I want to offer a post-mortem on the Christian Apologetics Alliance (CAA). What I mean isn’t that the CAA has died. The CAA Facebook Group is still alive and kicking. It still has several posts each day, and posts frequently pass the 10 comment threshold, some diving into the 100+. People are still engaged. It doesn’t seem to be driving the traffic it used to, but there’s still plenty of activity. No, what I mean is a post-mortem on the CAA as it could have been. It’s a post-mortem on how the CAA should have been, and as it was, however briefly.*
Imagine a place where Christians around the globe could mingle and discuss the defense of the Christian faith. It’s a place where people share meaningful posts, links, and struggles they’ve had. It’s a group in which people could bring up favorite apologetics arguments and hone their skills. People with a passing interest in the topic could join the group and rub virtual shoulders with published philosophers and skilled Christian debaters. Some time ago (more than a decade, I believe), a group of people got together with the desire to make just such a place. Enthusiastic about apologetics, with bookshelves overflowing with works in the field, these people made a group on Facebook, the “Christian Apologetics Alliance.” It was the first iteration of the group (later, after a catastrophic and, to my knowledge, still unexplained loss of the original group, we all migrated over to the group CAA: Christian Apologetics Alliance) that would unite thousands of members around one topic: Christian apologetics.
The vision I just described is anachronistic, in some ways. Those of us involved didn’t sit down with a specific plan of how we thought CAA would form and grow. But we did share our thoughts, concerns, and interests. From the beginning, we largely agreed (or at least said we agreed) that the Christian Apologetics Alliance would be a place that all Christians could mingle and talk and learn about apologetics.
It was a dream that wouldn’t last. But before the dream was totally shattered, there were a ton of awesome times. We had huge amounts of bloggers sharing blog posts, commenting on those of others’, honing arguments, and more. We inspired each other and new bloggers. Some in the group went on to “go pro,” getting degrees and teaching, earning a career as an apologist. All the while, we had a great community set up. I was hugely involved, especially in the first iteration. I was one of the first 5-10 members of the group and, as I recall, one of the few people involved in bringing the idea to fruition. I became a mod for a while, but stopped when the position became saddled with increasing responsibilities (eg. expectations for how long to be online in the group, etc.).
From almost the beginning, there were pushes in two directions that would lead to the CAA becoming less than it could have been. First, there was a strong push to organize it and enforce more and more strictures on the discussion. This impulse wasn’t entirely misguided: I can’t tell you the number of times debate over the age of the earth popped up. It was a favorite for some members, and the discussions would often devolve into name-calling frustration. The topic was quickly banned, and that and other topics that started to pop up and spark more fire than light on the discussions prompted the impulse to organize. Another part of that impulse, though, was the push to make the group ever more visible and prominent. Visions of conferences, t-shirts, and more abounded. I was excited, but never had the time to fully dive in. CAA chapters formed, and people began meeting in person to talk about apologetics. One epic moment was when I went to a Evangelical Philosophical Society Conference and met, in person, several of the people I’d only known online. It was a hugely awesome time. But the eagerness to expand came with more and more control being given to moderators to monitor and control discussion and that led to the second push that would make CAA less than it could have been.
The second push was for clarifying what it meant to be Christian. At first, this made some sense to me. Loud questions were raised about whether we needed to have membership requirements that would explicitly preclude, say, Mormons from joining the group. Were Mormons really Christian? And, there was one [known] Mormon who was actively involved in the group for some time. I don’t remember his name, but I remember the significant arguments people had with him and his eventually being asked to leave (again, foggy memory, but I believe he was asked and accepted rather than just being banned). The loudest members who wanted the clearest definitions pushed farther and farther on the definitions, though. For many–no, almost all–in the group, it was a given that Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses weren’t to be involved. But then came more questions, like how do we make that happen while having the widest tent possible?
For a while–a long while–we got by on a kind of moderator consensus of figuring things out. We tried to use things like the Apostles’ Creed. Apart from the pushback from non-credal traditions, however, we also received pushback from members saying that the Apostles’ Creed did not take things far enough. After all, many whom people wanted to exclude would affirm the Apostles’ Creed, if not in meaning, at least in the rote words that were on the page. This, of course, already shows some of the impetus driving the group’s decline. That is, an ever more exclusionary mindset was developing even at the earliest times. To my shame, I didn’t acknowledge it or really even notice it. Eventually, things like the Nicene Creed were proposed (but what of the filioque? asked some, whilst others still didn’t wish to affirm Creeds). Finally, several leaders got together and decided something had to give, and the lines had to be drawn.
Which lines mattered, though? The pressure from various members in the group was enormous. What would be the stance on marriage? What about salvation? How could they articulate the Trinity? I was involved in some of these discussions early on, but admit I checked out after a while, because they started to deviate to the many, many rabbit holes possible with 2000 years of theology to debate. What emerged was an increasingly complex statement of faith, which made somewhat predictable exclusions while also having some incredibly strange inclusions. The statement of faith may be viewed here. There are many, many things one could pick apart with the statement of faith and most definitely its clarifying notes. One low-hanging fruit is why the statement explicitly excludes universalists, for example? Universalism has a long and storied history within Christianity, and the statement of faith would, somewhat ironically, exclude many church fathers that I personally know several group members hold up as major examples of early apologists and incredibly important to the formation of Christianity.
