Thursday, January 13, 2022

Making Excuses For Neglecting Activities Like Evangelism And Apologetics

We often hear comments like the following offered as an alternative to doing something like evangelism or apologetic work:

"Just let Christ's light shine through you."

"Preach the gospel. Use words if necessary."

"People won't care how much you know until they know how much you care."

"You can't argue people into the kingdom."

Greg Koukl and a caller on his podcast recently made some good comments in response to such sentiments. Start listening at 30:12 here.

People aren't always persuaded by means of reason and evidence, but that is one of the means by which people are persuaded, it's a major means, it's superior to other means in some significant ways, and Christians have a standing obligation to frequently make use of it. For further discussion of such issues, see my post here on the significance of apologetics, including in converting people to Christianity. The post also discusses the significance of apologetics in contexts other than conversion. For some examples of the involvement of apologetics in converting people, see here and here.

When I hear the claim that you can't argue people into the kingdom, I respond by citing the example of Paul arguing people into the kingdom in Acts 19:8. The assertion that you can't argue people into the kingdom is ambiguous enough that it can be reconciled with a passage like Acts 19:8, if you interpret the phrase that you can't argue people into the kingdom in a certain way, but how many of the individuals making such comments have that sort of interpretation in mind? In my experience, it's commonplace for individuals who say that you can't argue people into the kingdom to have little or no involvement in the sort of work Paul did in Acts 19 and to show little or no interest in seeing others do that sort of work. If you're just making the point that we're dependent on the Holy Spirit in one or more ways when we try to persuade people, then what's the significance of making that point? How many people in the relevant contexts are unaware of that point or deny it? Jesus said that we can't do anything apart from him (John 15:5), that God provides us with food and clothing (Matthew 6:25-34), etc., but I don't see the people who keep saying that we can't argue anybody into the kingdom giving comparable attention to how we can't do housework without God's empowerment, can't work our jobs without him, can't pay our bills without him, etc. And they surely aren't as negligent about things like housework and paying bills as they are about apologetics. The same people who want to do little or nothing in apologetic contexts, waiting for the Holy Spirit to change people, don't take the same approach in other contexts, like the ones I just mentioned.

Part of what's going on is that people realize how much it will cost them, in terms of time, effort, reputation, relationships, and so forth, to do work like apologetics and evangelism. They don't want to pay that cost. They want a certain social standing, certain relationships, comforts, conveniences, and such that something like apologetics or evangelism would interfere with too much, at least if they did it beyond a low level. So, they're looking for excuses for their negligence. Another factor is a fear many people have of subjecting their beliefs to scrutiny. In some cases, people are dismissive of something like apologetics because of how poorly it's gone for them in the past. Instead of blaming the inadequacy of their past efforts, they act as though the problem is with apologetics in general. There are many Christians (and other people in contexts other than the ones I'm addressing here) who put forward far too little effort to persuade people about an issue, then act as if the problem must be that persuasion is too difficult or impossible. They stop after one or two rounds of a discussion, for example, as if we should expect disputes to easily be resolved after one or two (often token) efforts to resolve the controversy.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Jesus' Use Of Object Lessons

In her book on the historicity of the gospel of John, Lydia McGrew discusses how the gospels agree about Jesus' frequent use of object lessons (The Eye Of The Beholder [Tampa, Florida: DeWard Publishing, 2021], 393-95). He used the presence of his relatives (Matthew 12:49-50), bread (Matthew 16:5-12), children (Mark 9:35-37, 10:13-16), fishing (Luke 5:4-10), a well (John 4:7-14), a need for feet to be washed (John 13:1-17), etc. to illustrate points he wanted to make. Lydia concludes:

"This is what Paley means by a 'visible agreement of manner' in the teaching of Jesus throughout the Gospels. He points out further, '[N]othing of this manner is perceptible in the speeches recorded in the Acts, or in any other but those that are attributed to Christ….[I]n truth, it was a very unlikely manner for a forger or fabulist to attempt; and a manner very difficult for any writer to execute, if he had to supply all the materials, both the incidents, and the observations upon them, out of his own head.'" (395)

Sunday, January 09, 2022

A Happy God

"We have a happy God. And one thing that makes him happy is doing good to his people with all his heart and with all his soul. This is absolutely breathtaking. 'I will rejoice in doing them good...with all my heart and all my soul.' [Jeremiah 32:41]" (John Piper)