Reflections on Christian Apologetics

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The word “apologetics” comes from the Greek word apologia, used in the legal sense as a defendant’s response to the charges against him in a court of law. For instance when Socrates was accused of corrupting the youths of Athens and stirring them to sedition, he gave a speech in his own defense which is an apologia.

The word is also used in the New Testament when Paul defends himself against the charges of heresy levied against him before the authorities (Acts 26:2); in Philippians 1:17 and 1 Peter 3:15 which exhorts us to “always be prepared to give an answers to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”

Hence, Christian apologetics can be defined as a defense of the truthfulness of Christianity and its truth claims centred on the reality of the Gospel. It is vital in strengthening the faith of Christians, removing the obstacles of ignorance and/or misinformation which often impede people’s consideration of the gospel and refuting destructive heresies within the Christian fold.

My foray into Apologetics

I’ve been asked by friends time and again, to explain how I developed a passion for what I write and research and how they too can develop skills in these areas. I will do just that.

Apologetics is only a part of what I do; it’s not all I do. I have worked as part of a team at a construction site, but that doesn’t make me an expert in construction work. My field of study is the Sciences. I actually write on a wide variety of topics besides apologetics (even on secular issues) so in a strict sense, I am not an expert.

Apologetics can have its toll on one’s mental and spiritual health, so one first needs to have a genuine burden for seeing souls being rescued. Suffice it to say that no one should engage in combating errors and refuting the claims of false religions unless he/she has a motivating factor and a thick skin to hide behind.

There are professional Christian apologists; they publish books, devote all their working hours to apologetics and get paid for it. Some also delve into apologetics because they have a burden to win souls from specific religious systems they were previously involved in e.g. ex-Catholics, ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses or ex-Muslims.

In my case, certain circumstances led me into apologetics. Right from my teenage years, I had this strong desire to know about world religions and mythologies, so from time to time; I would scan through the volumes of Encyclopedia Britannica which my father had, to read about religions like Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Islam, ancient Egyptian religion etc. I also read Christian works exposing the occult.

I basically made up my mind to learn the beliefs and practices of religions and Christian cults and also studied on Christian doctrines and theology as well. I didn’t realize it then, but what I was learning was gradually changing my outlook on several issues and this reflected in my discussions with other people.

Of course, several Christians tried to discourage me from reading anything “from the other side.” They believed such things would make my faith wane, but I’ve now realized that you appreciate your own faith better and gain essential perspectives when you learn about various religions. When I tried to share some of what I was learning, I was dismissed as “weird” and “radical.”

Many Nigerian Christians are raised to believe that knowledge of religious worldviews besides Christianity is an aberration and that it’s inciting to critique beliefs of false religions or pseudo-Christian groups. Those in my circle of acquaintances would quickly duck such conversations with a rehearsed line: “Only God knows those serving him. Let’s not judge.”

In 2011, I observed how Muslims were attacking and distorting the Bible and Christianity online and I felt the need to respond to them. From there, I began to engage them in debates, quoting from the Quran and Hadiths to prove my stance. Their gutless evasion and weak responses strengthened my convictions that Islam is a religion of lies. This extended to other religious systems and these naturally propelled me to study further.

There are different situations that inspire me to write. Sometimes it’s during or after a discussion. Sometimes it’s while listening to people or reading an article or book. There are times when friends directly request I write on particular topics. And there are times when I feel a piece of information is placed in my mind (even with scripture verses), and I know I’m being led to write on it.

For example, before I wrote The Roots of Sexual Depravity, an idea of 4 popular celebs with a common background of sexual abuse first beamed into my mind one afternoon. I didn’t know how to go about it or develop it. So for 3 months, I “nursed” this part until the other pieces began to fall into place in my mind. I don’t really have a writing ritual. I just need to be focused and undisturbed in a cool environment.

Tips on effective research

(a) Before addressing a religion/cult or dialoguing with its adherents, study what they believe. Read from their side and your side. You need to have your facts about their founder, source of authority, beliefs, attractions, how they win converts, what makes converts stay in it and learn from those who have left it.

