An apologetical response [?]…

November 02, 2008 I held a wake to celebrate the death and resurrection of Presbyterian Ryan.  I was baptized a Presbyterian on November 02, 1975.  I was in my Jesus year and decided to leave the PCUSA.  It was not an easy decision for me to leave the denomination.  I prayed and discerned that I would not leave.  I held on to my affiliation and hope as long as I could.  I decided that I could not longer stick around hoping that it would change.

My call is to ministry and not to take a beating and prove that I am really called to serve this world as a minister of word and sacrament.  It was a deep blow to me that I still hurt from today.  I felt rejected and scorned.  I felt like a jilted over watching their betrothed dance the night away with another.  I mourned for sometime.

My move to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has been a quick and painful lesson.  I looked at and considered the DOC long ago.  I just never thought that I would not actually ever become a member of the denomination.  On September 14 Douglass Blvd Christian Church voted and unanimously called me to be their associate minister.  There I was wanted and affirmed by an ecclesial community.  Someone wanted to dance with me after all.  Gone were the “you may or may not be called” and “We just do not understand what you want to do in ministry.”  I was welcomed with open arms.

It is coming up on one year of being a DOC minister.  I enjoy learning about my new ecclesial home.  The sting of losing that ole Presby home has gone away and has been replaced with a more familiar comfortable feeling.  I begin a polity course in a week that will be my final requirement to receive national standing with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

I am excited and relieved.  I discover my new home to be a good fit.  I appreciate the polity more and more that I have been called to work within.  I know enough to be dangerous and am become proficient with the theological holdings of the denomination.  I took up my first ever writing this morning to another Disciple.

Here was the message from the other Disciple:

This is out of my own curiosity, but how many of us actually know what Christian apologetics is? Apologetics is the attempt to provide a rational ground for what we believe in, why we have faith in Christ as lord. Most of us cannot give an adequate defense of the bible and every single Christian should study apologetics. I challenge you to pick up an apologetics book, belief in God has a rational ground to it, not just an emotional one. Message back to me if you want any book suggestions.

Here is my response:

I encourage your eagerness to explore and strengthen your faith.  It is a hallmark of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) to adhere to a questioning faith that challenges the status quo as it seeks to develop a sense of personal discipleship.  I also would like to caution you in your challenge to this group.

I am not certain how you encountered apologetics or in what manner you have or are becoming proficient in the apologetic practice.  I wonder as to how productive a conversation would be today based in apologetics.  Sure, apologetics has secured and transformed numerous generations of faithful as it guided and moderated conversations pertaining to faith.

I am not sure that apologetics can serve the same function today as it has in the past.  The practice of apologetics is rooted in certainty and the ability to defend ones position from that certainty.  We experience a different certainty and a more complex religious landscape than in the past.

An argument based in a particular certainty must meet a particular culture in a manner that engages said culture in order to defend that certainty which was the basis of the apologetic argument if the first place.  This American religious landscape we minister with and to today are full of complex understandings of the divine.  Even within our denomination we cannot adhere to a specific understanding of faith, Jesus the Christ, or Biblical interpretation.  We as a denomination uphold a diverse and bountiful array of ways to be Disciples.  We are but one of many Christian denominations among numerous Christian movements among numerous religions practiced faithfully in the US.

How can we as finite beings offer up anything “adequate” as a defense of an omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient God?  We may speak to our experience of the divine and share with others our story and faith.  If asked to defend the Bible we fall trap to idolatry as we seek to protect a book.  The Bible is not sacred.  The relationships that the Bible calls us to and reveals to us are sacred.  If we focus upon the instruction manual without building the appliance it instructs us to build does the instruction manual hold worth or value?

“Belief of God has a rational ground to it, not just an emotional one.”  I would argue that God is beyond rational.  How can an omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient God be anything but irrational?  If we can conceive of God and define God than God is not omniscient.  If we can administer God to others than God is not omnipotent.  If God can be defined in anyway then God has limitations and God is not omnipresent.  Anything short of complete and utter mystery as our conclusion of God lends to a God that we manufacture.  God has no limits outside of the limitations God imposes upon Gods self.  That is irrational and can be gestured towards.  It cannot be exhaustively spoken of.  Not to mention belief is subjective and I dare to say that no one believes in the same exact things in the same exact manner.  It looks as if we may agree on the emotional ground of faith in God.  I will lend that to the imago dei that creation holds of God.

I know nothing of you other than this one message I received from you.  I find it important to address your challenge with another challenge.  I challenge you to explore faith in ways that you normally would not.  Experience faith.  Experience belief.  Experience diversity.  There are more than “our” way to be faithful as there is more than “our” way of thinking.  You sent a message out to almost 1,000 members of this group challenging them to pick up apologetic practices to be faithful.  How can you be faithful in ways that do not assert your ways upon this group?  How can you lead in ways that will draw others in to a faithful conversation with God and develop divine relationships between Creator & creation as it binds creature to creature?

Blessings, Rev. Ryan Kemp-Pappan

Douglass Blvd Christian Church

Louisville, Kentucky

One thought on “An apologetical response [?]…

  1. jose morales says:

    Rev. Ryan–

    I enjoyed your response to the “call” for apologetics. There’s nothing wrong, or even misguided, about seeking intellectual integrity in one’s faith. During my evangelical years, I was enriched by engaging some fabulous apologists, like William Lane Craig, Alvin Plantinga, John R.W. Stott, and of course, CS Lewis.

    Nevertheless, our epistemological “givens” have been gracefully deconstructed by our face-smack confrontation with the realities of diverse worldviews and their respective epistemological presuppositions.

    I now push not for a rational apologetics, but for a incarnational apologetics. Our defense of Christianity should be our lives, our practices. Our articulation of Jesus should be expressed in how we embody Jesus (his message, kingdom, sacrifice and resurrection).

    Prayerful, justice-empassioned, Spirit-energized discipleship should be our main persuasive discourse. Even the evangelical (Southern Baptist) apologist Dallas Willard takes an incarnational approach, when he writes in “The Divine Conspiracy,” “Discipleship is learning from Jesus how to live my life as Jesus would live it if he were me.”

    Our apologetics should be incarnational. And liturgical! As you said (and the Oxthodox Tradition concurs), mystery is the cornerstone, ironically, of our knowing God. As we stand up to deliver our apologetic proclamation, we should quickly recoil and fall on our knees in awesome and awe-filled adoration of God. As our Orthodox sisters and brothers like to remind us: all true theology is liturgical. I concur: talking about God and talking to God are one and the same.

    Peace!
    …Jose Morales

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