Why Apologetics Has a Bad Name
By Sean McDowell
I love apologetics! Anyone who has heard me speak, sat in my class, read any of my books, or spent more than twenty minutes with me knows that I believe deeply in the importance of defending the Christian faith. And as a reader of the CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL, I assume you do, too. Pastor and author Timothy Keller says one of the big issues facing the church today is the need for a renewal of apologetics. Keller says apologetics is important for two reasons.1
First, Christians in the West will soon be facing missionaries from around the world. While loving communities are important, he says that we also need to be prepared to converse thoughtfully with people of differing worldviews.
Second, there is a vacuum in Western secular thought. The enlightenment faith in science and progress has ended, and according to Keller, postmodernism is seen as a dead end, too. This is why Keller concludes, “There is a real opening, apologetically, in reaching out to thoughtful non-Christians, especially the younger, socially conscious ones.”
And yet Keller points out something that I have been thinking about for some time, namely that there is a lot of resistance right now among younger evangelical leaders toward apologetics. Why do so many people continue to resist and criticize it? I haven’t seen any solid biblical reasons for rejecting apologetics. After all, Jesus was an apologist (John 5:31–47), Paul clearly used apologetics (Acts 17), Peter encouraged people to be able to defend their views (1 Pet. 3:15), and early church fathers such as Justin Martyr and Ignatius regularly used apologetics. Concern must lie elsewhere. My experience tells me that the problem is not with apologetics per se, but with either apologists—the people who practice apologetics—or with a misunderstanding about the task of apologetics.
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HOW APOLOGISTS GIVE APOLOGETICS A BAD NAME
The following are some humble thoughts from my research and experience as to why apologetics has a bad name and how we can correct it. The reasons are separated into two categories: this first grouping deals with the behavior of apologists and the one that follows addresses people’s understanding of Christianity and culture. Some of these objections are legitimate while others are illegitimate, yet both need to be addressed to bring apologetics into the church today effectively.
Apologists Often Overstate Their Case
There is a huge temptation to overstate the evidence for the Bible, Intelligent Design, the resurrection of Jesus, or any other apologetic issue. I have succumbed to this myself. In our eagerness to convince nonbelievers, or our desire to strengthen fellow Christians, we can all fall prey to the temptation to state things more certainly than they may be. In 2009 my father and I wrote a book on the resurrection called Evidence for the Resurrection. One of the editors wanted to use the tagline “overwhelming evidence” in the subtitle. But I disagreed. Can the evidence for any event two thousand years ago really be overwhelming? In our information age, people have access to counterarguments and varying perspectives at the tip of their fingers. We also live in a skeptical age where people who say things with dogmatism are often considered suspect. This does not mean the evidence for Christianity is not compelling. It is. But there are smart, thoughtful people that disagree. And we must acknowledge this, or we’ll set up people—especially young people—for failure…
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