Defensive Defending?

I was walking and thinking yesterday evening (I know that, as a man, this was a dangerous straining of my multi-tasking capabilities) and out of my thought-stream came a thought or two about Christian apologetics.

Apologetics is all about defending the Christian faith against its critics, and it’s been going on almost right from the beginning of Christianity. What I do like about apologetics is this: it engages the skeptics who “refute” Christianity and shows that Christians are not necessarily dummies.

But what I don’t like about apologetics is that they’re inherently defensive (duh, you say). Apologetics are always responding, not acting. They are playing someone else’s game by their rules, rather than creating new terrain to explore. They too easily devolve into seeing “threats” to the faith from without, while becoming blind to the fact that a much larger enemy is our own mediocrity at living the truth of our gospel.

And here’s the thing: the gospel is something to be proclaimed, not defended. Certainly apologetics can play a role in clearing away genuine obstacles to faith. But faith does not need defending, it needs living. Apologetics can clear some broken glass or overgrowth from the path of faith, but we proclaim the gospel of following Jesus along the path of eternal life.

The gospel will not need defending when it is truly lived and proclaimed.

2 responses to “Defensive Defending?”

  1. After a number of posts that I disagreed this, the pendulum that is your blog has swung back the other way and I find myself in heartfelt agreement.

    However, I think you need to take this thought further – what is it about apologetics that makes it an inherently defensive task? It has more, I think, to do with what we are trying to defend than the methods we employ.

    The faith that most believers would profess to is one of presupposition. In fact, many prominent apologists, such as Peter Kreeft, would proudly proclaim this, that they argue as presuppositionalists. Their attitude is one of ‘we all have presuppositions, let’s not joke around, so here are ours’. While this is true, we all have presuppositions, and their honesty is refreshing, it leads to an approach to, or view of dialogue that quickly gets nowhere.

    The problem with this approach is that it never answers, never even seeks to ask ‘why these presuppositions?’. We insist that the system works, and it does, after a fashion, if you subsribe to the necessary base beliefs. Naturally, anyone who does not share these base beliefs would reject the whole thing outright – without that foundation, the house quickly crumbles.

    Apologetics is defensive because the majority of Christian reasoning is defensive in nature, it only happens after people are already Christians. People believe, they come to faith, (and seldom for rational easons) and _then_ seek to rationalize their faith. They presuppose Christianity. We ask ourselves ‘why do I believe?’ instead of ‘why should I believe?’, which is the real question of non-believers.

    Because I am a nerd, (or am I geek?), and one of computers, no less, I will use an analogy involving operating systems. The way of tradistional Christianity, the faith of the masses and of the presuppositionalists is much like Microsoft Windows. It’s presented to the individual as a single, take-it-or-leave-it, highly integrated behemoth. There is little choice, you must subscribe to the creator’s entire vision. All tenets and processes must be adhered to. No-one understands why many of the parts are there anymore, they are carry overs from bygone days. If there is a hole in the system, we’ll just patch it over, tape it together as best we can, and try to ignore its glaring flaws and faults. Nothing is ever rebuilt, just modified for new times and new needs, irrespective of the evidence that it is now, and probably always has been, inadequate.

    The OS whose structure I think faith should more closely resemble is that of Linux (surprise, surprise). Something we can examine from top to bottom. Evolving with time, under both the microscopes of theory and practice. There are no sacred cows, if something is no good, it should be thrown out with little ceremony. Question it, tear it apart, rebuild it as necessary. And we’d be honest about it, too, admitting that our faith, our knowledge of God and of this reality is a work-in-progress and invite everyone to participate in making our collective understanding better and better.

    That wasn’t too bad, I guess, I should clean it up sometime, add it to my collection of ramblings. One of the best things about your blog (aside from the health benefits: bashing your head against a wall burns 180 calories an hour) is that it actually makes me take time to write, somethign I want to do, a skill I need to hone, but never seem to be able to get around to under my own volition.

    So thank-you, Matt.

  2. Interesting… what you have done, it seems to me, is write a small Christian rationalist’s manifesto. I definitely find myself in agreement with much of what you’re saying, although I think that traditional faith (and Microsoft ;) ) is a little more intelligent than you’re giving it credit for.

    Where I disagree with you is where I detect your own presuppositions: that faith must be wholly rational. I believe that we are much more than merely cognitive beings, and that faith is something that envelops the whole person. This means that our emotions, our imagination, our capacity to act and a host of other facets make up the life of faith alongside and concurrent with our rationality.

    But yes, more writing is good, absolutely. That is certainly why I started blogging, to get the ideas bouncing around my brain into a more concrete form. Take the head-banging and convert it into keyboard-pounding. :)

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