Apologetics, and making disciples.

A reply to a comment that I made several years ago on UnkleE’s blog popped up in my email the other day, concerning a debate about the existence of God and the argument that rejecting god is an act of faith in itself. I wrote;

“… I was always exaspected (sic) by the argument that the position I was taking was one of faith or belief in itself. Someone had invented an imaginary idea and I thought that they were delusional. If I came to visit you in Sydney and said ‘look, I’ve brought my gold and sparky unicorn with me, here she is’, You would say ‘Eva, there is no unicorn there but would you like a coffee and a scone?’ And we would have a nice afternoon. Your denial of my pet would not constitute a whole belief system on your part- it would just be a simple ‘no it’s not’.

Now I felt this before I officially identified as a Christian, and I still firmly believe it. I don’t think that not believing in God is a belief system. Not believing in something is just that… the absence of something.

But I guess this essentially sums up my feeling for most apologetics arguments. I just don’t find them very persuasive. Has anyone ever been argued into faith? Maybe this suits some personality types. Not me though. For me faith was and is a matter of personal experience. It’s not about logic, or reason, it’s a heart movement; both unpredictable and god-led.

So, where does this leave me in regards to the Great Commission? Making disciples of all nations?

Well, it leaves me in a pretty ordinary position, really, if it actually means arguing with people until they see your point of view. Because that always works so well, doesn’t it? People love being told that you don’t agree with them, and that you should take on their world view.

Maybe though it’s not about debate and countering arguments. Maybe it’s about putting our faith into action. How we live rather than what we say.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’There is no commandment greater than these.

And I think that one of the best places to practice loving your neighbor as yourself is in a high school. My GOD teenagers test you. And now, just to add some interest to my year, we have…holocaust deniers.

I actually can’t think of another world view that I find more reprehensible that holocaust denial. As my readers would know, I’m particularly passionate about teaching teenagers about the holocaust. I avoided the topic for years myself, refusing to even read the details about what happened, in an effort to shield my own heart. But eventually I realised that I needed to fully interact with the stories and the evidence of the holocaust in order to be able to teach it in a way that comes even close to doing it justice.

So I got into the topic deeply. Too deeply, I guess. It’s often one of the things that keeps me awake at night. And I feel the pressure of really, really making 15-16 year old understand it; how poisonous the beliefs were behind it, how eagerly a people took on its tenants and how utterly and totally the world must be alert to the mindsets that caused it to grow in the first place.

And I always teach holocaust denial as part of the unit, because those people are so fucking clever, with their seemingly rational arguments and their flash websites. I can see why a kid with a chip on his shoulder and an internet connection could believe all the toxicity.

This year, for the first time, I teach students who profess to be holocaust deniers.

And I have to love them. Because they are confused kids who need someone to hate because their lives aren’t that great. And after one told me that the Jews have exaggerated it all to get attention, was I temped to tell him that his name is pretty much as Jewish as you can get? Yes I was but I didn’t. And when the 16 year old who is taller than me and often under the influence of drugs yelled out in my class while I was teaching that 6 million Jews didn’t die, that it was a holohoax and that he was a fascist, I treated him calmly and with respect because first. that is my job and secondly, if I had made fun of him or sent him out of the class then what would he have remembered? And what would the class have remembered?

(What I actually did was offer him the floor to state his arguments. As I said, I teach the deniers arguments anyway so I asked him  if he would like to present them rather than me. He declined, but the offer was genuine. I would have rebutted them thoroughly mind you)

Last week one of my students sat down to have a chat with me. There are a lot of kids with a lot of different issues at my school, and it’s not uncommon to make someone breakfast because they have slept in their car, or that someone will come to school stoned after pulling 6 cones to start the day. And if that’s what your life is like? Well you’re not going to arrive at 9 am with a sharpened pencil and a mind ready to study the Schlieffen Plan. So sometimes a chat to start the day is the way to go. And this was one of those occasions.

Anyway, we were talking and he asked me what else I would do if I wasn’t a teacher. I said that I’d probably like to be a chaplain. And of course we ended up on the familiar ‘you don’t seem like a Christian’ page, so I gave a little 30 second version of things. And he asked about a street preacher that spouts fire and brimstone in town, and whether I thought he (the student) was going to hell , and what did I think about and drugs and gays and all that complex stuff and why did I believe?? And I told him that I don’t have any choice but to believe, because that is how my heart is calibrated now. And it makes me happy. And it’s just all about loving people.

