Chaplain Bill on Pastoral Apologetics.

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This is Chaplain Bill’s space where he is able to articulate his views on theological, biblical, and philosophical matters. Chaplain Bill has also recently published his own book, Blue-Collar Believer, available in hard copy or for eBook purchase. Also visit his blogsite. The views expressed by Chaplain Bill, and other co-writers, are not necessarily the views of website owner, James Bishop.

Let me first introduce myself.  My full name is William H Schnakenberg IV, aka “Chaplain Bill.”  I am an author, a Chaplain, and consider myself to be a “pastoral apologist.”  I have extensively looked into these two words, and have not found them being used, so I would like to think that I “coined” the description (lol). If I have not, please let me know. I do not want to take credit for something that does not belong to me. I am a firm believer in “giving credit to where credit is due.”

James Bishop “apologist”, the creator of this blog, and I have been friends for a few years now. Though he is located in South Africa and I am in the United States, we stay in touch regularly. I have learned a lot from him, and I would like to think that he has learned a lot from me. He is a well-educated “academic”, and intelligent Christian that has a true gift writing about scholarly subjects. He is currently a student at Corner Stone Institute located in Salt River, Western Cape, South Africa that specializes in Psychology, Ethics, Philosophy, Religious Studies, Business, Education, Sociology and Community Development.

As long as I have known James, and I have known him since he was known as “The Happy Apologist” hence his last name “Smiley” (I loved that), I have watched his academic and spiritual gifts develop. He is a faithful and mature Christian, and not only academically brilliant, but has mastered the art of rhetoric in the areas of the Bible, Cosmological, Creation, Ontological, Presuppositional, Scientific, Teleological, Resurrection, and Prophetic arguments.  People such as Richard Carrier have taken notice of his articles and to me this is quite impressive! With all of that being said, when James asked me to be a part of his blog “James Bishop’s Theology & Apologetics,” I thought to myself: What could I possibly offer that he doesn’t have already?  I mean I am no scholar. I actually do not have a college degree and barely passed high school back in ’94 “by the skin of my teeth.”  I am what is known as an autodidact. Autodidacticism means self-education (also self-learning and self-teaching.) It is the act of learning about a subject or subjects in which one has had little to no formal education.  The term has its roots in the Ancient Greek words αὐτός (autós, or “self”) and διδακτικός (didaktikos, meaning “teaching”). Along with being an autodidact, the way I accumulate knowledge and more importantly wisdom, is through life experiences. Through life experiences and being an autodidact I learn lessons in life that I would never learn in a classroom setting.

Throughout the years though, when I had saved enough money and found the time, I was able to take some college level courses and attain certificates from accredited institutions regarding pastoral and apologetics training, Biblical study (Old and New Testament), Disaster Response, Cultural Diversity and Sensitivity, Public Safety Chaplaincy, Hospice Care Ministry, Prison Ministry, Nursing Home Ministry, Pastoral Crisis Counseling, Evangelism, Intercessory Prayer, and Domestic Violence. All of this has helped me become a knowledgeable Christian and assisted me with getting certificates for a License, Endorsement, Appointment, Membership, and Ordination as a Chaplain.

James knows all of this, and I am certainly unqualified to hang with the best at an academic level, but James see’s something in me, and especially my approach as a Christian.  He really got to see it when I asked him to write the forward to the book I just had published “Blue Collar Believer.”

I think this is where James really got to know me because I share in detail about my life as a non-believer, then my conversion to a believer, life in general and the challenges that it brought, and then the primary focus on my dad who was a stubborn agnostic his entire life and would remind you of Archie Bunker from “All in the Family.” But things then changed, when he was notified that he was going to die. The book then takes a dramatic change and I share our spiritual discussions before he died. I was very scared for him to die in his spiritual state. You see it wasn’t about us arguing anymore, it was out of love that I not only wanted him to respond to the Gospel, but needed him to. This is what I feel lacks in the Christian world. We have apologists that are well educated and beyond intelligent, can argue like there is no tomorrow, defending their position with full authority, but then it happens way too often: They forget about the person and only try to win the argument.

Don’t get me wrong, I feel apologetics is VERY important, but when all you want to do is win a debate, you sometimes will lose the person and this is where a pastoral approach can and will help. During my experience with my dad, also with the time I had to reflect when he passed away, and especially while I was writing “Blue Collar Believer,” though my dad was very stubborn, I got to know him very well.  I watched myself go from being a basic follower of Christ, then to an apologist, on to an evangelist, and then by the grace of God – pastoral care. It takes A LOT of patience and prayer to do this with certain individuals, but I do think that these are three gifts that all Christians should try to develop in.

The beauty of the entire experience was that I was once a defender of the faith and then ended up encouraging him in the faith in the end. This to me is the highlight of the Christian walk, watching someone be a non-believer, then become a believer, and finally help them with encouragement as a believer as a brother or sister in the faith.

The people we interact on a daily basis who claim to be unbelievers are all crafted differently with their own emotions and personalities.  They also may consider themselves religious in some way.  They all have been blessed by life’s fortunate circumstances as well as had their fair share of heart ache, and if we get to the “heart of their issues,” we will come to understand that they are all just like you and me and desperately need to be loved and more importantly, be influenced with the Gospel.

To give an example of what I am talking about I would like to share part of a dialogue I am currently having with a man who considers himself to be an atheist. Because dialogues are quite time consuming, I don’t partake in online discussions as frequently as I used to. For some reason, I felt “led” to begin a discourse with this individual. I am going to refer to him as “Moe” to protect his identity.

