Imaginative Apologetics: A Reflective and Analytical Review
by Holly Ordway
Christian apologists are fighting on several fronts. The New Atheists are garnering plenty of press – and frustratingly so. Why are they being taken seriously when their arguments are, quite frankly, so weak much of the time? A distressingly large number of people are apathetic, or content to be “spiritual but not religious.” And then there are the challenges of postmodernism and pluralism within the church itself.
Apologists have a lot of work to do – and yet our encounters too often end up with both sides talking past each other.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cringed when a fellow Christian has confidently declared that “we just have to beat those atheists down!” See, I used to be one of those atheists, and the rhetorical beat-down just doesn’t work the way we think it ought to work, from the Christian perspective. When I was firmly in the “New Atheist” mode, I wouldn’t have listened to even the best Christian philosophical and historical arguments. It wasn’t until I had imaginatively engaged with the Christian faith through poetry and literature – when I had a sense of what it was that this “faith” thing might be, even though I didn’t understand it – that I was able to consider the apologetic arguments and ultimately find them convincing.
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Likewise, Christians in the postmodern-influenced emerging church movement may seem to diverge from Christian orthodoxy – but they also raise important issues about the church’s over-emphasis on propositions, logic, and arguments over against community, narrative, and participation. (As a particularly egregious example: the insistence that it is not enough to simply affirm that Christ died for my salvation, but that one must also affirm a specific theory of how the atonement works in order to be saved.) The Evangelical response to thinkers in the emerging church is generally to use arguments and logic to argue that the emergents are wrong. The emerging response, quite naturally, is “See? That’s the problem!”
Over the last year or so, I’ve been seeing the way that these challenges connect. Some people do not believe because they feel that it is irrational to believe; others do not share our orthodox Christian faith because they feel that what they have is more satisfying, more suited to their felt spiritual needs. In both cases there is a missing piece: the Imagination…
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