Defending Apologetics as an Academic Discipline
by Jacob Allee
Sometimes apologetics doesn’t get a lot of respect among scholars, and one might imagine a few reasons why. For one it is by nature committed to defending the Christian faith and, as such, is seen as dogmatic and not really open to being led by truth if indeed that truth leads away from Christianity. Secondly apologetics is often interdisciplinary and not always focused on a specific field such history, biology, mathematics, etc., and therefore viewed by many as a non-specialized discipline that doesn’t really contribute to our knowledge of anything. Thirdly, too many people seem to want to call themselves an apologist which serves to denigrate the term. The purpose of this post is to address these three issue and make some suggestions as to why I think Apologetics is a respectable and legitimate academic discipline and what needs to happened for that to be better recognized by others.
Problem 1: Apologetics is by nature committed to defending the Christian faith and, as such, is seen as dogmatic and not really open to being led by truth if indeed that truth leads away from Christianity.
To be honest, this problem affects more than just Christian apologists. One might argue that many naturalists are so committed to their view that "there is no supernatural realm" that no matter how much evidence you show them they will never be swayed to believe anything else. In fact, any honest person realizes that we all have biases and that some will hold to their bias come what may, even if their personal beliefs are tantamount to clinging to Titanic while screaming “I don’t believe in Icebergs!”
That said, there are those in any field, and in any worldview, who are truly open to the evidence. This is itself evidenced by the fact that we can all note notorious figures who have jumped from the ship they deemed to be sinking and grasped the lifeboat of another
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position they deemed to be better off. Whether it be Antony Flew who was a renowned naturalist who now accepts at least a Deism of sorts, or Lee Strobel who was once an Atheist but now a famous Christian Apologist, or the reverse such as Bart Ehrman who once was a believer and now is one of the most prominent critics of Christianity in our day. So then, despite the fact that many do behave as ostriches in their worldview, it is clear that many others really are open to interacting with ideas outside of their sphere and in some cases are so moved by those ideas that they make major paradigm shifts.
On the flip side, it’s only natural that no matter what a person’s position is on any given issue that they have come to hold it for a reason (some reasons better than others) and that they shouldn’t be expected to abandon that position unless given a better reason than what they have to stay there. Christian apologists are no different in this regard than say a molecular biologist. We’ve come to certain conclusions based upon evidence, reasoning, and yes, even experience. From my perspective the Christian Worldview answers the big questions of life and its meaning better than Atheism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, Wicca, etc., etc., and therefore deserves my allegiance. I have, however, often told those whom I have interacted with that if they can present a comprehensive worldview that makes more sense of the world than Christianity does then I am open to changing my position. Furthermore if you can disprove a central tenant of the faith like the Resurrection of Jesus then I will abandon my faith (as even the Apostle Paul suggests we ought to do in 1 Cor. 15 if it is the case that Christ was not raised)…
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