Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Apologetics: Dead Yet?

With the rising of the emergent church movement and talk of living in a postmodern world, the subject of apologetics has been all the rage in some circles. Some are happy to declare traditional apologetics irrelevant in our new world where the best thing a Christian can do is invite another to share in their story. On the other end of the spectrum is the belief that the rational defense of the faith not only serves the purpose of discipleship, but even evangelism. In his recent article in CT, God is Not Dead Yet, William Lane Craig argues that apologetics are not only not irrelevant, but as useful now as they have ever been.

After Craig assesses the bulk of the traditional arguments for the existence of God, he asks, “Why Bother?” Craig makes the bold and provocative assertion that we do not live in a postmodern world, despite all the declarations to the contrary. In fact, he argues, to bend the subject of Christian apologetics to postmodernism would be catastrophic as it would reduce the truth of Christ to just another voice among a cacophony of views. He notes:

This sort of thinking is guilty of a disastrous misdiagnosis of contemporary culture. The idea that we live in a postmodern culture is a myth. In fact, a postmodern culture is an impossibility; it would be utterly unlivable. People are not relativistic when it comes to matters of science, engineering, and technology; rather, they are relativistic and pluralistic in matters of religion and ethics. But, of course, that's not postmodernism; that's modernism! That's just old-line verificationism, which held that anything you can't prove with your five senses is a matter of personal taste. We live in a culture that remains deeply modernist.

As a matter of practical fact, I think Craig is right. I have students who are knee-jerk relativists until they come face to face with reality themselves—they learn they can’t really live out the relativism they have been muttering about religion and ethics most of their lives. But, on the level of belief, I may not be inclined to agree with Craig wholeheartedly. I think the relativism in our culture has lead to an unusual condition where most people (especially most younger people) are content to live with the deep cognitive dissonance Craig cuts through with his evaluation. In other words, more and more people are content to live as if the world is not relative (morally or religiously) while believing (on at least some significant level) that it is.

Nonetheless, Craig is right to remind us of the social, evangelistic, and even discipling benefits of the apologetic tasks. I think if we dismiss it as no longer relevant, we do ourselves more harm than good.


Rusty said...

I listened to a lecture by the late Ron Nash, who predicted that within the next 10 to 20 years, academia would dump the deconstructionist aspect of post-modernism (a la Derrida). My wife's cousin, who recently did post-graduate studies in English, confirms this is happening. At work, recently, I had a discussion with a relatively young employee (~ 27) in which I presented the notion that there are concrete truths and definitions - that not everything is subject to the whims of the individual. He wholeheartedly agreed and mentioned that many of his fellow students would get irritated at professors who preached the mantra of subjectivity (in objective issues).

Bottom-line: relativism only "works" on paper; real life eventually convinces people of that, and objective reasons end up mattering a lot.

David Strunk said...

I just finished reading "The God who is There" by Francis Schaeffer for a second time. Your post reminded me of two things in the book:

He calls the upper (non-rational)/lower story (rational)split quintessentially modern. And while the book was originally written in the 60's, it was/is a potent reminder of the projection of modern epistemology. I agree with Craig, and postmodernism isn't really here, and the extent to which it is is only the result of the modernism split taken further to its unlivable conclusions.

Second, Schaeffer (I suppose it's in the second edition), writes about the need for apologetics in Appendix A. Christians must and do simply use apologetics. I think what many rebel against, as Schaeffer points out, is a strict one-size-fits all type of apologetics. A sort of tract apologetics, if you will. I think he's right. We should never give up the fight to discern other worldviews and our own more capably, and then apologetics and absolute truth could become a forum in a relational tango. Truth is just a part of the person who presents it, and its form changes based upon the type of conversation and the type of non-Christian involved.

Phil Steiger said...


Things like that are really good to hear, and I agree that deconstruction and relativism are eventually going to implode upon themselves as academic disciplines.

I wonder why, then, some of the most ardent defenders of these silly points of view are in the evangelical church?

Phil Steiger said...


I think you are right, and I think a testimony to the truth to Schaeffer's point of view over the typical relativism of the day is his endurance. Relativism will fail because it does fail. A serious pursuit of universal truth will endure because, well, because it is true to the way the world and humanity are created.