Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Apologetics in the service of God

What a fine, fine essay on apologetics in service to the kingdom of God. Definitely one of the best I’ve read on this topic in some time. It’s the type of stuff I wished I’ve written. Thanks, Mr. (Dr.?) Rauser!

My church is doing a series of apologetics-evangelistic talks this week, and as some in my seekers Bible study group wanted to go to last night’s talk, I went along with them. Professor John Lennox, whom I’ve already mentioned a couple of times on this blog, was doing one on "Has Science buried God?". This is the third time I’ve heard him speak on this topic, and this was possibly the best and most moving yet – he responded very sensitively to a question on suffering and Auschwitz, and his account of the conclusion of a recent debate with Richard Dawkins was arresting. Given time to put forward their concluding remarks, Lennox had spoken of the resurrection and hope, to which Dawkins condescendingly responded: “Resurrection? We’ve just had a very fascinating discussion on science and religion, and you end on this fanciful note? How unworthy, how utterly unworthy of the universe.” Lennox reflected on this statement for a long time afterwards, and concluded: “Dawkins has it backwards, ultimately, it is the resurrection which gives worth to this universe.” Btw, if you didn’t know before, Lennox has finally written a book, God's Undertaker, on this very topic, so if this is something you want to dig further into, then his work should definitely be on top of your reading list!

Lennox is a fine communicator with the ability to explain complex things simply, but as my group is not proficient in English, they obviously struggled with the talk. But in helping them try to understand, I actually thought they probably got more out of it than some hardened atheists I know. I asked one of them, “So what were you able to follow?” He said, “Science is limited”. I laughed and replied, “You got half the lecture!” He was able to agree whole-heartedly with that, and had no objections to the argument from complexity either as articulated by Lennox after I had explained it to him. Considering how many people fail to see that a purely scientific approach is actually silent on questions of ultimate reality, this was a heartening experience.

Which brings me back to the essay I mentioned at the beginning of the post.
One of the things the essay brings to our attention is quite simply, the degree to which belief or unbelief may seem convincing is related to its surrounding culture, what is sometimes known as the "plausibility structure". I think for my seeker friends, it is possible that not being raised in the intense furnace of a culture that glorifies rationalism meant that it was much clearer to them that science has its limits (although my premise is undermined by the fact that they come from an atheistic culture as well). Also, just seeing an Oxford professor unashamedly claim to be Christian, even if they can’t follow every detail of his lecture, helps communicate that Christianity is never about blind faith. Whereas one of my other friends, was telling me how frustrated he was in inviting people to this talk, as none of them were even willing to entertain the notion that religion/Christianity – not necessarily synonymous, mind you! – might have something worthwhile to say. Tim Keller makes a similar point:
"Every culture hostile to Christianity holds to a set of 'common sense' consensus beliefs that automatically make Christianity seem implausible to people. These are what philosophers call 'defeater beliefs'. A defeater belief is Belief-A that, if true, means Belief-B can’t be true.

Christianity is disbelieved in one culture for totally opposite reasons it is disbelieved in another. So, for example, in the West it is widely assumed that Christianity can’t be true because of the cultural belief that there can’t be just one 'true' religion. But, in the Middle East, people have absolutely no problem with the idea that there is just one true religion. That doesn’t seem implausible at all. Rather, there it is widely assumed that Christianity can’t be true because of the cultural belief that American culture, based on Christianity, is unjust and corrupt...So, each culture has its own set of culturally-based doubt-generators which people call 'objections' or 'problems' with Christianity."
Elsewhere, Keller is keen to show that the gospel affirms various individual cultures, explaining that we need to "connect the story of Jesus to baseline cultural narratives", or in other words, showing that a culture (Asian, African, Western, gothic, skater-bois, etc.) need not necessarily be set in stark opposition to the gospel. But at the same time, the gospel must confront the idolatrous aspects of each of our respective cultures. This is where arguments can play a role. So, as both Keller and Rauser show, even in a world where people are pragmatic rather than abstract in their reasoning, or seeking to make meaning out of their lives rather than looking for answers to intellectual objections,

"we need to recognize that the rational discussion is intricately interwoven with a broad range of non-rational factors (e.g. psychological, sociological and hamartiological [i.e sin]). As such, this involves a shift from focusing on arguments to persons within the context of a broad cultural renewal and the strategic use of arguments within that renewal."
Thus, this is not to denigrate the place of love, integrity, community, stories, relationship, social concern etc.; just the opposite really as all those are key. It’s simply not to drop rational arguments from the list. In my experience, I find that this is true, non-Christians enjoy being part of a loving Christian community, but they also do want to know how Christianity answers the big questions and the claims it makes on our lives. "Defeater beliefs" need to be dismantled: the belief that Christians are arrogant can be dismantled both by seeing Christians love their neighbour and serving each other in humility, as well as a more cognitive understanding that the gospel Christians believe is actually one that sees
  1. everyone, including themselves, as sinners, i.e not just failing to love God but actively hating him
  2. giving Christians no basis on which to peddle their superiority over others, but a basis which recognises their profound need of the mercy of God
  3. and therefore humbly accepting the grace and forgiveness Jesus offers as a gift through his death in my place, finding significance in him rather than in feeling superior over others
  4. And also the basis for why Christians want to share their faith with others, not because they want to impose their beliefs on others or because their religion is better, but because it is good news!
But we need our rational faculties not merely in the act of deconstruction but reconstruction as well. And so, for example, becoming a Christian means
  1. being convinced of the historical plausibility of the resurrection
  2. and its implications: that Jesus is victorious, that this provides a foretaste of the world to come, that judgement is coming.
  3. This in turn gives Christians the necessary impetus to work in light of eternity, and so be willing to witness explicitly if tactfully, help the poor, fight injustice, and celebrate the goodness of culture where it is to be found. As John Lennox points out, atheism undermines the basis for a just world, Christian theism affirms it.
The gospel is eternally relevant: it always speaks in some way to our hopes and fears and dreams, healing our balms, and it is also eternally demanding: challenging our worldviews, correcting our perspectives, calling us to times of hardship.

Anyway, do read the whole thing so that my ramblings might make some sense: Worshipping a Flying Teapot? What to Do when Christianity Looks Ridiculous.


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Anonymous Dave said...

Hi Bro, there are some desas-desus of setting up a church planting team in partnership with Redeemer NY (keller's church) in Kuala Lumpur... won't you love to see something like that in Msia? :D

3:15 pm  
Blogger BK said...

Really? I'd love to know more!

5:58 pm  

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