I grew up in a time when evidentiary apologetics was big in youth groups. It was not uncommon to use Josh McDowell’s Evidence that Demands A Verdict as youth group curriculum. Then came Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christianity in the period of the mega church. Today it’s Tim Keller’s Reason for God that carries popularity. My question is to what extent do all these approaches to apologetics belie a Christendom posture that actually hurts Christian witness as opposed to helps it?
For instance, is it not disingenuous to come to a new cultural situation armed with an already prepared apologetic? We cannot know beforehand what issues, or with whom, we will be ‘arguing’ with. It therefore makes no sense to respond to ‘intellectual’ problems before listening and inhabiting a place for a good long while. It seems Christian apologetics trains us to think we have the answers before listening to the questions. For this reason, training in apologetics hurts witness. No?
It seems to me then that the continued popularity of evidentiary apologetics in some parts of evangelicalism reveals a Christendom mindset, a mindset that assumes we already know with whom we are arguing. But in the large expanse of American life, there are new and many cultures arising every ten years. We cannot and should not predict the questions? It seems to me traditional apologetics textbooks cannot help but be ten years behind the culture’s issues given the time it takes to formulate and publish them? By teaching these books therefore, we in essence preach to the choir, reinforce existing Christians with an already ensconced belief. But in so doing, we are also turning them into over defended Christians unable to listen and open up space for witness. We are in essence malforming Christians for witness in post Christendom places. What am I missing?
In Hauerwas’ latest book he has a chapter simply titled “Witness” (written along with Charles Pinches). In the chapter he suggests that
“… the Story when told in witness, does not end all arguments but rather opens up space for them to appear (maybe for the first time).”
I think this is so key to “being with” those who live outside of Christ. We tell our story of the gospel in a posture of listening and responding in mutual learning. The challenges and arguments that flow from these kind of places grow us in our faith and open up space for the gospel. We do not assume to know the issues/problems that arise in each person as they hear the story told. As Hauerwas (And Pinches say) “…if we are to have arguments, we will need people to argue with, ones who do not begin from where we begin. Witness assumes this to be the case. (p. 46).” Witness assumes the one we are in dialogue with will have different questions/concerns than our own. Hauerwas and Pinches then go on to show us how this kind of witness is illustrated through the book of Acts.
I highly recommend the book and that chapter.
What do you think? Are McDowell, Strobel and Keller revealing their Christendom bound posture (and assumptions) toward culture?
Happy Thanksgiving to all Americans this week.