Monday, May 9, 2016

A Word to Christian Apologists

I have been interested in apologetics for quite a few years, dating back to my college years at Portland State University and Dr. John Whitehead’s Philosophy of Religion course. I look back with special fondness to Dr. Whitehead’s non-falsifiability argument and his “invisible unicorn” illustration. It spurred the beginning of my intellectual quest for truth and faith, though I'm sure that wasn't his intention. 

The intervening forty-eight years or so have been challenging. I have myself entertained serious doubt as I have read the ideas of atheists and anti-theists. I have purposefully sought out the challenges to Theism and Christianity. I have interacted with scientists on the subject of evolution and cosmology. And I have done personal research in both fields, trying to catch up in areas of study that my college studies in literature had not prepared me to understand.

During that time I also engaged in serious study of the Bible and history. I earned a graduate degree from a theological seminary where the grammatical-historical method of hermeneutics and exegesis was the centerpiece of biblical study and a knowledge of the original languages was expected. 

In the last few years I’ve read the books and the blogs of the new atheists and have watched as the New Atheism put on muscle as the New Anti-theistism. A current faculty member of my old alma mater Dr. Peter Boghossian, who seems poised to take up the mantle (pardon my biblical allusion) of my old professor of the 1960s, is a case in point. (I trust he will be as much as spur to faith to a new generation as Dr. Whitehead was for me.)  But there are many others.   

Recently, after playing on the fields and with the rules of the adversaries of Theism and Christianity for many years, it has occurred to me that, though Theism and Christianity have held their own, Christian apologists have too often misrepresented Christianity in the minds of their readers. 

The fact, and the point I repeatedly made to my students in Apologetics, is that no apologetic argument based on science or philosophy ever resulted in faith. Only a personal encounter with God convinces a non-believer of God or of his need for God. 

Yes, I know there are well known apologists who were formerly atheists and who speak of the reasoning that brought them to faith. Among them are people like C.S. Lewis and Josh McDowell.  And I have no doubt that reason and evidence brought down the barriers to personal faith, but no genuine Christian becomes such without the experience of being born again. 
That requires explanation. Being “born again” does not mean what it has recently become, a matter of a change of mind or the adoption of a new life changing conviction. (See Merriam-Webster) “Born again” is a supernatural God encounter initiated by the Holy Spirit and is irrefutable to anyone who has experienced it. It is a change on the level of spirit not merely on the level of the intellect or emotion, though there will also be intellectual and emotional change that follows.   

For anyone familiar with the Bible and with the testimony of men and women from the beginning of human history, that is not a surprise. Everyone who has become a genuine follower of God, in other words a “believer,”  from Abraham in Genesis, to Paul in the New Testament, to the Muslim in Pakistan who had a vision of Jesus, and to me has  become a believer in God because they met him. 

That is the playing field on which we need to play the championship game. 

I know that our adversaries will complain. They will say evidence that is not independently verifiable is not admissible. (I recently had a serious young man who described himself as an agnostic say this very thing.) Only sound objective scientific evidence is valid. But that is true only when the debate is confined to the realm of science. However, Christianity is not proven true or false by science. We might expect that science and the scientific method will have something to say about claims that can be verified or disproven by science. But God is not one of those things. Christianity is not one of those things. 

So debating whether Jesus actually walked on water, as one anti-theist  blogger wished to do, is meaningless. It will never be accepted as a possibility by anyone who is not a believer in God. But for anyone who has actually met God it is a very viable possibility. It is something that could well have happened because God wrote the story that we live, including the “natural laws, and he can write it anyway he chooses. The laws of nature are subject to him, not he to the laws. 

That God could do this is not a debate point. It is our settled confidence based on our personal knowledge of God, and it cannot be explained to the skeptic any more than red can be explained to a blind man. 

So we can continue playing on the field chosen by the anti-theists. It is important that we do. It is good for us to know that the best efforts of our adversaries aren't decisive. But the final game must be played on our field, the field where a God encounter is the deciding play.

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