“How I Got Into Apologetics” (part 1)

I don’t want this blog to be a rehashing of arguments for Christianity that you can read about in other places.  There are other blogs that give and defend various apologetic arguments, and I believe such blogs are valuable, but there are a fair amount of them already.  But, there’s only one blog written by yours truly, and while that may not be enough to capture anyone’s interest, it is something.  That being said, I’d like to give my personal background in my study of apologetics, as well as what I’m doing with my life now.

I was raised by Christian parents, and although I grew up in the Bible belt, I never considered Christianity a thing you accept only with your brain turned off.  My dad’s an MD and my mother’s a PhD — definitely not stupid people.  Growing up, the fact of God’s existence seemed plain to me.  After all, somebody had to have made the universe.  Atheism seemed so bizarre to me that I had a hard time imagining that anyone could really believe that there’s no God.  Of course, I didn’t know any atheists, so it wasn’t a problem for me.  Other religions were a little trickier.  Most of my acquaintances were Christians, but I knew some people that were Jewish, and others that were Hindu.  How was I supposed to know that the God of Christianity was the real god, and the world
wasn’t created by Zeus or Allah or Vishnu or somebody I’d not even heard of?  I decided that Christianity had to be true because we’ve got Jesus, and Jesus is so great he’s got to be God.

So that was my self-apologetic, how I defended Christianity to myself.  Not too bad for a little kid I suppose, but as I got older, I began to have doubts.  Not so much about Christianity, but about Christians.  A severe disadvantage of living in the Bible belt is that, although most of the people you meet call themselves Christians, it’s also true that most people you meet are shallow, hypocritical, self-righteous bigots.  I was severely burned when my family went through a great time of need and our church abandoned us.  For this and other related reasons, I became angry and bitter and felt extremely distant from God.  I don’t think I ever considered that Christianity was false, but I do think I considered that maybe it wasn’t for me.

I began to live the life of one who, for the most part, assumed that God didn’t exist, or if he did, he was too high above me to care about my behavior.  I resented the religious convictions of my parents because I felt they were outdated and were impinging on my freedom.  I was rebellious and openly disrespectful to the authorities in my life.  All the while though, I wanted there to be a God and I wanted Christianity to be true because I knew that life was short and pointless without God and the forgiveness of sins.  But I couldn’t get a clear view of the gospel through all the muck in my life and
the hatred I felt toward Christians.

Things changed when I was a sophomore in high school.  I don’t want to implicate anyone, but there was a person in my life whom I’d put way too much trust and confidence into, to the point that I kept no secrets from him.  In a way, he was the source of my greatest comfort in life — the only person I considered to be a true friend.  When I was 16, he betrayed me deeply.  Suddenly, I was left without a friend, and essentially without an anchor and a foundation.  I was forced to reassess my life and convictions.  At this point, I began to cling to all I had left — Jesus Christ and my devout parents.

I didn’t want to be betrayed again.  I didn’t want to put my trust into someone who didn’t deserve it and would only disappoint me in the end.  It was then that I began to look into apologetics, which began to give me a confidence that what I was believing was actually true.  I was hooked.  Since then, I’ve become an avid reader of apologetics books and listener of apologetics podcasts.  I enjoy watching debates and lectures.  Recently, I started an apologetics reading group at my school.

That’s the Cliff’s Notes, anyway.  In the next entry, I’ll go into more detail.

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“Happily Ever After”

I have the tendency to interpret stories in the context of my Christian worldview.  I know of course that everyone interprets things through their own worldview, but I try to be very intentional about it.  For example, when I watch a movie I’m constantly asking myself questions like “How is the hero like  Jesus?”  “What does this story say about man’s condition before God?”  “What is mankind’s problem according to this story?”  And so on.  I believe that all good stories are stories about God, whether the writers are aware of the fact or not.  That is, God may have hard-wired the gospel story into the subconcious of humankind.  The story of God is thus the meta-story that all other stories are reaching up towards.

The reason I mention this is because recently I watched a film that expresses the story of God in such vivid terms that it could almost be considered a Christian allegory.  When I saw the themes beginning to weave together, I was awestruck.  The film I am referring to is Walt Disney’s Snow White.

I’ve of course seen Snow White before, but that was back in the olden days when videos were on tapes and you had to rewind them before you could watch them.  Last Christmas I received the movie on DVD, but wasn’t given a chance to watch it until recently.  So in some ways, it was like seeing it for the first time, although I knew the story as well as anyone.  We all know about Snow White, the evil queen, the seven dwarves, and the prince.

But what happens when you exchange Snow White for “church,” evil queen for “Satan,” and prince for “Jesus Christ?”  Suddenly the themes of Fall, Redemption, and Resurrection become startlingly plain. (Unfortunately, the dwarves don’t play much of a role in the allegory, which may be one of the reasons CS Lewis considered them to be “vulgar.”)

