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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes

Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the www.comereason.org Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Monday, March 02, 2015

Another Hidden Benefit of Apologetics: Relevance

Relevance. It's the buzzword of the day, especially for churches looking to capture and retain young people today. Many church leaders have a justified concern that they are losing the next generation, especially given studies like the one conducted by Lifeway, showing 70 percent of young adults ages 23-30 stopped attending church regularly for at least a year between ages 18-22.1 Christianity Today, in commenting on how to keep youth committed to church, offers the advice of "Disciple, disciple, disciple. If your student ministry is a four-year holding tank with pizza, don't expect young adults to stick around. If, however, they see biblical teaching as relevant and see the church as essential to their decisions, they stay."2



I agree that movie nights and pizza parties won't hold our kids; these provide no distinguishable difference from the social lives of most college dorms. But what does it mean to be "relevant?" Here are a few things relevance is not:
  • Relevance is not being hip. Some think that relevance is wrapped up in the style of worship that's played on Sunday morning or how fashionable the youth pastor appears. But that isn't relevance, it's faddishness. If a church is trying to be relevant by importing Ray Bans, beards, and baristas, it won't work. College campuses will always be more cutting-edge than the church, and will change more quickly.
  • Relevance is not using the newest media. While a great web site, sermon video integration, and similar technologies can help the church communicate its message more effectively, it doesn't make that message relevant to its audience. These are methods of communication, but what's being said is more important that the medium used to say it. Advertising has tried to use every conceivable method of communication invented, but in a house of all boys, the sale of pink dresses has no relevance to me whatsoever.
  • Relevance is not offering "how-to" clinics on crafts, workshops on budgets, or cooking classes. I have no problem with churches reaching out to their congregations in offering such instruction. This can many times be a good service to provide to a community that could not otherwise afford to enroll in a community college course or something along those lines. But relying on such activities on their own does not offer relevance in the lives of others.

Relevance Means Making a Difference Where it Counts

So, what is it to be relevant, especially to young people today? The concept of relevance is much deeper than clinics, communications, or pop-culture. Relevance means making a real difference where it counts. The early church was relevant because they dealt with the difficulties that real people faced. While the Greek writer Celsus criticized Christianity as being the religion of "only foolish and low individuals, and persons devoid of perception, and slaves, and women, and children, of whom the teachers of the divine word wish to make converts,"3 it is precisely these individuals, the disenfranchised, that Christianity helped the most through its teaching that all persons bear the image of God and are therefore equal. In a letter written just over one hundred years after the founding of Christianity, the anonymous writer addresses Diognetus who was seeking to understand the attraction to the new Christian faith. He reported:
They share their board with each other, but not their marriage bed… They obey the established laws, but in their own lives they go far beyond what the laws require. They love all men, and by all men are persecuted. They are unknown, and still they are condemned; they are put to death, and yet they are brought to life. They are poor, and yet they make many rich; they are completely destitute, and yet they enjoy complete abundance. They are dishonored, and in their very dishonor are glorified; they are defamed, and are vindicated. They are reviled, and yet they bless; when they are affronted, they still pay due respect. When they do good, they are punished as evildoers; undergoing punishment, they rejoice because they are brought to life.4
Relevance comes when we meet the needs, the questions, and the struggles of others. Someone who can help you through the real questions and challenges of your life becomes very relevant to you. Community projects reaching to help the poorest in your own community are a relevant thing to do.

Apologetics Offers Relevance

Another way of meeting people is to meet then where they are struggling intellectually, too. Apologetics ministries can greatly help in this area. As apologetics wrestles with the conflicts people face in defending their faith against the social and cultural disintegration we see happening around us, it becomes incredibly relevant. A lot of people have doubts or very difficult questions that they are afraid to share with others, thinking they would be perceived as weak in their faith. Yet, the church should be the first place they come to find answers. Young people are especially searching to find the answers to a host of issues. Their friends and teachers will many times contradict what they've been taught at home or at church and they simply don't know how sift through the milieu to find out what is true. Apologetics can help them get the right answers and help them to share those with others, vindicating them when they are defamed.

Just as guarding against heresy is one hidden benefit apologetics offers the church, another is providing more relevance to the congregation and to the youth. The truth is always important, we should be helping our kids find it and share it well.

