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New War, New Training

The United States army has instituted a complete overhaul of its basic training regimen – the first such revision in three decades. Largely as a result of learnings from Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans, the army is dropping five-mile runs and bayonet drills in favor of zig-zag sprints and exercises that hone core muscles.
Because soldiers need to be prepared for what really happens in war. And in today’s world, the nature of conflict has changed, and it demands a new kind of fitness.
Modern combatants must be able to dodge across alleys, walk patrol with heavy packs and body armor, or haul a buddy out of a burning vehicle. Soldiers need to become stronger, more powerful and more speed driven. They have to know how to roll out of a tumbled Humvee. They have to know how to crawl for their weapons.
Sgt. Michael Todd, a veteran of seven deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, said, “They have to understand hand-to-hand combat, to use something other than their weapon, a piece of wood, a knife, anything they can pick up.”
It brings to mind how seldom we rethink our own battle strategies, particularly in evangelism – and perhaps most of all in the field of apologetics.
If used at all, more often than not we cling to Enlightenment-era approaches that attempt to answer Enlightenment-era questions. This is all well and good, and the challenges of the Enlightenment are not as absent from our cultural landscape as many may think.
After all, anyone who has even the most rudimentary knowledge of intellectual history knows such questions didn’t originate with the Enlightenment. And even more to the point, anyone who actually dialogues with those who are exploring Christianity knows that they remain alive and well, particularly in the early stages of investigation.
Granted, such questions are usually only a smokescreen for the moral demands of faith that they are trying to avoid, but they exist nonetheless. And it’s still important for the wider culture to hear us speak intelligently about such matters. Just remind yourself of the popularity of the writings of Christopher Hitchens, Bart Ehrman and Richard Dawkins, the novels of Dan Brown, and the media assaults by Bill Maher.
But there is a new set of questions that call for a new regimen of training. An increasing number are asking a new question about faith that the old school of apologetics did not prepare most Christians to answer.
Ready for it?
The question is “So what?”
As in, “So what if Jesus rose from the dead?”
You thought you were done once you demonstrated that there was an empty grave, and no other explanation – save a resurrection – could account for the absence of a body.
You thought the goal was winning a logical, empirically-driven, argument.
Think again.
People need common intellectual barriers removed, but it quickly progresses to the heart of the matter: meaning.
By all means be able to speak to the reasons any intelligent person would believe in God, and to answer questions that might be posed in response, but then be prepared to speak to what kind of God exists, and how His existence matters for our lives.
In case you haven’t noticed, the significance of faith is increasingly falling on deaf ears. They have seen few, if any, lives that have truly had their deepest needs intersected by Christ. They do not know the difference a life in relationship with Christ really makes.
This new apologetic is not simply an articulate theology. It’s the stronger apologetic of providing a vivid picture. And isn’t that what the incarnation was about? God gave us a picture of what life could be, was meant to be, and called us to it.
Yet it has been demonstrated that as many Christian marriages end in divorce as those who aren’t Christians.
So a watching world asks, “So what?”
Churches seem as full of division and discord as office politics – if not more.
So again, a watching world asks, “So what?”
They have not seen Christian community, the radical bestowing of grace, the fruit of the Spirit, commitment to the poor, an enveloping of the alien and outcast, and a stand for justice. When asked to name individuals who act justly and love mercy (Micah 6:8), you are more likely to hear the name of Angelina Jolie than you are the name of a local church, denomination or even Christian leader.
Bottom line: They are looking for something that they don’t already have.
Old training helped us know the evidence, present the evidence, and argue the evidence.
New training will help us be the evidence.
James Emery White
“Forget bayonets; Army busts abs in basic overhaul,” Susanne M. Schafer, Associated Press, as carried by The Charlotte Observer, Wednesday, March 17, 2010, p. 16A.

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