Sunday, August 26, 2007

Apologetics or the Gospel?

I wanted to post a short item today which came out of a discussion I was having with a teacher. Our kids both attend a Christian school, and I am in general very thankful for them. I believe that most of their teachers are saved, and the ones who aren't at least don't teach heresy. However, many of them (reflecting the Christian church in general) have been seduced by the whole seeker-sensitive belief system. The church that runs the school is very seeker-sensitive, doing the whole "find your purpose" thing, recently promoting luminaries such as Kate Campbell (touring with and promoted by Tony Campolo) and Brennan Manning (see my review of one of his books entitled "Half the Gospel" in the link above). I heard one person from that church complain that they save the people and then other churches steal them. I think it would likely be more accurate to say that people come in, and then they are either saved or bored; if they are really saved, they go where they can be fed; if they are bored, after the fluff wears off, they once again stop attending church. If you're not really saved, going to church is a salve to your conscience for a while, but in the end playing golf usually wins out.

Anyway, the aforementioned teacher and I were having a discussion about the Way of the Master method of evangelism. I have recently acquired the Way of the Master Basic Training Course and am very excited about it, so I naturally wanted to talk about it. I should mention that I have the great respect for this teacher, in terms of her salvation, teaching style, friendliness, love, holiness, and many other things. The last thing I wish to do is impute any kind of questioning of her salvation or motives: she is no doubt far better and purer than I am, and a lot more fun to be around.

However, I believe she has bought into the false gospel of seeker-sensitivity, which I have argued elsewhere is essentially semi-Pelagianism reborn. In our discussion, I said that it was important to help people get to where their conscience is awakened by God; because the Gospel can only be accepted - and even understood - when accompanied by true repentance and brokenness. She disagreed, saying that "friendship evangelism" is more important. My rejoinder was that it seems to me that friendship is important, but one should not confuse it with evangelism. She didn't articulate exactly why she disagreed with me, but it was clear she did. I probably should have listened more closely to what her objections were, but frankly I was nervous about disagreeing with her. So often, I am a people-pleaser and don't like to disagree.

She then told me what she had been studying recently, which is apologetics. Now, I agree with her that apologetics is very important. Every believer should know exactly what he believes and why. And when confronted with people who have honest questions and doubts about Christianity - and these do come along occasionally - we should always be prepared to make a defense for the hope that is in us. Of course, the majority of unbelievers are not honestly questioning:
What do you mean Christianity is true? Well, what about the native in Africa? And if God is good, how come disasters strike? And how could a God of love send people to hell anyway? And what about all the contradictions in the Bible? And ...
When a stream of questions like that come out - and always the same ones, of course - you are probably not dealing with an honest doubter. But there are some, which is why I agree that studying apologetics is important. In fact, the Way of the Master video series contains a section on apologetics, answering the most common objections. So, Ray Comfort and I would agree with this teacher that apologetics is important.

However, then she made an statement that stopped me cold. She said that she was convinced that lack of apologetics training is what is causing so many people to come to their church, get "saved," and then fall away. Thus, to keep people "saved," you have to teach them apologetics. Now, I am not questioning that a knowledge of apologetics helps us to maintain a strong faith: clearly it does. We are all tossed like ships on the sea of emotion from time to time. But I don't think that's what she was talking about. I think she was talking about people who come to church a few times; "make a decision for Christ;" go to church a while more; and then fall away, presumably never to be heard from again.

At first I was stunned - how could a few intellectual doubts "unsave" a person who had been regenerated by God's Holy Spirit? How is it that Jesus can lose some that the Father has given Him, simply because of some intellectual difficulties? Then I realized the problem: I was up against semi-Pelagian assumptions. In this system, people can come, get attracted by Jesus, even choose to make Him their Lord (lucky Jesus!), but at the first intellectual doubt, their sovereign intellect will decide against the existence of God, and thus they will fall away.

I answered that I thought many times the problem is not that they have accepted the Gospel, but that they had never heard the Gospel. I think she was getting uncomfortable with the conversation, and we parted amicably for the night. I don't know when we'll have a chance to talk on this subject again, but I hope I can help her understand that the Gospel is not about us making a decision, but about the decision that God makes for our benefits.

Apologetics is good. It builds up our faith. What it does NOT do is create the faith in the first place; it does not turn an unbeliever who has never even really come to a realization of his utter sinfulness and lostness into a believer. Only God can do that, putting in a heart of flesh to replace our hearts of stone. In other words, apologetics is no replacement for the Gospel.

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