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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

A Pastor in Search of Apologetics


“Reasoned arguments or writings in justification of something, typically a theory or religious doctrine.” 

That is the definition that came up when I typed ‘Apologetics’ into the Google search bar.  Of course apologetics is not saying “I am sorry.”  It is a defense that is rational.  But, the word ‘defense’ sounds very military, as if an attack is coming.  And, the definition Google produced uses the word ‘argument.’
In committing to be witnesses for Christ, does it mean we are entering a battle ground?  Ephesians chapter 6 puts it that way but we need to read that with care.  The fight is in spiritual realms against forces of darkness.  How that fight plays itself out in our experience comes in any number of ways.  It might be a materialist/atheist insisting the natural world is all there is and that God is a myth like the Easter Bunny.  Be it may come in the form of temptation, and usually temptations hit us where we are weakest and least suspecting.  Apologetic approaches are often not helpful in warding off temptations. 
So why raise the issue of apologetics?  Non-church goers already have an unease about evangelical Christians.  Why think of presenting our faith in terms of ‘argument’ and ‘defense? If you are a person who worships at HillSong Church in Chapel Hill, you need to know that in upcoming years I am dedicated to reading heavily in the area of apologetics.  Here is why. 
Besides the fact that I find it incredibly fascinating, I am aware of our ministry context: UNC hospital; major universities (NCCU, UNC, Duke, NC State); Research Triangle Park; our state capital.  We are located as the vortex of knowledge and power not just in North Carolina, but our place in North Carolina draws researchers and investors from all over the world.  Leaders in science and business (especially the pharmaceutical industry) are here.  Walking down the street, you never know who you will meet.  Are you prepared to explain why the best way life can be lived is in a relationship with God in Christ?  Are you equipped to answer if someone asks how Christianity could possibly be true?
That is one piece.  I want to be ready to give a grounded, evidentially supported case for my Christian worldview.  And as my base of knowledge expands, I am asking God to help me pass on what I learn to people in my church.  I want HillSong members to be prepared to enter conversations.  I don’t mean seek out arguments or to win them.  This is not about outsmarting anyone.  I am in the process of trying to become grounded in apologetics and leading our church to be grounded in apologetics so that we sound like we know what we’re saying.  Maybe your neighbor is a hard and fast atheist.  Fine, he has the right to think that way.  But does his worldview make sense?  Can you explain the conclusion that there is a God and we can meet that God in His Son, God incarnate, the resurrected Jesus Christ?  When he counters with an argument that sounds convincing and makes the resurrection sound impossible, are you prepared to respond back to him with a rational presentation?  And by the way, saying “I believe it and the Bible says so,” is not going to work because belief is not evidence and your atheist neighbor does not take the Bible as the authoritative word of God. 
The rational presentation of the faith matters.  A second piece is the experience of so many people who come to HillSong.  We have bridge-builders and construction foremen and fix-it-men; these folks like to know how things work.  Some are content, when it comes to faith, to just accept the mystery.  But many would find their faith enriched it they were equipped with a deeper, more evidence-based foundation for why we say the things we say about the Lordship of Christ.
We have in our church family physicians and chemists and pharmacists and biologists.  They possess immense knowledge about the workings of the body.  How does their work and their expertise enhance their faith, and how does their faith fill their work?  I think apologetic-thinking (that is, celebrating the natural world as God’s creation and harmonizing that knowledge with theological considerations) is the crossroads where intellect and faith meet.  Each compliments the other.
Maybe you work in a lab and your coworker, an accomplished PhD like yourself is astounded that you waste time going to church.  She wonders why a skilled scientist like you believes in a superstition like Christianity.  Can you show how your faith and your dedication to science go hand-in-hand?  Can you articulate that?

My goal is to learn to articulate meaningful, rock-solid answers to these types of questions and then to teach our church family how to have and pass on these potent answers for the faith.  Pray for me on this quest.  And join me.


  1. Hey Rob,

    Always good to hear your thoughts, though I don't comment often.

    I'm hearing a lot about apologetics lately, and I'm encouraged by it. The "post-modern" period has regularly frustrated me with its cheerful suspension of logic and authority in order to embrace contradictory philosophies, theologies, and politics at the same time. Yes, God has used that, and even used me in that, but I am delighted to see that serious consideration of "why" and "why not" are coming back into vogue. Our friend David S always challenges me with that, and pushes me to articulate good reasons for any time I digress from historical Reformed theology. On the other side, my denomination, and sitting on my presbytery's Examinations Committee, continually challenges me from the other side(s) with its rush to embrace whatever is politically correct in the USA. Sometimes politically correct actually gets it right, but we've always got to check our reasoning and our authority, as well as the reasons we affirm God as revealed in Scripture to be our authority.

    Nancy has included Tim Keller's "The Reason for God" in Misha's Christian Foundations curriculum. (This is one of the school courses that we modify and teach at home in order to spread Misha's school work over the whole year and also to best adapt it to Misha's learning style and abilities.) Last night Misha told me, "This really isn't a book for kids." I laughed, and told him, "No, and you're no longer a kid. You're doing a man's work, and learning to do a man's thinking."

    Looking forward to hearing more,

    1. Great comment, Paul, thanks.

      I need to get back to reading some more T. Keller as he is great. I'll add "The Reason for God" to my list.

      I hope you got my email about the passing of John Charles. Receiving his books is part of what has prompted me to get more serious about his thinking.