An Apologia for Apologetics

Today I begin a new series on the Christian Today website – we will also be following this up through the Solas ‘Fleabytes’.   You can access the first article here – Five Bad Reasons Christians Avoid Apologetics  (I guess they didn’t like my original title)..  This was also discussed on Janet Parshall Show on Moody Radio

The text is below:

“You can’t argue people into the Kingdom”
Congratulations. You passed the first hurdle. Having seen the word ‘apologetics’ in the title, you still managed to read this far! To put it mildly, apologetics has a bad image. Indeed, such a bad image that at Solas we prefer to use the term ‘persuasive evangelism’ because apologetics either carries the notion of saying sorry for being a Christian, or of some male geeky nerd pontificating on the teleological argument. Like all caricatures there is some element of truth in this, but it is overall grossly unfair. It’s time to rescue apologetics from this particular cul-de-sac and instead realise the usefulness of the apologia (defence) of the Gospel, in proclaiming the Good News in today’s needy world. So lets look at some of the objections that stop Christians even considering apologetics in the first place.

1. Apologetics is just for nerdy geeks. There is an image problem. It appears as though unless one has a PhD from a top university, apologetics is best left alone. It is for the brain boxes, the people who like to think academically and who enjoy nothing more than to sit down with a glass of wine and a couple of books on Descartes and Derrida. While you have nothing against those who are so inclined (and gifted), you like to be more practical/spiritual/prayerful. But this is to create a false dichotomy. All of us are made in the image of God, and all of us therefore are Logos – we have minds and we are expected to use them. None of us are expected to believe without some evidence. God addresses the heart through the mind, not vice versa.

My simple way of putting this is: if you cannot answer the questions of a 12-year-old, you won’t be able to answer anyone’s questions; but if you can, then you can answer anyone’s! The hardest questions I have ever been asked haven’t come from journalists at The Times or the keyboard warriors of the New Fundamentalist Atheists, but rather from the young thinking teenager whose questions are for real. Not to think about them is to disrespect and despise them. Apologetics is for all!

2. Apologetics is too negative. It’s not so much that people think apologetics is about apologising for Christianity (I’m sorry for the Crusades, the Inquisition, Westboro Baptist and Ned Flanders, as though I were responsible for them all!), but rather that, in either of its main forms, it is considered negative. On the one hand being ‘defensive’ comes across as though we perceive ourselves as constantly under attack; on the other if we go on the offence, we are perceived as being offensive. It’s a lose/lose situation. Sometimes, however, we need to remember that we live in the real world, where stating a ‘negative’ can be a good thing. “Don’t drink that liquid because it’s poison” may be a negative statement, but it’s kind of a crucial one! But the apologia of the Good News is not about defending something which needs our help, it’s about proclaiming it in a world which desperately needs it, while not understanding that desperate need.

CH Spurgeon once quipped, “Defend the Bible? I would as soon defend a lion!” Apologetics is not about defending God, or apologising for him – it’s about letting the lion loose. It’s proclamation!

3. Apologetics is not spiritual – it’s man centred, and not biblical. This is something I hear from all quarters. “Do you think you can persuade people? Does God need your arguments? All you need is love. Just be nice to people. Let them come to church and hear our praise. Let us go to them and show them how nice we are, and they will want to become like us!” Or the big one – “it’s the work of the Holy Spirit”. Who is going to disagree with that latter statement? But do these same people then say that preaching, prayer, mercy ministries, and social action are all useless? No? Why not? Are they too not the work of the Holy Spirit? The fact is that the Holy Spirit uses means – and that includes apologetics. Most people are not struck down on the road to Damascus, the train to Derby or the plane to Denver. They come to an appreciation of the truth through a variety of experiences. Defending and explaining the Gospel, (apologetics) is just simply one tool that the Spirit uses. How dare we say that we don’t need it?!

4. Apologetics is not evangelism – it’s for the Church. This is an interesting one, because the way that apologetics is often done makes it seem as though it is for the Church. Many of the responses to Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion appear not to attempt to reach out to the many non-Christians who are now thinking about God, the Bible and the Church, but rather to assure the author’s own tribe that their man was on the ball, and that they did not need to worry about the ravings of this godless heathen. Right now, apologetics in the US is perceived as something particularly necessary to protect the young of the church from the ever-increasing atheistic secularism.

While I think it is good to give Christians ‘reasons to believe’, it is not the primary purpose of apologetics. If people are already Christians and know Christ, why would they need reasons? Is Christ not the greatest reason? What they do need is a greater knowledge of Christ and his Word, and an understanding of the contemporary world and the many lies that the devil tells people, so that they can ‘always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have’ (1 Peter 3:15). Evangelism without apologetics is like fish and chips without the fish – the substance is missing!
5. Apologetics doesn’t work. In the all-pervasive, quick fix culture in which we live, it appears as though apologetics doesn’t work. At least that is what I am constantly told. You don’t hold an alter call at the end of an apologetics talk. Communicating the good news is like sowing the good seed, you first plough the ground, then sow the seed and eventually (after God gives the increase) you reap the fruit. The trouble is that most evangelism as currently practised seems to be about the latter. I have found that patiently working away, dealing with the defeater beliefs, challenging the misconceptions and prejudices, and telling people about Jesus is like a constant dripping. It eventually brings fruit. We may not get the glory, but then we should not want it. The glory is Christ’s, whatever our particular function. Without apologetics, evangelism does not work.

