In Defense of Apologetics

Because of some doctrinal differences I have with the church I’ve been attending for a while, I thought it prudent to begin looking for a new church to plug into.  To kill two birds with one Sunday, I’ve been trying to go to a morning service at one church and an evening service at another.  I went to the evening service of one very small church.  Probably only 15 or so people were there, and I was definitely the youngest.  Without me, I’d guess the average age was 65.  But I don’t really have a problem with that.  The people there seemed really sweet.  One older lady in particular took me under her wing for the time I was there, sitting next to me during the service, engaging me in conversation, bragging about her church, etc.  She reminded me of my grandmother.

Things seemed to be going well, until after the service when I spoke with the pastor.  He seemed like a smart man, and I was told that he had taught at Bible college for over 30 years.  I felt comfortable mentioning my interest in apologetics to him.  To my surprise, he replied that he didn’t believe that apologetics is a worthwhile endeavor.  I thought he was joking at first, but he certainly wasn’t.  He said that he agreed with Stephen J. Gould (an atheist, by the way), that faith and reason are completely separate, “non-overlapping magisteria,” and therefore you can’t use reason to defend your faith.

Of course, I believe that’s total hogwash, but I knew I was in absolutely no position to try to argue with him.  I changed the subject after saying something along the lines of “Well, I just think apologetics is a practical way to live out 1 Peter 3:15, to always be prepared to defend the hope that we have.”

But what really struck me was the realization that there really are Christians who don’t believe in the validity of apologetics.  I mean, I didn’t think there are no Christians that are opposed to apologetics, but I’ve always assumed they haven’t developed a substantial Christian worldview or Biblical understanding.  I found it hard to wrap my mind around the fact that there are seasoned spiritual leaders who regard defending the faith as a waste of time.

Often entry-level apologetics books and podcasts begin with a chapter on a defense of the practice of apologetics, but I always assumed that such chapters were just an easy segue into the topic and weren’t entirely necessary.  After all, everyone believes that you need to defend your beliefs, right?  Apparently not.

So, since I was in no position to argue for apologetics to the man, I shall do it here.  Specifically, I’ll address his Gouldian metaphysical position that reason and faith are completely separate magisteria.

Number one, it’s completely unbiblical.  There’s no hint in scripture that we ought to compartmentalize our faith, apart from our reason.  Consider in Exodus 4, when Moses asks Yahweh what reasons he should give when people ask him if the Lord really appeared to him.  God didn’t say “They’d be asking for empirical verification on matters that concern faith, and since faith and reason don’t intersect, they’d be asking for the impossible.  Tell them just to have faith.”  God told Moses to throw his staff on the ground, and it became a snake.

Or, what about the New Testament?  Consider Mark 2, when the paralytic is presented before Jesus, who says to him, “Your sins are forgiven.”  How are you supposed to know if the man’s sins are forgiven or not?  You can’t tell by looking at people whether their sins are forgiven; they don’t suddenly grow a halo.  So, how does Jesus prove he has the miraculous ability to forgive sins?  By demonstrating his miraculous ability to make lame men walk.

I could keep going, but this is a blog, not a book.  I think the fundamental misunderstanding comes from the idea that faith is blind, religious wishing.  The Greek word translated as “faith” in our English Bibles could just as easily be translated as “trust,” or “reliance.”  Faith is confidence in Christ for salvation, not a confidence in oneself to conjure up spiritual emotions and feel oneself close to a God one isn’t sure exists or not.

Faith doesn’t work against or separately from reason, but with it.

The pastor I spoke to quoted from 2 Corinthians 5:7, the famous “walk by faith, not by sight” passage.  But that passage isn’t talking about believing that Christianity is true; it’s about bearing suffering by focusing not on one’s current troubles, but on one’s unseen eternal treasure. Compare it with the slightly earlier passage in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

So, “walk by faith, not by sight” doesn’t mean “Don’t come to your belief by reason, but by blind wishful thinking.”  It means, “You know that Jesus has saved you, so stop focusing on your immediate suffering, but look forward to the eternal glory you know you will receive one day through Christ Jesus.”  If you don’t think Paul thought faith was based in reason, take a look at 1 Corinthians 15.

This reason/faith dichotomy just doesn’t make sense.  If God is the God of all reality, why would he only have free range over a limited sphere of reality?  It seems to me that he’d have authority over not just religion, but art, history, philosophy, and even science.  He would have the prerogative to suspend the operations of science when he desired.  If miracles can intrude on science, faith can intrude on reason.  There are no non-overlapping magisteria.  There is only God’s magisterium.

So, I’m still looking for a church.

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