Monday, June 14, 2010

Can You Defend Your Faith? Apologetics and Biblical Literacy

Here's a sobering headline over at The Christian Post (emphasis added):
Most Christians Cannot Explain Their Faith, Apologist Says

The faith of most Christians, even that of many pastors, will not stand up to intellectual scrutiny, according to renowned apologist Josh McDowell.

This is a concern because pastors’ inability to present biblical truth comprehensibly and relevantly has led to children from Christian families leaving the church, research has shown.

In the United States, the age at which nearly all such children leave church has decreased to 18 years.

Not even the children of many successful ministers are spared.
Over the past 17 years, McDowell, famous author of such books as "Evidence That Demands A Verdict" and "More Than A Carpenter",  asked over 4,000 pastors, church leaders and parents why they believe what they believe.  Sadly, only six people came close to giving a decent answer.  The story continues (emphasis added):
“If anything is based upon truth, it’s the Christian faith,” he said. “Christians who do not know why they have faith or believe have a very difficult time expressing themselves to others."

Ninety-five percent of Christians gave disappointing responses when asked why they believe Jesus is the Son of God.

Asked why the Bible is true and historically reliable, Christians replied that it was what they had been taught by their church or parents.

A common response that most Christians gave to both questions was that it is “what I believe.”

McDowell responded: “That’s voodoo thinking. Where did we ever get that crazy idea that something is true just because we believe it?

“If that is true, then there will never be heresy. Everybody would be right.”

On one occasion, 13 youth pastors at a large convention were unable to reasonably answer the apologist’s question.

Finally one young person stood up, walked toward him and told him he knew the answer. The young man promptly held up his Bible and said, “Because I believe it.”

And to McDowell’s dismay, all the youth pastors applauded him.

McDowell said, “Young man, do you know the difference between you, me and the majority of Christians in the world?

“To you, it is true because you believe it. For me, I believe it because it is true.”

Another response the apologist received was: Because I have faith.

He commented, “Where did we ever get the crazy idea that faith makes something true? That’s idiotic. That’s so unbiblical you can call it heresy.

“God doesn’t use faith to create truth. He uses truth through the Holy Spirit to create faith.”

Christians, the apologist stressed, are called to explain their faith when asked. They are set free by the faith in the truth, he expressed, referring to John 8:32.

Yet others say Christianity is true because Jesus changed their lives.

Even this will not stand up to intellectual scrutiny, McDowell argued.

“Lies change lives; cults change lives,” he said.

To make such an appeal is “not the essence of Christianity,” the author emphasized.

McDowell said: “We owe it to ourselves, we owe it to our children, we owe it to our neighbors, we owe it to the lost, to tell them not just what we believe but why do we believe it.”
I, too, am concerned about some churches ditching the instruction of apologetics, church history, and Bible literacy in its youth and adult "education" programs.   I have had conversations with a pastor who was not interested in nor saw the need for teaching apologetics, and my concern about the spiritual health of that church grew when, for a time, there were no Bibles in the pews.

In my opinion, the Church, in its present romance with the small groups trend, focuses more on "feel good books" rather than meat-and-potatoes education.  Church members are being fed "cotton candy", lacking in serious spiritual nutrition.  

In an age of growing hostility towards Christians bolstered by a new generation of aggressive atheists and a culture of moral relativism, Christianity and the Church are losing their grip on mainstream culture.  I see it in the work place on a regular basis and experienced it in my recent return to graduate school.

Perhaps that is why the pastor and I disagreed about the need for Biblical literacy -- clergy, in some respects, circulate mostly in an insulated world of like-thinking Christians.  "Civilians", such as myself, are swimming in a strong current of doubt, atheism, multi-culturalism and multi-faithism where "there are no absolutes" and "all religions lead to the same destination" are the mantras of the day.  If you express your Christian beliefs, you are quickly met with eye-rolling, at best.  But, if you couch it in Oprah-style spiritualism, you are warmly embraced in a "let's hold hands and sing Kumbayah" feel good blanket.

So, now that I have the luxury of being on vacation, I pledge to include in my summer reading list several books on apologetics.  Besides the McDowell books mentioned above, another good read I started a while ago (and, as is typical, never finished) is "Busted: Exposing Popular Myths about Christianity" by Fred von Kamecke.  It does a good job of addressing the typical criticisms you hear lobbed at Christianity. 

I want to be able to give a rational and well-reasoned argument for what and why I believe.
15But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,"    [1 Peter 3:15]

1 comment:

  1. If you're interested in the early Church check out "Faith of the Early Fathers" by William A. Jurgens. It really helped me to understand why the Church teaches the things it does and gives a good historical basis for apologetics, if you're so inclined.


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