The Need for Apologetic Communities
by Ranald Macaulay
The fact that almost all aspects of human activity today are dominated by naturalistic assumptions means that for many the Christian worldview lacks any sort of intellectual credibility. So these intellectual difficulties need to be addressed honestly and effectively – as Paul did. The intellectual challenge has to be faced head on. However, alongside the erosion of belief in a supernatural universe has come the erosion of experience as a result of modernity. People are more cynical, less inclined to listen to authority, more sceptical about big answers. Hence the church has to give tangible expression to human community since this lies at the heart of the Christian view of reality.
The apologetic task within a post-modern world requires more than simply knowledge. Non-believers need to see the Christian view of reality fleshed out within human relationships, even though imperfectly. They need to be reassured that Christianity is not just another ‘virtual reality’ which can be manipulated at will. How is this best done in the context of the local church, for example? And are there contemporary parallels for the apostle Paul’s specifically apologetic approach described in Acts when he held ‘daily discussions in the hall of Tyrannus’ ?
An important question is this : Why should we be thinking in terms of apologetic communities separate from the local churches ? Are the local churches not the proper context for all the tasks which Christ has set his people ?
In a certain sense this is true – the local church is indeed the only type of community commissioned directly by Christ and alone guaranteed a continuing existence up to the end of the age.
But other organisations have a part to play in the Lord’s work. They can be extremely valuable in fact. However, they need to be conscious of their ‘occupational hazards’ and always insist, wherever possible, that members belong also to a local church. This helps to keep them from becoming inward looking or inbred.
In the area of apologetics, however, the failure of the western church, generally speaking, has been almost total. When Harry Blamires wrote his classic on The Christian Mind in the mid 1950’s he began the book saying – ‘There is no longer a Christian Mind’. Then he went on …’unfortunately the Christian mind has succumbed to the secular drift with a degree of weakness and nervelessness unmatched in human history…’
Sadly the intervening years, while they have brought improvement in many areas, have not seen significant difference in the area of the development of a Christian mind, at least not within the practice of local churches. Scholarly books have been written and many have benefited from them. The churches have focussed, quite rightly, on the exposition of Scripture. Evangelism has remained a priority. But the ministry of local churches has tended to neglect intellectual concerns, especially in Europe.
This being the case it is almost unavoidable that a start has to be made to train future apologists elsewhere than in the local churches…