BA: Hello, this is Brian Auten of Apologetics 315. Today's interview is with Andrew Fellows. Andrew is the director of L’Abri Fellowship in the United Kingdom. L’Abri is a community dedicated to both demonstrating and explaining the truthfulness of Christianity. It does so by opening its doors to hundreds of seekers who experience the hospitality of this community. Andrew has traveled extensively throughout Europe lecturing to students, artists and politicians on a wide array of subjects. The purpose of our interview today is to discuss his work with the L'Abri, talk about communication and persuasion and his advice for Christian apologists. Thank you for joining me today, Andrew.
AF: Oh, good to be with you.
BA: Well, I met you a couple of years ago at the European Leadership Forum in Hungary. I was so impressed with your manner and your tone and your heart, that the following year I jumped at the opportunity to do a video interview with you there. And after that, I have been chasing you down to do an interview for Apologetics 315, so I highly value what you have to offer for our listeners and appreciate you taking the time to speak with me today.
AF: Oh, it’s my privilege and pleasure and I mean those words very intentionally.
BA: Well, Andrew, would you mind first just telling our listeners a bit more about yourself and the ministry that you are involved in.
AF: Well, some might want to try and place my accent. I'm a Canadian by birth, but my ancestry is English. My parents are English and immigrated to Canada, came back and very much settled here. I see this as my home. I’m married; very happily married to a wonderful woman called Helen and have four children who are also a huge delight to me. We moved down from the north of England 17 years ago to join L'Abri Fellowship and have had a very full and happy 17 years in this work. And the Lord sparing us and strengthening us, I hope we have many more years here.
BA: And by here, you’re talking about the United Kingdom. You’re working with L'Abri. Now maybe some of our listeners are familiar with L’Abri or they just recollect maybe that Francis Schaeffer had something to do with that name. What is L'Abri and can you talk a little bit more about it.
AF: Well L'Abri is French for “the shelter,” and there are a number of shelters dotted around the planet. The first one was in Switzerland, started in 1955 by Francis and Edith Schaeffer and their family. The most recent one just took off a few years ago in Brazil. I think the name, L'Abri, really does encapsulate what L'Abri is. We’re here as a shelter for anyone in need. And those needs take all kinds of different forms. Many come here with intellectual needs. I think we’re very much a shelter for doubters, a refugee house for doubters. We’re a shelter for those who have fallen on hard times. We can have homeless people staying with us. So we have a wide variety of people from those who are high level in their degree work to people who are literally off the streets and everyone in between. It’s a format of hospitality in which we invite people to come and live with us, to stay in our homes, and that’s really the heart of how the shelter functions. It’s a shelter for Christians and non-Christians. And really the shelter functions as a community. So there is a group of families who we call workers who are permanently established within the L'Abri centers. That forms a community into which we invite those who the Lord sends to us. Yeah, they keep coming. We don’t go looking for them. We don’t actually headhunt and don’t advertise very much. We just pray for the Lord to send us the people of His choice. They keep coming and for that we are very, very thankful.
BA: Well maybe some people listening hear the word shelter, and that kind of associates in their mind a homeless shelter. Or you maybe will say something like a community, and that brings more images to mind, whatever those might be. So if I actually drove up to L'Abri and got out of my car and walked up to it, what would I be seeing, and what kind of structures are in front of me, and how big is this, and what is this sort of community composed of?
AF: Well the first thing you’d see is a very large house. The English L'Abri is situated in a very beautiful part of Hampshire and we are located in an English manor house. That manor house has been divided up into various units where the families live. You would come into our house and we would welcome you. You’d see a few kids running around or maybe a couple of chickens. And coming into our homes, we would offer you hospitality, which would mean a cup of tea, and you’d join the rest. We have about 35 staying with us in a typical day. You’d join us for our meals, and of course we have to work together to keep the community functioning, so half the day is on the work side: gardening, cleaning, cooking, the various projects to keep this large property going. The other half of the day for those who are our guests here, we call them students, is set apart for study. And that study is not curriculum based. It is very much set by the questions that people bring to this place. So at one level, it is very much an educational shelter. So the shelter functions in lots of different ways. Many people see L'Abri as quite highly functioning on the educational side and that is certainly an important component of it. But there are so many other dimensions of the shelter going on too. So it is for somebody who is literally, they are homeless, For others, they need shelter to get away and think about their careers. They might have reached a crossroads in terms of what to do next, so they come here for a period of time to think through the next steps in their lives. Some come here very psychologically broken up. Other people come very solid in terms of their personhood, their faith, and just want to advance their Christianity more. And then we have a lot of non-Christians who come with questions, loads of questions concerning the faith. Usually lots of doubts, and it’s always such a joy to welcome them here. Some would call L'Abri a missionary community. There are lots of ways to describe it, because home has so many different components too. But the heart of it is home. You can come into our home. And that’s what you’d see when you come here: “Oh, I’m in someone’s home.”
