Who Needs Apologetics?
By Chad Ragsdale
While attacks abound on faith in general and Christianity in particular, some claim the time for apologetics is past.
But I say apologetics will always be relevant and essential for two reasons: the nature of our faith, and the nature of our call.
“Apologetics is a wonderful thing,” the guest speaker said. “If you live in the 1950s. And in Kansas.”
It was an awkward moment. And not just because the crowd included a large number of Kansas students sometimes sensitive about their home state being used as the universal standard for lameness. But also because it was the first session in an annual apologetics lectureship held at my school. And did I mention I had just begun teaching apologetics that same semester, and one of my first decisions was to invite this speaker to our campus?
As it turned out, both the speaker and the lectureship were very well received, but still, those opening words stung—and they prompt an important question. What is the place of apologetics in the life of the church today?
This is a strange time for the discipline of Christian apologetics. In some ways, apologetics has never been more popular or necessary. In recent years, we have seen the publication of wildly popular books ranging from The DaVinci Code to the equally fanciful work of the Jesus Seminar. We have been subjected to the biting criticism of popular Christians-turned-agnostics like Bart Ehrman and the collective works of the so-called New Atheists.
All of these challenges have called for a reasoned response, and apologists like William Lane Craig, Ravi Zacharias, Lee Strobel, Alister McGrath, and others have never been as popular and in demand. As an illustration of the current level of interest, a recent debate between creationist Ken Ham and science educator Bill Nye was viewed by as many as 3 million people online.
But others would say that popularity alone is misleading. While not as widely read as popular books on apologetics, a recent stream of books challenges the appropriateness and effectiveness of Christian apologetics. The End of Apologetics by Myron Penner and Unapologetic Theology by William Placher are just two examples.
Some of the critiques are theological: God cannot be reduced to a cozy, manageable argument.
Some are more philosophical: Apologetics, it is claimed, was born out of modernity. It makes rationalistic assumptions about truth and knowledge that postmodernity has now rendered obsolete.
Some other critiques are more practical: Apologetics too often sets about answering the wrong questions and with the wrong spirit. The result is distraction. We might be better off just talking about Jesus. This was the critique offered by our speaker that day.
There is important truth in each of these criticisms. They remind us we should routinely rethink the methods and assumptions of our apologetics. But we would be foolish to abandon the apologetic task altogether because of such criticisms…
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