We are living in what can be considered the golden age of Christian apologetics. There has been more information published defending Christianity in the last twenty five years than in most of the previous twenty centuries. During that time Christian apologists have made a great impact on many people’s lives.
I maintain, however, that many of us in the apologetics community are “doing it wrong.” To be more effective, we must do apologetics more wisely.
When I started this blog, the first time I mentioned the Kalam Cosmological demonstration for the existence of God, the first response I received was very telling. The Kalam demonstration basically says that everything with a beginning has a cause, the universe has a beginning, therefore the universe has a cause. One commenter said that 1) causality is a subjective perception, 2) causality may not be a universal truth , 3) logic might not apply to everything, 4) the physical matter in the universe is actually a projection of meaning. The commenter summed up by saying this:
All beginnings and endings, particles and measurements, feelings and experiences are part of the show but the show itself has no cause and all cause. It’s completely random and it’s perfect fate. It’s everything: it’s the universe.
Now, most of us in the apologetics community can immediately see the flaws in such an explanation, which is more contradiction than sense. Our typical reaction would be to do what I did, which was more explanation of the reasonableness of the Kalam. But here’s the rub: I had already done that. The reader did not need more explanation of the points, for I had made them already in the first post, which was ignored and filtered through a lens of a worldview. I should not expect to make much progress via a computer discussion using logic, for they had already denied that logic applies to reality. Indeed, they had already denied the common explanation of reality itself.
In the book A Little Primer on Humble Apologetics by James W. Sire, the author makes the following point:
Apologetic arguments take place in a variety of contexts. One of the reasons they often do not work–that is, do not persuade–is that they are cast in ways that are inappropriate to the situation. There’s a great difference between an apologist’s presentation of a case for the Christian faith to a large audience and that same apologist’s chat with a small group around a table at Starbucks or one-on-one dialogue with a friend. The tone and temper of the atmosphere, its openness or hostility, its formality or informality, its time constraints or lack thereof are all significant. (p.55)
I think Sire is right, and this is a point that is largely missed in apologetic circles. I attribute the key problems of Christian apologists’ effectiveness to the following:
- Applying debate principles to personal encounters.
- Becoming increasingly shaped by electronic, distant communication that is impersonal
- Not communicating respect to those with whom we are communicating
We apologists tend to take the methods used by men such as William Lane Craig in his on-stage debates and use them with personal encounters with people. We tend to use pure logic in a harsh way to prove other people wrong because that is what we have been shaped to do by the computer medium and studying arguments. Using these techniques in one-on-one conversations are mistakes, and they reduce our effectiveness.
I view this blog as more educational than evangelistic or persuasive because it is via an online web page. Few people take things they read online to heart. Therefore discussions are shut down if they get argumentative or repetitive.
People are much more receptive when a live person is sitting in front of them, someone to whom they have come to know and have some respect. We simply cannot do apologetics the same in an online educational format, a public debate, and in one-on-one encounters. These are all different situations that require different approaches.
Many apologists think that the arguments themselves are persuasive. Perhaps they are to some, but more effective is the way the arguments are communicated. As Sire points out in his book, we must show our audience that we respect them or they will not listen to our arguments. Only by shaping our communication to the situation and the audience will we be effective in doing apologetics.