Unsettled Christianity

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Archive for the ‘Apologetics’ Category

July 27th, 2018 by Scott Fritzsche

So this is going around again…

This piece, written by Luke Timothy Johnson, is going around in the (so called) centrist United Methodist Circles. It was first put out in 2007. Mt. Johnson is a New Testament scholar of some note as well as a former Roman Catholic Priest. Because this is going around again, I think it appropriate to make some brief reflections on what he wrote a decade ago, what it has to do with United Methodist theology, and to point out some fundamental flaw in his reasoning. I bring it up only because it is being offered as evidence that many faith traditions are wrestling with scripture regarding these questions. This piece does not wrestle with scripture however, it replaces scripture as God’s revelation to us with human experience as God’s revelation to us. That is not wrestling with scripture, it is replacing it. If this serves as a justification for various Methodist groups, and it is being presented as just that, then they have only affirmed what many of us have said. Scripture as the authority by which all the truths of faith are measured has been replaced by personal experiences as the measure of truth.  Worth noting is that his opinions are also not in line with Roman Catholic teaching on the matter, so he is speaking from his own understanding and not the understanding of the Roman Catholic church. I encourage you to read the piece linked above in it’s entirety. I will use the style of quoting relevant sections and commenting on them below the quote.
“Is the present crisis in Christian denominations over homosexuality really about sex? I don’t think so.”
Here is the first problem with his piece, and it is the very first line. He begins with the presupposition that this is not about sexual morality, but about something else entirely. This of course only serves to change the conversation away from sexual ethics and into an entirely different realm.
“The church could devote its energies to resisting the widespread commodification of sex in our culture, the manipulation of sexual attraction in order to sell products. It could fight the exploitation of women and children caught in a vast web of international prostitution and pornography. It could correct the perceptions that enabled pedophilia to be practiced and protected among clergy. It could name the many ways that straight males enable such distorted and diseased forms of sexuality.”
Now he has created a false dichotomy saying that if the church is concerned about “A” it is therefor not doing anything about “B”. This is simply not true in the least. The church has taught about a wide variety of subjects over it’s history, often at the same time. If your pastor were to give a sermon about the necessity of feeding the poor, would you automatically assume that he did not care about providing them clothes or shelter? Of course not because we recognize that people, just like the church, can have a variety of concerns.  It also puts the church on the defensive for continuing in the same understanding of sexual ethics over the history of Christianity on the matter, not to mention the same understanding of our Jewish forerunners as well. It gives the perception that somehow the church has just now started to care and nothing could be further from the truth. There are centuries of consistent teachings on sexual morality that can be referenced.
“And accepting covenanted love between persons of the same sex represents the same downward spiral with regard to Scripture, since the Bible nowhere speaks positively or even neutrally about same-sex love (glossing over the relationship of Jonathan and David, see 1 Samuel 18–2 Samuel 1).”
So yes, David and Johnathan loved each other. I will go so far as to say that there was a covenant involved in their love. I love other men also, and share covenants with them. This is not the issue. Here he is trying to go down the path that if two men love each other and have chosen to make a covenant with each other, it must be a homosexual relationship. This is not only false and a dangerous reading into scripture, if we follow that example into the New Testament, we see a deeply close and conventional relationship between Jesus and His disciples. Should we then believe that Jesus was a homosexual as well based upon the same evidence (really, the lack of evidence)? Don’t laugh, many have. The idea that David and Johnathan were somehow romantically involved was popularized by John Bozwell whose primary academic purpose was to show that homosexuality has always existed and been accepted in history going so far as to claim that there were homosexual weddings of Catholic monks. He is one of the forerunners of “queer (so called) theology”. His ideas are distinctly modern, have been panned by his academic peers as inaccurate, based upon assumption and confirmation bias, and are not largely respected in the academic or theological communities. Others have caught on to the claim and tried to provide their own evidences from scripture, but all such evidence requires you to read more into the story than is present in the text, and to assume that you know the motivation of two men who lived thousands of years ago.
“Of course, Christianity as actually practiced has never lived in precise accord with the Scriptures. War stands in tension with Jesus’ command of nonviolence, while divorce, even under another name (annulment), defies Jesus’ clear prohibition.”
Except by Jesus of course, who wasn’t a Christian, but a Jew. That is another rant entirely. Just War is a commonly accepted understanding of violence between nations and when it is acceptable and when it is not. It is certainly a part of Catholic theology. Jesus did not forbid divorce, but He did put some restrictions upon it. There is some pretty heavy theology about the keys to the kingdom passed to the Apostles involving divorce as well links between idolatry and adultery, but let’s be clear about this. This is not new in the least and the theology surrounding marriage and divorce in the Catholic tradition is robust. It is also robust in the Orthodox tradition and even in the Wesleyan tradition, but it is rather hard to find in the UMC. The point here about divorce however is that Jesus did not forbid it, he restricted it. A priest should know such things.
