Theology 101 – Apologetics and Theology [Part Two] – A Case Study

by Daniel Rodger

In the last post, we discussed the utility of theological reflection in the practice of apologetics. We suggested nine ways in which the study of theology may benefit those engaged in apologetics, arguing that one cannot successfully defend that which one does not know. In this short post, I wish to highlight a specific example of how the convergence of theological study and apologetic activity can not only be welcome but also necessary.

It’s no secret that Richard Dawkins is not a friend of the Christian faith. Neither, however, is he warm towards the discipline of theology. In an article for the Free Inquiry magazine in 2006, he asked, “what on earth makes one think that theology has anything useful to say” concerning the origins of human existence. [1] He continued to argue that “It is science and science alone that has given us this knowledge”, and by contrast, theology has never said anything “that is of the smallest use to anybody”. “The achievements of theologians”, writes Dawkins, “don’t do anything, don’t affect anything, don’t mean anything”. At other times he has spoken of his “doubt” that “‘theology’ is a subject at all”, comparing it with the study of leprechauns. [2]

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Anyone interested in apologetics is aware of how popular it is (perhaps even easy) to rebuff Dawkins’ criticisms. What I want to ask, however, is why – why should you, the apologist, want to issue a response to Dawkins concerning Christian theology? Is it because he’s popular? Then you’re a bully, and a cynic. Is it because he compared God to a leprechaun? Then you’re too easily offended and distracted. Instead, you should want to respond to Dawkins’ assault on the study of Christian theology because it is an assault on all speech concerning God. There is a more pressing issue here, namely, Dawkins’ attempt to move the goalposts. If he establishes the invalidity of theology, then apologetics (which is, remember, a theological discipline) is necessarily defunct. You could have the best philosophical mind and the sharpest grasp of formal logic, but if theological speech is disqualified then your apologetic conclusions are dismissed as meaningless; the detritus of a bygone era.

It is, therefore, in the apologist’s best interest to be aware of theology here. In order to proffer a plausible apologia to the public, the apologist needs to know what theology actually is and outline where Dawkins goes wrong. She needs to know that Christian theology, far from being ‘useless’, serves a number of functions…


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