this part of the book at a forum the other day when a college student posed this question: “Why do we call them contradictions when inconsistencies are found in other people’s faith and paradox when contradictions are found in our own faith?”

How would you respond?

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Summit Says: Bailout is "Postmodern"?

Today I bumped into a “Worldview Chart” posted online by Summit Ministries. It’s perhaps the best illustration I’ve seen of how many unnecessary and potentially dangerous positions have been tacked on to Christianity by conservative evangelicals. According to this chart, the Christian worldview includes belief in young earth creationism, support for the death penalty, a commitment to mind/body dualism, rejection of non-traditional family structure, and devotion to fee enterprise and capitalism.

This “Christian worldview” is compared to what Summit considers to be opposing worldviews, such as Islam, secular humanism, and postmodernism. I couldn’t help but chuckle at how the “postmodern economic system” was described: “Postmodern economics has as its goal the alleviation of human suffering. It seeks to do this through some form of government intervention within a fee market environment.

Does this mean that anyone who supports the $700-billion bailout of U.S. financial insitutions is an economic postmodernist?

Furthermore, according to Summit’s Worldview Chart, “postmodern sociology seeks to even the playing field by emphasizing the value of those typically considered on the cultural fringe, such as the poor and oppressed.”  Wow.  Seeking justice for the downtrodden is considered by Summit to be an anti-Christian worldview.  

As you might detect, this chart makes me a little angry. It’s probably because I have a history with Summit. I participated in the program while in college, and this chart reminds me of a time when I thought I had to give up my entire faith because I questioned the legitimacy of young earth creationism.

“If the Bible cannot be trusted to explain origins,” I was taught, “then it can’t be trusted for anything, and the Christian faith is lost.”

So when a couple of science books convinced me that there was some legitimacy to evolutionary theory, I was under the impression that this meant God was dead.

Of course, after years of wrestling with my faith, I discovered that I could still follow Jesus Christ without sticking to the Worldview Chart.  However, as I’ve spent the past few months talking to others with similar evangelical backgrounds, I’ve found that many have given up their faith altogether. Their stories have similar themes. “I took a biology class” says one. “I spent time with a Muslim and found out he didn’t fit the caricature” says another. “I had questions about inerrancy,” “I saw that truth is in many ways relative,” “I support the civil rights of gays and lesbians,” “I think ‘the market’ has become an idol” and so on.

Sadly, these statements are too often followed by, “…so I gave up on Christianity.”

No wonder. According to Summit, a person who thinks evolution is a legitimate scientific theory, supports regulation of the free market, identifies with left-wing politics, and "seeks to empower the powerless, that is, women, minorities and homosexuals” is a postmodern secular humanist with some Marxist tendencies. According to the Summit Worldview Chart, I don't hold to a consistent Christian worldview.

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(P.S. Another irony of the Worldview Chart: “Polygamy” falls under the “Islam” category and not the “Biblical” category. Talk about picking and choosing!)

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Ten Things I'm Not "Ready to Give an Answer" About

As I mentioned in the last post, those of us raised in the conservative evangelical subculture during the apologetics movement of the 80s and 90s grew up with the charge to “always be ready to give an answer” in defense of the Christian faith. For many of us, fighting the good fight of faith meant being prepared to debate the skeptics. It meant having intelligent and ready answers to questions concerning the Problem of Evil, religious pluralism, biblical inerrancy, evolutionary theory, and postmodern relativism.

I don’t know about you, but by the time I graduated from my conservative Christian college, I was pretty confident that I knew exactly what atheists and humanists and Buddhist believed… without ever having met any atheists or humanists or Buddhists in person.  I was so sure that I could effectively dismantled and humiliate any opposing worldviews that it really unnerved when I began encountering things in my young adulthood that made me suddenly question my  long-held beliefs.

From the AIDS orphan I held in my arms in India, to the passages of Scripture that seemed to condone genocide, to the persuasiveness of biology textbooks, to my encounters with people of other faiths—my interactions with the world left me wondering if rehearsed answers would be enough to satisfy my doubts about my faith.

As I’ve spent the past few years struggling with doubt and grasping for faith, I’ve found that being ready with an answer does not do justice to the seriousness of questions like, why does God allow innocent children to starve to death? or how does God judge Buddhists and Hindus and Muslims? or does the Bible condone slavery and the subjugation of women? This is especially true when such questions are being asked by those who are suffering, those whose lives are significantly impacted by the answers.  

I’ve come to believe that the key to the survival of my faith has been a willingness to say, “I don’t know”—both to myself and to others who are asking. Having been taught by apologists and theologians that such a response represents weakness, I am continually surprised by how much strength and hope I find in embracing it.

It’s important to note that when Peter first penned the words “always be ready with an answer,” he was writing to the persecuted church.

“Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good?” he writes. “But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.”

This isn’t advice for a debate team. It’s advice for martyrs! Peter is encouraging his readers to look into the eyes of their persecutors with love and compassion, a disarming approach that is bound to generate some questions.  This passage isn’t about fearlessly defending a set of propositions. It’s about fearlessly defending hope—a wild, bewitching, and reckless thing that cannot be systematized or charted or rationally explained.

With this in mind, I’ve come to believe that “I don’t know” is  an appropriate response to tough questions, a response that may (at times) make a better case for hope than a five-point lecture ever could.