“And which Christians have ever observed the exhortation in Leviticus to stone psychics and put adulterers to death? But make this point to those opposed to same-sex unions, and you’re liable to find it turned back against you.”
The only book of the Bible less understood than Leviticus has got to be The Revelation to Saint John. The Catholic tradition, as well as pretty much every Christian tradition, recognizes that just as we are not obligated to follow the civil and ceremonial aspects of the law, we are still very much bound by the moral aspects of it. Frankly, not understanding that is a poor understanding of the image of God we are all created in and poor creation theology. A priest should know better. It’s not turning it back against anyone to say this, it is affirming what the church catholic has taught since it’s founding.
“For them, the authority of Scripture and tradition resides in a set of commands, and loyalty is a matter of obedience. If the church has always taught that same-sex relations are wrong, and the Bible consistently forbids it, then the question is closed.”
It is not loyalty to be obedient to the commands in scripture, it is the love of God. All through out the scriptures, love of God and of Christ is tied to obedience. This is inescapable in even casual readings of scripture. But yes, if the tradition of the church has always said it and the scriptures clearly forbid it, then the question is indeed closed as it has already been answered over and over again through the centuries. That is the whole point of the faith once and for all delivered after all.
“It is not difficult to understand these positions; indeed, they were probably held by many of us at some point until our lives and the lives of those we love made us begin to question them. So we can—and should—understand the mix of fear and anger that fuels the passionate defense of such positions. “
Here is where we get to the seriously dangerous stuff, as well as some of the scripted assumptions that are proven wrong over and over again yet still persist. We all thought it was wrong until it was someone that we love. To translate, when someone that we love is not following the scriptures, we should just change them.
As an aside, I am not angry, nor am I afraid. Not of, or at, this topic at the very least. I am pretty tired of hearing that I am.
“I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us. By so doing, we explicitly reject as well the premises of the scriptural statements condemning homosexuality—namely, that it is a vice freely chosen, a symptom of human corruption, and disobedience to God’s created order.”
Did you catch that? The higher authority that the former priest appeals to is the weight of our own experiences. He has set personal experience as an authority higher than the Bible. This should not come as a surprise to many of us who have been saying this is the case for some time, but it is surprising to have someone actually admit it.
By he way, what is rejected as sin is not the attraction, but rather the actions taken regarding the attraction. This is the same for all of us, and extends beyond sexual desire as well. We all have desires. Some are in line with the will of God and some are not. What we do with that desire is the issue. He of course rejects that and makes untruthful claims about what most of those with a traditional sexual ethic actually believe. He also exhibits (again) a very poor understanding of the image of God we are created in as well as how it has become marred and is in need of restoration.
Stick with me here. I do not think that God is a monster. For example, I do not think that a child born with serious cognitive disabilities is God’s ultimate plan, it is a result of sin entering into the world and the world falling and being in need of restoration. I do not think that children born with crippling genetic disorders is God’s ultimate plan. I do not think that children who die within days of birth for any number of health concerns is God’s ultimate plan. If it were, God becomes a hideous monster who actively desires the death of the most innocent and defenseless among us. Are we prepared to think this way of God? I ask because that is what is required if the condition we are born in is the determining factor of what God’s plan entails. How we are born really has no bearing on the topic at hand. What we do with the life we are born into is, and always has been, the issue. We, and indeed the entire world, is in desperate need of God’s promised restoration. Nothing in this world is God’s ultimate end point. The end point is the new heaven and earth when we all get to hang out the way it was intended from the beginning. In short, none of us are born as God originally had intended, but yes, all of us have been lovingly created, marred as we are, to reflect the glory of God.
This has already drug on to long. The piece goes on to talk about slavery, which has nothing to do with anything, as well as the Gentiles being allowed into the faith claiming making some terrible claims about that as well. It’s nothing new, just the repackaged old arguments that require a nearly complete re-imagining of the meaning of scripture from start to finish to justify it.
The end of ll of this is simple. There are two competing views of Christianity at play here. One view says that experience informs what scripture means, and the other says that scripture helps us to better understand the experiences that we have. Both can not be correct. One says that the fallen and marred experiences of humanity define God, and the other says that God, and our identity through Christ He has provided, defines us. In case you are not catching on, one is idolatry of the highest order setting man up to define God and the other is faithful obedience as an expression of love for The Creator. A lot happens to the faiths that are present in scripture that are based in idolatry, and none of it is positive. The question is the same today as it has been through out history and even asked in scripture. Choose you this day whom you will serve. The first competing views answers that question in a way that serves man. The second competing view answers as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. So choose you this day…and choose wisely.
August 21st, 2015 by Joel Watts

