Rational and Imaginative Apologetics: An Integrated Approach

by Holly Ordway

When people ask me to describe the approach that we take in the Apologetics program at HBU, which I direct and in which I teach, the very shortest answer is: We take a both/and approach. Both reason and imagination; both propositional argument and creative engagement.

Why? I’m convinced — as are my colleagues — that this is the way forward for apologetics in the 21st century: to have a truly integrated approach to apologetics.

Conversion involves the whole person: the mind, the heart, and most importantly the will. Apologetics strives to remove obstacles to faith, so that the person can respond to God’s call. Some of those obstacles are conceptual, or factual. Some are obstacles of sin. But some of those obstacles are the walls that exist between the different parts of the human being: so that the Gospel call is heard only in the mind, or only in the emotions, but not in the whole self. When Imagination and Reason are paired in apologetics work, we can tear down many more strongholds than with either imagination or reason alone.

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Rational apologetics

Theologian Austin Farrer sums up the role of Reason in apologetics: “Though argument does not create conviction, the lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish.”

Rational apologetics includes philosophical arguments, such as the arguments from contingency and from morality; evidential arguments, such as the arguments for the Resurrection based on historical evidence; and scientific arguments, such as the argument based on the fine-tuning of the universe for human life. However, no argument is complete in itself. For instance, while the Kalam cosmological argument and arguments from design suggest that it is reasonable to believe in a Creator, these arguments do not in themselves suggest anything about what that Creator is like, or draw people to desire a relationship with Him. Scripture-based arguments can show more of who God is and how He has acted in history, but these arguments are only helpful if people care about what the Bible says – if they are interested and willing to listen. We can’t assume that people are interested, or that they have the adequate context to understand Scriptural references.

The best approach for the challenges of the 21st century is to provide a holistic argument involving different, complementary, mutually supportive arguments, which build up to a convincing overall picture…

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