(b) Objectivity is very crucial. It means accurately understanding and representing what others believe, even if you disagree with them. Subjectivity fails to consider major differences between religions. For example, there are clear differences between Wicca and Satanism. When you lump both together without noting their distinctions, your credibility is undermined. Hinduism, Buddhism and New Age spirituality all believe in reincarnation, but they differ markedly in their understanding and explanations of it.

(c) Your quotes about the religion’s beliefs should come from a primary source or a source they regard as authentic. It’s unethical to embellish a quote or fabricate a reference. What I tell people is: if there’s anything you can’t logically or factually defend, don’t say/write it.

Pitfalls to Avoid

  • The peacock syndrome

Just as a peacock’s world revolves around showing off its beautiful feathers, when an apologist’s primary motive is to impress his audience for fame and applause, he is suffering from this syndrome. Pride is one of the easiest pits for an apologist to fall into because “knowledge puffs up” (1 Cor. 8:1)

When you are more burdened in defending yourself or refuting what others are saying about your person than defending the truth of the Gospel or refuting false teachings, you are becoming a soldier of glory rather than a soldier of the cross.

Last year, I watched as two eminent Christian apologists tore into each other with post after post on social media. Their fans took sides and attacked one another as well, with one party trolling and blocking the other. They became a cheap source of entertainment to the Muslims they were supposed to be engaging. At a point, I began to think both apologists knew too much for their own good.

Most of my serious debates (some of which are published here) are often done in private messaging, because I believe the best way to reach non-Christians is through a one-on-one dialogue. This doesn’t allow for sideshows or cheers from people but makes us focus on the issue at hand.

I’ve had several Muslims plead and even try to bully me into having free-for-all debates on my Facebook wall but when I insist on my private policy, they slink into the night. That even exposes their motives; they are not ready to learn anything but to get some cheap thrill. We need to watch out for arrogant attitudes and carnal motives and seek “the honour that comes from God alone” (Jn. 5:44).

  • The mirror image syndrome

This is an anomaly whereby a Christian slowly takes up the negative tactics, attitude and mindsets of his cult opponents. A person can become a mirror image of the very falsehood, hate and delusion he is contending against. Like Pogo, the cartoon character said, “We have seen the enemy and he is us.” I have cited one example of this pitfall.

Another example is the Shoebats. On the surface, they oppose Islam, but when you look deeper, you will find the same warped Islamic approach to the Bible and Christianity permeating their arguments. Those who soak in their writings can also develop such toxic mindsets as well.

I used to be in an online Christian group in 2013, and I observed that most of its members were always arguing over trivial matters and were impervious to any Biblical correction. It didn’t take me long to find out why: most of them were Christian apologists against Islam. They had apparently picked up the negative spirit of closed-mindedness from their regular Muslim opponents.

The dark side of the social media (and this is a global epidemic) is how it has butchered basic civility by an anonymous collective. The Internet already has the tendency to bring out negative traits in people, but the social media has eroded the last vestiges of verbal filters and restrain.

The moment some people are online, they are completely unshackled from their morals and are quick to descend into primitiveness. Once there’s a disagreement, the tenor and quality of most online conversations (even between Christians) readily take a downward turn; they become demeaning, rhetorically violent and lacking in basic conversational decorum.

This is why we constantly need to examine ourselves so we don’t lose our spiritual bearing and forget the eternal worth of souls all in the name of presenting the truth. The Bible enjoins us to be salt and light and this should always be at the back of our minds. When we stoop to the same level as the unregenerate, we undermine our message.

  • Debate addiction

Debates are good, but not all of them are fruitful, or necessary. Some Christians get into apologetics because they love to argue with others, but the fact is, much of apologetics is teaching. Most of the time people you will be engaging are ignorant (or have a distorted view) about what we believe, so you would need to educate them.

