Presentation on the Apologetics Academy, Part 2

Hey everyone!

How would you respond if someone asked you, “Why do you think what the Bible says is true?”  Have you personally ever wondered why some people think the Bible is worth following, and not just one “holy book” among many?  Is Christianity fundamentally different than other religions?  This talk gives a crash course on those topics.  If you’re curious about the answers to those questions, take an hour to listen to what I learned from some of the foremost living apologists.  You can listen here on iTunes:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/apologetics-presentation-for/id273632568?i=320290798&mt=2

And if you want to get some background, part 1 is here on iTunes (if you want to skip details of my experience at the Academy, start at 11:13):

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/apologetics-presentation-for/id273632568?i=320290799&mt=2

You can also listen on a podcast app; just search simply “First Trinity” and select the podcast with the green background and Luther rose that lists Pastors Spittel and Andræ as contributors.  Finally, if you’re more old-school, the link to the talk itself is below, as well as the link to where it is on First Trinity’s (my church’s) website:

http://traffic.libsyn.com/firsttrinity/Apologetics-Talk2.mp3

http://www.firsttrinity.net/apologetics-presentation-for-first-trinity-part-2

Part 1 should also be pretty easy to find from the link to my church’s website.

Sorry for the faint audio on some of the questions, but I think you should be able to hear them all if you adjust the volume as needed.  Let me know in the comments if you need me to write up what the questions were!

The slides are here:

Note that if you download the presentation from SlideShare, you can get access to additional notes, though I think I covered basically all of them in the audio.

As always, please let me know what you think in the comments!  As I mention in the questions section of part 2, I really respect people who hold strong and well-examined beliefs, even if those beliefs are different than mine (that way we can have more interesting discussion, anyway!).

If you like what you hear, please share this post!  And if you really like what you hear, consider contacting me about coming to speak at your church.  Since I’m currently living in Pittsburgh, that area would be easiest for me to visit, but I’ll also be visiting my fiancé in Fort Wayne, IN as often as possible, so if you’re from that area, definitely feel free to contact me as well!

Thanks for reading and listening, everyone.

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Presentation on the Apologetics Academy, Part 1

Hey all!

So, I’m back!  I’ve had several crazy weeks with starting a new job and all, plus writing a quick response for Sister, Mother, Daughter, Wife (which is a pretty awesome site, and if you don’t already know that, you should check it out at this link).  I was also prepping for giving a talk on my experience/what I learned at the Apologetics Academy over the summer.  Though I was pretty nervous at the time, I think it went well =)  As long as you excuse the manifold “umm”s and the awkward beginning.  But anyway, if you’re interested, definitely check out my talk at this link:

http://traffic.libsyn.com/firsttrinity/Apologetics-Talk1.mp3

The accompanying slides are embedded here, via the magic of SlideShare (you can also click on the link below the embedded window to see a larger version and have the option to download the presentation):

Anyway, if you’re really interested, you can come hear part two this Sunday!

Also, please note that this talk was given in the context of a Bible study at First Trinity Lutheran Church in Pittsburgh, PA, and I tailored my content accordingly.  I posted the link to the content here so anyone who missed the actual talk could listen, but of course I don’t by any means intend this to be the be-all-end-all of discussion on such topics.  If you don’t agree with anything I said, please leave a comment!  I’m always looking for constructive criticism and new ideas =)  Or if you liked my talk, feel free to comment about that too!  Thanks, everyone.

Defending Marriage Against…Ourselves

When you think of the term, “defending marriage”, what images are conjured up in your mind? Against whom does marriage need defending?

A mob of people outside the Supreme Court, holding high their colorful signs portraying two women and/or two men holding hands?

A bunch of half-naked people in a gay pride parade, dancing and brandishing rainbow-colored banners?

What about yourself?

No, this is not a post written to convict people who experience same-sex attraction. This isn’t yet another post speaking out against the evils of cohabitation, or even a piece addressing the dangers of the hook-up culture. This one’s pointed squarely at you, heterosexuals. That is, pointed squarely at us.

There has been a lot of talk recently about how we as Christians need to fight the changes in culture that would allow same-sex marriage and the like to be recognized and accepted. There was even an article posted recently that reassured readers, “Your gut instincts [on the issue of one-man, one-woman marriage] are sound.” Now, I think I know what the author is talking about – natural law and the idea that everyone has a conscience, but some suppress it. I also understand that there are important consequences to consider when dealing with the public policy relating to widespread acceptance of homosexuality, such as the effect of same-sex marriage on children. However, the kind of language that seems so prevalent today – that is, “your gut instincts are sound” language, and the language that portrays a monolithic front of homosexuals encroaching on children – really strikes a nerve with me.