BA: So you have people from all walks of life, whatever their state may be at the time, and they are sort of welcomed into a place of hiatus, if you will.
AF: Yeah, yeah absolutely. And a wide variety of age groups that come here. They tend to be on the younger side, twenties, early thirties, but there is no restriction there at all. People are just wanting time out. It’s not a bubble. It’s very much real life here, and people see that quite quickly. But I think it is also a shelter from mainstream life with all the pressures and time deadlines, so it is an oasis for people to actually give time and thought and attention to really, really important matters. So it’s a very serious place on the one hand, because people are dealing with huge questions, but a place of great fun, togetherness and community.
BA: You mentioned Francis and Edith Schaeffer starting L'Abri. But now there are many L'Abris scattered around. Now, what sort of heritage do you think that he left through this work at L'Abri and what kind of changed lives are the legacy.
AF: Yes, I think it is almost incalculable the heritage that Francis and Edith Schaeffer left at L'Abri. They were truly remarkable people with, I think, exceptional gifts, not ordinary. And no one should ever try to imitate what they did. But the wonderful thing about L'Abri is that it functions very, very well without them. Francis Schaeffer died in 1984, and Edith is still alive, very elderly. But L'Abri goes on because in a sense it is bigger than the Schaeffer’s. They always intended that it be that way. And so in a quiet way, L'Abri keeps getting on with it. And I think one of the unique things L'Abri does, especially with respect to apologetics is that it brings the demonstration of the Truth and the persuasion of the Truth as parallel courses that go side by side. So I think most apologetics is more on the persuasion side but not a whole lot of opportunity to actually demonstrate and live out that Truth. But here, we invite people to come and join our lives, and we’re structured in such a way as to really demonstrate the truthfulness that ultimately God exists. He’s good. He’s our provider. We are to trust Him completely. So while we’re doing the argumentation side for the truthfulness of Christianity, we’re also living it out. And I think that aspect of the Schaeffer’s work in ministry was truly remarkable. And I have to say somewhat unique and continues to be quite unique in terms of apologetic works going on around the world today. So, I think that’s one of the distinctive things that they lacked in terms of the L’Abri, which carry on without them.
BA: Well, there are countless apologists and Christians who have been inspired and really influenced by the work of Francis Schaeffer, whether it’s through his writings or through knowing him personally. And I wonder how you would describe Schaeffer’s approach to apologetics and what you think is unique or distinctive about his angle.
AF: The first thing I would want to say about his contribution to apologetics: I don’t think it’s stretching the matter that he really put apologetics on the map in the 20th century. Apologetics has a noble history in the history of the church going right back to the time of Christ, but I think it fell on hard times in the latter half of the 19th century into the 20th century, and I think Schaeffer put it on the map and really inspired a whole generation of apologists. I think one of the distinctive things for me about Schaeffer’s apologetics is that along side his total commitment to the fact that Christianity was true, and when he talked about truth, he used a quirky phrase, true truth, that it is really stating the reality of how things are as created by God. So beside true truth, he also emphasized true spirituality. It’s something that I think is easily lost in apologetics today. If you look at Schaeffer's life, if you read the collection of his works, you see that beside his wonderful championing of Christian as truth, alongside of that was a huge core commitment to the need of the people of God to have integrity in terms of their spiritual lives, to be living and demonstrating in the way they lived. That this was true. Because Schaeffer's whole thing was if this is true, we must act upon the basis of it. So that’s where the demonstration side comes in. So I think this is one of the unique things he offered. I think his commitment to truth, especially in the midpoint of the 20th century where liberalism was so strong, was quite unique in that time. And I think the way he did that in a cultural setting was also unique. There weren’t many evangelicals in his time who were engaging with culture in the way he was. And that was because of his passion for the gospel, his passion to communicate clearly. And he didn’t think clear communication was possible unless we really deeply engage with what was going on in our culture. So those would be a few of the distinctives I would see. Many others have taken up the baton and done these things very well, so that they improved on them. But I think he was a watershed in the 20th century in terms of apologetics.
