Also See [Below] Where Sincere Christians Sometimes Make Bad Witnessing Mistakes!
On the Failure of the Church to Educate
James Patrick Holding
The 21st century Apologist needs to take Apologetics far more seriously. He needs to incorporate Apologetics into every aspect of his or her ministry: every sermon, every class, every evangelistic activity. We have woefully neglected our responsibility to train our young people in the solid case for Christianity, and then we wonder why they depart from the faith under the influence of secular university instruction. We give our parishioners and our missionaries no foundation in the defence of the faith, and then wonder why our evangelistic efforts show so little fruit in a world where people have long moved beyond accepting something just because someone else believes it. -- John Warwick Montgomery
This is an article about how the church at large has failed us.
It is, of course, by no means meant to imply that there are not exceptions to the rules to be discussed. You may be part of a local church body without these failings, and if you are, you should be glad of it. But let's be honest -- most churches ARE failing when it comes to these matters we will discuss.
Here is the problem that I see re-occurs time and time again:
1) Our churches do not educate people in the basics of their faith. We seldom if ever hear about things like textual criticism, the authenticity of the Gospels, alleged "copycat" savior gods, etc.
2) Because our people are not educated in these matters, they are caught "flat footed" when confronted with them.
3) Some people are unaffected and simply go on their merry way. Good for them, maybe, though such people also often stand in the way when someone tries to up the intellectual ante a bit. Others start having questions.
4) Their pastors cannot answer their questions because they too are generally lacking in such knowledge; their degrees are more geared towards counseling or preaching technique. Likewise Sunday School teachers and other figures of authority, who generally have even less relevant education. Persons with questions are told that eg, questioning is evil, they should have faith, etc. which is not satisfactory (and it comes often from the "merry way" sorts).
5) The lack of education also extends to the public sector, where people are not taught to think critically, nor to evaluate credibility of sources, but rather that everyone's opinion is as good as anyone else's. The church often teaches this as well, explicity or implicitly.
6) Persons with questions come across Skeptical literature in print or online that is mostly written by persons with no better education in the relevant areas. However, because the reader also lacks the necessary education and thinking skills, the base level of what is called "common sense" (as it would often be, if indeed the facts were as the literature says) becomes persuasive precisely because of their ignorance. For example, ignorance of the process and science of textual criticism could lead to the erroneous "common sense" conclusion that there is some problem in that we have "only copies of copies of copies" of the New Testament.
7) By this time it is often too late to even provide such people with sound material by credible authorities. They are not able to comprehend even the simplest defense at times (and indeed, certain things simply can NOT be simplified so much, for otherwise they lose power and credibility as defenses), because they have not been given the adequate foundation to understand what someone like eg, a Bruce Metzger says about textual criticism. Because it violates what they have taken to be a sound, "common sense" approach by a non-authority who is equally in the dark, it is simple for them to simply dismiss answering material as some sort of desperate effort to resolve what is really a very serious problem (though in reality it isn't).
What can or needs to be done about this?
Taking your church through "Purpose Driven Life" won't solve this.
Reading "Left Behind" novels won't solve this.
More contemporary music programs and "seeker-friendly" techniques won't solve this.
Joel Osteen will DEFINITELY not solve this. Pandering to what are perceived as "needs" is part of the problem, not the solution. There is a broad failure to distinguish between "needs" and "wants". See Joel Osteen... The Blind Leading The Blind
Your average Sunday School materials, which strain mightily to make passages like Is. 42 somehow relevant to the average working person, won't solve this.
Building a new church gymnasium won't solve this.
Youth programs involving gimmicks and games won't solve this.
Passing our tracts won't solve this.
Of course I'm being facetious. The only way to solve this is with a solid educational program, which is exactly what we lack in so many of our churches. It's time for fewer prefab sermons, with their rampant decontextualizations, and time for more demonstrations on textual criticism, the authenticity of the Gospels, and so on. It's time to make such efforts a priority and not something we take after the damage is done and we need to play "catch up". It's time to be proactive instead of reactive. It's time to make these things something that is discussed from the pulpit on Sunday morning, not hidden away in Sunday night church training classes or Wednesday night Bible study. It's also time to make this part of our evangelism, and throw away or at least de-prioritize all the gimmicks like the "Evangecubes" (I can never get a full picture on all six sides anyway) and the poorly drawn Chick tracts.
