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A Christian Response to Eco-anxiety

When I started my Master’s degree in Conservation biology at Victoria University of Wellington, I had nothing but hope.  When I finished it I felt weighed down by the many in my community who seemed to be politely reversing my efforts.  In time I began experiencing an ongoing sense of debilitating grief at our environmental crisis.        

The sensation described above is termed ‘Eco-anxiety’.  Eco-anxiety is defined as “a chronic fear of environmental doom.”[2]  This type of anxiety can lead to insomnia, exhaustion, and depression.[3]  In extreme cases it has been cited as the reason for substance abuse and suicide.  Indeed, on a recent visit to British Columbia, a student approached me after my talk on ‘Going Green’ and told me he wasn’t sure he wanted to live anymore because of the oppressive eco-anxiety that had become a daily part of his human experience.  This student’s story sounded like so many others I have heard on university campuses across the globe.  A recent study revealed that, of the 26 countries surveyed, half of the population on average considered climate change as a “major threat to their nation” with some countries labeling it as the top threat.[4]

The Bible teaches us that God commanded humanity to multiply and fill the earth (Genesis 1:28).  Similarly, Isaiah 45:18 says, “God did not create the Earth empty, He formed it to be inhabited!”  Yet God also clearly charged us with the care and stewardship of the earth.  Thus, how should Christians respond to our ecological crisis, and the eco-anxiety it often causes?  We will have to make an analysis of the eco-crisis phenomenon, which I like to picture as a mixed bag of lollies containing bad things, good things, and that one rolling around at the bottom, cemented to the wrapper, that you might be better off not even identifying.

THE CONS

On one hand, discussions about ecological crises often sift down into catastrophising rhetoric and misinformation.  Climate scientists are pulling their hair out as false facts continue pervading the media sphere.[5]   These falsities do anything but help their cause and research.  Eco-anxiety is a valid phenomenon that affects people all over the globe, and while putting words to our feelings is important, catastrophising language is never helpful.  A study in Great Britain shows that this rhetoric is having a particularly damaging effect on children.[6]  One adage to remember: Facts first, feelings second.  Many ideas are floating around the sea of media, some of these ideas are fact-based and some are plastic nets of emotionalism ready to entangle any passer-by.  For instance, I recently read that koalas are now functionally extinct due to the fires in Australia caused by climate change.[7]  Claiming that koalas are functionally extinct is simply false.  The International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List labels the koala as vulnerable, three levels less threatened than extinct in the wild.  Many species are presently on the verge of extinction, and almost all of them due to two immediately ameliorable factors: habitat loss and pollution.  Furthermore, apocalyptic statements such as “The world is going to end in 12 years”[9] are not only inaccurate but they cause a lot of anxiety. We have yet to see any credible scientific research showing that humanity is on the verge of extinction due to environmental destruction.[10]

THE PROS

On the other side of the eco-crisis coin we find many beneficial points.  For one thing, societies are bravely looking into the haggard face of environmental damage.  People are finding creative ways to cut down on waste and reuse materials.  For example, Mexican company Biofase has created single-use cutlery from avocado seeds.  Volunteers have removed a reported 5.3 million kilograms of rubbish from beaches in Mumbai.  People all over the planet are taking action.  It is good that we are grieved!  

God himself is grieved at abuse and corruption of the natural world, often correlated with human wickedness.  For instance, in Joel 1 we read a call to repentance: “All the trees of the field are dried up and gladness dries up from the children of man…Even the beasts of the field pant for You because the water has dried up.”  We also see this connection between humanity and nature in the positive vein.  Psalm 104:30 reads, “When you send forth your Spirit…you renew the face of the ground.”  Biblically speaking, rebellion and wickedness led to a corruption of the natural world (Genesis 3:17) and repentance or ‘turning back’ to God leads to a restoration that also affects the natural sphere (Romans 8:19-23).

