Somethin's Off About This
“I’m not the kind of guy that gets into the intellectual side of Christianity. I’ll talk with someone about my testimony and how Christ has changed my life, but all that stuff about evidence for God, science, reliability of the Bible, etc--I’ve tried, but I just can’t get into all that stuff. I have faith, and that’s not gonna change.” He said. He went on. “For my kids, though. They have questions. My son came home the other day talking to me about transgenderism. They get challenges all the time, so while it probably won’t affect my faith, it will affect theirs, so I’d like them to be able to defend the faith well.” This came from a fellow brother in Christ in my community group Bible study I attend on Thursday nights. He’s a good guy..and smart, too! He works in the legal system here in Texas, and spent some time as a prosecutor and as a defense attorney, so he’s been both a Jedi *and* a Sith! In all seriousness, he’s no simpleton. At the time, I didn’t really say anything in response. Perhaps I should have. But over time, as I began to mull it over in my mind, what he said really began to bother me. It’s a common sentiment, but somethin’s off, here. Here are a few:
For one, his approach to discipleship affects his kids’ approach. If he doesn’t take the life of the mind seriously, his kids won’t, even if he gives them resources to answer their questions.
Also, relatedly, his kids’ ability to find answers starts with him. They will bring their questions to him. If he is unable to speak intelligently to their questions--or if he will not put in the effort to find an answer--that will speak volumes of all the wrong things to the kids, and they will look elsewhere to find answers. Most likely, the source they turn to will not be friendly to the Christian worldview. The message they will get from dad’s punt is that the faith is not a serious option when it comes to addressing reality. The heart cannot rejoice in what the mind rejects (I think that came from Josh McDowell, or somebody like that….ahh, I forget. Anyway), and it starts with the family, with the relationship mom and dad have with the kids. Mom and dad should be their best help when they have questions and doubts, so if mom and dad are not competent in apologetics and philosophy, they need to take steps to get competent. Really, parents: They need *you* to be solid. They are getting absolutely bombarded by the world everywhere they turn. It is most likely deeply embedded into the dna of their school, it’s coming from their peers, it’s coming from what they see on their phones (if you have given them a smartphone), it’s coming from their friends’ phones, and it is on *you* to give them the tools they need to weather it all. You can’t outsource this! Seriously, if not you, who? Their school? We know the answer when it comes to public schools, and even a lot of private schools leave more to be desired. The church? A Sunday school session and Wed night youth group ain’t enough. It’s a matter of math. Their youth pastor? Youth pastors do *hard* work, but you simply can’t expect them to carry this burden--they see your kids for 2 hours a week, maybe 3 tops. That’s not enough to combat what your kids get from the world every day. Education starts with *you,* which means you need a degree of competence and interest in the subject, enough to give them a leg up. Secondly, it is all over the Bible: the life of the mind is a necessary component to both discipleship and evangelism. We see Jesus, Paul, and the apostles frequently use things like intellectual arguments, evidence, logic, and philosophy in their conversations with both non-believers and disciples. Good enough for them; good enough for us. You don’t have to run off and get a phd in astrophysics, but you do need to be intellectually hungry. Read, and think hard and deep. Get training. Then apply it to your own walk with Christ, your own doubts, and your conversations with others. Intellectual seriousness is deeply woven into the dna of the Christian walk. This is the way. Thirdly, if he is human, he will have periods of doubt and periods of dry faith. What then? At least for me, when I have gone through those times, it’s nice to be able to fall back on the facts. Running through what I do *know* about Christianity brings me great peace. Am I 100% certain? Not by a long shot. Do I have *every* question answered? Not even close. But I know enough to calm the doubts, and to be able to see that Christianity stands heads and shoulders above every other worldview option. This kind of thing is a life raft when times of doubt hit...and they *will* hit. The intellectual answers aren’t a silver bullet, but they do play a pastoral role when the emotions aren’t there.
Fourth, the attitude displayed by my fellow church member above contributes to the marginalization of Christianity. Adequately parsing out how that has happened, and formulating a solid response to that are both topics for another day, but suffice it to say that the “it’s all about faith” approach is one of the causes. Any solid analysis of our place in the culture will need to examine the ways the evangelical church in the 1800’s and 1900’s responded to the challenges of its day by subjectivising the faith, retreating to the inner sanctum of feeling, rather than also developing deeply rigorous intellectual answers to those challenges. They thought they were protecting the faith from the threats of the world, but instead they were sowing the seeds of its own irrelevance. The scandal of the evangelical mind, to quote church historian Mark Noll, is that there isn’t much of one. Other worldviews might be able to get away with this, but we can’t. If the world sees that we aren’t even trying to step up to the plate and answer the challenges, why would they take us seriously? This isn’t to curry favor with the world, not by a long shot. The world will always oppose the Faith Once For All Delivered To The Saints, because it is a check on what the world wants, which is autonomy. And yes, for most their issues are issues of the will; intellectual issues are basically fig leaves for deeper opposition. But we don't want to make their goal of dismissing Jesus any more easier than it already is. A solid intellect that deals deeply with reality makes dismissal a bit harder to pull off.
Fifth, and lastly, it sure does make talking with others about spiritual things easier. It generates confidence. Like with other things above, yes it’s not a silver bullet--people with all the apologetics training in the world can still be fearful, and taken the wrong way, it can lead to arrogance. But those are more issues with apologetic training misapplied than they are resulting from apologetics per se. Taken properly, it sure does help.
So there you go. The “Jesus loves me, this I know” approach isn’t biblical, and doesn’t work anyway.