Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Christian Quarries and Apologetics

Growing up, one of my favorite things to do was going on long hikes in the woods just behind our neighborhood. I called it mountains, but it is technically at best ‘hills’. These hills had all kinds of well marked paths and each day was a grand adventure.
I haven't been able to do this yet. But all of the old trails I hiked are now part of the Ruffner Mountain Nature Center. 
One trail led to abandoned mine shafts, others went to beautiful points of views and solitude. We named the trails based on what they led to: “fire tower’, "Irondale”, “Mines”, and “quarry”. Our most favorite hike, however, was to the ‘quarry’. It seemed like a grand canyon to my 11 year old life. There were actually three quarries: the’ Big one’, the ‘Smaller one”, and ‘the Little quarry’- all within a ¼ mile area. 
It was the Big quarry that captured my imagination and excitement. It had high cliffs which completed about 2/3 of a canyon. The trail was cool because it was all heavy pine and shadows that dramatically opened to this amazing view of old limestone walls and evidence of industry. This was a completely dry quarry that has been recorded in my brain as about 440 yards in diameter. It had basically, a flat bottom, and even had an old abandoned car in it. 
My mom would have had a heart attack if she ever saw all that we did in that quarry. We climbed the cliffs (without ropes!) with no worry that a fall meant death. On the top of the quarry, it was a good 100 foot drop! I had a favorite ‘fat man squeeze’ that led to a type of cave. I would climb, squeeze, and then sit in this opening for hours. It was quiet and I felt so alive! 
The hollow canyon was strange. I knew that there had once been a lot of activity there. Birmingham had iron ore, limestone, and coal in great abundance which allowed it to blossom into ‘the Magic City” and “Pittsburg of the South” almost overnight.
But it was dead now. Except for quiet shrubs and persistent saplings, it was devoid of life. I loved to sit and look at the evidence of activity, but it was nothing more than a relic. The old car was rusting, the quarry was out of business, and except for a few adventurous neighborhood boy-gangs. 
What made me think about this? Well, I have been spending a lot of time lately in another beautiful quarry- Christian Epistemology and Philosophy. Hold on- don’t pull me in front of the Presbytery yet- I have great admiration of these pursuits! 
I have been overwhelmed by the intellect and work of Justin Martyr, Iraneus, Tertullian, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Calvin, Kant, Pascal, Kierkegaard, Clarke, and Van Til. I have loved chewing on their thoughts and analysis and I have great faith that God ordains this process as a development of our better understanding of Him and the beautiful balance of faith and reason. 
However, I have become more and more convinced that Christian philosophy is somewhat a dead quarry. I worry that we have squeezed out all of the ore and left only the outline. 
I hear the charge- “There you go- another anti-intellectual Christian”- and that is not it at all. I believe that we have to stay in the academic arena and defend the faith with boldness and clarity. But the basic nature of man will forever place the academic credibility of Christian faith in jeopardy. We never sound ‘retreat’- but let’s not pretend that we will become popular in the devil’s domain. 
The more I study the ‘evidence of the mind’, the more convinced I become about the ‘reasons of the heart’. Anytime we separate our rationale from the heart, we create another quarry. 
What do I mean?
Well, God is a person. 
And that personhood requires heart. We think of apologetics as a tower, God presents it as a dialogue… a relationship. The entire Bible is a story of relationship in which we take sides. We are either a son or an enemy. 
Personhood also unfolds as story. God has a narrative. His story is the gospel and its victory lap throughout history and around the globe. If our apologetic arguments ever detach from the gospel… then the ore has no more value. 
Ravi Zacharius reminds us that we argue from theory, illustrate from the heart, and apply at the kitchen table. Music and movies pierce the soul and logic bounces off the brain. The Christian apologist is sharing himself. The warmth of his love prepares the ground for the force of his evidence. 
I will not stop studying the men before me; they are my faithful fathers. Because they are men, they all have flaws. Some have even communicated ideas that we now consider heretical. But relationships are never clean and all life points to the need of the gospel message of salvation by faith in Christ’s atonement. 
But there has to be heart- there has to be love- what benefit will a clanging gong have on this world? 
The seal of the Savior means a story for His glory- I hope to daily die to my miserable glory story and walk the way of my Lord. 
I now borrow a prayer… stolen from Anselm- the famous ‘credo ut intelligam’
"Nor do I seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe that I may understand. For this, too, I believe, that, unless I first believe, I shall not understand." 

This ‘understanding’ comes first through the heart. The amazing thing is that it is sick by sin- but God’s spirit makes it function and God’s Son makes it clean.

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