By John H. Armstrong, Senior Fellow, Center for Christ & Culture
When it comes to the study and practice of apologetics the same tension exists, as we can see with liturgy (as I explained in last week's article). People have the tendency to believe that the way their questions were answered, before or after they came to Christian faith, is precisely the way others should have their questions answered. But the times and the questions change.
I suggested in previous articles that we find helpful apologetical insights in writers like Blaise Pascal and C. S. Lewis. But I also suggested that we must move toward the real questions and problems that people pose in our own time. The reasons why unbelievers will not listen to the good news today are varied and often complex. The church has a responsibility to remove the road blocks that hinder people from hearing our message. This is what apologetics should do for us.
The field of apologetics must pay more careful attention to historical issues, thus truly learning from the past. To not listen to the past is a form of modern arrogance. But we must also be very careful that we actually engage the real questions that people are asking today. Because we are presently moving from a time when the governing religious principles of out culture were deeply rooted in Christianity, to a time when the religious principles most people embrace consist of many differing strands of belief and spirituality, we must develop a missional apologetic
If you read apologetics long enough, and listen to non-Christians carefully enough, you will begin to see that this business about the times changing is quite real.
Academic apologetics, which still has a major influence over both teachers and ministers, still follows an essentially Greek model. This model flows out of the Greek word apologia. People have various ways they oppose the faith, thus our task is much like that of a defense attorney in a court of law. We must answer these objections and seek to convince the opponents of faith, in the jury box, that they are wrong. We are trying to defend our belief system because it is under attack.
The content of this defensive method is generally limited to the questions we believe unbelievers are asking. The answers to these questions are then put in the form of logical proofs. We then seek to provide evidence for miracles, demonstration of the historical accuracy of the biblical record, and make appeals to reason and logic, etc.
A student of mine recently suggested that we need to ask: “What type of Christianity do these proofs, evidences and logic actually defend?” He proposed that we need to refocus our attention, as the church, toward a fuller and richer view of apologetics that goes beyond the content of these types of arguments. We must look at the practices and ideology that are behind people’s questions and then at our apologetics. What lies behind the questions is important to congregational formation as well as providing for a proper defense of the faith for a watching, questioning world.
Modernism answered questions by appealing to simple observation and the scientific method. But I have become convinced that the questions most people are asking today are not of this sort at all. People have embraced what might be called “micro-narratives” (as opposed to the Christian idea of a “meta-narrative”). This has resulted in a concentration on my experience and my morality and spirituality.
This change in perspective has come about through the postmodern changes in culture. We can curse all of this but the simple fact it this—it has already happened. Seeking to push unbelievers back into a modernistic set of arguments does not actually address the real questions that they have about our gospel. I believe a great deal of apologetics (formally and informally) is still seeking to do exactly this.
Many apologists, who want to keep this old approach alive, attempt to show why it is still plausible to appeal to these old ways. I believe that their solution has created a sense of militancy and triumphalism that does not promote a humble apologetics. The result is “the martial arts approach to apologetics.” I am calling for a gracious end to this approach. In its place I believe what we need is a missional apologetics, an apologetics that seeks to understand better what God is doing in our present context and then addresses the actual questions that non-believers are asking about faith. By this discovery we might see a new apologetics arise, one that truly seeks to “become all things to all people in order to save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).
© 2009 by John H. Armstrong
John H. Armstrong, Senior Fellow at the Center for Christ & Culture, is the founder and president of ACT 3, a ministry for the Advancement of the Christian Tradition in the third millennium. He is a former pastor and church-planter, of more than twenty years, the author/editor of eight books, and the author of hundreds of magazine, journal, and web-based articles. Besides his writing ministry Dr. Armstrong is an adjunct professor of evangelism and apologetics at Wheaton College Graduate School, teaches in various seminaries and colleges as a guest lecturer, and is a seminar and conference speaker throughout the United States and abroad.