A person can get to a stage where he finds fighting pleasurable. Such a person would daily stroll through various fora to stir up fights; the hotter the debate, the bigger the excitement. Such folks are lonely or in despair and they get “high” on debate Adrenalin rush. They need help.

In apologetics, there is a time to be silent; a time to respond; a time to fight hard and a time to ignore. We must carefully pick our battles with wisdom. We are not to fight “like a boxer beating around the air” (1 Cor. 9:26).

There are times friends invite me over to help “vanquish” an opponent so that he/she would see his/her errors and become a Christian. I usually decline such invitations because they are laced with an unrealistic expectation. Even if some people see the dead rise to proclaim the truth, they will still not believe. Embracing truth usually takes time, personal study and a willingness to believe.

We can learn from Nehemiah who refused to waste his time in fruitless discussions with his opponents but instead channelled his energy into building the Temple. Our personal spiritual lives are also important and we must not jeopardize it.

Finally, apologetics shouldn’t rob us of fun and tenderness. I was recently chatting with a friend after he read one or two of my blog articles and he asked, “Victor, do you still celebrate birthdays?” I knew where he was going with that question because we’ve been friends since 2007.

I wanted to know why he asked and he said, “Many Christian investigators like you fish out the origins of everything!” I quickly corrected him with a Nigerian expression: “I don’t belong to that mould; I don’t carry pagan origins on my head like a bag of cement.” He laughed. But he has a point: apologetics shouldn’t make us rigid, cynical, gruff and unnecessary combative.

We must learn to meet people “where they are” – unless their worldview or practice poses a spiritual danger. We should learn to maintain a balance, enjoy life and sometimes, even laugh at our own selves!

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Word Faith Teachings and Mind Science Cults

Recently, while discussing with some friends on Facebook about the Word-Faith movement, I realised that the varying doctrines and nuanced terminologies found within the WOF can sway even sincere Christians to innocently embrace their heretical teachings and techniques.

Unravelling this aberrational hoodwink requires an exploration of the origin of such false teachings. Once their roots are exposed, you can easily discern when a teaching or practice has crossed the lines of Christian orthodoxy and is skating on the thin ice of cults and the occult.

First, let’s remind ourselves of what the Bible says about God and faith, because these are key areas through which WOF peddlers smuggle their load of errors through the back door.

  • God

The God of the Bible is “the Living God who made the heaven, and earth, and the sea and all things therein” (Acts 14:15). Not only that, He has a present interest and an active hand in the affairs of men:

“For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him…” (2 Chr. 16:9).

This is how you will know that the living God is among you and that he will certainly drive out before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites” (Josh. 3:10)

…For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end. He rescues and saves; he performs wonders in the heavens and on the earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions” (Dan. 6:26-27).

Since God is the Creator of the universe, He’s not the universe and He is not subject to the laws of the universe. This is called “the Infinity of God.”

“The infinity of God is that perfection of God by which He is free from all limitations. In ascribing it to God we deny that there are or can be any limitations to the divine Being. It implies that He is in no way limited by the universe, by this time-space, or confined to the universe” (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1958, 59

The Bible also shows us that God is sovereign. He has absolute authority over all His creatures and upholds all things by His almighty power. God – not man – has absolute rule. He shapes the whole present history of the world and all things are dependent on Him and subservient to Him:

“For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes” (Deut. 10:17)

“With my great power and outstretched arm I made the earth and its people and the animals that are on it, and I give it to anyone I please” (Jer. 27:5).

Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: ‘Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns’” (Rev. 19:6).

  • Faith

Faith generally means having an unhesitating assurance of the truth of God’s testimony, even when it is unsupported by any other evidence. Hebrews 11:1 describes it as: “the assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen” (Amplified).

Faith rests on the unseen because it rests upon the foundation of God’s Word. Noah was “warned about things not yet seen” so by faith he responded in obedience. Abraham went forth in obedience to the land of inheritance without having seen it. Sarah was enabled to conceive Isaac without having seen him. Joseph didn’t see the exodus of the Israelites, but it happened as he believed (Heb. 11:7, 8, 22).

