I was attracted to a Facebook post on my timeline by a friend who had made a comment concerning the rising issue of prosperity gospel generally in the world, and particularly, in Africa. In his comment section, he made the case that Christian bloggers should pursue apologetics and polemics for the sake of the body of Christ. This was a good challenge for me, especially because the nature of this blog has a firm basis for apologetics. Under the submission to scripture, I enjoy and seek to learn more concerning “faith seeking understanding” a phrase employed by the 11th Century theologian, St. Anselm of Canterbury. To take up this challenge, I have decided to do a mini-series of posts on apologetics as follows:
- Apologetics 101: The What – Introduction
- Apologetics 102: The Why – Purpose
- Apologetics 103: The How – Biblical Examples
- Apologetics 104: A Contemporary Concern – Prosperity Gospel in Africa
This is the second post in a series of posts whose aim is to both demystify apologetics as well as offer scriptural examples of how it can be of benefit to both believers and unbelievers.
A Big Word for Ordinary People
To be honest, the word itself is bound to get you strange stares. “Apologetics” sounds like a reservation for intellectuals, whose basis of admission is their number of degrees. Of course, we know that we cannot make rash judgements in this manner: In God’s economy of things, the mind and hence rational persuasion, is a tool that should be used for godliness. And the mind is something that is inherently human and therefore worthy of investing time and God’s grace in its development. No wonder then that Paul’s advice to the early Church centers on our mindsets, that is, the way our minds are set:
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Thinking with the Mind or Feeling with the Heart?
Most wisdom traditions acknowledge the direct relationship between our mindsets and behavior. No wonder then, Scripture observes that “For as he [man] thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7 KJV) Yet in our personal lives, we see another reality. Though at times we have good thoughts, we usually have a hard time translating them into actions. Here a prophet’s word gives us another underlying principle: Our hearts are not to be fully trusted. (Jer. 17:9) This principle is evident especially in the area of relationships.
A friend of mine was saying that if she ever falls in love with someone, we should help her to kagua (examine) the character of the gentleman. She was aware that at the point she falls in love, all her reasoning flies out the window! Even for the Christian, as soon as he thinks he is humble, he experiences a fall. In short, Paul, Jeremiah and Solomon observe the truth that while our hearts are deceitful, the antidote is renewal through the Spirit’s working of God’s Word in our hearts. In this regard, apologetics may be useful in dealing with doubt.
Dealing with Doubt
One of the accusations that is made towards Christians is that they pretend to know everything. Part of the reason is that whereas the place of certainty is elevated, doubts and questions are relegated. Few times are people encouraged, within communities of Faith, to ask questions that trouble them. However, the truth of the matter is that we experience doubt in our silent moments. When we lose the things or people we hold in high regard, we are numbed into a raging silence. At such moments, for instance, we doubt. We doubt God. We look at the realities of wars in the nations of the world, and to offer a word of encouragement becomes fleeting. Job and Jesus both were immersed in periods of personal and national crises. Job lost everything in his life. Jesus could not have been born in a more tumultuous time. We can relate with some of these personal and national crises in our lives as Kenyans.
However, in both cases faith in their heavenly Father was evident. As Job struggles with (theodicy) the problem of evil and suffering, we can see him resting in God’s sovereign plan for him.
But he knows the way that I take;
when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.
My foot has held fast to his steps;
I have kept his way and have not turned aside.
I have not departed from the commandment of his lips;
I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food.
But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back?
What he desires, that he does.
For he will complete what he appoints for me,
and many such things are in his mind. (Job 23:10-14)
If God is loving, how can he allow suffering? Though a valid question, we can see some objections from scriptural records of God’s nature:
- God is sovereign: “he does whatever he pleases” (Rom. 11:33-36). He can use even bad occurrences for good outcomes (recall Joseph’s story in Gen. 50:20)
- God is love: he acts on behalf of his children from a place of love. It is evident that whatever bad situations befall us, in the long run, they reveal God’s love. (See Paul’s emphasis “in ALL things” Rom. 8:28)
- Suffering in the life of a Christian: The hot currency today is prosperity. Whereas proponents of prosperity theology reduce God to an ATM machine, the saints in the New Testament acknowledged the place of suffering in revealing God’s glory. Peter, Paul and John observe that suffering allows others to witness God’s good news, God’s grace and the love of the Spirit that binds believers together (Phil. 1:29, 2:27, 3:12-13; 1 Thes. 2:14; 1 Pet. 4:13-14; 1 John 3:13-14). We are to move from a place of being self-centered to God-centered! This is a journey.
It is such scriptural reasoning that reminds us why apologetics is necessary even for believers. It reminds us of God’s love and sovereign plan for us. Even in cases where we have been recipients of the injustice of others, we are reminded to trust in the God who avenges for us. Apologetics helps us to deal with our doubt and strengthens our faith.
