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Mosaic Mindset: The “how” of apologetics

July 1, 2013

Mozaic 1

Learning from our mistakes

Why is it that Christians have been so spectacularly unsuccessful in defending “marriage” as “one man and one woman for life?” I think that this is the primary reason: we haven’t thought about how people think.

Christians see the world and everything in it as being made by a Creator. One thing he created was marriage, and he defined it as “one man and one woman for life.” The creation he made was good; so marriage, in this form, is the ideal. Anything different is a corruption at best, and evil at worst. We are called on to protect the good and to constrain evil, wherever possible. Marriage, therefore, should be closed to homosexual couples.

homosexual marriage symbol

But non-Christians (generally) don’t believe in the Christian God, and don’t believe that the world was made to be a certain way. They see marriage as a societal construct, created by mankind when it seemed like a good idea. People should be free to do what they like (so long as it doesn’t harm anyone else), so if two consenting adults want to get married, should have the right to do so. To deny marriage to two people who want to get married is to harm them, as it limits their potential happiness, and is unfair and unequal discrimination. Marriage, therefore, should be open to homosexual couples.

How do we see most Christians defending their stance? By arguing from the “God is creator and he made it this way” platform. When non-Christians reject the basis of the argument (“God made marriage”) and the core of the argument (“marriage is good only in this form”), why should Christians expect them to accept the thrust of the argument (“marriage should be ‘one man and one woman for life'”)?

Why, humanly speaking, have we lost so much ground here? I’d say it’s because we used Christian arguments with non-Christians and expected them to work. We need new approaches.

Strangely enough, as we will see, the approaches we need aren’t that new after all.

Mindsets and Mosaics

DCF 1.0

As we saw in the previous post, there is no neutral ground. All people have their own ideas about life, the universe, and everything – whether they realise it or not. We each have “a lens through which we see the world” – a framework of beliefs about the world through which we judge new ideas. Each person’s framework will be made up of a collection of different ideas. I like to think of them as mosaic: many parts that make up one cohesive (or not so cohesive) whole.

When we think of a person’s ideas this way, the road for apologetics and evangelism becomes clearer. When defending the faith to a non-Christian, there are three approaches we can take:

Three approaches for apologetics and evangelism

  1. Add to the mosaic: Use the ideas people already hold as true to show how Christianity fits with (and fulfils) what they already believe.
  2. Fix the mosaic: Show how the ideas they have already do not fit together perfectly, but how the Christian idea fits better.
  3. Replace the mosaic: Show how Christianity, as a whole, is better than what they already believe.

We have examples of all three in the Bible:

Adding to the Mosaic

Sometimes, all people need is to find out what they’re missing – to hear the gospel proclaimed and our faith explained – before they become Christians. For these people, our duty is simply to tell them what they ask and what they need to hear.

Peter in Jesusalem

Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. … Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:

“‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,

And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. For David says concerning him,

“‘I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;
therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
my flesh also will dwell in hope.
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One see corruption.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’

“Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this dayBeing therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.’

Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

… Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself. … Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:5-41 ESV, some verses excluded for brevity)

On the day of Pentecost, the Spirit came upon Jesus’ disciples in Jerusalem, gaining the attention of the “devout Jews” in the area. This gave Peter an audience to proclaim the gospel for the first time in Acts.

Peter’s audience, being Jews, would have shared all of Peter’s own beliefs except one: that Jesus is the Christ they had been waiting for. They even shared many of Peter’s experiences – both he and they are Jews, and both saw the “signs and wonders” he performed. All Peter needed to do was pick up on the things they already knew and believed (in bold above) and explain how these point to Jesus. He showed them that they were awaiting their messiah, and then explained that Jesus is the one they were waiting for.

We, too, should look out for how we can take the “mosaics” people already possess, and explain how Jesus fits in. For example: “You believe many things about Julius Caesar, and trust the historical record on him. Let’s look at what the historical record says about Jesus.”