Beyond that, though, there’s the much bigger issue: what is the purpose of such a statement? It could only be to exclude others. I didn’t think of this as it was being written and doubled-down upon, and by the time I started to really have reservations I was not in the leadership in the CAA anymore and, frankly, pretty checked out of the group more generally. I had been deeply disturbed by the many times my own faith was called into question for being a Lutheran, for example. No, not that anyone (to my knowledge) was in the group saying Lutherans weren’t Christians. Instead, the number of times people questioned things like infant baptism, the real presence in the Lord’s Supper, and more while having even some moderators argue that yes, these were entirely relevant and necessary discussions for broader apologetic import was disturbingly high. In retrospect, such questioning should have been entirely expected. The overwhelming majority of the group was some kind of Evangelical (very few Catholics, Lutherans, or Orthodox, or other believers were in the group even according to polls the occasional times they showed up). Thus, the group gravitated towards that sort of amalgam of Baptist/Reformed (or rabidly anti-Reformed) Puritan-esque theology from which Evangelicalism spawned. Because of that, many members were outright hostile to those outside of those theological circles.
One vivid memory was running into a member of CAA (in person) in an apologetics graduate-level course I was taking. This member not only thought that affirmation of infant baptism was only for “Catholics” rather than being the majority position of the worldwide church for all of history, but also questioned my salvation when I affirmed baptismal regeneration. He was astonished to discover later that I was not wrong when I pointed out that his theological strand related to baptism was in the extreme minority and itself the historical oddity, but never withdrew any of the statements about my need to repent of such beliefs. This discussion was a microcosm of what’s wrong with apologetics today, and also an illustration of the takeover of the CAA by exclusionary rather than inclusive beliefs.
The CAA has only become more hostile to believers outside a narrowly defined (and often implicitly so) group of beliefs. For example, while the statement of faith explicitly states “We are commanded by God to show compassion to suffering people,” many group members and posts repeatedly do not do so. Whether this is a total rejection of any kind of work for social justice [which again, the statement of faith seems to suggest is itself commanded**], or the extreme prejudice with which the group actively alienates progressive members, it is clear that apologetics in practice within the group is almost entirely done apart from and at the expensive of any work for justice and on-the-ground work. I could go on for quite a while on this tangent about how the tenor of the group is that apologetics is some kind of intellectual activity that many either agree to the premises that will inevitably yield to faith or not, instead of being a whole-person approach in which minds and lives are convinced to bend the knee to service to Christ and fellow humans, but I won’t.
The point of all of that is that within the CAA, a narrower and narrower definition of what is Christian (and not) is being utilized, a narrower definition of what is related to apologetics is being developed, and much of this is done at the expense of the original focus and premise of the group itself. Progressive Christians constantly have their faith called into question, whether explicitly through the numerous posts dedicated to the topic or implicitly through the statement of faith narrowing to exclude almost any form of progressivism.
The Christian Apologetics Alliance could have remained great. It really should have. But it didn’t. In part, that was my fault. As a leader for a while, I should have spoken more loudly, advocated more fully, and been more willing to put in time and effort to try to push back against an ever-more-exclusionary vision of apologetics. I didn’t. Some of the fruits of this can be seen across offshoot groups as well. One group is about parenting and apologetics and one of the most frequent topics of discussion is the supposed dangers of progressive Christianity. Once again, the vaguely American Evangelical nature of the group is showing. Rather than aligning with Christ and Christians worldwide across a spectrum of beliefs, the group and those it has influenced continue down a smaller path. It honestly brings me pain to reflect on what could have been.
None of this is to say no good work is done within the CAA. That’s not the case. But it’s also the case that rather than offering a broad spectrum group for engaging with non-Christians from all walks of Christianity, as was the original vision, the group has become yet another mouthpiece for a milquetoast American Religiosity.
So what can I do? I don’t know. Writing about it is just one step. I know of a few other, much smaller apologetics groups that allow for discussion from a much broader range of Christian voices, but even they have inroads happening with the same posts, the same content being shared again and again. Apologetics has almost become a codeword for defense not of Christianity but of a sterilized, antinomian faith much more concerned with dogmatic status quo than with reaching non-Christians.
*Much of this is written from my memory (well, almost all of it, really), not from specific documentation or saved screenshots or anything. I wasn’t there to do that. I might have some of the specific details and order of events slightly wrong. This post is meant to be my personal thoughts and recollections on what went wrong with the CAA.
**But! some may exclaim, But you have not defined what is meant by “compassion,” “suffering,” “show,” “justice,” “social,” or “people”! Yes, I know. That’s kind of the point. Instead of actually doing those things, may apologists in particular and Christians more generally prefer to sit around arguing about who may or may not be suffering, may need compassion and justice, and the like. But God prefers those who actually do justice and show mercy; no qualifications.
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Much Ado About Nothing: Alisa Childers’ “Another Gospel?”– I review a book that has been bounced around as the source for discussing Progressive Christianity.
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