Being Lonely in Christianity

Is apologetics a fast track to being an outsider in the Christian community? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Tom Gilson of Thinking Christian recently wrote a post on the Loneliness of the Thinking Christian (In two parts). Let me say at the start this loneliness in a church does not necessarily apply everywhere. Our own church has been highly accepting of my wife and I. Our pastor has put me to use in helping educate our church and I have never felt looked down on by him. In turn, I consider him someone I can go to with my pastoral sorts of questions. (Such as having him recommend a good book on prayer, and for all interested, he recommend Tim Keller’s.)

Our church also has this awesome idea where during the sermon or any time, you can text in a question to a number that the church has. At the end, the pastor comes out and answers the question. What question can you text in? Any question you want. Want to ask about the problem of evil? Go ahead. Homosexuality? Sure. Can God really forgive you for a certain sin? Yep. What does the Bible say about gambling? Ask away. If a question is one that requires a detailed answer, our pastor will put up a webisode answering it later on.

The sad thing is that as awesome as this is, our church I think is an exception.

Generally at churches, I have often been hesitant to tell the pastor I am an apologist. Why? Because pastors don’t really look with favor on apologists for the most part. One reason I can suspect is many pastors can find it hard having someone in the audience who has spent a lot of time studying the text. That person could point out an error that is made very easily. Unfortunately also, many pastors don’t have sufficient training, especially since in some churches all you have to say is “Called to preach” and you get the job, and thus can often be insecure in their approach.

Another problem also is that sometimes I think it could be scary to open people up to the big questions. What happens if they start to doubt? The sad reality is that if we don’t open them up, they will start to doubt anyway when they meet opposition, more and more likely to happen in our world, and then what will happen? They have never heard of this and the church doesn’t say anything about doubt and doubt can often be treated like a disease. Unfortunately, the cure for this disease is being told to have faith. It’s like telling a person with cancer that the cure for cancer is to have health.

It’s even more tragic in that there could be thinking Christians in the church who study the apologetics issues and would be delighted to help such people out. The apologists are unknown to the doubters and tend to think no one really knows about the questions they have, unaware that books have been written by Christian scholars answering such questions. (Unfortunately, at our bookstores, those are buried in the back corner. We have to make more room for Joel Osteen, Blood Moons, and Heaven Is For Real after all.)

And what about our youth? Many of them are asking questions. They’re getting objections even in Middle and High School now. What’s going to help them? If we just go and give them pizza parties and concerts, we’re not doing them any favors. In fact, let’s make a comparison. If we set aside theological blessings, what incentives do we give our youth for coming to church and/or youth group?

Concerts

Video game nights

Pizza parties

Socialization

Camping trips

Yeah. That’s the kind of thing. What incentives do they get in college for going along with the crowd?

Sex.

Drugs.

Alcohol.

Concerts.

Video game nights.

Pizza parties.

Socialization.

Acceptance by peers.

Heck. We could have stopped with the first one and in many cases, the world already has us beat. Especially for the virgin wandering around on a college campus with virginity being seen as a mark of shame and having no other reason for saying no other than “The church says so.” Also, as Lauren Winner has pointed out in Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity, what happens when a young man is with a girl and she starts coming on to him? In most cases, a few verses in Paul won’t help when hormones are raging. This is so even if both of them were somewhere together and both were Christians. What happens if the young man gives in and contrary to many Christian experiences, does not have guilt? What will he say afterwards? Will he wonder what else the church was lying to him about?

We are losing many youth to the sexual culture for a reason.

And all of this goes back to the problem that we’re not talking about these issues. This is what leads to the loneliness of apologists.

Let’s also not forget how hard it is to find people who will support your work if you do apologetics. We’re not in the field to get wealthy, but we do need the support a lot of times. Imagine how many ministries could do so much more with just a little bit more support, and yet it doesn’t come in. Oh there is no lack of support for many who are robbing the church blind, such as the televangelists who have people mailing in their Social Security checks, but the vital defenders of the church today are neglected.

In fact, in many cases, we’re practically made the villains of the story.

Why? Well look at you talking about reasons and evidences? You’ve never heard of faith? Don’t you know that you’re supposed to have faith? Now let me tell you about what Jesus did in my life.

If all you have today to share your witness is your testimony, you are going to be destroyed. Unfortunately, people don’t like to hear this. The last time I tried this was in a church small group and I got shot down. If all you have is your testimony, what happens when you meet a Mormon? They have a testimony too. What happens when you meet someone who says “Well I’m happy you found something that works for you, but it’s not for me.” What happens if you meet someone who says “Well if God did all that for you, then why did he let my child die of cancer?”

You’re stuck then.

