Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Changing Thoughts on Apologetics

As noted in my last post I am currently working with a small group of Brethren to build a new Evangelism organization. The first time I was involved in such a work it was heavily based on strong apologetics; unafraid of tough questions, detailed and compelling arguments, confidence in the scientific validity of our faith, and stepping into arguments and debates wherever they may be happening.

I've learned a valuable lesson. God has not promised to bless our science, our arguments, our philosophy, or our cleverness. God has chosen to save people through the foolishness of preaching the Cross. God has promised to bless the preaching of His Word.

Apologetics is valuable. I do believe we should be able to answer tough questions, and to show that we are not blindly following some old book. But Apologetics is a tool which is primarily effective in edifying the Church which is His Body, not primarily effective in reaching the Lost. Does it ever "work"? Of course, God uses all things to draw people. Is it what God told us to talk about with the Lost? No.

If you are, why are you a Christian? I mean really. Is it because Evolution fails under testing using the scientific method? Is it because observed genetic entropy works many times faster than even the most optimistic of the proposed evolutionary models? Is it because Natural Selection selects available information and discards the information it does not select so therefore a process which limits information instead of expands it? Is it because the Flood best explains the fossils and rock formations we find all over the World? Is it because  we find fossilized human footprints inside of dinosaur footprints, and fossilized people in the same layers as fossilized dinosaurs? Is it because the Creation model has continually made accurate predictions about the workings of the Solar System while the Stellar Evolution model has to violate known scientific laws?

Nope. If you're a Christian it is because God the Holy Spirit has convicted and convinced you, someone told you the Gospel of the Christ, and you believed it.

Having science, history, archeology, philosophy, and logic arguments is great. I think it's important that people know you are aware of the science of the day and that you're able to discuss such ideas. But none of it really matters because God the Holy Spirit is either going to convince or He is not.

Here's another thought for you. In the thousands of personal evangelism conversations that I have had I have never run into someone who was actually qualified to evaluate the science they used to challenge the Bible. You can study apologetics all you want, but you will seldom (if ever) find someone who disagrees with the Bible, who is actually able to discuss the subjects at hand with integrity. In the end, they will appeal to authority and claim that trumps whatever argument you bring up: "Dr. So & So says XYZ so whatever you think you just explained doesn't matter. He's a SCIENTIST and I'll believe him over you." That's just how it goes.

Here's another example. Are you a witness unto Christ or one of those dolls that you pull the string and it says something clever and funny? This example applies to apologetics and other hot topics like abortion and homosexuality.

You start up a conversation with someone by passing them a Tract or some other way. As soon as they know this has to do with "Jesus" they do this:

"Wait, wait. Wait just a second. This is about Jesus and the Bible right? OK what's your view of XYZ?"

If your evangelism depends on Apologetics, then your evangelism depends on you being correct in your intellectual arguments. You are saying that because your science is true the person should believe in Jesus. People know this is how you are going to interact with them. So they make you make claims and defend those claims. It's actually ENTERTAINING for them to watch you go. They pull the string and you let your claims fly!

Let's say this is the question:
"OK what's your view about Evolution?"

You say something like:
"Evolution is false because XYZ and ABC. If you look at the science......"

The person responds with laughter and amusement. He is almost dismissive. Because your evangelism depends on your argument being true you have to try to save it, to get him to take you seriously for a few moments.... the rest of the conversation is about you trying to get the person to take YOU and YOUR argument seriously. No matter if you are right or wrong, he's been taught his whole life by everyone who has credibility in his life that you are a nut, and flat out wrong. You're not witnessing of Christ, you're witnessing of you.

What if instead of engaging on the basis of apologetics you witness on the basis that God is either convicting and convincing the person you're talking with or He is not? What if you DEPENDED on the Holy Spirit's ministry of John 16:5-11?

I've learned to tell people that my opinion or view of Evolution/Abortion/Homosexuality really doesn't matter. What matters is the truth, and what God says about it. Are you going to loose people at this point? Of course you are. You're going to loose the people who would have only pulled your string and watch in amusement as you try to defend your views. I let people know that I understand the science and reject the theory on the basis of science. Then I move on to the issues that matter - Sin, Righteousness, and Judgment. I use these to show why the Gospel is "good news" and the person believes or he doesn't.