See, if we as Lutherans believe that we are simultaneously saint and sinner, that our impulses and desires are tainted by sin, that we “do the evil that we would not do”, as St. Paul says, I don’t think we should ever be reassured that our gut instincts are sound. In fact, I think our gut instincts manifest themselves in some pretty terrible ways. Though I could write about how married people do not always conduct themselves as they should to make marriage a picture of Christ and His Church here on earth, I don’t know those struggles as well as I know my own. So let’s look at my generation, those in their late teens and early twenties.

Now I haven’t done an extensive study or widely interviewed my friends on these issues, but I have pretty good reason to believe that my own experiences and those of the several people I have talked to are not unique. From what I know, I think that many young adults today who desire to be faithful Christians have been given so little guidance about sexuality that we end up with some strange hybrid of the Christian culture (“don’t have sex outside of marriage”) and the secular culture (“express your love for your ‘significant other’ through intimacy, until you find out you don’t want to anymore”). We end up practicing a sort of “serial monogamy” – that is, being intimate (though not necessarily having intercourse) with a boyfriend or girlfriend until we realize that we don’t really want to be with that person anymore. We then do this with a number of people, one at a time. Though we try to justify it to ourselves through any number of excuses, we are largely following our gut instinct to have sex outside of marriage. Because serial monogamy – even without the “real sex” (i.e. intercourse), because let’s be honest, sex is sex – is not, as some might say, “fine because God intended for men and women to be together (as opposed to men and men).” It can’t even be justified based on the fact that God designed sex hormones to kick in before marriage, fueling the desire before marriage is an option (although the average age of marriage is a topic I hope to cover in another post).

Essentially, what young adults are doing by practicing serial monogamy is following our own desires contrary to God’s instruction, to our own hurt. And I would contend that when leaders and even older laypeople in the church do not confront the issue of serial monogamy for what it is, but seem to focus on homosexuality as the sexual sin that they think needs [virtually] all of our focus, we have no basis for telling anyone that they can’t follow their different desires in another way that’s also contrary to God’s instruction.

It is a slap in the face of our friends, family members, and even complete strangers who experience same-sex attraction to implicitly hold the view that sexual stuff is not such a big deal outside of marriage as long as it’s with the opposite sex.

In fact, I would say that it alienates from the Church those who struggle with same-sex attraction. We cannot declare that we are sinners within the church building, but wage a war against “the homosexuals” outside; why would they ever feel welcome to come in? Those outside the Church should not even have to enter the confines of a church building to hear us confess that we are sinners, in the same lost and condemned condition that they are in, only with slightly different symptoms. Or do we not believe that anymore? Have we become like the Pharisees, so worried about the holiness of the Jews that they were blinded to their common condition with “sinners”? Do we no longer believe that we are the chiefs of sinners?

Maybe I sound cynical above, and I probably am being too harsh. I’m just so sick of the “circle the bandwagon” mentality that has seemed to replace (or at least drown out) the recognition that “the homosexuals” are also the sick for whom Christ came. I’m sick of realizing that my friends and family who identify as homosexual or struggle with same-sex attraction have good reason to feel unwelcome in my church body, which I love so dearly, despite its many faults. Regardless of whether or not there is a “gay agenda”, not everyone who is attracted to members of the same sex is part of a monolithic group that wants to redefine the culture – so let’s not talk about the issue that way. Let’s not make those who struggle with same-sex attraction feel like they have to choose between the Church – which seems to judge them more harshly than other sexual sinners (read: all of us) – and the community of people who understand their desires firsthand but want them to act on those desires and come to believe they are normal and healthy. Instead of talking about “defending marriage”, let’s share the Gospel with and welcome into our midst the people who are struggling with what is simply a different manifestation of the sexual sin that we all commit. I can’t guarantee that by doing so, we can “come out on top” in this earthly realm, but if we care about the battle for souls burdened by same-sex attraction, we cannot afford to keep up the rhetoric that we have been maintaining.

So let’s ask ourselves the question again – against whom does marriage need defending? Sinners. And who are sinners? All of us. Not just people who take the common view of relationships as simply intimacy with a lover, combine it with the fact that not everyone is attracted to the opposite sex, and demand legal recognition of their relationships. Marriage needs defending against all of us who would forget that we are sinners too, who would discount our particular type of sexual sin, and consequently drive people away from seeing the true marriage of Christ and His Church that saves us all from all of our perverted gut instincts.

