19.7.10

Christian Apologetics Week Post #3: Buses, Blogs, Cafeteria's and other 'interesting' places to talk about God: Personal Experiences

The Beginning

My own interest in apologetics began at the same time as my interest in Christianity, and my faith in Christ.  I had my own questions and it was hearing them answered intelligently, and respectfully, that kick-started my faith journey.  Thus, the bedrock of my own experience with apologetics is that it can bring about life change, especially when exercised patiently and in conjunction with loving relationships. 

My journey thence has been anything but smooth.  The truth is that I struggle with pride and, while apologetics do not necessarily make one prideful, it did bolster my ego to think I had all the answers.  Two things helped this process: I have a good memory and I read very quickly.  So, while I started with C.S. Lewis (and have since gone back to him many times) I also started by practically memorizing Evidence which Demands a Verdict (Josh McDowell's original, before it became a multi-volume work) and The Handbook of Christian Apologeticby Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli.  Neither of those books are bad on their own (though I don't find McDowell's approach to be the best), my problem was that they were encyclopedic and, after reading them, I thought I was to.  

I was also part of Campus Crusade for Christ at the time; the combination was deadly.  I felt like I needed to share Christ every day, and so I would talk with random people whenever I could.  Again, there is nothing wrong with this.  I was the problem, not these books, not Crusade, and not talking to people about God; ME.  90% of the conversations which got of the ground ended up in philosophical questions.  And those were usually short conversations.  No doubt many an individual was turned away because of my know-it-all attitude and quick-shot retorts.  


The Humbling(s)

At this time I was starting my second year undergraduate studies and my first year of religious studies.  I will never forget my first RS class.  The prof. did his intro bit, and in the midst of telling us where to find helpful information he remarked that it was highly appropriate that all of the books on the bible could be found in the "BS" section. With regards to all things Christian, his tone never did change much. 

Meanwhile, on my personal time, I wound up in a conversation with someone equally as argumentative as myself, but much more knowledgeable. He was a PhD student in religious studies. I interrupted his lunch.  He tore me apart.  While I had read the arguments in a few books, I knew very little about source criticism or gnostic gospels or Mithraism (all of which was, unsurprisingly, the topic of his thesis). Far from having 'all' the answers, I had none.  Before this, I had often walked away from conversations wondering why people wouldn't hear my answers; this time, I think he was wondering that very same thing.  

I may have been proud, but it didn't take me too long to realize that none of my conversations were bearing any fruit, regardless of who 'won'.  Obviously something was wrong.


Focusing on the Heart

"As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.  Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace...." (Ephesians 4:1-3)

I did feel called to preach, teach, and defend the gospel, and though I know that Paul is not speaking to that calling, I also knew that I had been going about it all the wrong way.  People didn't care if I had the answers until they knew that I cared about them.  And my pride, and impatience, would get in the way every time.  I had to change more than just my method, I needed to grow in the fruit of the Spirit.

Therefore, I shifted my attention away from apologetics and on to spirituality.  I started practicing the spiritual disciplines, reading the mystics, and trying to understand more of my own heart as well as others. I had some interesting blog conversations about talking with God, feeling God, spirituality, and Wicca.  One of my friends, who was heavily into Wicca, and who had completely ignored all of my 'apologetic' outreaches, jumped at the chance to talk about spirituality.  I never could get quite as nebulous as he did; I guess I still have some engineer in me somewhere, but I tried.  Interestingly, it was through those conversations that he ended up moving away from Wicca, which is what I had been trying to get him to do all along.  


Story of the Heart

The biggest change, however, came when I learned to listen below the surface.  Most people, when you start talking about religion (and here in the West that usually means Christianity) have an experience which has left some kind of impression on them.  That experience, and that impression, rarely come to the surface in conversation, but they are there, driving opinions and arguments in unexpected ways.

My favorite such conversation was with a construction worker on a bus.  I was reading a book on the history of the church and he sat down next to me, his cover-alls covered in dried cement and his tool-belt hanging from the edge of the seat. He was much larger than me. 

"What are you reading?" He asked. I showed him the cover of my book.  "Oh, your into that church stuff, eh?"  He asked gruffly, and with obvious enmity.

He went on to accuse the church of lying and cheating and always trying to get your money.  Full on offense from the start with this guy.  It was really hard not to just argue him down, but I resisted, not least because I still felt somewhat intimidated. Instead I asked questions.  "Why do you think the church is like that?" "Does everyone who asks for your money upset you?" and so on.

Long story short, by the end of the conversation I found out that his mother had been cheated out of a significant amount of money by a minister. I would be angry too.  I told him what I thought church should be, and that if his mother were in any church worthy of the name, then they would have been the ones helping her after she got scammed, not the ones scamming her.  Our conversation was much more positive after that; I only wish I had some way to continue the conversation.  He exited the train, and I never saw him again. 


Recently....

More recently, I struggle to keep in conversation with non-Churchgoers.  As a pastor, most of the people I spend my time with know Jesus, and nearly all of them are at the church.  I suppose the easiest others to talk to would be Jehovah's witnesses or Latter Day Saints, but I still haven't figured out how to keep a conversation going with them.  They are friendly at first, but, promises to the contrary notwithstanding, they never come back for a second visit.  Also, transit never has worked well, as everyone is going somewhere and with all the new technology (stupid IPod/IPhone/Ipad) most of them are in their own world while on the way.

Still, as a pastor I do get to talk with seekers/questions quite frequently.  Granted, they have already come to the church, but still :) Most of them are young adults who want to know things like: how can I line up faith with science? How do you have a relationship with God? Can you really know God? and so on.  These are good questions, and they make for some good conversations.



This post is part of Christian Apologetics Week.  The introduction, with links to other posts, can be found here.



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