Wednesday, November 20, 2019
Arguing people into the Kingdom. . .
I have no doubt of the sincerity and integrity of many of those who are engaged in Christian apologetics. By all means, we should have them present a defense of the hope that is in us and give witness to the world of what we believe, confess, and teach. That said, I do not think it is possible to argue someone into the Kingdom of God.
I do not stand alone in this. John Henry Newman was likewise underwhelmed by the idea that Christian apologetics can reason or argue someone into the Kingdom: “I have no intention whatever of denying the beauty and the cogency of the argument which these books contain; but I question much, whether in matter of fact they make or keep men Christians.” Reason is good, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and useful to the faith but reason cannot bring someone to faith. It is the Holy Spirit alone calling, gathering, enlightening, and sanctifying the Church and each individual member of it. Faith comes by hearing and that is true because the Word is a means of grace through which the Spirit is at work.
I have had a few debates with folks over the likes of infant baptism, predestination of the unelect, the liturgy, the Real Presence, etc... But never have I been able to reason someone to my point of view. Luther said it best. Captive to the Word (and therefore captive to the Holy Spirit) is the only way the blinders are taken off, the blindfolds removed, and the heart and mind opened to God. So when a more recent opportunity to argue came up, I deferred after a few goes at it. It was not that my heart was not in it -- I thoroughly love to argue/debate. But I have come to the conclusion that it is downright impossible to argue someone into the Kingdom of God.
Newman went on. Faith is not a vague impulse, but a habit of mind: “assenting to a doctrine as true, which we do not see, which we cannot prove, [only] because God says it is true.” God does not require or expect us to understand Him or His ways. They remain a mystery to us -- a mystery as oblique as the Trinity, for example. But hidden in the darkness of this mystery that will not submit to the reason of our minds, God is. God is there. Hidden so that only faith can see Him and faith can only come from the impulse of the Spirit and the prompting of the work and power of God. It is not a matter of a checklist of primary doctrines one must check off but our assent to God -- in the same way as blessed Mary: Let it be to me as you have spoken. Submission to divine truth cannot be argued into the heart and will of man but remains the work of the Spirit through the Word and faith is its best and most noble fruit. Minds can and will be changed but it is not the force of our words or the cogency of our defense or the authority of our arguments. It is and remains the work of the Spirit, working in us that which is well pleasing to the Father.