Thursday, October 17, 2013

Servant Apologetics: Inner Circle Dwellers and Selfish Body Builders

In That Hideous Strength, the third installment of C. S. Lewis' grossly underappreciated space trilogy, Lewis addresses a subtle, yet pervasive human problem. He offers a version of the "grass is always greener" dilemma. Lewis says that human beings perpetually long to enter the "inner circle." Discontent with his current station, man inevitably longs to become part of some elite group. However, as soon as enters the inner circle that he has idolized, he realizes that there is yet another, more elite circle. Even powerful leaders of countries long to be in the inner circle constituted by those who have left great legacies. Until they can get into that elite group, they will feel unfulfilled. If they reach that level, they will long for something yet more exclusive.  The cycle is never ending. 

When I first began studying apologetics, the "inner circle" temptation was extremely strong. I saw an opportunity to reach a level of knowledge that very few Christians possess. That would put me in an elite group. I would be somebody special. I have a suspicion that my experience is not unusual, especially for young people getting into apologetics. There is a bent towards elitism, even amongst many who have been involved in the field for a long time. It is the 800 pound gorilla in the room. Today, there is a great gulf that exists between the average church and the apologetics community. That is due in part to the rise of anti-intellectualism in Western Christianity since the second great awakening. It is also largely due to an elitist/separatist mentality propagated by many apologists. It is not unlike the marriage where the husband is convinced that his arguments are logially sound and that his wife just needs to get with the program. Of course, she is equally convinced that he is heartless, cold, and unloving. The result is a strained relationship.

With the background painted, I would like to suggest that it is time for a trip to the motivational chiropractor. Those of us who love apologetics need to have our posture adjusted. It is time to for us to adopt the posture of a servant. For far too long we have carried ourselves in the corporate church world as superiors. Pontificating about the shallow and anti-intellectual shortcomings of the masses, we became separatists, (at least in our hearts) seeking to impress one another--creating smaller, yet more elite inner circles. We have been like the body builder who only works out to attract flaberghasted looks and win awards from body building organizations, but goes through life ignoring the needs of others that he could meet with his superhuman strength.

Instead of seeing the lack of zeal for apologetics in our churches, youth groups, and colleges as an obstacle, we need to start viewing it as an opportunity. We cannot approach our pastors/youth leaders/missionaries/campus ministers and say "You need less emotional back-patting and more apologetics!" or "this church is all fluff and no stuff!" While these statements may be true, that is exactly what they expect from us, and a lot of the reason we are stuck in a viscous cycle of resentment. Instead, we need to approach pastors, youth leaders, missionaries, and campus ministers by saying "God has given me a passion for apologetics and I want to make use my unique skills to serve in any way that I can." To be fair, some of you have tried that and found that you never got any feedback. But you cannot simply give up there. If the bodybuilder just approaches the church and says, "I can lift big things, let me know if you need me," he may not get a lot of calls. People will assume he is probably busy being huge and doesn't have the time. Or, they might just be intimidated by his massiveness. Whatever the case, we need to take it a step further. That means seeking out and even creating opportunities to serve. Maybe that means finding out what sermon series your church is doing over the next month or two and thinking of a way you could serve that  incorporates your love of apologetics. When you approach a pastor/Sunday school teacher/campus pastor and say "hey I heard you were planning X, could I help out by doing Y?" you will probably (no guarantees) be amazed how much more receptive they are. Rather than expecting others to change what they are doing to accomodate us, we need to get involved in what they are doing and offer our unique gifts. We need to adopt the posture of a servant rather than a superior.

For years evangelical pastors have been screaming for "revival!" "What the church, the country, the world needs is another great awakening," they say. I agree. I just want to suggest that the spark may come from somewhere that they (and we) have not been looking. By and large, people today are not searching for a "cooler" Jesus that they can hang out with. They are not interested in being patronized. They don't want more things to believe. They want reasons to believe what they have been told. I don't buy the claim that "Religion is just wishful thinking for people who won't face the facts." The truth is that people of faith are often the most skeptical of faith claims. The sinful nature desperately wants to convince us that there is no God, no objective morality; that I am my own master and can play by my own rules. People (including Christians) are searching for reasons to reject belief in God, the Bible, and Jesus, and the atheists are committed to offering compelling reasons. What is more, they are dedicated to packaging those reasons in an engaging format. All the while, the Church seems to be asleep at the wheel. If you are invovled in apologetics already, you are probably nodding your head as you read this. But the question remains: what is going to reverse the momentum? I will leave you with a few thoughts that I hope will help tie everything together.

The pastor cries "we just need revival!" and the apologist rolls his eyes. The apologist cries "we just need apologetics!" and the pastor scoffs; but their sentiments are not mutually exclusive. I believe that our churches need the support of apologists in order to spark a revival. And not only to reach the world, but also to heal and sustain the body (that is hemorraging members at an alarming rate). However, there is currently a stigma attached to apologetics/apologists in the vast majority of Christian churches. We are viewed as elitists, snobs, opponents of "true" faith. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, we have adopted the posture of "inner circle dwellers." The way to change the relationship is to change our posture.* We need to be servant apologists.

*I am not suggesting that one side bears all of the blame for the rift in the relationship. However, I am convinced that we have to be proactive in addressing the problem, rather than assuming the other side should act first.


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