Evangelizing those who Doubt
On the same front, apologetics is a handmaid to evangelism. Christians sometimes depreciate the place of apologetics by asserting that reasonable arguments can never convert unbelievers. While the heart motives that makes such a judgement may be genuine, the reasoning may be false. Are we saying that God cannot use reasoning to bring people to Faith? By the same breath, then why tell people about the gospel if God’s Spirit can convict people of sin? The principle is that while God’s divine sovereignty holds a lot of weight, in God’s plan of redemption, human responsibility is equally important. Hence, God can use words and reasonable arguments for revealing his good news to those who stubbornly doubt (Rom. 10:14; See also the many number of times that it is recorded of the apostles how they reasoned with others in the book of Acts e.g. Acts 17:22-31). As was made clear in the first post, being Christ-centered and Spirit-led is pertinent to our efforts in evangelizing.
It is rather evident, or at least it should be, that being a Christian today and standing for your convictions will you get you a seat at the corner. Given the rate at which atheism has been getting press, apologetics is needed now more than ever to deal with the doubt among believers and skeptics alike. In this online, Standard Newspaper article, Harrison Mumia of Atheists in Kenya observes that the objection given to his organization’s desire to be registered by the Education Cabinet Secretary was that the name was not very friendly. Our sneering on unfriendly names ought to be backed up by reasons. G. K. Chesterton rightly observed that “It is generally the man who is not ready to argue, who is ready to sneer.” Much is needed to address such cultural shifts.
In order to deal with doubt, we would have to walk in a manner that would leave others without excuse. Secondly, we would need to offer reasons for the hope we have. In a land and century whose icons are Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, Christopher Hitchens and others who are skeptical towards the faith, we need to equip ourselves for battle. We acknowledge too, that while the battle is spiritual, it is also a battle of ideas. The prerogative is “to take every thought captive to Christ.” (Eph. 6:12, 2 Cor. 10:5). Of course the icons quoted above would have us think that it is only arguments from scientific evidence that would hold their weight. In the current phase of increasing relativity, we are persuaded, that there is more than only a natural understanding of the world. In this battle of the basic presumptions about the world, William Craig observes that apologetics can offer a viable option for thinking people. To assert his point, Craig quotes J. Gresham Machen, the great Princeton Theologian who observed the important battlefield of ideas:
False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the Gospel. We may preach with all the fervor of a reformer and yet succeed only in winning a straggler here and there, if we permit the whole collective thought of the nation to be controlled by ideas which prevent Christianity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless delusion.
As an engineer who sees the place of scientific phenomena and their application to the world, the questions of purpose, existence and afterlife are given by another Person. In the Christ whom I have believed in, based on scriptural evidence, I see the natural and supernatural realities embedded in him, and his work on the Cross gives proper perspective to my scientific explorations. While scientific explorations bring socio-economic flourishing to this world, only the one who has power to destroy the soul can save it (Mt. 10:28). For Mumia’s case, as one who objects to God, he will stand before him one day and give an account. Many who do not know now, will know then that lack of evidence is not absence of evidence. Till then we will have to persuade all men to the grace that is found in Christ, so that they, like us, will receive pardon for our sin and escape the coming wrath of a Holy God. Only those who have faith in Jesus Christ and live on the basis of this faith will stand justified before God. These words are true.
So why Apologetics? Because the antidote of doubt is faith, without which no one will see the Lord.
 The prosperity gospel in summary is the wealth and health gospel that focuses primarily on God’s gifts instead of God himself. For an article that traces the African traditional worldview that underlies much of this gospel in charismatic circles, see Conrad Mbewe, “Why is the Charismatic Movement Thriving in Africa?” in Banner of Truth. Nov 2015 accessed here. The story of Job in the Bible can be seen as a practical defense against prosperity gospel. See Vaneetha Rendall Risner, “The Poverty of the Prosperity Gospel,” in Desiring God, June 2015. Accessed here.
 The socio-political upheavals during Jesus’ time are similar to Kenya’s. Of remembrance are the 2007-2008 post-election violence that was a result of a long standing tribal eclectic, preyed on by political agents seeking to push certain agenda for the demarcation of their insatiate political power and authority. Indeed, Pilate and his ruling class have relatives from other parents this side of the Sahara! The idea of taxation implemented by the handmaids of the administrative rule, may be similar to our local county governments which have decentralized greed from the central government. Additionally, the rich-poor divide is a concern for the developmental agenda.
 David Hume a western philosopher raised the conundrum that can be summarized as: “if God is good and loving, why does he allow so much evil and suffering” Both believers and unbelievers alike have given various responses through the centuries.
 Today the buzz word is tolerance. Yet this tolerance only applies to those who hold liberal views concerning issues such as truth, reason, revelation and ethics. Believers who stand upon the reliability and authority of the Bible, are viewed as unreasonable and dogmatic. In this sense, tolerance is really intolerance. Yet scripture records that the world will hate those who believe – Scripture again being self-evident, that is, scripture bears truth to itself.
 The Christian Research Journal, Vol. 32, No. 1, 2009, p. 44.
 William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 17