ugh… apologetics

I know… some of you are going to mount a defense against this…

apologetics. The rational defense of Christian faith. Historically, apologetic arguments of various types have been given: philosophical arguments for the existence of God; arguments that the existence of God is compatible with suffering and evil; historical arguments, such as arguments from miracles and fulfilled prophecies; and arguments from religious experience, including mystical experience. (See argument from prophecy; evil, problem of; mysticism; theistic arguments.) Some distinguish positive apologetics, which attempts to argue for the truth of Christianity, from negative apologetics, which merely attempts to remove barriers to faith by responding to critical attacks.1

On at least on UMC FB group, there is a discussion about “apologetics.” To be truthful, while I know people who enjoy apologetics, I myself find the (well, a particular subset of the) field completely unusable — as a Christian, as a theologian, as an academic. There is simply no proof offered for God that I find convincing except for praxis, nor do I need everything to align in an “either/or” fashion in order for me to 1.) believe in God or 2.) be a Christian.

Justin the Philosopher

Justin the Philosopher (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is not meant to discount the Apologists of the early Christian era — St Justin, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian; however, look at what they argued and how they argued. They had no real need to fit Christianity into a box but focused on proving to Rome that Christianity and Christians could exist as a not-new religion (i.e., they weren’t atheists), and answering the basic questions about Christianity that allowed it to exist (this is “historical apologetics,” according to the Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics). Contra this today when you have the need to use apologetics as a tool of conversion.

Apologetics is the vindication of the Christian philosophy of life against the various forms of the non-Christian philosophy of life.

It is frequently said that apologetics deals with theism, while evidences deals with Christianity. For that reason, it is said, apologetics deals with philosophy while evidences deals with facts.2

Apologetics forces God to be rational according to human terms.3 I have no need for a rational God, one that can be proven by well-crafted words, calculations and latticed scaffolding. Rather, while God is known — that is not all God is. God is also Mystery.

“Religious belief should be assessed as a rounded whole rather than taken in stark isolation. Christianity, for example, like other world faiths, is a complex, large-scale system of belief which must be seen as a whole before it is assessed. To break it up into disconnected parts is to mutilate and distort its true character. We can, of course, distinguish certain elements pin the Christian faith, but we must still stand back and see it as a metaphysical system, as a world view, that is total in its scope and range.”4

This is a good working quote about what it means when we once said God is Rational:

God is personal. When we say this we assert that God is rational, self-conscious and self-determining, an intelligent moral agent. As supreme mind he is the source of all rationality in the universe. Since God’s rational creatures possess independent characters, God must be in possession of a character that is divine in both its transcendence and immanence.5

But can we through rationality and reasoning come to know God?