I don't want to try to argue people into the faith anymore. Why? Because we can't. It doesn't work that way. Who are we witnesses of? Christ.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

On My Walk 102: A New Old Thing

When I was first saved my first instinct about what to do with my new life was not unlike the first instinct most new Believers have; tell everyone about Christ! In the months and years immediately following my New Birth my desires settled into two priorities; to help Believers tell everyone, and telling everyone myself.

My work in Evangelism began with the writing of a document called "Ministry 180" in which the idea that ministries need to build up believers to work outside of the confines of church buildings to reach those who are outside of church buildings. I didn't have a clue about HOW to reach these people, but I sure knew where they were and where they weren't. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that prostitutes, drug dealers, and murderers didn't just show up at church services on Sunday to find out about Jesus without some serious motivation.

So I had this document, a burning desire in my heart, and not a clue what to do with any of it. It turns out I wasn't alone. My beloved friend Cory called me up and asked me if I had heard of a particular evangelism training organization, and if I had heard of this or that training material. We both enrolled in the organization and went through the training.

Now we had half a clue about how to speak to the Lost, but we were still really green. So we found some other believers who were doing the work and hit the streets. We were each amazed by how you really can engage people about sin, life, death, eternity, judgment, righteousness, and the Gospel when you haven't built a relationship with them. We quickly learned you truly can preach the Gospel to every creature in the world!

We knew we wanted to help Believers do what we had become passionate about. So we launched a ministry called The Cross Current(TCC). We would help the Church engage the culture using the hot topics of the day, science, philosophy, and history. We would literally give them conversations to have with the Lost people they know that would lead them to the Gospel, and if there were tough or heated questions we would take them on their behalf. I was sure I had found my life's work.

We built a radio program and podcast that would teach and give real-life examples of real conversations we had on the streets of Canadian cities so listeners could hear how they really go. And not only that, but they could hear that these conversations are real and possible to be had right here in Canada! The radio show was the hub of the ministry. It gave us credibility with people on the street, and exposure to the Church.

The radio show was sexy. It took a lot of effort and time to produce. I found myself working on the radio show during my coffee breaks, lunch, and every minute of my evenings just to keep up. As much as we felt God was using the ministry, He didn't seem to be providing labourers who would help carry the load. We did have a growing team of people who would go out on the streets, but we could not seem to keep workers interested in the radio program. While the show was popular with listeners, the team that went out on the streets just didn't seem to get it.

Amidst the effort to keep the show on the air and of high quality, Cory and I though we were extremely close friends started to drift apart doctrinally. He would say I moved, and I would say he moved. Perhaps we both moved somewhat. By the Summer of 2010 it was clear that Cory and I were preaching two entirely different things and both of us calling what we preach the Gospel.

How could this happen? We were an organization that had trained hundreds of people to share their faith together. We had engaged thousands of people with the Gospel personally, and countless thousands through the radio show and podcast. We had a 22 page Statement of Faith which we had worked exceedingly hard at refining. It was true though. We were at an impasse. Once I got the courage up to challenge the situation the end was inevitable. He wasn't going to move, and neither was I. When that was finally spoken, the President of TCC asked the Vice President of TCC to resign, and I did.

It has been about 2.5 years since these events went down. Without the requirement of writing and producing I've returned to the simpler work of Street Evangelism. It has been a marvel to me to see how much I still need to learn, after having been part of a team teaching so many others how to do the work. I've found that many of the "sexy" things we found so helpful with TCC are really not all that helpful on the street. I've found that gentle, simple, and clear presentations of the Truth are much better for the work than strong logical arguments.

Recently God has been bringing a group of men together in my city to do a work very similar to what I had hoped to do with TCC. The Brother who seems to be drawn to lead the effort is a lot like by beloved friend Cory, but he's older and more mature than either Cory or I were back when we put TCC together. The same passion is in him, but the desire to not move unless clearly led of God is something I admire in him, and which also gives me calm. This time there are three of us instead of just two. This time we have a history of 6 or 7 years of local street ministry that we can build from.

It would seem that God is not done using me in the work that fires my heart with passion. It would seem that He has a new, old, thing for me to do. Perhaps this time I will be more faithful with it, and less industrial.