Later on, he came back in and asked if he could write down a song that he wanted me to listen to, because it was about what we had been discussing, and he thought about it a lot. And then he asked if he could google it for me. And then it turned into him wanting to listen to it with me. He really wanted me to hear it. And I’m so glad that I did.

(Language warning. Seriously)

 

Read the lyrics here.

So I sat there, with a young man who uses too many drugs, who is trying to make sense of the world. And there’s me who is also just trying to make sense of the world and not always doing a great job, watching this amazing song that brought tears to my eyes because this hip-hop artist is rapping a lament that could be a psalm, and is about hope and disappointment and pleading for some certainty or just something to hang on to. And haven’t we all been there, crying out for help or just something to save us from a hopeless choice or the idea that we are going to end up abandoning not just God but life itself as well.

After we had watched it, he turned to me and asked ‘I know what he is talking about. I want to believe in god but I just don’t know and I don’t see any proof but I think that there is something.  I bet you feel like that sometimes too?’ and I replied ‘Absolutely. The Bible is full of questions and searching. I think God would totally be on board with that song’.

As he left the classroom, he said ‘Don’t worry too much about (his close friend who is one of the deniers). I don’t think he really understands what he’s talking about and how bad it is. I think he just wants to shock people. He likes you though’.

So, me and making disciples? Not so much. Making people feel that they are important and valuable people and that they are listened to? Trying to emulate a loving God who manifests unconditional acceptance and will show up day after day no matter how unlikable we are? Trying to take a grain of that, and make it happen in my own life?

That I can try to do. I can’t make disciples in the sense of using apologetics as a tool for winning a debate. But I can try to love people that my ego doesn’t always want to love and I can just keep coming back, realizing that I may not always know what’s going on, but sometimes my actions may be just a little stitch in a big tapestry that one day, I might be able to understand.

24 thoughts on “Apologetics, and making disciples.

  1. Hi Eva, I’ve got to say that this is an extraordinarily good and moving post. I agree with you about the song/rap, it isn’t all that different in content to some of the Psalms and it expresses something that I think is very common today – a deep wish for something more in life, a feeling that somewhere “out there” there is probably something like God, but he/she/it’s keeping himself hidden and religion/churches don’t seem to help.

    I admire the work you do as a teacher and the approach you take to the students. The best teachers (I think) tend to be popular with the students, treat them with respect and take time to listen.

    I also sort of agree with you about apologetics. It is important to me, and always has been, but I have found that it isn’t important to most people. Most people seem to form their belief or disbelief about God either from personal experience, as you have, or rather randomly. But I have found that more people are taking an interest in facts, evidence and arguments these days, in many cases because that is the way spiritual sceptics see things. I have had many people speak to me over the years either because they are christians who were facing up to anti-faith arguments, or they were non-believers looking for reasonable answers. So it seems there is a market there, and I try to meet that need.

    But there are dangers. Although I try to avoid argument, it is hard (as you know) if someone who disagrees with me wants to be argumentative. And you have highlighted the main problem with apologetics – our main task is to love God and love our neighbours, and apologetics can get in the way of that. I try to do both, but I’m only human.

    Sorry about the long comment, but to get back to your post – thanks for sharing, and keep on keeping on! 🙂

    • Thanks Eric. From what I have seen, many people who ask questions regarding evidence of say, Christianity, are looking to argue with the points, not genuinely engage. Or, of course, they are just not going to be convinced by the arguments no matter how earnestly they seek, which is the case for me. For all my reading around the topics, and trying to take on board the discussions, I would never have come to faith if that was all that was given to me. I’m thankful that God took matters into her own hands 😉

    • But I have found that more people are taking an interest in facts, evidence and arguments these days, in many cases because that is the way spiritual sceptics see things

      As Eva pointed out, it is doubtful that anyone was ever reasoned into faith/christianity but I would wager that every religious person who deconverted was because of facts and evidence.

      So how does a person still ”in the faith” deal with one that has left it? A person who is now citing all the arguments against what you believe as truth from the perspective of likely having been in exactly the same position (faith/belief-wise) you or any other believer is still in?

      When a deconvert can now look at what they once considered positive evidence for their faith as little more than subtle or not so subtle indoctrination based on a presuppositional worldview built ”arse backwards” so their version of facts will fit.

