Unapologetically Apologetic

Apologetics gets a bad rap from various sectors. Scholars indebted to historical criticism often see apologetics as the antithesis of scholarship. One cannot be a scholar and an apologist at the same time according to many. Atheists very often view apologetics as little more than fideism; blind faith; indoctrination. And then there are those Christians who say that they wish to remain faithful to the Scriptures and in doing so are willing to live with all the messy bits and tensions. They view apologetics as a misguided attempt to smooth out what’s meant to be rough.

I’d disagree on all fronts. Some of the finest scholars I’ve had the pleasure of reading are apologists and use their scholarship in the service of the church and the Christian faith. I think of folks like Darrell Bock; William Lane Craig; and John Frame to name a few from varying backgrounds. And good apologetics is the opposite of fideism. It’s a presentation of all the many reasons for the Christian faith. This isn’t to say that there isn’t a bunch of bad apologetics floating around—there is—but the scholarly kind of apologetics usually has plenty to back it up.

But it’s the critique of the last group that irks me the most. I get that historical critics and atheists are working with completely different presuppositions but Christians who claim to believe that the Scriptures were given by inspiration of God shouldn’t be quite so hostile to apologetics, assuming that they’re good apologetics, not bunk. It seems to be a position born out of arrogance. The idea that nobody can make sense of certain things or resolve things that seems at odds because you can’t is the height of hubris, or at least appears to be. Yet that seems to be the attitude I see reflected in much writing on the subject.

Question: What if the tension appears to be there because certain folks are poor interpreters? Did they ever consider that? Did they ever consider that perhaps there are folks out there who have labored over the texts as much or more than them and have found them to make sense and not be at odds? Have they considered that there are myriad good explanations for the portions of Scripture that they consider hard to swallow (e.g., the command to slaughter Midianites; regulations on slavery)? Has it ever crossed their minds that a willingness to live with alleged contradictions doesn’t actually honor Scripture but rather subverts it?

Ponder that for a moment. Seriously think about the attitude toward Scripture that says, “If God said it; that settles it.” Is that really as naive as it appears on first glance? Or does it evince an attitude of humility? An attitude of submission to the word of God? When I think about how Jesus is depicted as handling Scripture I don’t come up with a picture of someone willing to live with hopeless tensions; or as someone who thought the OT authors got it wrong and needed correcting. I see someone who took God at his word and argued based on the authority of that word. Ladies and gentleman, Jesus was an apologist. Paul was too. And they were both unapologetically apologetic as were all of the NT authors.

So to the apologists I say, thank God for you; keep up the good work (assuming it’s good work)! The is much better with you than without you and don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.

B”H

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7 thoughts on “Unapologetically Apologetic

  1. It always cuts both ways. Do people who defend a certain high view of the Bible consider that those who don’t see it the way they do have studied it as much or more than they have and are interpreting it better than they are? Do they consider that there may actually be contradictions or things in the Bible like genocide and slavery that can’t be resolved with a loving God?

    I think many people who don’t have a high view of the Bible would still agree with the statement, “If God said it that settles it.” But the question is do we have any reason to believe that God actually said it. When it comes down to reasons to believe God said it are they ever anything more than personally choosing to believe he did? This has been a question that has occupied my thinking for the last few years and I’ve been looking for good answers. I mean I can understand when someone believes something based on a religious/spiritual/mystic experience but in absence of that for the Bible why believe God said it, all of it?

    Right now I find more convincing a God speaks through the Bible view rather than a God spoke the Bible view.

    The question I find interesting lately is why people believe the things they do even in the face of counter-arguments, whether it’s religion, politics, conspiracy theories, etc.

  2. Bryan: In my experience good apologists almost always interact with the strongest arguments against their positions. You’ve seen enough WLC debates to know that he probably knows his opponents’ objections better than they do. But it would be a strange thing to assume real contradictions or incompatibility between a loving God and certain commands when one is able to reconcile apparent contradictions or show compatibility, don’t you think? Usually, someone only considers them real when they can’t reconcile the apparent. But there’s a prior presupposition about God on the part of the apologist defending something like inerrancy that says even when they can’t immediately figure something out, they trust that God did not contradict himself, so they keep at it until an explanation presents itself. This is the attitude of humility that I’m talking about. They don’t take their lack of ability to solve the problem at the moment as the end of it.

    I’m not sure I agree about people who don’t have a high view of Scripture agreeing with the statement, “If God said it; that settles it.” Or at least I’d ask where exactly they believe God said anything if not in Scripture. Personal choice is one thing, but there’s a prior reality that isn’t conditioned by our choice to believe or not. If in fact God spoke, then does that change because someone refuses to believe it? Of course not. Just like a tree falling in the forest still makes a sound whether or not anyone’s around to hear it. Have you gotten around to looking into presuppositionalism yet? I think you’ll find some good answers to your question there, particularly when it comes to the argument from “the impossibility of the contrary.” Doug Wilson has a great simple explanation of that here.

