Wednesday 21 March 2012

Incomprehensible actions for unknown reasons

There is a theme in the affairs of apologists, which taken at the flood, leads on to incoherence.*

At Choosing Hats, contributor McFormtist considers what constitutes successful apologetics. As the type of apologetic usually in question at Choosing Hats is "covenantal" or "presuppositional" apologetics, and my own limited encounters with presuppositionalists have led me to the conclusion that presuppositonal apologetics is spectacularly unsuccessful in the declared purpose of apologetics in general, naturally my interest was piqued.

Early on in the piece comes this:
  1. Our theology dictates to us that it is God who changes men’s hearts. As Reformed Christians, we understand that God in His Holy Sovereignty is superintending everything that comes to pass, including the salvation of men, and that the conversion of men starts and ends by God’s active working in their hearts, and this moving is not dependent in any way upon man’s efforts, whether they be those of the evangelist or of the one being evangelized. (Eze. 36:26, John 3:8)
...which I found puzzling (emphasis in the original). If "...this moving is not dependent in any way upon man’s efforts, whether they be those of the evangelist or of the one being evangelized," then apologetics would seem to be irrelevant. If the moving of men's hearts is not dependent in any way upon man's efforts, the whole enterprise seems redundant. I posted as much (albeit briefly) as a comment to McFormtist's post.

McFormtist was good enough to reply, and it was in the reply that I saw the recurrence of a theme I've encountered before when Christians are questioned about their evangelism. They don't do it because of its results — the purpose of apologetics is indeed irrelevant to its effect. They do it because God told them to do it. It's all about obedience. Men must do what God tells them to do, regardless of whether it makes sense or leads to unintended consequences. That's unintended by man, of course: God works in mysterious ways — who can fathom the depths of His intention?

This theme is also present in the Westboro Baptist Church. When Shirley Phelps-Roper and her husband Brent were guests on the Skepticule Extra podcast, they made it clear they were not concerned with the effect their uncompromising brand of evangelism (if you can call it that) might have on the people they were picketing. The results of what they did were irrelevant to them and their purpose. Their only purpose — a purpose they appeared determined to pursue regardless — was to obey God. Anything else was a side-issue and of minimal importance.

So, coupling God's "mysterious ways" with His commands interpreted from scripture, we end up with groups of devout believers earnestly carrying out incoherent actions for reasons they accept they cannot understand. These people are doing incomprehensible stuff and they don't know why.

*With apologies to William Shakespeare