What's a good way to test this?
Did your church do anything about The Da Vinci Code? What, and when (Sunday morning when so many people were there, or on some obscure night when they know only a handful will show up)? (See The Da Vinci Code)
How about the Gospel of Judas? Was anything said about it?
Is the youth ministry getting the youth ready for when they will go to college and have stuff like The Christ Conspiracy shoved down their throats?
Any word on Bart Ehrman's best-selling book Misquoting Jesus?
If you try to discuss things like Deuteronomy in terms of an ancient suzerainty treaty (which is very important to understanding its role and application today), or the argument stricture of I Cor. 14 (key to understanding the "women keep silent" passage) is there anyone on church staff you can discuss this intelligently with, or who shows interest, or do their eyes just glaze over?
There are some answers to this that are no good:
· "This kind of approach will intimidate people." Does it occur to someone who says this that the Gospel was a very intimidating message in its time, one that upended all of the social values of its day? Let's not water down the facts or the message behind them for the sake of making yet more converts without an adequate foundation. [See The Impossible Faith]
· "The Holy Spirit will move people." Then you don't need to preach watered-down feel good sermons either, do you? Obviously no one practices this idea consistently except for the sort of person who a century or so back would not send a missionary to India under the reasoning that the Spirit would do all the work without missionaries. At least they were consistent in their approach.
And, here are some good questions from a reader with similar concerns:
1) How can I find a church in my area that stays abreast of "hot topics" that attempt to falsify the Christian faith? What other questions can I ask my current church that would help me to get a sense of their direction?
I'm putting these two questions together because the answers to both of them are much the same.
We have a good chance here provided by The Da Vinci Code. Ask for a copy of whatever teachings they have on it from the pulpit. If they have none, you have an answer. If they have some, listen to it and see how they deal with it -- with facts? With appeal to "just believe"? Also, simply ask about some of the hot topics and how those have been handled. Someone who answers your question about the Gospel of Judas with a "duh" is not doing a good job.
Another thing I like to do is ask a pastor who their favorite Biblical scholar is. I did this once and got the supremely inane answer, "Warren Wiersbe" -- who is a pastor, not a scholar. See if they know of certain people like Wright or Witherington. If their knowledge of apologetics is limited to a copy of ETDAV, forget it. And, see if they have a staff position for education pastor (if it is a large enough church).
As bad as it is, you might just be able to ask if they know what "apologetics" is and get an answer that tells you all you need to know.
2) If my church doesn't see the need for stronger apologetics how can I convince them otherwise?
One of the most powerful things you can do is show them the results of the neglect. I have gathered a small notebook of powerful "anti-testimonies" from people like Dan Barker; if you want a copy, ask me and I'll send it. These anti-testimonies show that there is a strong desire to "anti-evangelize". You might also be able to raise awareness by bringing copies of material like Losing Faith in Faith and asking staff how they'd deal with someone who got hold of it and started thinking it was valid.
Another thing you might be able to do is talk to some members about these issues and see if they have been looking for answers. If they have been, provide some and use that as a point in favor of change: The need obviously exists. But if this doesn't wake them up, be warned: It will just make them hide deeper in their shell. But that's a good thing, because right now, as serious as the problem is, the method is like the bumper sticker that says, "Lead, follow, or get out of the way." The ones who hide in their shell or who continue to neglect the problem can get out of the way.
What do you see as the role or duty of the average churchgoer in this regard?
This is an excellent question that came from a reader who is rather sympathetic to what I have expressed above. In essence, what do I think the "ideal" Joe in the pew should know (or nor know)? How about deacons, pastors, leaders?
There's no "pat" answer on this, given the complexity of lives and needs out there, but let me set out some general guidelines in terms of how I'd answer this.
The mandatory foundation.
The only things I place in this category -- which is what I think every Christian should know, even if they just serve soup at the homeless kitchen -- are core doctrines of Christianity and how they work and are defended. What's in here? Definitely the atonement, salvation, the Trinity, the nature of God in general. I'd also put a basic defense of the resurrection (without which, our faith is in vain!) in this category. Not stuff like copycat savior myths, Calvin vs. Arminius, Greco-Roman rhetoric, or Gnostic cults. Everyone should also be aware of at least where to look for or find answers on things like copycat savior gods and the Christ myth, even if they don't want to master any of these subjects. [Also See What Christianity Is About]
I don't think this is at all unreasonable, given that it would place us on a level, in the first century, with people like Peter and John. What must be remembered is that for Peter and John, things like client-patron relationships (as it would relate, eg, to salvation) and hypostatic Wisdom (as it would relate to the Trinity) were already part of their mental furniture, so to speak, and we've got a deficiency because we lost it -- dare I say, we're actually as a whole "dumber" than Peter and John when it comes to certain things that were part of their world.
