Monday, April 15, 2013

Why Should We Apologize For Our Faith?

 The Opening Statements for
The National Religious Broadcaster's Conference on Apologetics,
 April, 2013

It is my great honor to open this conference on a subject vital to the future of faith our country. 

I’m sure you are aware that most Christians have no idea what an apologist does, or why what he does is even important.  The first obstacle for caring about what you do may be that so many Christians think an apologist is someone who is out there apologizing for being a Christian. Language has evolved since Christians first began to use the term, and so the original meaning of “apology” has been nearly lost. 

But you know that already.

The main difficulty for the Christian apologist is simply that many believers think your work is not very important.

For several decades, we have been getting better and better at sayin less and less. We are now saying even the relatively superficial things we still say to a population constantly on information overload. To a sizable portion of Americans, thinking deeply about much of anything has become daunting.  

This is true of American Christians as much as for the rest of society. As a result, the content of our faith has been eroding for several decades now.

We need apologists nonetheless, to meet two major needs. We must strengthen the believers’ intellectual structures of faith; and, we must answer the honest questions of globalized, post-postmodern unbelievers. 

The first task is as vital as the second. It will not help to answer the questions of skeptics if Christians remain so unaware, both of their own intellectual heritage and of the major questions of our times.

I realize that apologetics is supposed to be about answering the questions of unbelievers.  When a Christian explains to a Buddhist, or an atheist for that matter, what he believes and why he believes it, he is engaging in apologetics. You are called to equip Christians to do that well. Naturally you want to get on with your work. However, you are increasingly discovering that many believer do not know their own faith and are thus incapable of sharing the faith with others, especially if the questions get too intense.

Explaining the faith to those who already believe is supposed to be the work of catechists.

Unfortunately, catechists are an endangered species, like spotted owls.

A catechist could tech us why ideas like incarnation, sanctification, canon, sacrament and teleology have serious implications for this life and the life to come. If we dont know that, or even know the meaning of such words, we will have little to say to an intelligent Taoist or Marxist. Scientific knowledge alone won't fill the gaps in our witness created by the absence of doctrine.  

What will it matter in the end if, after becoming certain about how human beings arrived on this planet we still do not know why they are on this planet?

How can we be certain that the body of writings we now call the Bible really come from God if we remain uncertain about the role of the human beings who determined the contents of the canon?

How can we speak to the world about redemption if societies in which believers predominate remain as plagued as they are presently by poverty, crime and other kinds of human dysfunction? Sanctification ought to actually occur from time to time, both in individuals and in the societies where believers abound if we expect it to be convincing to unbelievers.

These are internal questions to be sure, questions that require much better answers than we have been giving for several decades. If we have no answers to such questions though, it is difficult to understand what we plan to export to nonbelievers. 

When we turn away from our own house and look around us, we face other challenging issues.  Among these are globalization, a term that describes how representatives of the various human cultures are now scattered throughout the nations rather than concentrated within well defined regions of the world. Globalization, in turn, gives rise to relativism, so that the ethics of Buddhism and Christianity for example, now appear similar even to the followers of these two religions. The radically different principles underlying the two faiths seem irrelevant, perhaps even trivial.  

The basis of morality and law is another serious challenge of our age and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Without a firm foundation upon which to construct theories of politics or jurisprudence; law, ethics, and morality become whatever any particular society at any particular time decides them to be.

Perhaps the greatest challenge we face however is the question of human origins.  Of course, this has been the case for some time. However, the implications of the Human Genome Project has rendered our old issues of fossils, carbon dating, missing links and the like nearly irrelevant. In the light of these recent findings, our view of the biological uniqueness of human beings has been seriously altered. The fact is, all the world’s  species arise from a single language of life. That we share this language of life with roosters and rhododendrons is increasingly disconcerting and dislocating; it raises questions that require theological answers, answers that are both biblical faithful as well as honest.

As more assertive forms of materialism emerge, they give rise both to a newly energized and aggressive atheism and to a seductive all-embracing pantheism.
One of side of our culture tries to extinguish our faith through social pressure and perhaps even persecution.

The other side wishes to absorb us into a globally friendly spirituality in which theology becomes poetry; beautiful statements about ultimate reality that cannot be proved but which may, nonetheless, point to some common human quest for transcendent meaning.

We are here because we care about such issues.

We believe that the creator of the world gave a group of people, the Jews, a set of teachings about the nature of the universe. These teachings reveal how one should live in God’s world. At a certain moment of time, the creator also came personally to our planet. He gave instructions to another group, also Jews, to deliver His teachings to all nations.

These are our claims.

If they are true, then our work is the most important thing in the world. It means we hold keys that can unlock the doors of human meaning and significance.

What a tragedy if, while claiming these things, we fail to study the implications of what they mean to the people of our times, or fail to articulate them well enough so that others can know them.

What a tragedy, if we fail to demonstrate the quality of life that these teachings ought to produce in a people who follow them.

So I thank you for being here today. We are here together in God’s house. We have gathered to ponder and reflect on a great treasure we carry in earthen vessels. We are here to think about how we can deliver that treasure to the household of faith and then God helping us, to the peoples of the world. 

So no, we are not apologizing, at least in the popular way we normally use that word. 

However, perhaps it is time to apologize for not having a clear answer for the faith that lies within us. 

If we can humbly do that, and then if we can move on to equip ourselves and the people of God with credible answers for this challenging hour, then our time together will be most valuable and blessed.

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