Apologizing for Apologetics?

(Jennifer Judson) #1

May issue of Christianity Today has an article titled: We Need to Stop Apologizing for Apologetics But It Might Be Time For It To 'Grow Up." by Joshua Chatraw (Exec. Dir. of the Center for Apologetics and Cultural Engagement at Liberty University)

excerpt 1:
Have We Outgrown Apologetics? In much of scholarship these days, apologetics is shunned as juvenile.

excerpt 2:
For others in more confessional circles, apologetics can signal a childish attempt to play by the rules of secularism rather than boldly proclaiming the gospel—the power of God to save. Tacitly—and sometimes more directly—the lesson is clear: It is time to grow up. …
“I am not sure that apologetics has not been the curse of evangelicalism for the last twenty to thirty years,” British minister, physician, and author Martyn Lloyd-Jones once lamented.

excerpt 3:
In our present situation—where faith is no longer the default position—the church is going to be compelled to practice apologetics, even if we call it something else. The question shouldn’t be if we will do apologetics (or whatever you want to call it); the question is if we will do it with the wisdom brought by maturity.

excerpt 4:
The need of the hour is apologetic maturity—historically informed and theologically rooted in the gospel itself—which knows how to not only give reasons but also how to stoke imaginations, model cruciform lives, and even publicly confess. (We do, after all, have some planks to remove from our own eyes.) These are not the typical things most think of when they hear of apologetics, but this is only because we have not fully come to grips with our past—both the good and the bad. An apologetic approach for a secular age needs to utilize appeals to the essential features of personhood (such as the need for meaning, hope, forgiveness, and morality) along with arguments for the faith’s rationality.

It’s not a terribly long article, so if you have access to it you may want to read it. I have a subscription, so I don’t know if my link will work.

Mainly the article left me very puzzled. I’m not especially “in the know” with Christian buzz, nor did I have any theological exposure in an academic setting. So I was news to me that apologetics is somewhat of an embarassment in certain circles. Certainly left me wondering why, so I thought I would see if any of you can clue me in. This is one of those kinds of articles where you feel like you are missing key knowledge–like everyone else is in on the joke but you.

I’m not offended in anyway by the article, just confused. I’m assuming that apologetics has a bad rep in some circles based on certain techniques, maybe? The author seems to be making that case that we don’t throw out the baby with the bath water, but fix how we do apologetics. He has just published a book on that very subject, called Apologetics at the Cross: An Introduction for Christian Witness that communicates a technique called “Inside Out.”

So if anyone can shed some light, I would be grateful.

Ask Josh Chatraw (May 21-25, 2018)
(SeanO) #2

@Jennifer_Judson, I do not have full access to the article, but I was able to read the beginning of it.

If my understanding is correct, Chatraw is pointing out two groups of people who are offended by apologetics for different reasons.

  1. Academics are offended because ‘the perception of bias and the attempt to convert’ are embarrassing - in other words - you don’t have the right to push your views on someone else and you can’t know you’re right anyways (aka secular relativism/humanism/scientism)

  2. Some Christian groups are offended because they think we only need to preach the Gospel and that apologetics is a secular practice; not a Christian one (clearly they have not read the apostle Paul closely enough)

I do think there are Christians who prefer what is called relational evangelism (I’m sure you are familiar) where the focus is mostly on the relationships and they may have an aversion to certain types of apologetics - but I do not think Chatraw is referring to this group.

If I understand correctly, Chatraw is referring to secular scholars, not the kind of scholars you would find at Dallas Theological or Trinity or Wheaton. The example of Oxford university seems to support this point. And of course this is not news to us.

In some ways, I expect Chatraw’s claims feel new or novel because he is, in fact, in the midst of pitching his book :slight_smile:

(Jennifer Judson) #3

@SeanO Not sure how far you were able to read, but this statement was one that left me baffled from the Christian community POV. So it was not just secular scholars who find apologetics “embarassing” but also Christian academics.

While this embarrassment is certainly not universal among Christian theologians and scholars, it is common. And since most pastors are trained by academics—exemplars whose attitudes and tastes are absorbed by their students—a certain uneasiness toward apologetics has often been inherited by some of our most gifted pastors and church leaders. Who wants to be ostracized by their peers or, even worse, embarrassed by their theological heroes?

Is it a form of snobbery?

(SeanO) #4

Hmmm - honestly, I could not answer without knowing about what he means by ‘Christian theologians and scholars’. If he means all scholars and theologians who label themselves Christian, that encompasses many people who not only do not like apologetics, but also deny the resurrection and the Scriptures and even the existence of God. The same goes for seminary professors if you include all places called seminaries.

