Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Defending the Faith

"You cannot argue anyone into the kingdom." This is true, but it is often used as an excuse to avoid any kind of reasoned defense of the Christian faith. We are exhorted to build relationships and love people into the faith and avoid intellectual confrontation. I do not, in any way, want to minimize the need to love people. An arid intellectualism or rigid legalism that shows no love for others is not only unattractive but unbiblical (Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 13:8-10; 1 John 3:11-18). But does this mean totally deserting all reasoned argumentation?

First, it needs to be established that no one comes to God without a work of God in their lives (John 6:44; 10:27; 16:8-11). No method of any type is any use if God is not at work in a person's life. But God can use many different methods to bring people to Christ. So we are wise not to cast any tool aside in our efforts to reach people.

It is the fundamental assertion of Christianity that it is not just a good feeling, but it is the truth (John 1:14; 4:24; 8:32; 14:6; 17:17; Galatians 3:1; Ephesians 1:13; 1 Timothy 3:15). This implies something that will stand up to intellectual examination. Certainly, the apostles regarded it as such. They claimed to be witnesses of actual events that proved their point (1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Acts 2:33; 3:15). They argued for the truth of God from His work in nature (Romans 1:18-20; Acts 14:15-17; 17:22-34). The Old Testament also puts forth arguments for the truth of God (Isaiah 41:21-24; 44:9-20; 24-28). After the Scripture was written, this practice continued into the ancient church, with apologists such as Justin Martyr taking up the practice of giving reasons to accept the truth of God. It is true the Scripture warns against too great a reliance on human wisdom (1 Corinthians 2:1-5; 3:18-20; 8:1, 2. But to say that reason can be abused does not mean it has no place (1 Peter 3:15).

The problem with throwing aside contending for the truth is it can leave us at the mercy of the subjective. There are those other than Christians who can behave in a loving manner (and, unfortunately, sometimes Christians who don't). There are those other than Christians who claim powerful subjective experiences. How does one judge which is right? Worse, how does one avoid the contention, "We'll do what works for us, and you do what works for you." There needs to be an objective basis for saying Christianity is the truth and not just one of many good stories out there. Or you end up arguing who has the better experience. I am not against subjective experiences. (I've had a few myself). But total reliance on them rather than objective fact will make it hard to reach many for Christ and will cause others to be anemic Christians once they are reached. Truth and love are both requirements; they are not options, let alone mutually exclusive.

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