In the near future I plan on posting some stuff that takes a hard – and somewhat critical – look at contemporary Lutheran apologetics.
Before I do that however, I want to make something very clear: as I have hinted at before but will state more clearly now, I think that simply knowing that Christian apologetics existed saved my life. No exaggeration. I believe that God used the presence and words of Christian apologists to convict me of my sin and draw me near to him in my first year of college when I was in danger of falling away. Especially after the 1992 LC-MS youth gathering (yes, you read that right), I had started to have grave doubts about whether or not my Christian faith was true – and I felt like no one else had or cared about the kinds of difficult questions that I had. It was only my freshman year in college that I really learned about Christian apologetics (OK – my youth director had tried to get me to read the Screwtape Letters), and I believe this came at a critical time in my life.
I think one of the things that caused me to seriously doubt my faith was that other than the Reformation, I heard very little talk about the historical nature of Christianity and the Church. Christianity often seemed to be about us today, living in the present, in a way that felt disconnected, untethered from the past. I, probably a bit more than most, was very curious about Christianity as a very concrete and historical matter – about it being something true that was rooted in the past, which in turn, had much to say about the present and future. I think that the fact – or perception – that many persons in the church did not really draw attention to this caused me to doubt whether or not others thought that it was critical that Jesus Christ was an actual historical figure… and this in turn caused larger doubts….
There is a good reason why the Christian has a desire to hear the world and its false ideas confronted. Not necessarily because you want to be better than them – though we have that problem as well – but because we live by the truth, and are people of the truth.
Not only this, but when it comes to loving one’s neighbor, knowing about the world and its beliefs is not an option. That is how you love them. You engage them on their ground, learn about their ideas, and respect them enough to take their ideas seriously and engage them in as much depth as you are capable, realizing how much you might not know…. Not all are called to be scholars, but all are called to engage one’s neighbor and to be ready to give a reasons – a defense, or apologia – for the hope that is within them.
Here is a really good example of the kind of bold message I think I could have used when I was younger – and that I need to hear today. Michael Horton is a good preacher. Some in the Reformed world might suspect Horton of being a “Crypto-Lutheran” from time to time, but I have never heard anything but good Calvinist theology coming from the man (as well as I know that theology). In any case, in this address he gave at a Christian conference – which is really like a sermon – it seems to me that the content he shares is quite uncommon among both conservative Reformed and Lutherans (maybe I am wrong about that – maybe your experience has been different).
If I am right in suggesting that these kinds of words are rare, I do not think that they should be. In my estimation, we need more excellent proclamation that is just like this. As a matter of fact, I think that given that we more or less live in a world of Greeks today, these kinds of words should be heard more and more often among us not only as we talk with one another, but as we talk with the world….
We don’t all need to have just the kind of highly erudite “heart for the lost” that Horton clearly has. But it seems to me that Christian pastors at least ought to be able to speak in a fashion similar to him here.
That takes some work. Some love.