In love,Valentines Day
A Post-Modern Valentine’s Day
by Jojo Ruba
I have to make a small confession: It’s only a few more hours before Valentine’s Day and I still don’t know what to get for my girlfriend. I’m thinking of sending her some great articles about how Valentine’s is overtly commercialized and how it’s better to spend less this holiday, but that might not go over very well!
Honestly, I know she’d be happy with just a nice meal and some quality time – it’s one of the reasons I’m with her. She is a pretty straightforward kind of person who says things as she sees them (well, most times!). Every day I spend with her I learn to look at the world from a whole different perspective. Sometimes it’s learning simple things like realizing some people (like her) actually hate pickles and the “texture of” raw tomatoes, or sometimes it’s a little more substantial like learning how she copes with tragedy. Every little tidbit I get to know about her helps me get to know her as the person I care for.
Being in a relationship has helped me appreciate more deeply the Bible’s comparison of marriage with that of Christ’s relationship with the church (Ephesians 5:22-30). The Apostle Paul clearly lays out how husbands and wives are to relate to each other, and it’s in the way that Christ relates with Christian believers. The marriage relationship truly is a relationship with a whole person – body, mind and spirit.
This is the reason I am so passionate about teaching Christian apologetics. Learning reasons for why I believe what I do helps me understand God better and deepens my faith in Him. I want Christians to know that their relationship with God can be a whole relationship too, one where their intellect as well as their heart can be satisfied.
Yet, as I’ve challenged Christians to develop this holistic approach to their faith, many have told me that they are uninterested in learning how to defend it. Some have said that it isn’t our job to defend God – God can defend Himself. Others say that they would rather focus on deepening a Spirit-filled life. In other words, living a godly life is more important than learning arguments in defense of that life and the one who makes that life possible.
Much of this criticism of apologetics stems from a post-modern understanding of the world. The widely used (and misused) term refers to how Canadian culture has moved from valuing propositional truths (here is an objective reason why we believe in God) to valuing personal truths (this is my story and this is why I feel you should believe in God), where personal experience shapes our values almost entirely. This understanding has transformed many Christian ministries, particularly those to youth.
These ministries focus on building relationships with non-believers, and then sharing with them the Christian experience. Rather than arguing with them about Christianity from the pulpit, leaders engage in discussions where everyone shares their personal experiences. The Christian story becomes central only as it is experienced rather than taught.
Ironically, this is supposed to address the needs that many young people who leave the church have. I met recently with James Penner, author of Hemorrhaging Faith, a study that looked at 2000 youth and young Canadians, half of whom have left the church. He said the number one reason young Christians leave the church is because they say they don’t feel loved. Interestingly, Penner didn’t stop there. He agreed that young adults need to feel welcome in the church, but he told me that this isn’t the only conclusion we should get from his study.
Instead, he said that young adults also need to be challenged in their thinking about faith. He said it was a problem that so many young Canadians evaluate the reliability of their faith simply on how it makes them feel or how they are treated by other Christians. For example, no one should reject the reliability of a history textbook just because some of the lessons are painful to read or because the instructor using the book is disagreeable. In the same way, Penner points out that there must be something wrong about what we teach to young people if they think they can reject the Christian faith just because they have had a bad experience.
In fact, if you take three main arguments Christians raise against apologetics and apply them to romantic relationships, you begin to see how detrimental they are to our relationships – both with God and with each other. So what happens when we use this post-modern approach with our loved ones? What if we had a Post-modern Valentines?
1. Relationships vs. Reason
The first reason Christians give for rejecting learning to defend the faith is that we should focus on relationships with people rather than learning arguments. It sounds simple enough, especially if your view of apologetics is just about honing debating skills (which it is not, but more on this later).
But imagine if you were to take that same attitude with your significant other; could that last? Imagine telling her that you want to take her out for Valentine’s Day to her favourite restaurant. She says that’s great but then asks you if you know what her favourite restaurant is. Your response is, “I don’t know but that’s not really important. I just want to be in relationship with you.”
It becomes quite obvious that you can’t have a relationship with her if you don’t spend time getting to know basic facts about her: her favourite food, her birthday, even her name! You can’t know her until you know about her.
