Formal introductions are made, the crowd applauds, and the Christian and non-Christian position themselves behind a lectern, notes in hand. It is a debate, a venue where two worldviews collide in an open forum.
Ever since the advent of the internet, there has been a veritable explosion of resources and recordings of such encounters. One need only check out the Veritas Forum, or Justin Brierley’s UK radio show Unbelievable, for two more recent examples. There are hundreds of debates just waiting to be heard out there. Thousands and thousands of recorded hours. Most are a mere click away.
Over the past decade, I’ve been afforded the luxury of having a job where I can listen to such exchanges. It’s been an absolute joy. But if I may be so bold, I’ve noticed a problematic tendency in the area of Christian apologetics, particularly as expressed in the domain of public discourse.
Now generalizing can be dangerous, no doubt. But at the same time, an accurate generalization can capture the essence of a real trend. That’s my aim here. I want to press my finger on one troublesome spot.
My concern and frustration can be summed up through a question. I want to ask the Christian apologist what they’re defending. What are they trying to get people to believe?
Christian apologists are quite good at embracing and utilizing the philosophical nomenclature of academia (which isn’t necessarily bad). They mine the halls of history for historical evidences. They craft careful arguments, speak persuasively, and often embody intellectual rigor. And yet for all of that, my fear is that they aren’t quite sure what they’re defending. Here I don’t mean to suggest that they aren’t consciously defending Christianity. They are. But what I mean is that they aren’t defending Christianity as a deeply biblical viewpoint.
Christianity is not merely theism after all. Or supernaturalism. Or Jesus teaching good morals. I’m talking about Christianity as a very specific and detailed body of truth- interconnected truth where each part is indispensible to the whole. Dare I say vigorously creedal?
I’ve noticed that there is often a disconnect between the answers provided by apologists and the Scriptures themselves, almost as if they don’t quite want to divulge certain details, really dig into the bits that seem hard to swallow or overly Christian in nature. So when the opponent across the stage presses them, the apologist often retreats from the Scriptures. After all, are we really going to delve deeper into theology when the fundamental presuppositions of the theological viewpoint is being challenged? To do so seems to beg the question. It appears absurd, even laughable.
For example, if someone is already questioning or expressing disapproval over the Bible’s view of sin, are we going to further illuminate the subject by talking about the kingdom of darkness or the intricacies of God’s Law? You can’t dig deeper into the thing being questioned, right?
But of course this is quite wrong. In fact, I would urge that we must dig deeper. Indeed, it is the most rationally defensible thing to do!
Consider this basic point: If we believe that God is Truth, and if we believe that this Truth directly correlates to reality, it would be pure folly to try to understand life apart from the meaning God has ordained. His Truth would be the only Truth. And if we believe that God communicates to us in His Word, that the proper lens for understanding reality is supplied via the Scriptures, we’re bound to take doctrine seriously. Along these lines, we know that such doctrines are intimately connected and comprise a coherent whole. The big questions are only going to make sense in light of the smaller strands of biblical data. As such, they’re indispensable weapons in the apologist’s arsenal. They can’t be ignored.
And yet they’re often not wielded with the conviction due them, or they’re relegated to the arena of “That’s too much to expect people to take seriously.”
In this respect, my concerns can be crystallized into three basic, even elementary points:
1) Truth and theology are intimately related (inseparable, actually). We cannot hope to make a good case for the veracity of Christianity apart from theology.
2) We cannot expect to be able to elucidate the truth without delving deeper into theology. Theology provides not only the substructure for Truth, but supplies crucial details that illuminate the Truth.
3) (1) and (2) are fundamental to Christianity. So if you don’t agree, or if you don’t defend Christianity with these points firmly in mind, what are you defending?
That is the question. What are we defending? If we’re defending Christianity, it needs to be distinctively Christian from top to bottom. It’s going to require an extremely detailed and nuanced view of Christianity, one that accords with the jots and tittles of Scriptures.
So my plea to Christian apologists, especially those with a philosophical bent, is to never shy away from this fact. Don’t be afraid to speak theologically. Embrace biblical categories. Oftentimes a crucial point is only going to be able to be defended by unpacking a doctrine. If your opponent considers this to be out of bounds, merely explain why it cannot be any other way. “For if Christianity is true,” you might say, “then the Truth would function this way. And if you won’t allow for this possibility, then you’ve excluded Christianity from the start. And besides, don’t you need to know what you’re really disagreeing with anyway?”
So again, my plea to Christian apologists is to consider afresh the relationship between systematics and apologetics, or good old fashioned biblical fidelity and faithful witnessing. Don’t fear unpacking the Scriptures. Fishermen didn’t, and they turned the Roman world on its head.