I recently had an experience that forcefully reminded me of the deficiencies with apologetics, or, perhaps more accurately, apologists. For background, I have a degree in Apologetics myself, and have studied it for over a decade. I’m not a leading apologist–I don’t show up in lists on the internet of most popular apologists or anything of the sort. But I do have expertise. I’ve put in my time, got the degree, talked to the people.
About two years ago, I wrote a post called “What’s Wrong with Apologetics?” There, I highlighted some of the main problems I’ve observed with apologetics and apologists myself. These included things like “We believe we are experts when we’re not.” The words I wrote 2 years ago feel even more true and relevant today.
The interaction that reminded me so strongly of that post was centered around a statement a Christian made which was controversial. When I challenged some of the most outspoken people to post evidence for their claims, they posted a link to a video of a Christian with no relevant expertise and no published peer-reviewed work in the field. Once this was pointed out, the response was that because this person in the video had allegedly studied the field for a decade, it meant they were an expert, and that what mattered were the arguments, not the person.
Honestly, this is what led me to the somewhat disturbing conclusion I’ve been circling for years. We apologists are just not very good at holding ourselves to the same standard to which we hold others. In other words, I think perhaps the biggest issue in Christian apologetics is that we have a double standard.
1. We have a double standard when it comes to who we trust. People in general tend to trust sources which agree with positions they already hold. Apologists seem to think we’re immune to this, but we’re not. The example I mentioned above is a good one. The video shared happened to put forth a position that those sharing it agreed with. Thus, it didn’t matter that the person involved had no relevant credentials. They were just right, and their credentials were either artificially inflated in order to make them more relevant (“They have studied this topic for decades!”) or simply dismissed as irrelevant (“It’s the arguments that matter, not who’s making them.”)
Fellow apologists, there is absolutely no way we would accept this from someone with whom we were reasoning. For example, Richard Dawkins has written about religious-based topics for decades. He has no relevant degree in theology whatsoever, but he has certainly written entire works dedicated to telling people Christianity and religion in general is just obviously silly and wrong. Now, imagine if an atheist came along and said that because Dawkins had “studied the topic for decades,” he was an appropriate expert when it came to telling us what Christianity is or how to define it. That would be absurd. Yet that’s exactly the kind of thing we very frequently when it comes to discussing things on our side.
2. We have a double standard when it comes to objectivity. We are all too quick to believe that we have an objective position. That is, we think that we are capable of rising above our own subjective consciousness and have a position which is capable of judging all others. That’s just not possible. The notion of “neutral ground” when it comes to big questions is impossible, and to criticize others for pointing that out is, frankly, absurd. We have to acknowledge that we have biases, and certainly attempt to be as neutral as possible when it comes to analyzing facts. But we also must be aware of the fact that we cannot be truly, totally, entirely impartial.
3. We don’t take emotions seriously. This is another serious problem for apologists. I can’t tell you the number of times I have seen apologists decrying emotions. Whether it’s saying that an opponent doesn’t need to get emotional or whether it’s downplaying the emotional attachment we get to the questions at hand, we have to be honest and take emotions seriously. Frankly, to think otherwise is to make ourselves inhuman. If you don’t feel a deep, abiding love for Jesus Christ–something intimately connected with your emotions–and you’re doing apologetics, you should probably rethink what you’re doing. Our love of Christ and worship of God deeply involve our emotions, and we cannot just remove them from the equation when we’re reasoning with others. Moreover, the Bible itself offers direct refutation of this strange distance from emotions so many apologists attempt to accomplish. One of the shortest verses in the Bible is “Jesus wept.” Weeping is an intense emotional experience. Surely if our Lord and Savior expresses his emotions, we shouldn’t sneer at the emotions of others.
There continues to be so many things wrong with apologetics. But it’s still something that I think can be useful. I hope these points will help fellow apologists think about what we’re doing and how we’re presenting ourselves as we make a case for Christ.
What’s Wrong with Apologetics? – I raise a number of pitfalls apologists ought to avoid.
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