The New Frontier In Apologetics
An Open Letter to the Apologetics Community from Tom Gilson
It’s time for Christianity to reclaim the intellectual high ground we once held. That means you and I have a lot of work to do. Chances are some of it will be different from what we’ve been doing. There is a new frontier in apologetics today. The big questions are no longer what they used to be. And most of us are just beginning to see it.
It’s no longer mostly about discovering new reasons to believe in Christ, and it’s not about finding ways to counter atheists’ objections. Those are still important questions, but they’re not the big one; they’re not at the frontier. The reason is simple: that work’s been done. No, I don’t mean there’s nothing new to discover, far from it—I’m working on a new version of the moral argument myself. What I mean is that generally speaking, with just a few exceptions, for every hard question out there we already have a good answer. Several good answers, actually for most questions.
But there’s one huge question we’ve hardly begun to think about. When we finally do get our minds on it, I believe we’ll see the world change before our very eyes.
What is this next frontier, this next world-changing question? It’s three questions, really:
What do we dream of the world looking like five years or twenty-five years from now, as a result of our efforts? Is it a God-sized dream? And what will it take to see that change happen?
Here’s my answer to that, which I would imagine is similar in many ways to yours:
My prayer is that when anyone in the Western world (or the widely Western-influenced world) thinks of Christianity, they would think of the intellectual credibility of the faith and Christians’ intellectual leadership in community and culture.
(Elsewhere on this website I focus another side of my dream for the future, that they would also think of Christianity’s moral leadership.)
We’re a long way from that point. You know that intellectual strength is not the first thing that comes to mind when most people think about Christianity. It’s a God-sized dream to hope it might happen. But why not? God is God, and we have the truth! Why shouldn’t his truth be something the world knows it has to contend with?
Unfortunately that vision has competition. I’m not talking about competition from secularists, but from within myself. Maybe you experience the same thing. I have another dream that competes with that one: That I will be widely published and well known, have lots of face time with famous Christian leaders, and receive lots of requests to speak, for handsome fees.
I’m sure I’m not the only one of us who struggles with that. Unless you’re shy of notoriety or can’t bear the thought of standing in front of a crowd—neither of which is likely in this field—you probably feel at least some of that. God made us to respond to positive feedback, especially if it has a quick turn-around time. It takes discipline to remind ourselves just how small these aspirations for prestige really are. They shift our vision off God what he wants to accomplish through us. They shrink us both spiritually and strategically.
I didn’t really need to remind you of that; you knew it already. I brought it up because I think you might be at least somewhat like me, with small visions for myself trying to crowd out what should be great ones in God.
That’s not the only way, though, in which we apologists tend to think small. We focus on the current engagement: the question we’re addressing in this article or that, the crowd we’re speaking to, or the debate we hope to win. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, on one level. It’s a very good thing to equip, to encourage, or to persuade in the name of Christ. It’s just that taking things one engagement at a time isn’t enough for the need of the day. We need to be about turning around Christian intellectual culture, to the end that every church can engage its own people or its own community from a position of strength. Winning over one group at a time—our usual tactic in apologetics—isn’t going to get us there.
There are some among us who are thinking more strategically, but we all need to begin taking a higher and broader view of what God could do through us.
How do we begin doing that? First, by assessing our dreams. Am I dreaming of the big publishing contract, the big crowds, the triumph in debate? Sure, I’ll admit I like seeing myself in that picture. If that’s part of your dream, acknowledge it. Then decide whether it’s helping you or hindering you from something far bigger and more significant. What is the far better vision God has for you? Are we dreaming of something bigger than the engagement—bigger than we could manage on our own? That’s what I’m praying and working toward. And I couldn’t imagine my dreams coming to pass apart from God doing it.
The new frontier, today’s biggest question in apologetics, is how can we be far more strategic than we have ever been?
I’ll ‘fess up: I’m a dual-vocation minister, working in both apologetics and strategy. I’ve been helping others in the the apologetics community thinking more about strategy. That’s my first goal, simple as that: if you’re wondering about God’s vision for your ministry after reading this letter, or if you’re worried about what to do with the vision you have, then this letter has accomplished part of its purpose. I’m only taking this a step at a time, so I’ll leave it there for now.
But if you’re really worried about this, and really wondering about how to enter the new frontier of apologetics, feel free to get in touch with me. I’d be glad to come work with you. Keep your eye on the Christian Apologetics Alliance for further discussion on this, too; for there are meetings on this new frontier in the works. Maybe we’ll be able to bring all this together sometime soon.
Until then, grace and peace to you.
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