All these happened because they took God at His Word; they believed that God is willing and has “power to do what he had promised” (Rom. 4:21). Biblical faith acknowledges that God knows what is best for us. (Job. 42:1-6; Matt. 26:39; Rom. 8:26; 2Cor. 12:7-10).

True faith necessitates believing in God and His Word (e.g. 2 Chr. 20:20); therefore, God doesn’t need to have faith in Himself to do anything. To assert that God “used the force of faith by speaking faith-filled words to create the universe” presupposes that there is a ‘higher God’ he rested his faith on. Wrong. God created everything by and through His own omnipotence. He is infinite and there is no being higher than Him.

Having this understanding, when we pray in faith, we let God be God and trust in His wisdom and goodness. Even though God can do all things, we recognize that He reserves the right to determine the terms and timing by which we will receive what we ask (Rom. 11:33-36).

Faith is not an impersonal force that can be harnessed to create a new reality. The right faith is a willingness to believe what God had said (2 Cor. 12:7-10; Phil. 4: 10-13). True faith is not hinged on an idea; an institution; an image; a feeling or a ritual. It is based on God, His Word, Jesus Christ and His finished work.

The earliest preachers to introduce ideas of faith being a “force” were Smith Wigglesworth (1859-1947) and Essek Kenyon (1867-1948). Due to scant documented evidence of Wigglesworth’s power and exploits, it has been stated that much of the tales and claims attributed to him were mythical (see Gerard Fisher, The Quarterly Journal, January-March 1995, pp. 1, 11-14).

Essek Kenyon absorbed the teachings of the Higher Life movement as well as mind science concepts which birthed WOF teachings. This leads us to briefly explore mind science religions.

New Thought, Mind Science and the New Age

The 19th century wasn’t just an era of industrial revolution; it was also an era of religious revolution. In the middle of that century, Western society was entering a new and scientific era, where reason, experimentation, and observable results were becoming the standard means of measuring progress and assessing truth claims.

In a bid to sustain the social mechanics of that time, some people attempted to create a dubious mix of science and religion giving rise to metaphysics or mind science cults. After being influenced by Phineas Quimby, an occultist and founder of New Thought philosophy, Mary Eddy Baker founded the Christian Science cult.

She taught that Jesus was a scientist who applied dynamic laws of the mind which govern the universe to heal people. She also taught that sin, sickness or death were illusions of the mind which can be dispelled with scientific faith or positive thinking.

Myrtle and Charles Fillmore, who founded Unity School of Christianity in 1889, taught the same in Dynamics for Living: “God cannot create without law. God is the Mind force carrying forward creation under law… Whatever Mind commands to be brought forth will be brought forth by and through the law of evolution inherent in Being.

Ernest Holmes of the Church of Religious Science also taught that: “Science of Mind teaches that Man controls the course of his life…by mental processes which function according to a Universal Law.”

These were concepts that emerged later as New Age philosophies. John Randolph Price in his book The Superbeings says: “Like attracts likeWhat you think in your mind will produce in your experience … All the Power of the Universe is within you and this Power you can have anything on earth you desire.” (The Superbeings John R. Price Quartus foundation, 1981, xv).

Though some of these mind science cults deceitfully use Christian terminologies, they have given them different meanings to suit their own beliefs:

  1. They don’t believe in a personal God who directly, sovereignly governs the universe as Christians believe, but in an impersonal god (called “the Force,” “the Infinite Power” or “the Spirit of Infinite Life”) who rules the universe indirectly through immutable laws.
  2. They believe man is the one in control of all that happens to him. Since their god is like energy, he holds no one morally accountable: he only exists to give man what he wants. So, man needs to control his situations or the world with his mind. With positive thinking, he can activate the god energy for his own good.

This idea is seen in Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, where he quoted a poem saying: “It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishment the scroll, I am the master of my own fate, I am the captain of my soul” (p. 86). Napoleon Hill said he got his teachings from “9 invisible counselors” he met through intense visualization:

I can truthful say that I owe entirely to my ‘Invisible Counselors full credit for such ideas, facts or knowledge as I received through ‘inspiration’…” (Think and Grow Rich, p. 86).