References

1. McConnell, Scott. "LifeWay Research Finds Reasons 18- to 22-Year-Olds Drop Out of Church." LifeWay. LifeWay Christian Resources, 7 Aug. 2007. Web. 02 Mar. 2015. http://www.lifeway.com/Article/LifeWay-Research-finds-reasons-18-to-22-year-olds-drop-out-of-church.
2. Stetzer, Ed. "Dropouts and Disciples: How Many Students Are Really Leaving the Church?" Christianity Today. Christianity Today, 14 May 2014. Web. 27 Feb. 2015. http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/may/dropouts-and-disciples-how-many-students-are-really-leaving.html?paging=off.
3. Schlabach, Gerald. "Celsus' View of Christians and Christianity." Celsus' View of Christians and Christianity. Gerald W. Schlabach., 8 Aug. 1997. Web. 02 Mar. 2015. http://www.bluffton.edu/~humanities/1/celsus.htm.
4. . "An Anonymous Brief for Christianity Presented To Diognetus." Christian Classics Ethereal Library. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/richardson/fathers.x.i.ii.html Accessed 4/6/2014.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Jehovah's Witnesses, the Bible, and Bias (video)



The Jehovah's Witnesses claim that both the Bible we read and orthodox Christian theology has been some kind of trinitarian bias that unwittingly leads us to believe Jesus is God. However, when looking at the doctrines of the Jehovah's Witnesses and their  sponsoring organization, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, it becomes clear that the only bias on display is their own.

Watch this short clip as Lenny explains how the JWs misunderstand the name of God,  proper biblical interpretation, and how they deliberately change passages of Scripture to try and dodge the conclusion that Jesus is God.


Image courtesy Steelman and licensed under the CC BY-SA 2.5

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Answering Objections to the Resurrection (podcast)


The resurrection of Jesus is the cornerstone of Christianity. If the resurrection isn't true, Paul says "we are of all people to be most pitied." How do the facts of the resurrection stack up against the charges of its critics? Listen in and see why we can be confident that the resurrection is a true historical event.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Hidden Benefits of a Church-Based Apologetics Ministry

"Apologetics? What are you apologizing for?", "Is that a class that husbands are supposed to take?", "What is that?" These are questions I hear frequently whenever I mention the study of apologetics. It probably comes as no surprise the word "apologetics" is foreign to most people, not only the general public but also those who are a part of the Christian church. Even evangelicals, who define themselves by their passion to follow Jesus' command to "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations"(Matt. 28:17) usually look quizzically at me whenever I begin discussing the need for apologetics, even though apologetics is an essential part of making disciples. Why would this be?



One of the problems is simply that the church doesn't talk a lot about it. Apologetics is generally understood to be a specialty discipline—specifically engaging in defending the faith against skeptics, alternate religions and cults, and contrary worldviews. As such, many pastors eel that it can only play a very limited role in ministering to the needs of their congregation. How does apologetics help the man trying to feed his family after losing his job or the newly widowed woman?

I've said before that in many churches, a person telling his or her pastor of their desire to start an apologetics ministry results in an experience similar to a young man telling his Jewish mother he wants to be a proctologist. "Well, I glad you're going to be a doctor," she would say, "But why did you have to choose that!" Pastors are happy to have people desiring to get into ministry opportunities, but they simply aren't sure where apologetics fits in their church. However, many times both church leadership and laity fail to understand the more holistic aspects of providing a strong apologetics ministry to the local congregation. In this article, I'd like to highlight some benefits of an apologetics ministry that applies directly to every member of the church congregation, benefits that you may not have considered before.

Apologetics guards believers against heresies

The word apologetics literally means providing reasons and evidence for the Christian faith. Part of this means defending the Christian faith from imposters or detractors, but it also means protecting those in the church from the wolves dressed in sheep's clothing. I've often made the claim that one could define apologetics as theology properly applied and there is no greater need to apply theology properly than with new believers. The Burned-Over district of western New York in the early 1820s is a good example. Just as church congregations continued to grow and revivals spread, these were accompanied by the establishment of such unorthodox beliefs systems as the Mormons, the Spiritists, and the Millerites who spawned both the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Seventh Day Adventists .1

 If we are to defend our beliefs with reason and evidence, then it follows we need to know just what we believe and the reasons why we hold to those beliefs. Since apologetics encompasses the study of theology, especially as it relates to orthodoxy, it is one way Christians learn to discern orthodoxy from heresy. Thus one of the hidden benefits of a church beginning an apologetics teaching ministry is it helps guard Christians from falling into heretical beliefs. Apologetics is defensive as well as evangelical.