BA: Yes. Well, when we dialogue with people, often we can look for inroads to sharing the gospel by exploring the big questions in life. And you mentioned how when people come to L'Abri, oftentimes, they’re sorting through these big questions. I wonder what would you say about what you think are the big questions that everyone is asking. How is Christianity in a position to answer them?
AF: Yes. When Schaeffer started L'Abri, I think the questions back then had more of an epistemological angle to them. People wanted to know whether this was rationally true and coherent as a description of reality. And it’s not that people don’t ask those types of questions today, but I see predominantly the questions coming from what I call a crisis of meaning. I think the new generation, Generation X and then the Millenials, as people call them, really are in a massive crisis of meaning and they’re looking desperately for meaning in their lives. I would describe the crisis of meaning as not one so much as meaning beyond themselves: the meaning of the universe, the meaning of culture, the meaning of society. I think the meaning is much more fundamentally what is the meaning of me. So I call this an anthropological meaning crisis. Modern persons want to know who they are and they want to know the meaning of themselves because they’ve been robbed of it. That, of course, is because the human person cannot have meaning without relationship to their source person, which the Bible clearly reveals as being God. So I would say when God has been stripped out of western culture, then reality has been reduced only to the material, that has left moderns with a massive meaning crisis. So the questions I'm hearing, and it’s often the question behind the questions, are questions relating to meaning. And I think we need to hear those questions carefully. I think it’s easy for apologetics to deal with questions on the epistemological, rational level, and of course there is a huge need for that, but to miss what’s going on beneath that which are really meaning crises.
BA: Well, I like what you said there about discerning the question behind the question. When you’re in a conversation, Andrew, what sort of things are you looking for that might clue you in to something deeper. Because oftentimes, you know how it is, we are in a crisis in our life and maybe we’re complaining about this crisis but really it might point to something that is underlying that. How is your approach when you are interacting with people in order to kind of dig a little deeper.
AF: Yes. I find people’s presenting questions are often still truth questions: How can this possibly be true? How can it possibly be true that a personal God loves me when I experience none of this? Give me evidence for the fact that this God is good and loving. So the presenting of the question is very much at the level of mind. But I find that as I probe and ask questions back, I begin to see that actually there is a whole lot of personal angst and hurt and sense of loss behind that question. So one of the great things Schaeffer taught us is to keep asking questions and to probe for the question behind the question. I think quite quickly we see that the causal nexus of many people’s today which might be presented as intellectual, is actually much more personal and existential. So that’s why I want to be gently asking those kinds of questions to open it up.
BA: We’ve been talking about the questions that people might have, but what about objections or obstacles. What are some of the most common ones that you’ve run into when people are considering the gospel or the truthfulness of Christianity?
AF: I think in terms of the core of the gospel, the greatest obstacle I see is that people don’t see themselves as sinners. They see themselves as victims. This is partly to do with this crisis of meaning I’ve just been talking about. And as I said, the crisis of meaning is very inward; it’s the meaning of myself, which means that all of our questions and all of our engagement with reality are very self-reverential. So everything is back to the self, which means that we see ourselves centrally as being sinned against rather than sinning against the norm of our Creator or the norms of society, the norms our parents have laid down. And so I think the kind of intense self-reverentialism, which is so prevalent, especially with the younger generations, makes the message of the gospel very, very difficult and I would say, unpalatable because it says, actually the problem is with you because you are a sinner. You have sinned against your Maker and Creator and He is the one who is the norm giver. He, as the authority over all of creation, has given norms. The Bible calls those laws by which we are to live. And to fall short of those norms is a real problem. Now to someone who is totally immersed in him or herself, who is narcissistic, self-reverential, that’s going to make no sense whatsoever. So for me, we have a huge challenge today to actually get people to take sin seriously. And to show them that they are not ultimately victims, that they are sinners. They are agents; agents who have sinned against their Maker and His norms. So that is one of the chief obstacles I see to the core presentation of the gospel and our need of Christ.