While it is good to be grieved at the destruction of our natural world, it is never good to be anxious.  The Scriptures are replete with passages exhorting us to stand firm and not succumb to fear.  Eco-anxiety may be a term coined in 2017, but anxiety is nothing new.  The wrapper is different but it’s the same bitter lolly.  In my childhood we were afraid of school shootings.  In my mother’s childhood it was fear that an atomic bomb would fall out of the sky at any moment.  In my grandmother’s childhood it was fear of want due to the Great Depression.  There will always be troubles in this world that need fixing.  But we are not meant to operate out of a spirit of fear.  2 Timothy 1:7 reminds us: “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”  Christians are equipped with a top-of-the-line spiritual panoply.  The peace of God protects our minds and our hearts in Christ Jesus and allows us to transcend our limited understanding (Philippians 4:7).  We have access to Jesus Himself, on whom we cast our anxieties, because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).  These facts do not provide us with the means of ignoring a crisis.  We are not burying our head in the sand.  On the contrary, it allows us to march with confidence into any storm.  When we cast our fear on Jesus we are dressing ourselves in His perfect love.  Thus we are equipped to face any problem with confidence and faith instead of debilitating fear and timidity.

Our concerns about ecological destruction are valid.  Perhaps some of the fear we feel around a broken landscape stems from anxiety about our own impermanence and brokenness.  Even if the natural world was perfect, it could never be a source of our ultimate security.  Only the person of Jesus offers us that foundation.  Therefore, let us face our ecological crisis head-on, knowing how deeply loved we are by the Creator of all.  His heart is surely grieved by the destruction of our natural world, and it grieves us also because we share His heart.  Praise God that we can face this crisis without the anxiety that catastrophises, and without the ignorance that perpetuates the problem.  We can march into our generation’s hardships with truth, love, and confidence in Christ.

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[1] Larger animals such as deer, elk, and coyotes; or if you happen to be in Africa perhaps an elephant or ostrich

[2] The American Psychological Association first defined this term in 2017

[3] Doherty, T. J., & Clayton, S. (May 01, 2011). The Psychological Impacts of Global Climate Change

[4] Fagan, M., Huang, C. A look at how people around the world view climate change

[5] Shellenberger, M. Why Apocalyptic Claims about Climate Change are Wrong

[6] Burke, S. E. L., Sanson, A. V., & Van, H. J. The Psychological Effects of Climate Change on Children. 

[7] As suggested by activist Bill McKibben

[8] International Union for the Conservation of Nature

[9] As stated by representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

[10] Shellenberger

 

Works Cited

Burke, S. E. L., Sanson, A. V., & Van, H. J. (May 01, 2018). The Psychological Effects of Climate Change on Children. Current Psychiatry Reports, 20, 5, 1-8.

Cummings, W. (22 January 2019) ‘The world is going to end in 12 years if we don’t address climate change,’ Ocasio-Cortez says.  USA Today.  Retrieved from: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/onpolitics/2019/01/22/ocasio-cortez-climate-change-alarm/2642481002/

Doherty, T. J., & Clayton, S. (May 01, 2011). The Psychological Impacts of Global Climate Change. American Psychologist, 66, 4, 265-276.

Fagan, M., Huang, C.  (18 April 2019) A look at how people around the world view climate change. Fact Tank. 2018 Pew Research Center.  Retrieved from: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/04/18/a-look-at-how-people-around-the-world-view-climate-change/

McKibben, B. “A thousand koalas were killed in Australia’s bushfires, and 80% of their habitat is gone. One expert says they are ‘functionally extinct.’ And yet big banks lend big money to big oil–more every year” 23 November 2019. Tweet.

Shellenberger, M. (25 November 2019) Why Apocalyptic Claims about Climate Change are Wrong.  Forbes Magazine. Retrieved from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelshellenberger/2019/11/25/why-everything-they-say-about-climate-change-is-wrong/#5d9bfa4312d6

coronavirus_world_map

Coronavirus, Show-Stopper or Conversation Starter?

It turns out plenty of things get cancelled in a pandemic. Fortunately, my flights home were not among them. Anyway, flights are a small issue in the big picture. Much graver is the cancellation that brings our term on earth to a halt: death. Mortality will be in many people’s thoughts and feelings due to COVID-19. While death is universal, the way different people think of it is worldviews apart.

God’s revelation in the Bible does not address every curious question, but it accurately covers what is important for us about death, and how death is related to other matters. Death is an enemy and a consequence of sin: ‘sin … gives birth to death.’ (James 1:15) This is a truly integrated worldview, because it connects morality with death—and thus affirms the importance and reality of morality. Christ defeated death (Hebrews 2:14), rising so that we might rise, too. Knowing that Christ came to solve our sin problem (and our related death problem) is the ultimate reassurance that God cares about us: ‘[God] who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?’ (Romans 8:32). Christ’s resurrection is his major confirmation of his authority and deity. So many aspects of the Christian hope—goodness (morality), God’s love, Christ’s identity, and salvation—are linked to a Christian understanding of what death is and means.

