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.