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Apologetics, Not Apologies

Our faith is meant to grow, but in order to grow, it needs to be challenged. When faith is not challenged, it is only a crutch or an escape hatch.

The telecast of the highly popular movie, The Titanic, evoked personal memories of a thrill ride by the same name, but sharply changed my impressions of it. The ride, at a local fair in my home province of British Columbia several years ago, was visible from almost anywhere on the fair-grounds because of its sheer height. It indeed lived up to its name!

An event should not be deemed impotent simply based on its chronological distance from the present!

The Titanic ride was a monstrous, inflatable slide in the shape of the infamous, doomed vessel. The plastic replica was forever frozen with the foredeck "sub-merged" into an equally inflated Atlantic Ocean. The aft-deck jutted into the air and the concept was to climb, for a modest fee, as high as possible, then slide down the outer deck and crash into the padded "sea," to share in the experience of the actual event. I paid, rode the slide, had a photo taken, left the fair and promptly forgot about this part of my life—until CTV aired the movie late last year.

When the climactic sinking scene began I remembered the fairground ride with fondness, but as I watched screaming people plunging to their deaths, I began to think my entertaining experience actually bordered on the profane. Someone had actually made a ride out of a tragic, historical event that took the lives of more than 1,000 people!

I had joked, laughed, screamed and, in essence, mocked the horrific circumstances that proved to be the final moments for many of my fellow human beings. Then I told myself I was being overly sensitive since the actual event was so far in the past no one could possibly be traumatized or offended by the nature of the ride: I was being foolish!

Then something I had never thought of previously occurred to me: the same thing could be said about the Cross! Who could possibly be traumatized by something like that when it happened so long ago? Conversely, who could actually be impacted in a positive way by the message of salvation the Cross brings, since it, too, occurred so long ago?

If I am honest with myself, I see the truth of this indifference to the past, even in my own personal experiences. While I endure moments of intense suffering, temptation or unrest, I crave God like an asthmatic craves air. However, as soon as the moment passes, I return to my creature-comfort Christianity where I often see God as a nuisance rather than a Saviour. In the words of Paul: "What a wretched man I am!"

An event should not be deemed impotent simply based on its chronological distance from the present! So, how do we prevent ourselves, and others, from relegating Christ to antiquity? I believe the answer lies not just in our hearts, but in our minds as well.

I constantly lament the loss of the faith I had early on in my journey—the passionate, energetic and easily-appeased faith that never struggled to believe in a good God with all my heart. I attempt to recapture that feeling of innocence whenever possible, yet it continues to elude me like the proverbial carrot at the end of the stick: driving me forward but never allowing me a taste. Am I alone here, or can I get an "Amen"?

I have not given up on my faith, because as soon as I feel sure to be washed away in despair, a simple thought enters my head. I can no longer feel as I did when I was a spiritual child simply because I am no longer a spiritual child. Were I to return to that state, I would actually be travelling away from God, though I could feel I am closer.

Every walk I have ever taken in my life is full of hills and valleys. The stops I eagerly anticipate have spectacular views that take my breath away and I long to stay there forever. Other parts of the path are uphill and cause my legs to throb and my lungs to burn and they possess no worthwhile view. During these stretches, I long for the earlier flat road and picturesque scenery. I am tempted to turn back, but if I constantly return to the easy path, I will never get where I am going.

It is the same with faith.

The message I wish to deliver is that there is nothing wrong with a complicated faith. The only way faith can remain alive and vital in a complicated world is if it allows for complication. Otherwise it becomes merely a crutch or an escape hatch, used "only when necessary."

If we chalk up every problem to the mysterious will of God simply because we do not want to challenge our faith or work through our own inconsistencies, we are not being heroic or faithful. We are being escapists on our way to a toxic level of uselessness.

Does this mean I think we should abandon faith as a useless and archaic instrument of the intellectually lazy? Absolutely not!

It is to be applauded when believers refuse to simply accept what the minister tells them …

It is the duty of a maturing Christian to struggle with problems and ideas that challenge us. It is good for a Christian to wonder at the nature of God when the world suffers so. It is to be applauded when believers refuse to simply accept what the minister tells them, without thinking it through for themselves. We should be the intellectual elite, because we are contemplating the matters of the universe most Sundays when our neighbours are sleeping in, mowing the lawn, or watching sports.

As we grow, I encourage all young adults to understand the difference between defending the faith and being defensive. Do not be ashamed of your faith! It is your faith that will define you more than anything else you possess. Knowing that, do not compromise your faith in the name of open-mindedness. In all things, think critically, pray fervently and live faithfully and you will not conform to the world, but will be transformed by God.

Paul calls us to put away childish things when we outgrow them. I am echoing that call both in myself and to this generation.

… as we walk forward we will face challenges that no other generation has ever faced.

Gone are the carefree days when all of life's problems could be resolved with a band-aid, a story or a hug from a loved one. But that is a good thing.

Our corporate destiny lies before us, not behind us, and as we walk forward we will face challenges that no other generation has ever faced. For that reason we must be skilled thinkers, ready to preach the Gospel in an ever-changing world.

Let us dedicate our lives to the defence and description of this faith and ask for God's mercy, courage, love and Spirit as we work out our own, not our parents' nor our childhood's, salvation. Am I alone here or can I get an "Amen"?

J.T. Robertson is the former youth and young adult minister at Southwood United Church in Calgary, AB. He is currently enrolled at McMaster Divinity College in Hamilton, ON.

Originally published in the Fellowship Magazine, March 2004.




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