Christopher Neiswonger is a long time host of the Apologetics.com Radio Show. His interest in Apologetics was born of his own deeply personal questions about the nature of God and the content of the Bible. It seems that the most important question a human being can ask is, “How can we know?” Christopher received his Juris Doctor from Trinity Law School, an MA in Communication and Culture from Trinity Graduate School and is currently pursuing an MBA in International Development (he works for one of the world’s largest advocacy, relief, and development NGOs). He has twice received the highest honours from the Los Angeles Music Awards and twice been nominated for Dove awards by the Gospel Music Association. He is married with five children and lives in Los Angeles, California.
For those of you that are into Christian apologetics and wonder why so few are convinced when our arguments are so good and the evidence so convincing, the main problems today seem to be three:
1st, though anyone can repeat learned arguments, Christians are generally very poor at living out their faith in practice, and so even when skilled argumentation is presented, the test behind the test that the hearer is weighing is the test of character and practical believability. Remember, however true something might seem according to reason, if it is counter-intuitive according to common sense and human experience, people will not believe it.
It’s the same as when the materialists say we are reducible to the accidental relationships of molecules in motion, or that the universe just burst into being one day from nothing and for no reason; even if it were more probable than not according to the available scientific information, most folks aren’t buying, not because the arguments are bad but because it’s irreconcilable with common reason.
When professing Christians live and speak and do politics in ways irreconcilable with the life and walk of Jesus, people see through that. The level of crime, anger, unloving dispositions, gossip, rumor, innuendo, divorce, adultery, fornication, theft, fraud, pride, lust for power, greed, etc. in the churches speaks for itself, and so we always need to speak back.
Plainly, one should not engage in apologetics if one is not both willing and able to live a life worthy of the gospel? One might be the most skilled debater and arguer in the world, have great gifts and intellect, and even the passion to engage, but should remain silent when it comes to publicly representing Christ and his church, because people will see what you do more than hear what you say.
One failure in ethics will speak more loudly than a thousand words of philosophy, however true or reasonable. One’s entire ministerial life will stand or fall by the ability to stand in the face of temptations, especially to pride, because apologists are always smart, which makes being smart of little consequence. Being smart or even super smart once one passes graduate level education is so common as to make it a gift of minor significance when compared with the more rare gifts of compassion, fidelity and sacred honor.
2nd, the apologist thinks that convincing argumentation is sufficient cause for regeneration and faith.
The mastery of apologetic methodology is not a replacement for the gospel, and can often convince the unregenerate, simply because truth is available to common reason. If anything, apologetics is a field preparatory to evangelism, or posterior to evangelism in the support and defense of the faith, but not identical.
It is pretty common for intelligent, passionate souls to be converted to the magnetic power of the apologetic enterprise but not to the Christian faith itself; apologetics appeals to the highest interests of man but also many of the most carnal appetites. As sad as it is, these kinds of people will eventually make some of the most effective atheists and anti-christians once their wandering through the church has reached its resolution. They’ve read the Bible, learned your arguments, studied the philosophy and theology, heard the sermons ad infinitum, but failed to combine that mere knowledge with faith. Even if there was a temporary psychological state of self deception of “faith” (they said and even thought they believed), a true faith is more than just accepting true facts about matters of religion. Eventually the absence of the intimate communion with the Spirit of God in the soul becomes a doubt, and then an irritation, and then a conscious conflict in their own mind, and then an outward battle that consumes them wholly.
Do you remember Saul? How he was found among the Prophets? And how powerfully he resisted God when he found that for all of his attempts to secure God’s favor, he had been rejected on the basis of his own infidelity. The anger that former Christians have for the God that they say does not exists is challenged only by the that of those that stay in the church for the purpose of destabilizing the faith of the faithful, especially pastors and teachers of religion that have long since lost their first love, but not their profession.
The background problem, is that the churches are too large and evangelism, generally being oriented toward the mere accumulation of warm bodies, has been too successful. What I mean by that is that the church, instead of being successful at gathering in sincere believers has often adopted ways and means from advertising methodology and corporate systematization (business leadership modeling) and this can result in very organized and successful managerial growth programming that fills churches with practically skilled, morally motivated, but unregenerate persons.
3rd, the abandonment of a Christian psychology and anthropology.
Previous generations of apologists like Carl Henry, Francis Schaeffer, Gresham Machen, Gordon Clark, Charles Hodge, B.B. Warfield, J. O. Buswell, Jonathan Edwards, Cornelius Van Til, Greg Bahnsen, and of course Augustine and Aquinas, were incredibly interested in having a Christian analysis of the condition of fallen man and how his mind works as the prerequisite to evangelism and apologetics.