Churches have really become safety bubbles today. This is what I’ve written about elsewhere. If we’re hiding apart from the world, we can’t fulfill the Great Commission. How can we change the culture if we are not interacting with the culture? We might be trying to build ourselves up, but that’s not going to work when we meet opposition. Too many have also said they just want Jesus to come and have that be it. Well there’s nothing wrong with wanting Jesus to come, but there’s something wrong with neglecting your duty while you wait. Jesus in fact has words of condemnation for the servant who does nothing while his master is away.

Jesus never gave us the Great Commission and then said “And if you don’t do that, here is what will happen instead.” The Great Commission is Plan A. What is Plan B? Nothing. This is one reason I think the Bible doesn’t specifically answer the question about those who never heard. Why should it? Christ has no assurances for you if you do not do your part to fulfill the Great Commission.

In all of this, the apologist is there waiting eager to serve, and yet is neglected. It’s kind of like being in a country that is under attack and being part of the defense and being made a villain.

And this is common. Naturally, every discussion is not meant to be a deep intellectual one, but too many times, we need to get together more and talk about more than our feelings. Sometimes, we need to talk about topics that are a bit over our heads. Maybe that will cause us to reach higher. Believe it or not people, it’s okay to love God with your mind. In fact, He commands us to do so.

If any of you think this is an autobiography, it is not. I meet too many apologists who are in the exact same boat. The church does not discuss these issues any more when these issues are what separates the church. Christianity is a historical worldview with great thinkers in its history that we could benefit greatly from. Many of our heroes like Wesley, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, and others were great thinkers as well as preachers.

What can be done? At this point, the church just needs to wake up. Give an apologist a chance to serve and watch and see what happens. Let people know that it’s okay to doubt and that there are people that can answer their questions. It might sound bizarre, but maybe if some of them learn how true and real their faith is, then it could be that they will actually be more courageous in sharing their faith.

But maybe it’s just a pipe dream.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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14 Responses to “Being Lonely in Christianity”

  1. Dave Rocjards Says:

    Nick,

    Very good analysis. Pastors in general may react in a political manner when questioned or challenged especially if you are an unknown person. The reason youth are leaving the church is that they are getting canned answers that don’t satisfy. The only church that was woken up is Blount Christian that Jpe Martin attends. Their church is a great experiment in apologetics to see if they can attract a following. You are a perfect fit there.

    Dave Richards

  2. labreuer Says:

    We are losing many youth to the sexual culture for a reason.

    I want to argue that a huge reason this is true is because we suck at relationships and a huge reason for this is that apologists have a tendency to think emotion is inferior to intellect, despite the idea that God made both, despite the fact that the science says both are important for practical reasoning. My point about relationships is supported by Chap Clark’s 2004 Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers. According to Amazon, “Chap Clark (PhD, University of Denver) is the Associate Provost and professor of Youth, Family, and Culture at Fuller Theological Seminary”. There is a follow-up, 2011 Hurt 2.0.

    Christian Smith’s Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood may also be quite relevant; I only read a tiny bit of it though.

    I also suggest a read of Peter Enns’ On Being an Ex-Apologist (Hardman, part 1 of 3); here’s a snippet:

    I knew all the reasons as to why Christianity was true. I could spout off the cosmological argument quicker than you could say Richard Dawkins, and I certainly royally upset enough professors–not to mention fellow students–with my public classroom defense of the faith!

    But despite being so immersed in apologetics, my “faith” was as far from God as ever.

    I didn’t know Him despite knowing all about Him. Christianity was an orthodoxy to be defended, a set of correct conservative doctrines and dogmas based on philosophical, historical, and scientific arguments, not a personal covenant or a relationship with the redeemer of souls.

    I can identify with this. Despite all my yammering about emotion in our epic discussion in comments on Book Plunge: Two Views of Hell, I grew up with my emotions almost entirely suppressed. I was the robot of robots. There is an emptiness to living like this, to believing that to know God is mostly to be intellectually tied to him, as if our ‘thinking’ is closer to God’s ‘thinking’ than our ‘feeling’ is close to God’s ‘feeling’.

    Now, I believe that when God says to love God with all of my heart and mind, that this represents the shift from Hebrew thought to Greek thought which can be seen by comparing the LXX and MT for Jer 31:33, and seeing how Heb 8:10 references the LXX, because the book of Hebrews itself is written in Greek. There is no privileging of mind over heart in the Bible; that’s a Greek/Gnostic fiction. Look at Eph 2:3, and see how we can gratify the cravings of the body and the mind. Elevating either above the other is unjustified.

  3. Andy Says:

    Great post Nick. And in regards to labreuer’s criticism above (specifically the appeal to the Peter Enn’s snippet) – sounds a lot like an anecdotal fallacy to me.