BA: Well it sounds as if what you’re describing there isn’t necessarily an intellectual obstacle but the moral obstacle. Do you think that people have this underlying moral obstacle and perhaps put up a smokescreen with whatever intellectual objections they may have?
AF: Yes, I have to say in my work in apologetics, I see the intellectual questions as more presenting rather than causal. I think we have to take them seriously. So I don’t just brush aside the presenting intellectual question. I think we must, out of courtesy to the person we’re talking about, take that seriously. And of course, I am in no place to make the immediate judgment: this is just a smokescreen. You start there, but I would say my biblical anthropology forbids me to say, “This is the issue, and I’m going to stop here.” We have to go further. Yeah, I would say if our worldview is truly biblical, we would never see the intellectual as the only issue that is presenting itself. We are very complex as human persons. We have a moral capacity and that’s part of our problem. We’re persons who have been hurt and that’s part of our problem on the feeling level. So, I’m sensitive to the various capacities that we’ve been created with and to see how they connect with each other.
BA: Well just a follow up question along this line, and I’m thinking about the subject of offense and how as Christian persuaders or defenders of the faith were often trying to remove the offensiveness of certain elements of maybe wrong perceptions of Christianity. But at the same time, we understand that there is an offense to the gospel inherent to it that we don’t want to remove. And so maybe we walk a tightrope between trying to be winsome but then there comes a point where people might not like what we’re going to have to say when we present the gospel. We’re actually calling out the fact that someone is a sinner, that they are accountable to God. So how do you think we should walk that line and be sensitive to people, but at the same time not hold back when it comes time to speak to them in those areas?
AF: That’s a very good question. For me, I don’t think our demeanor, as apologists should ever be offensive. That is, we should be gentle. I think when actually someone is offensive towards us; we should be non-retaliatory in terms of how we respond to their blanket statements, which can be quite harsh and quite aggressive. So I think in terms of our demeanor, there should be no cause offense whatsoever. I think we should be gentle even as we speak with total commitment and conviction to the Truth; we should be gentle as we say that. So nothing offensive about our manner, about our tone, and yet unshrinking in terms of the truthfulness of the gospel and parts of the gospel message are unavoidably offensive. I think, too, that in terms of our biblical worldview and especially the anthropology that grows from that, as we bring the offense of the fact that we are sinners who have offended God at so many levels of our lives. We’ve fallen short so badly. At the very same time, we are affirming the dignity, the fact that we are the image of God, that we are the crown of creation. I love this that we can flow between the two. And it’s not a way of trying to making it more palatable, we’re stating what Blaise Pascal called the anthropic principle which is you cannot exaggerate too much the dignity and worth of humans, neither can you exaggerate too much just how horrible and evil and depraved we are. I think a good apologist always holds those two things together. In my own work, I see the affirmation of our dignity is actually quite important to understanding our depravity. This is what we are in terms of the image of God. This is our created dignity and look what we’ve become. So that’s also how I would bring the offense of the fact that we have fallen so far short in the light of the dignity of who we are.
BA: Well, I’m thinking of our audience who is listening right now and maybe there is someone who is studying apologetics, or they’re going to seminary, they’re looking into questions of theology, philosophy, looking at the hard questions, looking through the content, the responses, studying maybe arguments, but what prepares them for actual engagement and doing the work of the ministry through evangelism or maybe academic outlets that influence the culture at large? I mean, I'm thinking about the work with L'Abri, for instance, what sort of training programs go into, how do we speak to people, is there an element of mentoring that goes into our training as disciples that will better equip us so that we don’t become simply voracious readers who then go back to regurgitate countless arguments. I wonder what your reflections are on this sort of idea here.
