Friday, May 28, 2010

Your Friday Phil - Answering the difficult questions

In this week’s installment of your Friday Phil, he addresses answering the difficult questions that are sometimes posed by the lost (most often).  His basic premise is that the answer, if it is to be Godly, should not necessarily take into consideration the possibility that the hearer will reject our answer.  Enjoy.

Truth and Apologetics

by Phil Johnson

ecently I got an e-mail that raised an excellent, but difficult, question about apologetics. My correspondent was trying to make sense of the inevitable tension we face in those moments when we are called upon "to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you . . . with gentleness and respect"—and yet we know that the best biblical answer we have to someone's question or challenge is strongly counter cultural and possibly even offensive to the person we're speaking to.

My friend wrote:

I attended a weekend seminar on "Cultural Apologetics" taught by a well-known philosopher/apologist. Toward the end of the final session, the professor opened up the floor to general apologetics questions.

One gentleman asked, "How do I defend the sacking of Canaan by the Israelites?"

My answer was that the Canaanites were destroyed because they were an abomination unto God. There is scriptural basis for that position: "For every abominable thing that the LORD hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods" (Deuteronomy 12:31). The professor said that was not a good answer, because a non-believer wouldn't care that God's laws had been transgressed.

He then said it was an extremely difficult point to defend against.

I've been wondering ever since. What is the appropriate response? If an unbeliever brings this up, should I divert the conversation and talk about the resurrection instead?

[this was edited somewhat to preserve everyone's anonymity]

My reply:

I have no problem with the answer you gave. "Because they were an abomination to God" is a perfectly valid response: It's true, and it is, after all, the correct biblicalanswer to the question.

I think it's a serious mistake to evaluate answers to difficult questions by imagining whether a non-believer is likely to respond positively or not. Jesus never did that. He simply proclaimed the truth. That's the same approach we need to take. If unbelievers reject the answer anyway (and some always will, regardless of the cleverness of our strategies), then that's not necessarily an indication of failure on the ambassador's part.

Certainly we should do all we can legitimately do to minimize offense (and eliminate unnecessary offense) to unbelievers, but to dismiss a truthful answer as "not a good answer . . . because a non-believer wouldn't care" is in my view a gross miscarriage of our duty as Christ's ambassadors.

The professor's attitude toward biblical truth reflects in microcosm the very point where contemporary evangelicalism went astray and Protestantism lost its vigor. When people get timid about declaring what Scripture plainly says—especially when that apprehension is driven by fear about how unbelievers might respond—someone has lost sight of what it means to give a defense of the truth.

Being apologetic about the truth of Scripture is something quite different from being an apologist for it.

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