The fact is that there is no excuse for Christians not to be able to articulate what they believe and why, and that means being informed where the foundation is concerned.
The middle level.
If you're a teacher, or a deacon, then I'd like to see a higher level of awareness. I referred above to knowing where to find answers, if you're Joe Pew. If you're Joe Deacon or Joe Sunday School Teacher, then I think you need to be one of the people that we go out and find for answers on things like copycat saviors gods and the Christ myth. Not master all of it, but at least be articulate, and master a couple of areas so that you can be competent to informally judge matters in other subjects on the basis of experience. People at this level also ought to "network" so that each CAN be free to specialize in some areas and leave the rest to others to whom they can refer.
The upper crust.
Things get a little dicey here as they relate to church offices today, which of course do not mirror that well the original model of the first century based on the synagogue. Ideally a church should have a person competent in the very difficult topics like Calvin vs. Arminius; or if a church is too small or financially strapped, they can co-op with other churches so that such an expert is available to them. Perhaps a local seminary professor could be tapped as a consultant in this regard (and in line with the above, be allowed to do things like preach and teach!) so that a pastor can attend to more personal needs of the flock (if they don't want to be the "go to" person themselves). In this regard I'd parallel it in the early church to that certain key leaders like Matthew, Paul, and Luke were among the most educated in their time. 1 of 12 apostles makes for between 5 and 10 percent, and it'd be nice if we had even that many prepared for the toughest questions, but even that we don't reach now.
Consider this a call to action.
Where Sincere Christians Sometimes Make Bad Witnessing Mistakes!
Why Christians Should Never Argue Beyond Their Personal Level of Knowledge...
ARTICLE QUOTE: "...The 'supporting Christian' suddenly made an unwise comment and I thought to myself, 'Oops! Thats it! We have just lost this argument'!! The person was sincere, of course, but a little out of his depth and an unwise comment was made which was actually catastrophic for the defence of the Christian gospel."
I am heavily involved in Christian Apologetics, which is, the reasoned defence of the Christian Faith. I believe Christian Apologetics to be a very decent, noble and worthwhile field. However, just occasionally, some Christians get involved in Apologetics when – sincere though they undoubtedly are - perhaps they are better suited to other areas of Christian activity and witness. For the truth is, Apologetics is a field where the utmost care needs to be employed, else we are in danger of making complete fools of ourselves – or even bringing real reproach on the cause of Christ! In what way, you may ask?
A few tend to be a little rash in going on the attack and they use “facts” to defend Christianity which are not facts at all, or they may use arguments which are flawed or even illogical, or maybe they just use emotion masquerading as 'a reasoned defense of Christianity.'
If a reasonably intelligent person perceives that they are the victims of illogical argument, or of the misuse of “facts,” or if they perceive that emotion is all that Christians can offer, then they will certainly conclude that Christians can produce no decent or sustainable arguments to defend the claims of the Christian Faith. Regarding evolution, for instance, if one is not truly au fait with some of the latest thinking (on both sides of the argument!), then such a person would be well advised to completely avoid arguments and controversies on this highly emotive topic. Better to simply steer clear of the subject.
Above all, such an individual should avoid 'taking on' that particular kind of highly materialistic intellectual who has fully bought into philosophical naturalism and who is a somewhat skilled communicator/propagandist for evolutionary theory. I too usually avoid such people – leave people like that to 'the big boys'! There were times (before I learned that it is often better to avoid these things), that I found myself involved in a little controversy with atheists/agnostics and found another Christian 'in support' and the “supporting Christian” suddenly made an unwise comment and I thought to myself, 'Oops! Thats it! We have just lost this argument'!! The person was sincere, of course, but a little out of his or her depth and an unwise comment was made which was actually catastrophic for the defence of the Christian gospel and faith (quite often because a line of attack was used which could just as easily be used against us!)