May God have mercy on me for my daily failures in this area, and still bring His sheep into His Church, despite human failings on this issue.

[Not-so] Quick Update

Okay guys…I obviously haven’t been writing every couple of days like I had first intended.  Maybe my perfectionism is harder to break than I thought it’d be, or maybe it’s just my wordiness.  But I do have other reasons for not posting.  Here’s the story.

At first we covered so much material at the Academy that I didn’t quite know how to keep up with posting about each section, other than just writing articles that weren’t very well-written, coherent, or anywhere near comprehensive.  I didn’t think that was worth it.  But the more I’ve learned about the nature of apologetics and contemplated my vision for this blog, the more I’ve realized that posting summaries of what I’ve learned isn’t the way I want to go, for several reasons.  

One (should-have-been-obvious) reason is that these things have been treated in many well-written books.  Even though overviews of apologetical areas might be useful, I’m probably not the one to make them; concision is not my strong suit!  However, if people are really interested in learning about [how to do] apologetics, I think it makes much more sense for them to read the books that treat these subjects at much more length than an overview could.  If people are interested in which books the Academy recommended in each of the areas I’ve learned about, I can post that!

Additionally, I’ve thought more about my intended audience, and how the medium I’m using should influence my presentation.  Obviously, this blog is publicly accessible on the Internet, so anyone from anywhere can read it.  And because I’m hoping my blog will start discussions of important issues among as wide of an audience as possible, I don’t want to present everything in a way that will only resonate with [a specific subset of] Christians.  Although some articles will probably be “inside baseball,” I would like for non-Christians to read my posts as well, especially those who are interested in Christianity.  We’ve talked here at the Academy about how people (understandably!) get defensive when their worldview even begins to be torn down, and though non-truthful (and consequently harmful) worldviews do need to be debunked, I wouldn’t want anyone to be turned away from Christianity because they read an overview of say, scientific apologetics, and interpreted it as my “decisive rebuttal against materialism, in twelve hundred words or less!”  Even just writing that sentence makes me cringe at how naïve and insensitive it sounds to try to present a neat, tidy, and incredibly short argument that completely tears down someone else’s way of life and presents no alternative (not that I’d want to leave them with no alternative, but I couldn’t also fit the historical case for Christ into that same 1200 words, and I can’t guarantee they’d read another post that would be intended as a complement).

This also relates to another thing we’ve talked about here at the Academy – that apologetics is largely interpersonal.  Written materials can certainly be useful in learning more about the case for Christianity, but first the prospective reader must have a motivation for reading them.  For example, Dr. Montgomery (the Academy’s director and distinguished apologist) has said that the writings of C. S. Lewis influenced his conversion, but what sparked his interest in the claims of Christianity were the discussions that he had with a fellow student at Cornell.  In drafting this post, I wrote up a whole big discussion of how the Internet is even more complex than books, but then I deleted it.  Suffice it to say, I worry about how impersonal the Internet can be, and how anyone can find support for anything they want to believe.  Like I mentioned above, I’d prefer my blog be used to start discussions about important things like worldview, among people who care about each other – i.e., interpersonally.  I really hope it doesn’t become just something that people skim for two minutes, then abandon for a funny video or a “20 best” list.  I hope it really prompts reflection, even if no other person is involved, and regardless of the reader’s religious views.  Knowing myself (and how addicting those “20 best” lists are!), this might be a lot to hope for, but I’m going to do everything I can to make the content as compatible with that vision as possible.

So, that’s my reasoning for changing my plans as to how I’m going to share my Apologetics Academy experience.  Sorry if it’s not super cohesive; it’s late here, and the past couple of weeks of classes have really worked my brain!  Anyway, though I have changed my plans, I definitely still plan to share my experience through future posts on this blog.  I’m in the process of brainstorming topics, and I think one post I might write in the near future would be titled, “When Secularism Makes More Sense than Christianity.”  I don’t really want to reveal what the content of the post would be, but of course there would be qualifiers, haha.  I’ve never considered myself good at making up titles, but I have to say, I’m having fun thinking of controversial-sounding (and hopefully thought-provoking) titles!

For now, though, I need to get to sleep so I can study tomorrow for the Academy’s final exam on Saturday morning!    

