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Monday, July 02, 2007

Biblical Apologetics

In a recent essay (hithertofore unposted/unpublished) that I have been working on I explore the issue of how Scripture is meaningful/significant. I take pains to establish the fact that meaning is relative to the person or to the community. That is, something is significant/meaningful to each of us in different ways.

This idea applies to the theological doctrine of the Inspiration of Scripture. That is, the Scripture will seem meaningful to some and not to others. So, if meaning is relative to the individual/community, then I ask the question of whether there is any "inherent" meaning in the text of Scripture. Further, if meaning is relative then what gives a believer the audacity to suggest that the Scripture should be meaningful to others? This is a fair question/objection. I respond by talking about the "ought-ness" of meaning. The sense that if we find something meaningful/significant we typically think that it ought to be meaningful/significant to others. For example, if you read a good book or see a good film then we usually think that others ought to think the same. As such, just because meaning is relative does not, in and of itself, exclude us appealing to others that they should find meaning in something.

The below quotation from my essay comes after discussing the above points. The second paragraph is the point that I think is interesting.

The ought-ness of meaning also extends out of the Scripture’s appeal to the shared existential and spiritual situations of humankind. The ability for the text to resonate within so many diverse contexts is similar to the ability of a film to reach across cultures and speak to the commonality of human experience. The ought-ness in film proceeds from the unique and distinguishing character of the film, itself. The same is true of the text, and this leads us back into Calvin’s analogy of the “sweet” taste of Scripture. There is a similar sensual appeal that seems to transcend diverse contexts to speak to a common spiritual and existential dimension. It does not, of course, follow that all will find the text meaningful or significant, nor does it follow that all will find the text meaningful/significant in the same way or to the same degree. In our examination of meaning we have found that the meaningfulness of Scripture occurs at the intersection of text, reader, and Spirit at specific moments in time. But we have been exploring the ought-ness of meaning, which occurs when we experience something deeply meaningful that feels so deep and so basic that it seems to carry with it a meaningful and significant message for all of humankind. There is a sense that others might also be profoundly affected by the text. It is this sense that I call the feeling of ought-ness.

A critical apologetic and philosophical note along these lines is that it may be misguided to attempt to establish the truth of Scripture prior to a person engaging the text, itself. To attempt to establish the priority of the text at the outset could be a potentially frustrating endeavor. Analogously, it would seem backward and awkward to persuade an individual that a film is meaningful prior to viewing the film! This is simply not how we go about this sort of thing. We may share our excitement and attempt to convey a sense of the significance we have derived from a film, but ultimately our call is, “Give the film a viewing”! Similarly, when presenting the Scripture in the public square the church’s call is to give the text a reading; that the individual would open themselves to the possibility of a meaningful and significant engagement with the text. It is in this sense, then, that we can do justice to Calvin’s analogy and the examination of meaning as we have explored it in this essay.

Traditionally, apologetics has sought to establish the meaningfulness of the Scripture at the outset. In other words, there were logical and philosophical reasons for considering the Scripture as "true" or as the "Word of God." We had to have a reason considering the biblical text as meaningful. In this sense, I think we extracted the text from the stream of life and abstracted it away from its original and primary function: To guide humanity through life and to ultimately guide them to a dynamic Encounter with their Creator.

Here are a few examples of biblical apologetics in action:
Is the Bible from God?
How do you know the Bible is true?
The Inspiration, Inerrancy, and Authority of the Bible

“You Can’t Trust the Gospels. They’re Unreliable.” by Paul Copan
Here is an interesting quote from this article that kind of illustrates my above point: "The Christian has no way to refute skepticism about the unique claims and deeds of the historical Jesus without first establishing that the texts that record his claims are generally reliable. If the Gospels are fictitious, then a defense of Jesus’ self-understanding and unique role in salvation will also come under fire. So what follows are a few points to keep in mind when discussing the Bible’s historical reliability."

My thought is that perhaps we need to guide the non-believer to the text and suggest that it may be meaningful for them. In some sense it makes the Word prove itself as significant/meaningful in each and every life-situation. I think this is the direction that Apologetics is moving. In general, I think that Apologetics is dying out. If it is going to be revived it must undergo complete reconstructive surgery.


samlcarr said...

I entirely agree Jon. This is something that I have been struggling with in my conversation with Ivan over at ktismatics.

I can tell Ivan ad nauseam (and have)that I enjoy the bible and find it meaningful - I hear god's voice there as I read. But unless he reads it and finds that it resonates, the effort is not just wasteful but perhaps even counterproductive. Starting with proofs and evidences may help some people but if it does then I am yet to meet any.

ktismatics said...

Sam -

I wonder if Ivan feels the same way -- he keeps pointing out reasons not to believe but unless it resonates with you it's futile.

samlcarr said...

Well, it's been a fascinating discussion at least to the two of us. Ivan is working his way through the bible but is having a lot of (understandable) trouble with anything miraculous.

Still, if nothing else I think Ivan understands that the bible 'making sense' is not that great of a stretch and I've learned that my tendency to find 'explanations' for each and every thing is disingenuous!

But, ultimately how does one distinguish genuinely between what is God's voice and what are the human voices, the Difference? That's the question that Ivan has to himself ask and answer!

samlcarr said...

A lot of what Ivan says does indeed resonate with me!

Dawn said...

I think I had a combo conversion. I was raised in the church, but when I got to be a teenager, I wanted my own faith.

I found it thru apologetics: Josh MacDowell, CS Lewis, and even "the answer man" Hank Hanegraaff.

Saying that, I understand that I already had the foundation there from my fam.

Jonathan Erdman said...


I would actually say something very similar. The "Faith seeking understanding" motto has applied to me, as well. I have always wanted to put my faith in the dock and subject it to inquiry, whether it be rational, emotional, spiritual, or otherwise.

I don't think I would ever want to undercut biblical apologetics, or rational apologetics of any kind. We are, after all, rational animals!

chris van allsburg said...

I just met a guy the other day, a Deist, who had trouble with Christianity because he "believed in evolution." I asked if that was the major block to christian theism. He said yes. "Christians want you to swallow the whole pill. No inbetween." By this he meant six day creation. I suggested many views on Genesis are available, told him about Intelligent Design, and handed him a copy of Ravi Zacharias' book, Can Man Live Without God? He bought it. I think our conversation helped. I agree with Jon that apologetics needs to change, but I don'think it is going to die out. We're commanded to do it (1 Peter 3:15).

samlcarr said...

I think we confuse the issues. A lot of apologetics is about defending/explaining the religion of Christianity/Xtian philosophy-doctrine. It should be rather honestly about what we have in the bible and our faith in God.

Jonathan Erdman said...

I've never taken the First Peter passage for the strong mandate that some suggest. As I see it, the passage suggests that one set apart Christ Jesus as Lord, and then that one be able to provide an "apologia." This is a "defense" or "reason," indicating to me a thoughtful and reasonable process. But what is the "defense" or "reason" for? Specifically, it is for the "hope" that we have. This is not, in and of itself, a defense of the entire system/worldview of Christianity. The difference is sublte, but I point it out to say that a Christian does not have to buy into a particular system of Apologetics to fufill the spirit of First Peter. The passage has been often recontextualized to mean a specific type of apologetics, but I think that it is vague enough to simply point us to a living faith that engages the thoughtful conversations of the day; Christians are to provide an apologia for "hope."

I don't think that the systematic/rationalistic apologetic systems that have developed in the last century are necessarily wrong. I just think that they were products of their time. Like other philosophical systems they were on the look out for rational certainty, or at least something as close to it as possible. Being reasonable meant being as certain as one could possibly be. But I think that the playing field has changed considerably, and certainty is no longer a driving force. This necessarily changes what kind of "apologia" that a Christian expresses.

samlcarr said...

One good thing about 'standard' apologetics is that one is necessarily exposed to alternate ways of viewing the world. It is necessary to unerstand the other person's viewpoint before one can figure out how to best 'tackle' that type of thinking. In the process one does learn that there are other rational an logically consistent worldviews.

Erdman said...

Jon, when do we get to see your original paper? It sounds fascinating.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Thanks for the compliment, Erdman.

I'll post it when you get your blog up and running.

the erdman said...

I am maling slow progress, all that remains is to post something an tweek the html a bit and we will be on our way to flogging erdmania!

I had a weird experience of ermanian revenge. I naively launched the flog an suddenly found that i had a new persona, took a while to reclaim my own monikker. This stuff can be dangerous!

chris van allsburg said...

i like presuppositional apologetics the best.