QUADRIVIUM

Have you come here to play Jesus to the lepers in your head?

To Have an Answer

with 4 comments

There’s  a bit of talk circulating over at The Point about an article written in response to Donald Miller’s book, Blue Like Jazz

Dr. Benjamin Wiker takes issue with some of Miller’s thoughts regarding sharing the Gospel.   Miller dislikes a formulaic approach to explaining God.  He writes, “Too much of our time is spent trying to chart God on a grid, and too little is spent allowing our hearts to feel awe. By reducing Christian spirituality to formula, we deprive our hearts of wonder….I don’t think there is any better worship than wonder.”

In response, Wiker writes:

It is of course wrong to start worshipping the Creed rather than the living Christ, but that having been said, the Creed is the drama of Christ in condensed form, the fundamental story that must be told. In fact, the Creed was forged over the first Christian centuries precisely because all too many people calling themselves Christians were telling all too many different stories about redemption. The Creed is a formula, to be sure, but it is a formula for Holy Fire, the drama of redemption that continually sears away the world’s dross. If it has become formulaic, it is because we no longer see Christ through its lens but only the lens itself.

Secondly, apologetics always means both a confession of faith, and a defense of the faith. Accepting the merits of Miller’s story-telling approach, we can also wonder what defense they could possibly offer against the heavy-hitters of atheism, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christoper Hitchens, who are selling far more books than even Miller.

I can understand Wiker’s assertions; no doubt we should be able to point out the flawed and disingenuous arguments put forth by Christopher Hitchens, et al, and those that have fallen under their spell.  What Dr. Wiker misses, somehow, is the context of Miller’s book.   One quote in particular that he dislikes is Miller’s statement that, “Sooner or later you just figure out there are some guys who don’t believe in God and they can prove He doesn’t exist, and some other guys who do believe in God and they can prove He does exist, and the argument stopped being about God a long time ago and now it’s about who is smarter, and honestly I don’t care.” 

Miller, throughout the book, emphasizes personal relationships and earning the right to share your faith with someone.  Now, I know this isn’t a very popular camp for some people.  There are those who believe that if we just approach people and share the Gospel in the words of creeds and traditions and theological doctrine that they will just somehow get it.  I’d like to see someone try that with Christopher Hitchens. 

Wiker does have a point; Miller probably ought to put more stock in apologetics.  I do not wish to negate the importance of the Nicene Creed, nor do I want to ignore the command to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15 NIV).  Apologetics, however, is not the thrust of Miller’s book. 

Miller, when he writes about sharing his faith, writes mainly about interactions with regular people, and regular people do not normally sit around thinking as hard about things as Christopher Hitchens does.  Most people just want to pick up their clothes from the dry cleaners on the way home and everyone else to just leave them alone.  Most people think they already know what’s what, and arguing with them will not make a bit of difference. 

If I can approach someone in the context of a relationship in which I have earned a person’s trust and earned the right to say things they may not agree with without receiving a slap in the face, then I feel like I can assert my apologetics.  If someone in such a relationship asks me how I can believe in the authority of scripture, I have an answer ready to give.  I can deliver the Creed, and I can tell them the story.  More than anything, I want to share that story.  What I do not want to do, what I do not feel I should ever do, is try to convince someone just for the sake of convincing them. 

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Written by taj

August 1, 2007 at 1:44 pm

Posted in Books, Evangelism

4 Responses

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  1. Isn’t it nice to see people staying so up-to-date with books that were written in 2003? It sort of reminds me of the Doug Wilson statement regarding entertainment: anything the world can do, Christians can do five years later and half as good.

    To put my Touchstone hat on for a minute (I’m sure Travis will appreciate this while everyone else can safely ignore this paragraph), why do you keep harping about Creed? “Shoulda been dead on a Sunday mornin’ bangin’ my head” just not good enough for you, huh?

    In any case, the subtitle of the book does give away the fact that Miller isn’t doing apologetics here: “Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality” isn’t exactly an apologetics course. So it is true that Wiker is coming to this book with a flawed starting point, thinking the book is intended to be something it’s not even pretending to be.

