Effective Closers

January 5th, 2015

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Mariano Rivera had a little help. Baseball’s all-time saves leader could only save a game if the New York Yankees held the lead when he entered it in the late innings. That’s how baseball works. It’s also how apologetics works.

Spring training will feel different this year. After 19 seasons with the New York Yankees, Mariano Rivera will not be in uniform. He retired in 2014, holding just about every record for a closer, including being the all-time saves leader with 652. But Rivera wouldn’t be revered if he hadn’t played for a winner. The Yankees had to be ahead when Rivera entered the game if he was to close and earn a save.

It works the same way for effective apologists. Consider Eric Metaxas, a gifted writer and erudite apologist. He recently wrote an article that appeared in the December 25th edition of The Wall Street Journal: “Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God.”

Metaxas starts his story in 1966, when astronomer Carl Sagan announced that there were two important criteria for a planet to support life: The right kind of star, and a planet the right distance from that star. Given the roughly octillion – 1 followed by 24 zeros – planets in the universe, there should have been about septillion – I followed by 21 zeros – planets capable of supporting life. Since then, Metaxas claims the numbers have only grown, given more credence to the possibility of a creator.

The numbers are indeed impressive. Metaxas closes his column with astronomer Fred Hoyle noting “a common-sense interpretation” of the numbers puts the existence of a creator “almost beyond question.” Metaxas concurs, saying the numbers “ineluctably” (inescapably) point to “something – or Someone – beyond itself.” I like Metaxas but his close would be more effective if the Christian faith was ahead in the game.

Augustine put it this way: Nullus quipped credit aliquid, nisi prius cogitaverit esse credendum – “no one indeed believes anything, unless he previously knew it to be believable.” Plausibility precedes believability. Closing the deal on any faith requires that it first be credible, which Christianity was in Augustine’s time. When he entered the game, the faith was leading. Augustine became one of the church’s most effective closers.

This is not an argument against the work of Metaxas. Rather, it makes a case for the work of making cultures. We’re no longer in Augustine’s world. Iain McGilchrist, author of The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, says we live in a left-brained culture, scientists especially. They’re largely left-brained folk, and the human brain’s left hemisphere has “no intuitive sense of numbers in context.” In this cramped culture, numbers don’t inescapably point to anything.

Research in neuroimaging indicates only the right hemisphere “has an intuitive sense of numbers and their relative size in context,” writes McGilchrist. Only those operating in a culture including right-brained thinkers can draw out metaphysical implications from numbers. Only these cultures give credence to the possibility of a creator.

I’m rooting for Metaxas becoming the next Mariano – a great closer. But like Mariano, he needs a little help. Effective apologists require the church to be leading when they enter the game. This will happen when the church takes the cultural mandate seriously. And when that happens, it’s likely the numbers will make more sense to more people.

Follow me on Twitter: @Metzger_Mike

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