    • labreuer Says:

      Curious; I have two questions.

      (1) What kind of research would I have to provide to render your “anecdotal” irrelevant? I can see how the research provided by Chap Clark and Christian Smith could be considered indirect. I’m a little surprised you implicitly dismissed them as absolutely irrelevant.

      (2) Do you have your own non-anecdotal data, or is this actually my parochial experience vs. yours? I’d be quite interested in any data you have; I’m always looking for attempts to falsify my views. I learn regardless of whether I was wrong or right. I tend not to learn with mere dismissals.

  4. rengajim Says:

    I have a somewhat different perspective on this. I think of apologetics as a calling, not a requirement. I mean that I do not think it is a requirement of being a Christian today that one be familiar with the arguments of apologetics. On the other hand, I am grateful that there are those who have this calling.

    For many of us, though, analytical arguments along the lines of apologetics are not how we came to Christ. It is more like recognizing that a piece of music is beautiful than coming to a reason-based conclusion regarding these issues. Not exactly the same, but I think you get the idea. If I think some music is beautiful and others tell me I am wrong, my response would be simply to shrug and move on. Similarly, if someone argues that my faith is wrong, it doesn’t really effect me because that is not where the weight of my understanding derives from. I don’t think I’m alone here.

    A different point I want to make is that I can understand why Ministers would be adverse to entering into apologetics because the arguments are fluid, changing with each generation. In addition, many of them are technical and require a good deal of background undersanding in order for the argument to make sense. This approach resembles someone telling me I have to study music theory in order to really experience the music. I don’t think that is true. And I don’t think it is true that a Minister has to be versed in apologetics in order to be effective and a blessing to his congregation.

    I think what needs discussing is the place and function of apologetics in the world today; it has a place and it is a blessing, but is it a requirement or, perhaps more humbly, a calling for particular individuals?

    • Tom Larsen Says:

      Out of curiosity, how do you know whether the Gospel is true or just nice fiction like Lord of the Rings? I for one don’t want to rest my life, present and eternal, on falsehoods.

      • apologianick Says:

        The overall consensus of scholarship is the Gospels are Greco-Roman bioi per the work of Richard Burridge. That shows the writers were fully intending to write history. Writers like Blomberg have shown there is great archaeological confirmation for the Gospels in The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. Richard Bauckham in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses has shown the accounts are eyewitnesses. There are great defenses of the resurrection by Gary Habermas, Mike Licona, and N.T. Wright.

    • Tom Larsen Says:

      To clarify, I agree that Christianity is established by the weight of evidence, both historical and philosophical; I’m a rabid evidentialist.

      • labreuer Says:

        Even an rabid evidentialist has to start with a universal Bayesian prior probability, an idea of what is possible and how probable, before a single observation is made. What Augustine said is true:

        Nullus quippe credit aliquid, nisi prius cogitaverit esse credendum. [No one, indeed, believes anything, unless he previously knows it to be believable]. (quoted in Modern Dogma and the Rhetoric of Assent, vi)

        So, for example, what you believed about miracles before you read the Bible will inform how believable you find the Bible to be. There’s a review of Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt, which makes a simple observation: Carrier uses Bayesian inference to conclude Jesus is a myth, while William Lane Craig uses Bayesian inference to conclude Jesus existed. So much resides in your presuppositions, and evidentialism is only somewhat helpful in fighting the errors that can crop up via a prior thinking. Some of those errors are unavoidable via some Rational Method. For hints of why this might be, see Grossberg 1999 The Link between Brain Learning, Attention, and Consciousness.

      • apologianick Says:

        I would add that Tim McGrew tells me that Carrier’s use of Bayes Theorem is hideous, and I think Tim McGrew knows it darn well.

      • labreuer Says:

        Tim McGrew is not alone; here’s an atheist partial to Carrier’s conclusions who still disagrees with his means: A Mathematical Review of “Proving History” by Richard Carrier.

        As far as I can tell, Richard Carrier is not at an accredited research institution because he’s not scholarly material. There is, as always, a chance that he is so strongly bucking the trend that nobody will realize the gem that he is. However, that’s a conspiracy theory, of the same kind as creationists like to tell about the broad acceptance of evolution in science. Really, his only option is to produce something of value by his work. Similarly, if creationists were to find medical cures via baraminology, one would have to admit that they have something more right than the establishment.

  5. Pastor. I Don’t Want Your Job. | Deeper Waters Says:

    […] started thinking more about the post that I wrote on Wednesday about being a lonely apologist. One aspect of this I brought out was that too often pastors are very hesitant to let an apologist […]

  6. sethdunn88 Says:

    I wish many of these things you’ve pointed out weren’t so…but they are.

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