Thursday, July 26, 2012

Biblical Apologetics, Part 2

I was by now too experienced in my literary criticism to regard the Gospels as myths.  They had not the mythical taste…if ever a myth had become fact, had been incarnated, it would be just like this.  And nothing else in all literature was just like this.  Myths were like it in one way.  Histories were like it in another.  But nothing was simply like it.  And no person was like the Person it depicted; as real, as recognizable, through all that depth of time…yet so numinous, a light from beyond the world, a god.  But if a god – we are not polytheists – then not a god, but God…myth became fact; the Word became flesh, God, man.

– C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy

In part two of Biblical Apologetics, we continue to examine the manifold ways the Scriptures themselves breathe out Christ’s very life and Words into the apologetic task. That is to say, the defense of the Christian faith is woven into the same fabric of the Scriptures that form the foundation for all doctrine and practice - our only source and norm – including apologetics. Christian apologetics is normed and guided by Scripture. And we do well to approach the Scriptures with apologetics in mind.  For apologetics and the proclamation of the Gospel are a blessed confluence, flowing right into the Church’s mission and ministry and directly out of our lips to ears who will hear (Romans 10:17).

Previously, we cited examples of biblical apologetics from both Jesus and St. Paul. And though this is by no means an exhaustive list, here are some more passages in the long list of evidence that we might use in our confession of the reason for our hope in Christ’s resurrection (1 Peter 3:15).

1.       As previously stated, Jesus frequently used objective evidence in supporting his miracles and teaching. Recall the paralytic man in Mark 2. “That you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sin,” he said to the paralytic, “I say to you arise, take up your bed and go home.”

 He also made similar claims in reference to his own body and to his own death and resurrection in John 2:18ff: “Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days…”  He also answers Thomas skepticism with by submitting the ultimate evidence into review: “Thomas, Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing” (John 20).

2.      In Matthew 12:24-30 Jesus made frequent use of well known methods of reasoning (argumentation) which also fill the apologist’s tool box: 1) arguments from analogy, 2) reduction ad absurdum, 3) the law of contradiction, just to name a few.

3.      It’s no wonder then, that the disciples and apostles – including St. Paul – learned the defense of the faith from their master and used it frequently as the Gospel continued to go forth to the nations from Jerusalem. The book of Acts and the Epistles of Paul are stuffed with examples. The constant confession of the apostles was this: Christ Jesus was crucified, dead, buried and risen from the dead and of this we are eyewitnesses (Acts 2:32). Peter proclaims this at the beginning of the book of Acts, in his Pentecost sermon no less. The central event of the entire Christian faith – Christ’s death and resurrection – was always proclaimed by the apostles as grounded in the objective facts of history and is now accompanied by a long list of evidence that is better attested than any other event in ancient history. This is good for us today too in our proclamation. The same Gospel we proclaim is founded on fact, not feeling. The old hymn (if it can really be called that) – “you ask me how I know he lives, he lives in my heart” – is wrong. The defense of the Christian message does not rely on my heart, my feelings but on the sure and certain historical facts whether or not my heart believes it to be true.

4.      In Acts 4:33, the apostles continue to give witness to the resurrection of Jesus in their preaching and teaching.

5.      Even when under public scrutiny, in trial, amidst the threat of punishment and imprisonment (Acts 5:32ff), the apostles continue to make their eyewitness claim to the Gospel known before all. This is yet another mark of authenticity in the eyewitness accounts. Many men have gone to their death believing a lie, having been hoodwinked (Heaven’s Gate and any number of cults could be cited). However it much less likely that men will go to their death’s willingly for something they know to be false and yet claim as truth. This however, simply does not add up to the facts as they are recorded in the Gospel accounts. At point A on Good Friday the disciples saw Jesus dead. At point B on Easter Sunday (and thereafter) they saw Jesus alive. Jesus’ death and resurrection is the event that best fits the evidence. Not to mention the grand conspiracy that would have to take place, defeating all odds, if the disciples were all in on the lie together and had to maintain the same story repeatedly. The amount of work it would take would be overwhelming. In fact, the truth is far simpler. Jesus died. Jesus rose. They saw it and now they tell people what they saw.

6.      In closing, I offer two more examples with a few key words highlighted for emphasis. Notice the evidential nature of these passages.

 2 Peter 1:16-18   

For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” 18 And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.

1 John 1:1-4 

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life— 2 the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us3 that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. 4 And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.

            It would appear that one more segment of this column, Biblical Apologetics, is in order. In the third and final installment, we’ll take a closer look at one of the famous apologetic exchanges in the book of Acts, namely, St. Paul in Athens as he makes the unknown god known through evidential apologetics.

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