As always, doctrine has applications. To briefly cover one application: a Christian view of death, and a Christian hope, grounds an attitude of holding ambitions loosely and putting treasure in heaven. The daily life of faith and obedience can content us—in fact, it is hugely important in God’s sight. When fear distracts us, God lovingly reminds us that he is in control. C. S. Lewis put it well: ‘All schemes of happiness that are centered in this world were always doomed to a final frustration… If we had foolish un-Christian hopes about human culture, they are now shattered.’ On the other hand, there is great value in the simple daily walk of a life ‘humbly offered to God.’

This is from Lewis’ sermon “Learning in War-Time”. In it, he talks about the fear of death and sense of crisis arising from the onset of World War II. He emphasised that the crisis did not change the fundamental realities of death (or of resurrection either). If this wisdom holds for Lewis’ World War II environment, then it holds for other widely-experienced crises, especially a comparatively smaller one like COVID-19. But how is this wisdom, or its Christian foundation, to come out in our speech? (Within the restrictions of whatever alert level is current, of course).

When it comes to speaking about crises, Jesus’ example in Luke 13 sheds some light on the subject. In verses 1 to 5, Jesus spoke of some bone-chilling recent events (“Pilate’s Gruesome Executions in Galilee”, “Tower of Siloam Disaster”). It is worth noting that Jesus had already earned a reputation for compassion. That gave him the mana to make a point about the events without seeming to do so gleefully or sensationally.

The point Jesus made was, ‘Unless you repent, you will perish, too.’ (just like the victims of Pilate etc.) (Luke 13:5). He did not make this point out of the blue, but led up to it:

  1. First was a grounding in the here-and-now: people were presenting him with a recent event. Jesus often based his teaching in concrete experiences to make them memorable.
  2. Jesus identified the issue that this event raised: Were these victims ‘worse sinners than all [their neighbours] because they suffered this way?’
  3. Jesus addressed the issue with the truth and a call to action: ‘Unless you repent, you will perish, too.’ That is to say, the victims are not necessarily extra bad sinners, and we should remember our own vulnerability and state in front of God.

The audience’s attention to the victims in Galilee and Siloam made them more ready to think about the issue in (2). It brought up their current way of understanding the issue. More than that, it put their understanding to the test. Here were disasters—raw, recent, and vivid. Would it be satisfactory to trot out a current view—say, that God must have singled out these people as extra bad, and one should pat oneself on the back for being safe? Or would that fall flat? The time was ripe for Jesus to present the wisdom that ‘you will perish, too.’ It was—and is—a truth that is more comfortable to ignore. And yet, if the topic of death is raised, so can the other parts of the Christian story mentioned above: goodness, God’s love, Christ, resurrection, and salvation. Apologetics comes in along with that. Once we are talking about the Christian hope, we can ‘give a reason’ for it (1 Peter 3:15) when that is helpful.

What does it look like to have a conversation involving the coronavirus, death, and the gospel? It depends on who is having the conversation. God provides us with a range of friendships and opportunities with people at various points on their journeys. However, Jesus’ comments on the Galilee and Siloam disasters can illustrate some general principles, illustrated in the below stages.

1. Be Grounded in the Here and Now

It is fascinating and comforting to swap stories about a massive shared experience like a lock down. You have opinions that you itch to share, and feelings which require comfort. Give others the kindness of being a good listener. My conversations about the virus in Thailand recently covered points like, ‘My son’s school closed!,’ ‘In my home area they’re still more worried about malaria,’ ‘I wonder if my Mum in China will get the virus?’ In New Zealand, there will also be other angles; for example, ‘masks feel like a sinister sign that the public square has turned into a hospital’.

2. Identify Relevant Issues

This article has focused on mortality. The sense of crisis will make people more open to talk about it, or even bring it up themselves. (That is merely a general observation—still try to speak with sensitivity, as always). Here are three possible routes from the topic of COVID-19 to the topic of mortality:

  1. The elderly are vulnerable, and that is relevant to everyone, whether it means us or our parents/grandparents. What is the hope of an elderly believer?
  2. No age group is invincible, and ‘Death as an equaliser’ is another classic theme. Kiwis might take to it, since equality in general is a Kiwi value!
  3. Coping mechanisms, or what you do to help you get through, are the stuff of many conversations (‘I like to do x’ … ‘you should reward yourself with some x’). Cultivate Christ-based ways to cope with things, and then they can come up in conversation.

