I’ve recently been reading Mary Jo Sharp’s Defending The Faith: Apologetics in Women’s Ministry. For some reason this particular book has brought back long-lost memories of why I began studying apologetics in the first place and how it has changed my personal faith.
Sharp writes passionately about the need for Christian women to learn more about what they believe. If they’re content with a shallow faith based on nothing but what they feel, she says, they’ll never grow beyond spiritual infancy. Worse still, they’ll be content to look and act like the world, believing advertisers’ lies about what gives people value.
I’ve met a lot of people like this. People who genuinely love Christ, but have never learned anything more about their faith than whatever they happened to pick-up in the first few months after being “saved.” They may go to church, but otherwise they can’t be distinguished from the non-Christian living on either side of them on the cul-de-sac. They still want what everyone else wants—the big house in the gated community, the widescreen TV, or the Jimmy Choo’s. Their spiritual growth is effectively stalled.
For years, that was me. The details were different, but the trajectory was the same. While I was never much for gated communities, I was still spiritually self-absorbed. My prayers were authentic, but they were about me and my problems—not much different than anyone else’s.
It was only after many years of being a Christian that I was, well, convicted. All of the sudden, I had to learn more about what the Bible said. I had to face down the hard questions—the questions Christians hope no one will ask: How do we know the Bible is the Word of God? How do we know Jesus rose from the dead? How do we rectify the warrior Yahweh of the Old Testament with the self-sacrificing Christ of the New Testament? If God loves his people, why is there still suffering?
And what the heck is up with the nephilim in Genesis 6?
The bottom line was that I had had some mountaintop experiences with Jesus. I had felt Him in my spirit. He had spoken to me. I was afraid to investigate further because I didn’t want to find out that my experiences—and the Jesus I loved—could not stand up under scrutiny. What if I found out that the Bible was just a bunch of books that some bearded guys had hobbled together in the 4th century? What if I found out that Paul invented Christianity? What if the things they said about the “lost gospels” on the History Channel were true?
While I do have a few post-modern tendencies, they’re not strong enough to convince me that absolute truth doesn’t exist. What’s true is true. If I discovered that the evidence effectively disproved the historicity of the resurrection, I would not be able to believe that He had, indeed, risen.
So I researched and read and studied.
And it turned out that Christianity can not only hold its own both historically and philosophically, but it is also the most internally consistent worldview on the market. The hard questions are still hard, but no Christian has to shrug his shoulders and whimper “God’s ways are higher than our ways,” when faced with one. (A response that annoys the heck out of me, by the way). There are thoughtful, reasonable answers to even the hardest questions about Christianity.
But something happened during my research that I did not expect. Like Mary Jo Sharp predicts in her book, working through those questions and gaining more head-knowledge about what I believed, changed my heart too. Coming face-to-face with the historical and philosophical TRUTH of Christianity started to make me feel less comfortable in my Western, consumer-based culture. The combination of both experiencing God and realizing that those experiences came from interacting with a being that really, truly, objectively exists, caused a transformation that no amount of feel-good worship services and seeker-sensitive sermons ever did.
Suddenly, I was face-to-face with the realization that there was no half-way. There was no box called “church” or “worship” where I could keep God. He was not just a “feeling.” He was fact. He was not just in my heart, he was real. There was no way to avoid his teaching about possessions, loving the unlovely, service, and self-sacrificial love.
Knowing that Jesus existed and exists in a historical and philosophical sense has forced me to face the fact that Christianity is all or nothing. It does not play well with the American dream, or the belief that we somehow deserve to live quiet, safe lives.
Yes, there is still a twinge of longing when paging through the latest Pottery Barn catalog, but there is no question that those hand-carved, distressed candlesticks (sigh) should ever come before the people who made them. Watching the couples on House-Hunters complain about the lack of granite countertops is almost like listening to a foreign language now.
I still don’t understand the nephilim, but I can personally attest to the fact that the power of apologetics is not only that it speaks to skeptics, but that it transforms believers too.