Monday, November 23, 2015

The Great Commission for Apologetics (1 Peter 3:15...Get it Straight)

David and I have just come back from a week of philosophy and apologetics conference sessions. There was no shortage of the oft-quoted, passion-instilling, lock-yourself-in-a-room-to-read-Plantinga inducing slogan for apologetics that is 1 Peter 3:15—“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” I’ve seen and heard this phrase quoted more times than I can count. It has essentially become the Great Commission for Apologetics.
The exhortation is simple: Christians need to be ready to defend what they believe. This verse provides the biblical charge for Christians to engage in apologetics. But this is not all that we are commanded to do in 1 Peter 3:15. The beginning portion of the passage is rarely, if ever, quoted as a charge to those engaging in apologetics. Yet it provides the foundation for apologetics! Without it, apologetics is utterly useless.
Here is the entire passage, in context:
But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. (1 Peter 3:15-16)
The first thing we are commanded to do is to set apart Christ as Lord in our hearts. This is the foundation for our apologetic. To “set apart” Christ as Lord means to acknowledge that he holds the reins in every area of our lives. We ought to dedicate and consecrate our hearts for God, making Jesus the Lord of our desires, motives, inadequacies—all of who we are. This makes our apologetic more than a mere intellectual exercise; it’s an opportunity to defend the hope we have within us.
We must first have this hope before we defend it. If Christ is not the foundation of our lives from which our apologetic can spring forth and produce fruit, then it is done in vain. All the long hours of study avail nothing if they are not built upon the foundation of who Christ is and what he has done in our lives.
Defending the faith cannot simply be an intellectual pursuit for the faithful apologist; it must be an earnest endeavor to make Christ, the hope of glory, known to those around us. Our defense should stem from the lordship of Christ, who is our hope. Because God has made us “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3), we can build our apologetic on this very hope. This is the hope we need to express, articulate, and defend to those who ask us. This hope should drive our apologetic.
And because Christ is Lord in our lives, we can fulfill the end of the passage, as well: “do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” That part essentially speaks for itself. No senseless quarreling. No name calling. No outbursts of rage. We must present ourselves and our arguments with gentleness and respect, always seeking to truly understand opposing positions and being charitable in our responses.
To sum it up, the Great Commission for Apologetics gives us three commands:
1. Set apart Christ as Lord in our hearts.
2. Be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope within you.
3. Do this with gentleness and respect.
The next time you feel the urge to quote 1 Peter 3:15, it might be helpful to share the whole passage. Then let the late nights studying Plantinga commence.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Loathe Thy Neighbor? Don't Pray for Paris? A Response to the Responses to #PrayforParis

One of the recent disturbing absurdities that has become increasingly common in response to reports of tragedies in the news is the attempt to redirect sympathy elsewhere by diminishing the importance of the original report. The image below, circulated on social media within hours of the massacre in France, in which over a hundred people were murdered and hundreds more wounded by Islamic terrorists, is a prime example:

Aside from some of the more obvious fallacies inherent in this kind of manipulative propaganda exists a more basic and fatal flaw, namely the implicit notion that human compassion must be limited and thus only distributed to the most worthy of causes.

The result of this implication is that supporters of various causes raise competitive clamors, “Our tragedy is worse! Care about us not them!” as if pity is a sport, and everyone can only be loyal to one team, while despising all the rest. See the following example of a tweet condemning expressions of solidarity for Parisians in the wake of this devastating mass murder rather than the more legitimate concern regarding “microaggressions" at #Mizzou.

We may speculate that perhaps one reason why the “limited compassion premise” is hidden is that while its users are aware that compassion is not limited, money, resources, and political influence are. Therein lies the real competition: “How can I make people care for, contribute to, and spread the word about my issues before they exhaust themselves and their pocketbooks elsewhere?”

Now even if we allow for people to run out of compassion, weirdly, the “limited compassion premise” is even extended to God and prayer. Don’t pray for Paris, we are told, as we must instead pray for Iraq or pray for Syrian refugees or pray that everyone will start posting about why #BlackLivesMatter. God’s infinite compassion and all the treasuries of heaven are not enough for the world, apparently.

“Oh well you mustn’t pray for Paris specifically, but we shall allow you to pray for the world,” our sage and righteous social activists inform us, thereby revealing their blindness to the human heart. Time, space, energy, and earthly life spans may be limited, but not love. Love is the renewable resource, so much so that it increases the more it is spent. Just as a muscle grows when exercised, the spirit expands when it loves, yet the spirit is not bound in space and time as a muscle is. Thus, a love that springs from a connection to the ultimate source of Love, viz. the triune, eternally-existing God, can be limitless.

The enlightened social justice warrior scolds us narrow-minded people for only caring about what happens to the “towers and cafes we find so familiar” instead of more distant, exotic locations. False dilemmas and mistaken assumptions abound, of course, but there is also a failure to see that love begins with the familiar because love begins with family. Love towards my actual neighbor, the people I know and see everyday--whether in seeking to console, speaking hope and light into a darkened mind, or providing for an essential physical need--grounds me against the merely abstract form of “love,” which for some appears as nothing but a passing whimsy of concern.

Everywhere, someone is hurting. The mistake is to think that the importance of one kind of tragedy obliterates the importance of another. It is a mistake to think that by loathing our family and neighbors, we will show more love towards other nationalities and races. In the long-run, this oh-so-urbane self-loathing diminishes the empathy for all causes, even the "right" [or is it "left"?] ones. Furthermore, it is elitist and tribal, thereby serving as the very stuff of opposition and violence.

By caring for those who are close, we train ourselves to see those distant people as neighbors, who can and must be loved. How can I help the distant neighbor? By encouraging active love in my home. Then in my neighborhood. Then in my city. Then in my country. Then, and only then, in my world.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Eric Metaxes: Is God Dead?

Here's an excellent short video on the existence of God by best-selling author Eric Metaxas: