It is all the rage for the young. Apologetics teachers are the Christian “rock stars” for this generation. Oh, sure, there are singers and groups that get bigger followings. And there’s a bunch of mega-church leaders who draw magnificent crowds. But those groups and gatherings last only the life of the leadership, at best. It’s the teachers, not the entertainers who live on through their students.
Apologetics is a rich area of study. It’s filled with history, philosophy, and current events. There’s something about it that hearkens to the prophecy teachers of the 60s — it’s “new” and exciting. It stimulates the mind with fresh thoughts and a renewed understanding of God’s plans.
But if all this is true then why aren’t churches doing more of it?
We can, rightly, assign some of that blame to the limited education perspective of many revivalist type churches. I’ve been there. The concentration is so much on the gospel and the presumed imminent return of Christ that the work of building up the believers for the fullness of the work of ministry gets set aside.
But might there be a problem with apologetics itself? Could the very idea be too daunting a task for the church to take on?
I think so. Look at what apologetics often entails: A rich study of history, a detailed examination of cult teachings, and thorough knowledge of philosophy to the extent that the average person can’t handle it. It seems, and it is to me right to some degree, that apologetics has this tendency to create an intellectual elite.
The church already has a problem with an elite class. And I’m not talking about pop idols or mega-pastors. Even the average pastor is, frequently, treated as the man with the answers. He’s the one we all call on because he’s the one that God has called to do ministry. This elitist view of the pastor’s position is one of the problems we face. It keeps him from dispersing ministry responsibilities as much as they need to be dispersed. And while it’s more of a problem in the very small fellowship a condition like it certainly exists in larger fellowships. It’s hard to teach around the problem when teaching is a minimalist venture.
Many apologetics teachers are engaging in ministry in local churches and their goal is to build up the local church. But it’s tough to do when you can’t get in the door (for the aforementioned reasons). They can bring information on dealing with cults and other issues to the local church.
But it seems that their goals don’t fit with the work of many churches. The work of a pastor often has this theme of consistency. Pastors have goals that they want to accomplish — a common group dynamic. They also have a sense of where their people are at and know, as best they can, the real needs in their respective places of service. Sometimes things just don’t connect. Perhaps apologists might do well to develop a long-term relationship with a pastor before inserting him/herself. (Some, I know, do. But the percentage of those who do, of that I am unaware.)
Perhaps the content of apologetics might be a problem? Maybe. In a fellowship of, say 500, there might be 3 or 4 philosophers who understand what the classic apologist is up to. There could be a number of teachers who would grasp the impact of historical analysis. A few scientists who would be refreshed to hear a comparative analysis of Darwinism, neo-Darwinism, and the third wave. Perhaps much of apologetics is so narrow in its focus but the teachers think that everyone should hear it that the rest of the people are taken aback.
Another problem might be that apologetics is often divorced from theology. Want an example? Checkout “Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview” by Craig and Moreland. While the work has its place and will prove useful to many in the future one cannot read it without noting that lack of theological content. And I don’t mean just Bible quotations. The structures of systematic theology with its language often say the same thing, but using different terms,
The big question is about knowing God, both about Him and personally. One writer worked to tackle this. In “Theology’s Epistemological Dilemma: How Karl Barth and Alvin Plantinga Provide a Unified Response,” Kevin Diller works at, at least, some conceptual unification between theology and philosophy.
There is a structural sense where philosophy and theology are quite similar. But they often differ significantly in content. Theology proper begins with God; classic apologetics (the use of philosophy) attempts to show that God is necessary and more than likely exists. Neither Genesis 1:1 nor Hebrews 11:6 make any other argument, nor is there another in the Bible or any properly-constructed theology. But classic apologetics is inductive in its approach which leads to a likely conclusion. An inductive argument always has an inductive conclusion (what is likely or apparently necessary) rather than a deductive conclusion (what must be).
These things are quite different. And for the people in the pew who are more concerned with theology than philosophy this can drive them away. Perhaps if apologists were better at theology they might build better church relationships.