Ask Josh Chatraw (May 21-25, 2018)


(Carson Weitnauer) #1

Hi friends,

I am delighted to share that Dr. Josh Chatraw is available to answer your questions this week! Although the Ask RZIM section is generally reserved for RZIM itinerants, it is our pleasure and joy to have guest participants.

Josh currently serves at Liberty University as executive director of the Center for Apologetics and Cultural Engagement, an associate professor of apologetics and theology, and the executive editor of Faith and the Academy. However, he is soon to be the Director of New City Fellows in Raleigh, NC.

Josh is the co-author of an awesome new book called Apologetics At The Cross. You can also read his recent article in Christianity Today, “Stop Apologizing for Apologetics” (which we have discussed in Connect!).

Please join me in asking Josh your questions!


(Carson Weitnauer) #2

Hi Josh,

To get us started, I wanted to quote a section from your article in CT, then ask for some elaboration. You wrote:

Apologetics has too often been practiced in a way that ignores complexity in favor of easy answers, functionally assumes an outdated epistemology, or turns even the smallest disagreements into hostile conflicts.

Could you provide some further insights on the immaturity you see in the practice of apologetics? Are there some good self-diagnostic questions we can ask ourselves to see if we are being mature - or immature - in how we engage in this discipline?

(Carson Weitnauer) #3

Hi Josh,

You have described the “inside out” approach that is developed in Apologetics At the Cross like this:

First, starting on the inside of the other person’s framework, we ask: What can we affirm and what do we need to challenge in this worldview? Where does this worldview lead? And in particular, how is the view unlivable and how is it inconsistent?

Second, we contrast their view with Christianity, asking where competing worldviews have to borrow from Christianity. And how does Christianity better address our experiences, observations, and history?

“Inside out” guides us into apologetic conversations, tracing out points of agreement and points of disagreement, challenging other worldviews on their own terms, and showing how their view fails to live up to their own deepest aspirations.

Is this method applicable to nearly any subject - or does it have to be about more philosophical issues? Or, for instance, could you provide an illustration of how this method might look in a discussion about the recent royal wedding?

Apologizing for Apologetics?
(Josh) #4

Thanks, Carson, for having me. First, I need to say that I am addressing a caricature that is certainly not always true. However, I have found it to be the case too often, especially in teaching students both on the undergraduate and graduate level. Many of my students come to me and just want to “prove” Christianity. Or a parent wants my help because their teenager has given up on the faith. They are right to seek answers and to jump into apologetics and theology to deal with doubts and skepticism. However, in response to an unfortunate anti-intellectualism that exists within the church, we have sometimes reacted by instilling an overly cognitive theological anthropology and the impression that the evidence for Christianity is intellectually coercive. In Apologetics at the Cross, we appropriate the work of James KA Smith (who is channeling Augustine) in helping readers to see humans as more than just “thinking beings,” and instead see us as thinking, believing, and desiring beings. If we embrace this more holistic picture, then it will have a dramatic effect on the way we should be seeking to persuade. We should not just walk away, having given our rational arguments, thinking they either work or don’t. Perhaps they don’t work because we have only engaged people in one dimension - rather than in multi-dimensions (for example, C S Lewis’ diverse approach in his different books). In regards to epistemology, evidence is always viewed through a certain lens. So while we give evidence (!), at times we also need to be willing to step back and engage with the deeper plausibility structures (see Peter Berger’s work) that make arguments and evidence more or less plausible. This is where a deep understanding of culture and how it works leads to a more mature approach to apologetics. More to come later in the day…

(Josh) #5

Well, I don’t think I could use the royal wedding as a test case since I didn’t watch it! I guess I am late to the party on that one.

We mean for inside out to be mental scaffolding for people to take with them into conversations. It is inspired, in part by the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor who once wrote, "Reasoning in moral matters is always reasoning with somebody. You have an interlocutor, you start from where that person is, or with the actual difference between you; you don’t reason from the ground up, as though you were talking to someone who recognize moral demands whatever.”

