Thanks Moses for writing to us with your question.
You are right. There is a very predominant idea among some groups in India that spirituality is above and beyond the realms of rationality. We should use our minds to study the physical world but ought not rely on our rational capacities to understand the spiritual, supernatural world. Those who subscribe to this view will lay out reasons for why you should not use your mind to make sense of spiritual realities. This raises many questions: Don’t they use their minds to interpret their religious experiences? When there are conflicting experiences how do they resolve them?
How do we engage with such people? We can challenge their assumptions and reasons for claiming that the spiritual is outside the purview of the natural.
The stark differences
India is a country with diverse philosophies/worldviews, and religions. Religiosity pervades and prevails in the Indian culture. The idea of the incarnation (God becoming man) is not new to the Indian psyche. In the west, naturalism, scientism and materialism are the dominant philosophies. The primary task of the apologist in the western context is to address the intellectual obstacles raised by these philosophies, and once the reasonableness of theism is established it is easier to present Jesus as God.
However, in India people concede the existence of God, but the question is which one. A couple of years ago students in Kolkata, from various colleges and faiths, came to hear me speak on the topic “Has Science Buried God?” Following the event a young man came up and said that he agreed with me, “It is reasonable to believe in God.” Then he paused and said, “There are many religions out there. I am a Buddhist. Which is the right one? Which God?” I had the privilege of sharing with him the uniqueness of Christ and how Christ alone can satisfy the deepest longings of the heart. He requested to stay in touch and inquired if I’d be speaking at a church that Sunday. The following Sunday he came with five of his friends. Personally, I have seen many like this young man who have responded to the gospel through the ministry of RZIM in India, and that is a testament to the need for apologetics in India.
The New Testament church wrestled with similar challenges. Christians were called to witness Christ to a very religiously diverse/pluralistic world. Remember Peter was writing to Christians who were persecuted and scattered on account of their faith, challenging them to offer a verbal defense for their hope in Christ.
The gospel speaks into the cries of the human heart. Amidst the differences, there are common threads/longings/questions that run between cultures and people groups, and the gospel uniquely speaks into each. As Ravi Zacharias has time and again pointed out, every worldview must answer 4 fundamental questions:
- Origin (Who made me? Who made the cosmos? How did we come to be?)
- Meaning (What is the purpose of my life?)
- Morality (What is right and what’s wrong?, What ethical principles to live by?)
- Destiny (Where am I going to? Is there life after death?)
Since the inception of humanity we have wrestled with these questions. They are both cross cultural and cross generational.
The two-fold task of the apologist
As we well know, apologetics is that discipline that seeks to address the intellectual obstacles that people have in taking the gospel seriously. C.S Lewis said “Apologetics is the science and art of Christian persuasion.” In 2 Corinthians 5:11, the apostle Paul writes “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.”
When it comes to persuasion, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. In his book Fool’s Talk Guinness writes, “Jesus never spoke to two people the same way, and neither should we. Every single person is unique and individual and deserves an approach that respects that uniqueness.” Apologetic persuasion requires both the rational and the imaginative.
The apologist has a two fold task of defending and commending the faith.
A Christian is called to give a verbal defense for his hope in Christ. (1 Peter 3:15)
In offering a defense for the faith, we seek to show that the Christian faith makes sense. It attempts to show that it is reasonable to believe in the existence of God. We seek to show that any attempt to show that belief in God is unwarranted (logically incompatible/inconsistent) fails. But, our task as apologist does not end there. We are called to make a positive case for Christian theism.
We are also called to commend the faith. In other words we are called to present the gospel in all its beauty.
While commending our faith we seek to show the beauty and the superiority of Christian theism over and above other world views.