Posts Tagged ‘Alister McGrath’

Is apologetics a four-letter word?

August 19, 2015

When did I become such a “fundamentalist”? ūüėČ

I was hanging out on a relatively conservative,¬†evangelical-friendly Facebook page for United Methodists. Someone asked us what additional classes should¬†seminaries offer that they’re not currently offering‚ÄĒor at least requiring. I said that we should be required to take a course in apologetics. To which a fellow clergy said the following:

Apologetics is a fundamentally flawed discourse, that too easily reduces the faith to the lowest common denominator under the guise of defending it. The faith doesn’t need defending, it needs proclamation.

Another pastor agreed, saying that intellectual¬†objections are merely a smokescreen for an inward, “heart”-related problem. Presumably, once we deal with the underlying spiritual or emotional problem, the intellectual problems take care of themselves. Besides, he said, no one comes to faith through logic or reason.

While I agree that no one comes to faith through logic or reason alone‚ÄĒapart from the revelatory work of the Holy Spirit‚ÄĒChristianity is a¬†rational religion. How could reason and logic not play an important role in evangelism?¬†Otherwise, why bother with language at all? We may as well speak in tongues¬†to unbelievers. (Actually, the apostle Paul has something to say about that very problem in 1 Corinthians 14!)

Besides, the concern is not merely with unbelievers, as I said in this comment thread: What about the intellectual doubts of the already converted?¬†After all, nearly every day we¬†pastors have to be able to reconcile our world of suffering and pain with our proclamation that God is good‚ÄĒthat God really does love us. If we pastors haven’t worked¬†that question out, intellectually, we’re doomed! And having read¬†testimonies from pastors who lose their faith, I know that¬†theodicy¬†is Reason No. 1.

It won’t¬†do to say, as mainline Protestant seminary often teaches us to say, “It’s all a mystery.”

I continued:

Or what about the intellectual doubts of young Christians going off to college and being exposed for the first time to ideas that directly contradict what they’ve learned in church? That happens all the time. Are we not supposed to equip young Christians¬†to handle these¬†questions?

Because they¬†constantly¬†hear things such as: Jesus never existed; the resurrection motif was borrowed from other myths and legends; the resurrection was a legendary development that happened over decades; Paul “invented” Christianity by distorting or ignoring the teachings of the historical Jesus; Jesus didn’t say or do most of the things attributed to him in the gospels; we have no contemporaneous accounts of the historical Jesus; science is irreconcilable with Christian faith; evolution disproves Christianity; Stephen Hawking has shown how “quantum gravity” accounts for creation out of nothing; the existence of evil proves God doesn’t exist.

I could go on, obviously.

Are we not supposed to furnish answers to these questions‚ÄĒor just let these intellectual doubts fester? The moment we attempt to answer them, however, we are doing apologetics. So we may as well learn to do it properly.

My concern, therefore, is not merely evangelism. It’s also bolstering the faith of Christians, all of whom experience intellectual doubts from time to time. In other words, it’s¬†not only a “heart” problem.

I could point to Paul’s preaching in Acts 17 as an example of apologetics. But also: his words at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 15 are incomprehensible if he’s not appealing to evidence¬†for the resurrection: the resurrection is a real historical event, Paul says, and here’s how we can know.¬†In our own way, we ought to be equipped to do the same. Not to prove¬†it scientifically, but to show the reasonableness of it.

Fortunately, in our own day, we are blessed with serious scholars who are doing this good work: Alvin Plantinga, Peter Kreeft, Alister McGrath, John Lennox, William Lane Craig, N.T. Wright, et al.

Obviously, thinkers like C.S. Lewis and Chesterton did the same in their day.

No less a late-modern theologian than Wolfhart Pannenberg believed that the work of theology was inseparable from apologetics.

Have I made case? Why would fellow clergy have a problem with apologetics? What am I missing?

Of course atheists are moral people, but that isn’t the point

April 11, 2012

To say the least, we human beings have a powerful intuition about good and evil, right and wrong. We Christians argue that the only way that “the good” has any meaning is if it’s rooted in a transcendent reality, namely God. This is a powerful argument for God’s existence.

It doesn’t¬†prove anything, of course. We could as a species be cursed with a powerful sense of morality, which, although remarkably similar from one person to another, is, like all products of evolution, merely an accident. Morality is therefore arbitrary and subjective.

The atheist, in other words, feels in his bones as strongly as any believer that rape is wrong, and will take action to prevent it as often as any believer. But in the cool light of reason, he must tell himself that his feelings are unjustified and meaningless.

Fortunately, even the most strident atheist fails to live down to his principles.

Alister McGrath, in his book Mere Apologetics, gets it exactly right when he writes:

At a popular level, atheist apologists react with anger to such problems of their ideas, suggesting that it amounts to suggesting that they are immoral. It doesn’t. It’s not denying that atheists have moral values. It’s asking how these values are justified… Atheist philosopher Iris Murdoch argued that a transcendent notion of goodness was essential if defensible human notions of “right” and “justice” were to be maintained. If she’s right, our longing for justice is itself a deep clue to the meaning of things.[1]

1. Alister McGrath, Mere Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2012), 108.