AF: I think one of the problems with learning apologetics in the classroom is that those who are being trained and mentored rarely, if ever, see a real conversation between their teacher and a non-Christian. And I think it’s rather ironic that most apologetics that take place in the church happen amongst Christians. We’re rehearsing the arguments in the hope that when we meet a non-Christian, we’ll be able to handle it like this. And of course, the live situation is never the reality of the classroom. And I think many apologists have been mentored at L'Abri by watching those of us who’ve worked here and do work here, engage everyday with non-Christians. So our lunch table everyday is a setting where people can ask questions. And at almost every lunch table someone will ask a difficult question that has an apologetic dimension to it, and it’s a live situation. You face their doubts. Sometimes you face their anger because they don’t like the answer that’s been given. And I think apologists can see this happening in front of them and actually that is a real mentoring. This is a live situation. I don’t know many places where that really happens. And I think there is a huge need for that kind of live apologetic where mentoring happens. And there is no better place for apologetics than around a dinner table. So that’s where the hospitality side is just so central. We welcome them in. We love them. We honor them. We find out their names. We take their stories seriously. We bring them to our table for a simple but beautiful meal. I think for people to see that, it’s extremely helpful. And I think that when you see a model like that, you really are dealing with the whole person, the person who does have a mind, a key capacity that we’ve been created with, but we’re also much more than minds. So there we are eating the meal together. We’re people who have appetites and desires and food caters to that. Then, yeah, you’re dealing with whole persons. So around our table, you can have very serious moments, but then explosive laughter because you’re dealing with persons. So I actually am burdened, and I say this to a number of those who teach in apologetic training centers, that we need that kind of mentoring. And I’m not saying that people have to come to L'Abri to find it, I think we need to create it in our own homes contacts where we can have neighbors around or start up some kind of a think tank, have non-Christians there, but then have young apologists see us in a live situation doing it. I think there is huge value in that. At times, I sense that we’re training our apologists to be good debaters. And I think that’s quite a unique gift. I don’t have it. I would never take on a public debate. I have been asked to do a few, but it’s not my gift. I pray for more and more good debaters to be raised up, but I think sometimes it feels like we’re training a generation of debaters. I don’t know that many really have the gift of doing that. And I don’t think that’s where the heart of apologetics is. You always want people who can do that, but the heart of apologetics is street apologetics. It’s home apologetics. It’s workplace apologetics. I think we need to work a little harder at the kind of training that really equips for that.
BA: You talk a lot about engaging the ideas in our culture and you also use those as tools for exploring the Christian worldview. So, talking about now how the church should relate or interact with culture.
AF: Yes, for me, it’s critical that the church engages culture. I see two primary reasons. One is for good communication. John Stott said it as well as anyone in his idea of double listening. If you’re going to build a good bridge of communication between the church rooted in the Bible and biblical worldview and the culture, which is going to have an alternative worldview, you need to be listening very carefully to both to build a bridge of communication between them. So for me, cultural apologetics is something I hold in very high regard. And I have to say I think there’s too little emphasis on cultural apologetics in the training of apologists today. I think we still have a lot more work to do there. The second reason I think it’s so critical for the church is actually for our sanctification. The Bible constantly warns of the danger of accommodation. The Kingdom of Christ, the Kingdom of Heaven can easily become enculturated to the kingdom of this world. And in order to retain our utter distinctiveness as the people of God in the world, we have to understand the cultural influences that are going on all around us. We have to be adept at seeing what feeds these cultural influences, what I call the religious root of the cultural milieu in which we live. So I don’t think that cultural engagement is only important for apologetics, it’s also important to retain our integrity as the people of God in the era in which we happen to live. I find it interesting that it’s often the apologists who have been the most helpful at explaining what the form of worldliness is in terms of the time in which we are living. So I think the role of apologetics is not just to non-Christians, it’s also to the church for us to keep and maintain our identity.