References

1. John H. Martin writes of the District: "The Burned-Over District of New York spawned one religious revival after another in the decades between 1820 and 1850. Revivalism, Millennialism, Spiritualism followed each other, often overlapping and partaking of similar elements. There was a credulity at the time (and at other times as well, no doubt) which led individuals from one religious impulse to another. There was a spiritual yearning for answers to the questions and problems of this world and a concern about any future existence which might be faced after this life. There also existed a willingness to follow any one who seemed to have answers, be it Charles Grandison Finney, William Miller, the Fox sisters, or a new, self-proclaimed prophet, Joseph Smith, who appeared on the scene in Palmyra, New York. The very early followers of Joseph Smith came from among the religious restless, the dissatisfied, who succumbed easily to the religious emotionalism of the times. They had been exposed to the popular religious awakenings of the day with the expectations for the life beyond this worldly realm. The traditional theology of Christianity was not of great interest to these seeker for answer, and they were susceptible to explanations which moved beyond the traditional Biblical basis of the various Christian faiths. Thus the beliefs of Joseph Smith were to find a small following in New York before the new faith of Mormonism moved beyond the borders of New York and its future growth." From "Saints, Sinners and Reformers: The Burned-Over District Re-Visited" The Crooked Lake Review Issue No. 137. 2005. Web. 3/17/2012 http://www.crookedlakereview.com/books/saints_sinners/martin9.html
Image courtesy http://www.ForestWander.com [CC BY-SA 3.0 us]

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Answering the Bias Objection

There's a concept held by many today that neutrality is to be valued when discussing important ideas or events. It seems to pop up in diverse conversations about abortion, the reliability of the Gospel accounts, or the debate over creation versus evolution. The claim that because one holds a particular position makes them "biased" and therefore unqualified to objectively weigh a matter is widely assumed, but it's completely mistaken. While biases can lead people to ignore or deny certain facts, biases are absolutely necessary to be an informed human being.


What is a bias?

Just what is a bias? The word has become associated with the concept of prejudice or, as Wikipedia puts it, the inclination to "hold a partial perspective, often accompanied by a refusal to consider the possible merits of alternative points of view."1 Yet, that's not the only definition of what bias is. Bias can be any leaning or predisposition towards a point of view as the Oxford English Dictionary definition notes.2 In other words, anyone who leans towards one position over another in any field will have some kind of bias. But that isn't a bad thing. For example, Jonas Salk had a belief that the same approach to developing an influenza vaccine could be applied to polio, even though prior polio vaccination attempts had been disastrous, causing paralysis and even death in those who had taken it.3  Salk assembled a team and worked for seven years creating a dead-virus version of the vaccine that ultimately proved hugely successful, and it was Salk's bias towards the vaccine method that drove him to keep trying.

It makes sense that bias would be necessary for advancement in a field like medicine. It is simply unreasonable for a person who after years of study and research and to remain neutral and uncommitted about his or her specialty. We expect experts in their field to have some bias towards certain theories or procedures. Bias in this sense is a good thing. As Robin Collins puts it:
Not every bias distorts: some biases can help us decided ahead of time what's worth paying attention to and what is not… I am biased against the possibility that the number of puppies in a litter has anything to do with the number of legs the father has, so I would never pay anyone money to study what the relationship is."4

The myth of being "bias-free."

Of course, the corollary to the "bias is always bad" myth is that there are certain disciplines that are somehow bias-free. Folks assume that journalistic standards or the scientific method can provide unbiased observations about the world. This simply isn't true, either. I've written before about how one man's bias became scientific dogma that we are only now finding to be false. His resilience influenced other scientists, and his bias was accepted as the scientific consensus, shaping national dietary guidelines and doctor recommendations for some fifty years. That's just one example. In any experiment, one cannot measure every aspect of a scenario, so scientists look to measure the "relevant" factors and exclude any "irrelevant" ones. But it is one's previous biases, as with Collins' dog litter example above, that shape what one considers relevant. Thus, he notes "Some biases can distort: people who think that all human behavior can be explained by our genes have a bias that blinds them to moral realities. So, we cannot promise that science is without bias; and we have to assess—by critical thinking—whether that leads to sound or unsound conclusions."5

Looking for the truth value

So, bias is not the determining factor in finding out truth. Some biases, like Salk's, help us to discover new things. Others are unwarranted and lead us away from the truth. The big question is the one Collins asked: can we use our critical reasoning to weigh these things and determine if the biased are appropriate or simply prejudice? That means examining the facts, something that tends to be missing from the conversations of those who seek to shut you down with the simplistic objection of "you're just biased."

References

1. "Bias." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 23 Feb. 2015. Web. 25 Feb. 2015. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bias.
2. "Bias." Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press, Jan. 2005. Web. 25 Feb. 2015. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/18564?rskey=S5Ld2w&result=1#eid.
3. Brodie, M., and W. H. Park. "Active Immunization Against Poliomyelitis." JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association 105.14 (1935): 1089-093. Web. 25 Feb. 2015. http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1154662.
4. Collins, C. John. Science & Faith: Friends or Foes? Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2003. Print. 30.
5. Collins, 2003. 31.
Image "Research Bias"  courtesy Boundless.com and licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 with attribution required. 
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