A few times now I have discussed a few apologetic misfires. Usually these misfires result from a zeal to communicate something the apologist has learned. Often, when a Christian believer feels a renewed strength in his faith, he desires others to know. He now possesses an answer to a question posed by another person or even himself. Perhaps part of the Bible never made sense prior to discovering a particular defense of the faith. Where a Christian previously stood silent in the face of objections or even bullying, he now rests assured that an answer to the question, a response to the verbal barbs exists.
In these above-mentioned cases, the believer became instructed on how to draw two points of Christian thought together.
If we read our Bibles closely or attempt to live a life dubbed “Christian” in any sort of meaningful sense, then we will indeed face challenges.
For example, take the famous quote attributed to the ancient philosopher, Epircurus:
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
My point here will not be to address the actual problem of evil itself. Volumes of Christian apologies for evil exist already (of various qualities, let the reader understand). The defenses Christian thinkers muster consists of arguments stating that the existence of evil and a good God (as the Bible certainly describes him!) do not prove incongruous. The Christian does not contradict herself when she terms something like terrorism as evil, but then turns around and says, “Lord, you are good.”
In order for a thing to be truth, it must not contradict other things that are true. Yet, one need not be an atheist to have a question about God drowning the entirety of humanity with the exception of one family, yet not doing the same to the nation of Assyria despite their flagrant and heinous sins. Scripture states God is good, just, merciful, and unchanging. So why does he flood the world and rain fire and sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah, but then allow other violent peoples to wreak havoc on the people around them? The apologetic task invites us to put in thought, study, and prayer on the matter instead of patting the questioner on the head and saying, “Well bless your heart, God wouldn’t have us ask those kinds of questions, dear.”
Such a response does not encourage faith, rather it shows that the respondent does not have the answer and perhaps fears none exists.
John Frame, the famous Presbyterian philosopher and theologian, says it this way: God’s way is not to persuade people ‘magically’ of the truth of his word. The Spirit certainly does persuade, but he persuades us to believe inherently rational content. As in a sermon, it is not enough just to lay the facts before the congregation; one must present those facts winsomely, persuasively, with clarity and order. Otherwise, we have not presented the facts as they really are.
To illustrate, think of the plumbing beneath your house. It is much like your Bible. It looks the same every time you see it (ideally). It functions as a completely rational and consistent whole. Water comes through one place and goes out another. The message of the revelation of God starts in one place, and it finishes in another. Understanding what comes between in either can be a real bear. The plumber sees the system, and despite any confusions, has the ability to solve problems when a pipe leaks. So the Christian sees the Bible and understands that Leviticus, Zechariah, John, and 2 Peter all work together to say something without contradiction one another. Just because one person saw a jumbled mess does not make it so. The rationality of the system does not depend on the viewer’s ability to discern it easily.
To apply, let’s think of a point of cultural engagement. I can think of nothing so uncontroversial as the current #MeToo movement and recent accusations against comedian and actor, Aziz Ansari. Rather than take a side in the brouhaha, let’s make a pot of coffee (or tea if you like) and invite those sitting at the table with us to comb over the matters at hand. We’ll use inside voices so as not to disturb that nice family at the next table.
The basics of the Aziz Ansari case go something like this:
-Ansari and a young lady, Grace, connected over both of them possessing the same vintage camera.
-The two exchanged contact information, and they later spent time texting one another.
-When the two met for a date, Ansari allegedly rushed the meal to return to his apartment.
-Following the return to Ansari’s apartment, Ansari initiated an awkward sexual encounter.
-Grace left Ansari’s apartment due to the awkward sex, and she wept over the affair.
The above constitute only details of the encounter; we have not yet begun to think about them. Before going on, I will remind the table to keep the voices at a civilized and respectful volume because that family really does seem to be enjoying their time out. Some people don’t just get to do this all the time, you know.
As voices in pop culture (yes, pop culture, even especially the cable-based news media) wrangle, wrestle, harangue, and hem and haw over the categorization of Ansari’s actions, we find ourselves with the ability to draw at least one conclusion: nobody can figure out what to do with this mess of a sad situation. And sad it is indeed. Sexual activity should never end with anyone confused or crying. That’s not its purpose, but then again, neither is a first date its place either. The perversion of intimacy wields dark and icky tendrils that reach to the heart of a person, male or female. It is no wonder this woman regrets ever meeting Ansari, and he stands unsure of how to operate in the intimate sector of his life. Confusion reigns, and the debate of whether or not Ansari proves culpable of sexual assault tumbles on down the path, likely to no place specific.
Yet, we demand a specific place for these accusations to land, do we not? Specific and solid conclusions and actions on such matters fill the articles and blog posts to the brim. So we invite those around us to think in a consistent way on the matter. According to the Christian worldview and ethic, with a basis on the Bible, there stands one place for sexual activity: marriage.
With an ethic so uncomplicated, consistent answers float to the top of our churning over the matter.
Should any man pressure a woman for sex on the first date? No, he need to commit to her in marriage.
Should a woman ever feel violated because she felt pressured into sex? No, because the man she shares this intimacy with should have committed himself to her alone in marriage.
What do we do with murky situations that seem to be sexual misfires? We have the ability to categorically say they prove rotten at the root because they took place out of the context of marriage, which remains God’s design for such things, even in such an enlightened and erudite age as ours.
Do some situations require us to think in a more complex way? Yes, of course, recall the plumbing example. However, if plumbing proves itself much like other fields of study, one does not start with the most complex thing. The piano student certainly does not begin her first day of learning by attempting to pound out “Rhapsody in Blue.”
Where the current sexual ethic of the West currently sits, sometimes wild sex on a first date receives a warm welcome. It seems it often does not. We invite those arguing for its sometimes acceptance to explain with clarity how an outside observer would judge it so. Judge, you say? Remember, volume. That family at the other table seems to want dessert, don’t spoil it. Yes, judge. Every news outlet judges these encounters. Social media posts announce their thoughts on such things. If you made it this far in this post, you have an interest in it as well. Whether we admit it or not, all of us desire to live in a world that makes sense. What were the hardest parts of your teen years? When things made no sense to you. We expect the lights to turn on when we flip the switch, the summer sun to shine, other cars to stop at the red light, etc., etc.
So the apologetic is this: who explains more with consistency? Does Christian theology or does Western pop culture? Do the parents who teach their children a biblical sexual ethic or does the #MeToo movement? As you make a defense for your faith, invite your conversation partner to think on these things. You do not need to brandish a club, but rather pull out a chair. If your own thought proves level, while the non-biblically based does not, your defense succeeds. Success and persuasion differ from one another, and such a difference shall find treatment another day. However, your faith stays firm, and even the antagonist did not witness your house crash down upon the sand. Christ becomes magnified in your life, and your roots of faith in him grow deeper.
Your defense need not be offensive. Defend your faith through invitation to hear out who explains a matter more consistently.
John M. Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God: An Introduction (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 1994), 136.