Finally, the 21st century Apologist needs to take
Apologetics far more seriously. He needs to incorporate
Apologetics into every aspect of his or her ministry: every
sermon, every class, every evangelistic activity. We have
woefully neglected our responsibility to train our young people
in the solid case for Christianity, and then we wonder why they
depart from the faith under the influence of secular university
instruction. We give our parishioners and our missionaries no
foundation in the defence of the faith, and then wonder why our
evangelistic efforts show so little fruit in a world where people
have long moved beyond accepting something just because someone
else believes it.
is an article about how the church at large has failed
is, of course, by no means meant to imply that there are not
exceptions to the rules to be discussed. You may be part of a
local church body without these failings, and if you are, you
should be glad of it. But let's be honest -- most churches ARE
failing when it comes to these matters we will
is the problem that I see re-occurs time and time
Our churches do
not educate people in the basics of their faith. We seldom if
ever hear about things like textual criticism, the authenticity
of the Gospels, alleged "copycat" savior gods,
Because our people
are not educated in these matters, they are caught "flat footed"
when confronted with them.
Some people are
unaffected and simply go on their merry way. Good for them,
maybe, though such people also often stand in the way when
someone tries to up the intellectual ante a bit. Others start
cannot answer their questions because they too are generally
lacking in such knowledge; their degrees are more geared towards
counseling or preaching technique. Likewise Sunday School
teachers and other figures of authority, who generally have even
less relevant education. Persons with questions are told that eg,
questioning is evil, they should have faith, etc. which is
not satisfactory (and it comes often from the "merry way"
The lack of
education also extends to the public sector, where people are not
taught to think critically, nor to evaluate credibility of
sources, but rather that everyone's opinion is as good as anyone
else's. The church often teaches this as well, explicity or
Persons with questions come
across Skeptical literature in print or online that is mostly
written by persons with no better education in the relevant
areas. However, because the reader also lacks the
necessary education and thinking skills, the base level of what
is called "common sense" (as it would often be, if indeed the
facts were as the literature says) becomes persuasive precisely
because of their ignorance. For example, ignorance of the
process and science of textual criticism could lead to the
erroneous "common sense" conclusion that there is some problem in
that we have "only copies of copies of copies" of the New
this time it is often too late to even provide such people with
sound material by credible authorities. They are not able to
comprehend even the simplest defense at times (and indeed,
certain things simply can NOT be simplified so much, for
otherwise they lose power and credibility as defenses), because
they have not been given the adequate foundation to understand
what someone like eg, a Bruce Metzger says about textual
criticism. Because it violates what they have taken to be a
sound, "common sense" approach by a non-authority who is equally
in the dark, it is simple for them to simply dismiss answering
material as some sort of desperate effort to resolve what is
really a very serious problem (though in reality it
can or needs to be done about this?
Taking your church
through "Purpose Driven Life" won't solve this.
Behind" novels won't solve this.
music programs and "seeker-friendly" techniques won't solve
Joel Osteen will
DEFINITELY not solve this. Pandering to what are perceived as
"needs" is part of the problem, not the solution. There is a
broad failure to distinguish between "needs" and
Sunday School materials, which strain mightily to make passages
like Is. 42 somehow relevant to the average working person, won't
Building a new
church gymnasium won't solve this.
involving gimmicks and games won't solve this.
Passing our tracts won't solve this.
course I'm being facetious. The only way to solve this is with a
solid educational program, which is exactly what we lack in so
many of our churches. It's time for fewer prefab sermons, with
their rampant decontextualizations, and time for more
demonstrations on textual criticism, the authenticity of the
Gospels, and so on. It's time to make such efforts a priority and
not something we take after the damage is done and we need to
play "catch up". It's time to be proactive instead of reactive.
It's time to make these things something that is discussed from
the pulpit on Sunday morning, not hidden away in Sunday night
church training classes or Wednesday night Bible study. It's also
time to make this part of our evangelism, and throw away or at
least de-prioritize all the gimmicks like the "Evangecubes" (I
can never get a full picture on all six sides anyway) and the
poorly drawn Chick tracts.
What's a good way to test this?
Did your church do
anything about The Da Vinci Code? What, and when (Sunday
morning when so many people were there, or on some obscure night
when they know only a handful will show up)?
How about the
Gospel of Judas? Was anything said about it?
Is the youth
ministry getting the youth ready for when they will go to college
and have stuff like The Christ Conspiracy shoved down
Any word on Bart
Ehrman's best-selling book Misquoting
you try to discuss things like Deuteronomy in terms of an ancient
suzerainty treaty (which is very important to understanding its
role and application today), or the argument stricture of i Cor.
14 (key to understanding the "women keep silent" passage) is
there anyone on church staff you can discuss this intelligently
with, or who shows interest, or do their eyes just glaze
There are some answers to this that are no
"This kind of approach will
intimidate people." Does it occur to someone who says this
that the Gospel was a very intimidating message in its time, one
that upended all of
the social values of its day? Let's not water down the facts or
the message behind them for the sake of making yet more converts
without an adequate foundation.
"The Holy Spirit will move people." Then you don't
need to preach watered-down feelgood sermons either, do you?