    I think I know what you mean when you say “God speaks through the Bible” but could you elaborate on what you mean by “God spoke the Bible”? That sounds like some kind of view of mechanical dictation like Muslims believe about the Qur’an rather than something like saying that the Bible is the word of God in the words of men.

  3. Hey Nick,
    Here are some thoughts in response.

    “But it would be a strange thing to assume real contradictions or incompatibility between a loving God and certain commands when one is able to reconcile apparent contradictions or show compatibility, don’t you think?”

    When one is able to reconcile? What does that mean? They convince themselves? The problem is that some of these same people don’t always put the bar that high and are ready to be convinced about what they want to be convinced about. So they find an argument that’s good enough according to the low bar they set. This happens to everybody. I read a quote recently that seems to be very true:
    “The social psychologist Tom Gilovich studies the cognitive mechanisms of strange beliefs. His simple formulation is that when we want to believe something, we ask ourselves, “Can I believe it?” Then (as Kuhn and Perkins found), we search for supporting evidence, and if we find even a single piece of pseudo-evidence, we can stop thinking. We now have permission to believe. We have a justification, in case anyone asks. In contrast, when we don’t want to believe something, we ask ourselves, “Must I believe it?” Then we search for contrary evidence, and if we find a single reason to doubt the claim, we can dismiss it. You only need one key to unlock the handcuffs of must.”
    The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (p.127)

    You ever found yourself doing that? I have.

    “Usually, someone only considers them real when they can’t reconcile the apparent. But there’s a prior presupposition about God on the part of the apologist defending something like inerrancy that says even when they can’t immediately figure something out, they trust that God did not contradict himself, so they keep at it until an explanation presents itself. This is the attitude of humility that I’m talking about. They don’t take their lack of ability to solve the problem at the moment as the end of it.”

    It’s interesting that the strategy of the apologist who is faced with what seems like contrary evidence to their beliefs is to continue defending those beliefs even though they have reasons to doubt it. Why? Because they are committed to other beliefs that they can’t/don’t want to give up , like the belief that God said whatever is in the Bible. So they hold out in the face of opposing evidence and trust. But how long? I think it’s ok to not abandon your beliefs at the first encounter of contrary evidence that you don’t have an answer for but you have to ask yourself how long, and whether you’ll ever allow contrary evidence to persuade you to change your view. People find it hard to change their views when they’ve been committed to them so long.

    “I’m not sure I agree about people who don’t have a high view of Scripture agreeing with the statement, “If God said it; that settles it.” Or at least I’d ask where exactly they believe God said anything if not in Scripture.

    My point lies in the “If” of the statement. Sure, IF God said it then that settles it. Problem is they don’t believe God said it.

    “Have you gotten around to looking into presuppositionalism yet? I think you’ll find some good answers to your question there, particularly when it comes to the argument from “the impossibility of the contrary.” Doug Wilson has a great simple explanation of that here.”

    Some. I didn’t find it convincing. I know its proponents do and are very vocal about it but I don’t. I‘m not closed off to it and I’d be willing to look more into it if I could find some more in depth interaction with its critics. Are there any books or journal articles where it’s debated? I would like to see its main proponents go up against more of their peers in philosophy/theology, not the unsuspecting guy on the internet or the atheist that doesn’t know what to do with that kind of argument. So if you know where I can find that let me know.

    “I think I know what you mean when you say “God speaks through the Bible” but could you elaborate on what you mean by “God spoke the Bible”? That sounds like some kind of view of mechanical dictation like Muslims believe about the Qur’an rather than something like saying that the Bible is the word of God in the words of men.”

    Any view that sees the whole Bible as saying exactly all that God wanted to say, however he got that done. It doesn’t have to be dictation but it might as well be if one believes that the human author somehow ended up writing exactly what God wanted written (even if they didn’t realize God was speaking through them) and that the Bible is unable to have any contradictions because it would mean God contradicted himself and God can’t do that. If they end up at the same place I’m not sure it matters whether God dictated it or somehow enabled their will to perfectly line up with his because he chose the best of all possible worlds to be reality. What do you mean when you said “God said it”?

  4. Dear Paul,

    It is too bad that the scholars within the Church do not emphasize enough of the early Christian Apologists, i.e. Papias, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, to name some. Or how about Athanasius, Augustine? Thomas Aquinas? I could name others, but you clearly get the picture.

    Do I agree with every thing that some of these apologists write or say. No, but that is not the point.
    The point is that the ignorance, especially the willful ignorance, in the pew has caused great damage to the Church. I fear that it won’t change, as Paul indicated in II Timothy 3 or Peter in II Peter 2-3.

  5. Reblogged this on ajrogersphilosophy and commented:
    “When I think about how Jesus is depicted as handling Scripture I don’t come up with a picture of someone willing to live with hopeless tensions; or as someone who thought the OT authors got it wrong and needed correcting. I see someone who took God at his word and argued based on the authority of that word. Ladies and gentleman, Jesus was an apologist. Paul was too. And they were both unapologetically apologetic as were all of the NT authors.”

  6. EDH,
    I couldn’t really tell you other than saying I identify myself as a Christian. Other than that I’m not sure what else I feel strong enough about to identify with or defend. You?

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