Sunday, June 2, 2013

The current state of apologetics

     Awhile back, Krista Bontrager posted this question on her Facebook page, Theology Mom. "My humble assessment of the current state of apologetics: 1) a lot of hand wringing about young people leaving the church, 2) lots of repeating and recycling of old arguments, 3) not much happening in terms of developing new and novel arguments. I see these three items as related." Since my blog is about apologetics, I thought this would be a great statement to respond to, but since my response will be a trifle too long for Facebook, and since I'm so slow to getting around to doing things, I thought I'd give it a go here on Route 239.
     First, I do agree that many evangelicals are engaging in hand wringing over the departure of young people from the church, but far less emotional effort is being expended on the reason for their exodus. I don't think that young people are leaving church over theological issues. They may be changing churches/denominations over theology or practice, but not leaving altogether. In other words, these youth have given some thought to theological issue "X" and have decided to join a group more in line with their conclusions. The ones who leave the church altogether have not given theology much thought at all. They don't know much about it and don't see the value in it, probably because their childhood church and perhaps their parents did not do a very good job of teaching them the fundamentals of the faith. Catechism and even good solid Sunday school lessons have gone the way of the dinosaurs in many evangelical churches. 
     When many of these young people reach adulthood, they suddenly realize that they don't know why they are going to church. It doesn't have any meaning for them, because it has lacked substance all along. In addition, they have gone through inconsistent experiences and mixed messages while growing up in the church. For example, they have been taught that divorce is wrong, but they have seen family friends or church leaders go through divorce. Or, they have gotten the impression that Christianity is all about rules, so they embrace grace instead, yet not fully understanding grace, they think it means they can do whatever they want and still be "ok." As apologists, we need to do a better job of convincing young people that there's something about the Christian faith that's worth saving and taking to heart, and we need to explain exactly what that is. This generation needs to embrace the faith as their own.
     Second, I agree that there's a lot of repeating and recycling of old arguments. The most caustic of these (I think) is young earth creationism, because it keeps people trapped in an environment were they do not need to think. Arguments in this area are very cut and dried and delivered with a mind-numbing authoritarianism. I've had students who would never consider pondering another position on Creation, because they literally think they will get in trouble, so to speak, if they do. They are locked into that point of view by fear. Repeated and recycled arguments such as these indicate a lack of thought and the just-give-me-the-answers mentality. It's so much easier to cling to something safe than to spend the mental effort to learn something new or to see something in a different light.
     Evidence-based apologetics was all the rage when I was growing up in the 70's, but it is not very convincing to today's post-modern generation. They have no interest in proving anything, because, as they see it, there's no truth to prove anyway. Trying to use the patterns of science in apologetics was fine for moderns, but in the end, it only proved to be trendy. The defense of the faith needs to be rooted in the classic lines of reasoning that the church has long embraced; in the creeds, the catechisms, the writings of the church fathers and in the words of Scripture itself.
     Third, I'm not so sure that the problem is not the lack of new and novel arguments, because I think I've discovered many interesting ideas (floating about in the various forms of cyberspace) since I started writing about apologetics around five years ago. I think the greater problem is that the average church-goer has little exposure to new and novel arguments. Since my husband and I started teaching about apologetics and worldview about three years ago, we have had many people tell us that we talk about things they have never heard of before. But there again, people can't hear these things if they don't attend a class, and a lot of young Christians are not seeing their need for Christian education.
     One of the responses to the original post on Theology Mom mentioned "literary apologetics,"and said that it might offer an exciting new option in the field of apologetics. I had not heard that term before, so imagine my surprise when I realized that Michael and I have been engaged in that type of apologetics in our class! (but that's a story for the next post...)