I have written in the past about the dangers of abandoning apologetics in the Church (see: Apologetics: Never Having to Say You’re Sorry). In that article I had taken issue with the number of believers who rely on a blind faith rather than being able to “give an account for the hope that is within you,” as Peter put it (1 Peter 3:15). Another part of the problem is the mental connection that apologetics has with academia. Not only does this connection tend to relegate apologetics to higher education or the clergy, it also compartmentalizes apologetics into an intellectual or theoretical endeavor that does not have real and practical use for the layman. I have the highest respect for the professional apologist, and indeed, rely on their knowledge and research. I also think that without a practical application for all Christians, the field would be nothing more than knowledge for knowledge’s sake. Unfortunately, far too few laymen know enough about was apologetics is – much less the actual arguments themselves – to make practical use of it. As I write this, we are coming into the Christmas season. This is one of the two times of year that we begin seeing special after special on channels like Discovery or History about the holiday. These shows speak much to the historical events of Christmas or Easter and devote a great deal of effort to show us the “historical Jesus.”
Sounds good, right?
What could be better than understanding Jesus within His historical context? After all, isn’t that one of the key rules for interpreting scripture? Interpret it within the context of the author and the audience? Plus, we get the benefit of analysis by professional historians and theologians. Except you are not getting what you expect. With near certainty what you get is what I like to call a “Holiday hit-piece.” Yes, you do get plenty of scriptural references to place the historical setting or discussion.
However, mixed in with scripture – and giving equal weight as scripture – are references to things like The Gospel of Thomas, The Infancy Gospel of Matthew, The Gospel of James.
What are these other “scriptures” to which these scholars refer?
And why do the scholars keep questioning the accuracy of the Bible with regard to these other “forgotten” scriptures?
Why do they keep questioning whether Jesus really did or did not say something?
At the end of the show, you could very well be doubting where we even got our Bibles. The other popular subject of these types of shows is presenting the “historical” Jesus. Now that the biblical account is in question, what do we really know about the “real” Jesus? What did he really say and do? Where and how was he born? Sometimes you even find the show questioning if he ever even really lived. The documentary will typically leave you with either the declaration we cannot know anything about the real Jesus or that everything you knew about him is wrong. The virgin birth, His miracles, even his basic teachings are all brought into doubt. At the end of the show, you find that these biblical scholars have done a very thorough job of undermining the Christian faith.
Many Christians walk into these types of documentaries not knowing what is coming. Even worse, they watch them with their kids. In this latter case, you may very well find yourself in a lose-lose situation. Watch the show and let their faith be weakened. Turn off the show and let the seeds of doubt be planted.
Either way, it has the same root cause; you don’t know how to respond to these kind of challenges to the faith. The advantage that these “experts” have is not just the degrees after their names, but that they can often give reasons for their belief. They may not be good reasons, but the problem is you may not be able to give any reasons that go beyond blind faith. Over the next weeks, I will begin a series of what I call “Practical Apologetics.” I’m going to focus on two topics:
- Why we can trust the Bible
- The historical basis for Jesus.
In writing up these topics, the goal will be to provide information and arguments that the average lay-person can use effectively. Your target audience is yourself, your children and your fellow believers. A secondary audience may be the seeking unbeliever. I will not dig deeply into more advanced argumentation; at least not at this point. We are not preparing for a debate against Richard Dawkins, here. The objective is to provide usable tools, not to dazzle people with brilliance. You see, the answer to the questions raised are actually rather easily provided. You don’t have to be a professional theologian or archaeologist to understand them. You do, however, need to have a desire to learn. You should also be willing to argue within the comfort zone of your knowledge. That is an important rule that many people forget.
Considering our target audience, don’t expect to have complete answers for every question. It is Ok, to say, “I don’t know the answer for that, but I know where to look.” In fact, I will follow up this set of articles with some practical advice on how to present your case. How you say something is at least as important as what you say. This is another thing that an inexperienced speaker forgets far too often. So please, I would encourage you to follow this blog if this is a subject that would benefit you or someone you know. Also, please comment if there are other specific areas that you would like to see covered in future articles. In the meantime, let me wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas. See you again soon!