Christian Apologetics for a Postmodern Age
- Friday, July 14, 2006
As journalist Walter Truett Anderson observes, "Never before has any civilization made available to its populace such a smorgasbord of realities. Never before has a communications system like the contemporary mass media made information about religion -- all religions -- available to so many people. Never has a society allowed its people to become consumers of belief, and allowed belief -- all beliefs -- to become merchandise." Anderson notes that America has become the "belief basket of the world."
I fear that we have become too acculturated, too blind, or too unimpressed with the paganisms and idolatries all around us. We betray a comfort level that Paul would certainly see as scandalous. Where is the gripping realization that millions of men and women are slaves to the idols of our age? Where is the courage to confront the idols on their own ground?
Second, a Christian apologetic is focused on Gospel proclamation. [Acts 17:17]
Moved by the city full of idols, Paul went to the synagogue and to the marketplace each day, presenting the claims of Christ and reasoning with both Jews and Gentiles.
The goal of a proper apologetic is not to win an argument, but to win souls. Apologetics separated from evangelism is unknown in the New Testament, and it is clearly foreign to the model offered by the Apostle Paul. The great missionary was about the business of preaching the Gospel, presenting the claims of Christ, and calling for men and women to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and be saved.
For too many evangelicals, the study of apologetics is reduced to philosophical structures and rational arguments. This is not Paul's method. He is not merely concerned with the justification of truth claims, but more profoundly he is concerned for the justification of sinners.
This is another reminder of the fact that every true theologian is an evangelist, and every true evangelist is a theologian. Christianity is not a truth to be affirmed, but a Gospel to be received. Nevertheless, that Gospel possesses content and presents truth claims that demand our keenest arguments and boldest proclamation. Moved by the sight of idols, Paul preached Christ, and called for belief.
Third, a Christian apologetic assumes a context of spiritual confusion. [Acts 17:18-21]
Paul's Gospel proclamation brought confusion to the Athenian intellectuals. The Epicureans, the forerunners of modern secularists, and the Stoics, committed to pantheistic rationalism, accused Paul of teaching nonsense.
Confusion marks the spiritual understanding of most Americans. Pollsters report amazingly large numbers of Americans who profess belief in God, but live like atheists. The vast majority of Americans profess to be Christians, but have no concept of Christian belief or discipleship.
A quick look around the local trade bookshop will reveal something of the contours of America's spiritual confusion. Books on religion and spirituality abound, but most are empty of content. You know you are in a confused age when a popular book is entitled, That's Funny, You Don't Look Buddhist: On Being a Faithful Jew and a Passionate Buddhist. Sadly, this confusion has invaded our churches as well. An amazing number of Christians allow for belief in reincarnation, channeling, or other spiritualist manifestations.
The current popularity of angels is another symptom of our spiritual confusion. Americans now love to decorate their homes with angel figurines, artwork, calendars, and inspirational messages. These citizens may or may not believe in God, but they do believe in divine messengers, and they are always cute and friendly -- the theological counterparts to the Smurfs.
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