Apologetics: The Traitor's Art
Having just read a selection from Friedrich Schleiermacher’s On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers, my heart is heavy. Oh Friedrich, Friedrich – if only you had mercifully died young, or submitted yourself early to the words of a wise mentor, how different would be the course of history, and your own eternal rewards!
For those who do not know, Schleiermacher is the father of modern Liberalism – that corrosive form of Christianity which has been stealing souls and confusing pastors for generations.
I am reading from William C. Plancher’s Readings in the History of Christian Theology, Vol. 2: Plancher introduces Schleiermacher as follows, “Raised in a Pietist family, he had fallen in with the avant-garde writers at the forefront of German Romanticism. He was here addressing his culturally sophisticated friends, hoping to persuade them that the concern for feeling that guided them in literature and the arts ought to lead them…to Christianity.”
For Shleiermacher, the common ground on which he hoped to meet with the “cultured despisers of religion” was inward emotion. The elite of his day placed great stock on intuition and emotion: Christianity also placed great stock on internal things – surely they were both on the same page!
Shleiermacher’s ideas were hugely popular – and hugely destructive! Following after him, “the Liberal movement” saw religion as basically a human experience. To put it crudely, they saw it as “Santa-Clause for Adults” – a helpful mythology, useful for social unity, ethics and morality, and hope in the face of death. Of course, however, it is just a myth…it is not really believed by any but the “common people”…
Even today, over a century later, I have been rocked several times in my faith as I wrestled with the lingering effects of Shleiermacher’s thought in seminary.
For those who read my previous post “A Brief History Of Christian Doctrine,” the pattern will feel exhaustingly familiar. Once again, a work intended as an apologetic defence of the faith becomes the basis for devastating heresy against the same.
A potential T-shirt logo comes to mind, “Save a Doctrine – Shoot An Apologist.”
Of course, my tongue is in my cheek. I cut my theological teeth on C.S. Lewis, and still count him among my favorite authors/mentors. Attempting to follow in his steps, I have also tried my hand (very poorly) at apologetics (See here and here), and hope one day to take another crack at it. Personal preferences aside, apologetics is Scriptural – as demonstrated in Paul’s desire to “become all things to all people, so that I may by all means save some,” (1 Cor. 9:22f), in the first chapter of John and in Paul’s sermon in Acts 17. Here we must learn some lessons, however, about Scriptural apologetics.
The task of an apologist is to preach the gospel in a way that makes sense to a particular culture. But how is one to do this, since “the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Cor. 1:18), and “the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God”? They must work to understand the culture well enough to build a bridge from there to the gospel: it is here, however, that the problem occurs. Some become so consumed with the intricacies of building the bridge on the side of culture that they never make the leap, and start building towards Christ. The result is a church founded on culture, which holds itself up in opposition to Christ. This act is the great act of treason which apologists have made time and again in history!
John knew his culture well enough to know that the concept of “the Word” had traction. Likely, most of the Greeks of his day took no issue with the first thirteen verses of John – they probably thought he was proposing a new form of Platonism. But then John had to make a choice: after building for a time on the Greek worldview, he takes the leap, and bridges over the chasm to thoroughly non-Greek territory: “The word became flesh…” At this point, the Greeks (who thought of spirit as good, and flesh as bad) would have been skandalized. The Word became flesh?! Here they were presented with the bare-bones “foolishness” of the gospel, and here we are reminded of our cross. A true Apostle cannot long be without the shame of the gospel (1 Cor. 4:8-15)!
Likewise, Paul begins his sermon on Mars Hill with what could be interpreted as a veiled compliment. “I can see you are a very religious people.” Perhaps there is an implied affinity, “I am religious too.” He proposes a solution to a perceived felt-need, “You have an altar to ‘the unknown god’ – let me introduce you to Him!” After Paul’s introduction, no doubt Paul had his audience’s ear. His next words were a bit of a stretch, however: “There is one God,” “He does not dwell in temples, nor require your sacrifices,” “this God chose the Jewish people for a special purpose of incarnation,” “this God will come and judge the world,” “salvation is possible through Him.” This was all a stretch, but Paul knew the bulk of his listeners were with him, because he caught their attention with his eloquence in his introduction. He kept his final push ’till the end: “the purpose of all of this is a resurrection from the dead.” He received the response he expected from many – scoffing. A resurrection from the dead did not at all fit into Greek philosophy! He did what he could to meet people where they were at – but at the end of the day, he knew the limitations of Apologetics, and shouldered the shame of the scoffers.
And this is the response which every good apologist must expect! The gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing – in no culture does it make sense that: 1) there is one supreme God, 2) we are all sinners because of what some guy (Adam) did zillions of years ago, 3) the only solution is to be found in what some other guy (who says he is God) did two thousand years ago, and 4) we must repent and give our entire lives to God through Jesus Christ. Furthermore, every age has it’s own sort of “wisdom,” which is never completely compatible with the gospel. In ancient Greece, the “foolishness” was a God become flesh. In the Middle Ages, it was (among other things) a world that actually had a beginning. In our day, it is (among other things) a Bible which demands that we hold it up as the final authority, rather than our own human intellects.
Are you, dear reader, prepared to be a fool for Christ? If you are not, you will be a traitor to Him.
I will end with a segue.
I am intending to begin reading and critiquing the major “Emergent” authors of our day (Bell, McLaren, Clairbourne, etc.). I have already received negative feedback on this venture. After all – these people are passionate, they are relevant, they are genuine, they are creative, they are bright, they are (in some cases) involved in amazing works of charity…who am I to critique them?
There is a valid point behind this, of course. Some people dismiss the entire emergent movement without distinction (which I do not, see “Follow-Up Post to “From….Emergent to….Conservative”). Some critique only to prop up a frail ego, or to find fame on the coat-tails of others. This is not my heartbeat.
What is my heartbeat? Here I end where I begin: heaviness and sadness. How can I feel differently? After knowing enough of history to see this “apologist-heretic-reformer-synthesizer” pattern over and over, how can I not feel heaviness and sadness at a group of authors who measure the value of a book by how “original” it is, who joke and laugh at traditions, who openly shrug at essential components of the gospel, and who (at times) openly, unapologetically and even boastfully engage in a re-interpretation of Christianity according to the “needs of our day,” and according to postmodern philosophy?
But what of the kind, sincere, genuine nature of these people’s hearts? So much deeper the ache! Oh, how devious the craft of the enemy, to to twist the good motivations of people’s hearts to the ill purposes of such disastrous doctrine! In most cases I do not doubt people’s salvation (unless Rev. 22:18-19 can be taken seriously), but I mourn for their loss. Most of them are, like Paul, “pouring themselves out as a drink offering” (Phil. 2:17) for their ministries – not to receive a perishable crown, but an imperishable one (1 Cor. 9:25). They long – as we all do – to hear the words of the Father “well done, good and faithful servant!” (Luke 19:17), to present those whom they had blessed and lead to the Lord as a “pure pride, without stain or blemish” (2 Cor. 11:2), and to boast before God of the service which we have done to His honour and glory (1 Thess. 2:19). How deep, then, will be the shame and regret when the church which they build on a foundation other than Christ is ultimately burned up like stubble, and they find themselves – after a lifetime of sacrifice and hard troubles – naked and empty before the throne of grace, “saved, but so as through the fire” (1 Cor. 3:11-15)?
I have a voice, and by God’s grace I will use it – as much in the service of the emergent writers as in service of the church. You have heard my heart – how can I do otherwise?