Obviously no one practices this idea consistently except for the
sort of person who a century or so back would not send a
missionary to India under the reasoning that the Spirit would do
all the work without missionaries. At least they were consistent
in their approach.
here are some good questions from a reader with similar
How can I find a church in my area that stays abreast of
"hot topics" that attempt to falsify the Christian faith? What
other questions can I ask my current church that would help me to
get a sense of their direction?
putting these two questions together because the answers to both
of them are much the same.
have a good chance here provided by The Da Vinci Code. Ask
for a copy of whatever teachings they have on it from the pulpit.
If they have none, you have an answer. If they have some, listen
to it and see how they deal with it -- with facts? With appeal to
"just believe"? Also, simply ask about some of the hot topics and
how those have been handled. Someone who answers your question
about the Gospel of Judas with a "duh" is not doing a good
Another thing I like to do is ask a pastor who their favorite
Biblical scholar is. I did this once and got the supremely inane
answer, "Warren Wiersbe" -- who is a pastor, not a scholar. See
if they know of certain people like Wright or Witherington. If
their knowledge of apologetics is limited to a copy of ETDAV,
forget it. And, see if they have a staff position for education
pastor (if it is a large enough church).
bad as it is, you might just be able to ask if they know what
"apologetics" is and get an answer that tells you all you need to
If my church doesn't see the need for stronger apologetics
how can I convince them otherwise? One of the most powerful
things you can do is show them the results of the neglect. I have
gathered a small notebook of powerful "anti-testimonies" from
people like Dan Barker; if you want a copy, ask me and I'll send
it. These anti-testimonies show that there is a strong desire to
"anti-evangelize". You might also be able to raise awareness by
bringing copies of material like Losing Faith in Faith and
asking staff how they'd deal with someone who got hold of it and
started thinking it was valid.
Another thing you might be able to do is talk to some members
about these issues and see if they have been looking for answers.
If they have been, provide some and use that as a point in favor
of change: The need obviously exists. But if this doesn't wake
them up, be warned: It will just make them hide deeper in their
shell. But that's a good thing, because right now, as serious as
the problem is, the method is like the bumper sticker that says,
"Lead, follow, or get out of the way." The ones who hide in their
shell or who continue to neglect the problem can get out of the
What do you see as the role or duty of the average
churchgoer in this regard? This is an excellent question that
came from a reader who is rather sympathetic to what I have
expressed above. In essence, what do I think the "ideal" Joe in
the pew should know (or nor know)? How about deacons, pastors,
There's no "pat"
answer on this, given the complexity of lives and needs out
there, but let me set out some general guidelines in terms of how
I'd answer this.
The mandatory foundation. The only things I place in
this category -- which is what I think every Christian
should know, even if they just serve soup at the homeless kitchen
-- are core doctrines of Christianity and how they work and are
defended. What's in here? Definitely the atonement, salvation,
the Trinity, the nature of God in general. I'd also put a basic
defense of the resurrection (without which, our faith is in
vain!) in this category. Not stuff like copycat saviors
myths, Calvin vs. Arminius, Greco-Roman rhetoric, or Gnostic
cults. Everyone should also be aware of at least where to look
for or find answers on things like copycat savior gods and
the Christ myth, even if they don't want to master any of these
don't think this is at all unreasonable, given that it would
place us on a level, in the first century, with people like Peter
and John. What must be remembered is that for Peter and John,
things like client-patron relationships (as it would relate, eg,
to salvation) and hypostatic Wisdom (as it would relate to the
Trinity) were already part of their mental furniture, so to
speak, and we've got a deficiency because we lost it --
dare I say, we're actually as a whole "dumber" than Peter and
John when it comes to certain things that were part of their
fact is that there is no excuse for Christians not to be able to
articulate what they believe and why, and that means being
informed where the foundation is concerned.
level. If you're a teacher, or a deacon, then I'd like to see
a higher level of awareness. I referred above to knowing where to
find answers, if you're Joe Pew. If you're Joe Deacon or Joe
Sunday School Teacher, then I think you need to be one of the
people that we go out and find for answers on things like
copycat saviors gods and the Christ myth. Not master all of it,
but at least be articulate, and master a couple of areas so that
you can be competent to informally judge matters in other
subjects on the basis of experience. People at this level also
ought to "network" so that each CAN be free to specialize in some
areas and leave the rest to others to whom they can
The upper crust. Things get a little dicey here as
they relate to church offices today, which of course do not
mirror that well the original model of the first century based on
the synagogue. Ideally a church should have a person competent in
the very difficult topics like Calvin vs. Arminius; or if a
church is too small or financially strapped, they can co-op with
other churches so that such an expert is available to them.
Perhaps a local seminary professor could be tapped as a
consultant in this regard (and in line with the above, be allowed
to do things like preach and teach!) so that a pastor can attend
to more personal needs of the flock (if they don't want to be the
"go to" person themselves). In this regard I'd parallel it in the
early church to that certain key leaders like Matthew, Paul, and
Luke were among the most educated in their time. 1 of 12 apostles
makes for between 5 and 10 percent, and it'd be nice if we had
even that many prepared for the toughest questions, but even that
we don't reach now.
Consider this a call to action.
We are very grateful to JP Holding for this article which comes from his excellent Tektonics website.
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