I will be giving a presentation in a few weeks about the need for apologetics and have been revisiting some of my past research on the subject. As a way to organize my thoughts and bring out some matters that I’ve been sitting on for a long time, I thought I would venture a few posts on the topic.
Of course, when I title this entry ‘an apology for apologetics’ I don’t mean that I’m sorry about apologetics. 🙂 This is a defense of defending the Christian faith. This is different than defending the Christian faith. Unfortunately, there are some who do not believe there is any place for defending the faith. I consider that a grave error.
I think part of the problem is that what is considered ‘apologetics’ is construed very narrowly for many people–too narrowly. Even for those involved in Christian apologetics, people like myself, it is possible to approach it in a way that doesn’t give weight to the large number of ways the faith can be defended.
Great Christian apologists such as C.S. Lewis have described ‘apologetics’ as ‘pre-evangelism.’ This is true in many cases, although I tailor my own apologetics approach towards trying to bring the conversation around to the resurrection of Jesus if at all possible, and that, of course, brings one very close to actually evangelizing if one is not too careful. Still, the basic idea is sound: helping to cultivate optimal conditions in a person’s heart, soul, and mind, so that if and when they hear the Gospel preached, they will be more receptive to giving it a fair hearing.
That is not an innovative idea. But it assumes that the person we are talking about is someone who is ‘unsaved.’ Yet, how often do we reflect on the fact that we desire ‘optimal conditions’ even within the ‘saved’ person’s heart, soul and mind? Nay, even our own? This is an extension of ‘apologetics’ that is not usually kept in mind, but still certainly applies.
How important is this?
Well, in case anyone hasn’t noticed, there is a rapid increase in the percentage of people in America that are categorized as ‘religious nones.’ These are people who indicate to pollsters that they do not identify with any religion. Many of these still say they are ‘spiritual’ but the larger, growing, proportion, are atheists and secular humanists.
But here is the kicker:
A large percentage of those who declare themselves as ‘religious nones’ were actually raised in the Christian faith!
As the Pew Research Center puts it:
Perhaps the most striking trend in American religion in recent years has been the growing percentage of adults who do not identify with a religious group. And the vast majority of these religious “nones” (78%) say they were raised as a member of a particular religion before shedding their religious identity in adulthood.
Let’s say that again: “…the vast majority of these religious “nones” (78%) say they were raised as a member of a particular religion“.
We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.
The question needs to be asked: what is it about the transmission of the faith over the last century that has resulted in a stunning, mass ‘anti-revival’ of Christians (in particular, young Christians) abandoning their faith?
I submit that part of the reason is that very little attention was paid towards ‘cultivating optimal conditions.’ Or, to be perfectly frank and brutally honest: other forces were intentionally cultivating conditions that were hostile to the receptiveness and retention of the Christian faith, and far too few within the Christian Church in America noticed or bothered to do anything about it. And what people tried to do about it had very little to do with the real problem.
Part of that problem was very simple: young people were under the impression that Christianity was just a religion like any other, and by ‘religion’ they meant ‘subjective and completely personal value system, that is completely arbitrary, with no correlation to reality, and as such, no reason to regard any religion as superior to another.
How did they get that idea?
To defend the faith is not only to provide facts, evidences, and reasons for the truthfulness of Christianity. Forget the content of apologetics for a moment, and recognize that the mere activity of defending the faith presumes that what is being discussed either does, or does not, comport with the world as it really is.
With so many people becoming ‘religious nones’ who were formerly Christians, its clear that we’re not talking anymore about something that is merely ‘pre-evangelism.’ It’s not even a matter of conflating apologetics with evangelism or preaching the Gospel. We’re talking about equipping the people who are still Christians with what they need to keep them in the fold.
In other words, reach out to atheists before they become atheists. You know, while they’re still in the Church. Common sense, really.
But if we’re talking about how to keep people ‘in the fold’ we need to expand what we think constitutes ‘defending the faith’ or ‘cultivating optimal conditions’ and so on, because we know that there is really a lot more to ‘retention’ than even these things. I would submit that ‘apologetics,’ broadly defined and understood, potentially encompasses all of these factors. But then, if we expand it that far, we come to realize there may in fact already be a word to describe what I’m talking about:
In Part 2, I’ll talk about more of the factors fueling what I termed the ‘anti-revival.’
I am available to present on these topics at length. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.