The Disparagement of Apologetics

by Ben R. Crenshaw

But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. 1 Peter 3:15

1 Peter 3:15 is a familiar verse to Christians who regularly engage in apologetic ministry. It is the primary verse used as biblical justification for apologetic engagement, and it has long been understood as a valuable and non-negotiable part of the Christian life. However, recently in western Protestantism, there has been a movement to reconsider the classical approach to Christian apologetics. With publications such as John Wilkinson’s No Argument for God (2011) and Myron Penner’s The End of Apologetics (2013), some Christians argue that apologetic argumentation and reasoning is counterproductive for Christian witness. Peter Enns, the Abrams S. Clemens Professor of Biblical Studies at Eastern University, has also written along these lines, and a couple weeks ago penned a brief post on his Patheos blog articulating his view of apologetics. The article has spawned 259 comments to date, a substantial interaction that demonstrates public interest in this topic and thus its importance.

Enns’ article is short and cryptic, wandering over a number of issues before settling upon his two main arguments: a critique of classical apologetics and his proposal for a new kind of apologetic engagement. Let us consider each of these in turn.

Enns’ First Argument: Priority of Belief over Intellect

Enns’ first argument is a disputation of the presumption of the relationship of faith and reason as historically and classically understood by apologists. Enns believes that western Christian apologetics has assumed that “the intellect is how Christianity works” and that this leads first to intellectual engagement via argumentation, which is then followed by faith. Instead, Enns suggests that belief comes first, and then the intellect and arguments for the faith follow. The central problem with this view is Enns’ overly narrow conception of the intellect consisting mainly of arguments. Yet “intellect” is simply defined as “the faculty of reasoning and understanding objectively.” While this certainly includes arguments (both formal and informal), it also refers to the use of the mind to understand and grasp ideas. When seen in this light, it is clear that a necessary condition of Christian faith is the antecedent use of the intellect in understanding…

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The Disparagement of Apologetics | Ben R. Crenshaw