Christians know that the satisfaction of the gospel surpasses the relief of a consistent syllogism, yet many fail to preach like it. Those who have been transferred from darkness to light are not only guided by reason, but also by “taste.” Their “eyes of the heart” have been given a sense of the breadth and the length and the height and the depth of the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. Yet not enough preachers aim at the sniffer to give them the aroma of life.
In the Upper West Side of Manhattan, our church is surrounded by “Bobos” (David Brooks’s famous coinage for the bourgeoisie and bohemians) who are bursting with spiritual aspirations and longing for transcendence. As Brooks says, “They don’t want to forsake pleasures that seem harmless just because some religious authority says so, but they do want to bring out the spiritual implications of everyday life.” Struggles arise inside them between “autonomy and submission, materialism and spirituality.” But—surprise—you don’t only find these folks in New York City. You can find them wherever Trader Joe’s has set up shop.
Giving the same old “evidence that demands a verdict” doesn’t quite cut to the heart when preaching to these skeptics. This isn’t a new observation. Tim Keller and others have long advocated for worldview apologetics—something you can find in The Reason for God. But can our preaching to skeptics also appeal to their senses—a kind of “sense of the heart” apologetics? It can—indeed, it must. Skeptics who show up in church today are not so much looking for preachers to make sense of the brute facts of life but of their desires and hopes. If you dismiss their questions as juvenile angst, then they will likely feel dismissed and, in turn, will dismiss you.
We shouldn’t feel like we need to invent the wheel, though. This isn’t an entirely new phenomenon—pastors and apologists have recognized this need for centuries. Jonathan Edwards in his preaching and C. S. Lewis in his writing both effectively employed “sense of the heart” apologetics.
Jonathan Edwards, Affectionate Preacher
Jonathan Edwards was famous for preaching that aroused emotional conversions in New England. However, he’s never been particularly known as an apologist. He never wrote a formal work on apologetics, though he planned to, and much of his miscellanies are filled with apologetic material where he engaged the Enlightenment idealism of the day.
Michael McClymond and Gerald McDermott’s The Theology of Jonathan Edwards illustrates Edwards’s sophistication as an apologist. Edwards preached during the hey-day of John Locke’s philosophy of empiricism, which denied any form of innate ideas and insisted that all human ideas (God or otherwise) must originate out of the mind’s reflection on things derived from the senses. In other words, unless something can be touched, smelled, heard, seen, or tasted, it cannot be known. Knowledge of God and knowledge from God is, then, immediately disadvantaged.
But Edwards believed that the believer’s spiritual sense of God—“sense of the heart”—is a kind of evidence for God. Faith is a form of “seeing for oneself.” It is not blindly believing the account of others, as so many describe faith. Faith is “tasting and seeing” the reality of God and his gospel. This spiritual perception of God brings immediate certainty of a “first hand experience.”
Turning Locke on his head, Edwards granted that a believer must see with his own eyes, but with the eyes of the heart. This seeing gives the believer more intellectual certitude than what human reasoning from empirical evidences can afford.
But what McClymond and McDermott neglected to mention was how Edwards labored to not only show that you could taste the truth, but also that the truth was sweet. Edwards employed “sense of the heart” apologetics to argue with your senses that God is more delightful and satisfying than anything else. Edwards toiled in his sermons with imagery and analogy to reveal the beauty of God as the only thing “appreciated and rested in for its own sake.” He ultimately aimed to help the unbeliever see that he has nothing in his life so good, so lovely, and so satisfying as Christ, so even if the skeptic doubted the gospel to be true, he would hope that it was.
Do you preach about God in that way? Do you “argue with the senses” of your listeners? Edwards tempted skeptics, so to speak, to be dissatisfied with whatever currently contented them.
C. S. Lewis, Apologist of Hope
I may get nasty emails from “the experts” for this suggestion, but from what I can tell, if you want to get a sense of the apologetic method of C. S. Lewis, you should read chapter 10, “Hope,” in Mere Christianity. For Lewis, creatures are not “born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists.” And if I have desires that no earthly measure can satisfy, it does not mean that I am delusional or that the universe is a fraud, but “that I was made for another world.” All our hopes and dreams, desires and wants can never finally rest in earthly pleasures or else, as Lewis put in, we are like the child far too easily pleased with mud pies that he cannot imagine a holiday at sea.
I’m not aware that Lewis ever offered a rational defense for heaven, but he sought to convince his readers that life is not worth living unless such a place exists. He doesn’t allow us to be neutral about the matter.
The created world was never meant to be an end in itself. The heavens and earth do not declare their own glory, but the glory of another. Divine glory is not found in them, but through them. As Lewis puts it in his famous work The Weight of Glory, if we mistake created things for the thing itself, “they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”
Lewis gave his readers reason to believe that his God satisfies better then theirs; that they’ve been eating mud clots and calling them truffles all along.
If a preacher presents Christ in this way, rarely does he have to choose between preaching to a believing or a skeptical audience. Keller makes a similar argument in “Evangelistic Worship” for a church service that “attracts nonbelievers through comprehensible worship and leading those people to personal commitment.”
The believer will be drawn to worship, and the skeptic will question his functional saviors. Believers will be led to taste, again, the bread of life, and skeptics will watch as the believer, completely satisfied in Christ, never ceases to hunger for him.