So here are ten things I don’t know about God, faith, and religion—ten things I’m not exactly “ready to give an answer” about. (In some cases, I have included links to past posts which explore the issues further.) Now, I’m pretty open-minded about this stuff, so feel free to post your own responses and ideas. (Perhaps you can convince me of your position!) Also, you may want to add a few “I don’t knows” of your own. In my experience, admitting a lack of certainty can be a strangely liberating and faith-building experience. What better place to do it than on someone else's blog!

1.  I don’t know where evil originated or why God allows so much suffering in the world.

2. I don’t know if I believe in “just war.” (More on August 11 post.)

3. I don’t know which Bible stories ought to be treated as historically accurate, scientifically-provable accounts of fact and which stories are meant to be metaphorical. I’m beginning to believe that it might not matter, that these stories can transform my life whether or not they refer to literal days, literal fruit trees, or literal floods.

4. I don’t know which political party best represents Christian values. (More on August 18 and August 25 posts.)

5. I don’t know if I am an evangelical.

6. I don’t know how God will ultimately judge between good and evil. In other words, I don’t know who’s going to heaven and who’s going to hell. (More on May 1 and May 3 posts.)

7. I don’t know the degree to which God is present in religious systems.

8. I don’t know why people are gay, or if being gay is a sin. (More on July 28 post.)

9. I don’t know which Church tradition best represents the teachings of Jesus Christ.

10. I don’t know why Christians (including myself) so often get it wrong when we are supposed to have direct access to absolute truth. (I’m thinking of the Crusades, the Inquisition, geocentricism, the persecution of the Anabaptists, the use of Scripture to defend slave ownership and segregation, young earth creationism, etc.)

Of course there are more…but I think this is enough for today!

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Are Apologetics Making A Comeback?

In a Christianity Today article entitled “A New Day for Apologetics,”  reporter Troy Anderson writes that “people young and old are flocking to hear-and be changed by-winsome arguments for the Christian faith.” 

The author quotes apologist Lee Strobel as saying, “It wasn’t too many years ago that scholars were writing off apologetics because we live in a postmodern world where young people are not supposed to be interested in things like the historical Jesus…The biggest shock is that among people who communicated to me that they had found faith in Christ through apologetics, the single biggest group was 16-to-24-year-olds.” 

According to Strobel, more people than ever are attending apologetics seminars and getting degrees in philosophy in an effort to combat the militant atheism that has surfaced in college classrooms, TV documentaries, and best-selling books. 

The article reports that “Strobel is convinced apologetics helps bring people to God.” 

Okay, I have to admit I had a slightly negative response to the article. Having grown up in the conservative evangelical subculture during the 80s and 90s, when the Apostle Paul’s instruction to “always be ready with an answer” became the rallying cry of Christians around the country, I got bombarded with apologetics. I read every Josh McDowell book on the shelf, attended apologetics seminars like Summit, memorized nearly every argument in support of Christianity, went to a Christian college…and STILL had a major faith crisis during my young adulthood. 

What I found was that always being ready with an answer didn’t always work. I knew the “Christian response” to the Problem of Evil like the back of my hand, but it somehow didn’t make as much sense in India, where I struggled to understand why so many children had been orphaned by AIDS. I knew how to prove that Jesus rose from the dead, but I couldn’t convince my non-Christian coworkers that Jesus was alive and well in the Church today, when so many of them had been mistreated by believers. I knew how to win an argument with a universalist, but couldn’t quiet my own nagging questions about the eternal destiny of the un-evangelized. I’d built my faith on answers, so when I started asking questions, my faith began to crumble. 

I grew up believing that the best way to win people to Christ was to win an argument. But my experience since graduating from college has been that most people (including myself) seem most drawn to Christianity when they are touched by people who are simply living like Christ. 

This is one of the things I like about the Emerging Church and folks like Shane Claiborne. I like that they emphasize caring for the poor and sick over sitting in conferences and arguing over theology. I like that they talk about understanding and respecting people of other faiths and backgrounds rather than shooting them down. I like that they don’t talk about “the culture war” or “the battle for truth,” but about peace and kindness. I like that they don’t always have to be right. 

Perhaps the two camps will provide a nice balance for one another? 

Now, I’m not saying that there is no room for apologetics at all. Certainly we must be prepared to address the scientific, historical, and philosophical objections to Christianity that often prove to be stumbling blocks on the journey to faith. Books ought to be written on and seminars ought to be presented.  But if  apologetics are indeed making a comeback, I just hope we can avoid the kind of militant rationalism that characterized the apologetics movement of the 80s and 90s. 

I hope we will keep in mind that God’s existence cannot be empirically proven and that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” I hope we will remember that, more often that not, what keeps a person from embracing the gospel is not that he hasn’t seen enough evidence to support the existence of God in science or in logic, but that he hasn’t seen enough evidence to support the existence of God among the people who claim to be following Him. I hope we remember that a faith that leaves no room for questions is not really faith at all. I hope we will balance our words of truth with acts of mercy and goodness. 

Paul wrote that we should “always be ready to give an answer for the hope that is within [us].” I don’t think he meant that we should always be ready to win an argument. I think he meant that we ought to live lives that are so outrageously hope-filled, so counter-intuitive and self-sacrificing that people will ask us who we on earth we are following. 

What do you think? Do you think apologetics are making a comeback? Do you agree with Strobel that “apologetics bring people to God”?

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