Primary Audience – My post-evangelical friends who have abandoned apologetics.
Secondary Audience – Those who have no idea what I mean by post-evangelical and perhaps place too high of an emphasis on apologetics.
Like many Christians, I went through an apologetic phase. I got excited about people like Lee Strobel, handed out Case for Christ, the sequel Case for Faith, and the lesser known but probably his best work Case for the Yankees to everyone I knew. I also had a life-size poster of Ravi Zacharias wearing a No. 23 jersey dunking over Nietzsche. It was pretty cool.
What I liked about apologetics is that it allowed a place for philosophy and the sciences. For me, it encouraged thinking, logic and dialogue. Further I found the proclamations and defenses helpful in understanding and sharing my Christian faith.
But over the years, my appreciation for apologetics lessened because I found that at times, it was actually a counter-productive way of sharing the Christian faith. Further, it often led to unhelpful arguments, and frankly many times, most people didn’t really care about it. I hated the endless debating, the “us versus them”, the posturing, etc. I remember hearing things like, “When an atheist says this, counter with this …” Later I found it to be objectifying of people and it dehumanized those Jesus called me to love.
Over the years, I have met many different types of atheists/agnostics/skeptics. Most of them are hurting people and I believe many of them, despite what they say, are searching. I often wonder if sometimes our arguments actually have an adverse effect and push them further away from God. Now certainly, I don’t think skeptics are going to be nearer to God if we answer questions with blank stares and shrugged shoulders and this among the reasons why I have not given up on the discipline of apologetics.
I sometimes feel surrounded by people (physically and online) who perhaps over-emphasize the importance of apologetics and those who have dismissed it entirely. To the former it seems we may have to reconsider the importance, the practice and the ethic that it should be complimented by. To the latter, I wonder if it’s because we have been beat over the head so many times with it that we are simply too turned off to appreciate it’s helpfulness.
It’s important to remember that there is a lot of goodness in discussions that place a Christ-like value on the person you are discussing such matters with. Conversation is essential and the “us dialoging with others” and others with us, and the positioning of being in a time/place where we can share our hearts.
I think it’s important that believers have an understanding of what we believe and be able to articulate why we believe. It’s something that we try to do in our student ministry. We say regularly, “Don’t inherit your parents’ faith, it will fail you. Faith must be owned by you …”. Apologetics, theology, social justice practices, corporate worship, spiritual formation are all necessary in the nurturing of young disciples.
From where I sit, there is a another population in the Church that could really benefit from refuting things like the “Swoon Theory” and “The Legend Theory” or understanding the critiques and responses to the new atheists like Hitchens, Dawkins and Harris. Throughout the centuries, there has always been an intentional undermining of the resurrection of Jesus, and while we cannot ever prove that Jesus rose from the dead, I think in this postmodern era, it is beneficial to present a case that says at the very least, “It could have happened and in faith I choose to believe it did.”
Everything has a context and I think apologetics has a place too. No one can prove “faith”. That’s exactly what faith is. In fact, “proving faith” is an oxymoron. The moment you prove faith you contradict Hebrews 11:1 – one of the most quoted passages of Scripture.
I think some of my fellow seminary-trained, well-read, post-evangelicals get frustrated with apologetics because too much stock has been placed on it. I submit that we are tired of it because we have gotten so much of it. Could it be that we are suffering from an apologetics hangover? I think it’s time we consider its benefits and perhaps invest energies in reframing this discipline of study in our postmodern culture.
As always feel free to disagree/pushback/etc. What do you think – is there a place for apologetics today?