Recently, I had the privilege of speaking at a small neighborhood church. My text was from Luke’s gospel, the 15th chapter. The trick for anyone who wants to tackle an entire chapter in 30 minutes (it took me forty), is in deciding what points deserve our attention and which ones are better left for another conversation. After the sermon ended, I was approached by a friend of mine, a young man in his early 20’s. He asked me what should he do with the message he had just heard. What a simple, yet deep question. How can three brief, but familiar stories, told by Jesus serve as an invitation to reexamine our understanding of the biblical text? How should ancient parables be put into practice here and now? In the past, I’ve dedicated a series of posts to Hieropraxis on the theme, “God in the Details.” This chapter in Luke’s biography of Jesus is worth a closer look. Before we get to the details of the text, I’d like to preface this series with a few thoughts regarding the intersection of study, spiritual formation and apologetics in the life of the individual.
Any investigation worth pursuing should have a goal in mind. Think of Acts 8, when the eunuch tells Philip, “How can I understand what I’m reading, unless someone tells me?” Like Philip, my desire is help answer any questions that a given text might raise for a curious mind. I have benefited many times when others have taken the time to explain concepts, ideas and themes otherwise outside of my own understanding. It is always with a profound sense of humility that I share anything. I’m convinced that most everything that should be said already has been in some way, shape or form. When the Hebrew king Solomon wrote that there was nothing new under the sun, I’ve taken that to include the realm of ideas as well. Much of my own thinking has been shaped by answers to ancient questions articulated by brighter minds and more mature insights than my own, My gratitude towards those who willingly offer their life’s work for the benefit of others can, at times, give me to pause to ask if I should say anything at all. Then again, by not sharing what I’ve learned, even if they are simply ‘crumbs from the table,’ I run the risk of becoming incapable of expressing any gratitude at all. An honest investigation into spiritual truths can provide the possibility of satisfying answers, lead to other meaningful questions, and cultivate a sense of wonder as one’s intellectual and spiritual muscles are developed. My investigation into the three stories in Luke 15 have done just that.
As someone who enjoys seeing the world through the lenses of philosophy and apologetics, I’m often reminded that those disciplines should be informed by a robust understanding of the narrative that is found within scripture. It is all too easy to treat individuals like ideas, assuming that all they believe can be summarized by neat and tidy technologies. It makes it convenient to dehumanize those with whom I may see the world differently. It can breed a from of nihilism that allows me to keep others at arms length precisely because I see them less than human. To put it another way, within the field of philosophy and apologetics, there are expressions that are more in line with my convictions, beliefs and preferences. To be sure, I think they are true. What generally happens however, is that I begin to construct narratives where anyone who holds to a different perspective is seen as an enemy. I view them in light of their ideas as opposed to seeing them as individuals, bearing the Imago Dei, who are invited to live in the same grace I am.
In some cases, due to secondary and tertiary matters that can be idolatrously elevated, I can come to detest those who share the same commitment to the Christian life that I do. Instead of compassion, I have anger, Instead of hope, despair. If I am being honest, I’m guilty of falling short of Paul’s admonition to love above all else. Too often, my apologetic and philosophical ramblings can come across like a spoiled toddler, upset because I’m not getting my way. What’s worse, I won’t relent in voicing my perceived slight until I feel pacified. It is easy to opt for wallowing in pity instead of fulfilling the call and work as an ambassador of a real and thriving Kingdom.
The trap for the Christian apologist is that by becoming so committed to the things we are passionate about defending, (politics, science, culture, theology) we can neglect our own spiritual development. That can have a disastrous impact in our pursuit of truth and distort our understanding of biblical wisdom. Please understand, I don’t pretend to offer myself as one who has attained all of this. However, as I’m confronted with the teachings of Jesus as found within the pages of the New Testament, I’m challenged to reassess my own assumptions and adjust my views accordingly. My academic and apologetic pursuits should reflect the doctrine of God that we find revealed in Jesus Christ. A doctrine of God, made tangible by the incarnation, in my opinion, is the greatest contribution of Christianity to the world.
As I have been invited to live within Luke’s text over the last few months, my thoughts concerning my friend’s question, “What do I do with this?” coupled with my own desire to faithfully embody a gospel infused expression of my interests, namely philosophy and apologetics have all been forever shaped by the following: Pharisees, sinners, tax collectors, 100 sheep, 1 lost, 99 out in the wilderness, a good shepherd, a woman in a house, 10 coins, one of which is lost in the cracks, a loving father, two sons and incredible parties. Lest we forget the main character through it all, the storyteller himself. Join me on a journey through Luke 15. Wherever this series finds you on your spiritual sojourning, of this I’m confident: it’s never to late to begin to rethink things anew. We are all invited to a celebratory banquet, given in love by a gracious host who reconciles each of us to one another and more importantly, to himself. This is the theme is evident time and again, as we look for God in the details.
Mario Alejandre lives in Salt Lake City, UT. He holds a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of Utah and an M.A. in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. Currently, he leads a weekly class called Christianity Explored, a look at what it means to be a human in the midst of God’s story. You can follow him on twitter at @u2gospel.