Modern Christian Apologetics and Pauls Methodology

by Ijaz Ahmad


ۡ ٱ ٱٰۡ ٱ ,
As of late I must admit to be reading most of the anti-Islamic Christian missionary websites. It is very important that I frequent their latest publications, so that I may acquaint myself with their newest arguments. Interestingly, I havent actually ever come across a new argument that an Orientalist Christian historian has not presented before. Thus to me, these websites dont actually present something new or difficult for me to deconstruct and debunk, often times upon mere reading I can dismiss them as logically equivalent to childs play. However, during this time, Ive run into some problems and I wish to highlight them. Christian apologetics in the 21st century has gone from defending Christianity[1] to attacking Islam. Therefore the very nature of Christian apologetics has drastically undergone a transformation that needs to be understood, commented on, and it is sad to see that not much attention has been given to this untimely change. It is in lieu of this trend, that I have decided to author this short piece, contrasting the methodologies employed by Paul to that of the current Evangelical movement.



The change in missionary tactics has much less to do with defending Christianity from Islamic arguments, but more to do with presenting the dying Christian faith[2] with a life line. This method of propagating Christianity through demonizing another predominant faith is not new to the religion. Pauline literature presents a prime example as to how early Christians propagated their new faith. Christianity in its earliest stages was not monolithic, various groups competed against each other[3] to become the most dominant and eventually to be dubbed the orthodox Church. Paul was not a stranger to this competition for dominance and as such, in order to present his brand of Christianity as being the sole authentic heir to Christs ministry, his evangelism took a rather radical turn. When a creature is near death or threatened, an adrenaline rush kicks in, thus giving way to the fight or flight response. Christianity has largely taken the flight response (mass apostasy)[4], with most Christians in Europe identifying themselves as culturally Christian, spiritually Atheist. For those who have taken the fight response, their methodology should be dubbed the Pauline Agenda, as this is what best describes their modus operandi in todays world.



E.P Sanders states concerning Pauls writings, In general terms, Pauls way out of this dilemma was to connect the law with sin and to assign it a negative place in Gods plan of salvation[5], he continues by later saying, But sin grasps the law away from God. It uses it to promote transgression (7:8, 11, 13), and the result is that the law kills (7:10f.). In 7:7-13 the law is still connected to sin, but sin is not attributed to Gods will.[6] From this, we must understand that Pauls answer to the early Jews who rejected his message and to that of the Jewish Christians was to demonize their doctrinal stance on soteriology. In essence, their plan for salvation led to death, it led to sin and to follow this plan led to being rejected from the Kingdom of God. This is most clear when we read the following verses from Romans[7]:



Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. 7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to Gods law, nor can it do so. 8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.


The conclusion to be derived from this, is that when Christianity is threatened from prospering, missionaries evolve their apologetics from defense to that of offense. Just as what Paul did in his writings, so too are evangelical polemecists doing today, they are creating the straw man of a common enemy to which they can propagate their unified message of Christianity against. Therefore in their minds, they are establishing Christianity as some ideology which is intellectual superior, logical and rationally sound. Instead of having to defend their religious doctrine, they create a common enemy which they perceive to be their biggest threat, demonize their enemy as being misguided and dedicate all efforts to attacking this enemy instead of defending their religion. When the enemy responds, they then respond to their enemys response, thereby establishing a whole field of data to which they can constantly respond to. What they have therefore done, is placed everyones focus on their dialogue with Muslims, while removing focus on their doctrinal deficiencies. In todays language we label this: sleight of hand. Therefore, when we see Christians today promoting, Dialogue with Muslims, as opposed to, classes or lectures on their doctrinal conundrums (often dubbed holy mysteries), it is in an effort to establish their faith as superior to the Islamic faith without having to explain Christianitys doctrinal conflicts, contradictions and illogicality.



