Do you get blank stares when you mention apologetics? Should we drop the term and find another, like case-maker? Having tried apologetics as well as other terms, I think the problem is deeper. What can we do, and what might we learn from others who share a similar identity problem? [Read more…]
Despite the fact of my not posting since the beginning of the month, I have not lost sight of the mission. Working with the people I work with, some of them being some of the most profane people that I have ever come across, I have not lost sight with how I am “wired” and the ministry mission. Even though where I am (on my job) during a good chunk of the week, I know the presence of the Lord and the conviction of His Holy Spirit, even while I “occupy Mordor” and pray for a change.
Thankfully I still do get to enjoy a day off during the week, and I am going to be protecting that day in the coming weeks for specific reasons, that I will not mention here. In spite of all the demands of my job, this week was a wonderful day off and allowed me to speak to a repair man for one of our appliances, and a handful of students at the Germanna campus.
What was the nature of these conversations? They were spiritual in nature, and I would like to share here some thoughts on what I learned about these conversations.
The Need for Articulating the Christian Faith
One of our appliances stopped working and we needed some outside assistance. Even though I was able to unstop a bathroom sink and our bathtub drain (thank you YouTube), I was not able to work this task.
The appliance repair company “rep” that came and assisted us is a Christian and attends a large local Baptist church regularly and adult Bible fellowship on a regular basis. How did I know he was Christian?
Thankfully he shared that with my wife and me, by sharing the message on the back of his business card. When I asked him his understanding of his message, he started sharing with me a basic message of salvation and how Jesus died for our sins on the cross. Of course I was happy to see him start there. However when I continued with him on his understanding at a deeper level, he started struggling. Why was there a struggle?
Allow me to share my concerns, as they are very similar ones that I am hearing in other conversations. [Read more…]
Apologetics is a branch of Christian theology that helps give reasons for the truthfulness of the Christian faith/worldview. The word “Apologia” means “to give reasons, make a legal defense” (Acts 26:2; 2 Tim. 4:16; 1 Pet 3:15). The apostles approach to spreading the message of the Gospel is characterized by such terms as “apologeomai/apologia” which means “to give reasons, make a legal defense” (Acts 26:2; 2 Tim. 4:16; 1 Pet 3:15); “dialegomai” which means “to reason, speak boldly” (Acts 17:2; 17; 18:4; 19:8), “peíthō” which means to persuade, argue persuasively” (Acts 18:4; 19:8), and “bebaioō ” which means “to confirm, establish,” (Phil 1:7; Heb. 2:3). 
Over the years, I have the privilege to collaborate with many others who are involved in the apologetic endeavor. One thing is for sure: Most of the opposition to apologetics comes from within the Church itself. But why is this? After all, though Jesus didn’t run around calling Himself an apologist, he did offer reasons and evidence for His Messiahship. As I just said, Paul and the apostles did apologetics on several occasions. I have written about more about here. Recently, I sent an email out to several ministry leaders about the need for apologetics in the local congregation. Keep in mind, the list had about 100 people on it. I did get one response which led to a radio interview. Robin Schumacher discusses a story about his friend who sent a similar letter to ministry leaders. [Read more…]
I feel honored to be a very small part of the faculty at Biola University (where I serve as an Adjunct Professor in the Master’s Degree program in Christian Apologetics). Two weeks ago I taught a class covering the material in Cold-Case Christianity and began by asking the seventy-four students in my class why they wanted an advance degree in apologetics. Thirty of these students said they were taking the class to grow in their faith. The remaining forty-four said they were either teaching apologetics locally or planned on teaching apologetics in the future. This latter group saw the Biola graduate degree as an important step of preparation. Not everyone agrees.
In fact, some people in the Christian community think an advanced degree in apologetics is largely a waste of time. Two people I deeply admire have come out publicly with this assertion: Max Andrews (of the Sententias Blog) and Glenn Peoples (of the Right Reason Blog) both wrote blog posts this year entitled, “Don’t Get a Degree in Apologetics”. Andrews and Peoples believe an academic degree in an advanced, specific discipline (i.e. biblical studies, history, historiography, theology, philosophy, physics, chemistry, etc.) is a far better choice than a broad degree in apologetics. Andrews writes:
“My advice is to pick a discipline and excel in that discipline. All the greatest apologists have a discipline: Gary Habermas, Mike Licona, William Lane Craig, NT Wright. etc. Don’t be a jack of all trades. Be a master of one and be skilled in many.”
Think about those who have reputations as being the best apologists out there (whether they use the word “apologetics” or not). Everyone’s list will be slightly different, but the list will probably include names like C. S. Lewis, Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, Ravi Zacharias, William Lane Craig, John Lennox, Peter Kreeft, Richard Bauckham and others. Do you want to be a great apologist? Great. Do you think these people are / were great apologists? I agree. OK, now ask yourself what all of these people – along with probably every other person you might add to this list – lack. They probably lack a whole lot of things, but one of the things they lack is a degree in apologetics.
