I pay close attention to what people are saying these days. What I am hearing has me perplexed.
A deep and abiding defense of the Christian faith in the hearts of believers is of critical importance. I am fully convinced of this. It isn’t an optional addendum to the faith. In theological circles we call that defense: Apologetics. Apologetics does not deal so much with the answer to the question, “What do you believe?” Rather, apologetics focuses on the question, “Why do you believe?”
Essentially, I keep “hearing” that Christians don’t actually need apologetics. I could ask why someone doesn’t think believers need apologetics, and you know what I’ll get? An apologetic for why we don’t need apologetics! Apologetics is simply defending one’s own position. It seems obvious that we should give an answer for our beliefs, if only to be polite to the one asking us. But is it necessary for Christians to be equipped to address the wide spread objections that are leveled at those who adhere to Jesus and His Kingdom?
More and more we are hearing that we need discipleship improvements in the church. I agree. No doubt, this is, in part, to address the great exodus of people and the lackadaisical life styles we see within our ranks. But why should discipleship be limited to mere theological propositions and conduct?
Christians believe that Jesus is God in the flesh. That theological idea has been drilled into the minds of disciples for centuries. A departure from it indicates the introduction of some kind of heresy. Conformity to this and other doctrines of the Faith reveal a form of discipleship that teaches people what we should believe, and consequently, how we should apply that belief.
We work hard to make sure believers (and skeptics) don’t come to a wrong idea about Christianity, thus, we lay the groundwork for Orthodoxy (right belief) and hope that Orthopraxis (right conduct) will flow from it.
Is that all there is to Christian discipleship? Expend every resource to teach people what to believe and just leave the “why?” questions up for grabs? Is apologetics merely okay for the person who is wired that way, but not really a vital component of our discipleship efforts?
This kind of thinking seems incredibly short-sighted.
An organization I serve with just hosted a forum with a man who left the Christian faith for a form of Atheism. Let me point out that this person wasn’t a fringe kind of Christian as some would define him. He grew up in the Faith. He married in the Faith. He raised children in the Faith. Then he left the Faith. Why?
This isn’t an isolated incident.
There are growing numbers of people who know our doctrines, our hymns, our Gospel, and supposedly, our Savior, who are abandoning the Christian worldview for a more secular and godless one. We have been citing the statistics regarding the ability of the college environment to unravel the faith of young Christians for a couple decades. But the story today is the masses who are stepping out of Christianity in all phases of life. Furthermore, this exodus is not just limited to those who are considered uncommitted Christians or fringe believers. There are plenty of ex-clergy in their numbers. One visit to a website called The Clergy Project, should alarm any sincere Christian. These men and women don’t just leave the Faith, they write books giving the reasons “Why” they leave the Faith and make them available to anyone who is curious.
And they are persuasive.
Perhaps the “devout” Christian will glibly reply with a quote from 1 John 2:19:
“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”
Tell that to the grandmother who is grieving the loss of faith in her grandchild, whom she told all those Bible stories to and prayed for every night. Tell that to the husband who’s wife just decided that she just doesn’t believe anymore, and he can take the kids to church by himself — if he wants to.
Isn’t it contrary to Christian ethics to use a theological proposition to justify writing off someone who ceases to persevere in the Faith? Doing so makes it is easy to reaffirm the validity of our status quo programs without serious evaluation. Then there is the danger that we adopt a position that projects the image of the church goer saying, “I guess it stinks to be you.”
I don’t think that Bible passage is written for us to justify our positions as much as it is to remind us that there is a difference between the true and the false. Doesn’t Jude remind us to contend for the truth of the Faith? (Jude 1:3)
But if we don’t write them off, what do we do? We pray? Sure, I have used the sermon illustrations myself of how “prayer changes things.” Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to be snarky here, but I don’t think we pray near as much as we say we do — or should. The evidence for that is precisely found in our responses to what is going on all around us. Of course we should be praying, but shouldn’t we also be doing something to address these trends rather than just doing more of the same thing hoping for different results?