Yet, in doing so, the message they have consequently conveyed can nonetheless be described as being wholly self contradicting. Before I proceed with an example, lets examine Pauls employing of this method. The use of this tool for Evangelism during his time has also led to confusion of his own personal doctrinal positions. E.P Sanders says[8], All Pauls statements cannot be harmonized into a logical whole, but each one can be understood as coming from the application of different of his central convictions to diverse problems. In other words, while he has dedicated his time to repudiating the positions of the Jews and Jewish-Christians, he has dug himself into a precarious position. His arguments became contradictory and confusing, illogical. Similarly, we find Christian polemecists saying that the Quran was copied from the Bible, but at the same time the Quran was also copied from Greek philosophers, Jewish historical books and Gnostic writings. Either the Quran is a bad copy of the Bible, or it is sourced from the other aforementioned sources. They claim that the Quran is not copied but rather written in Syriac as opposed to Arabic, but then they claim the Quran was written by Uthman [ra] in Arabic after Muhammads [sallahu alayhi wa slaam] death. Their positions cannot be described as being sequitur, for if we were to collect them and present them as holistically sound, we would not be able to do so.



Similarly, they say that the Quran was authored by a mad man, yet ignore that Paul himself was plagued with a messenger of Satan while authoring the New Testament Epistles[9]. Another popular argument is that Muhammad [sallalahu alayhi wa sallam] was a murderer and war monger, while they also argue he did not exist at the same time[10]. Clearly they are in confusion, just as Paul was and their arguments cannot be consolidated into a logical whole. Their attacking of Islam is not in response to Muslim dawah work, but it is a methodology employed to stall the ever increasing apostasy from their religion. Paul was successful in conveying his message to the Greeks who largely accepted him as an authority[11], yet in todays world, this methodology has largely failed as the modern missionary is finding much problems with the modern Muslim. We are not ignorant of the Bible, and when 20 year old Muslims like myself can run websites and organizations dedicated to exposing their faults, clearly something is amiss. To put this into perspective, Pauls success was at a time when most Greeks were ignorant of the new Christian faith, most regarded it correctly, as a form of Judaism. While the Jews themselves regarded it as heretical (which is of those whom Paul found little favour with). Edgar J. Godspeed emphasises on Pauls futility to convert the Jews but the relative ease as to which the Greeks took his message[12]:


In presenting the Christian gospel to the Greek world, Christian leaders in the first century were more and more embarrassed by the fact that the Jewish people, among whom the new faith had arisen, did not in any large numbers accept it. Christianity seems to have failed in its first campaign. Its first field was obviously the Jewish people among whom it had arisen; Jesus was their Messiah, foretold by their prophets. But his own people had refused him. What did it mean? The prophets had been full of pictures of the redeemed nation. The coming of the Messiah was to release a new program of spiritual glory for Israel. In the cherished messianic drama his appearance was to be the cue for the nation to take the stage. But the nation had not responded. The Christians joyfully accepted the Jewish scriptures as their Bible, but the prophetic program seemed to be breaking down.
Yet Christianity was not failing. It was winning an amazing success, but in the Greek, not in the Jewish, world. Christianity was, in fact, rapidly becoming a Greek religion. But this success of Christianity in the Greek world only increased the difficulty of the problem. It was nothing like what the prophets had said would happen when the Messiah came.

Similarly, Evangelicals using Pauls method have not found favour with Muslims, but with wavering Christians. Just as at the time of Paul, while Paul demonized the Jews as being in perpetual sin, he found favour with those outside of the Jewish faith. In modern terms, while Evangelicals demonize Muslims, they find favour with those outside of the Muslim faith. Thus, the Pauline Agenda as I have dubbed it, is clearly being utilized by our missionary friends, the parallels are too explicit to ignore. The Pauline Agenda can be broken down as such:


Make a claim against an opposing religion.
Allow the believers of that religion to respond.
Consume their time and their congregations time in responding to the opposing religions responses.
Focus on 2 and 3 while presenting a prima facie study of their doctrine to their own congregations.
If doctrinal issues arise, give standard, basic, simplified responses.
If doctrinal issues are taken to deeper levels, label your opponent as being misguided and satanic:
The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.