Into this debate about his existence, I will not pretend to enter. I must take up humbler ground, and limit my ambition to showing that a God, whether existent or not, is at all events the kind of being which, if he did exist, would form the most adequate possible object for minds framed like our own to conceive as lying at the root of the universe. My thesis, in other words, is this: that some outward reality of a nature defined as God’s nature must be defined, is the only ultimate object that is at the same time rational and possible for the human mind’s contemplation. Anything short of God is not rational, anything more than God is not possible, if the human mind be in truth the triadic structure of impression, reflection, and reaction which we at the outset allowed.6

By the way, Thomas Oden, while calling this argument “quintessentially modern” also sees in this the same arguments as advocated by people such as a certain John Wesley:

Yet its spirit is to some degree anticipated by numerous Christian writers who have appealed to “doing” the truth as a basis for understanding it (notably Baxter, Wesley, Phoebe Palmer, and Kierkegaard), stressing the importance of praxis in the knowing of God’s greatness and goodness (esp. John Cassian, Ignatius Loyola, and Teresa of Avila).7

Returning to James’ argument, he is not saying that God is irrational (in the classical sense), only that the there is no argument logical enough to prove the existence of God. We believe and we do; we do and we believe. Lex orandi and all of that.

Now, go back to the first definition offered. If you are looking at certain apologetics, dealing more with philosophy and theology, count me in. Indeed, as Peter Kreeft argues in his handbook on apologetics, we Christians are called to “apologetically reason.]]] But, more often than not, this is not the type of apologetics I see.

Do you like apologetics? If so, what type? Who is your favorite apologist?

  1. C. Stephen Evans, Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics & Philosophy of Religion (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 12.
  2. Cornelius Van Til and William Edgar, Christian Apologetics (2nd ed.; The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company: Phillipsburg, NJ, 2003).
  3. That is, rationality as we are given it. We find apologetics defending inerrancy, young earth creationism, etc… as a sign of the existence of God, which I account as a human reasoning. Tertullian would say that because of the Logos God is Rational (Ad. Prax. V.). I need to leave room for nuance and further discussion here. Generally, what I mean is is that most of what I see in apologetics forces God to act according to human logic rather than existing as a being with Reason.
  4.  William Abraham, “Soft Rationalism,” in Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings, 2nd ed., ed. Michael Peterson et al., p. 99.
  5. R. A. Finlayson and P. F. Jensen, “God,” ed. D. R. W. Wood et al., New Bible Dictionary (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 418.
  6. William James, The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy (New York; London; Bombay: Longmans Green and Co, 1897), 115–116.
  7. Thomas C. Oden, The Living God: Systematic Theology, Vol. I (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992), 172.
May 6th, 2015 by Joel Watts

Texas in God’s Eschatological Vision

In the late 1990’s, I had the chance to travel to Texas a lot. Rather, I took every chance I got to skip across the Sabine. I would leave noon on Friday after my last high school class and spend the weekend between Houston and Galveston. I loved Texas. I’ve driven across it at least twice, both ways. I’ve been to the border towns. To Austin. To the real Twin Cities. To the panhandle. I’ve been everywhere, man. I’m not saying I know the Texas people, but I am saying I spent a lot of time listening to Texans and to AM radio in Texas.

English: Seal of Texas

English: Seal of Texas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I would listen to AM radio all across Texas. Numerous times, I would hear this prophecy about Texas. This or that radio preacher would state plainly that Texas would be the last holdout against the One World Government of the AntiChrist (patent pending). There was this movement, the Republic of Texas, that promised to make Texas an independent and Christian nation to withstand the forces of evil.

In the last few days, it has become apparent that the Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, is a moron — a loon. He has bought in to a bunch of conspiracy nuts who believe that the current President is going to invade Texas and imprison the patriots in closed Wal-Mart stores in a completely secret operation, Jade Helm 15. This is clearly a racist response to the current President.

But, it is not. Abbott is maintaining an almost official Christianity of Texas official dogma. I maintain Abbott and the “conspiracy nuts” are not acting in response to President Obama but out of a system of religious belief wherein in Texas is the Holy Land at the End of Time (copyright, 70CE). What they see is the End of Days (also a movie) wherein Texas is going to be the last holdout — therefore most things are seen as a move against Fortress Texas.