3. Address the Issues

Hope, for the elderly and for all, is based on God’s promises. The foundation that helps a Christian to cope with life relates to the above-mentioned attitudes like placing a high value on simple daily faith and obedience and recognising God’s control. Those, in turn, are founded on the incarnate Son of God’s victory over sin and death.

Remember that everyone’s current understandings of the issue of mortality could come up in stage two ‘Identify relevant issues’. Worldviews surface … and so do the unsatisfactory points of a worldview that does not fit God’s world. Consider Biblical truth on mortality (or whatever the issue is), and that will give clues for Addressing the Issue (stage 3).

There are many shapes and sizes of crises in the headlines or in our lives, whether in Galilee, Siloam, the UK, or NZ. The God who is able to ultimately heal this world is also able to bring truth to our lives. This truth is meaningful both here and now and also forever. We can learn from Jesus’ example of engaging with a current crisis and pointing to deeper things.

Luke Williamson is studying a Master in Linguistics at Payap University in Chiang Mai. When in his hometown of Hamilton, he helped run Thinking Matters events there (Mining for Truth). He combines his passion for apologetics with elements from his background including linguistics, literature, children’s ministry and evangelism.

Seven Questions that Define Your World, Part 1

 

My dear reader, I have a confession to make…

I am addicted to consuming information. There, I said it. Podcasts. Audiobooks. The weekly newspaper. YouTube. RSS Feeds. I just can’t stop. Something about me wants to try to get it all! But that’s not the end of it. I have hundreds of hours of podcasts just waiting for me. The list never seems to get smaller. As soon as I have caught up on one podcast, I add two more. And what’s worse, I would have many more hours to listen to, but I’m already listening at high speed.

Okay, I get that what I do might be a bit strange. It’s not really normal to consume vast quantities of information. You are more likely to find someone binge-watching the latest show on Netflix than ‘binge-learning’! However, for someone like me, today is the best time to be alive. There are more opportunities to learn than ever before. You can learn almost anything however and whenever you want, and therein lies the danger. As the volume of consumable information has grown, the amount of effort we must expend to sort the true from the false, and the helpful from the unhelpful, has also increased. If we exclude nothing and consume everything, then we risk polluting ourselves and we destroy the chance to think creatively. If on the other hand we exclude too much, then we miss out on learning. All truth is God’s truth, no matter where it comes from.

In addition, it is important to be aware that not everything we consume, we consume willingly or consciously. What does society define as ‘the good life’? Do we all have to live in the perfect house, have our next exciting trip planned, and be physically fit or is it actually all about living an environmentally sustainable life? Not only that, but we are the most entertained people that have ever existed. When we entertain ourselves with the latest movie or video, we often switch off the thinking part of our brain. Without even a thought, we open ourselves up to ideas and beliefs which are untrue and contradict our beliefs. My goal for this first article is to provide a set of tools, which we can use to discover truth and uncover the unspoken assumptions in the world around us. In further articles, I hope to use these questions to explore trends and perspectives that are relevant to us today.

To live in this world as Christians, we must be able to identify and understand the ideas we encounter daily. The ideas that are embedded in so much of what we consume are usually part of a worldview, a perspective on how to answer the big questions of life. Similar to a map which helps the navigator chart a course through an otherwise stormy sea, a worldview helps one to navigate life and make sense of what is happening. If we do not identify the assumptions and ideas which underpin so many of the messages we receive in our media-saturated culture, we risk being taken captive by them. The Apostle Paul explicitly warned us against this in his letter to the Colossians:

 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. Col 2:8.

We can only defend ourselves against worldly wisdom and deceptive philosophy, if we can detect it. James W. Sire in his excellent book The Universe Next Door outlined seven such questions which are especially well suited to this purpose. In this article, I aim to introduce these probing questions with short examples to illustrate, I will go into more detail in my next articles.

