Integration Blog

Apologetics or Integration

There is a tendency for Christian intellectual life to become reactive and allow our critics to determine our agenda. This is an ancient tendency. One need look no further than a comprehensive list of the writings of almost any early church father to discover a wide variety of “Apologies” and “Against Heresies” with varying levels of specification.[1] This tendency finds current expression in the overwhelming demand for responses to contemporary challenges to the faith—from post-modernism to The Da Vinci Code to Harry Potter.

Though I am certainly not opposed to apologetics (some of my best friends are apologists), it is worth noting that there are dangers hidden in the apologetic project—and these dangers have not escaped the notice of thoughtful Christian commentators. Abraham Kuyper, for example, took a rather dim view of apologetics. For him, apologetics was straightening the pictures in a burning building. He felt compelled to focus on “more fundamental and extensive” matters. Apologetics takes a piecemeal approach to defending Christianity, but modernism is global in its assault![2] Kuyper was famous for demanding that Christ be equally global in his claims because, “There is not one square inch over which Jesus does not cry, ‘Mine!’”

But being global in one’s claims requires one to be positive in one’s vision. There is no point in demanding the entire world if you have not figured out what to do with it once you get it. Evaneglical Christians know what to do with a church, but what do we do with a mountain, a mill or a midge-fly? And for that matter, do we know what to do with a movie or a mural? It has been observed by many commentators of the past century that Christians have abandoned countless spheres of human endeavor and disregarded much of the created order. We are pre-occupied with “spiritual matters.” Part of why secular thinking dominates so many fields is that sacred thinking has spent so little time there.

Perhaps an illustration would be helpful. Several years ago, I purchased a house with a large backyard that had spent the past 50 years in disuse apart from rare occasions when it served as a horse pasture. Weed abatement was an almost impossible task. Nature abhors a vacuum and the weeds were eagerly honoring nature’s call. I had to decide if my preferred weapon of war would be Round-Up to kill the weeds, or a hoe and a spade to plant a garden. In either case, weeds were not to be tolerated, but I had to decide if my organizing vision would be of a garden or of dead weeds. For Kuyper, apologetics was prone to pursue a vision of dead weeds. Whenever apologists found modernism planting a weed, they would rush in with Round-Up to make the kill. In their better moments, they might even plant a Christian flower where the weed had been. But notice, when we kill a weed and plant a flower in its stead, the weeds are still determining the shape of the garden.

What is missing is a clear vision of a Christian garden. We must ask ourselves what a given sphere of human endeavor or a particular aspect of the created order would look like if submitted to the Lordship of Christ. If Yosemite was submitted to the Lordship of Christ, would He make it a gravel pit? I trust not—its beauty should be preserved and enjoyed. At the same time, the creation story teaches that an intended function of the earth was to bring forth food for human beings and other animals. The environment subjected to Jesus is not to be returned to an uncultivated state of nature. The land, at least large portions of it, was intended to be cultivated and to bear fruit used for animal and human nourishment. In a sense, the wheat fields of eastern Washington sing God’s praises every bit as much as the tranquil beauty of the High Sierra. Both are fulfilling a God-given purpose. And what would a human art such as movie making or poetry look like when submitted to the Lordship of Christ? It is not enough to say, “Different than it does today!” If we sweep the movie house clean of demons and add nothing in its place, it is likely to be filled by seven more demons when we are done. The creation will be used, the only question is which vision will drive that use. If indeed “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,” we as His people should have a vision for that fullness. Depending upon one’s theology, our actions either anticipate Jesus’ kingdom or usher it in. Either way, we must cultivate a positive vision which honors Him and conforms to His purposes.

[1] Tertullian is a good example of this tendency. Consider the following titles: “The Apology”; “An Answer to the Jews”; “A Fragment Concerning the Execrable Gods of the Heathen”;  “The Prescription Against Heretics”; “Against Marcion”; “Against Hermogenes”; “Against Valentinians”; and “Against Praxeas.” It is either ironic or instructive that Tertullian ended his days having departed from orthodoxy to embrace Monatism.

[2] See David Naugle, Worldview: The History of a Concept (Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002), p. 18.

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