Many times I feel like apologizing for what passes as Evangelical apologetics. Providing a “reason for the hope that we have” certainly includes a rationale for the reasonableness of the Christian Faith. However, we should never for a moment deceive ourselves into thinking that faith in the Incarnate Christ is primarily about “reasonableness”. Neither the Christian faith nor God’s existence will ever be proven mathematically, no matter how elegantly Godel summarized Anslem. The coherence of the Christian faith should certainly be shared with others (noting particularly Peter’s qualification above that it be done with gentleness and respect), but it should not and cannot be reduced to a set of rationalist axioms.
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.
Proof-Seeking Apologetics is a Dangerous Methodology
David Opderbeck has an excellent post comparing the proof-seeking apologetics so often seen in the Evangelical movement, and a more responsible, reliable, and credible approach to Christian apologetics. Responding to the statement that “if the church wants to keep the younger generation, it needs to stress evidence and proof”, David states:
I can’t help but feel a little ill for young people expecting to find “evidence and proof” of a proposition such as “the Bible doesn’t contain any mistakes.” I’m sure folks like Strobel, Geisler and McDowell make some good arguments in support of faith. However, the hyper-rationalist, “provide evidence and proof that the Bible doesn’t contain any mistakes” school of apologetics is not only wrong, it’s harmful.I couldn’t agree more. As an early teen I sat through a steady diet of Josh McDowell films that defended various Christian faith claims. The basic message seemed to be that anyone brighter than a toad would immediately put their faith in Christ if they were presented with the facts. Although my grasp of probability was relatively limited, I was troubled by McDowell’s “creative” use of statistics to demonstrate that Jesus was the Messiah. Although this dubious methodology did not lead to a rejection of the faith for me personally, it certainly led me to question some of the very conclusions McDowell was defending. I am concerned that there are others whose faith will not remain intact when they are exposed to this Evangelical proof-centric PR campaign. As David states, it can:
“ultimately undermine the faith of anyone who takes the time to seriously investigate many of the difficult issues involved in understanding various parts of the Bible”.Defending the Wrong Gospel
Dubious methods are not the only harmful aspect of Evangelical apologetics; sometimes the conclusions being promoted are also dangerous. J. P. Moreland, a prolific Evangelical writer, theologian and philosopher, was recently asked by Christianity Today to identify the top 5 books on Christian Apologetics. One of the five he chose was Icons of Evolution by Jonathan Wells which claims that:
“many of the most famous “Icons of Evolution” –including Darwin’s “Tree of Life,” finches from the Galapagos Islands, and embryos that look remarkably similar – are based on outdated research and sloppy logic”.The perplexing aspect of Moreland’s choice is that Well’s treatise is primarily (solely?) about scientific ideas, not Christian thought. Leaving aside the book’s central claims (see Icon of Obfuscation for a thorough critique) I cannot understand how Moreland justifies including it in the category of Christian Apologetics, let alone identifying it as a “Top 5 pick”? What in the world does a scientific theory have to do with the redeeming work of Christ through his incarnation, death, and resurrection? An attack on evolution or any other scientific theory (or for that matter a defense of evolution or any other scientific theory) may be an interesting scientific argument, it may even be a good argument, but if it doesn’t interact with Christian theology or faith, it can hardly be categorized as “Christian Apologetics”. (Disclaimer: I have not read the entire book, just snippets that are available online. I have read articles about the book - both pro & con - and have also perused the table of contents and index. If there is any interaction with Christian theology, it certainly seems well hidden. I would appreciate if someone can confirm whether or not Wells includes any discussion of Christianity).
Even if Wells had discussed Christian theology, I still believe it would be a serious mistake for Moreland to highlight it as a work of Christian apologetics. The implication is that the rejection of evolution is an important aspect of the gospel, and that the gospel stands or falls on the “truth” of evolution. Thus the gospel of Christ is shackled to a specific scientific theory (or more accurately, a rejection of a specific scientific theory). Maybe Moreland and other Christian anti-evolutionists should seriously consider whether Paul’s warning in Galations 1:6-9 is relevant to the message they are promoting.
Evangelical or Moonie Apologetics?
Given that Christianity Today bills itself as the “Magazine of Evangelical Conviction”, it is particularly galling that Wells book was tabbed as a “Top 5 pick” on Christian Apologetics. Wells is a member of the Unification Church led by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, and cannot be considered an orthodox Christian by any stretch of the imagination, let alone an Evangelical. He has published apologetics for Moon’s church and this particularly unorthodox view of the relationship between marriage and the Fall. Is this the type of representative that Evangelicals look to for a defense of their faith? What is next for inclusion in Evangelical Christian Apologetics? How about something written by Ron Hubbard and the Church of Scientology? Why not add some Rastafarian apologetics for balance?
Credible and Responsible Apologetics
For Evangelicals really interested in credible apologetics, I suspect that David’s suggestions at the end of his post are a much better place to start than the list provided by Moreland. It includes some fine books by Allister McGrath, one of the best Evangelical writers contributing to the Science / Faith dialogue. And Peter Enns' Inspiration and Incarnation, a personal favorite of mine, is an excellent example of how sound Evangelical scholarship should grapple with the biblical, scientific and historic evidence.
The conclusion of David’s post is also a fitting conclusion to mine.
Some evidential apologetic arguments can provide support for faith, and we are right to stress the general trustworthiness of the Gospels and the circumstantial evidence that support our proclamation that “Jesus is Risen.” But true knowledge, and true faith, do not come from forced external rationalizations. True knowledge and true faith come from relationship.
Well said. Thankfully a relationship with the Creator is not limited to those who wish to set limits on how the Creator creates.
Addendum: After I finished writing this post I noticed that David published a second post on apologetics called Postmodern Apologetics: a Person, not a Proposition. I highly recommend reading this as well.