Evidently, the writing is on the wall, as is explicitly demonstrated with some of the Christian websites today, who are explicitly using this method:


Answering Islam.
Answering Muslims.
Calling Muslims.
Ministry to Muslims.

These Christian organizations are not dedicated to defending Christianity, but dedicated to attacking Islamas a last ditch effort of keeping the religion alive. Sadly, the only persons who seem interested in their message are zealot evangelicals who decry and belittle their own scholarship as liberal ignorants while staunchly swearing by the inerrancy of a muddled, interpolated and largely emendated medieval scripture. Due to their arrogant ways, when they do write about Christology, they muster illogical and overtly verbose articles that are easily dismissed and simple to denounce. Case in point, Answering Islams articles on the deity of Christ which I have put through simple criticism yet yielded a plethora of successes[13]. It is therefore, in the modern Christians best interest to remain in the fight response[14], as engaging in proper intellectual discourse of their doctrine can only lead to apostasy of their Christian brethren, thus they must occupy their congregation with attacking Islam and focus on presenting simple doctrinal teachings to them. Is the Pauline Agenda going to be successful, as it was at the time of Paul? Truthfully speaking, it was not successful at the time of Paul as he failed to convert Jews, similarly the Evangelicals are not making any significant headway into Muslim populations but in response, we Muslims are breeding more websites, dawah groups and study sessions to refute them. The only reason Christianity spread to the extent it did was due to Constantines political influence, military and judicial overview. Some Christians may discredit me for making such a statement, but the Catholic Encyclopaedia states[15]:


Constantine can rightfully claim the title of Great, for he turned the history of the world into a new course and made Christianity, which until then had suffered bloody persecution, the religion of the State.
It has consequently been asserted that Constantine favoured Christianity merely from political motives, and he has been regarded as an enlightened despot who made use of religion only to advance his policy. He certainly cannot be acquitted of grasping ambition.

There exists no modern equivalent to Constantine today, the Pauline Agenda will not yield the results that the Evangelicals seek. How they will evolve his methodology is yet to be seen, but as their articles demonstrate, they are dependent on the writings of old and when they do embrace new theories; they cannot defend them save for being labelled inconsistent and self contradictory. In conclusion, while the methods they have employed are not new, the goals are the same, but the means are insufficient. I am unable to see any new content being produced from amongst their apologists and as can be clearly seen by any well read person, they have begun to recycle their old articles, sometimes reposting them while restating a few paragraphs and presenting them as new argumentation. Surely, they are in a sad state of affairs. The writing is on the wall for Christianity.


wa Allaahu Alam.


[1] The original reading of apologist is not to be taken in the modern sense of being sorry. Theetymology renders it as being one who defends his faith/ argument.
[2] The
latest census of religiosity in the UK shows that Christianity has fallen considerably, while Islam has risen significantly.
[3]
Galatians 2:4-5.
[4] US Evangelicals do not understand the spiritual state of Europe.
Many are spiritually atheists, Christianity means nothing to them
[5] Paul, the Law and the Jewish People, by E.P Sanders, Kindle Edition: Location 1079-1079.
[6] Ibid, Location 1215-1215.
[7]
Romans 8:5-8.
[8] Paul, the Law and the Jewish People, by E.P Sanders, Kindle Edition: Location 1402-1403.
[9]
2 Corinthians 12.
[10] Robert Spencers Did Muhammad Exist?
[11]
Acts 13:46-48.
[12] An Introduction to the New Testament, by Edgar J. Godspeed, Matthew,
page 158 159.
[13] Our
codex of responses to Answering Islams Sam Shamoun on Christological arguments.
[14] The
Fight or Flight theory explained, as per my usage.
[15] Constantine the Great, in the
Catholic Encyclopaedia.