No, I’m not kidding you. There are “prophecies” about this. Although there are some that see these militia movements as part of the One World Government of the AntiChrist (patent pending). Even Mormons are in on it. There seems to been a red heifer born in Texas, validating all the claims of a New Jerusalem (er, Houston?). There are those who take seriously those signs in Texas and others who have to write to say that it just isn’t time yet. And there are some who see Texas being punished for being an American state. “Global warming is real and it is the punishment you get for being an American!”

And let’s not forget about Rick Perry’s Call for Prayer.

The pastors told Perry of God’s grand plan for Texas. A chain of powerful prophecies had proclaimed that Texas was “The Prophet State,” anointed by God to lead the United States into revival and Godly government. And the governor would have a special role.

Governor Rick Perry of Texas speaking at the R...

Prophet or Governor? Rick Perry of Texas speaking at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana. Please attribute to Gage Skidmore if used elsewhere. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And some “apostle” has declared very recently that Texas is, again, to be the center of the stand against the Antichrist (R).

For the past several years, a spiritual war has been raging over Texas and intercessors, five-fold ministers led by the apostles and prophets have joined forces to fight…Much of the spiritual warfare can be accredited to the statewide effort of My warriors who kept the battle front raging and who fought tirelessly to overcome the biggest and the worst principalities of this state. As a result, there will be numerous shifts coming to Texas; there will be well-known global corporations that will move their headquarters to this state. Businesses and professionals from Hollywood will relocate to Texas, as well as those who produce and star in the movies…I also heard the Lord say one of the ruling principalities over Texas is disunity.

It is not that Greg Abbott is crazy or locked into supporting wingnuts. Rather, these people see everything happening in and to Texas in an eschatological light.  They (liberals, Democrats, some Republicans, Hollyweird, reporters, the United Nations, public school teachers, taxpayers, Target shoppers, and non-sovereign citizens — and maybe fans of Star Wars) are coming for them in a last desperate/first strike attempt to institute the One World Government of the AntiChrist (patent pending). They aren’t conspiracy nuts. They are religious zealots.

And just for fun…

September 17th, 2013 by Joel Watts

Sunday School – An Appeal to Rome (Justin and Diognetus)

Plato. Luni marble, copy of the portrait made ...

Plato. Luni marble, copy of the portrait made by Silanion ca. 370 BC for the Academia in Athens. From the sacred area in Largo Argentina, 1925. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Following last week’s need to be hated by Rome (i.e., World System) we find Christians appealing to Rome for an official status. As Christianity becomes Christianity, and not simply a secondary Judaism, more and more Gentiles are bringing in their customs, traditions, and philosophies. They are also bringing in the need to be more metropolitan.

Word: Apology, a defense. This is the time of Christian Apologetics, when Christians turned to defending Christianity and thus exploring its theological tenets.

Rome respected one thing: antiquity. This is why they stole every the Greeks had done — from the gods and goddesses to the poems. Because they desired to be themselves ancient. When Rome was introduced to Jerusalem, they begrudgingly accepted their quasi-independence because the Jews could point to Moses and say, “He not only preceded Plato, but Plato respected Moses.” Clement of Alexandria who would use this apologetic technique to bring Plato into use for Christian theology later picked this up. He was not the first, of course.

Please keep in mind, this is the barest of histories here. Just some background information.

The first Christian who used Plato, Aristotle, and other Greek philosophers to do his bidding was Justin Martyr (guess how he got his last name). Why would he do such a thing? First, the Gospel of John and the Wisdom of Solomon both allow for Hellenistic philosophy based on the use of the words Logos (Word) and Sophia (Wisdom). Justin latched on to this. The Logos of John became the Logos of Heraclitus. Further, Justin and Clement would insist in a God akin to Plato’s Ultimate God.

Second, by aligning Christianity with both Jerusalem and Athens, he gave it a certain antiquity, which was needed to apply for official State status. This would prevent persecution and allowed for other benefits as well.

