Total Church 13: apologetics

Continuing discussion of Chester and Timmis Total Church: a radical reshaping around gospel and community

Chapter 11 is on apologetics [giving an answer for]

A quirk about a jointly authored book like this one is that you don’t know who wrote what chapter. I assume, especially in light of the comments on ‘community-centred theology’ in the previous chapter, that there was a joint editing and re-drafting process. Nevertheless, some chapters read quite differently to others. This one starts with a rather long survey of philosophical thought about knowing God.

Now this is a good discussion – but it sits awkwardly within the book. It could have got to these points a bit quicker:

Unbelief is often not a question of the head (intellectual objections) but of the heart (I want to be in control of my own life). Stephen Williams, a Welshman in exile in Northern Ireland and wonderful theologian, gets a mention here saying

“Western atheism may be understood as a spiritual movement of the soul as well as an intellectual movement of the mind’

Successful apologetics do not need primarily to persuade unbelievers – but to get at and unveil the reasons for unbelief.

The authors’ preferred model is Luther’s ‘theology of the cross’: it is in the cross that God is known. It is the cross that God’s glory, and power and love are revealed

And what do you think of these implications?

“Liberalism … argues God can be known through human reason. Sacramentalism claims we encounter God through the symbols and rituals of the church. Creation spiritualities [says that we are] nearer to God in a garden. Power evangelism … looks for the revelation of God in acts of power. .. and Mysticism says that God is known through spiritual exerpiences or contemplative exercises.”

So God is not known mainly through rational argument, or healing miracles or political influence or spiritual disciples or mega-churches or inspirational leaders or sociological theories.

Rather, the cross stands at the centre of apologetics. Apologetics in this sense is not persuading people of the rational case for the ‘believibility’ of the Christian faith – it is about pointing to the ‘foolishness’ of the cross and to the rebellious heart of man.

And such apologetics, to be authentic, require humility for the cross is all about God’s grace. And they will be powerful when people see and hear and experience the truth for themselves – not just through rational argument but in relationship, in community … in this sense apologetics [giving an anwer for] is answering the questions posed by our lives and our communities.

Now that is a great way to see mission and evangelism – answering the questions raised by our lives and our communites.

That poses a big question – how often do our lives and our communites provoke such questions?

The missional task is awakening a desire for God, to make people want Christianity to be true and only then ‘we might be able to persuade them that it is true.’  [Strong echoes of Tim Keller here and his ‘Defeater Beliefs’].

Good stuff to ponder.

What ways might there be to awaken a desire in someone to know more of God?

I commented here at the end of the series on the book God is Great, God is Good, how the rational philosophical arguments in that book, while persuasive and coherent, are ‘alien’ to how the Bible talks about belief in God. While I enjoyed much of the book and found it helpful there was something missing. Chester and Timmis are right – faith in God is primarily about the heart; about wonder, worship and praise, about thanksgiving and joyfully joining in with his redemptive purposes for the world.

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