Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Purpose of Apologetics

Over the past few months I have made a number of changes in my life. This blog is one of them. I have discovered that one of my strengths (based on Strength Finders 2.0) is Input. Incidentally, I highly recommend this book, and the accompanying test, but that is for another post. However, I have had a regular place to let out all this information. While I preached twice to the church I used to attend, and assisted in a Foundations of Faith class, I was never really given the opportunity to “bloom where I was planted.” I do not wish to speculate on why that was the case. Now is the time to make an impact for the kingdom of God. In addition to Strength Finders, I also want to credit a series of interviews with various apologists on Apologetics 315. These interviews caused me to realize that if I wanted to be in ministry, then I better get in ministry. So here we go.
Apologetics is a two pronged discipline. First and foremost, apologetics is evangelical, or outward. In other words, apologetics helps the Christian to answer objections from religious and non-religious persons (1 Peter 3:15). Apologetics helps break-up the fallow ground in the unbeliever. Imagine a plot of ground that you wish to transform into a garden. This plot has been trampled under foot for years, and the ground is very hard. Seeds and new shoots will have a hard time penetrating this ground to take root. Under the surface, there are large stones that will also prevent the seedlings from taking root and producing the fruits and vegetables at harvest time. Apologetics is like the shovel and hoe that break the hard surface, and loosen the large stones. If we keep in mind the Paul’s words to the Corinthians, we will understand that we are just a part of the process, but God is ultimately responsible for the transformation of a person from unbeliever to believer (1 Cor. 3:6, ESV). This evangelical apologetics very few Christians take issue with. However there is a second area that is much more controversial.
The second area of apologetics is internal, and focuses on keeping the church free from false doctrines and bad ideas. Today, this element of apologetics is very controversial. Regardless of its controversial nature, it is a necessary part of Christianity. The church is very much like a ship. This ship sails in a world that is full of ideas. Some of these ideas are good, and some are bad. The bad ideas and doctrines are like barnacles. Barnacles are shellfish that attach themselves to the hull of a ship. One or two will not damage the ship, but if enough barnacles attach to the hull, the ship will sink from the sheer weight of the barnacles. That is why ships will go into dry dock, and some poor soul will have to scrape these dead or dying creatures off the hull. Christianity is very much like that ship. It has had attach to its hull false doctrines and bad ideas that would sink it. Christ, in His omniscience, knew this would happen, and He gifted men and women with the ability to identify these doctrines and ideas. Christ also empowered them to fight against these ideas and the teachers that have risen up in the church that promote these doctrines and ideas.
The Scriptural mandate for this internal form of apologetics can be found in Jude 3. Here Jude wanted to write about the good stuff of Christianity. Jude called it “our common salvation.” However, the Holy Spirit stepped in and changed his thoughts, and now we have a mandate to “contend for the faith that was once and for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3, ESV). This is where I wish to focus the remainder of this blog post.
First, Jude told us to “contend”. The Greek word literally means to fight or wrestle. We need to fight for “the faith,” that is the system of religious truth. I realize that many Christians object to calling Christianity a religion. However, religion is defined as something that tells you what to believe and how to act. Christianity definitely qualifies as a religion on these two criteria. Lastly, this system of religious truth was “once and for delivered to the saints.” Meaning that this is the only truth we receive from God (sorry Muslims, Mormons and others that rely on a second “revelation” from god). It is this verse that gives the Christian the Biblical mandate to question the theology of any person that cannot demonstrate a pedigree for his doctrine that goes back to the apostles.
Sadly, there are many within Christianity, who for the sake of getting along, have swept this verse under the rug. They do not want to be “mean” or to “hurt” other Christians’ feelings. Yet Jude makes it clear that those who teach doctrine other than the “faith once and for all time delivered to the saints” are “ungodly people” (Jude 4, ESV). I recall a conversation with a person from a church I used to attend. When I said that that a certain TV preacher was a false teacher, the person responded that this could not be the case, because that preacher was “nice”. I pointed out that this was to be expected, because “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14, ESV). Of course, this Christian accused me of causing division, and warned me to “touch not God’s anointed.”
This sort of apologetics is very much akin to a doctor who must deliver bad news to a patient. The patient may be “hurt” by the news, or may feel the doctor is being “mean”. However, this temporary pain is eclipsed by the overarching good the doctor will bring into the patient’s life with medicine and treatment which will cure the disease and give the patient a second lease on life.
I have spent some time on this element of apologetics, because this is an area that will be addressed in future posts. In these future posts I may touch an area of false teaching that you may have inadvertently embraced. Please understand that I am not out to “hurt” your feelings or to be “mean”. Rather I am like that doctor that has seen something unhealthy that needs to be addressed. I pray that you will take my comments in that light, and hold your theology up to God with an open hand.

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