Evolutionary Atheism Logically CANNOT Take the Moral High Ground
In fact, I have now learned that – if one is going to go on the attack (which, as I say, I now know is not necessarily always wise) - atheism should be immediately attacked on purely logical grounds. If the inquisitor is an atheist who supports evolution, he or she should never win an argument against Christianity – no: never! – and will not if the right approach is being used. For, if godless evolution is true, then nothing in this whole world means anything or amounts to anything – including their own arguments! Morality, for instance, would become meaningless and yet such people usually quickly fall into the trap of arguing against God on moral grounds. But if evolution is all there is, then love, decency and morality have no meaning. Atheistic so-called “Humanism” has tried all sorts of ways to find a way to argue their case on moral grounds but 98% of the time humanists quickly fall into the trap of assuming at least elements of Judeo-Christian values in their approach. Of course, once they do so, their argument is lost! But having said all of that, I am not convinced that arguing with such people usually produces good results. After all, a closed mind is just that: a closed mind – and such a mind will prohibit the entrance of any new mental input which might challenge opinions already 'set in stone.' Quite often such people are more likely to let their defences down if they notice something about the way Christians behave or something which Christians do which they like or admire. But – purely intellectually – they have raised up the drawbridge and there is no way through. [See Sections on Atheism and Evolution]
Have All the Relevant Information, or, Leave Well Alone!
But, despite all of the above, it remains the case that Christian Apologetics is a most vital discipline and the apostle Paul, for one, obviously employed its tools. But I find that people react better and are more open to correction when they are reading, rather than undergoing a 'heavy' confrontation with a Christian. But my main point in all of this (and I have admittedly digressed a little), is that it is not the strong point of every single Christian. Frankly, those most suited to the discipline will be people who read a great deal; such people will be very aware of much of the latest thinking by atheists, agnostics and Christian philosophers.
To take just one obvious example, on the topic of evolution, if one is not familiar with the arguments which arch evolutionary atheist Richard Dawkins has employed in some of his books (such as 'The Blind Watchmaker' and The Selfish Gene'), and if one is completely unfamiliar with the Intelligent Design/Irreducible Complexity movement among those scientists who are starting to reject evolutionary thought, then one's knowledge on this topic is too old and/or too restricted to debate with evolutionists at all. If such a person – however sincere – gets out of their depth by attempting to debate with a supporter of Darwin, then – make no mistake! – that Darwinist will ridicule all of Christianity because of the unknowledgeable clumsiness of that person. We should not do that.
Now – having said all of the above – I do greatly lament the fact that so many modern Christians are not even able to define the Christian Gospel by turning to just four or five Scriptures. Most Christians who have been around for a few years, should have far more knowledge than they do. Too many churches – yes, including many “evangelical” churches have failed desperately to educate their people in even the basic rudiments of the Christian Faith! This means that those who attend such places cannot adequately 'give an answer' to those who ask questions about their faith. We would not expect any better of liberal churches – but this is one of the most grievous errors and failings of evangelical Christianity!
Don't Go Beyond Scripture, and Don't Speculate With Unbelievers!
The tendency to go beyond Scriptural teaching in formulating an argument cannot, sadly, be confined to the unknowledgeable; the great Augustine, bishop of Hippo, whom both Roman Catholics and modern evangelicals tend to look upon as something of a great 'spiritual forefather' was also often guilty of this. As an example, Augustine was in no doubt that little babies that died unbaptized were headed straight for the flames of Hell – without any remedy! The quite amazing thing is that he considered this part of “Christian theology” even when such a belief is completely foreign to Holy Scripture. In fact, of course, this is part of that area of the bishop's theology which has far more in common with the Fatalism which he inherited from Manichaeism, that heretical set of beliefs which had been such a major early influence on him before his conversion to Christianity. In arguing in support of the concept that a loving God would willingly send millions of tiny babies to hell, Augustine not only went well beyond Scripture but the man who had been such an enemy of heretics, himself became a heretic! We Christians must always beware of going beyond scriptural teaching.
