Of course we want to do our apologetics well. Nobody *wants* to do it poorly. We do our best and we seek to serve the Lord and the gospel as best we can But still the question remains: What is good apologetics and what is bad apologetics?
What Bad Apologetics is Not
There are several different approaches to apologetics. And within the more academic discussions on the topic is a lot of intramural discussion as to the correctness of each approach.
The classical apologist emphasizes, among other things, the logical structure of Christianity over other religions. In this system the apologist tends to be a philosopher. It’s a difficult arena for the average believer as it requires a great deal of understanding in the philosophy and structure of Christianity as well as other systems of thought.
The evidential apologists says that there is overwhelming evidence for the truth of Christianity. This entails an understanding of history and sometimes a good working knowledge of Biblical languages in order to build a strong historical argument.
Then there is the cumulative case approach. This system is built around God (& Christianity) as the best explanation and solution for the world around it. It’s an inferential argument to the best conclusion. Christianity — a sound theology — is the only way to make sense of the world and account for sin, the human condition, and possible solutions to the human condition.
Another system is known as reformed epistemology. It says that, despite our fallen nature, there are certain properly basic beliefs and understandings about the world that ought be acknowledged. Alvin Plantinga uses this approach in his works. The approach is seen by many today as a qualifier rather than as a distinct approach.
The final approach is the presuppositional approach. It says that the coherence of Christianity is found in revelation rather than from reason. Our fallenness ahs left us with conflicting worldviews whose first principles are irreconcilable to the point that believers and unbelievers will spend a great deal of time talking past each other rather than addressing the issues.
These are all valuable.Though the proponents of each would say that the others are wrong there is never-the-less a camaraderie among them for the advancement of the gospel and God’s kingdom.
Then What is Bad Apologetics?
The first thing that I would class as bad apologetics is to go into battle proud and unprepared. Mea culpa. If we intend to engage a difficult subject then we need to be at least close to as knowledgeable on a topic as those we are engaging. My error in this we engaging some people on scientific theory after reading only a minuscule amount on the topic. It took only a few minutes and I was humiliated. That left a hole in the discussions that nobody else was there to fill.
This problem is curable. If you don’t know something then just admit it. None of us knows everything, nor can we. Take failure not as condemnation but as a challenge to improve and better yourself.
Then, if someone says “It sounds like you’ve not read all the relevant material,” it is likely, unless the person is a tenured professor, that they’ve not read what you’ve read, either. At this point you can might enjoy some more relaxed engagement. Find out what they’ve read so that you can read it. Let them know what you’ve read so that they might do the same. Not only can we not know everything but we also cannot read everything.
The second thing is to be careful how deeply we plant our flags. An example of this might be the big bang theory. We might argue for the existence of God from the universe having to require a beginning. But what if, and this is the case, that you are interacting with one of those scientists today who rejects the big bang in favor of some other theory? If you depend too much on a theory then you’re placed yourself in an untenable position. You’ve planted your flag on a hill that may one day disappear into the ocean. You will have spent your apologetic capital on a rejected theory.
We can reverse this argument in our favor. For instance, many evolutionists have planted their flag in any one (or more) of adaptation, random mutation, punctuated equilibrium, or the third wave’s information-based system. Each of these has its failings that make for some good conversation. While many are rejecting random mutation, and most all have rejected adaptationism, a goodly number cling firmly to them. They’ve planted their flags deeply into a system that doesn’t work. (Random mutation language has given way to the language of random restructuring, a logical precursor to the computeresque language of the third wave’s informational apporach.)
Let’s not forget the most serious problems that create bad apologetics: Pride and centering on knowledge ahead of the Lord. This is ministry work. And while not all conversations will present themselves as opportunities to advance the gospel directly they are all relationships that may be built upon.
In that light be careful of going into debate mode. When personal conversations devolve into debates then emotions fly. That’s not productive. Guard yourself.
Let’s Do Good Apologetics
Moses took forty years to prepare. Paul was in the wilderness for three years. Certainly we can afford to skip a little television to read a number of books and get our hearts in order. So in whatever way we interact with the world let’s do it as servants of the Lord, prepared to advance the gospel well.