Saturday, February 28, 2015

Feb. 28, 2015, column:
Practice what you preach
(That headline was on the column in the newspaper. It isn't really the point. Better: Apologetics conference focuses on people, not words.)

By Mike Haynes
            Entering the Hillside Christian Church chapel for a half-day of a Regional Apologetics Conference on a recent Saturday, I expected the three speakers to give the crowd some good reasons why Christianity is true.
            Margaret Manning Shull, Cameron McAllister and John Njoroge didn’t do that, but I wasn’t disappointed.
Margaret Manning Shull
            The trio from Ravi Zacharias International Ministries assumed most of us already were convinced of the truth of the gospel. They spent their time in Amarillo talking more about the culture we’re in and, as Shull said, “Why should anybody want to listen to us?”
            Ravi Zacharias has plenty of material that lays out intellectual and historical reasons for believing the claims of Jesus Christ. But the people from various churches attending this event left with a better understanding of 21st century attitudes and how best to approach non-Christians who may not see a need for this churchy stuff.
            “It’s not just words,” Shull told us. “It’s how we live our lives.”
            The term “apologetics” doesn’t mean apologizing, of course, but presenting reasons for believing. One of the biblical foundations for Christians doing that is 1 Peter 3:15: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have…”
            As often happens when people quote the Bible, though, the rest of that passage may be overlooked. “…But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (I Peter 15-16, NIV)
            Practice what you preach, in other words, which we often fail to do. And like the apostle Paul did, we need to approach people in ways they understand.
Cameron McAllister
         McAllister, young enough to be in the millennial generation, pointed out how literature and even popular culture can be bridges to people.
            “Why are zombies so compelling?” he asked, referring to shows such as “The Walking Dead.” “A zombie is a slave to its body, its hunger and its desires. Isn’t that just like us?”
            But McAllister said that unlike zombies, humans don’t live on bread alone. Finding purpose and fulfillment just by feeding our desires or even by trusting solely in science leaves out a key ingredient: meaning.
            Teacher Thomas Gradgrind, a Charles Dickens character in “Hard Times,” was “a man of realities” and “a man of fact and calculations.” Gradgrind asked his students to define a horse, and the correct answer was a quadruped with 40 teeth and hard hooves, among other specifics.
            McAllister said that’s all true, but the facts don’t tell you everything about a horse, such as the elegance with which it runs or the majesty with which it holds its head.
            He cited the Oscar-winning movie, “American Beauty,” not a film that many Christians would recommend to their friends. But a simple scene in that movie has a character watching a video of a plastic bag blowing in the breeze. Watching the bag rise and fall and dance, the character’s imagination helps him realize there is meaning behind life.
            “Imagination is the organ of meaning,” McAllister said, quoting C.S. Lewis, and creative works can open conversations that lead to the author of meaning.
John Njoroge
            “Millennials are starting to recognize that they want real relationships,” McAllister said, “not just tweets.”
            The three speakers agreed that Christians should put people first, not in a manipulative way, but by being genuinely interested in their lives and their opinions.
            “When we look at people, we stereotype them,” Njoroge said. “And we’re almost always wrong about them. Distinguish the person from their ideology. We are called to love our neighbor, not humanity.
            “The Bible says people are made in the image of God. No other religion places humans in such high regard.”
            Christianity tells us that God values us highly but that humanity is corrupt without the salvation Jesus offers. McAllister noted that modern humanists operate on the theory that people are basically good but that pop culture seems to contradict that idea. Just on TV, examples are “Breaking Bad,” “Mad Men” and “Dexter,” in which the “heroes” are more flawed than admirable.
            “The arts tell us that we’re bad,” McAllister said.
             Christians’ challenge is to show each person around us there is a way to be   forgiven forever for our badness.