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Recovering Christian Confidence: Proclaiming the Gospel in an Age of Skepticism and Cynicism Lecture 1. Alister McGrath. The task of apologetics.
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Recovering Christian Confidence: Proclaiming the Gospel in an Age of Skepticism and CynicismLecture 1 Alister McGrath
The task of apologetics Sanctify the Lord Christ in your hearts, being prepared to give an answer to all those who ask you for a reason for the hope that is within you (1 Peter 3.15).
1 Peter 3.15 Extremely important text Assumes that people are already inclined to ask you questions about the Christian faith – see Graham Tomlin’s The Provocative Church
Two key aspects of apologetics Negatively, it is about countering objections to the Christian faith Positively, it is about explaining the truth and vitality of the Christian faith
We must get away from the idea that apologetics is reactive, doing nothing other than respond to criticisms and objections Apologetics must be able to take the initiative, and set out the attraction of the gospel in terms our culture can understand, using media our culture can access
The Audience for Apologetics Traditionally understood as pre-evangelism – in other words, as addressing questions and difficulties raised by non-Christians This remains vitally important We need to listen to the questions raised by our culture, and give thought to how best to respond to them Removing misunderstandings and misconceptions
The Audience for Apologetics BUT There is a real need for an apologetic ministry within the church a) for Christians who are unsure about their faith. (Note that C.S. Lewis is read mostly by Christians seeking reassurance.) b) for Christians who want to be equipped to deal with their friends’ hard questions
1 Peter 3.15 Can easily be misunderstood to imply a rationalist approach to apologetics – namely, that apologetics is simply about intellectual arguments in favour of faith Apologetics engages the mind, the heart and the imagination We impoverish the gospel if we believe it only impacts upon the human mind
Evangelism and Apologetics Apologetics as pre-evangelism Helpful, but not good enough! Apologetics as ground-clearing Apologetics as non-confrontational An analogy: the Parables of Feasting
The limitations of a rationalist apologetics Limits the appeal of Christianity to its ideas What about the person of Christ, who is right at the heart of faith? Or the Old Testament’s appeal to the “beauty of the Lord”? And what about the role of grace? Or the Holy Spirit?
Avery Dulles on Apologetics “The apologist is regarded as an aggressive, opportunistic person who tries, by fair means or foul, to argue people into joining the church. Numerous charges are laid at the door of apologetics: its neglect of grace, of prayer, and of the life-giving power of the Word of God.” A History of Apologetics (1971), xv.
The divine dimension Neither apologetics nor evangelism are about arguing people into the kingdom of God If people are blinded by the “spirit of the age”, divine grace is needed to heal them Paul saw his proclamation as grounded in the power of God, not human wisdom or strength (1 Corinthians 2.1-4)
John Newton Amazing grace! How sweet the soundThat saved a wretch like me!I once was lost, but now am found;Was blind, but now I see. ’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,And grace my fears relieved;How precious did that grace appearThe hour I first believed.
Jonathan Edwards Classic analysis of the limits of reason and argument in evangelism and apologetics
Jonathan Edwards “Great use may be made of external arguments; they are not to be neglected, but highly prized and valued; for they may be greatly serviceable to awaken unbelievers, and bring them to serious consideration, and to confirm the faith of true saints.”
Jonathan Edwards “[Yet] there is no spiritual conviction . . . but what arises from an apprehension of the spiritual beauty and glory of divine things.”
What Edwards had in mind . . . The sermon “A Divine and Supernatural Light Immediately Imparted to the Soul by the Spirit of God, Shown to be Both Scriptural and Rational Doctrine,” preached at Northampton, Massachussets, in 1734.
What Edwards had in mind . . . “He that is spiritually enlightened truly apprehends and sees it, or has a sense of it. He does not merely rationally believe that God is glorious, but he has a sense of the gloriousness of God in his heart. There is not only a rational belief that God is holy, and that holiness is a good thing, but there is a sense of the loveliness of God’s holiness.”