      Are these people who have been on both sides of the fence truly the ones who are now delusional or are there still questions pertaining to scientific evidence that believers simply refuse to tackle honestly?

      1.The Human Genome Project and the scientific refutation of a biblical Adam and Eve.( no Original Sin, no need for a saviour and thus no ”need” for a resurrection – or a hell in whatever form )

      Which, of course, throws arguments by the likes of Habermas and his ”facts” into complete disarray rendering them nothing but unfounded assertions.

      2.The Captivity, Exodus and Conquest of Canaan ( No Moses, no encounter with Yahweh, no Ten Commandments) which are all acknowledged as nothing but geopolitical fiction.

      The fictitious Adam and Eve and Exodus stories are crucial foundational tenets of Christianity yet many Christians who claim their faith is built upon rock solid evidence refuse to address these two issues.

      How do you,or any Christian claiming truth reconcile the overwhelming scientific evidence that refutes your own evidence claims?

      • Why do you insist that Adam and Eve and the Exodus are “crucial foundational tenets of Christianity”? They’re certainly NOT foundational for my faith. I’m entirely comfortable accepting them as myth, and rejected the notion of “original sin” about the same time I stopped pulling girls’ pigtails and seeing how far I could see up the wall.

        Why is it that the only two groups of people who insist on reading the bible literally are creationists and atheists?

        • I hate that you can’t edit in WordPress! I wasn’t trying to “see” up the wall; like all the other little boys, I was trying to see how far I could pee up the wall. (Of course, grown men still do this, except now we call them politicians.)

        • So how do you explain the Ten Commandments, for example?
          As we are dealing with fiction, how do explain that the character Jesus of Nazareth mentions the Law and Moses and Abraham etc as if these things people were real historical events/people?

          The gospels clearly indicate that Jesus was the fulfillment of prophecy, so were the writers uniformed of the truth or simply creating a fiction? (lying).

  2. Great post. 🙂

    St. John says that you can show that you love God by loving others. You are doing a good job of doing that!

    FiN

  3. Apologetics isn’t a term used in the UK, so I had to look it up.
    If we argue against an other position it is because we are attached to our belief.
    What if belief is not the issue, but attachment is.
    Perhaps you are able to support your students so well because you are not attached but seek to understand.
    Love this post Eva!

    • Thank you for that Val. I’m finding that I have to let go of the ‘issue’ and just focus on the person. I think we all need to try to understand more fully.

  4. Apologetics kinda sits alongside your Richard Rohr quote, no? (“The primary addiction of all humans is addiction to our thinking”)

    Matthew 28: 19-29 doesn’t get much air time with me. In part, because of the way it’s been abused (i.e. used as an excuse for forcing Christianity upon others) and in part because the translation itself is problematic: “make disciples of all nations” is a pretty imprecise handling of the Greek “matheutasate”. Perhaps the best effort is “disciple all peoples”, but “disciple” doesn’t really function as a verb in English and we finish up with the unhelpful imperative “make”.

    In the end, your approach seems to me to the most genuine interpretation of all. “Go into all the world and love those you find yourself with – even if they’re drugged up, Holocaust-denying teenagers!”

  5. Thanks for your post. It is a very moving story and I think does capture what ‘showing God’ to others really means.
    I have seen it pointed that the meaning of the word ‘believe’ has changed in more recent times. It used to mean having a strong commitment to something. For instance, believing in your favourite sports team or believing in democracy. Whereas now it is used to mean whether we are convinced of a set of facts. Unfortunately, a lot of apologetics has followed the more recent meaning and tried to argue for faith based on facts. However, no matter what facts you might be able to put together, it brings us not closer to the question of faith. If we could prove beyond doubt that Jesus lived and died the way according to everything in the gospel and even that he was seen again after death – it would still miss the point of why his life and death is so important.
    I think you are doing amazing work with your students
    God bless

    • Oh absolutely. I’ve been a teacher for 20 years, and I’ve always connected with the ‘tricky’ kids, those that others prefer not to teach and I had just as much empathy and love for my students when I was an atheist as I do now. While think I am becoming more patient, I’d say that’s got more to do with the fact that I’m getting older than anything else.

  6. Well… Just a Season adjustment:
    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everybody.

    Mauro

    One hundred years past Fatima’s prophecies, let’s pray for Satan is removed from controlling the aberrations he provided to our troubled world during the last century.
    Mary, Queen of Peace, intercede for us who are in our trial!

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