a spot of shameless self-promotion

My article on ‘non-combative apologetics’ came out in the May issue of The Briefing.

It’s not (yet?) available online. So you’ll have to get hold of a print copy of the magazine.

Here’s a teaser:

I am not suggesting that we give up on trying to pepper our conversations with incisive, Christ-centred content — especially in responding to any questions or objections to faith that get thrown our way. Nor am I suggesting that it’s wrong to put effort into relating well to inquirers — even hostile inquirers. It is not wrong to be credible, appealing, or winsome. Rather, it’s about where our primary focus is. Is it on proving ourselves before others (either by ‘winning’ every argument or by so desperately striving to be ‘winsome’ that we may even let go of our Christian integrity, fear of God, and consistency)? Or is it on pleasing and honouring our Lord?

In other words, if we want Christian apologetics to be genuinely Christian then we need to do some work on our hearts.

In the article, I argue that this change of heart will become visible in a non-combative approach to our conversations about Jesus. An approach which promises to be less polarising and more fruitful.

Of course, this still names more of an aspiration than a lived reality for me. (I tend to pendulum swing between Full-On Combative at one extreme and Avoidance Rather Than Apologetic Engagement at the other.)

But I’m more and more convinced that it’s part of a deeper and wider need to reform our Christian engagement with culture — ensuring that it is actually Christian.

a peacemaker’s guide to Christian apologetics?

I’m in the midst of trying to write an article on Christian apologetics — the art of negotiating conversations in which you answer objections and tackle common ‘defeater beliefs’ about the Christian faith.

And I’ve come unstuck (evidently — otherwise I’d be writing the article rather than posting this).

Why? What’s my problem?

Well, first a bit about me:

I’m someone who’s read numerous books and articles, attended training courses, and even run my fair share of training on apologetics. I’m not an expert. But I do have a bunch of answers under my belt. And a few tricks up my sleeve — ways of nudging these conversations in more fruitful directions (e.g., where they’re more likely to end up focusing on Jesus rather than some obscure details about the origins of the universe — which, to be honest, neither I nor most of my conversation partners actually know anything about).

And yet I’m no longer confident this is the kind of thing envisaged in the most frequently quoted prooftext for the enterprise of apologetics (1 Peter 3.15-16):

In your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.

I’m more and more convinced that the sanctifying Christ as Lord in our own hearts bit is the key to the rest of it. And that readiness to make a defence doesn’t equal carrying concealed argumentative weapons into every conversation and trying to hijack it so that it goes where I want it to go.

Rather, I suspect all the stuff there about gentleness, reverence, and keeping a clear conscience is the main game. (This would certainly fit with the overall thrust of the section of 1 Peter running from roughly half-way through chapter 2 through to the end of the letter.)

What this means is that we need a peacemaker’s guide to Christian apologetics — a set of strategies to break out of what Holly Weeks in her book Failure To Communicate calls the ‘combat mentality’, the inclination to see every potentially tricky conversation as a battlefield either to be avoided or upon which to fight.

And I’m not sure I’ve found any of those in my reading about apologetics.

how to renarrate your humanity in the light of the gospel

I’ve had the privilege of spending the past few days wrestling with what it means to be ‘in Christ’ at the annual National Training Event for the university student movement I’m part of.

One of the highlights has been working with a small group of students to unravel 1 Peter 2.18-25 — reflecting on how to read and make sense of any part of the Bible as we went.

Peter is addressing the question of how Christian slaves should to respond to conflict and especially to harm done to them, e.g., by abusive masters. His answer is to point to:

  1. The pattern Jesus himself left — particularly in his betrayal, rejection and humiliating death (verses 21-23).
  2. Christ’s achievement in dying for us, freeing us from sin’s dominion so that it’s now possible to follow in his steps (verse 24).
  3. And the promise that God has graciously returned us to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls.

Perhaps we could say that Peter is inviting any slaves among his readers — and by extension all of us — to renarrate our humanity in the light of the gospel.

Not that we’re to stoically pretend we don’t experience conflict or get hurt. But that we’re to retell our story so it doesn’t end with us trapped in a seemingly inevitable cycle of tit-for-tat.

Instead, our story should end with us entrusting ourselves to the the one who can be trusted to do what’s right. And so to open out onto the broad horizon of forgiveness and reconciliation. Not primarily for our own emotional health (as important as that may be). But, in the wider context of 1 Peter, for the sake of mission.

I can’t think of a richer way to express this insight than John Howard Yoder does in Body Politic (quoted recently by Joel Willits):

To be human is to be in conflict, to offend and to be offended. To be human in the light of the gospel is to face conflict in redemptive dialogue. When we do that, it is God who does it. When we do that, we demonstrate that to process conflict is not merely a palliative strategy for tolerable survival or psychic hygiene, but a mode of truth-finding and community-building. That is true in the gospel; it is also true, mutatis mutandis, in the world.

remembering war in the light of Easter

I struggle to know how to feel about war — and public rememberances of war like Anzac Day.

I’m not quite a pacifist. But I lean pretty strongly in that direction.

I find some of the more overdrawn comparisons between Christ’s sacrifice and those of our diggers hard to take.

There’s something to them of course (Loren does a good job highlighting some of the similarities without making too much of them). And yet…

I was especially worried about the proximity of Anzac Day to Good Friday this year. But then something really interesting happened — Easter got in the way.

Although the message of Christ’s sacrifice rightfully looms large at this time of year, Easter itself is about the resurrection. It’s about God’s triumphant “Yes!” to life and peace (rather than death and violence).

To me, this sheds light from at least two different angles on the way we remember war.

First, it casts into sharp relief the fact that death is not God’s intention for his world. Now — and even more so in the new creation Christ’s resurrection guarantees — war doesn’t fit.

Second, it changes how we understand death itself.

In the light of Easter, we see that death may be the last enemy to be defeated, but it is not the greatest enemy. There are things worse than death.

And so, doing everything we can to avoid death may evidence its own pathology — and plunge us straight into some of those things (making us complicit with evil, for example, if we fail to stand against it).

I may be wrong. But, taken together, these two points at least give a foot in the door to a way of remembering war that mourns its tragedy at the same time as it admits that there may have been good reasons to fight…