And, yes, I think it can apply to a wide range of topics. For instance, if someone has a view on something, we can begin by asking questions to understand their view and why they hold it. What I have found is that often times people have reasons behind their reasons for their views. By this I mean a certain set of assumptions that they have inherited from the surrounding culture (i.e., plausibility structures). I am particularly interested in having a conversation about those…even though often times people have not even articulated these assumptions themselves. For instance, Taylor talks about how most people in the West have embraced the “ethics of authenticity” (Robert Bellah means roughly the same thing when he coined the term “expressive individualism.”) This is the idea that the most important thing that you can do as an individual is throw off the shackles of exterior expectations and be “true to yourself.” This assumption about what is good and true has a profound impact on practical everyday thinking and living. We can have a long discussion on, for instance marriage and human sexuality, but unless we interact with this assumption (if they are indeed assuming it), we probably will not make much headway in persuasion. So first, we need to understand and perhaps even help them articulate some of their basic assumptions. And then, while on the inside of their framework, we can look for ways to both affirm and to challenge their assumptions and aspirations. There is something good about turning from an overly hierarchical society that leaves us without basic choices (I’m thankful to be able to have some choice about my occupation, for instance), so there is something about the changes in society that have accompanied the ethics of authenticity (EA) that we can affirm. However, EA is actually incoherent and detrimental to the type of human flourishing that most modern people aspire to. Perhaps I can flesh that out in a later post. For now, I just want to stress that it is important to show that their view has both some problems, but also perhaps some glimmer of truth. I think we should always be looking for that glimmer of truth that will be able to establish a point of contact for the conversation.

The next move is to explain how the gospel/Christianity actually provides a more coherent, livable, and ultimately true way to view a particular issue. For now, I want to stop here and in a later post I will pick up and explain how one might do this.

(Genesis Montero) #6

Sir Josh, I’m really interested in applying this holistic picture of humans in my conversations revolving in the faith. When you gave C.S. Lewis as an example, I got a faint idea of what you’re describing. But since I prefer to learn through demonstrations, I’d like to share an experience and draw from your wisdom as how you would approach the situation.

Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting some of the alumni of the youth group I regularly attend. One of them, a former leader but still in his youth and very active in ministry, said the following:
“Our purpose is not to defend Christianity but to share the love of Jesus Christ.”
Further, “Let the apologists do that.”

I firmly believe that the church must be equipped to provide a defense for the faith. The person who said this is not an anti-intellectual but rather believes that the church must provide a defense for the faith; not everyone in the church, however. I would like to know how you would approach a response such as this. What is your response to this statement and what are the steps you would take to introduce this more mature approach to apologetics?

(Josh) #7

Thanks for the question, Genesis! I think I understand the question in general, but I want to make sure I understand the specific statement the person is making. By your last paragraph, it seems that the person is saying that the church corporately should engage in apologetics, but this is not necessarily the responsibility of every individual person in the church. Also, he is juxtaposing defending Christianity and sharing the love of Christ. Does this accurately describe his central concerns?

(Genesis Montero) #8

Yes, sir, he believes that the church should engage in apologetics but this is not the responsibility of every believer. Only a select few should engage in this.

I’m sorry, sir, I do not know what you mean by juxtaposition – if it is to contrast or put together. What he meant was that apologetics is different from ‘sharing the love of God’ and he did not even consider apologetics as ‘sharing the love of God’. What he meant by the statement was ‘sharing the gospel’. I’m pretty sure that was what he meant, sir.

I was unable to inquire about where he was coming from which is why I can only frame what he stated in this way.

(Tim Behan) #9

Hi there,

Can I jump in here and say that I have heard similar things where I am in New Zealand. There seems to be a separation in people’s minds about ‘sharing the gospel’ and ‘doing apologetics’ and that it is only for a select few. How would you succinctly describe apologetics and it’s need to a church, not all of whom felt it was necessary?

(Josh) #10

Okay. Thanks Genesis and Tim. I think I have a better understanding. Certainly the church as a whole is called to apologetics. I think we all agree on that! But it is also true that we have different callings and gifts. Some, for instance, have the gift of mercy. Yet, that doesn’t mean that each individual doesn’t have the responsibility to show mercy. Instead, I would suggest we are all called to show mercy; some are, however, particularly gifted at it. So in regards to your specific question, we might say that some are particularly gifted in engaging with others verbally with evangelism and apologetics. Yet, all of us are to be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks for a reason for the hope you have (1 Peter 3:15). This doesn’t mean that everyone needs to be a scholar–keep the context of 1 Peter in mind and you will quickly see that Peter is not giving specific instructions on how one might answer (the focus is not on what should be said by how we should say it - “with gentleness and respect”). These answers for why we have hope in Christ will look pretty different–and this is not a bad thing. The church would be pretty one dimensional if everyone had the same interests and gifts. Thank goodness God has not made everyone like me!