And in terms of the way that engagement happens, well, I mean there are just so many strands. For me, it’s engaging in the sources of journalism that are obviously going to tell us what’s going on. I think the arts are a key point to understand what’s feeding the culture of our day, the main ideas, and the religious stream root that’s feeding. I think the arts reflect that very well: literature, film, and popular culture. I’m particularly interested in high culture, not as an elitist thing, but I do think high culture really does show us what’s going on in terms of religious roots. I think we need to be as able as we can in things like economics. I think it’s a huge thing that drives and shapes our culture. We have to understand the stream of what’s going on there. I’m also someone who believes that all of us have to have a keen interest in history. I think that as we read history, we see where some of the breeches have come, the changes, the shifts between one era of culture to another. And I think understanding what’s gone before is critical for one understanding what’s going on now. So I actually think we can’t work too hard at the issue of cultural apologetics, cultural engagement, and I think that the fruit of doing that is enormous. It’s imperative that we keep it very high on our agendas.
BA: Some of the other questions I have for you today are inspired by some of the topics from your lectures that I’ve heard. And one is a lecture about Jesus, the Subversive Apologist. And I was quite interested in asking a bit about this for our listeners and how do we look at Jesus as and apologist, and what is this idea of being subversive? And then, was Jesus a subversive apologist? Can you explain that concept and sort of unpack that?
AF: Sure. First, I think all of us have to just start with a clear understanding that the Apologist of apologists was Jesus Christ. There is no greater apologist, and He is our model. He is the one we follow in terms of how we do apologetics and the reason for that is He, Himself is the truth. I am the truth, the way and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me. I like to think of Jesus as the convergence point of the Trinity into creation. So He is the one from the outside who comes in. And it’s only from the outside that one can see whole of truth. None of us has that perspective. But as the one who is incarnated into creation, but whose personhood is being the eternal Son of God, everything He says, everything He does is truth, perfect truth. And why would we go to anyone else? In terms of a model of apologetics, He’s a model of persuasion. Look at His encounters with people; just the way He persuasively engaged their minds and intellects and formed a good argument is for me truly breathtaking. It’s remarkable. Why wouldn’t we expect that from the most highly intelligent human person who has ever lived?
But I’ve become quite interested in what I call his subversive angle, because my point is that when you are engaged in persuasive apologetics, to have that kind of conversation, there needs to be a two sided conversation going on. Which means that the other person that you’re talking to is somewhat open to listening. And yet, most of our conversations with non-Christians are with people who aren’t open, even a little bit, to listening to what we have to say. They’re completely shutdown. And so I was interested as I studied the gospels to see what Jesus did with those kinds of people. And of course, most of the ones He dealt with were completely closed. The religious establishment of the Jews of His day was completely closed to anything new. They were locked in their own worldview and not interested at all in any kind of alternative. So I became very interested in how Jesus dealt with those kinds of people. And I use the subversive, a potentially controversial word, but it’s just the idea of coming up from beneath and surprising someone, because it is not an open conversation going on. And the surprise is more the deconstruction of someone’s worldview. Because as Christian apologists, we should start with on the basis that Christianity is true, and that means other worldviews are false. And because they’re false, we should be able to find the points where they are lacking integrity: intellectual integrity, it might be a moral or social integrity, but they don’t work. And subversive apologetics basically is a way of listening and then asking questions to deconstruct and show the inadequacies of a worldview. It has to be done very gently, but I see a lot of Jesus’ engagement with people actually that kind of engagement. He is showing the flaws or the inconsistencies of other worldviews.
BA: Well, very good. Now one thing along the line of Jesus as the apologist, we see He is using rhetoric, and by that, I mean good rhetoric, the model of rhetoric, appealing to the whole person. And He is engaging people persuasively. So along this line of Jesus as an apologist, what do you see in His life that Christian defenders should develop in their own lives to be better persuaders?
AF: Before becoming better persuaders, I think the example of Jesus as an apologist, and the one thing we should follow is that He was totally committed to His Father and to the glory of the Father. So Jesus was not at all interested in self-promotion. The glory of the Father was the most important thing. And in that regard, His whole objective was to promote the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of His Father that He had come to establish. And I think that is the ultimate thing that we need to learn from Jesus. It has nothing to do with self-promotion, and there is a huge challenge there. I, myself, easily fall into the trap of thinking, “I'm in an argument here that I need to win.” So it’s about self-promotion. Jesus’ model shows us something very, very different. He is so committed to the glory of His Father, and that’s what amazed me. Sometimes it moves me to tears when I see what Him doing.