Who were these “invisible counselors?” Your guess is as good as mine. These mind science occult beliefs came into the church in the 20th century through three key figures:

(a) Robert Schuller who had gleaned much of his “possibility thinking” ideas from Napoleon Hill (who admitted being inspired by demons). In one of his tapes, Schuller said: “You don’t know what power you have within you! …You can make the world into anything you choose” (Possibility Thinking – Goals)

(b) Norman Vincent Peale, a 33 degree Mason who taught that: “God is energy. As you breathe God in, as you visualize His energy, you will be reenergized! (PLUS: The Magazine of Positive Thinking 37:4, May 1986, 11).

In 1984, on the Phil Donahue program, Peale said, “It’s not necessary to be born again. You have your way to God; I have mine. I found eternal peace in a Shinto shrine … I’ve been to Shinto shrines, and God is everywhere:”

Shocked, Phil Donahue responded, “But you’re a Christian minister; you’re supposed to tell me that Christ is the way and the truth and the life, aren’t you?” Peale replied, “Christ is one of the ways. God is everywhere” (Christian News, May 12, 1997, 11).

(c) Agnes Sanford, an Episcopal mystic healer who taught visualization and Jungian psychology. She wrote: “The same principle is true of the creative energy of God. The whole universe is full of it, but only the amount of it that flows through our own beings will work for us” (The Healing Light, p. 1)

Strands of mind science concepts were adopted by Word Faith preachers and couched with different terms like “the laws of faith”, “the laws of the fourth dimension” or “the laws of miracles.” Though the terminologies differ, the concept is the same.

Yonggi Cho wrote: “You create the presence of Jesus with your mouth … He is bound by your lips and your mouth … through intense visualization and dreaming, you can incubate your faith and hatch results … Sokagakkai [a Buddhist sect] has applied the law of the fourth dimension and has performed miracles…” (The Fourth Dimension, pp 64, 83)

Frederick Price: “You are in control! … God cannot do anything on earth unless we…give Him permission through prayer” (The Word Study Bible, p. 1178)

Sam Adeyemi: “This world is governed by laws. God invested tremendous energy in this world; energy which He put within the bounds of certain laws. When you satisfy the conditions of those laws, you generate tremendous force in your life to get things done” (Success is Who You Are, 2008, pp. 25-26).

Kenneth Copeland: “Any image that you get down on the inside of you that is so vivid when you close your eyes you see it, it’ll come to pass. When God came at the Tower of Babel, He said, ‘Anything they can imagine, they can do.’“ (Copeland, Inner Image of the Covenant, side 2)

Myles Monroe: “Prayer is man giving God permission or license to interfere in earth’s affairs… God could do nothing on earth… nothing has God ever done on earth without a human giving him access. [So he is] always looking for a human to give Him power permission. In other words, God has the power, but you get the permission. God got the authority and the power, but you’ve got the license. So even though God can do anything, He can only do what you permit Him to do” (“This is Your Day” with Benny Hinn, July 2004).

These mind science beliefs relegate God and exalt man. The idea that there is a universal law or “faith force” which Christians and non-Christians can tap into and use to experience miracles or achieve success is not a Bible teaching. True miracles are not governed by laws – they override all laws. We receive from God by faith, not by applying man-made laws.

A study of the Bible shows that there is no fixed technique, ritual, formula nor “laws” that can be used to force the true God to work miracles or answer our prayers. We must all be very careful of what we glean from some preachers or books.

The devil knows Christians would never listen to the ravings of a shaman reciting his cult corpus and waving his rattle. We won’t even allow him get past our church doors. But if a shaman shows up in a three-piece suit, has some degrees under his belt, carries a big bible and mouths off the same cultic ideas, this time, laced with familiar Christian clichés, many Christians will fall for his deceptive teachings.