Friday, January 30, 2009

A New Approach to Christian Apologetics

I had the distinct pleasure of hearing the author, conservative thinker, and Christian apologist Dinesh D'Souza at a breakfast seminar this morning. As a result of hearing this outstanding presentation, I highly recommend the purchase of his new book, "What's So Great about Christianity?"

Among other topics D'Souza covered was his approach to Christian apologetics. Understand that "apologetics" does not mean saying we're sorry, as we have no reason to do so. The word simply means "defense of the faith."

Dinesh D'Souza is a very practical man. He has a unique ability to dismiss personal predjudices and cultural bias in considering an issue. Thus he is able to penetrate to the heart of a problem and see it for what it is. In the case of defending the faith, he has perceived that the reason so many Christians are ineffective in successfully presenting the gospel is that we automatically default to Scripture to explain and promote our message. Atheists and those who subscribe to other religions, notably Islam, dismiss the Christian gospel message out of hand because they grant no credibility to the Bible.

It's as if (and this is my analogy, not D'Souza's, so please be charitable if it's clumsy) a science fiction writer said "In the universe I have imagined, the sky is green, trees grow roots up and leaves in the soil, and birds have three wings and fly backwards. Now allow me to explain the meaning of life to you in the context of this universe." Of course we would respond that his imagination is no basis for a cogent discussion of meaning.

Similarly, we may wish to put the Bible aside when initially presenting the Christian gospel message and approach the unbeliever on common ground. One of the best ways to do this is to ask "Do you agree that this world can be dangerous, uncomfortable, infuriating, and even deadly?" Few would answer in the negative, so we can then ask "Do you believe there is a higher plane of existence, be it more moral or more peaceful or more desirable, which is well above that of ordinary human existence?" Virtually everyone has a concept of heaven or whatever name they wish to give it. A follow-up question is "Is this plane so much higher than ordinary life that it cannot be reached except by extraordinary effort?" Again, most will agree: one's view of heaven generally greatly transcends the toil and travail of earthly life.

At this point, you point out that various religions have unique views about the means of attaining this higher level:
* Hindus believe that the reason we wallow in the mess of this life and do not ascend to the higher plane is because of "I." The self, the ego, the I/me get in the way of purity. Therefore it is necessary to deny the "I" by sitting cross-legged and staring open-eyed at the sun or other such maneuvers.
* In Shintoism, the major religion of Japan, the concept includes more than three million gods, each with a different purpose, personality, and sphere of operation. To appease these gods and obtain their favor, one must perform prescribed rituals for each god.
* Jews believe that observance of the Law and faithful adherence to kosher rituals will earn a ticket to the higher plane.
* Muslims live in fear that Allah, or his accountant, will find that the number of good deeds they have done in Allah's name may not outnumber the number of transgressions they have committed. Islamofascists have expanded upon this theme, declaring that a Muslim who commits suicide on the field of battle (which they define as anywhere the infidel is present) will have performed such a magnificent service that it will cancel out all transgressions--and earn an immediate trip to the higher plane, complete with 72 virgins and the eternal slavery of the infidels one killed in the act. Clever psychology, that.
* Cults such as Mormons and Jehovah's Witness and the like all require prescribed acts of service to gain sufficient "points" for entry into the higher plane.

The problem with all of these, and with virtually every human religious construct, is that the higher plane is in fact so high that works cannot attain it. D'Souza compares it to the necessity to swim from Los Angeles to Hawaii in order to qualify. In this scenario, one swims lesser or further depending upon one's righteousness as defined by acceptable works. The John Pipers, Billy Grahams, and Bill Brights of the world will swim perhaps five miles, even up to ten, while sinners like me will barely wade into the water before the waves will overcome us. Eventually the sea wins, all swimmers tire, and all sink beneath the surface, never to achieve the goal. Moreover, in all religions, the god one seeks couldn't care less who swims and who sinks. He or it is totally non-involved, uncaring, remote, and unapproachable.

So how can one actually get to the higher plane if all human effort is doomed to failure?

The answer is what separates Christianity from all other forms of theology. Christianity is not a religion per se, in that it does not dictate a works-based formula for qualification to the higher plane. In fact, it is completely the opposite. The Christian God Himself descends to the level of human existence because He so loves the beings whom He has created in His own spiritual image and likeness. Unlike the small-d dieties of religions, the Christian God becomes the very ladder which ordinary humans can climb to reach the higher plane. All that is necessary is that one believe that the ladder exists and accept it as the God-given way to live and to move up after this earthly life is over.

It is not necessary in this construct to explain that one does not actually climb the ladder called Jesus Christ to reach heaven, and that it is more of an instantaneous transference of spirit at the moment of justification. All of that can be detailed with a biblical discourse after the light of understanding dawns.

My Christian friends, if you're like me, you ache to one degree or another for everyone you meet whom you know is not saved, knowing that their soul will live forever in a place so unimaginably horrible that to fully dwell upon it for any length of time is to approach insanity. This approach that Dinesh D'Souza postulates appears to be a highly effective means of presenting the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ in an inoffensive and even intriguing manner.

Thank you, Dinesh, and may God bless you and everyone who employs your strategy to help the lost to see the light of truth.

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