This trajectory isn’t lost on leaders in the church today. Many Christian organizations are trying to deal with the attrition in the West. We create more small groups. We modify our music and our attire to suit the “needs” of today’s Christians. We have study programs that will persist until the end of time in order to keep people busy, involved, and in the fold. But what happens when a person tires of the perpetual drive to stay engaged? What happens when the new music, new paint, new group becomes old news and staleness inevitably creeps in?
I’ll tell you what happens. If believers don’t have sufficient confidence in the Christian worldview, they leave. A lot of Christians are doing just that. Then there are the ones who leave in heart, yet physically remain in the fellowship, abandoning a lifestyle that Paul says is “befitting repentance.” (Acts 26:20) I’m not sure which is worse.
These trends are well documented and self-evident.
The Bible tells us to be ready to give a defense for the Faith. (1 Peter 3:15) We are also told to make disciples. (Matt 28:19) Doesn’t it seem obvious to teach believers how to defend their worldview against the competing worldviews of our time? There are compelling reasons for a person to accept the Christian worldview and give himself to that truth without reservation. Why would we withhold them from the body?
If we neglect this responsibility, we relegate the believer to the arduous effort of keeping himself perpetually busy, engaged, or overly socialized in order to maintain his perseverance in the Faith. We can no longer assume that a believer will peacefully adhere to the Faith throughout his entire life. That ship has sailed. The evidence is on the table.
Or worse, we may end up affirming that people can depart the Faith and ultimately still be okay with God because they accepted Jesus once — whatever that means. Will we twist good theology to suit our own indolence? Could it be that we don’t see what is happening as an evil?
John Phillip Curran said, “Evil prospers when good men do nothing.” Don’t we, the bearers of the Good News, have something of a responsibility to address the trends taking place in the Western churches? This includes the very churches that say, “We don’t need apologetics?”
I’d like to share with you an episode from my past that serves as a testimony to what I am urging church leaders to consider.
I was raised in the Christian faith. I believed, prayed, rebelled, wandered, repented and chose to devote my life to Christ and His Kingdom. Then I began to read. My reading went from entertainment to study, from the simple devotional to the technical and involved. I read from a wide array of sources and did not stay safely tucked into a small circle of influence. I listened intently to what people were saying. Some of them had serious objections to God in general and Christianity in particular.
At some point, I had to deal with what I was finding. There were challenges to what I had been taught about the Bible. Then false leaders in the Church rattled me. Then the difficulties of life in general seemed to assault my confidence in a providing Savior. The Christian faith brought as many difficulties to my life as promises for the life to come.
Finally, I came to a place where I actually began to consider the claim that the Christian Worldview was a fabrication for the purpose of coping with life and it’s meaninglessness. To retain intellectual honesty, I allowed myself to be open to that possibility. After a while I came to reject that idea. Why? Because you can’t leave Christianity for a place of neutrality. You will always have to plant your feet (your beliefs) somewhere. Even unbelief must give an account for its claim to truth, or it is unwarranted.
I wanted the truth, and when I tested the various systems of belief in the world, it was the Christian Worldview that literally towered over all the rest. I felt a little like Peter who said, “Where will we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:67) The choice for me was relatively easy, and it came on the shoulders of good apologetics. I have met and spoken to others who affirm the very same things.
So how can we continue to keep apologetics away from our discipleship efforts in the local church today? You got me — especially given the extreme numbers we are hemorrhaging and the lack of commitment to good old fashioned right living among those who remain. One would think we would be running to something as effective as apologetics!
William Lane Craig has stated that we are experiencing a renaissance in apologetics here in the West. It’s true. College students are flocking to lectures by notable apologists all across our country. Books are being written and some pastors are coming to see the necessity of apologetics in their efforts. But I have been doing some listening too. It seems to me, that this renaissance has not yet taken hold in the one place it would be of prime usefulness: the American local church.