The What and Why of Apologetics

So, it’s come to my attention that before writing about what I’m learning with regard to apologetics, I should probably define and explain the reasons for studying and using apologetics!  As it turns out, the Academy’s professors were one step ahead of me, because that was a major part of today’s session.  So in this post I’ll give you a summary of Professor Craig Parton’s case for apologetics, plus a little of my own opinion of why apologetics is necessary.

The word apologetics comes from the Greek word “apologia,” or “defense,” and is probably most succinctly defined as the defense of the Christian faith.  This can take many forms; the types of apologetics that are being covered at the Academy this year include Philosophical, Scientific, Historical, and Literary/Cultural apologetics, among others.  That is, the objections to Christianity that are raised by non-Christians can be quite varied, but there are good answers to non-Christian objections in all of these categories and beyond.  I’m sure I’ll go into more detail on each of these categories in the coming weeks, but for now, I’ll give you a brief discussion of why apologetics matters.

First and foremost, apologetics is Biblical.  Perhaps the most well known passage in support of apologetics is 1 Peter 3:15, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.”  This makes it clear that the defense of the faith isn’t just for the apostle Paul, who is described many times in Acts as giving a defense of the faith.  Yet Paul gives great examples of apologetics in action; Acts 17 contains the story of his presenting the defense of the faith to Greek philosophers, and Acts 26 describes Paul’s defense of the Gospel to King Agrippa, to whom he notably said, “This thing [the historical events of Christianity] has not been done in a corner.”  That is, the Christian faith is based in history (we’ll come back to this later!).  In fact, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:6 that over 500 people saw the resurrected Christ, and most of them were still living at the time of his writing (implying that they could be questioned directly about the event).  Even since the Old Testament, God hasn’t been afraid of giving proof that He is the true God; just take the example of the prophet Elijah “taking on” the prophets of Baal in the presence of the Israelites in 1 Kings 18 (if you don’t remember, that’s when God incinerated a soaking wet sacrifice in response to Elijah’s prayer, whereas the prophets of Baal couldn’t get so much as a bolt of lightning to come anywhere near their sacrifice, despite ceremonially cutting themselves).  I could go on, but suffice it to say, apologetics is thoroughly Biblical.

Second, apologetics is not “in competition” with more familiar elements of Christianity, e.g. evangelism, preaching, the means of grace, etc.  The intellectual nature of apologetics is not at odds with faith, either; remember that we are called to love God not only with our whole heart, but also with our whole mind.  Professor Parton made the extremely important distinction that faith must have an object, and apologetics simply gives evidence that Christ is the only worthy object of faith.  Apologetics does not purport to be able to intellectually convince anyone into faith, yet it does remove the misconceptions that people have picked up, which is always helpful before people come to faith – or maybe sometimes, while they’re coming to faith.  Really, apologetics can even help people who are already Christian with the concerns that they have (e.g. the problem of evil, whether or not the Bible is reliable, etc.).  Essentially, apologetics should be seen (as it used to be, I learned today!) as just another aspect of theology, not at odds with theology as we know it. 

Third, apologetics is necessary in our secular world.  As we talked about for most of the session today, the western world didn’t abandon Christianity overnight; secularization has been going on for a long time.  Therefore presenting the case for Christianity usually isn’t just as easy as presenting what the Bible says; often people hold to misconceptions (e.g., that Christianity is based solely on emotion, not at all on reason) and arguments that prevent them from taking the Word seriously.  The fact that some of the objections to Christianity have been around for hundreds of years makes it somewhat understandable that they seem legitimate to many people; after all, wouldn’t these objections have been answered by now if there were answers?  Well, yes, as it turns out.  There are great answers to at least the vast majority of objections to Christianity, and some of these answers were around for centuries even before they were raised again more recently (i.e. in the 18th and 19th centuries).  The fact that these objections were not answered with sufficient force a few centuries ago is unfortunate, but that doesn’t mean that the answers don’t exist, and it doesn’t mean these answers can’t be used now to remove people’s barriers to faith in Christ. 

