Saturday, February 23, 2013

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By Faith: The Limits of Christian Apologetics

... for we walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7)
Except ... well, frankly, I'd really rather walk by sight.  Sorry ... but I'm just keepin' it real, y'know?

In 1972, Josh McDowell published his landmark apologetic, Evidence that Demands a Verdict.  In the 4 decades since, the book has been repeatedly revised, republished, amended, appended, attacked and defended.  McDowell's method emphasizes archaeological and documentary proof of the Bible's historical accuracy, which is important and abundant.  It is not--indeed, no amount of evidence can ever be--dispositive.  In other words, we will NEVER prove our case, even to our own satisfaction, by any apologetic method. Period.

Let me explain it another way.  I have often thought how much easier it would be to believe God--and conclusively prove His truths to others--if I could see one really impressive, knock-your-socks-off miracle.  I don't know, maybe something like this:
Moses and Aaron did as the Lord commanded. In the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants he lifted up the staff and struck the water in the Nile, and all the water in the Nile turned into blood. (Exodus 7:20)
Yes, that would do it!  Just one like that and my testimony would be set for life!  Of course, apparently neither that, nor plagues of frogs, gnats, flies, death of the livestock, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, or the death of the firstborn served to get through to Pharaoh.  But his was a special case, yes?  After all, He was raised up for that very purpose!

Now the people of Israel--God's chosen people--they had all that and more!  Where shall I start?  Pillars of fire and cloud.  Red Sea, parted.  Pharaoh's army, swamped.  Manna from Heaven.  Water from rocks.  Fireworks at Mount Sinai.  Shall I go on?  If ever there was a people with an abundance of proof of Yahweh's supremacy, this was the generation.  No need to check the documents or dig for clues.  They were set for life!

Er, except how'd that work out exactly?
For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. (Hebrews 3:16-19)
The fact is simply this:  sight cannot replace faith.  At most, it purchases a temporary enthusiasm, as it did when Christ walked the earth and performed many miracles to the delight of crowds.  Yet these same crowds abruptly rejected, deserted, and called for the execution of the miracle-worker.  Like tepid fans turning on a losing team, they jumped off the bandwagon as soon as things got tough.

Don't get me wrong--I believe there is abundant evidence that testifies to the truth of Scripture.  I believe our faith is solidly substantiated and extremely reasonable!  Moreover, the Scripture makes clear that we need to stand ready to contend intelligently and persuasively for our faith. In other words, Christian apologetics is an important and necessary endeavor, because it demonstrates that our faith is firmly rooted in objective reality, not a blind leap into some fantastic alternate universe.

But apologetics cannot resolve doubt and unbelief.  These are ultimately spiritual maladies that can't be cured with applications of more and better evidence.  My testimony would certainly be more spectacular if I could engage in a little water-walking or produce never-before-seen video of Jesus' resurrection, but that does not mean it would ultimately be more effective.  Once again, there is no amount of sight that can penetrate the hardness of men's hearts.  Only the regenerative power of the Holy Spirit is sufficient for that!

So by all means, contend intelligently for the faith!  Engage the minds of men by testifying to the weight of the evidence and the reasonableness of Scriptural truth.  Just remember, we will never successfully debate the world into the Kingdom of God, nor will we ever finally resolve our own nagging doubts by mastering the apologia.  The wisdom of God will ever be foolishness to the carnal mind, for faith does not come by sight. It comes by the life-giving power of God's Spirit!
For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:22-25)

5 comments:

  1. Great post! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.

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  2. 100% Mr Jailer. I would even rate it higher if I believed that we could give more.

    It was only when I realized that faith must come from within that I gave up all my doubts. Since then I have found that the message in the Bible reconciles perfectly with all that I know of man's ways and man's knowledge. Still miracles abound around us, but my non-believing friends seem to think that there are other logical explanations for those events, just as they think that physics and science are in the process of explaining all of the mysteries of God's universe which is on loan to us.

    Sadly, faith does not preclude sin. Or is it that sin reflects fault in our faith? I do not understand how a rational God loving (or God fearing) person can say "this would be a sin" and go ahead and do it, and I'm sure that I will pay a price (and already have) for the times that I have done that. I was hoping that my just completed review of Leviticus might shed some light on this, but think I am looking in the wrong Testament.

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  3. I never liked the term "Apologetics." (My spell checker doesn't like it either, because it just underlined it in red).

    I know that as Christians we should be prepared to defend our faith, but I prefer to rely on the Holy Spirit to give me direction to do that. At my age, I don't feel there is enough time left to become an expert in all the Apologetics, so I leave that to the biblical scholars.

    But there are times when I know the Holy Spirit uses me to speak to someone, and I'm always amazed when it happens. The message is usually very simple, brief, and powerful. So much so, I know it's above my own intellect.....

    As for miracles, I guess it depends on your definition of a "miracle." To me, any unselfish act is a miracle. Love is a miracle. Life itself is a miracle. e.e. cummings wrote in his poem What if a much of a which of a wind: "When skies are hanged and oceans drowned, the single secret will still be man." That line says to me that science will never figure out life. For all our science, we cannot reproduce the miracle of a tree, let alone life. And even if we could, would it have a soul, a unique personality, or be capable of love and unselfish acts? There is abundant evidence in nature and human nature to defend our faith for anyone who cares to look. But while we are in our sin, enjoying breaking God's laws, we don't want to look. Why? Because we are walking in our flesh and serving our flesh. I don't fully understand Grace, but I know all about selfishness.....

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  4. I so agree. That book came out the year I was saved and we all used it and the sequel to try to convince people into the Kingdom. Never worked once. Those kinds of arguments do bolster the true Christian's faith though. Great post.

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  5. Josh once said, "There is always enough evidence for a man to believe if he wants to, but never so much that those who do not want to believe are forced to do so.

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