With the help of a few popular Christian apologists and philosophers, such as William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga, the rational defense of Christianity has enjoyed an explosive surge in recent years. The increasing enrollment of Christian philosophy students, the widely publicized debates with popular atheists (with no little help from YouTube), and the growing collection of mainstream philosophy books show just how dominant a role Christian apologetics plays in Christianity’s interaction with our culture today.
All these considerations call for an introspective checkup. Now is a good time to ask, as Soren Kierkegaard did, whether Christian apologetics has evolved into nothing more than a cultural activity where one “gets busy at once to deal with every accusation, every falsification, every unfair statement, and in this way is occupied early and late in counterattacking the attack.”
“This,” said Kierkegaard, “I have no intention of doing.” But this, I believe, is precisely what many Christian apologists seem bent on doing today in the public square.
It really is no big secret that the way mainstream apologists today answer every “prate and twaddle” that comes their way—line for line—is proving to be ineffective and brings some very negative consequences. Here we see the flip side of the popularity of Christian apologetics is the Church’s constant surrender to the culture’s definition of “rational,” “reasonable” and “justified.”
We really can’t overlook the subtle irony behind this. By supposedly presenting a “rational” defense for the Christian faith, Christian apologists have often injected Western thought and secular methods into the Church, replacing faithful teaching of Scripture with “reasonable” analysis of the Bible as a historical text.
Scripture is clear: The righteous live by faith—that is, whether we eat or drink or reason, we do all by faith for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
But “faith,” unfortunately, is becoming Christianity’s new F-word. More and more, apologists are succumbing to cultural norms. They trade “the mystery that has been hidden” (1 Corinthians 2:7) with “human traditions and the elemental spiritual forces of this world” (Colossians 2:8).
Yet if our apologetics is driven not by our love for God, in whom we place our faith, but by our fear of labels, then our apologetics is just idolatry, making our defense of Christianity an idol to man. We must replace this worship of man with a proper worship of Christ (remember, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”) Only then will we have the proper mindset to defend the faith for the glory of God, not man.
Paul preached first by faith in the power of the Gospel even as he reasoned “rigorously” with the Jews and the Greeks (Acts 18:28; 1 Corinthians 1:17.) We have to examine whether we have misplaced our boldness and confidence—is it in reason? ourselves? or Christ?—lest we place ourselves on the wrong path.
Our faith in Christ has to be greater than our faith in wisdom and reason, regardless of what label might be pinned on us.
During the past half-century or so, Christian apologetics has been graced with a special grain of salt. Great Christian thinkers like Cornelius Van Til, John Frame and Greg Bahnsen have stepped up to the task of restoring a proper view and love for our “conviction of things not seen” through something they’re calling “presuppositional apologetics.” One of the primary concerns of these apologists is to inject faith back in to the defense of the faith, just like Augustine, Anselm and Pascal did before them. Christian apologists, they believe, ought to embrace and boast in our faith—with or without the culture’s consent.
As Jesus said: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Matthew 5:11). Lies, slanders, prate and twaddle will always come against those who belong to the faith. But we have been exhorted to consider these persecutions as blessings instead of reasoning them away with how good we are in philosophy.
Like Kierkegaard, we should welcome these attacks, “partly because [we] learn from the New Testament that the occurrence of such things is a sign that one is on the right road.” If the letter “F” is our scarlet letter, then it’s the letter that gets us into the Kingdom of God.