What really is the value of Christian apologetics?
Content of all kinds swirl around the internet and one category has been grouped under Christian apologetics. Apologetics has been around pre-internet and perhaps for many centuries. I was posed this question recently to which I decided to respond:
Q: So do you think there is value in Christian apologetics?
@djchuang’s answer: Yes, I think there is value to Christian apologetics. I don’t think of it having value in the traditional sense of how that term is used; let me briefly describe what I can within the limited time and space I have here.
Christian apologists often refer to 1 Peter 3:15 as the key Bible verse for developing apologetics. That verse says: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
Much effort has been made in publishing books and running conferences to circulate Christian apologetic resources. The impetus for creating all of these resources comes from an emphasis on the phrase, “always be prepread to give an answer to everyone.”
However, that’s only half of the sentence. I think the other half is just as important, and perhaps even more important in a pluralistic multi-faith world.
The more important part is: “to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” What are people asking of those who profess to be Christians? Are they asking for hope or something else?
More often than not, I have found, that people are asking Christians to be less hypocritical and less judgmental. Apologetics, when used as a defense to “prove” the rightness of one’s faith, is not helpful for this. And, for those who profess to be Christians that are hypocritical and judgmental, they’re probably not aware of how they are coming across in their zeal to be “faithful.” (Research has shown that unaware people are unaware about their own unawareness.)
Who does apologetics have value for?
I think Christian apologetics has more value for Christians, especially for those who are younger in their faith to gain more cognitive knowledge about their faith. Christians are the ones who are buying apologetics resources and funding to support apologetics ministries. This goes to show that the benefits of apologetics are more for Christians and not for non-Christians.
How non-Christians become Christian?
In my limited experience, I’ve found that a majority of people choose their faith, Christian or otherwise, based on some kind of a personal experience, usually through a relationship. Stories of non-Christian people becoming Christian, typically refer to that person experiencing kindness and love from Christians. I rarely hear of apologetics being the major factor for non-Christians becoming Christians.
Christian apologetics in a multi-faith world
Here’s my take on what kind of apologetics will work better in today’s context—whether it’s called pluralistic and multi-faith, secular humanistic, postmodern, or whatever.
People everywhere of all faiths (or non-faiths, theists, agnostics, atheists) share in the human condition. Knowledge about life and faith is commonly available to all. And yet, different individuals arrive at different conclusions about their spirituality.
For example, 2 children can grow up in the exact same family of origin, in a Christian home. One child grows up to remain a Christian, actively involved in their faith community called church. The other child grows up and rejects Christianity for their own reasons. Same content, different results. What’s going on there?
There are these 5 very hard questions about the human condition: suffering, hypocrisy, inconsistencies, religions, and relevance. People are meaning-finding creatures; people are neurologically compelled to make meaning and to make sense of the world.
Suffering is very often inexplicable, whether it is catastrophic natural disasters, violence, disease, or the inevitability of death.
Hypocrisy exists among those who say they believe something but (some of) their behavior goes against the ethics and morals of the faith they profess to believe. There are both good and bad Christians; there are good and bad Muslims; there are good and bad people that profess faith or non-faith.
Inconsistencies exist in how the various world religions were formed. For those who believe, they have a category of mystery to accommodate that. For those who don’t believe, well, the reality of the human condition, is, that people are inconsistent.
Religions have come and gone throughout human history. Atheism or agnosticism are usually a minority voice. And, there are people who get stuck with so many religious options, they choose to disengage from faith. I’m of the opinion that life would be more meaningful with a commitment of faith than without. (This presupposes that there is a supernatural and immaterial part of life, which most people believe, and there are people who believe that the supernatural doesn’t exist at all.)
Death is the finality of every single person’s life. Some cultures avoid talking about it or dealing with it. But it is unavoidable. With death being certain, it’s a fair question to ask what happens after death. And whatever it is that one believes about that, is the final answer of what one is truly believing by faith.
How you live matters more than what you can explain.
Now that I’ve taken some time to think out loud about what I think about Christian apologetics, I will say this. Christian apologetics for today’s world has to be more than cognitive content about metaphysics and religions.
Could it be possible to recalibrate the scope of apologetics to be more? The other parts that need more emphasis and consideration are: relationally and behaviorally. What matters more is the quality of personal relationships with people of all faiths, demonstrating gentleness and respect with people of all faiths. Actions do speak louder than words.