Friday, July 3, 2009

Apologetics by the Book

From a Biblical standpoint, there are only two kinds of apologetics: scriptural and experiential.

Scriptural Apologetics seeks to prove the Gospel from Scripture itself. Paul (Acts 13:26-41, 17:2-3, etc.), Apollos (Acts 18:28), and many others did this. The drawback is that the person you're dealing with must accept the Scriptures as authoritative, and these days even a lot of branches of Judaism are too figurative in their readings for that to work. Similarly, it doesn't usually work well with cultists. In fact, it's most powerful with people who haven't considered the Gospel; many Jews and cultists have already had their mind closed by their superiors and peers. It's not hopeless, but the field isn't as open as in the first century.

Experiential Apologetics seeks to prove (or perhaps I should say "validate") the Gospel by an appeal to experience. There are several branches of this method:

1. Testimony. A classic. It's harder to counter a testimony than an argument. Just saying, "I saw this" is quite powerful: it's the frame of the earliest evangelistic messages, and the one Paul himself resorted to when faced with people who weren't open to Scriptural proof. This is unique in that it shares a personal experience with others. The remaining types attempt to give the audience an experience of their own.

2. Miracles. Sometimes called "Power Evangelism" today, this uses a miracle to open the door for the Gospel. The miracle becomes a personal experience for those who witness it. This method is used throughout Acts and Jesus' own ministry. I won't bother arguing that this is still an option; you accept it or you don't. If you don't, skip this.

3. Holiness. This is a form of miracle: it involves spending enough time with God (not with other Christians or with praise music, but waiting on the Lord) that his holiness rubs off. You live in a way impossible for the unsaved, and even when you goof up, it's obviously an exception, and you get right back to walking with God. Again, this provides an experience to others. Holiness is probably the best method, because it relies on God's power. But the price is too high, apparently.

4. Argumentation. This is the method used by such people as Augustine, Aquinas, C. S. Lewis, and Francis Schaeffer. It leads others to the personal experience of epiphany, first intellectual and then spiritual. There are two main sub-types:

a. Thin end of the wedge. Begin with an easily-proved abstraction, such as "There must be an objective moral standard, because we all know that some things are right or wrong in themselves." (See Mere Christianity for this approach.) It is experiential, because in invokes shared experiences and perceptions.

b. Thick end of the wedge. Similar, but focused on finding what Schaeffer called "the point of tension": the place where an unchristian view self-destructs by requiring people to do or believe things that are impossible. For example, no sane person can behave consistently as though he were merely an animal; his humanity will eventually assert itself. This is also experiential, because it involves living out the implications of a view.

It's worth contrasting these with modern apologetics.

Eschatological Apologetics. This seems like Scriptural Apologetics, but it isn't. Scriptural Apologetics assumes the validity of Scripture; Eschatological Apologetics attempts to prove Scripture. Moreover,

1. Scriptural Apologetics involves fulfilled prophecy, not unfulfilled, because it focuses on Jesus as the fulfillment.

2. Scriptural Apologetics focuses on Jesus, not on sensational events. In fact, all healthy apologetics focuses on Jesus, just as Christianity proper does. Even the argument type of Experiential Apologetics leads to Jesus, though sometimes in a roundabout way, and it does so through the everyday, not the sensational.

Scientific Apologetics. This is almost Experiential Apologetics without the experience. It also attempts to validate Scripture--something the early Christians didn't appear interested in--by means of esoteric arguments a layman can't follow, unlike the everyday-experience arguments of the Experiential method. Examples include Creation Science and related matters such as the Shroud of Turin. Intelligent Design is a modern version of classical Experiential Apologetics and thus borrows heavily from it.

Conclusion: A Biblical Apologetics
We need to return to our sources. We're trying to prove Scripture by appeals to other (and presumably higher) authorities such as science, and we're degrading the true authority. That can't be good. While Lewis and Schaeffer helped renew interest in argument, many of their self-proclaimed followers are just repeating words they don't fully understand. Argument requires thought, and few are up to the challenge. Miracles can become mere sensationalism, testimony a kind of bragging, and a show of holiness just hypocrisy. Doing these things right requires humility, time, and dedication; we'd rather go the sensational route with appeals to science we don't understand and prophecy passages we probably have never read in context.

And all the time God is wanting us to come outside of these little dungeons so we can call others to join us.

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