There are two such writings springing to mind. The first, of course, is Justin’s First Apology. He is quick to defend against charges of atheism. Why would we be charged with atheism? Because our god (Jesus) was new, unless, of course, you account for the Logos:

Why, then, should this be? In our case, who pledge ourselves to do no wickedness, nor to hold these atheistic opinions, you do not examine the charges made against us; but, yielding to unreasoning passion, and to the instigation of evil demons, you punish us without consideration or judgment. For the truth shall be spoken; since of old these evil demons, effecting apparitions of themselves, both defiled women and corrupted boys, and showed such fearful sights to men, that those who did not use their reason in judging of the actions that were done, were struck with terror; and being carried away by fear, and not knowing that these were demons, they called them gods, and gave to each the name which each of the demons chose for himself. And when Socrates endeavoured, by true reason and examination, to bring these things to light, and deliver men from the demons, then the demons themselves, by means of men who rejoiced in iniquity, compassed his death, as an atheist and a profane person, on the charge that “he was introducing new divinities;” and in our case they display a similar activity. For not only among the Greeks did reason (Logos) prevail to condemn these things through Socrates, but also among the Barbarians were they condemned by Reason (or the Word, the Logos) Himself, who took shape, and became man, and was called Jesus Christ; and in obedience to Him, we not only deny that they who did such things as these are gods, but assert that they are wicked and impious demons, whose actions will not bear comparison with those even of men desirous of virtue.

This entire First Apology is well worth the read — and leaves us wondering what might we sacrifice to have our belief system validated? Or, perhaps this is what Christianity was to Justin — the former philosopher who caught wind of Christ and was thus changed forever. Perhaps his mind say in Christ the only answer to all of the questions asked by all philosophies. Maybe for Justin, Jesus was the answer.

The second person is unknown, although some scholars have placed him as Justin. Like the First Apology, this author writes to the Emperor and like Justin, promotes Christianity as compatible with Rome, or at least not in competition with Rome.

The Epistle of Diognetus contains a passage that has come to mean a great deal to me —

For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.

I’ll just leave this here.

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March 5th, 2013 by Leslie Keeney

Review of “Defending the Faith: Apologetics in Women’s Ministry” @KregelAcademic

I have to be honest and admit that I came to Mary Jo Sharp’s Defending the Faith: Apologetics in Women’s Ministry predisposed to disagree with it. For good or for ill, I have some foundational and philosophical disagreements with the assumption that there must be separate ministries for men and women other than for certain delicate gender-specific issues. I have found no place in the New Testament that implies that men and women should be discipled differently or that they have different needs when it comes to spiritual formation or studying the Bible.

In addition, my personality is such that I have never found any of the traditional activities associated with women’s ministry remotely interesting (although I’m not criticizing women who do) and I am deeply offended when publishers assume that all they need to do is slap some flowers on the front of a Bible to make it more appealing to female buyers.

(And in the interest of full-disclosure, I was traumatized several years ago by a women’s ministry meeting at my church where they made us get up and “do the Locomotion” in order to force us to talk to perfect strangers. I walked out and never went back.

I have also always had the nagging feeling that offering women a ministry of their own allows some churches to claim that they have provided them a venue for service and fellowship without really allowing them to be involved in the larger life of the church. In business circles, this is what used to be called “the pink ghetto.”

For all these reasons, I do not, as a rule, join exclusively female Christian groups.

The purpose of this seemingly useless background information is to demonstrate the fact that Sharp had a lot of work to do in order to gain my trust. Her book, after all, was written with a very specific goal: to convince churches to include apologetics training in their women’s ministries.

After reading it, however, my biggest frustration is that it should be read by everyone, but probably won’t be because it’s targeted specifically at women.

Defending the Faith is a well-written, extremely persuasive argument for apologetics. Regardless of whether the reader is trying to convince their pastor to integrate apologetics into women’s ministry, men’s ministry, or the weekly handbell choir rehearsal, this book argues eloquently for the importance of Christians knowing their stuff—and being able to articulate it well.

