Are Apologetics Making A Comeback?

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

In a Christianity Today article entitled “A New Day for Apologetics,”  reporter Troy Anderson writes that “people young and old are flocking to hear-and be changed by-winsome arguments for the Christian faith.” 

The author quotes apologist Lee Strobel as saying, “It wasn’t too many years ago that scholars were writing off apologetics because we live in a postmodern world where young people are not supposed to be interested in things like the historical Jesus…The biggest shock is that among people who communicated to me that they had found faith in Christ through apologetics, the single biggest group was 16-to-24-year-olds.” 

According to Strobel, more people than ever are attending apologetics seminars and getting degrees in philosophy in an effort to combat the militant atheism that has surfaced in college classrooms, TV documentaries, and best-selling books. 

The article reports that “Strobel is convinced apologetics helps bring people to God.” 

Okay, I have to admit I had a slightly negative response to the article. Having grown up in the conservative evangelical subculture during the 80s and 90s, when the Apostle Paul’s instruction to “always be ready with an answer” became the rallying cry of Christians around the country, I got bombarded with apologetics. I read every Josh McDowell book on the shelf, attended apologetics seminars like Summit, memorized nearly every argument in support of Christianity, went to a Christian college…and STILL had a major faith crisis during my young adulthood. 

What I found was that always being ready with an answer didn’t always work. I knew the “Christian response” to the Problem of Evil like the back of my hand, but it somehow didn’t make as much sense in India, where I struggled to understand why so many children had been orphaned by AIDS. I knew how to prove that Jesus rose from the dead, but I couldn’t convince my non-Christian coworkers that Jesus was alive and well in the Church today, when so many of them had been mistreated by believers. I knew how to win an argument with a universalist, but couldn’t quiet my own nagging questions about the eternal destiny of the un-evangelized. I’d built my faith on answers, so when I started asking questions, my faith began to crumble. 

I grew up believing that the best way to win people to Christ was to win an argument. But my experience since graduating from college has been that most people (including myself) seem most drawn to Christianity when they are touched by people who are simply living like Christ. 

This is one of the things I like about the Emerging Church and folks like Shane Claiborne. I like that they emphasize caring for the poor and sick over sitting in conferences and arguing over theology. I like that they talk about understanding and respecting people of other faiths and backgrounds rather than shooting them down. I like that they don’t talk about “the culture war” or “the battle for truth,” but about peace and kindness. I like that they don’t always have to be right. 

Perhaps the two camps will provide a nice balance for one another? 

Now, I’m not saying that there is no room for apologetics at all. Certainly we must be prepared to address the scientific, historical, and philosophical objections to Christianity that often prove to be stumbling blocks on the journey to faith. Books ought to be written on and seminars ought to be presented.  But if  apologetics are indeed making a comeback, I just hope we can avoid the kind of militant rationalism that characterized the apologetics movement of the 80s and 90s. 

I hope we will keep in mind that God’s existence cannot be empirically proven and that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” I hope we will remember that, more often that not, what keeps a person from embracing the gospel is not that he hasn’t seen enough evidence to support the existence of God in science or in logic, but that he hasn’t seen enough evidence to support the existence of God among the people who claim to be following Him. I hope we remember that a faith that leaves no room for questions is not really faith at all. I hope we will balance our words of truth with acts of mercy and goodness. 

Paul wrote that we should “always be ready to give an answer for the hope that is within [us].” I don’t think he meant that we should always be ready to win an argument. I think he meant that we ought to live lives that are so outrageously hope-filled, so counter-intuitive and self-sacrificing that people will ask us who we on earth we are following. 

What do you think? Do you think apologetics are making a comeback? Do you agree with Strobel that “apologetics bring people to God”?

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