Apologetics – A Big Story and Bridges

I want to talk about apologetics today. I am a fan of apologetics but I would never suggest it is a strong suit of mine. I am a simple man and have some pretty simple thoughts. That being said I think there are some things we can talk about. Specifically today I want to look at one method called the Big Picture and another called the Bridge Illustration.

The Big Story presentation starts with something that most people can agree, namely the world is a messed-up place. This is helpful because it seems almost regardless of where people stand on their thoughts about the divine they can agree the world is not right. It moves to a modified ontological argument because it argues that man understands that there is something more and that the world should be a better place. The ontological argument in its most basic form says that if we have a concept of a most perfect being or God then that concept had to have come from God because man could not dream up the idea of God on his own. The Big Story also has sprinklings of the anthropological argument as well as intelligent design arguments because it presupposes that people believe in absolute morality and believe the interrelated complexity of nature. From there it rejects Deism.

The argument continues not necessarily with a rejection of original sin but a statement of sin choices. The argument is that regardless of Adam’s sin humans chose to sin and selfishness as a lifestyle. From there the story moves to the incarnation as the answer to the question of why if God is loving does he not intervene. The Big Story shows that God does love and did intervene. Jesus took on the sin of mankind Himself and He paid the penalty for that sin. In return what is required is submission to Jesus’ lordship (leading). By following Christ and trusting in Him to lead we can be the people we want to be. Finally, it ends with allusions to the Bridge Illustration.

The Bridge Illustration answers the question of faith and relationship with God by saying that there is a God and man is separated from God and man’s good works cannot reach God. Just as in the Big Story, there are some presuppositions but not as many because it removes the ontological, anthropological, and intelligent design arguments and simply presupposes a belief in God. The Bridge Illustration moves on to say that while man cannot reach God, God can reach man. It argues that the central message of the Bible is that God loves His creation and has done what they cannot do making a way to Himself through Christ.

The Big Story is a fairly good presentation of the meta-story of the Bible. It coves God creating, man sinning, the world in despair, and God providing redemption. The problem comes from the many presuppositions it uses. The old adage that more is less can be true when speaking to people. Whereas the Bridge Illustration does use some presupposition it is limited to only a belief in God. Which one to use would depend on who you are speaking with and that situation.

I find that if I am speaking to someone who is more science-based the fewer presuppositions I have the better. It gives them less wiggle room to argue and more time can be given to the actual topic of God’s redemption of mankind. However, if I am talking to someone who is struggling with real-world problems the presuppositions are generally shared by them and I. We both agree the world is a messed-up place and that there has to be something more. We can agree that God would not leave His creation to fend for itself and that He wants to be part of it. It is almost as if the more presuppositions the better because they build to a big beautiful picture.

As for which I prefer I like them both. I am a fan of the meta-story of the Bible because it is the most beautiful picture I have ever heard. Yes, there are details that are hard to understand but that does not dilute the beauty of the story. It is the most wonderful thing I have ever heard. I am sure it has sounded like I am against presuppositional apologetics and to a degree, I might be, but it is still the best story ever. I also love the Bridge Illustration because it focuses in on Jesus and His work to reconcile us to the Father. It showcases the majesty of God. It is the focal point of this wonderful song that began before creation and rings out that God is with us. I could not pick one to prefer. I can only hold on to both and use them at their appropriate time.

Just a thought,

Mike

Reasoned Faith and the Gospel

In Matthew 8:10 Jesus says that He has not seen a faith in Israel that matches that of the centurion soldier who comes to Him to seek healing for his servant. What provoked this strong commendation from Jesus was that the man understood authority. He understood how it worked and that presence was not required for power to move. His faith was founded in his understanding of how things worked. This man was able to grasp the concept of authority in his mind and exercise his faith because of this.

Anti-intellectualism has impacted the church in at least five ways according to J.P. Moreland, and two of them will be discussed here. The first is a misunderstanding of faith’s relationship to reason and the second is the spawning of an irrelevant gospel.[1] These two things are not that far from each other when you examine what they result in, namely a weakened Christian presence in the community and in the world. The lack of one’s ability to link reason or knowledge to faith causes them to withhold their testimony with others because often times it is feared they cannot answer the questions posed to them. While the irrelevant gospel, when shared, is based on feeling or a perceived need and if someone is “feeling” fine then there is no need for the message.

One effect resulting in the lack of reasoned faith in the church can be seen in the high number of children who grow up and lose their faith. David Kinnaman says in his book You Lost Me that there is a forty-three percent or nearly eight million people who while they were active in the church in their teens do not participate in the church by their early thirties.[2] Now it should not be assumed that the entire cause for this is a lack of reasoned faith but it does play a large part. People are more and more unsure why they believe what they believe and if understanding is not present then the natural progression is to not believe it anymore. The world is becoming more and more post-Christian and with that, the old system of following your parent’s faith is diminishing.

One of the most effective ways that church leaders whether they be youth pastors, senior pastors or lay leaders can combat this is by becoming “dedicate[d] to the task of training believers to think theologically and biblically”[3] This is in no way a condemnation of any particular church, pastor, or group of churches but an overall encouragement that Christians do and will desire deep theological teaching. Instead of having youth groups that play games and hang out we should teach them the Scriptures and answer their hard questions. For adults not only should we be edifying them for the work of God on Sunday’s but instilling in them and understanding of Biblical truths that go beyond being a good spouse and neighbor.

Perhaps it is time to use the vast resources of technology to do virtual classes via email or web chats. Often times people must be pushed to ask the hard questions they have. Individuals can feel scared of asking such questions as is the whole Bible true, do we have proof Jesus rose from the dead, are the six days in Genesis six actual days, and so on. Non-Christians ask these questions often but more than a few believers are scared to push for such answers so we must be willing to give them chances to ask these questions. We must be willing to not only learn about what we believe but what others believed as well.

This will cause the pushing of an irrelevant gospel to almost disappear. The gospel as it is presented at times now is you need Jesus to make you better and happier. The problem arises when people feel just fine. They have no perceived need in their lives so the solution for a happier life is a non-necessity to them. They are quite happy where they are at, however, this approach is not the tradition that we see in the Bible. An important aspect of sharing the true Gospel is understanding the community you are in. Paul when speaking to the people in the Areopagus in Acts 17 not only shared the truth of God from Scripture but also from what they already thought to be true. He was able to bring in things they knew and show them how they already had some understanding of what he was saying.

Moreland suggests in his book that the more we grow intellectually in other areas the more we will understand the Bible. This will not only “enrich life and contribute to Bible study and spiritual formation” but in turn, it will give us understanding into the world God created.[4] If I want to properly share the Gospel with a Muslim then it serves me well to understand the Muslim position. By doing this I not only have a better knowledge in the truth of my faith but what they believe as well. I can then meet them where are at and in doing so I open doors.

The challenge before the church is great and task daunting but the rewards are greater. By better understanding our faith and how it is built upon reason we not only secure our own thinking but also find that the world around us changes as well. Expanding our knowledge should not be feared because while it is true that “knowledge by acquaintance is an important foundation” it must be remembered that we are commanded in the Bible to grow not only in grace but also the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).[5]

[1] J.P. Moreland, Love God with all your mind 2nd ed, (NaviPress, 2012), 19; 24.

[2] David Kennaman, You Lost Me (Grand Rapids MI: Baker Books), 22.

[3] Moreland, 51

[4] Moreland, 93

[5] Moreland, 59