Monday, March 05, 2007

Two Types of Apologetics

Stephen from Y Safle wrote a kind response to my post on the Jesus Family Tomb. Based on his and others' responses, however, I get the feeling that many people may not have understood where I was coming from. If I link to and approvingly cite others' reasoned objections to the Jesus Family Tomb television program and book, why do I on the other hand appear to dismiss their contentions and wave the whole thing away as irrelevant?

My post was primarily a reaction to the piling-on that was being done by Christian bloggers, which appeared 1) to want to preemptively snuff out any consideration of the program before it ever aired, and 2) to deal with the issue without any mention of what Stephen correctly termed the elephant in the room: namely, the Resurrection, believed in by all those who were vociferously challenging the program's stats.

Stephen wrote that while I might be right that the special would be irrelevant to a convinced Christian, there would still be value in trying to convince a nonbeliever that the claims of the special were false. In order to discuss this, I need to examine two types of apologetics. The usual type is evidential: gather the evidence that supports Christian claims and present it to the intellect for a verdict. The problem is that our intellect is fallen; a confirmed nonbeliever can always find more reasons to remain a nonbeliever. Nobody ever gets argued into saving faith.

The other type of apologetics is presuppositional: make the assumption that people really do know the existence of God but are suppressing it in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18-21). From this point of view, arguments over whether God exists or not are quite beside the point, and actually shift the argument onto the nonbeliever's ground. He can continue debating a point that the Bible indicates he already knows the truth of, while not having to deal with the claims that that truth make on his life. A presuppositional apologetic approach is two-pronged: on one hand, the apologist attempts to expose the contradictions inherent in the nonbeliever's worldview--contradictions that are necessary to maintain this suppression of the truth--and on the other hand, simply proclaims the gospel, regardless of the hearer's protests that he does not believe it.

An example of the presuppositional approach would be as follows: an unbeliever maintains that she cannot believe in God, since there is so much evil in the world. The apologist maintains that the unbeliever's recognition of evil is an implicit recognition of a transcendent moral authority--she does not mean by "evil" simply things that she personally dislikes--and thus the unbeliever's very contention demonstrates her knowledge that God exists. If she is really concerned about evil, she should place herself under God's moral authority and trust in Jesus as the solution to the moral issues in her own life.

In the end, I think both types of apologetic have value; but the value of the evidential variety does not lie in the ability simply to argue another person into becoming a Christian. That will not happen. The value, rather, lies in correcting the misgivings of those who may want to believe but feel that Christian faith is intellectually indefensible. C.S. Lewis was once called the "best persuader of the half-convinced." But the real battle is in getting people to the point of being "half-convinced," and that is not to be done by a merely logical approach. It's no use trying to overcome a person's every objection in order to get him to believe; get him to believe, and you'll find that most of the objections evaporate. (The ones that don't become real questions with hope of an answer, not just obfuscations.)

Conversion doesn't happen merely in the mind; it happens in what the Bible calls the "heart," the center of our personality, of who we are. The heart is influenced quite a bit more by the examples it sees from the people around it than by logical argumentation. A Christian who sews up his airtight logical argument with an exultant "Gotcha!" probably alienates the person he is attempting to persuade; the one who says, "I don't have all the answers," but demonstrates the love of Christ is likely to be far more persuasive.

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