1. What is prime reality – What is really real?

Is there an aspect of reality, the beginning point for all existence, that does not depend on anything else for its existence? If you follow the chain of causation backwards, will you at some point find something that just exists and has no cause? Does only the universe exist? Is our entire experience of reality just an illusion? Consider the Matrix. In this movie, the main character Neo transcends reality and can control the world around him when he realizes that it does not exist. This teaches the idea that all of reality is an illusion. In contrast, Christianity affirms that God has created a real and discoverable world which exists separately from our perception of it.

2. What is the nature of external reality?

This question is related to the first, but tries to draw in ideas related to our perception by questioning if anything is real outside of ourselves. Is the world around us created or independent (un-created or self-created), chaotic or orderly, physically real or just made up out of spirit? Is our own subjective experience of reality the only important thing or is there an actual real world out there? The movie Inception suggests that reality can be subjective, a world you create for yourself and which only exists in your dreams can be just as good as the real one. Christianity argues that God is the source of all reality. Everything comes from him and because he is the creator, he can define what is real or not

3. What is a human being? What does it mean to be human?

In essence, this question is about identity. Possible answers might be: a complex biological machine, a god, an illusion, a person in the image of God, a blank slate. For example, the idea that an individual is a blank slate is related to the philosophical debate of being and becoming eloquently explained in the movie Batman Begins. Bruce Wayne (as Batman) explains to his friend, “It’s not what I am underneath but what I do that defines me”. Bruce is defining himself by being the Batman, a hero who defeats evil and saves the helpless. This expresses the culturally relevant idea that we create our own meaning and that each person must decide this for themselves. On the other hand, Christianity holds that each person is created by God in his image with the purpose to love and serve God and man. We do not choose our purpose, it is given to us.

4. What happens to a person at death?

When we die, are we annihilated or reincarnated? Does the person who dies transcend reality or just go to be on the “other side”? This is an important question because it has a large role to play in answering what the purpose of life is. Logically, if we all end up in the same place (non-existence), it does not matter how we live. Without lasting consequences, our choices in life are meaningless because everyone dies no matter if they were a good or bad person. Greta Thunberg and extinction rebellion accept that life ends in death, but reject the logical conclusion of this fact. They argue that because all we have is this life, no measure is too great if it stops our extinction. If Christianity is true however and there is life after death, then how we live now may have lasting consequences beyond death. Maybe saving the environment is not the only thing to be worried about.

5. Why is it possible to know anything at all?

Are we able to know things because we are made in the image of God and endowed with rationality? Or rather, are our rational faculties the result of the long and gradual process of evolution? Though obscure, this question is critical.  Before we can start making conclusions from what we know, we must first answer why it is possible to know anything at all. One contemporary school of thought argues that your destiny in life and worldview are primarily determined by how you were brought up. A logical consequence of this view is that objective reality is impossible to grasp, you can only see it through the lense with which you were raised. This stands in contradiction to Christianity, which holds that knowing Christ is to know the truth and to be set free from the corruption of this world.

6. How do we know what is right and wrong?

Every worldview has a perspective on whether right and wrong is grounded in reality or illusion. No one can deny the existence of right and wrong; the mere fact of living forces us to make moral choices every day. How you live shows what you think is good or bad, right or wrong. But how do we distinguish right from wrong? Right and wrong could simply be determined by human choice or by whatever produces cultural or physical survival. In the Star Wars movies, there is no good or bad, only balance. The light and dark sides of the Force must remain in balance, it is bad for either side to gain dominance. Christianity, however, teaches that we are created in the image of a good God with a conscience that helps us to tell right from wrong.

7. What is the meaning of history?

Christianity would argue that history is a linear series of meaningful events that shows God’s redemptive work of reconciling man to himself. This is the purpose or meaning of history. However, others might argue that history is a meaningless collection of events or an eternal cycle of rebirths, where in each life you are living out the karmic consequences of the previous. A modified version of the last option is expressed in the movie Groundhog day. Phil Connors is not able to escape the same day until he becomes a better person. The meaning of history according to this film is to escape the endless cycle by improving yourself.

These seven questions are by no means exhaustive, but, when applied, provide insights into the many different worldviews we encounter and open up further avenues of inquiry. Further, it is not possible to stand neutral on any of these questions. If we refuse to pick a worldview, then we have unknowingly already assumed a worldview. Moreover, living in the world forces us to act, and how we act shows what our worldview actually is. We cannot escape answering these questions, the only decision we have is whether or not we will try to answer them. To not do so means that we are living with blinders on. Life is important. Living it in an ignorant manner is surely more dangerous and risky than not.

