Monthly Archives: July 2015

The Truest Apologetic

Can you defend your Christian faith? How would you do it? Would you try your hand at Christian apologetics?

Many Christian apologists turn to the first letter of St. Peter and quote the following words as a defense of the practice of Christian apologetics: “Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you.” (1 Peter 3:15) This makes sense. The word “defense” is “apologia” in the Greek. And some go so far as to say that St. Peter has given us a mandate properly defined as “the discipline that teaches Christians how to give a reason for their hope.” (Frame, 1994) But I would argue that what we often call apologetics, that is, the disciplined and frequently systematic mounting of arguments defending the Christian faith from corresponding challenges, is not exactly what St. Peter means. I think it is much more fundamental.

Le_Repas_d'Emmaüs

More often than not, people are converted through witness. Consider the larger passage in 1 Peter from which the verse above it taken:

“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is right? But even if you do suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence; and keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are abused, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing right, if that should be God’s will, than for doing wrong.”

In the early days of the the Church many Christians suffered. Many lost jobs, were ostracized, kicked out of their synagogue, shunned by family, thrown in prison, tortured, and even killed. Imagine how common it must have been for non-Christian family and friends to say, “Why are you doing this to yourself and your family? Why don’t you give the sacrifice to Caesar at the temple? Why don’t you worship our city’s god, or Caesar? Why don’t you renounce this Jesus? Don’t you realize you will die if you keep this up? Do you not love us, love your spouse, love your children?” Imagine the pressure. Why would a person refuse to capitulate? Why not give up and worship Caesar? Or renounce Christ? Not because of a well crafted argument. Not for a cosmological argument for God’s existence. Rather, because of the hope that is in you; that Jesus rose from the dead and is seated at the right hand of the Father. It is because of the encounter with Christ. Those without eyes to see or ears to hear will not understand, but perhaps they might see the joy, hear the words of the Gospel, experience the witness, and begin to ponder these things in their hearts. They might see the sacrificial love, the service and joy, hear the words of love and truth, and perhaps they just might begin to be open to the calling of the Holy Spirit.

Should one be able to mount a well argued defense of the faith? Yes, if possible. It would be good if more could do that, but consider this recent story of an 80 year old Christian woman in Iraq was told by IS forces to convert to Islam or face death:

“You must convert,” IS forces told them. “Our faith can promise you paradise,” they added.

Victoria and Gazella responded: “We believe that if we show love and kindness, forgiveness and mercy we can bring about the kingdom of God on earth as well as in heaven. Paradise is about love. If you want to kill us for our faith then we are prepared to die here and now.”

IS forces had no answer. The dozen Christians, who included many elderly and infirm, were let go.

That, it seems to me, is the truest apologetic.
 


 
Frame, John M. Apologetics to the Glory of God: An Introduction. Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub., 1994.

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For God so Loved the Pale Blue Dot…

In 1990 the Voyager 1 spacecraft turned its camera back towards Earth and found a pale blue dot.

Pale_Blue_Dot

Seen from 3.7 billion miles, Earth appears as a “pale blue dot” (the blueish-white speck approximately halfway down the brown band to the right). Source: Wikipedia

 

At that time Carl Sagan said:

“Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam”.

That mote of dust, that pale blue dot, is our home, a gift from God to us.

From Laudato Si:

As Christians, we are also called “to accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and our neighbors on a global scale. It is our humble conviction that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God’s creation, in the last speck of dust of our planet” (LS 14)

Sagan’s quote is powerful, but Pope Francis pushes that sentimental understanding such that the sentiments are rooted in the powerful, cosmic truth that the world is a sacrament of communion. In other words, as we engage with creation and come to know it we become like priests offering up to God the world which He gave us. If this is our relationship to this pale blue dot, then questions of market forces, or government regulations, or pollution, or poverty, or global supply chains, all fall under this sacramental understanding.

Right at the beginning of the encyclical, Pope Francis says:

This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters. (LS 2)

I see too many Christians here in the rich and powerful “west” chaffing at the Pope’s encyclical, often using common evasive tactics like focusing on whether it is well written or organized, or whether the Pope mentions Jesus enough times, etc. These are all fair assessments, but if our first response to the world was to fall on our knees in supplication and worship, because our first understanding is of the world as sacrament, I wonder if we would be pushing back as much to the Pope. I think he gets it right. His critique seems to be spot on. We have forgotten the garden, the gift of creation. If we understood and lived out the idea of “world as sacrament” there might not be a need for the encyclical, because the world would be less ravaged. Still, and our struggle bears this out, only in Christ do we find salvation, and only through Christ will the creation cease to groan.

Final thought: It’s a strange thing to think that the so-called radical, left-wing environmental movement is showing the Church (especially in the west) a little something that it has lost along the way.

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