Where can Doubting Thomases go to find reasons to believe and Dissatisfied Atheists go to find reasons to doubt atheism?
This past Thursday I attended the monthly meeting of an Apologetics Group hosted by Midway Baptist Church, midway between LaGrange and Columbus, Pine Mountain and Hamilton. Dr. Mark Smith leads this group in deepening and broadening the participants’ Christian faith by exploring not only what they believe but why there are sound, rational, and compelling reasons to believe. He encourages this group, which numbered 12 this night, to read assigned books and/or watch captivating videos.
This is a place not only for Devout Christians but also Doubting Thomases and Dissatisfied Atheists. I was both surprised and pleased to find such a group in the Pine Mountain Baptist Association I serve (part-time) since retiring from the pastorate.
On this particular night we had a diverse group of thoughtful and insightful attendees. One young army officer is about to leave the military to explore ministry, and was eager to be equipped to reach out to young people in this increasingly skeptical, if not cynical, age in which we live. The pastor, Charles Mitchell, whose wife Victoria attended with him, chatted with me about how best to equip as many Christians as possible to be the most effective witnesses for Christ in a doubting and debunking society.
Building a ‘reasoned defense’
Long ago this once skeptical debater/questioner in college found a spiritual and rational haven in apologetics which enabled me to navigate the waters of extreme liberalism and increasing radicalism I found myself in when attending graduate school in Connecticut. Later I would quote these words of Van A. Harvey in my dissertation, how “the art of apologetics is the reasoned defense of the Christian religion against intellectual objections … to establish certain elements of that FAITH as true, or at least not demonstrably untrue.”
I pointed out that “this ‘reasoned defense’ of Christianity is rooted in the Greek word apologia … which appears numerous times in the New Testament.” Most often the meaning agrees with the following explanation found in Charles Bigg’s exegesis of I Peter 3:15:
Apologia (followed by a dative, as in I Corinthians 11:3) means any kind of answer or self-justification, whether formal before a judge, or informal.
Long ago I wrote, “The idea of responding to a challenge is the essential meaning of apologetics; however, it is also important to refer to the words of Richard B. Cunningham who stated that ‘although apologia means defense most theologians agree that apologetics is more than a defensive discipline.’”
I added, “It has a twofold objective: To Defend and To Commend the Christian Faith. We need apologetics to help us correct the misinterpretations and misrepresentations of non-Christians (and misguided church people) and to help us challenge the doubts of Christians about their faith and the disbelief of non-Christians. We also need apologetics to help us commend Christianity by communicating the Gospel in a way that a doubting, often disbelieving, world will listen!”
What I wrote way back in the seventies seems so current today:
An increasingly secular society questions the authority and the dependability of the Bible, the divinity of Jesus, the rationality of the Christian faith, and the compatibility of believing in a God of love while living in a world of evil. This is a time of secularism when Christians need to be apologists; and, this “is perhaps more true than in any other period of history since the apostolic age”
The final quote was from John Warwick Montgomery’s book Faith Founded on Fact.
The fight for America
Mark Smith began the Thursday meeting with a reference by Harvard professor Neal Ferguson to a quotation from a Chinese scholar who had studied Western Civilization, seeking to identify why it became so vigorous and vibrant, important and influential. After studying the historical, political, economic, and cultural make-up of Western Civilization, this Chinese researcher concluded that its strength was firmly rooted in Christianity.
Now, this cornerstone of Western Civilization is being assaulted by a tidal wave of secularism that has swept over western Europe and much of our own country. Who can deny that most of academia, and the news and entertainment media, are not awash in secularism? This apologetics group recognizes that the Church of today is in a fight for the soul of America!
I have been impressed at how this group has tackled some of the most thought-provoking books and videos by the brightest and best Christian scholars. Whenever these scholars have gone head-to-head with crusading atheists they win hands down. The overwhelming evidence in on our side!
The next book on this group’s agenda is by a Muslim who converted to Christianity. This hot-off-the-press book is entitled No God But One authored by Nabeel Qureshi. The meeting ended with a short video clip in which Nabeel Qureshi shared his personal battle with stage 4 stomach cancer in which he is facing a 4% chance for a five year survival.
In coming to terms with this ever-so-recent diagnosis he turned to his core beliefs in Christ. He reiterated his answers to the key questions of life: Does God Exist? If so, is He a God of chaos or order? Is He a God of love? Yes, Yes, Yes because Jesus Christ suffered and died for us. He lives in us, inspiring and empowering us to be witnesses for him in our living and in our dying! Amen and Amen.