Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Genesis and Christian Apologetics

Alice C. Linsley

In a recent conversation with a pastor who is not seminary educated, I discovered that my research is irrelevant because it has to do with an historical approach to the Bible. That is, I trace the Horite rulers from Genesis 4 and 5 to the Jesus and his ruler-priest kinsman Joseph of Hara-mathea using the tools of kinship analysis. This pastor is bi-vocational.  He serves a small Baptist congregation and also teaches history in a public school. He recognizes that the Bible tells us about historical events and peoples. However, he sees little value in an anthropological understanding of who those peoples were, and like so many, is skeptical that the King Lists of Genesis 4, 5 and 11 are authentic history. What matters most to him is what the Bible tells us today in our time.

C.S. Lewis encountered a similar attitude in his conversations.  He wrote:

"I find that the uneducated Englishman is an almost total sceptic about history. I had expected he would disbelieve the Gospels because they contain miracles; but he really disbelieves them because they deal with things that happened two thousand years ago. He would disbelieve equally in the battle of Actium if he heard of it. To those who have had our kind of education, his state of mind is very difficult to realize. To us the present has always appeared as one section in a huge continuous process. In his mind the present occupies almost the whole field of vision. Beyond it, isolated from it, and quite unimportant, is something called “the old days”-- a small, comic jungle in which highwaymen, Queen Elizabeth, knights-in-armour, etc. wander about. Then (strangest of all) beyond the old days come a picture of “primitive man.” He is “science,” not “history,” and is therefore felt to be much more real than the old days. In other words, the prehistoric is much more believed in than the historic." (From Lewis' Christian Apologetics)

At least this Christian pastor believes that the Bible is the Word of God and that it is reliable in all that it reveals about God and the salvation of repentant sinners.  He didn't question how the King Lists could have been preserved or whether or not the texts were authentic or corrupt. That is more likely the criticism of people who have never read the Bible.

C. S. Lewis encountered this also. He continues in Christian Apologetics:

He has a distrust (very rational in the state of his knowledge) of ancient texts. Thus a man has sometimes said to me, “These records were written in the days before printing, weren’t they? And you haven’t got the original bit of paper, have you? So what it comes to is that someone wrote something and someone else copied it and someone else copied that and so on. Well, by the time it comes it us, it won’t be in the least like the original” This is a difficult objection to deal with because one cannot, there and then, start teaching the whole science of textual criticism. But at this point their real religion (i.e. faith in “science”) has come to my aid. The assurance that there is a “science” called “textual criticism” and that its results (not only as regard the New Testament, but as regards ancient texts in general) are generally accepted, will usually be received without objection. 

I didn't raise the matter of textual criticism with this pastor because even the term is enough to raise eyebrows among his ilk. In his Baptist tradition, there have been some excellent textual critics (Bernard Ramm and Carl F.H. Henry come to mind), but textual criticism is still regarded as the work of people who seem intent on debunking the Bible.

In the end, my Christian apologetic hangs on the belief that each person is responsible for testing the evidence of the truth of Christianity, wherever that evidence may be found and however it may be investigated. As the great biologist St. George Jackson Mivart wrote:

Assuming, for argument's sake, the truth of Christianity, it evidently has not been the intention of its author to make the evidence for it so plain that its rejection would be the mark of intellectual incapacity. Conviction is not forced upon men in the way that the knowledge that the government of England is constitutional, or that Paris is the capital of France, is forced upon all who choose to inquire into those subjects. The Christian system is one which puts the strain, as it were, on every faculty of man's nature and the intellect is not exempted from taking part in the probationary trial. A moral element enters into the acceptance of that system.

Some individuals rise to the challenge of understanding the Christian Gospel, as much as it can be apprehended by the intellect. Some will engage only when their ears are tickled, and here the supernatural aspects can be used as bait. However, there is an inherent danger in this approach. Often those who seek drama and excitement are not seeking the Lord of Life and these may wander into obsession with Spiritualism.

The work of Christian apologetics also presents some danger to the apologist, as C. S. Lewis wrote:

I have found that nothing is more dangerous to one’s own faith than the work of an apologist. No doctrine of that faith seems to me so spectral, so unreal as the one that I have just successfully defended in a public debate. For a moment, you see, it has seemed to rest on oneself: as a result when you go away from the debate, it seems no stronger than that weak pillar. That is why we apologists take our lives in our hands and can be saved only by falling back continually from the web of our own arguments, as from our intellectual counters, into the reality--from Christian apologetics into Christ Himself. That also is why we need one another’s continual help--oremus pro invicem. (Let us pray for each other.)

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