A biblical example John 1 Philip and Nathanael “come and see”
John 2 The glory of Christ Juan de Flandes, Marriage Feast at Cana (1500).
“Christ revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him” (John 2:11) Apologetics as bearing witness to the glory of Christ
Why modernity is not a good thing . . . Modernity “arrived” sometime around 1720-50 It was fiercely opposed at the time by Christians, who saw it as destructive of faith Now we seem to have got used to it, and some even treat it as a “good thing”. Or even a necessary thing.
. . . And why postmodernity is not a bad thing Postmodernity is a new cultural mood, displacing modernity Some older apologists are often so wedded to rationalist approaches that they can’t cope with the new situation They often seem to want to convert people to modernity so that their apologetic approaches will work
The importance of the audience Why one size does not fit all! Biblical models: Acts 2 – Acts 17 Biblical models – the parables Key audience issues: a) history b) language and concepts c) authorities
Postmodernity . . . Difficult to define – many definitions around Not uniform – expect to find congregations and groups which are still “modern” rather than postmodern
Truth in a Confused Society Relativism Nothing can be known for certain All things are equally good There is no truth – just truths
The Problem with this Approach “There are no absolute truths” OK – so what is the status of this statement If it is to be of any interest, it must be universally true But if so, it is an absolute truth So the argument is not about whether there are absolute truths, but about what these truths are.
The Problem explored further The key issue is self-reference Many people propose criteria of truth, yet seem to exempt themselves from those criteria Example: A. J. Ayer “There are no absolute truths” is a statement of absolute truth which negates itself.
The Postmodern Aversion to Truth Truth is no longer something positive Truth is really about power To claim to be telling the truth is to claim authority over someone else Key source for these ideas – Michel Foucault
Foucault on Madness Madness is determined by society Madness means revolt against the norms of a society Society thus uses madness to neutralize threats to its existence
The Suttee Issue Suttee is the practice of burning widows alive on their late husband’s funeral pyre, common in certain parts of India It was banned by the British in the 1850s Were the British right to ban it?
Postmodernity and Scripture 1. Truth 2. Story 3. Images
Issue 1: Truth Postmodernity aversive to “truth” Tendency to equate claims to “telling the truth” with domination and power Emphasis on truth seen as characteristic of and outdated and discredited modernity
Issue 1: Truth So what can we do? Option 1 – critique postmodernity’s aversion to truth Option 2 – work within postmodernity’s emphasis on “lure” or “attraction” Key question: how does reading Scripture help us understand the attractiveness of the Christian faith?
The Attractiveness of Faith:Biblical Themes Jesus as the “bread of life” (John 6) Jesus as the “spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4)
The Attractiveness of Faith:Biblical Themes “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34) Longing to “behold the fair beauty of the Lord” (Psalm 27)
A Christian response Real truth is not oppressive – it is liberating! The truth sets us free If there is a God, we are liberated from being under any other lesser authority The case of atheism as a case in point.
Atheist totalitarianism The aftermath of the Soviet era Atheism was once seen as a liberator – e.g. in 1789 But when it came to power, it turned out to be just as bad as anything that had preceded it In fact, it was worse – all the limits to human action were removed
Dostoyevsky, The Possessed “If God exists, then everything is His will, and I can do nothing of my own apart from His will. If there’s no God, then everything is my will, and I’m bound to express my self-will.”
Atheist totalitarianism It turned out that atheism was a one-time liberator that had turned oppressor Its social role as a liberator was determined by its historical situation, not its fundamental idea The same atheism was a liberator in 1789, and an oppressor in 1989
Atheist totalitarianism And the same is true for the church The church was seen as an oppressor by the French people in 1789 But it was seen as a liberator by the East Germans on the eve of the fall of the Berlin Wall The protest meetings against communist authoritarianism were held in Protestant churches
The truth shall set you free We need to ensure that the church proclaims freedom in word and in deed, so that the liberating impact of the gospel can be seen.