Let me take a minute to respond to these statements and make an important distinction between expert witnesses and case makers. Both have been incredibly important in every criminal case I’ve ever seen presented in front of a jury. Expert witnesses are critical and foundational to jurors. Without these men and women, the evidential foundation for each case would be insufficient. I rely on expert witnesses to testify about DNA, fingerprint, behavioral and other forensic issues; these folks are often the centerpiece of my case. But there is another critical participant in every jury trial. I’ve seen great evidential cases ruined by poor case makers. A young, inexperienced (or simply ungifted) prosecutor can make a mess of a case in front of a jury. Case makers are the directors, authors, orchestrators and presenters for every case argued to a jury. They seam together the divergent testimonies and translate the experts so jurors understand their importance (and their role within the larger case).
Expert witnesses are narrowly focused and typically have difficulty relating to the lay-people who make up the jury; the attorneys stand in the gap, weaving the expert testimony into the overarching case and “throwing the ball” so jurors can “catch it”. You can have great expert witnesses and still lose at trial. In fact, in every case I’ve worked, the defense has also called equally qualified, educated and accomplished expert witnesses who have testified in opposition to the experts called by the prosecution. The case makers (the attorneys) were responsible for arguing why their experts were more relevant than those from the other side. In criminal trials, case makers are just as important as expert witnesses, and this is also true in the Christian community. Without a good case maker, expert testimony can sound a lot like, “blah, blah, blah”.
There are very few (and I mean very few) expert witnesses in the Christian community who are also popularly accessible case makers. Let’s be honest about that. Some of these great thinkers are friends of mine, and I think they would acknowledge their role quite happily. Richard Bauckham’s incredibly important work, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, has not been nearly as successful as Lee Strobel’sCase for Christ. In fact, many of these amazing expert witnesses would still be largely unread (and unknown) if they hadn’t appeared in Lee’s work. Case makers make expert testimony accessible and show how the limited evidence offered by these experts fits into the larger case. That’s what Lee has done so brilliantly over the years. It’s no coincidence we’re experiencing a renaissance in apologetics simultaneous with the success of Lee’s books. Great case makers amplify the work of great expert witnesses. In fact, you could take the book sales of everyone mentioned by Andrews and Peoples combined (with the obvious exception of C. S. Lewis and Ravi Zacharias) and they wouldn’t come close to the book sales of Lee Strobel or Josh McDowell alone. Lee and Josh are great case makers (neither has an advanced degree in a specialty area by the way); both are relying on the testimony of great expert witnesses.
Let me make one final observation. Courtroom dramas are incredibly popular in our culture. Think about your favorite book, television show or movie in this genre. Now let me ask you a question: Which characters are highlighted most in these dramas? Who are the protagonists or antagonists featured in each story? In most courtroom dramas, the primary characters are the attorneys and detectives: the case makers. Think about it. Whenever an investigative drama features an expert witness as the primary character (in shows like CSI or Quincy) the experts are actually mischaracterized and given investigative or case making roles they don’t actually possess in real life. The culture is far more interested in case makers and investigators than it is in expert witnesses. People are more interested in the total picture than the minutia; they want to hear the case in their own language, and they are far more likely to embrace people with whom they can relate. Case makers are just as important as expert witnesses (and perhaps more important when it comes to influencing a culture).
So take a hard look at your gifting and your interests. If you’re better suited as an expert witness, interested in specific fields of study and focused academically, get the degree in biblical studies, history, historiography, theology, philosophy, physics, or chemistry as Andrews and Peoples would suggest. God will use you powerfully to establish the foundation from which a case can be made. But if you’re more interested (and gifted) in communicating the overarching, cumulative case for Christianity (constructed from the testimony of many experts), feel free to pursue a degree in case making (apologetics). The church needs expert witnesses and case makers and these are usually two different sets of people. Great expert witnesses aren’t always great apologists, and great apologists (like Lee Strobel, Josh and Sean McDowell, Frank Turek, Greg Koukl and many others you know by name) don’t have to be expert witnesses.
I was very excited about a year ago to discover that there is such a thing as analytic theology. I studied math and physics before becoming a theology student. In fact, one of the main reasons I chose to study mathematics was to train myself to think carefully. Whether or not I succeeded in that respect, I did learn to think more analytically. Naturally, when I began to study theology I wanted to bring my (fledgling) analytic capacities to bear on theological problems.
Taking this approach was a bit lonely at first since people in my circles seemed to take a more non-analytic approach to theological questions: resorting to mystery, remaining content with tension, and generally taking a more literary approach (not that there’s anything wrong with that). As a result, I was very excited and encouraged last year to discover the new (open-access) online Journal of Analytic Theology. Check it out, be challenged, and be blessed.
But isn’t analytic theology “too abstract and spiritually sterile to count as genuine theology”? Not necessarily. I recently read an article in the journal by William Wood in which he said several things that resonate with my love for the analytic approach to theological problems. I’d like to briefly share some of those insights in the remainder of this post. These insights are relevant to doing apologetics since a great deal of apologetic material owes its creation to the analytic philosophical tradition upon which analytic theology rests. Apologists would do well to take these lessons to heart. [Read more…]