Correcting the Mosaic

Many people in Western civilisation have the benefit of our society’s Christian heritage. They still agree with many of the tenants of Christianity (e.g. the inherent value of each person; the existence of absolute right and wrong; the existence of objective truth) but not all. Those tenants that they do hold are often twisted from their original forms. Rather than having to start from scratch, we should use what is already common between us, correcting what needs correction, and explain the faith and the gospel in familiar terms to non-Christians.

Paul at the Areopagus

Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way towards him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for

“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;
as even some of your own poets have said,

“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’
Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:22-31 ESV)

Paul, in Athens, gets the opportunity to explain Jesus Christ. The people of Athens worshipped any and every idol, and even had one for an “unknown God” – just in case they missed one! Paul capitalises on this, effectively saying, “You yourselves admit that you might not know the truth about God, and yet you worship him anyway – let me tell you who the true God is.” Paul quotes their own philosophers to correct their ideas about God: God is not an idol in a temple – after all, we are superior to idols because we create them, yet we are God’s offspring. God, therefore, is greater than our conceptions of him: he is the invisible ruler of all the earth through Jesus Christ. Paul is showing that the Athenians’ “mosaic” needs rearranging, and he argues that Jesus is what will fix it.

We, too, would do well to capitalise on what people already believe. First, grab what is true of what they believe; then, show the internal inconsistencies in their mindsets; finally, lead people to Jesus along familiar, common ground, showing them how he is the piece they are missing. For example: “You believe that some things are absolutely wrong – such as paedophilia – and would continue to be wrong even if everyone thought otherwise (common ground). But a moral code external to people’s individual opinions needs a basis that’s external to the people themselves; you can have an absolute rule without something objective, outside of the subjective opinions of humanity, to base it upon (showing the fault). Let me tell you about the Objective One, who himself invaded humanity… (adding Jesus)”

Replacing the mosaic

The “mosaic” of ideas held by some people are vastly different to the Bible’s own – there may be one or two common pieces, but they are mostly distinct. In these circumstances, all we can do is explain the faith and the gospel, showing why the Bible’s truth is better than the “truth” the listener already holds.

Aristotle said that there are three modes of persuasion:

  1. Logos – logic and argument
  2. Ethos – the status of the speaker
  3. Pathos – emotion

The first two methods of apologetics – adding to the mosaic, and fixing the mosaic – rely on logos more than this third method. Logic is still essential, but the non-Christian’s logic is likely to be as strong as your own; you will prove Christianity true more through it’s inherent appeal (pathos) and through the manner in which you live your life (ethos) than rational argument alone.

Jesus versus the Religious Authorities

Jesus said: But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market-places and calling to their playmates, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” (Matthew 11:16-19 ESV)

And as Jesus reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:15-17 ESV)

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbours, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:1-7 ESV)

Jesus and his disciples went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. (Mark 1:21-22 ESV)

These verses give just a taste of the contrast between the lives and doctrines of Jesus and the Pharisees. The Pharisees, with their legalism, excluded many from full inclusion in God’s people. Jesus, with his doctrine of inclusion by grace through faith, undercut the Pharisees to the point where he was a real political threat – to the point where they had to kill him. One reason (humanly speaking) why he was popular was because of who he was – he spoke with authority, but cared for the poor and outcast (ethos) – another reason is that Jesus’ message of inclusion was a more appealing message than Pharisees’ message of exclusion (pathos). The “mosaic” that Jesus presented to the people and the life that he lived were simply better than what they had seen and heard their whole lives, and many were glad to accept it (until things turned sour later on – but that’s for another post).

Mosaic 4

This is, arguably, the most difficult of the apologetic methods. To convince someone that your “mosaic” is better than theirs is no mean feat. And, on top of that, “we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Cor 1:23 ESV). To those in whom God has not yet worked, our message will be misunderstood, ignored, repulsive or repugnant – no matter how we explain it – if we preach it faithfully.

But if God has begun to work, then we stand a chance – more than a chance, in fact: “We preach Christ crucified … to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:23,24 ESV). We have the promise and certain hope that God will use our words and our lives, feeble and flawed as we are, to bring people to trust in Jesus as saviour and king.

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From → On Apologetics

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