Moe begins by stating that he used to be a Christian, but now “is a strong atheist because there is no proof of God, and that I should not question his disbelief because I would not question his disbelief in flying pink elephants.”

After many message transactions back and forth between Moe and me (being very polite and patient on my end), I began to “sense” how angry Moe really was. I was patient with him, and then he wanted me to watch a video of a particular atheist giving a lecture that claimed to be a Christian pastor at one point in his life, so I made the time to watch the video. I watched the atheist give reasons why he currently takes his position. They were basically a fallacy known as “appealing to the emotions” by manipulating emotional responses in the place of a valid or compelling argument. I then came to the conclusion, that in my opinion, the atheist giving the lecture was not an atheist at all. In fact, he was just angry with God because life was unfair and did not go according to his plan.

At the end of the video, he then asked everyone in attendance who used to be a Christian to raise their hands. He then said to put them down if they lost faith because something suddenly bad happened to them in their life. More than half of the people put their hands down. At this point I then realized that Moe was very similar to this popular atheist. They were both angry with God. It was not that they did truly think God did not exist, they were just angry with Him. I then decided to switch the role play from an apologist (defender of the faith) to a pastoral role.

I said, “Honestly Moe, I really don’t think you are an atheist. I just think you are angry with God for some reason, but I’ll figure it out at some point in our dialogue. I pray that your hard heart is beginning to soften, and the truth that you are searching for is closer than you think.”

This was a chance I was taking.  I was not sure how he would react, but I was beginning to feel from our discussion that Moe was just a “lost sheep” or like a train that gently needed to be guided back onto track.

My assessment was correct, because he then responded, “I think it sums things up when you say I must be angry with God. I have no feelings He does not exist. If I have anger, (although that may still not be the correct word) it is towards those who lied to me and still do, whom I now feel sorry for, because I understand they are deceived.”

Jackpot!  This is what I was waiting for and now we were certainly getting somewhere.

I then said, “I applaud your honesty and this is where the true issue lies. Correct me if I am wrong, right here you openly admit that “you must be angry with God,” and “have no feelings he does not exist,” which then makes you no longer an “atheist.”

But then in the very next statement you say that “if you have anger (if this is the correct word, we will dive into that a little more thoroughly if you do not mind) it is towards those who lied to me and still do, whom I now feel sorry for because I understand they are deceived.”

“Can you please elaborate more on this? I would really like to discuss this thoroughly with you, because I really feel like we are getting somewhere. Please tell me in detail what happened, if you do not mind.”

I am now really looking forward to continuing this dialogue and finding out what happened in Moe’s life. I truly believe that because I was patient, caring, listened attentively, asked questions, and showed a genuine concern for him, that he was willing to open up to me. It takes time for someone to feel comfortable to do just that. We now can work together, not against each other, and truly dive into genuine questions, concerns, and get him back on the right track. We can and should defend the faith with a loving, caring pastoral heart.

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2 responses to “Chaplain Bill on Pastoral Apologetics.

  1. In your “Jackpot!” moment, It seems apparent that you misunderstood Moe’s statement, You quoted him as saying “I have no feelings He does not exist.” I think you omitted an essential period in the middle of that quote, such that it should have read: “I have no feelings. He does not exist.” Without the period, his statement is totally inconsistent with the surrounding context. His statement only makes sense (in context) with the added period.

    Christians routinely make assumptions/claims (such as yours) that atheists are angry at God, and they are consistently wrong.

    Yes, deconversion from Christianity is sometimes precipitated by some particular event in a person’s life. It is an enormous error, to interpret a loss in faith that may result from that event as “anger at God”. Rather, the loss of faith is normally just the resolution of cognitive dissonance, when such events provide stark and compelling evidence that one’s beliefs (for instance – in a kind, loving, just, and merciful God, who takes a personal interest in us) cannot be reconciled with the objective evidence.

    Simply put, there is no objective evidence for the existence of god (any god), but when one has been brainwashed into believing in one, or when one chooses to believe in one for whatever reason (often due to wishful thinking), it often takes some form of disruptive event to force one to reassess such beliefs.

    You invoke a logical fallacy, when you attribute the deconversion to anger, and you certainly aren’t listening to Moe when you do so (in spite of your self-congratulatory claims of listening attentively).

  2. Richard,
    I thank you for your well thought out response. In the time that I have gotten to know “Moe,” from the beginning of our dialogue, I understood that his grammar and punctuation was not really of the best quality, so I did take what you brought up under serious consideration.

    This “jackpot” moment that I was referring to, was not to congratulate or “pat myself on the back” for a job well done, and I do understand that ALL agnostics and atheists are not angry with God. The fact of the matter is that “some” are, as I am sure you would have no problem agreeing to.

    I am sorry for the confusion, but I do appreciate the feedback. The point of me sharing the dialogue was to show that in “some” conversations that Christians have with non-Christians, is that some people don’t necessarily hold a belief that there is no God, but that they in fact are angry with God.

    “Moe” and I are continuing are dialogue, and it is going very well. We are both treating each other with the utmost respect and it is a very fruitful conversation. When two people are having a dialogue, treating each other as people, who have feelings and emotions, and not just are trying to “win” an argument, I am sure you would agree that it does become productive?

    Have a nice day!

    Chaplain William H Schnakenberg
    Author/Chaplain/Pastoral Apologist
    http://www.bcbschnakenberg.com

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