I think it would help if we broaden our view of apologetics. I mentioned the context of 1 Peter in the previous paragraph and I think this helps us open our minds to what apologetics should be. Peter is writing to a church going through persecution, a community of believers who feel the sociological and psychological pressures of living in a culture hostile to the gospel. His advice to them was to cling to the gospel and be a different type of people: a holy nation and a kingdom of priests. People who have changed lives and who treat people with mercy, because they know they only stand forgiven because they have received mercy. This is the context for the great apologetic call of 1 Peter 3:15. Once we take stock of this, we see that when the church as a whole lives our calling out, we are, as the missionary/theologian Lesslie Newbigin would say, “the hermeneutic of the gospel.” What he means by this is that our lives actually allow people to make sense of and understand the gospel. When we show mercy, when we love one another, when we sacrifice for others, when we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, when we care about the windows and the orphans, when we stand up for the oppressed and the downtrodden, we are living arguments for the gospel. This does not downplay verbal apologetics arguments and in anyway suggest that they are not needed. Instead, this emphasizes our lives as a living apologetic appeals, which serve as the context by which our verbal arguments are made plausible. Once we see apologetics as integrated with our discipleship and theology of the church, then we see that, of course, everyone is called to apologetics–because we are all responsible to be prepared give an answer for our hope in our own particular contexts (1 Peter 3:15) and because we are all called to show mercy and live out the gospel, which is vital to the task of defending the faith and making an appeal to believe the gospel.

(Josh) #11

Tim, I answered Genesis in this thread. But I also think it applies to your question. Hope it helps!

(Genesis Montero) #12

Thank you, Sir Josh! Your answer really helps me get the perspective and gives me assurance in my convictions.

(Helen Tan) #13

Hi Josh, thank you for this opportunity to learn from you. I quote above part of your reply to Carson which left me with a kind of ‘cliff hanger’ :)) I am looking forward to your fleshing out that argument to help me build a better response in conversations centering around EA.

Thank you.

(Helen Tan) #14

Hi Josh, you recently released a book entitled “Apologetics at the Cross” which I’m looking forward to reading. Since we’ve got you here, I was wondering if you could provide us with some key points and advice that you’ve raised in there, particularly in the context of our late-modern culture. Thank you.

(Mark Elwood) #15

I’m not sure if this is the correct location to ask this question and I have prayed about this subject and I’m looking for some feedback and others opinions. My family and I are between churches at the moment but wish to continue tithing. We have donated to two particular ministries online each payday. I’m wondering does this online donation count as tithing in the Eyes of God. If it’s supporting God’s work around the world is it looked upon as tithing favorably or not considered tithing at all but making a donation. Thanks for any insight and thoughts you may have on this and God bless.

(Josh) #16

Thanks for both of your questions. I’ll plan to pick up Thursday where I left off on the Ethics of Authenticity and how to connect this with the gospel. Tonight I am reply to this question concerning Apologetics at the Cross. The book itself is divided into 3 main sections. The first section examines apologetics in the Bible and the history of the church. The second traces out implications for an apologetic that is built around the gospel. The final section combines cultural analysis and our inside out approach to interact and respond to the challenges and opportunities of our current context.

In regards to our late-modern context, we identify 4 features of late-modernism: modern pluralism, the ethics of authenticity, the therapeutic turn, and religious lethargy. These are not the only ones we could have chosen, but we felt that they were important in understanding our cultural moment in the west and in responding to the challenges the church faces and the objections we often here. We have a massive in articulacy problem in our culture today. By this I mean that someone often has an opinion about some issue or an objection to Christianity, but they haven’t thought out grounding or support for their position. But they have a feeling or intuition about it. This can lead to pretty frustrating conversations if we don’t know some of the deeper assumptions driving the issues. But since they are often not even aware of them themselves, you will often have to articulate these assumptions for them and then show them how they are problematic on different levels but how, perhaps quite surprisingly, Christianity makes more sense and fulfills their deepest aspirations. Or at least, that is what we try help people learn to do. Tomorrow, I will get more into the specifics of how you might do this using the ethics of authenticity as a sort of test case (see a previous post where I define this term).