I think - if I understand his use of embarrassment correctly - that he is describing the embarrassment of association - which is a form of snobbery. Like when a middle schooler first realizes they are in the cool group and their friend is not - and they put down their friend to affirm their position in the cool group. Some of the people he is describing feel evangelizing/apologetics is uncouth (to use the more sophisticated term of uncool) and do not want to be associated with it.

When I think of this behavior the story of Billy Graham and Charles Templeton comes to mind, though I am not accusing Templeton of snobbery.

Templeton at one point preached with Graham, but later came under the influence of Bible teachers at Princeton and scholars who denied Christ. Afterwards Templeton had a very low view of apologetics and evangelism.

So, in my mind, a low view of apologetics is generally associated with some form of unbelief or, as we mentioned earlier, a belief that apologetics is unnecessary and the Gospel sufficient.

(Helen Tan) #5

Hi @Jennifer_Judson and @SeanO

I found this article by Chatraw in which he expands on his views of different apologetic methods. In it, he tries to address the confusion and frustration experienced by those who are taught within their theological tradition but find that real life discussions do not work like that.


He breaks down the methods into Classical, Evidential, Presuppositional and Experiential/Narratival and talks about their strengths and weaknesses, offering examples of apologists who use them. Here’s the chart showing the different methods (I had to take a screen shot because copying it left portions illegible).

Chatraw concludes with this:
"Pastor-Apologists, which I would suggest is an identity that all pastors should embrace, find themselves needing to ask: Am I drawing an apologetic map for a scientist who has a rigid methodology for determining truth? An academic philosopher from the West? A father whose son died of cancer at the age of seven? A devout Muslim who moved to America from the Middle East? A mother whose son came out of the closet? A Western businessman who has it all and adheres to a different vision of the good life than the one on offered by Christianity? A first generation Asian American who thinks about life in eastern categories?

Thus, the best maps are not drawn for “mankind in the abstract” but for “concrete individuals.” Nor are we drawing apologetic maps for ourselves. We are drawing maps for others, which means our apologetic should be others-centered. It also means that while all of the maps should have the same final destination, the person and work of Jesus Christ, there are various types of maps that can and should be drawn."

What Chatraw says is what we’re taught at RZIM - to listen to the questioner. I think that the categories he uses are ones in which we often find ourselves intuitively using. I haven’t studied them in detail and would appreciate more thoughts on them. Looking forward to learning more on this.

(SeanO) #6

@Helen_Tan Great find :slight_smile:

(Jennifer Judson) #7

Thanks Helen. Given his job title I’m sure he was a proponent of apologetics.

I’m thinking when a learned scholar is dedicated to a particular discipline they tend to see the greatest contributions to the faith through that lense, e.g. church history, hermeneutics, expertise in ancient languages, archeology, etc. Spending so much mental capital and time to pursue a field where you contend with scientists and philosophers might seem to be too much “of this world” and not biblical enough—immersed in all the evidential and logical knowledge rather than scripture.

That’s the only reason I can think of for this attitude towards apologetics within the professional Christian community. I just was not aware of this attitude and it took me by surprise.

I think the author’s overall point that we must engage the world and it’s going to have to be on their terms but with a method that always leads to the cross is good.

(Helen Tan) #8

HI @Jennifer_Judson, I was curious about what you said as well but since I was unable to answer your question, I looked up Chatraw’s work and was just happy to learn how he categorizes the different apologetic methods which I hope will help me improve on my apologetic skills. Most people probably know this already but I thought I’d post it to see if anyone has more thoughts on how this may be used productively. Thanks for taking me to Chatraw’s work.

(Jennifer Judson) #9

His book does sound interesting, and I’m sure a valuable help, but I have so many books on my list right now it’s overwhelming.

If you do read his book, let us know the highlights.

(David Cieszynski) #10

Hi everyone,

I’ve PDF the article try this link https://drive.google.com/file/d/1y7CBONvdtIVe-JK5lUbB82ztygZIMalo/view?usp=drivesdk

I’ve had comments by some leaders in my church when I started my training I told the congregation that I felt called to style / deliver my sermons in an apologetic manner. As I think it was Michael Ramsden who said we’re very good at waving missionaries off at the peer / airport but we not very good at equipping people on their front lines i.e. work, family etc.

With one of leaders stating afterwards apologetics is old fashioned we should be preaching about Jesus’s love, which I said we need to challenge people on what they believe and why. And to get them to actually think about their faith.

Talking about Jesus’s love isn’t much help to someone who is dealing with a suicide of a loved one, or sexual abuse. Because the question will be where was Jesus and why didn’t he intervene? At this point the majority of our congregation would struggle to come up with a concise, meaningful reply in the timeframe permitted.

Sorry for the waffle but wanted to give people my firsthand experience of this.

