Why Bother Defending an Omnipotent Being?

ImageThere are those who wholly question the enterprise of Christian apologetics.  The assert that God will call those whom he choses, and apologetics is just a distraction to the work of the Holy Spirit and the revelation of God.  This was Karl Barth’s position.

The idea is prima facie nonsense.  When a missionary travels to another country to proclaim the gospel, she learns the language of the people so as to communicate in terms that they understand.  Apologetics is simply the language the secular world uses to talk about God.  To say we shouldn’t practice a rational defense of the Christian faith is like saying the missionary need not study language, because the Holy Spirit can do whatever it wants.

When I was a junior in high school, a church youth group in which I was participating took me to a weekend retreat in hopes of setting up camp in my heart.  This was in Southeast Texas, and the only people who ran Christian camps there were Baptists.  I remember listening to a firey preacher say quite a bit about hellfire, and I spent a good deal of time after his lectures asking him questions.  Admittedly, I had not read the Bible, and he had.  The Jesus I wanted to talk about was a projection of the niceties I most enjoyed.  He was frustrated with me.  I’m sure I was not particularly respectful or informed or interesting to him.  And after what was probably a lot of patience, he said to me, “Sometimes you have to stop doubting and just believe.” Of course this was a wasted answer on a thinking person.  It was an act of the missionary saying, “I’m tired of learning your language.”

Compassion requires translation.  We must be about the work of addressing hard questions with meaningful answers.  And the cause of Christian apologetics will always be essential.

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9 thoughts on “Why Bother Defending an Omnipotent Being?

  1. Jim,
    Hmmm. You referenced Karl Barth in your sermon on August 8th last year, and I did a short review of his work afterwards. I didn’t see any indication of his dismissal of apologetics. For someone who was such a fierce defender of the faith, Jesus=The truth, I am surprised at this insight. Would you mind supporting this with a reference? (I’m sorry if I’m showing my ignorance here, and if Barth’s stand on apologetics is obvious.) C@

    1. Hey Catherine. No problem. I wouldn’t expect anyone to wade through Barth enough to find it. Rumor has it that Barth wrote so much that not even Barth had read all of Barth.

      In the Dogmatics 1.2, Barth writes, “By trying to resist and conquer other religions, we put ourselves on the same level. They, too, appeal to this or that immanent truth in them. They, too, can triumph in the power of the religious self-consciousness, and sometimes they have been astonishingly successful over wide areas. Christianity can take part in this fight. There is no doubt that it does not lack the necessary equipment, and can give a good account of itself alongside the other religions. But do not forget that if it does this it has renounced its birthright. It has renounced the unique power which it has as the religion of revelation. This power dwells only in weakness.”

      The foundation of his theology is that a wholly other God is known only through self-revelation, through his Word. Thus apologetics that appeal to intuition or natural theology (finding God through reason and observation of the natural world) are a waste. In 2.1 he calls it a false task, and in 2.2 he says that God is lost when apologetics succeed.

      Hope that helps!

  2. Wow! You really `nailed it.’ The best short defense of apologetics I’ve read or heard. Apologetics is my full-time vocation in retirement where I gently challenge future pastors via on-line classes to think a little more deeply and Christologically about their simplistic truisms, sweeping generalizations, and distorted concepts of God. I recall a professor saying, “You can grow a pumpkin in a season, but it takes a hundred years to grow a mighty oak.” Apologetics is all about growing mental and spiritual oaks. You are doing that in grand style.
    Are you familiar with Sheldon van Auken’s now dated book, “A Severe Mercy?” He and his wife were converted from atheism to faith in Jesus through CS Lewis’ friendship, letters, and apologetics. CS

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