If, as all of them seemed to agree, man does have an innate and conscious knowledge of God, and his problems in belief are moral as much as intellectual, and he has not only an intellectual impediment but an internal disposition against belief (bias), then how and what we do will be more complicated than the simple throwing of arguments against a blank slate in search of knowledge, and a healthy skepticism about the distance between a lack of knowledge and a lack of desire, will be taken into account.
The ancients thought that the earth was the center of the universe, or perhaps the Sun, and that all the stars in the Heavens circled around in spheres of glass, or some other celestial mechanics. We laugh about Aristotle and Plato, Copernicus and Galileo who argued about what goes around what but saw through meager lenses. Our Babelian view might not be much clearer for having peeked behind the sky.
There’s a doctrine of law that can be helpful in this, being that one needs to distinguish between the “muscle” and the “nerve” centers of an entity to find out the proper jurisdiction. Is the most important place where we find the physical property? Or where the work gets done? Or where the corporate officers make the important decisions?
Astronomy and measurements of mass don’t tell us much about importance, just as the size of the universe says nothing very interesting, bigness and smallness being relative and so uninformative. The only reason we think the universe is big is in relation to ourselves, but if we compare ourselves to molecules we are suddenly great and powerful.
Israel was purposefully the smallest and least important in the eyes of the educated, but important to God and the center of his purposes on earth. A tiny island in Western Europe had an empire that spanned the globe, while Alexander conquered the world from an unexpected place.
In relation to the universe, the centers of importance seem to be where God does his important work, and not mere centers of mass or raw materials. We could set up stars and galaxies and universes themselves as cosmic paperweights and for all their power they would have no more significance than their creator chose to give them.
The world tends to dismiss the Earth and the value of human life because the Earth is relatively small compared to the cosmos. We are a small people on a small planet in a small place, but God interprets these things according to prudence, not physics.
The most important error of neo-modernism is the reduction of all things to the relation of objects in space, incapable of deeper evaluation and meaning. The second flaw is different, but overlapping, being that since we aren’t anything in particular, we can decide what we are, and so are the creators of our own meaning. If we were important, or valuable when we came into the world, not because of what we decide to be, but because of what we already are, most human miseries could be avoided through the simple reconciliation of our intentions with our greater purpose.
If the creator of all things that gives them their value and meaning should choose to manifest his presence on one particular sphere, one tiny ball of green and blue floating through space, that place would be a very important place indeed, and those with whom he chose to dwell of greater honor than the stars and galaxies that seem to shine with greater brilliance.
Entire galaxies after all, might be just back-lighting for the cosmic stage.
I wouldn't think that my list of favorites would be helpful toward a serious study of Philosophy as an established discipline. My suggestion is to read the classics. Still, read the really "Classic classics" and not just a general assortment of old works; that method tends to develop disorganized thinking.
Remember that academic disciplines tend to be in a state of flux; they change through time, and so that which is most relevant can change from era to era. While Metaphysics, for example, might be an explosive area of study in one decade, or century, in another it might be uncontroversial or considered irrelevant.
Those works colloquially called "the classics" tend to be classics not because they are old (though in philosophy as in wine, generally "the old is better") but because they, stood the test of time.
Standing the test of time is a very important, but undependable test, which is why though those in a discipline tend to recognize the usefulness of time tested works, they are rarely described in this way. While the works of an Augustine stood the test of time because of their ever returning trans-epochal value and ability to speak to issues that transcend time and culture, there are many others that are still with us that seem to lack much beyond "historical" value, or merely the value of being old.
The differences are difficult to narrow down to an identifiable measurement, but we could think of it in some way like this; though the works of Augustine are more than a thousand years old they are still read anew in every generation, speaking in ways that people understand, and still have a transformative effect upon their persons, while at the same time, just more than a hundred years or so ago, there were hundreds of thousands of passionate Hegelians, some forms of dogmatic rationalism holding a powerful sway over the universities and intelligentsia, while now they are seemingly extinct, and yet we still must read Hegel in order to understand our own era, because of his massive influence upon getting us from there to here.
Plato and Aristotle have the same effect; in a hundred years perhaps no one will be reading Quine, or Wittgenstein, or Rorty but I think we can say with a reasonable amount of credibility that as long as people study philosophy, they will be reading Plato and Aristotle, and in theology, without such an acute sureness, Augustine, Aquinas and Calvin.
So if you really want to start studying (P)hilosophy, start with the Major majors, because by the time you get a solid footing in their thought, (it is after all the bulk of the labor of doing philosophy) all of the other questions about what to do and how to do it should begin to answer themselves.