Keep in mind as you approach the film also that the themes are not presented in strictly chronological order, but as William Dembski might say, kairological order.  Look at it this way.

The evil queen [Satan] despises Snow White [the church] and tries to have her destroyed.  But it isn’t enough that Snow White should go through physical death; the queen makes a way that she should experience “sleeping” [eternal/spiritual] death.  Snow White has been separated from her beloved prince [Christ] and longs (or as she puts it, dreams) to be with him forever.  She prays to God that he’ll make all her dreams come true.  She is cared for by the dwarves who warn her not to trust any strangers [as God warned Adam and Eve not to eat from a certain tree].  But the evil queen comes to Snow White and offers her an apple she claims is magical.  Shunning the warning of the dwarves and listening to the enticing lies of the witch, she accepts the cursed apple[just as Adam and Eve accepted the forbidden fruit].  Not trusting God to fulfill her desires, Snow White decides to take things into her own hands by eating the apple, but the consequence is death.  The dwarves and all the forest mourn Snow White’s death, although the wicked queen is destroyed.  When all hope seems lost, the prince comes, kisses Snow White, who is raised from the dead.  The creation itself is released from its mourning at her resurrection, and the prince and princess ride off the the prince’s celestial castle [The New Heavens and New Earth], where they live happily ever after.

Have you ever wondered how all these fairy stories can end by saying “they lived happily ever after” if they die someday?  If they live happily only for the rest of their lives, shouldn’t the story say that?  Doesn’t “ever after” imply eternity?  And the scriptures say God has set eternity into our hearts (Ecclesiates 3:11).

I believe I can credit the incredible popularity of the Disney princesses at least partially to the fact that little girls aren’t so cynical that they stifle the eternity set in their hearts.  All of us girls dream of someone who will love us passionately, protect us, cherish us, and be with us forever and always.  Someone who will wipe away all our tears, fulfill all our longings, never leave us, and never forsake us.  And there is Someone who desires greatly to fulfill all these dreams for us.

Someday my prince will come.  Someday we’ll meet again.  And away to His palace we’ll go to be happy forever.  I know.

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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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Swallowing Dinosaurs

I suppose I ought to justify the title of my blog.  What the heck does “Swallowing Dinosaurs” have to do with anything?

I’ll try to explain my admittedly bizarre title with my admittedly bizarre reasoning.  But first, a little about myself.  I’m an undergraduate student studying philosophy.  I’m also a Christian.  I love apologetics.  And I’m a girl.  I don’t know why, but people are often surprised at that combination.  Go figure.

I’ve been informed that the first blog entry is always the worst, so I suppose the pressure’s off to come up with anything profound to dazzle your mind with at this moment.  That being said, I’m going to admit that I chose the title “Swallowing Dinosaurs” mainly because I thought it sounded cool.  But, there’s a little more to it than that.

In Matthew 23, Jesus taught against the hypocritical religious leaders of his day.   He said, among other things, that they were “straining out gnats and swallowing camels.”  That is, they were known to obsess over the little details of their religious practices (like tithing herbs), to the point that they ignored the more important things (like avoiding pride, greed, and lust.)  The Arabians apparently had a similar saying: “He eats an elephant and chokes on a gnat.”

Since the camel was the biggest animal the Palestinians knew about and the elephant was the biggest animal the Arabians knew about, it stands to reason that a modern “dynamic equivalent” of the phrase would be to say that one “strains out a gnat and swallows a dinosaur.”

And we all do it.  Those poor dinosaurs get swallowed up every day [insert corny dinosaur extinction joke here].  We all get obsessed with the little things that we are convicted about, and think everyone else ought to be as convicted as we are.  “How dare you celebrate Halloween!  That’s Satan’s holiday.”  “How can you call yourself a Christian and say that the earth is older than 6000 years?”  “The old hymns are way better than this modern garbage.”  “If you don’t lead at least 5 people to Christ a year, there’s something wrong with you.”

Meanwhile, we tend to neglect the more important things.  Mostly, the gospel — the fact that Jesus died so we don’t have to, and rose again that we might rise as well.
I’m going to mention that I don’t think that the dinosaur-swallowing principle is limited to morality and doctrinal prioritization.  People believe a lot of outlandish (false) things.  I’m not going to name names or cite any weird doctrines.  But I’ve noticed that even while people defend indefensible ideas, they criticize the beliefs of others that are no more (and often less) difficult to swallow.

I intend to use this blog to discuss my thoughts about philosophy, religion, and other things in general.  I do a lot of thinking, and hope other people can benefit from my reflections.  That being said, this blog will be somewhat self-reflective.  It’s hard to talk to people about the gospel when they sense you have a brontosaurus stuck in your throat.  So, part of this writing process is my learning to pick the gnats out of my theology (and the theology of others) only after I pick out the camels, elephants, and dinosaurs.  And hopefully, it’s a process I’ll be able to inspire in others, whether they agree with my beliefs or not.

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