(Helen Tan) #17

Thank you so much, @joshchatraw. I look forward to hearing more from you. I was wondering if you could touch a bit on what ‘therapeutic turn’ entails.

(Caleb Brown) #18

Aloha, Dr. Chatraw,

I’ve really appreciated your discussion in this thread of the importance of the interpersonal and relational aspects of our apologetic witness. It seems that part of loving nonbelievers well is doing our homework so we have the knowledge and skills to engage with their questions. What areas of study do you think are most important for being prepared to answer the questions that might come up in our relationships with nonbelievers?


Caleb Brown

(Josh) #19

I am going to pick up where I ended on this last post. I will use the ethics of authenticity (see above) as a test case for how you might start out inside of someone’s framework and then work to the outside of their view (i.e., to Christianity). The goal is to explain how gospel makes more rational and emotional sense than their view.

First, the ethics of authenticity undermines our most relationships that require commitment and sacrifice. Families, friends and marriages are viewed instrumentally and are quickly abandoned if they cease to serve as a means for self-actualization. If a close friend or even a spouse is seen as are restricting my ability to pursue what my heart tells me, to be “true to myself,” what resources does EA give to motivate me to stay committed? To stick it out when it is really hard? I will put up with them only as long as the benefits they provide me outweigh my obligations to them. After all, if a relationship is confining, why not find new relationships that don’t demand self-denial and sacrifice?

If someone were to consistently hold to the tenets of expressive individualism, it is difficult to see how they wouldn’t find themselves suffering malnourished relationships. And research from the social sciences seem to support this conclusion. One thing that I have learned from my university students, though they are surrounded others, they often feel depressed and alone. EA, which is the default setting of our culture, tends to undermine thriving community.

If you set out to point this out in a conversation, someone might reply, “Yes but I don’t live like that. I understand the pull of expressive individualism, but I do have relationships that are altruistic.” This is significant: many who have generally assumed expressive individualism do strive to live sacrificially in some of their most intimate relationships. Here is something we can affirm and use as an opening to help them understand the gospel (turning to the outside of their framework to connect the gospel to cultural aspirations).
When people refuse to abandon important relationships in the name of personal freedom, instead valuing others more than their own self-actualization and autonomy, they seem to be admitting something parallel to the Bible’s teaching: namely, that saying “no” to some desires is an important part of genuine flourishing. They are admitting that personal sacrifice is essential for deep, life-giving relationships. This concession just might open the door for Christ’s teachings to be seen in a new light. When Jesus tells us we must die to live and he gives us rules to live by, he is inviting us to a deeper, truer kind of flourishing.

Second, EA is impractical. It is impossible to live out. We cannot help but constantly look to those around us to learn what we should value and how we should legitimize our own significance. We are always defining our lives in dialogue with our community. We all look to something or someone for our identity and sense of worth. This leads to a third problem with denying Christianity in the name of freedom.

Third, though EA may promise us freedom, it cannot deliver on that promise. Everyone has a master. If what a particular group of friends or your parents or a partner or your kids think of you is the most important thing to you, then you will build your life, your happiness, and your worth around them. Their responses to you will limit you and control your life. If they reject you, if they let you down, or if they are taken from you, your life will feel empty. And you know it. So you will do anything you can to avoid losing them. The many different “gods” of our modern world will restrict us, consume our time, and wreak havoc on our emotions. If we make them ultimate, they will, in the end, not just let us down—they will destroy us.

So when Jesus promised his followers an abundant life, he was not telling them that he would usher in a life of freedom from norms and submission. That is impossible. We all submit to and are enslaved by something. Jesus, however, can paradoxically promise true freedom (John 8:32 –36) through submission because he is the one person we were designed to submit to, the one person in whom submission results in true freedom—the freedom to become the people we were designed to be. To better understand this, we need only look at Jesus, the most free and satisfied human who has ever lived.

This is just one example of how you might apply inside out to interact with the assumptions held–normally below the radar–which make Christianity seem implausible. Start inside of their beliefs. Listen. Ask questions. But also be aware of general cultural trends; his will help you better understand individuals when you are in discussions. Find out what you can affirm and what you need to challenge. Listen for both, problems that need to be pointed out and cultural aspirations that are actually meant to be fulfilled in Christ.

(Josh) #20

Hi Helen,
I finished off my answer to Carson’s question and the discussion on EA. Hope it was helpful.