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Showing posts with label #Apologetics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Apologetics. Show all posts

21 February 2016

Kicking ass for Jesus. (Don’t.)

The use and misuse of Christian apologetics.

APOLOGY /e'pa.le.dzi/ n. A logical argument used to justify a behavior, theory, or religious belief.
[Apologetic /e.pa.le'dzet.ik/ adj., apologist /e'pa.le.dzist/ n.]
APOLOGETICS /e.pa.le'dzet.iks/ n. The study and use of logical arguments to defend [usually religious] beliefs.

“This is Leslie,” he said, introducing me to a new Christian he’d just met. “Leslie knows a lot about apologetics.”

“Well, theology,” I corrected him. (Among a certain Christian crowd, confusing theology for apologetics is a common mistake.)

I actually do know a bunch about Christian apologetics. Learned the field in high school; practiced it for years. I learned all the standard Christian arguments for the faith. And over time I got to know all the anti-Christian arguments, as presented me by real live intellectual anti-Christians. Arguments woefully left out of a lot of apologetics books and classes, which means they wind up blindsiding your average young overzealous apologist. Which, in the long run, is probably best. Overconfident Christians need to learn, sometimes the hard way, we don’t know it all. Jesus does, but we’re not him.

But apologetics is an area really rife with abuse. For every Christian who uses apologetic arguments to encourage fellow Christians about the solidity of our faith, there are about 50 who use them to get into verbal fights with skeptics and pagans.

Let me emphasize that word again: Fights. If you’re a brawler, if you love to argue, apologetics gives you a brilliant excuse to indulge. It’s why the practice is so common—and popular. Apologists claim it’s a form of spiritual warfare: They’re contending for the kingdom!

True, they are contending. With other people. Yet Paul explicitly said our fight isn’t with flesh and blood. Ep 6.12 We’re fighting spiritual forces and devilish ideas. I know, apologetics is supposedly all about how one idea—one rational argument—is more solid than another. It might start that way. But too often deteriorates into one person fighting another. Call it collateral damage or not; there’s still damage.

Argumentativeness, making enemies, anger, quarrels, and factions are all works of the flesh. Ep 5.20 And defending Jesus is no excuse for behaving in such ways. We don’t get a free pass just because we’re “fighting for Jesus.” In fact, engaging in such behavior alienates the people we’re fighting with, makes them more bitter and resentful, makes enemies of them, and drives them even further away from Jesus, repentance, and the kingdom. We’re unwittingly doing the work of the wrong side.

So when my discussions begin to fall apart into a debate, I shut ’em down. I don’t take issue with people who have honest questions, or think they found holes in my reasoning. But when they’re no longer trying to listen to and understand me, but defeat me: “You already have your mind made up,” I’ll point out. “So there’s no point. I’m done.”

Often they wanna argue further, and find it extremely frustrating when I quit. They try to goad me into continuing. They try insults, or claim the only reason I’m retreating is ’cause they’re winning. I try not to take the bait. I’m not gonna encourage their fruitless behavior.

So this is the sort of stuff I had no intention of teaching the newbie. Instead I stick to theology: I explain what the scriptures have to say about God, how our God-experiences and the scriptures confirm one another, the importance of the Spirit’s fruit, and I take questions. I don’t wanna create yet another Christian know-it-all who’s eager to go thump some naysayers.

18 September 2015

Historical Jesus. (Who ain’t all that historical.)

Probably should put “historical” in ironic quotation marks.

So here’s a little transcript of a discussion I once had with a skeptic. Slightly abridged.

HE. “Jesus never said that.”
ME. “Sure he did. In Mark 16.52 he clearly states….”
HE. “No, that’s what the bible says he said. I’m talking about what he actually said. Not what some Roman Christian, centuries later, claims he said.”

Where’d he get the idea the gospels aren’t historical?—that the Jesus we Christians believe in, is just ancient Christian fanfiction? This, true believers, is what we call the Historical Jesus hypothesis.

When he wasn’t staying in the White House, Thomas Jefferson used to spend his evenings at home in Virginia with four bibles (two copies each, so he could get the text from either side of the page), scissors and paste, splicing together a private book he called The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. Nowadays we call it “the Jefferson Bible.” In Jefferson’s version of the story, Jesus does no miracles (except one or two, which Jefferson left in because he liked the lessons in those particular stories).


Displayed in Greek, Latin, French, and English—though Jefferson’s ancient-language skills were iffy, so sometimes they don’t line up perfectly. UVA Magazine

Y’see, Jefferson believed God doesn’t interfere with nature, and therefore Jesus never did miracles. He was only a teacher of morals. Miracles were added years later by supernaturalist Christians. So Jefferson literally cut out the miracles and kept the lessons. Well… the lessons he liked; not so much the hard-for-him-to-believe statements Jesus makes throughout John.

So yeah, the Historical Jesus idea isn’t new. It predates Jefferson. It stretches all the way back to the most ancient church; you see it in Marcion of Sinope. It’s based on the Jesus we know—the Jesus of the gospels and the apostles’ letters, the Jesus who still appears to people, the Jesus who’s coming back. But it’s a Jesus edited with scissors and paste, as people trim away everything they can’t or won’t believe.