So when you find yourself surrounded by a cacophony of news and entertainment, don’t forget to ask a few questions of what you are learning. No message stands on its own, it is always connected to a series of deeper beliefs which we need to expose if we are to sort the truth from the lies. As Paul said:

But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; 1 Thess 5:21

May this be true of us in our daily lives.

Money

A Spiritual View of Wealth and Poverty

A recent fluff piece in my local paper carried the headline: Newest Millionaires Say 16 Million Dollar Win Has Changed Their Lives. No one, I think, will find this very astonishing. But reading the article that followed I realised something important. I realised that I no longer envy winners of lotteries. On the contrary, they fill me with a sort of spiritual unease.

Analysing that unease, I find myself thinking of Leo Tolstoy. In 1901, the first Nobel Prize for Literature went to the French poet Sully Prudhomme. History seems to have forgotten Prudhomme and the “lofty idealism” which the Nobel committee declared itself to be recognising in awarding him the prize. Tolstoy was also nominated for the award but was passed over because of his radical religious and political views. That did not sit well with everyone. Following the decision, Tolstoy received a letter from a group of Swedish artists and critics who were scandalised that he had not won. But critical opinion had no discernible influence on the committee. The very next year, 1902, Tolstoy was passed over again.

Tolstoy’s feelings about all this are well-known: He was relieved not to have received the award because of the hundred thousand dollars that came with it. “It has saved me the predicament of managing so much money,” he wrote of the second snub. “Such money, in my opinion, only brings evil.” [1] In fact, the prospect of winning troubled Tolstoy so much that upon his third nomination—and aware that this time he was favoured to win—he wrote a letter to his friend Arvid Jarnefelt, a Finnish writer, entreating him to do everything in his power to ensure that he did not win.

Why did Tolstoy think money might bring evil? I think he was afraid that by gaining money he would risk losing something of immeasurably greater value than money—aware, as I think he no doubt was, of the complicated relationship between material and spiritual goods.

Few people today will immediately appreciate the point. There is a widespread assumption that material goods are always good and the lack of them is always bad. Surveying the distribution of wealth in our world, for instance, we observe what appears to be a notorious injustice. There are good people who are poor and bad people who are rich. And what is more: The bad people are often rich because they are bad—having gained wealth through greed, dishonesty and exploitation. For theists this seems to pose a riddle. If an all-powerful and all-good God superintends the universe, why does he permit this obvious injustice?

Aquinas, who considers the question, cautions us to identify and avoid the operating assumption. Neither poverty nor wealth are good or bad in themselves. Everything depends on the associated circumstances. God, suggests Aquinas, can punish with poverty and reward with wealth as is commonly supposed. But Aquinas suggests that God can also punish us with wealth and reward us with poverty. And the idea, while counterintuitive, is easily reasoned out.

Consider two parallel cases,

A. John is greedy by nature and succeeds in amassing enormous wealth. Thereafter, all his energy goes into guarding and increasing that wealth. Perhaps he also finds himself surrounded by flatterers and gold-diggers. He accordingly becomes suspicious of everyone and trusts no one and does not have any true friends. Plausibly, too, all manner of hedonistic indulgences tempt him—drugs and alcohol, promiscuous sex and prostitutes, extravagant but vacuous parties. It does not occur to him to give to the poor, or else it does occur to him and by consistently ignoring the deliverances of his conscience he grows morally callous. His wealth, moreover, blinds him to spiritual truths—to the good of humility, virtue, compassion, chastity, prayer. He develops an exaggerated notion of his own importance and agency. He does not have occasion to reflect on his finitude and mortality but it remains a fundamental truth about him that he is finite and mortal. He dies and, like everyone else, stands empty-handed before God to face judgment.

B. David is greedy by nature but fails to amass any wealth; he lives, in fact, a life of poverty. Flatterers and gold-diggers see right away that they have nothing to gain from him and so have nothing to do with him. Anyone who does continue to associate with him perceives some intrinsic good in him and the association brings this good to his attention and provides him with an opportunity to cultivate it. If there is pleasure in his life it is of a simple sort and obtained through having a grateful, frugal heart—a tasty walnut, a visit to the sea, a beautiful bird on his lawn. His plight, moreover, primes him to develop compassion for his fellow human beings and fosters in him a spirit of stoicism, forbearance and patience. He does not develop an exaggerated notion of his own importance and agency. On the contrary, he is acutely conscious of his finitude and mortality. At some point his suffering may even goad him into wondering at the ultimate purpose of his existence—which in turn may lead him to God. He dies and, like everyone else, stands empty-handed before God to face judgment. 

