Sunday, August 11, 2013

Preaching & Apologetics

It was a great privilege to be able to go to the SA Preaching School at our local bible college this week. This year was on ‘helping Christians become good everyday apologists’ and it was a great treat to have William Lane Craig come as part of his tour around Australia.

I always appreciate the chance to be challenged intellectually and this was definitely the way to do it.

There were three sessions on the day, all led by Dr Craig.

The first got us thinking about how we communicate and challenge people’s worldviews. This was really a challenge to pastors and church leaders to make sure we continue to value intellectual thought and academic rigour as a part of faith. As pastors are often the brokers of truth between scholars and congregations, they must be willing and able to interact with scholarly debate about the existence of God and other theological issues. He raised the challenge that much of the evangelical church has plunged into theological illiteracy, where many minds (of both pastors and laypeople) are in intellectual neutral. Then he went into some specifics of how to introduce apologetics into a ministry. These included:

  • Being an example. Model intellectual engagement yourself. Introduce historical backgrounds and details of the setting in bible passages. Use maps, details that make it real, not a story. There are many people in our churches who need these concrete evidences to continue to convince them their faith is based in fact, and this particularly includes our youth and uni students. This also includes refusing to apologise for challenging people intellectually – don’t dumb down theological terms, rather teach them well and clearly.
  • Have sermon series on the intellectual challenges to faith
  • Teach adult classes about the bible, faith and issues related to them. He said this will get men interested in learning in a way that often does not happen on a Sunday.
  • Set up scholarships for those training in ministry, but also those training in high-academia, the post-grads, etc who will shape thinking in the future and from a Christian perspective
  • Hold special apologetics events which answer certain questions or raise certain issues.

The second session was a sample talk that Dr Craig gave on how he would introduce the evidence for Christianity. This was a helpful session which pointed out that faith is rational, that there is accepted evidence for the Christian beliefs and yet only those who seek God will find him. I felt the best part of this talk was his claim that we do not live in a post-modern society and in fact it is one of the biggest lies we have been sold. No-one thinks the knowledge obtained by science and medicine are subjective. Rather, we live in a solidly modernist society, which is only relative in regards to religion and ethics. He said the claim that we are now post-modern and truth is relative is a ruse to get us to lay down our logic and reason and only ‘share stories’. As Christians, we should never give up traditional appeals to logic and reason.

The final session was pretty tough going! It was a seminar of equipping Christian to give better answers and basically ran through a number of those positive arguments for God (arguing from contingency, morals, existence, etc) and the negative arguments (answering objections to God) such as evil and suffering in the world and religious diversity. This was a very intellectual, philosophical session which reminded me why I struggled so much in Philosophy 2 at bible college!

In the end I walked away with the following thoughts:
  • I am thrilled that a man of his intellectual calibre is willing to stand up publicly for Jesus. He conducts debates around the world with leading atheists and is confident intellectually and academically that Christianity holds up to scrutiny and it has deepened and strengthened his own faith. I thank God for that.
  • It seems that the tide is turning in the US and UK and that now many of the leading philosophers of our day are professing Christians. No longer do the statements of the 1960s that ‘God is dead’ hold any weight amongst academics. I also thank God for that.
  • I think he issues an excellent challenge to those in ministry to ‘brain up’ as it were and become educated in apologetics, both for ourselves and for laypeople. We should certainly be doing that and I will be looking out for some of his books.
  • Yet I cannot imagine any conversation where I would use the ontological argument for God or the logical version to the problem of evil in speaking with an unbeliever. I just don’t know people who talk like that or who are asking those philosophical questions. Most people questions about God are strongly rooted in pastoral issues – their pain and suffering, or not wanting to believe in God because they may have to account for their lives. In our desire to be intellectually rigorous and philosophical capable, let us not forget that many people’s issues with God are pastoral. (Dr Craig never suggested such a thing, I am just drawing conclusions for myself).
A good day with lots to think about.

Dr Craig is touring the Eastern states this month and debating with Professor Lawrence Krauss at a number of events hosted by City Bible Forum – you might want to go if you are nearby.

No comments: