Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Do pastors have a responsibility to know apologetics?

The latest episode of the Reasonable Faith podcast was all about a post done by Pastor Matt Rawlings. The post talked about how churches train children to become atheists.

Pastor Matt offered 6 points in his post:

  • Reason #1 – Churches seem overprotective.
  • Reason #2 – Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.
  • Reason #3 – Churches come across as antagonistic to science.
  • Reason #4 – Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.
  • Reason #5 – They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.
  • Reason #6 – The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.

In his post Pastor Matt said this:

Too many churches do in fact present a shallow faith that skips doctrine and apologetics for “how to…” sermons that are little more than self-help talks with scripture sprinkled over them.  The refusal to learn theology and how to defend the faith as well as to spend the time thinking about how to present them in a clear and winsome manner is at the heart of all four of the valid objections by young people to the evangelical church.  Pastors must simply take this responsibility seriously and put in the time and effort.  There is no other answer.

[...]Det. J. Warner Wallace has argued that we have to T.R.A.I.N. Christian students rather than teach them but I think we need to train all of our fellow Christians (and he would agree).  Training is harder than teaching.  We need to remember that it takes at least seven times for the average person today to hear something before they retain it.  Also, most people do not truly understand something until they put it into practice.  Thus, pastors must be trained in order train congregations to truly be lay theologians and apologists.  The pastors must then challenge the congregation to use their skills reach out to the lost and help each other.  And all of those trained must all help to look after the young to insure they know their faith so well that they do not fall for the poor arguments for atheism.  This means pastors must implement rigorous programs for the people God has entrusted to them.

Pastor Matt lays the blame squarely on pastors for at least some of the problem. And I agree with him. But Dr. Craig asserted in his podcast that pastors should not be responsible to learn apologetics, because they were too busy with all the other duties that pastors have to do. He gave some examples, but they were things like weddings, counseling children about drugs and marriage counseling.

So what I wanted to say about this is that Pastor Matt is right and Dr. Craig is wrong. A pastor should have at least put in the time to learn apologetics so that he is able to inject it into his sermon, where appropriate, and point people to where they can find answers when asked. It seems to me that if you are going to get up there and preach about a bunch of things, then you’d better know at least a little about why those things are true. And it can’t just be “because the Bible says so” or because “that’s just how I was raised”. Respect for the truth claims of Christianity has to come from the top, even if the pastor leverages the skills of people in the church to address different issues in more detail.

Pastor Matt responded to Dr. Craig in this post.

Excerpt:

The biggest disagreement I have with Dr. Craig is that he argues pastors are too busy to be trained in apologetics.  As a pastor and the son of a pastor, I strongly differ!  Unfortunately, what I have witnessed (and heard from several seasoned pastors of very large churches) is that too many pastors are in fact lazy.  I have heard from half a dozen leaders of churches of more than 10,000 that they cannot find young seminary grads who will put in even 40 solid hours a week!  Those statements may ruffle a few feathers and certainly there are hard-working, if not overworked pastors out there but they are apparently few and far between.

Also, pastors often try to do things they shouldn’t do.  As a lawyer who used to defend churches, ministers often get into trouble for counseling those with serious issues that are beyond their training and experience.  A person with addiction issues needs something like Celebrate Recovery, a person with emotional problems needs a licensed professional counselor.  Ministers need to recognize their limits and engage in areas that they can and must address instead of those that are already well covered by other trained professionals.

But to be fair to Dr. Craig, I think he may have misunderstood what I mean by training.  I don’t mean a pastor has to earn a master’s degree or doctorate in apologetics or philosophy.  There are many short but effective training programs out there such as his own Defenders class, the distance certificate from BIOLA, Frank Turek’s short but intense CrossExamined program (that I am attending this week), etc.

I agree with Dr. Craig that we should train layman to create an apologetics team in our churches (see this post) but the pastor has to take the lead.  No pastor can expect his or her church to do what he or she is not willing to do.  If the pastor doesn’t evangelize, the church won’t.  If the pastor is not studying the Bible carefully, the church won’t.  Also, any pastor working in today’s post-Christian culture must know how to meet the challenges of said culture.  It is just part of the gig.  So, every minister should seek some type of solid apologetics training and commit to regular study on the subject as well as subscribe to certain podcasts such as Reasonable Faith.

I wanted to add that I didn’t agree with any of the other points where Dr. Craig disagreed with Pastor Matt. It was really surprising to me, but I think Pastor Matt is right across the board. Leadership starts from the top – how are you supposed to be able to assess different people’s requests to teach apologetics or bring in speakers if you are not comfortable discerning what is good and what isn’t yourself? If the pastor is going to be making those kinds of decisions, then he has to understand apologetics to some degree. Maybe not with formal training, but as much as a typical blogger like me would. Also, don’t you find it weird – the idea that a pastor can get up there and preach on things to people and not be able to show anyone some reasons why these things are true? Christians have to be ready to give an answer, and that answer cannot just be “because the Bible says so”.

Filed under: News, , ,

The trouble with avoiding controversial topics

Lindsay blogs about it on her Lindsay’s logic blog.

Intro:

According to these definitions, a controversial topic is simply one on which many people disagree. In some cases, this may be due to the topic being merely opinion. If you are asking which ice cream flavor is the best or which sports car is the best or which season of the year is the best, these are all matters of opinion and there is no right answer. There is no absolute truth in these cases because the inherent question is about what people prefer. Different people prefer different things.

But in spite of the fact that there is a lot of disagreement on the best ice cream flavor (vanilla, in case anyone was wondering), we don’t usually try to shut people up when they express an opinion, even if it differs from ours. And we usually don’t call these opinions “controversial.” In fact, I have never heard anyone refer to ice cream flavors as a controversial issue. (What a conversation that would be. “I like vanilla best.” “Oh, don’t talk about ice cream flavors because they’re so controversial.”)

When people talk about something being “controversial” they usually do it when it’s not just a matter of opinion, but they want to believe it is. They want to use the disagreement out there to avoid taking a side on an important topic.

Sometimes they don’t want to take a side because it’s unpopular. If they take a side, the people on the other side might not like them.

Sometimes they don’t want to have to put the effort into studying the issue. Laziness makes them avoid finding out which position is the correct one.

Sometimes they don’t like the implications involved in taking a position. What if believing one way or the other means they have to change something about their life? Perhaps give up something they enjoy or do something they don’t like?

Sometimes they have the mistaken idea that a “controversial” topic doesn’t have a correct answer and thus neither side should be dogmatic.

Some see taking a side on something that evokes a lot of disagreement as somehow “divisive” or “polarizing” and therefore bad.

Whatever the reason, these people want to stay “neutral” and not take a side. And, often, they don’t want to hear anyone else’s position on the matter either.

And this is where I want to turn this topic to parenting. I have met people who fell away from their faith after being raised in a Christian home, and this is what I’ve noticed about them. The parents are usually uncomfortable with listening to the other side of “controversial” issues. Does God exist? Too controversial. Is there unjustified evil and suffering? Too controversial. Should abortion be legal? Too controversial. Are non-Christian religions false? Too controversial. Is premarital sex morally permissible? Too controversial. Nothing can be discussed, because we all have to feel happy – and be seen by the neighbors to BE happy. So shut it and keep smiling.

It reminds me of this post from Beyond Teachable Moments, where the author was interviewing a woman who lost her faith in college before returning to the faith.

Read this:

 Throughout the phases of my childhood, expose me to different types of social situations with people from all walks of life. I think having experience talking with a wide range of people with differing worldviews is so important. In other words, get me outside the safe Christian “bubble”, but do so with the support of parents and with an open discussion of why people think/believe differently and why we believe what we believe. Do not just tell me “believe this because I told you it is true or because I said so.”

Learn what is going on in popular culture within my peer group. What are kids my age thinking, watching, and listening to? Be involved; don’t view every outside influence as a threat, but help and encourage me to analyze situations and make decisions accordingly. Don’t try to shelter me from everything. I need to develop confidence and a foundation in the little things if you expect me to be able to take on the big things at university.

Don’t use me to make you look good in front of other people at church, I can see straight through that. It does not feel good and drives me far away. What matters is what is going on inside, not what is projected. Looking perfect and going through the motions does nothing. The very basis for Christianity is what is going on in the heart. Only by letting Jesus work in your heart can actions follow with true authenticity.

If every topic is off limit in the home, then the child will very likely drop Christianity like a hot potato when she hits college. You do not teach a child how to debate controversial topics by shushing them in order to maintain your happiness – or to keep up appearances. It’s even worse when the shushing is done with screaming and arguments. Controversial topics must be discussed openly and respectfully. Work has to be done by parents to study these issues. Debates (like WLC debates) must be watched by the whole family. Both sides of issues must be represented properly. But how many times does this happen in Christian homes? And how many times does this happen in the Christian church? You can attend an evangelical church for from birth to death in America and never hear one iota of useful information related to controversial topics. The parents don’t know, the pastors don’t know, and that’s the way they like it.

Many Christian parents are happy for their kids to “be nice” and “look good” while they are home even if they go wild in college. It’s so “unexpected” they will say later. They did such a good job – took them to church every week, and they got their Bible memorization and praise hymn singing badges. Somehow, we have convinced ourselves that not knowing anything and not teaching anything about controversial issues is a great parenting technique. Parents and pastors are sure that it’s more “pious” to just believe things without evidence, and not discuss and debate alternate points of view. And easier, too – leaves more time to for “devotional” activities, which don’t require study. The more we spiritualize Christianity instead of debating it, the more likely our children will turn on God.

The most alarming thing is when I tell Christian parents and Christian pastors this, and they start to make excuses about how faith is beyond reason and evidence. How do you stop a problem like this when the parents and the pastors are more focused on looking good and feeling good than they are on knowing whether what they believe is true? You can’t. We have to recognize that this pious refusal to get down and dirty with the truth claims of Christianity is motivated by laziness. It’s not praiseworthy at all to chase Christianity into some mystical realm beyond the reach of logic and evidence. Yet this is the dominant view in Christian homes and churches.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , ,

The loss of pastoral credibility

Eric Chabot of Think Apologetics posted this on Facebook.

It’s a medium-length read. I want to highlight one problem – the problem of pastors never showing their work.

Excerpt:

Around this point, it can start to dawn on one that many church leaders have only been trained in forms of discourse such as the sermon and, to a much lesser extent, the essay. Both forms privilege a single voice—their voice—and don’t provide a natural space for response, questioning, and challenge. Their opinions have been assumed to be superior to opposing viewpoints, but have never been demonstrated to be so. While they may have spoken or written about opposing voices, they are quite unaccustomed to speaking or writing to them (not to mention listening to or being cross-examined by them). There are benefits to the fact that the sermon is a form of discourse that doesn’t invite interruption or talking back, but not when this is the only form of discourse its practitioners are adept in.

Many church leaders have been raised and trained in ideologically homogenous cultures or contexts that discouraged oppositional discourse. Many have been protected from hostile perspectives that might unsettle their faith. Throughout, their theological opinions and voices have been given a privileged status, immune from challenge. Nominal challenges could be brushed off by a reassertion of the monologue. They were safe to speak about and habitually misrepresent other voices to their hearers and readers, without needing to worry about those voices ever enjoying the power to answer them back. Many of the more widely read members of their congregations may have had an inkling of the weakness of their positions in the past: the Internet just makes it more apparent.

A system is only as effective as its weakest component in a particular operation. The same is true of the human mind and the communities formed around thinkers. Where the capacity of agonistic reasoning is lacking, all else can be compromised. If one’s opinion has never been subjected to and tried by rigorous cross-examination, it probably isn’t worth much. If one lacks the capacity to keep a level head when one’s views are challenged, one’s voice will be of limited use in most real world situations, where dialogue and dispute is the norm and where we have to think in conversation with people who disagree with us.

The teachers of the Church provide the members of the Church with a model for their own thinking. The teacher of the Church does not just teach others what to believe, but also how to believe, and the process by which one arrives at a theological position. This is one reason why it is crucial that teachers ‘show their working’ on a regular basis. When teaching from a biblical text, for instance, the teacher isn’t just teaching the meaning of that particular text, but how Scripture should be approached and interpreted more generally. An essential part of the teaching that the members of any church need is that of dealing with opposing viewpoints. One way or another, every church provides such teaching. However, the lesson conveyed in all too many churches is that opposing voices are to be dismissed, ignored, or ‘answered’ with a reactive reassertion of the dogmatic line, rather than a reasoned response.

This is probably the biggest thing that annoys me about church. Being talked at by somebody who never explains why they believe what they believe, and who never answers criticisms to what they believe. They don’t want to show their work. I really don’t like that. Being forced to sit still and silent while someone else talks.

In math class, you don’t get any marks for just writing the correct answer to a non-trivial problems. You have to show the steps that led to your answer. I think talking about why we believe, though, can be agitating to some people who are there in church to be comforted and to have feelings and emotions. So that’s probably why pastors don’t show their work, because it disrupts the comfort / happiness vibe. Still though, I think it would be a good idea for us (and I mean me, too!) to get better at hearing voices on the other side. The way I usually do this is by watching debates and reading debate books. I like there to be two sides interacting. I get annoyed when there is only one side. That’s why I prefer reading evidential apologetics to philosophical theology and I prefer philosophical theology to devotional reading (A.W. Tozer and G. K. Chesterton are the worst things to read in my view, and most men I know can’t stand reading them). The more testable something is, the easier it is on me. I don’t like to be preached at about things that can’t be tested. It annoys me, even if I agree with it.

Filed under: Commentary, , , ,

Apologetics 315 interviews Dr. Phil Fernandes on apologetic preaching

On SermonAudio.com, I found some excellent lectures from Dr. Phil Fernandes. I find it it very easy to listen to this guy. And here’s Brian Auten to interview him on apologetic preaching – the inclusion of apologetics in regular Sunday preaching.

The MP3 file is here.

Description:

Today’s interview is with Phil Fernandes, president of the Institute of Biblical Defense, and the pastor of Trinity Bible Fellowship in Silverdale, Washington. He talks about apologetic preaching, how to incorporate apologetics training into the local church, evangelism, common objections to apologetics, encouragement and advice to pastors, audio/video resources, and more.

Phil’s books include:

This interview is awesome, especially in the second half. Here’s a sample: “It’s not my job as a pastor to meet people’s felt needs”. Awesomeness.

I like this Dr. Phil. He’s very very practical and his preaching is informed by encounters with people who disagree with him. Sometimes I get the idea that pastors aren’t really talking to people outside their church, but not this guy. He’s grounded.

Filed under: Podcasts, , , , , , , , ,

J. Warner Wallace’s experience as a youth pastor

If you are a regular listener to Wallace’s podcast, as I am, you’ll have heard him talk about his experience as a youth pastor before. But if not, give this article a read.

Excerpt:

My first year as a youth pastor was a challenging year of self-evaluation. When I was initially offered the job, I wasn’t sure I could lead or teach high-schoolers; I’d been working with younger students and my own children were not yet teenagers. But I was ambitious and eager, so I accepted the position. I spent several months trying to decide what the teaching focus should be for my group. I surveyed some of the key seniors who had been in the ministry to see what they thought. We ended up doing a series on James and Ecclesiastes, and most of my energy that first year was expended on designing the Sunday service. I was concerned about “relevance” and spent a lot of time trying to understand how to communicate to this age group. I thought experience was as important as content. Actually, I thought experience was more important than content. My students got their money’s worth every Sunday. It was a musical, visual smorgasbord of video, images, interactive eclecticism and burning candles. It was ridiculous.

At the end of the first school year I could tell something was amiss. Most of my key seniors seemed disconnected and disinterested. I got through that first summer and the first semester of the next school year, striving continually to capture the imagination and attention of my student congregation. At Christmas break that year I had an epiphany. One of my key seniors from the prior year returned from Sonoma State where she had been attending her first year as a College freshman and announced to her parents that she was no longer a Christian. I got the call from her mother. I met with this student and she told me about her new life as an atheist. While I was frustrated and didn’t seem to be able to persuade her otherwise, I also wondered if she was the exception or the rule. I did some research on my other graduating seniors from the prior year. All but one had left Christianity, and they were only in their first semester as freshmen!

Don’t worry – the post has a happy ending. I wish more Christian leaders would allow themselves to accept that what they are doing now – avoiding apologetics because it is “divisive” and “prideful” – would learn from J. Warner Wallace. We need this. It works. What we are doing with young people now is not working.

Filed under: Mentoring, , , ,

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