A defeater belief is something that someone has which prevents them even considering the good news of Jesus Christ. These come in various forms, ‘science has disproved religion’, ‘religion is the cause of all evil’, ‘there are too many gods to choose from’ etc. Over the next few weeks I am going to be writing on the basic ‘defeater’ beliefs that people have.

Each week I will also recommend a book that will be helpful for you if you wish to develop this further. We begin with the absolutely magnificent Fool’s Talk by Os Guinness. This is the best apologia for apologetics, and the best example of how to do it, that I have ever read. When I grow up I want to be like Os! The Bible, in an unerring prophecy of the forthcoming desktop publishing, tells us that ‘of making many books there is no end and much study wearies the body’ (Ecclesiastes 12:12). With thousands of Christian books published every year we need to be discerning. Fool’s Talk is a diamond in the rough – and well worth ‘wearying the body’ in order to study!

From Os’ book I leave you with a wonderful prayer he cites from the late, great John Stott: “I pray earnestly that God will raise up today a new generation of Christian apologists or Christian communicators, who will combine an absolute loyalty to the biblical Gospel and an unwavering confidence in the power of the Spirit with a deep and sensitive understanding of the contemporary alternatives to the Gospel.” And all God’s people said – Amen!

 

 

10 thoughts on “An Apologia for Apologetics

  1. I will follow this but there seem to be quite widespread “spontaneous apathy.” I’ve recently seem some RC Sproul’s argument’s against presuppositional apologetics of Van Til. I presume Francis Schaeffer’s life and work and L’Abri were a waste of time and a life . Certainly not. His trilogy and Lewis’s Mere Christianity were instrumental in leading to my new birth. Along with some of Van Morrison’s music! May I never forget his song which has the words “When will I ever learn to live in God?….When will I ever learn? He gives me everything I need and more…When will I ever learn?”

    I have one of Os Guiness’s books but not read the one you recommend.

    Don not all these books need to be distilled into easily taught and enjoyed ways of talking to people of being interested in them, what makes them tick and ask question , probe, keep asking question. Agree where possible. Of being able to talk to people on their level for example in the workplace.

    I once had a book called the “The techniques of Persuasion” on advocacy. There may be a danger of apologetics being seen as merely techniques and beyond or above many in the church because they see themselves a just simple Christians.

    If you may grant a couple of examples of how I think this may work in practice. Perhaps “pre -evangelism” may be a good term. It’s far from the full gospel message.

    A colleague, came back from a weekend in London and announced in the workplace to half a dozen or so of us that she’d read a wonderful book, “The God delusion”. All my colleagues knew I was a Christian. My response was that I’d read a wonderful book “The Dawkins Delusion” (McGrath) and they all laughed. That gave me the legitimate opportunity to email them all with a recommendation to read “God’s undertaker: has science buried God” by polymath John C Lennox along with the endorsements for the book. Did they read them. I do not know?

    Six years ago was hospitalised for a week through a stroke and was subsequently referred to a consultant cardiologist. I wanted to be involved in my own treatment and we discussed various treatment options. But I was struggling with the after effects and we had open discussions Coming to terms with it I told him, I found particularly difficult as I was Christian although not immune from the stroke. He recommended a book by a philosopher! He knew science wasn’t the answer to everything. I thanked him for the recommendation, said I was aware a various schools of philosophy but didn’t find them satisfying, not a peg on which to hang my life and followed it up with an articulation of faith, some rudimentary discussion of science and religion, the philosophy of science and my recommendation of Lennox book which he was interested in hearing about, followed up by a email to him. Did he read it? Don’t know,

    This may sound as though I had detailed knowledge. Far from it. I’d picked up a smattering of main ideas from Lennox enough to make him think. But I also knew that he couldn’t argue against my position due to the patient /client relationship.He was a captive audience. He also knew that I had spontaneous idiopathic recovery (unknown cause!) from the stroke To God be the glory.

    A thoughtful caring consultant, a loss, to the NHS as he retired soon afterwards.

    And lastly David, I think you should review your position as Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland with your admission that when you grow up you want to be English – you want to be like Os Guiness. You better do it soon while the borders remain open. Fluidity of nations.

    Geoff

    Like

    1. David,

      This post may be a bit “long in the tooth” now but I bought your book “Engaging with Atheists” last Friday, along with Keller’s book on prayer at a Local Christian shop.

      Starting to go through your book I was amazed to find that I’d said something similar in a comment about asking which god someone didn’t believe in.

      It’s a long while since I bought a book on apologetics, as I no longer have work colleagues
      who have come through the higher education system with a scientific bias, and with degrees and higher degrees in philosophy. In fact I’ve no colleagues at all. The books were read rather than studied but may be necessary for the circumstances some Christians find themselves in.

      But I do see the need to shore up the youngsters and young adults within the church in their faith or undermine any lurking unbelief as the world enters the church through a process of osmosis as it were and as they are plunged into it in the education system but from where I am I see little interest.

      I also have the first edition of your Dawkins letters, and have your Magnificent Obsession which were read when they came out.

      Have you seen the American DVD “God is not dead”, which dramatises in film fictionalised scenarios Christians may find themselves in, from college pressures, philosophy, science (even quoting John Lennox), dating, to old age and infirmity. Could I suggest it’s well worth a look, if you’ve not seen it. An 80 year old sister in the Lord thought it was great. At the time, I wasn’t looking at it with analytical theological eyes.

      Looking forward to Sinclair Ferguson’s book “The Whole Christ….”

      Geoff

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.