Although the content of the two books is significantly different, I can unashamedly put Defending the Faith on my bookshelf beside J.P. Moreland’s Loving God with All Your Mind as two books that will convince most any Christian of the importance of apologetics.

As someone not predisposed toward tea parties and scrapbooking, I was immediately disarmed by Sharp’s admission that she, herself, didn’t understand the value of women’s ministry until she started teaching apologetics. Her confession regarding the southern belle atmosphere of many women’s groups made me like her right from the start.

One of Sharp’s first arguments for integrating apologetics into ministry is that a women (or a man for that matter) who doesn’t have a solid basis for her belief will live just like the non-believer down the street. A person’s actions, says Sharp, flow from what she really believes deep down in her bones. And a faith based only on that warm, fuzzy feeling a person gets from worship isn’t powerful enough to kick-start an inside-out transformation.

Next, Sharp makes the startlingly obvious observation that in no other area of study is it acceptable to assume that a person will know everything they’ll ever need by the time they’re a teenager. Millions of Christians, however, believe just that. The list of excuses that people offer for being satisfied with a shallow faith is sadly familiar, but Sharp’s response provides no wiggle room:

Please understand that we create a shallow view of the Christian faith if we do not deal with difficult passages and tough questions. Look at the dilemma presented by the author of Hebrews who wants to teach in greater depth on the difficult concept of Jesus as the High Priest, but he cannot because the people have become dull of hearing…If ladies in your church are using the idea of a “simple child-like faith” as a reason not to learn hard Christian concepts, you need to help them see that childish thinking is not to be confused with the heart that trusts God with childlike faith.

Defending The Faith is, at its core, a very practical book. It’s designed to give women who want to convince their church to incorporate apologetics into their women’s ministry specific strategies for approaching the pastor, finding quality material, and integrating it into the existing ministry structure. The author even goes into detail on how to create an apologetics curriculum from scratch.

But my favorite part of the book is Sharp’s responses to the most common objections she hears to apologetics itself. “Apologists just want to win arguments,” says one woman. “We should just give people the gospel,” says another. The author’s response is at once spiritual and practical:

The gospel of Jesus entails knowledge of certain propositions that another person may or may not believe. When we proclaim the gospel, we assume the historical reality of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, the existence of God, the problem of a sinful human nature. Finally, we assume the reliability and authority of the Bible. If people have never been exposed to some of these ideas, these principles may sound foreign or confusing to them. When our message seems hard for our listeners to understand, instead of just walking away from the conversation and telling ourselves that they just were not ready to receive the gospel, we can help them with questions they may have on these issues.

One thing Sharp does not spend much time on are the reasons why women avoid apologetics. She acknowledges the problem to be sure, but unlike Toni Allen in Come Let Us Reason Together (another great book), Sharp doesn’t dive too deeply into why so many women seem to have an aversion to it. For my part, this is not a criticism. While Allen did us a great service in identifying the problem—that women, as a group, rely more heavily on their emotional experiences as proof of God—the last thing I want to read is another book talking about women’s deficiencies. Sharp wisely avoids the giant black hole of “what’s wrong with women” and concentrates instead on why apologetics is important and what we can do to convince people of it.

My criticisms of Defending the Faith are minor compared to its value to the church. First, the fact that it is specifically targeted at women will no doubt significantly reduce the number of people who could be reading it and benefiting from it. Nothing in the arguments the author makes is unique to the way women think, but focusing exclusively on women’s ministry almost assures that most men won’t read it

Are men’s ministries actually more focused on apologetics than women’s? I suspect not. This book has the potential for impacting countless men’s ministries, but unless the pastor stands up and tells his entire congregation to read it, they probably won’t.

So maybe it’s not such a minor point after all.

My second criticism is more about marketing than content. Couldn’t they have come up with a better title than Defending the Faith? So much of this book is truly inspirational; so much of it makes the reader want to go out and change the way people approach their faith and live their lives. Couldn’t they have come up with something more representative of what’s inside? How about Women into Warriors: How Apologetics can Xenafy Your Women’s Ministry? Now there’s a book a man would read!

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