(SeanO) #11

@David_Cieszynski It is so sad sometimes to see that people want to talk about Jesus’ love without communicating the full context in which Jesus communicated that love. Salvation history and the manner in which Christ challenged culture are critical to our ability to engage with God in the difficult seasons of life and to understand the message of Jesus to our broken culture today.

In Hebrews 5:12-14 the author laments that people are not growing in their understanding and practice of the faith - “In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.”

The sincere milk of the Gospel is necessary - but there is groundwork to be done both to prepare the soil of peoples’ hearts for the Gospel and to grow their hearts once they have received it. I think apologetics plays a role on both sides of that equation.

(David Cieszynski) #12

I wonder when people especially senior leaders minimise / dismiss apologetics are they wanting to take the easy route out

(Jennifer Judson) #13

My Dad was such a skeptic and always challenging various issues. When I discovered apologetics, which I believe was in a book by Dorothy Sayers–one of C.S. Lewis contemporaries, it was like a light went on. Long before I discovered RZIM I had come to the conclusion that allowing any discussion to spiral into an emotional debate was not at all helpful. I had to be equal to him intellectually, but soft enough to keep walls from going up. I had to challenge him to think. I’ll give my Dad credit, he was not set in stone. I’ve seen all my life that argument was a key way that he learned. He would take in a contrary position, chew on it a few days, and before long that was the side he was arguing from.

It took years with Dad. But it taught me so much. I could never match him in intellect, but I could definitely match him in passion and heart. He honestly longed for my faith, he just couldn’t seem to get past those inconsistencies and variants in the Bible. He was trying to get there via the mind and not the heart.

Did apologetics ultimately bring him to a saving faith? Yes and no. The relationship we built put him in a position such that when his heart was failing and less oxygen to his brain limited that analytical side of his mind, tthe other parts of his brain could finally grasp hold of faith. In other words, he finally allowed the Holy Spirit to get past the barriers.

I believe when we have relationships with skeptics, and we’re willing and they’re willing, time spent in honest discussion over such monumental issues will eventually yield fruit–or at the very least put a person in a position to finally see the truth. We have to learn how to not take offense; to respect their POV; to allow them to say shocking things without judging; to make sure they feel safe in the freedom to ask questions; to continue to see them as image-bearers worthy of our time, love, and patience; to pray for them; to let them know that you are praying for them; to winsomely ask what you can be praying for for them; and so much more. We have to be resilient and dedicated to the truth for the purpose of love.

There’s all kinds of ways to present the gospel, but in apologetics I see a means of meeting them on their turf–at the place where their barriers to faith have been erected. It’s wonderful David that you see the importance of equipping your flock.

As I write this one thing is coming to my mind, and that’s the spiritual warfare involved with apologetics. That may be something for another discussion.

(SeanO) #14

@David_Cieszynski I think some leaders sincerely believe apologetics is more harmful than helpful. They may have had bad experiences in their own lives or maybe good experiences just sticking to the Gospel. There are always people who take the easy road and avoid the cross, but I think there are many people who sincerely feel apologetics does little good.

In that case, we need to be apologists for apologetics :slight_smile:

(Sarah Malcangi) #15

Sadly many people don’t understand what Apologetics really means. In my experience they view it as only a debate, a confrontation.

There are many disciplines within Christian Apologetics that can be very in depth. Some Christians feel it’s too heavy to comprehend so they set it aside.

In my opinion you can’t evangelize without Apologetics. Many of us use it without realizing it. You don’t have to use it like William Lane Craig or Hugh Ross.

(Carson Weitnauer) #16

Hi @Jennifer_Judson, @SeanO, @Helen_Tan, @David_Cieszynski, and @SarahMalcangi, good news! We have the opportunity to directly ask Josh our questions this week: Ask Josh Chatraw (May 21-25, 2018)

Enjoy. :slight_smile:

(Steven Kalinowski) #17

It would seem that Apologetics is looked on as some kind of extra way of thinking, arguing, debating outside of the true, pure, faith. There is often an antiitellectual attitude within some churches and seen as a badge of honour. When I think of Paul… his debates went on for weeks… there was no separate apologetics course… He was simply expounding the truth of the gospel… to put a label of apologetics kind of restricts what we are about. It is apologetics from the inside so to speak. To argue for or against apologetics in the true sense is arguing about the truths of Christ and his message. To see apologetics as a mere debate mechanism is not IT at all.
BTW I love apologetics in the sense of attempting to have answers for people and for reinforcing my faith… but is part of other topics in exploring the faith. I am glad that most people on this site probably agree. ( but is ok of they don’t)
We ‘apologize’ or ‘defend’ all the time by what we say and do to His name.