Yet basic facts about God are exactly what our culture is confused about. Last week, when I spoke at a Christian high school, the majority of students in one class told me that all religious claims are merely preference or cultural claims. In other words, God is only a creation of humanity’s beliefs. He is not an objective Person who exists outside of our human understanding. This is the common view of youth groups I talk to across Canada.
And here’s the point: what kind of relationship with God do Christian youth actually have if they believe in the wrong God, a God who is a mere construction of the human mind? Relationships can only be real relationships if they are based on truth. In fact, what I’ve found is that the more I learn facts about God, the more I deepen my relationship with Him. That shouldn’t be a surprise because that is what we do with human relationships. We need to remedy this situation.
2. “Arguing people into heaven doesn’t work.”
Part of the Christian opposition to apologetics is also a misunderstanding of what apologetics is. Often, people picture Christians teaching others how to be belligerent or intellectual, arguing away with other intellectuals who won’t change their mind anyway. I’ve heard too many Christians say that this kind of approach simply won’t save anyone.
But as Christian apologist Greg Koukl says, this understanding of apologetics is at least 40 years old. Sure, it might work with some but most modern Christian thinkers understand the proper role of apologetics. Our arguments aren’t going to save anyone – the Holy Spirit transforms lives. But if that’s the case then we have to concede that our relationship-style evangelism also won’t save anyone!
The point is that often the Holy Spirit can use both approaches to bring people into the Kingdom. Jesus was well known for arguing with Pharisees and lawyers who were trying to antagonize Him, and even though many rejected His message, some believed His arguments and became followers. For example, in John 3 Jesus discusses what it means to be born again with Nicodemus, and in John 4 many Samaritans believe in Jesus after he argues with a woman at the well.
Was a relationship involved? Absolutely. But it did not exclude arguments or facts as if the two were antithetical to each other. Rather, the information Jesus brought helped create a relationship that was fostered – relationship based on truth was what drew so many to Him.
Today, we simply can’t ignore how so many are confused about faith, particularly Christian faith. Too many young Christians don’t know why they believe what they do, and teaching them not to “argue” has become an excuse to not teach them any reasons why they should be believers.
In fact, we would argue for people we love, wouldn’t we? If my Valentine’s character was being slandered and attacked, I would be the first one to defend her reputation against people who wanted to hurt her. If I didn’t, she and I would both justifiably question whether or not I truly cared for her.
But then doesn’t God deserve that same kind of love? When God is attacked as being the source of evil or being a racist, misogynist by atheist thinkers, or reviled as someone who doesn’t even exist, what should those of us who love God do?
3. “Faith is about embracing mystery.”
The last common argument against focusing on apologetics is that Christians need to embrace mystery. This argument hinges on the idea that faith is about accepting the fact that we can’t know everything.
Now of course, this side of heaven, it is impossible for us to know everything – that is just common-sense. But again, apply that to our human relationships.
Imagine you are walking home at night and a stranger in a large vehicle approaches you. You don’t recognize him, but he tells you that he’s seen you at church and wants to make sure you get home safely because he cares for you as his Valentine.
Now, would you go with him? Would you embrace mystery at this point? Hopefully not! That’s because it isn’t about what we don’t know that matters – it’s about what we do know!
Are there a lot of things I don’t know about my girlfriend? Yup – and I’m learning more about her every day. I’m also learning that there are some things I can never know about her! Women will always find ways to confound men – and that’s a wonderful mystery. But I can only appreciate the mystery when I know what I do know about her first. I have learned to accept what I can’t know because I trust her enough based on what I do know.
And that’s what Christian faith is about – it isn’t a blind leap where we silence all our questions about God. Frankly, I think God appreciates it when we ask Him these questions! It is about learning enough about Him to trust Him, and when that trust happens, we can learn to accept things that we simply can’t understand for the moment.
Christians need to see that teaching people to defend their faith is not just teaching people arguments. It would be a fruitless endeavour if it were just that. Rather, Peter says in 1 Peter 3 that we must always give good reasons to everyone who asks us because we are giving reasons for people to hope, and that hope is found in the true God. Our relationship with God is much more important than arguing about facts, but that relationship cannot start unless we know which God we are in relationship with, and that demands a consideration of the facts.
I don’t write this piece to argue with our Christian friends who hold this post-modern view. I hope this article sparks a conversation about what the Christian faith truly offers and what we should do teach it to others.
Now, I should go – I have a Valentine’s date to plan.