Nov 7, 2014
neil

Maybe you should just bring people to church after all!

Trevin Wax has written a thoughtful post on the witness of the church as community to the gospel and its power to help overcome barriers to belief. It’s not a easy read and the key conclusion I’ve quoted in full below but do check out the article here to understand his argument more fully.

The classical approach of apologetics is to present rational proofs for God’s existence, and then from this point to argue for the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and His resurrection. Classical apologetics is beneficial in the effort to show that Christianity is true, but if Taylor is right, then one is already likely to accept or reject reasons for belief before they ever hear them because the greater story [their scientific materialist worldview] is already conditioning them to accept or reject “proofs” of God’s existence and the truth of Christianity.

Perhaps this is why one of the best ways to engage an unbeliever is simply to invite them to church. Lesslie Newbigin spoke of the people of God as a “community apologetic.” It’s not that the church replaces other, rational strategies and arguments for belief in God. It’s that the church becomes the atmosphere, the teller of a better story, a story whose truth begins to work on the heart of a non-religious person, conditioning them for the moment when the classical apologetics “proofs” are then used by the Holy Spirit to confirm the belief He has already initiated in them.

Christians today should make use of the various tools we have at our disposal in order to persuade people to follow Jesus. But let’s not leave out the world where God’s good news comes alive – the people of God who corporately witness to a kingdom that has no end. It may be that the best apologetic for a secular age is a people who are in this world but not of it, who counter the rugged rationalist with the true story of new world which began on a Sunday morning outside Jerusalem.

2 Comments

  • Okay, I would say that there is certainly truth to this article – there is a certain type of (culturally) secular ‘seeker’ who would respond well to an invitation to experience the Christian community from the inside. It must also be noted that this same person would be likely to attend a Mormon church with friends for the same reason (which is why classical apologetics are an essential part of any pastor’s tool-kit). But as the “best apologetic for a secular age” – I strongly disagree.

    The article notes: “…but if Taylor is right, then one is already likely to accept or reject reasons for belief before they ever hear them because the greater story [their scientific materialist worldview] is already conditioning them to accept or reject ‘proofs’ of God’s existence and the truth of Christianity.”

    I think here is the primary problem with this thesis – this secular demographic is not the kind which is likely to cross the threshold of a church. If their meta-narrative (the scientific materialist worldview) is “conditioning them to accept or reject ‘proofs’ of God’s existence and the truth of Christianity” then it is equally likely that it is conditioning them to avoid such dens of alleged “anti-gay”, “misogynous”, “hate-mongering”, superstition and credulousness.

    I sincerely believe that such people need to be dialogued with on their own terms – not ours. They need to be provided with at least some evidential support to help them get to the point of ever seeing a church or Christianity as a viable option. But I do think that the witness of a well-intentioned, charitable and sincere apologist can do precisely what this article requires – the breaking down of anti-Christian, pro-materialist and pro-Progressive stereotypes.

    The article is absolutely correct – evangelism isn’t just about head knowledge, it has a relational and emotional aspect as well. This is something which isn’t at odds with a classical approach to apologetics; but an essential component which naturally comes across if the person really actually cares. We can show our secular society “a better story, a story whose truth begins to work on the heart of a non-religious person” through the witness of our lives as we intelligently and sincerely bear witness to the gospel. This doesn’t usually involve encouraging unbelievers into our tent.

    • Thanks for your comments and I think your critique has some really valid points. Maybe part of our apologetic needs to be seen in the actions outside of the church as well as in. If Schaeffer is right that the greatest apologetic is love then let’s find ways of witnessing to Christ through a better story. Here is a good example from some students I know in Birmingham http://birmingham.tab.co.uk/2014/11/10/ill-c-u-at-fab-a-night-out-with-the-christian-union/

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