    That is not to say that apologetics are unimportant (if I kept my T-Stone hat on, I would no accuse you of having said the opposite of this despite the mere “fact” that you actually said the exact same thing earlier: these are not the droids you seek *wave wave wave*). And when it comes to our culture, I think that we actually need more apologetics works than we need works like “Blue Like Jazz” because, in my opinion, the warm fuzzies are often over-emphasized while important doctrinal distinctions are said to be irrelevant. Then again, I am biased. And as this is a stereotypical argument, it’s not 100% applicable; “Blue Like Jazz” does have a role to fill too (for instance, it’s good for people like me, who tend to focus solely on intellectual arguments, to read it, just as it would be good for Miller to read, say, Jonathan Edwards).

    God made people with both intellect and emotions. In the end, both of them are needed. We need the apologetic arguments to be able to confront atheists (although I do disagree when you say “regular people do not normally sit around thinking as hard about things as Christopher Hitchens does”–Christopher Hitchens doesn’t think hard either, as evidenced by his poor arguments), but we also need to have the ability to feel. I think that if what you believe doesn’t cause you to have an emotional reaction, you don’t really believe it. You have to be passionate about your beliefs. But you also have to be correct in your beliefs. You can’t emphasize one to the exclusion of the other.

    CalvinDude

    August 1, 2007 at 2:29 pm

  2. “What is the chief end of man? To love (worship) God and to enjoy Him completely.” Question 1 of the Westmister Catechism, old and apologetic in nature and intent expresses one of the greater truths. First and foremost, man was created to worship God, to commune with him, to live not as slave, servant or sibilant, but as friend. To walk together in the cool of the evening in a place whose name means, “delight,” and to enjoy one another completely.

    The endeavors of man today must include joining God in the efforts of returning all of Adam’s race who will return to this place of delight, created with them in mind. As someone once said, “all else is folly.” Orthodoxy and orthopraxis go hand in hand; they represent the obverse and the reverse of the same coin. Reading Edwards and a Kempis alongside McLaren and Miller may likely bring completeness; let us assure ourselves that they bring joy as well.

    I live in a much different world than Calvin or Travis. In all my years, I have yet to come face to face with an atheist. The best I can do is to find self indulgent apostates, who believe in God, but choose not to give a damn what He thinks about things. It is my experience that these need love, kindness, and relationship and an occasional kick in the ass.

    Side note to Calvin: I would like to better understand your comment: “… important doctrinal distinctions are said to be irrelevant.” I would be interested to know what you actually mean by that statement. What doctrine, what dinstinctions and who says they are irrelevant?

    Ralph

    August 3, 2007 at 6:15 am

  3. Hi Ralph,

    Well, I did predicate (or rather posticate–yes, I am allowed my own vocabulary!!!) my comment with the fact that I was being stereotypical and biased 🙂 However, the genesis of my comment springs from some catchphrases, such as “Doctrine divides”, as well as in the blanket ecumenism that we often find, wherein even Mormons are considered “Christian” (or in the even more extreme case of the woman who claims to be both a Christian and a Muslim–I’ll have to research the article for you).

    These ideas I think tend to be more closely held in postmodern churches, especially among the so-called emergent church (not that the emergent church is 100% wrong, and not that all of them are like this though).

    On a lesser level, other doctrinal issues which do not divide between Christian and non-Christian, but rather are intermural, would include discussions on sovereignty vs. free will, etc. But these weren’t what I had in mind, except insofar as a cavalier attitude toward them can eventually express itself in a cavalier attitude toward the distinctions on the macro-level too.

    CalvinDude

    August 3, 2007 at 12:13 pm

  4. Thanks, Calvin

    I always worry when folks begin to talk about doctrinal issues for fear that they are really talking about theological issues. It is good to see that you understand the difference. It is true that doctrinal issues divided the church, if you are willing to “posticate” that denominationalism is not divine. This you seem to have done and I worry no longer.

    We must be willing to stand firm for those things that God established and that Jesus stood for and exemplified, while recognizing that we’re all different on some levels. The important thing is that we must not ever differ on the level of Jesus’ declaration of the most important things: to love God with all our hearts, souls, mind, and strength and to love others as ourselves. I understand and appreciate what the emergent church is trying to do; to position themselves in a place where they can genuinely present the Truth to a changing/morphing/transient generation. Those who are willing to do this and remain true to Scripture will be blessed by God.

    Thanks for your input.

    Ralph

    August 5, 2007 at 5:52 pm


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