Finally, apologetics is necessary in our increasingly pluralistic society.  This isn’t something that we talked about explicitly in the Academy session today, but it is very closely tied in with the fact that I noted above, that Christianity is based on historical events.  As many of the books written by the professors here have discussed, Christianity is very different from nearly all other religions in that it makes verifiable (or on the other hand, falsifiable) claims based on historical events, most especially the resurrection.  As Paul says, if the resurrection didn’t happen, Christians are most to be pitied among all of humanity, because then Christianity isn’t true!  Most other religions’ claims to legitimacy are based on the feeling of their being right or true, or on their “working for you” (to provide you with peace, happiness, etc.).  In other words, these religions cannot be proved true or false; all that can be done is to experience them.  And one can’t simply experience all religions to figure out which one “works for you”; there are far too many!  Much less can one experience all religions in order to figure out which is objectively true (because they make contradictory claims, they cannot all be true, but that’s a topic for another post!).  Christianity stands in stark contrast, claiming that it is objectively true based on historical facts that can be investigated with standard evidential methods.  If this kind of apologetic is not used when presenting Christianity, it is easy for a non-Christian to ask what’s so different about Christianity that he should follow it.  Why not Buddhism, Islam, or atheism?  These belief systems “work” for countless people around the world, but their truthfulness cannot be verified, whereas Christianity’s truthfulness is supported by the most rigorous examination.  Christian apologetics, therefore, gives an answer to the question of “why Christianity?” that is so central to the pluralistic society in which we live. 

Well, I think this post has gotten long enough!  Since today was a kind of introductory, overview day at the Academy, I touched on a lot of things in this post that will probably be expanded upon later.  So if you’re particularly interested in anything that I talked about here, let me know in the comments, and I’ll make sure to give special attention to it when I write about it later, either in these two weeks, or maybe sometime later in a separate post.  Thanks for reading! ^.^

The Inaugural Post (and, “What’s up with the name?”)

Hi friends, family, and random other Internet people!  Welcome to my new blog! ^.^

So, what’s up with this blog?  Well, this year has already been a pretty life-changing one for me, between graduating with an engineering degree from Carnegie Mellon University and getting engaged to an amazing guy, Josh DeYoung.  I’ve also been given the amazing opportunity to study at the International Academy of Apologetics, Evangelism, and Human Rights in Strasbourg, France – which starts in just a few days! 

For a while I’ve thought I’d like to start a blog about apologetics, the theological aspects of cultural issues, and the importance of these things to today’s young adults.  Unfortunately, I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so I tend to spend too much time on things I write, and have been putting off blogging for that reason.  But several people have expressed interest in learning more about what I’ll be learning at the Academy, so I’m taking this opportunity to try to break myself out of my perfectionism (at least as it relates to blogging!), and at the same time inform friends and family of what I’m learning (and maybe of some escapades!). 

So for the next couple of weeks I’ll try to post something every day or two to update everyone on what I’m learning about the defense of the Christian faith, and then after that, you can bug me if I don’t post frequently enough!  Topic suggestions are welcome, too =) 

Now, what’s up with the blog’s name?  For a while, my dad has said that he loves watching God work in my life, and I suppose I’ve inherited that from him.  I love looking back at the little details that have made a big difference in my life, like the almost-overlooked PDF that changed which college (and campus ministry!) that I ended up going to, and the Facebook comment that eventually led to my engagement.  Now that there are more and more “big details” that are or will be impacting me in a big way, I can’t help but marvel at the way God works things out and continues to shape the person I am.  I really wanted to include this sentiment in my blog title, especially since the topic will morph from travelogue to something more nebulous quite soon (i.e., “Kaitlyn Goes to France” would be inaccurate quite soon!).  So I decided to allude to Isaiah, where he describes God’s people as “the work of [His] hand” (Isaiah 64:8).  But as it turns out, other passages that I didn’t remember from Isaiah are particularly applicable as well:

“Shall the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’
Or shall your handiwork say, ‘He has no hands’?” (Isaiah 45:9b)

 

“Surely you have things turned around!
Shall the potter be esteemed as the clay;
For shall the thing made say of him who made it,
‘He did not make me’?
Or shall the thing formed say of him who formed it,
‘He has no understanding’?” (Isaiah 29:16)

In France I will be learning to give an answer to those who would claim that there is no “potter,” or that the “potter” can’t be known, or that all religions follow the same “potter.”  But of course, as a simultaneously-saint-and-sinner, I need constant reminding that I’m not any better than such people, and that my actions frequently imply that this potter doesn’t really have the understanding necessary to guide my life, or my best interest at heart.  Thanks be to God that such distrust has been taken care of through His Son!  And that is the Person to whom I will be learning to point, in France and throughout my entire life. 

So if any of this sounds interesting to you, stick around and leave comments, especially things you might want me write about, and/or constructive criticism – I’m definitely not infallible, and I’m always open to reconsidering my understanding of things!  And if you like what you read, feel free to share, and let’s get more people talking about apologetics, theology, and culture.