Quarantine or Inoculate? A Theological Question
Dear Friend of Theology Matters,
Theology Matters is back in print! Our first issue after an unfortunate hiatus arrived in mailboxes a few days ago, and now it is posted on our website. You can view the January/February 2015 issue here.
A New Issue on Apologetics
Our theme for the issue is apologetics. This is a fancy word for what the apostle Peter meant when he advised Christians: "Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence" (1 Peter 3:15). It's about answering respectfully the questions and challenges that our neighbors pose. It's about explaining why we believe in Jesus and why that makes sense.
In this age there will always be a need for apologetics, because there will always be questions and challenges. There will always be false or confused ideas that lead people away from Christian faith.
So what do we do about the false ideas? One approach is for churches to try to quarantine their members away from the false ideas. So these ideas are never discussed in church, and members are urged to avoid secular media or educational institutions where they might encounter such ideas.
Why Quarantine Fails
This approach is doomed to failure. William Dembski and Jay Richards, in their article "Reclaiming Theological Education" in our Jan/Feb issue, explain why:
A quarantine maintains safety only as long as one can prevent exposure. Preventing exposure may be possible when combating physical toxins. But when the toxins are false ideas, isolation is difficult to maintain. The proper model for handling exposure to false ideas is not quarantine but inoculation. Inoculation exposes a person to a disease, but in measured doses so that the destructive effects of the disease are mitigated. The person inoculated against a disease ceases to be at risk, even when exposed to it. The inoculated individual is immune. Similarly, the student who has been inoculated against false ideas is far less likely to succumb to them than the student who has been cloistered from them. Precisely because they have already been exposed to falsehood, inoculated students become convincing critics of falsehood and defenders of truth. For this reason, Christian apologetics needs to stress inoculation.
Physical inoculation works because it stimulates the body to produce antibodies to fight off the disease. Likewise, spiritual "inoculation" via Christian apologetics can stimulate the mind to produce "antibodies" of sound Christian thinking that will ward off the false ideas. That's the discipline that Dembski and Richards say we need to revive in our seminaries and congregations.
Stimulating sound Christian thinking in response to false ideas is one of the things that we in Theology Matters aim to accomplish. You will see an example of this kind of apologetics in action in the other feature article in our Jan/Feb issue. Steven Smith, in "Is God Irrelevant?" gives a wise and subtle answer to skeptics who claim we do not need God to live a moral life. On the contrary, Smith shows how the God of the Bible--a God who created humankind, and has a supremely good plan and purpose for his creatures--supplies a firm foundation for living that is not available in any morality that is purely subjective or apart from God.
You can read more from Dembski/Richards and Smith in the Jan/Feb issue on our website here. We hope they will stimulate our Christian minds to give a better account of the hope that we have within us.
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Yours in that eternal hope,
Alan F.H. Wisdom
Interim Editor, Theology Matters
P.O. Box 3940,
Fredericksburg, VA 22402