There may be a third scenario in which poverty is either man’s downfall because it leads him into a life of crime. And there may be a forth in which wealth is either man’s salvation because he eventually discovers the good of philanthropic generosity. But recall: Aquinas is not arguing that wealth and poverty are good or bad ipso facto. That is precisely the point he is arguing against. Everything depends on the associated circumstances.

Why, if that is so, did Tolstoy abhor the prospect of sudden wealth? I think it is because when we think carefully about poverty and wealth it is clear that wealth entails a more serious moral and spiritual risk than poverty. If we are wealthy we have a moral obligation to be generous. “If you have two coats in your wardrobe,” Saint Ambrose of Milan admonished his Christian reader, “one belongs to you and one belongs to the man with no coat.” [2] But human nature is corruptible and there is every chance that we will ignore the plight of the poor and grow morally callous as a result. We will also need to resist the indulgences and distractions which wealth brings in order to obtain spiritual goods. And again, there is every chance that we will fail. The point was made by Jesus himself. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle,” he said, “than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” [3]

And there can be no doubt that Tolstoy had already reached the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy [4] and discovered a truth about spiritual goods that the modern world seems to have forgotten. God does not enjoin us to seek them because he is a puritanical miser who begrudges us worldly pleasure. He enjoins us to seek spiritual goods out of generosity: Because they are intrinsically and infinitely better than worldly goods. And God, being perfectly good, wants to give us the very best things he has to give. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy,” Jesus said. “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” [5]

Ben Mines is a Christian Apologist and author based in Auckland, New Zealand.

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[1] Quoted here on the website for the Intercultural Institute of Languages.

[2] Quoted in The Strangest Way: Walking the Christian Path by Robert E. Barron.

[3] See Matthew 19:24.

[4] See here. Abraham Maslow, the American psychologist, organized human needs into a now-famous hierarchy where basic bodily needs sit at the bottom, social and intellectual needs sit in the middle, and spiritual needs—self-actualization, transcendence—sit at the top. Each need is built on the one below but true human fulfillment is realized only when one reaches the top of the hierarchy where spiritual goods are obtained. Interestingly, near the end of his life, Tolstoy went far beyond refusing literary prizes. He sought to renounce his own wealth, both inherited and earned, as well as the copyrights to his own works.

[5] See John 10:10

Five Practical Reasons for Apologetics


Do we really need five reasons to do apologetics? Isn’t it enough that God commands it? 1 Peter 3:15:

“but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defence to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.”

Discussion over! We don’t need five reasons! God says it so that settles it, right?

Yes, God’s command is all that we need, but just saying we have to defend our faith (otherwise known as apologetics) is not helpful at all. What does it mean to defend the Christian faith? What does that look like today? As we begin the new year, I would like to give five reasons why apologetics is critically important for every Christian, no matter who or where you are. My hope is that by showing you how apologetics is useful, you will be encouraged to prepare yourself to defend your faith, the gospel of salvation in Christ.

To Share the Gospel

The first practical reason to do apologetics is to help with sharing the gospel. The apostle Paul in his first letter to the believers in Corinth wrote:

“For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (1 Co 9:19-22).

Paul is explaining that for him, to win people to Christ, he had to approach them on their own terms when sharing the gospel. He knew that if he did not present the gospel message in terms that the unbeliever could understand, his message would not reach them. Paul was speaking into a culture that did not understand the Christian message, but rather sought to stomp it out. Our societies are not much different, general knowledge of what christians believe is declining and the volume of objections against the christian faith is increasing. If it is necessary for missionaries to learn the language and culture of the foreign country in which they are serving, is it not also important for us to learn the language and culture in our own country?

For us to be able to share the gospel today, we must be able to communicate it in a way that other people can understand.

