Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Making an Apology

In the first couple of centuries after the resurrection of Jesus a lot of misconceptions about who his followers were, what they believed, and how they worshipped serviced throughout the Roman Empire. The common charge against Christians was that of atheism because the pagans had a difficulty grasping the concept of one God. Rumors of orgies and cannibalism during Christian worship spread through the Empire. The fact that the early church was largely made up of underclass people and slaves made it suspect to upper-class.

In order to explain themselves different individuals attempted to write formal "apologies." In the Greek this means: a response to an accusation, explaining why a person believed or acted in a certain way (A History of the Church: From Pentecost to Present, James B. North, pg. 39). There was a need to explain themselves to the culture in which they lived. It is difficult enough to follow Christ in this world without having to deal with misunderstandings and false accusations. According to James North these apologists had two objectives:
on the one hand they were trying to answer the false rumors that were current about them, gross misunderstandings and untruths; on the other hand they were trying to gain a hearing for Christianity and explain its fundamental doctrines (A History of the Church; p. 39).
Living in the 21st Century we are again in need of apologists. The apologists of the last century, of the modern age, who gave us a rational reason to follow Jesus and evidence for the truthfulness of God's Word did a marvelous job. The Church needed people like C. S. Lewis and Josh McDowell to answer the challenges the Church was facing during that time.

Now as our culture moves away from the scientific method as the means for determining truth we once again need new apologists willing to provide carefully considered responses to the challenges the Church is facing today. We still need people willing to carry the torch of Lewis and McDowell, but there is a need of a different kind of apologist today as well.

This type of apologist must be able to use story to convey truth. As J. R. R. Tolkien wrote; I believe that legends and myths are largely made of "truth," and indeed present aspects of it that can only be received in this mode (Finding God in the Lord of the Rings, pg. x). Many of the people who would be classified as "postmodern," aren't as concerned about if it actually happened as they are about the "ring" of truth. Does it sound right? Does it make sense? A skillful storyteller can weave God's truth into a story and thus gain the ear of a person.

This type of apologist must be able to make the complex simple. Too often preachers and theologians take the simple and make it complex and in the process turn people off to what is being said. People are just not interested in what the Greek says or what some dead guy thought about this verse or that passage. To be honest sometimes I find it hard to care about those things. We need people able to make God's truth relevant to the lives of people again. People will listen if what they are being told is easy to understand and relevant to their daily lives.

This type of apologist must be a scholar. He/she must be grounded in God's word and have a grasp on the doctrine of the Christian faith. To be honest one of the weaknesses of the Church today is that her leadership is not very scholarly. Too much of our doctrine comes from the "pop-Christianity" books sold at Christian Bookstores and are better trained at growing a business than leading a local Church family. Only when we know what we believe can we clearly and simply articulate it to others.

Times are changing and as times change so do the challenges that face the Church. We must be ready to meet these challenges in an adequate fashion. So while the methods of sharing the Gospel and defending the Faith may change the Truth upon which they are built does not. The reason the Church is able to adapt to change is the because of the firm foundation of Truth that She is built on. That is something we can hold on to as we seek to impact the world.

1 comment:

Katherine said...

You are right Paul. And of course the goal for an apologist is, as always, to share the Good News.
I recently read and reviewed Anne Rice's new novel on Christ (for the review look under Books).
In the author's note in the back of her book she lists modern apologists (NT Wright and the like) as being her means of leading her to salvation. Now I believe she views her own novel as exactly the type of apologist tool you describe.

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