Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Apologetics: Fertile Soil for Heresy?

Though I didn't attend T4G this year, one of the themes I appreciated from the talks and the panels was the explicit recognition that a desire to see people embrace the gospel often dilutes the gospel through attempts to make the gospel palatable to unbelievers. In this panel discussion, Peter Williams said we need to be careful to understand that apologetics often leads to heresy. Al Mohler argued that apologetics‬, detached from biblical authority, becomes a mechanism for denying Scripture.

Not all apologists and apologetic approaches make these concessions. (See "White, James R.") In fact, my experience is that many apologists understand the centrality of Jesus' resurrection to the Christian faith better than most evangelical pastors. (Thank you again, Christopher, for all those reminders of how badly we pastors fail on this point.)

Having said all that, I've been listening to a series of apologetic addresses in secular contexts. I've been grateful for some of them, but I have to say I've been more disappointed than encouraged. Few things are more frustrating to me than when the person designated to represent the orthodox Christian position, simply doesn't.

Here's one example from John Stott's Veritas Forum at Harvard University. In response to a comment about the arbitrariness of demands for faith in Christ, and a question about the people who've never heard, Stott replied:
With regard to those, for example, who have never heard the name of Jesus, I would want to say this—that the only people that I feel fairly confident will be lost on the last day are those who have heard and have deliberately rejected the word of salvation which they have heard and understood. That seems to be very clear in the New Testament. But with regard to those who've never heard, I don't find the New Testament clear at all. Certainly, none of us deserves to go to heaven, and none of us can enter the presence of God in heaven by our own morality or righteousness. Christians certainly can't. We don't trust in our own righteousness to get to heaven, and nor can anybody else. Self-salvation is out, because if he caught a glimpse of the majesty, the glory, the holiness of God, we know that we're utterly unfit to come anywhere near him in the tattered rags of our own morality. So I know that, and I'm prepared, therefore, to leave the rest to God. Meanwhile, our responsibility is to take the good news that, by his grace, we've come to accept, and to spread it—make it known—as far as we can.
In addition to the point I make about apologetics above, I believe these comments also serve as an illustration of the fact that people who write really good things can also believe things that are contrary to Scripture. They also provoke a discussion about the influence of ecumenism and perhaps even the long-term effects of paedobaptist ecclesiology—how it may predispose its adherents to embrace ecumenism because they've already deliberately welcomed unbelievers into the church. But those conversations are for another time.

Friday, July 13, 2012

An Alphabet Soup of Militancy

In this interview, Rick Phillips (senior minister of Second Presbyterian Church in Greenville, South Carolina) describes the struggles within the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) over the regulative principle of worship, Roman Catholic-derived forms of the Lord's supper, and theistic evolution. It's a fascinating perspective from a militant conservative, if you're at all interested in the PCA or the broader trends within American evangelicalism. Phillips sounds as if he wouldn't be a bit surprised if the denomination split down the middle within the next decade.

Though the PCA's membership in the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) hasn't yet become a focal point of contention, Phillips expressed his frustrations and hopes that the relationship could be severed. For any of you who appreciate irony, Phillips couldn't resist mentioning that Bob Jones University (BJU) prohibits faculty and staff from attending his church, precisely because of the PCA's affiliation with the NAE—an organization that Bob Jones Jr. helped to found. Perhaps he might be more fondly received if he were to abandon his defense of the regulative principle and host, say, a local drama team. [wink]