3 Reasons that Christian Apologetics and Spirituality Should not be Separated

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Interviewers love experts. Specialists dominate public discourse. Problems arise when one field depends heavily on another and experts have to depart from their expertise. The fields of Christian apologetics and spirituality suffer from this problem.

Christian apologetics focuses on defending the truth claims of Christianity[1] while spirituality focuses on living them out[2]. Balance between these two fields is clearly needed in a world of imperfect information because learning more about the truth claims of Christianity informs how they are lived out and vice versa. Thus, treating either field independently of the other renders the spirituality dead and the apologetics impractical.

At least three reasons can be cited for why apologetics and spirituality should be closely linked.

The first reason for unity of apologetics and spirituality arises in the context of the apologist’s favorite Bible verse fragment:

“…always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…” (1 Peter 3:15 ESV)

The context of this fragment—in fact, the entire book of 1 Peter—is one of “lifestyle evangelism” in the midst of persecution. For example, we read:

“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy … [fragment] … having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” (1 Peter 3:13-16)

In other words, the Apostle Peter says to shame your tormentors with your godly lifestyle!  We to offer a verbal defense only in the context of an authentic Christian lifestyle (spirituality).

The second reason for unity of apologetics and spirituality arises because their separation affects a division between heart (spirituality) and mind (apologetics)—an example of Greek dualism. The Bible teaches that heart and mind cannot be separated, in part, because God created them both just like God created the earth and heaven (Genesis 1:1). Jesus’ bodily resurrection also speaks to the unity of the body (heart) and spirit (mind; e.g. Luke 24:36-43).

The need for unity of heart and mind has been debated throughout church history.  For example, Pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards (2009, 13)—when writing in 1746 about the effects of the Great Awakening—noted that both head and heart were necessary for effective discipling. More recently, Matthew Elliott has argued that God of the Bible is an emotionally stable deity and consistently expresses emotions in keeping with his character. This is unlike other deities in the ancient world who were typically characterized as selfish and capacious in dealing with humans[1]. In other words, God displays emotions consistent with his thinking more frequently than we do with ours!

The third reason for unity of apologetics and spirituality arises from the observation that separation leads to serious lifestyle problems. If our spirituality is not informed by our thinking, then we will be more likely to act solely on emotions—doing what feels good.

Working as a chaplain intern in a Washington hospital in 2011 and 2012, I noticed a disturbing trend among patients. More than half of all patients admitted to the emergency room had problems stemming from relational problems and poor life-style choices[2]. Overweight patients came in with diabetes, asthma, joint problems, and cardiac problems. Men passed out on the street from excessive drinking or other drug abuses. Young men and women fearful of contracting AIDS came in to be tested. These trends were even more pronounced among psyche patients.

We should expect these patient outcomes—doing what feels good comes naturally. The standard behavioral learning model teaches that even an amoeba will response to a positive stimulus by repeating the behavior that evoked the positive stimulus and doing less of the behavior associated with a negative stimulus. When the standard behavioral model breaks down, as it does in most moral dilemmas, then disaster directly follows. For example, this is the story of many addictions.[3] In this respect, the Apostle Paul lamented:  “For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out” (Romans 7:18).

Knowing that apologetics and spirituality inform each other, are treated as part of a unified whole in the Bible, and serve to strengthen our moral resolve in a world of temptations, Christians and theologians need to reflect on how this integration of heart and mind can be strengthened both in theory and in practice. Let’s start today.

References

Chan, Simon.1998. Spiritual Theology: A Systematic Study of the Christian Life. Downers Grove: IVP Academic.

Cross, John G. and Melvin J. Guyer. 1980. Social Traps.  Ann Arbor:  University of Michigan Press.

Edwards, Jonathan. 2009. The Religious Affections (orig pub 1746). Vancouver:  Eremitical Press.

Elliott, Matthew A. 2006. Faithful Feelings: Rethinking Emotion in the New Testament.  Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic and Professional.

Sproul, R.C. 2003. Defending Your Faith: An Introduction to Apologetics. Wheaton: Crossway Books.

 

[1] “The term apologetics comes from the Greek word apologia, which literally means ‘a reasoned statement or a verbal defense.’” (Sproul 203,13).

[2] “Generally,spirituality refers to the kind of life that is formed by a particular type of spiritual theology. Spirituality is the lived reality, whereas spiritual theology is the systematic reflection and formalization of that reality.” (Chan 1998,16).

[3] Elliott distinguishes 2 theories of emotions:  the cognitive theory and the non-cognitive theory. The cognitive theory of emotions argues that “reason and emotion are interdependent” (47) while the non-cognitive theories promote the separation of reason and emotion (46). In other words, the cognitive theory states that we get emotional about the things that we believe strongly. Our emotions are neither random nor unexplained—they are not mere physiology. Elliott writes: “if the cognitive theory is correct, emotions become an integral part of our reason and our ethics” (53-54) informing and reinforcing moral behavior. Review at: (http://wp.me/p3Xeut-1dc).

[4] Speaking later with the head surgeon, he corrected my observation.  He reported that not half the patients but three-quarters of them were admitted with relational problems and poor lifestyle choices.

[5] Behavioral psychologists are well aware of this moral dilemma.  See, for example, Cross and Guyer (1980).  Review at: (http://wp.me/p3Xeut-Zp).

 

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