BA: Along the line of talking about persuasion and obviously, seeking to better communicators, making the gospel more attractive, removing obstacles and the like, at the same time, we realize that the Holy Spirit is the one at work in the hearts of those with whom we engage, so my question is: How do you see that we can be more sensitive to the hearts of the people to whom we’re speaking. You mentioned there about Jesus being completely committed to the Father and I think a lot of that affects our own heart and gives us the heart of God towards people, but how do you look at that question? How would you recommend others to develop that element?
AF: For me, it’s as fundamental as this: The core that we’re always speaking to when we deal with a person is the heart. And I see the heart as that which makes all of us fundamentally religious. Every single person operates out of a faith commitment to what they believe is ultimately real, that which gives them ultimate identity. And that faith commitment, which is core to every person, is what drives them, what moves them, that which feeds into their decisions, so every apologist has to start with that commitment of how do I speak to this aspect, what I call the concentration point of a human person. Now I don’t think we speak to the heart without going through what I call different gateways. So I see the mind as one of the gateways to the heart. Because we have lots of human capacities, which are all integrated in the heart. So I want to get to the heart through the gateway of the mind. I also want to get to the heart through the gateway of the imagination. Everyone functions with a capacity of human imagination. That is, they symbolize the world. So I want to touch the heart also through that. I also want to appeal to the will. At the end of the day, unless the will bows before God the Father, through the Son, they are not going to become Christians, so I want also to appeal to the will as a means of getting to the heart. So again, I think a clear understanding of what a biblical anthropology is, is essential for apologetics starting with the heart but then understanding the various capacities we’ve been created with which are gateways to the heart. But at the end of the day, it’s simple for me, the heart of the matter is that it’s the heart that matters. So take the mind seriously, yes, but if we stop with the mind, we’ve gotten nowhere near the person. Because to me it’s the heart which constitutes personhood, and that’s what we want to touch, because that is the center from which faith commitments proceed from.
BA: Well I think that’s an extremely useful insight there. Following up with that, I'm thinking about the person we may be engaged with, and some of those people are skeptical or they might say something along the lines of: if God would just show Himself, then I would believe, or if God wanted to save me why doesn’t He just prove Himself undeniably to me. Maybe these sorts of ideas land somewhere within the topic of God hiding Himself, or the hiddenness of God. I would like to talk a bit about that. But first how would you address that sort of objection in the course of a conversation.
AF: Well, the question: “If God showed Himself to me like this, then I would believe” actually the very nature of the question or the form of the question reveals the heart of the problem, which is humanism. Because what you see in that question is that man, the human person, is at the center and from the center, we’re calling God to respond to us in our terms. So basically, the terms of engagement, we are central, He responds to us. But the heart of Christian worldview is that we are the creatures, God is the creator, so He is the center and we, as creatures have to bow and respond to Him on His terms. So I find that those kinds of questions, which come very, very frequently, reveal the heart of the problem, which is humanism, which is self-centeredness. And God will never respond to us on the basis of that because it’s a distortion of reality. We respond to Him. We bow to Him. He doesn’t bow and respond to us. That is the structure of reality. So the question itself reveals the problem.
BA: Now following up, what about the hidden ness of God. Does God actually hide Himself, and I think you’d probably say yes, so how and why?
AF: Well I would say the reason God hides Himself is that He can do no other in order to be true to Himself. And by that I mean this: that He is the Creator and His creation [...inaudible...] in the early chapters of Genesis reflect a world created outside of Himself. That is, there is a total distinction between God, the Creator and His creation. And between creation and the Creator is what I call an absolute boundary of being. And that absolute boundary of being between the creatorhood of the Trinity and then the creatureliness of the universe, of the cosmos, those two orders of being mean that God can’t just appear to us on our terms in formats that we understand and recognize because that would be to make Himself the creation which He cannot do. So in order to be true to who He is, He must remain hidden. He must remain other, because otherness is integral, essential to who He is. He is not the creation. So He hides because He has to. To be true to Himself, He can do no other. And I think many of our “God must be revealed” kind of impulses are basically pagan at heart. Paganism is all about reducing the creator to the creations. That’s exactly what Paul talks about in Romans 1, that we worship the creation rather than the Creator or reduce the Creator to the creation. But that creation/Creator distinction is central to the biblical worldview. And I think essential to that is the biblical idea of holiness, the otherness of God whereby He doesn’t reduce Himself or reflect Himself in creation the way other creational realities happen. The only time it happens is in Jesus Christ when He becomes one with creation without giving up his creatorhood. So for me it’s an ontological necessity that he must be hidden.
