Apologetics is the big Theological world that means making a defense of the Faith. You can see the word apology in there, but instead of saying “I’m sorry, I believe in Jesus” as modern usage would have it, it is based off of an older use of that word. An apology was a response, but it was a reasoned response, a defense. The other word you might see in there is logos – a report, a word, in the beginning was the Word (John 1:1). So when someone originally gave an apology, they defended their original words and actions. If they did not wish to defend them, or if they had a change of heart, they would repent and ask forgiveness. What a world. We now offer apologies looking for forgiveness. But maybe something remains of that understanding because modern apologies so often are not “I’m sorry, I did wrong” but “I’m sorry that you feel I did wrong”. An apology, a defense, is being offered, just without the hard work of putting words together.
The reason I bring up apologetics is that I have recently read a book that strikes me as deeply true. Traditional apologetics took place on the surface of things. The church would offer an apology or reasons for its teachings. You might be familiar with many of these from the traditional arguments for the existence of God to the typical confirmation class. The entire nature of the catechism, a book of questions and answers, is apologetic. It presents the faith, receives questions to that presentation, and then attempts to answer those questions. So, in a deep way, apologetics is for the faithful. Christ claims to be the Truth and the Word. Following Christ is not about blind faith, but revealed faith. But the ground of apologetics, the questions that are being asked, have moved. Either the standard apologetics have convinced and assuaged doubts or they haven’t. There is a mystery here. The sheep hear the voice of the shepherd. The Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies. We continue to use these arguments because they are true, but they no longer seem to answer the pressing problem. Instead the pressings questions present as psychological and existential.
The most succinct phrase might be Marx, “religion is the opiate of the masses”, but the deeper claim leveled today is that faith is just a crutch or a mirror. The fact of death scares me, so I along with society have created something called religion to mollify my horror. Or I have a desire for meaning in life, and I live in a certain way, so I along with those likeminded have banded together to create a culture or a religion that affirms my life. The charge being leveled is that instead of being created in the image of God, we have created God in our own image. The corollary is that anyone who holds onto the crutch or the mirror is naïve or childish in some way. The inverse of St. Paul who would argue it was time to put away childish things and grow up in the Faith. The apologetics here are no longer surface answers, but dwell in hearts. The apologetic answers here are a defense of the authenticity of faith. Why is the Christian Faith not just wish projection?
In this season of Pentecost the first answer must simply be the presence of the Spirit. The Spirit that dwells in us calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies. And I know that is a nonsensical answer. As I said above it is a mystery. In this day and age many of us might have “tried on” a different religion or no religion, but something didn’t feel right. Why? The Spirit in us testifying to the truth.
But for those of a less mystical bent, what other answers might defend the authenticity of faith? Recognizing that this is a newsletter and not a philosophical treatise, I can only offer an outline. So, my quick outline is this. If I were creating my own religion, if I were making a God that conformed to my image, it wouldn’t be Father, Son and Spirit. It wouldn’t have a call to the cross as part of it. It would probably look more like Joel Osteen and a call to Wall Street or success. If I was making it, it wouldn’t have a Jew who died at the hands of Romans at its center. That is way too particular. It would be much more universal and welcoming. Instead of the image of being grafted into one vine, I’d invent one where each plant could grow on its own, follow its own path to truth. Many paths lead to the same place. And it certainly wouldn’t have such a thing as: I believe in the resurrection of the dead. Instead it would talk about spirituality and how this body is merely atoms that we one day will escape and return to the essence of all.
Instead, my apology for authenticity is the apostolic witness. We saw his hands and his feet. We saw him lifted up to heaven. That cross is really the Son being faithful to the Father and freeing us from bondage to this world’s ruler. The Spirit has been poured out on this generation. As always it is foolishness to those who are perishing, but the power of God to us who are being saved. God is not conformed to us, but we are converted by the Spirit and conformed to the likeness of His Son – a likeness that the world always rejects.