Friday, October 3, 2008

Don't Think, Just Send Money

If you think the so-called "new atheists" pose a problem for thinking Christians, I contend that a more difficult problem may exist within Christianity itself. I say that because the insidious nature of the problem has rendered it either invisible or unrecognizable to far too many of us. As proof, I offer two glimpses into the philosophy of one man who represents our faith. The first was uttered during the annual Fall "Praise-a-thon" on TBN:
The apologists - I'm telling you they could make falling off a stool difficult. You'd have to go to college to learn how to fall off a stool if you were an apologist ... So, I'm not impressed with the apologist any longer. And I may as well get it out - I used to be one! And God forgive me, and I promise not to ever do it again.
The second (which describes the actions of the exact same man who said this) shows where just such an attitude can lead:
[He] turned to the pastor in the white suit, sitting in the audience and asks innocently, “Do I have a few more moments?” Well, not surprisingly, the pastor agreed. It’s a good thing, because as it turns out, [he] had a whole new doctrinal revelation to tell us about: the doctrine of reverse entrapment. If you’ve never heard of that before, that’s because God just showed it to him right there. Reverse entrapment is when you put a gift to [him] on a credit card and outsmart the lenders who are trying to get rich off your debt. When you put a gift on a credit card, I quote, “something happens in the spirit world.” Here he tells everyone how to have a credit card breakthrough. Turns out [he] has a way for you to get rid of your mortgage debt. All you have to do is to give him a gift the size of your house payment and God will see that your mortgage gets paid off right away. If you don’t have a house, $500 will do nicely for future debt. [He] assured us that it worked for him.
It doesn't take much imagination to see why this individual might not appreciate apologetics or the idea of thinking about how one's faith relates to the real world. Those who might do such a thing would pose a serious threat to his income stream.

This is nothing new. We have always had charlatans among us. But I believe the mindset at work here is one that is more prevalent than we might imagine in the pews (or chairs) of our churches and that it threatens the Christian faith for more practical reasons. Too many of us, when asked why we believe in God, or why we trust in the reliability of the Bible, will respond that we "just have faith." And I am not throwing stones here -- I used to say the same thing. But my point is that such a response is not good enough, not just for worldly reasons, but for Biblical ones.

From the world's point of view, and as evidenced by the writings of the "new atheists," thinking people and faithful people represent mutually exclusive categories. Richard Dawkins is well known for asserting that religion is nothing but wishful thinking engaged in by weak people who accept their religion blindly. If you accept his premise, there is no reason to even consider the claims of Chrisianity. They just don't matter. They are no better than anyone else's claim to believe in "The Flying Spaghetti Monster" (for some weird reason this is a favorite character among the atheist blogs and websites I have encountered) or leprechauns that hide under your bed. For that reason, any compulsion we might have toward evangelism is thwarted before it begins.

Sure, the evangelistic endeavor could attempt to appeal to felt needs, or guilt, or awe, but if these can't be grounded in a reality that corresponds to the way the world actually is, our attempts at each of these falls on deaf, or ambivalent, ears. Practically then, apologetics allows reason to get us an audience with those who demand it. If that means we have to "go to college to learn how to fall off a stool," so be it. Some people need to get pushed off the worldly stool they've been sitting on.

Biblically, as someone once said, God doesn't give us brownie points for being stupid. A little harsh maybe but the point is well taken. Jesus told us to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength." It is notable that Jesus didn't make this line up on the spot. He is quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 ... sort of. The Deuteronomy passage actually only includes heart, soul and strength. Jesus added "mind" for some reason. Is that significant? Think about it (no pun intended), the addition doesn't prove anything but it makes you wonder why he felt the need to modify the Old Testament Scriptures for his more modern audience. Maybe he was anticipating the mindset we are dealing with today.

This example does not stand alone. Peter told us to "always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." Paul told us to "demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."

Apologetics in other words, is not optional ... especially when you are dealing with folks whose "new doctrinal revelations" are really self-serving tools to line their own pockets. We ignore apologetics at our own peril. Apologetics can save us from looking silly. Apologetics honors the commands and character of the God we believe in. And if apologetics doesn't appeal to the charlatans in our midst, maybe that is further confirmation that we need it more than ever.

{*picture from: www.democracycellproject.net}

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