I recall, some while ago, hearing a Christian arguing about re-incarnation with a person whom, I believe, had been affected by New Ageism. I will call the commited Christian Michael. Now Michael stated quite dogmatically (and correctly) that the Bible contains no evidence of re-incarnation and so, as a Christian, he solidly rejected it. Good for him!! No problem. He rejected any view that human beings made in the image of God were involved in any sort of trans-migration of souls. He undoubtedly peceived that this was one of those New Age elements which have arrived from Indian religion with Hindu's teaching of 'Karma' and of a repeated cycle of death and rebirth. Michael was correct to reject any schema that people may be re-born again and again, including maybe some births into the animal kingdom, until their souls were sufficiently purified. [See InPlainSite.org Sections on Reincarnation and The New Age]
Michael made his point excellently but then, somewhat foolishly, allowed himself to be drawn into idle speculation. Now I do not think that speculation is always wrong. And I think that speculation on spiritual matters – occurring between two mature Christians who agree, and are clear, that it is only speculation - can be fascinating, interesting and truly inspiring. But if we allow ourselves to get drawn into spiritual speculation with non-believers, there is every chance that such people may later become very confused about what was said and will think that we were outlining Scriptural Christian doctrine when we were simply speculating! Michael foolishly got drawn into areas he really should have avoided with a non-Christian. It started in this way: The New Ager, said,
“Okay, reincarnation, perhaps, does not affect people at all – maybe I will accept that. But what about animals? Don't they too have a sort of soul? They have very short lives: wouldn't it be almost wasteful of God not to re-use an animal life and soul many, many times?”
At this point Michael should have responded with something like, “That just goes beyond Scripture and I am not going to speculate!” But – undoubtedly a little upset that reincarnation had even come up – Michael over-reacted and went beyond Scripture when he blurted,
“Categorically No!! God does not use reincarnation at all – even among animals. Reincarnation is just a doctrine of demons!”
But How Much Does the Bible Tell Us About the Continuous Cycle of Animal Birth and Death? Nothing!
Now, the way reincarnation is usually represented – as relating to people made in the image of God, it might indeed be thought of as an evil teaching, but – truth is – the Bible never tells us how God deals with the endless cycle of animal birth and death! Sure, we know that they endlessly reproduce 'in their kinds' but the Bible does not outline much else about animal life or about 'animal souls.' We do know that they are not made 'in God's Image' and that they do not apparently have the sort of 'spirit souls' which can ever achieve knowledge of, let alone a relationship with, God and we know that they are mainly guided by instinct. But is it just possible that God continually re-uses animal souls??
Some would say that animals do not even have souls but animals certainly have a certain level of 'being' and 'knowing' and existence and can even sometimes respond affectionately to people and so certainly have a kind of 'soul essence' though undoubtedly very different to the souls of people fashioned in God's image. Again, we don't know because – for the present time – God has not revealed much to us on this subject. So since this is now a little speculative and non-believers (as well as Christians) will read this, I must be careful – but I would say that this is not entirely impossible, but the Bible does not legislate on this and neither do I. However, Michael was wrong to imply that he – or any of us – know enough about the entire realm of God to make any categorical assertions in areas which the Holy Bible never discusses. We must always remember that the 'secret things' of God are not yet being shown to us, and that this is a huge area – not a small area!! But what God has revealed, belongs to us and to our children forever. Deuteronomy 29:29.
A few Christians appear to operate on an unwise assumption that the Bible tells us everything, when it plainly does not – and it never even claims to. This leads to them using the practise of what I call Scriptural Elastication. What do I mean? That is to use (abuse??) a Scripture which appears to come close to their topic under consideration and to stretch that out to include their topic – a topic which the Scripture is not even addressing! The cults and sects have, of course, been especially adept at doing this but all honest and conscientious evangelical students of the Bible must always resist it.
think it best to conclude this by making several pleas to committed Christians.
Strive to Increase Your Biblical/Theological Knowledge: It is Never Too Late! Quit ONLY Reading Literature Put Out by Your Own Denomination/Favourite Preacher but Read Across a Wide Evangelical Spectrum!
Always Avoid Witnessing to Others/Defending the Faith in Any Manner Beyond Your Personal Level of Knowledge and Understanding!
Do Not Argue with Committed Evolutionists AT ALL Unless You are Totally Up to Date with the Very Latest Thinking on Both Sides!
Think Seriously About Whether Argumentation is Even the Best Way Forward For Somebody with a Rigidly Closed Mind. Respectfully Suggest Good Reading Material Instead: Our Websites Contain a Huge Amount of Reading of This Type!
If You Quickly Become Overly-Emotional or Quickly Lose Your Cool, Avoid Personal Witness with Commited Atheists.
Copyright Robin A. Brace, 2006. UK Apologetics.