To Answer Objections

However, it is not enough to explain our faith in a culturally relevant way. We must also be ready to answer the objections they have, to make a defense for what we believe. Many christians are afraid to share the gospel with unbelievers. What would happen if they said that Christianity is just a fairy tale? What if they argued that God was just invented by people who wanted power? These also used to be my fears. Nonetheless, when I realized that there are good answers to these objections, my confidence grew, and I felt able to share the gospel. God uses us as ambassadors for him, to clear away false teachings and arguments that people use to reject God. Ravi Zacharias defines the process of answering objections in this way:

“Pre-evangelism is sort of – the Australians like to put it something like this: Bush clearing, clearing the obstacles so the listener can take a direct look at the cross of Jesus Christ. In a pluralistic society – a secularized society – in an almost hostile environment now towards things sacred, it is important how we do this and where we do this.”

To Defend the Public Image of Christianity

Clearing away the objections people have against our faith is also good for the reputation of Christianity in society. The public image of Christianity has been tarnished over the last few years through scandals in the church and is often perceived to be more against things than for them. When people think of christians, they may be more likely to associate us with hard-nosed opposition to homosexuality and abortion (the latter implying we are anti-feminist and as such against women) than with love and service for the needy. Not only that, but news, media and entertainment pillory christians on a regular basis. They communicate, contrary to reality, that christians are narrow-minded and hateful because we follow the Bible and have conservative/orthodox beliefs.

Knowing what we believe and why it is true therefore, helps us to counter false representations of the faith. The truth of Christianity is not shown to be false because christians are sinful. Christians are imperfect but that is not the point – the point is that Jesus is perfect. We must not get the two mixed up. Further, when we defend our faith to those outside the church, we must communicate the truth with love and respect.

Without love and respect, we will do more harm than good.

People will not remember anything from what you have said if they do not feel respected. Apologetics, however, is not merely an outward facing venture, it also has applications for the body of Christ.

To Combat Apostasy

Answering objections against our faith also helps to keep ourselves and others from leaving the faith. Studies by the Barna research group have shown that many young people are leaving the church.

“Based on interviews with 22,000 adults and over 2,000 teenagers in 25 separate surveys, Barna unquestionably quantified the seriousness of the situation: six out of ten 20-somethings who were involved in a church during their teen years are already gone [given up Christianity]. Despite strong levels of spiritual activity during the teen years, most 20-somethings disengage from active participation in the Christian faith during their young adult years—and often beyond that” (Ham, Beemer, 2009).

Some of the reasons why they leave are as follows:

  • Shallowness. One-third call church boring, about one-fourth say faith is irrelevant and Bible teaching is unclear. One-fifth say God is absent from their church experience.
  • Anti-science. Up to one-third say the church is out of step on scientific developments and debate.
  • Doubters. The church is not a safe place to express doubts say over one-third of young people, and one-fourth have serious doubts they’d like to discuss.

The tragedy in all of this, is that there are good answers to these doubts. If only those who left the church had known about the answers for their questions, some might have stayed.

Knowing why what we believe is true and being open to discussing it creates a safe environment in our churches and youth groups where doubts can be raised, and doubters answered. However, there is also another use for apologetics within the church.

To Fight False Teaching

We are not only called to care for those who may want to walk away, but also to combat those who spread false teaching. The Apostle Peter, speaking of the challenges of false teaching warned:

“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.” (2 Peter 2:1)

False teaching requires an answer, but to be able to answer it, one must first know what one believes, why it is true, and how to defend it. This brings the tools and methods of apologetics together with what are more traditionally known as Theology and Doctrine.

Summary

In closing, I would like to return to the passage quoted at the beginning of this article:

“But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defence to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15).

To defend our faith is our privilege and joy, an opportunity to talk about the hope that we have in Christ. People have questions and doubts which hold them back, so if we want to share Jesus with them, we must also show them respect by doing our best to answer their questions.

The more I have learnt about what I believe and how to defend it, the more I have discovered that sharing my faith is one of the most exciting things I can do. As we begin a new year, I hope and pray that you too would discover the joy of sharing the good news of Christ with your friends and family.

David Billing is a Data Analyst. He was born in New Zealand and now works in Europe. Reading, current-events, playing computer games, anything sci-fi related, listening to music, and cracking dry jokes (especially puns) are among some of his favorite things to do.


Ham, K., & Beemer, B. (2009). Already Gone: Why your kids will quit church and what you can do to stop it. Green Forest, AR: New Leaf Publishing Group.