Every Thought Captive and RazorsKiss.net are sponsoring a Christian blog symposium called Vox Apologia 1. The topic is “What does apologetics mean to today’s Christian church?” I can’t resist this one.
First, a definition. In rough terms I’d define “apologetics” as “defending the faith”, although others give fuller definitions based on the Greek root word apologia, which means “a verbal defense, a speech in defense.”1 Christian apologetics is a branch of Christian theology seeking to provide a rational defense of the truth of the Christian faith. When you engage in apologetics, you give an answer to tough questions about subjects like the existence of God, the Bible’s reliability as a historical document, Jesus’ resurrection, the simultaneous existence of evil and a good all-powerful God, and the like. That covers the definition well enough for our purposes here.
Since I don’t hop from church to church, I can only speak for my impression of my congregation, which is part of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. Here’s what I fear “apologetics” means to my congregation:
That sounds a bit harsh, so let me dial it back a little. If I conducted a survey of my congregation and got replies from a signifant chunk of the ~2,000 official members, I’m confident that over 90% would not know what the term “apologetics” means, nor would they know much about the subject.
It’s not that way because they wouldn’t be interested if they were given an opportunity to learn. Any blame lies with the 10% of us (myself included) who do know something about apologetics … and I also blame the inherent handicap we face in a society that tends not to read books, pay attention to anything but a TV screen, and have any spare time to speak of.
Odds are, your church’s library has several books by apologists like C.S. Lewis, R.C. Sproul, G.K. Chesterton, Saint Augustine, Norman Geisler, William Lane Craig, Francis Beckwith, or Ravi Zacharias … or at least “pop apologetics” books by Lee Strobel, Paul E. Little, Josh McDowell, Hank Hanegraaf, or Phillip E. Johnson.
But if your church is like mine, those books probably have a good coating of dust on them. The most popular books are most likely the ones with the least theological meat in ’em, from authors like Tim Lahaye, Rick Warren, and Max Lucado. Don’t get me wrong; these authors are fine Christian men who write well, and their books inspire many people to live better Christian lives.
What their books don’t do is teach you to know what you believe, why you believe it, how it differs from what cults and other religions believe, and how the Christian faith makes more sense than any competing worldview out there. That is apologetics. And it’s a field that absentminded amateur apologists like me need to get workin’ on, so we can educate our fellow believers and offer the world better reasons to become a Christian than “it feels good and helps me cope.”
So right now, I think the church has barely a clue about apologetics. I’m hopeful that some years down the road, it’ll mean a lot more to the average believer … who will be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks them to give the reason for their hope, with gentleness and respect.
1) The word “apologia” occurs in the original Greek New Testament in the following passages: Acts 22:1 & 25:16; 1 Corinthians 9:3; 2 Corinthians 7:11; Philippians 1:7, 16; 2 Timothy 4:16; and 1 Peter 3:15.