I’ve been recently speaking with my sister, who lives in Florida, about apologetic issues. She mentioned that she was bringing up specific problems within a cult to her cultic friends. She seemed to be wanting specific things that would nail the lid on the proverbial coffin. As one example of my sister’s attempts at finding this bullet, was to quote a fellow who, in supposedly describing the main problem with Roman Catholicism, explained that the doctrine of Immaculate Conception logically led to a Jesus who was not “like his brothers” in all ways. This ‘apologist’, believing that because Christ was born to a woman who was graced before her birth he was somehow “not human.” Thus, she proclaimed, this was an excellent argument against Roman Catholicism…
I attempted to explain that we even non-Roman Catholics believe that Christ was born sinless, though not due to some supposed pre-partum grace to His mother. Thus this belief that Christ being born without sin was not somehow unorthodox but part of the historic Christian faith. Also, approaching a Roman Catholic with this ‘apologetic’ would lead nowhere since it is basically a strawman and doesn’t touch on the real issues needing addressing.
I explained that Roman Catholics do not deny that Christ came “in the flesh” and that this kind of argumentation shows a gross misunderstanding of the fundamental issues that divide Protestants and Roman Catholics. When she asked me what I thought the main issues diving Roman Catholics and Protestants was, she seemed surprised to learn that I believed justification by faith alone and not the nature of Christ to be the number one issue.
While at the Alpha & Omega Ministries conference in Seattle, I spoke with a woman who came to the book table looking for books and recordings likewise providing her with the means to address specific concepts within certain cults. She was asking “does this address (insert belief here)”, and I could only reply (since I’ve not listened to all the recordings, “I’m not sure.” I then directed her to Dr. James White’s Theology and Apologetics Seminar CDs and to Greg Bahnsen’s book Always Ready (which I’m currently reading) to little avail, unless it provided her with the one sure-thing in apologetics weaponry she wasn’t too interested.
During the past few years I too went looking for this proverbial silver bullet. Often I’d think “Ah ha! That’s it!” only to find that it was neither relevant nor absolute. Nailing-jello-to-the-wall not withstanding, many evidentialistic arguments cannot address the world-view of the individual’s system. Sometimes my argument would even lead to a compromise of my own position… much like my sister’s argument. (If Christ was not sinless, how could he pay for my sins!?)
What I’m coming to realize is that apologetics is not about demolishing a single argument, or addressing one particular claim, but understanding and addressing the cultic system of belief.
I recently took an Apologetics class with Pastor Charles McIlheney, pastor of San Francisco Orthodox Presbyterian Church. This was a study of Christian Apologetics by Van Til and it opened my eyes to the realm of discussion that lay beyond surface level argumentation. I’m now reading Bahnsen’s aforementioned book and hope to gain more insight into addressing one’s system of belief.
Finally, I’ve engaged in a email discussion with the father of a good friend of mine. Both he and his son are involved in the idea of Universal Redemption. Based on the writings of A.E. Knoch and a translation called the “Concordant Literal”, they’re of Arian stripe. Our initial discussion has been on the deity of Christ, but I’m wondering if something even more basic isn’t in order… In reviewing the letter to the Ephesians and its continual exposition on the Trinitarian nature of salvation, I began to wonder how my friend and his father can be part of a ‘Christian church’ while not following the words of Paul in that letter. God has gifted us, (I paraphrase Paul here), to specific tasks and abilities within the church to the edification of the body.
How can one be a Christian and attempt to defend the Christian faith while not belonging to a body of believers, being submitted to an overseer or elder, hearing the reading of the Word and partaking of the (gasp) Sacraments? Surely the deity of Christ is very, very, important, but what is a Christian without the church?
More to come… I’m sure!