BA: Well from Scripture, we also see that God is a revealer of Himself as well. And also that He draws people to Himself. I wonder, though, we also have this commission to tell people, to make the gospel attractive, to call people to repentance. So, if He promised to reveal Himself, shouldn’t we encourage people to go ahead and just seek Him?
AF: We must seek God because God has created us to seek Him, and the reason we must seek Him is that we can only find who we are as human person in Him, because we are His image. And what that reflects is that human persons are not qualified by anything in creation. It’s the miracle, the wonder of the biblical anthropology of what it means to be human, that our qualification is ultimately in our Maker, our Creator, the God who is on the other side of the absolute boundary of being. So that is why we are the crown of creation or creation’s meaning totality, which only finds itself in the Creator. And that desire for God has been put in our hearts by our Creator. Sin, of course, diverts that desire for God to something in the creation. But at the end of the day, our dignity, our glory is in seeking our Source, our Origin. I call it our Source person relationship, which is with the Father through Jesus Christ. So if we come back to the glory, the dignity, the supreme dignity of what it means to be human, we are not qualified by anything in creation. We’re only qualified in our relationship to the Father through the Son.
BA: Very good. Andrew, I want to shift gears now. We’ve got a few more minutes left. One of the goals of this podcast is to help equip the next generation, if you will, of Christian apologists. So now speaking, say, right to a class full of those who are interested in this sort of subject, what advice would you want to give them?
AF: I think I would want to, in a sense, repeat a little bit of what I’ve already been saying and say the heart of the matter is that it’s the heart that matters. And I would say keep your heart aflame with total love and commitment to the Father to the glory of the Kingdom through Jesus Christ. That is the number one priority. And our fruitfulness as apologists is only going to be in relationship to that commitment. And in that respect, a piece of practical advice which was a challenge to me some years ago is my engagement with the Word of God, the Bible, the priority of my life. Or another way to put it: Am I reading the Bible more than I’m reading my apologetic interests, philosophy, cultural works, history. I think my commitment to the Father will be revealed and reflected by my commitment to the Bible and the place it has in my life. This is Sunday school stuff, but I think we have to come back to it. What place does the Bible have in your life as an apologist?
BA: Well you mentioned there a potential pitfall, and I wonder if there are any other pitfalls you would want to warn people against.
AF: Yes, I would warn apologists against the pitfall of pride. Pride will reflect itself usually in some kind of intellectual arrogance: “Aren’t I clever? Look how well I argued my case there.” I would also argue against the pitfall of talking too much. I think good apologetics is listening first; good, good listening. And if we’re talking too much, we have fallen into a pit there. And I would say the third pitfall I would warn against is easy answers. I believe Christianity does have answers, substantial answers to the questions people bring, but in a fallen world, and actually in a world of limitation in terms of our understanding of it; there are questions that we cannot give perfect answers to. In fact, I don’t believe in a perfect answer except for Jesus Christ. And so we need to avoid the pitfall of giving too easy an answer to some of those a really complex, difficult questions that face us. Especially around suffering and evil. And I have to say sometimes I cringe when I hear some of the very glib, easy answers to some of the really complex questions that non-Christians bring.
BA: Well, that’s excellent advice Andrew, and thank you for that. Before we go, would you mind pointing people to your resources online or where they may find out more about L'Abri.
AF: We have a website: labri.org. That will bring it us right away. And we have something, which is a fairly new initiative which is an ideas library. We have slowly but steadily been digitizing our lectures over the years. We went right back to the early years. Most of Schaeffer’s lectures are up there, and we have several hundred, I think approaching 1000, online at the moment which are free to download. People are more than welcome to make use of those.
BA: Well great! Andrew it has been a real pleasure speaking with you today. So thanks for joining me.
AF: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.