Why Apologetics?

I’ve always wrestled with Christian apologetics. I’m not a fan of the term itself. It’s too easily misunderstood, the most common misconception that apologetics is about saying sorry we’re Christians. But I’m also not a fan of overly rationalized versions of apologetics that try too hard to fit Christians belief into categories of knowledge that are absent in the Bible (e.g. scientific explanation of Genesis 1-11). I’m also wary of a tendency in apologetics to shout. And by shout I mean to respond to criticism of Christianity by simply asserting Christian beliefs more strongly, even angrily. Furthermore, I don’t like the trend of overstating just how bad “they” (i.e. non-Christians) are as a basis for defending the faith. To me, this starting point seems more about bolstering our self-esteem, resulting in unhelpful “us-them” categories that discourage any sort of meaningful dialogue before it even begins. As a result of these hesitations, my caricature (I’ll admit it is one) is that apologetics is a discipline for arrogant, judgemental rationalists who are more concerned with being right than loving others.

I’m glad my caricature is wrong. Thanks Alister McGrath!

Alister McGrath is a bright man. A former atheist himself - one heavily influenced by C.S. Lewis’ journey and understanding of faith - McGrath could easily succeed in the type of apologetics I describe above (maybe not the angry part - I don’t know him personally). McGrath has quite capably interacted and challenged New Atheism. It’s safe to say McGrath is a proven and successful Christian apologist.

But it’s not McGrath’s credentials that make his approach to apologetics so appealing - it’s his overall approach. In his recent book, Mere Apologetics: How to Help Seekers & Skeptics Find Faith, McGrath presents an approach to apologetics that gives me hope. While offering a solid overview and introduction to the discipline itself, McGrath presents a way of apologetics that is relevant for our time. He addresses shifts in culture - the current state of modern and postmodern ways of thinking that so heavily influence Christianity. In such a time, McGrath’s apologetics is all about pointing out “the reasonableness of the Christian faith” in whatever context people find themselves in. As such, apologetics is about addressing the whole package of Christianity, not just the intellect - “For Christians, faith is not merely cognitive (‘I believe this is true’), but also relational and existential (‘I trust this person’). It is not just believing that God exists, but discovering that this God is wise, loving, and good—and choosing to commit ourselves to this God as a result.” In this manner, apologetics serves evangelism, portraying the credibility of the good news (i.e. gospel) we share with others.

It is from this framework that McGrath makes apologetics very accessible and appealing. His manner of presentation is humble, yet assertive. He is open about the challenges Christianity presents for people and invites dialogue not argument. The book is easy to read without lacking depth. There are many practical examples and discussion/stories for how apologetics relates to everyday life. And for those so inclined, the resource list at the end of each chapter helpfully points the reader to places to dig deeper.

Overall, I’d recommend Mere Apologetics to anyone interested in apologetics but wondering where to start. Or if you’re like me, Mere Apologetics can hopefully restore your view of apologetics, inspiring your own understanding of the reasonableness of the Christian faith in all times and places.

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group"


Anonymous said...

Thanks David

Can you expand on how he helps you deal with our post-modern (post enlightenment) culture?

Looks like a good book to add to my "Wish list"

Blessings Larry

David Warkentin said...

Hi Larry,

Sorry for the delayed response - holidays!

The benefit for addressing a postmodern culture was recognizing that presenting the "reasonableness of Christianity" (McGrath's definition of apologetics) is far more than explaining the logical truths of the faith. Everything Christians do contribute to apologetics. This connects with folks who don't start with truth claims in assessing Christianity's validity.

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