Thursday, July 14, 2005

Christian Apologetics Manifesto: Seventeen Theses

This was first published in a somewhat different form in Areopagus Journal, Volume 5, number 1 (January-February 2005).

This is a manifesto to ignite the holy fire of apologetic passion and action. It is not a sustained argument or a development of themes. (I have written and lectured about these matters elsewhere). It is, rather, a short series of interrelated propositions crying out for both immediate and protracted action. These challenges issue from convictions formed through twenty-five years of apologetic teaching, preaching, debating, writing, and Christian witness.

Because of (a) the waning influence of the Christian worldview in public and private life in America today, (b) the pandemic of anti-intellectualism in the contemporary church, and (c) the very command of God himself to further divine truth, I strongly advise that the following statements be wrestled with and responded to by all followers of Jesus Christ.

1. Christian apologetics involves the public presentation and defense of Christianity as true, reasonable, knowable, and existentially pertinent to both individuals and entire cultures. Apologetics involves rebutting unbelieving accusations against Christianity as well as giving a constructive case for Christian theism.

2. The fundamental issue for apologetics is not how many apologists one has read, or what apologetic method one embraces (although that must be worked out). Rather, the fundamental issue is whether or not one has a passion for God’s truth—reasonably pursued and courageously communicated—and a passion for the lost because of the love of God resident in one’s life.

3. One must be convinced of the truth, rationality, pertinence, and knowability of the Christian worldview—derived from Holy Scripture, logically systematized, and rightly harmonized with general revelation (truth knowable outside of Scripture).

4. In light of (1), (2), and (3), fideism—the claim that Christian faith has no positive connection to reason or evidence—should be rejected as unbiblical and harmful to the great cause of Christ’s truth (Matthew 22:37-39; Romans 12:1-2).

5. Any theology, apologetics, ethics, evangelism or church practice that minimizes or denigrates the concept of objective, absolute, universal and knowable truth is both irrational and unbiblical. As such it must be rejected and repented of.

6. Any intellectual discipline or church practice that minimizes or denigrates the importance of apologetics is unbiblical and must be repented of (Acts 17:16-34; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5; 1 Peter 3:15; Jude 3).

7. The artificial separation of evangelism from apologetics must end. Many evangelistic methods die when those evangelized ask questions related to apologetics. Therefore, all evangelistic training should include basic apologetic training as well.

8. Apologetics is meant just as much for believers with doubts and questions as it is directed toward unbelievers. Therefore, Christians with doubts should not be shunned or shamed, but given good apologetic arguments (as well as pastoral care) in dealing with their intellectual struggles (Matthew 11:1-11; Jude 22).


9. Since all Christians are called and commanded to have a reason for the hope within them (1 Peter 3:15), Christian teachers, pastors, mentors and educators of all kinds are remiss if they avoid, denigrate, or minimize the importance of apologetics to biblical living and Christian witness.

10. Those outside of the leadership positions mentioned in (9) should request that apologetics be made a constitutive part of these institutions if this is not already the case.

11. In light of (9) and (10), Christian colleges, seminaries, and churches should incorporate apologetics into their institutional/educational life, mission, and vision. Specifically, every Christian college, university, and seminary should require at least one class in apologetics for every degree in their curriculum. Moreover, every discipline should be taught from a Christian worldview, since all truth is God’s truth. This has significant apologetic value in and of itself.

12. Mission agencies should insure that their missionaries are adequately trained in the apologetic issues and strategies required for their place of service (Matthew 28:18-20).

13. Because apologetics is meant to be the public presentation and defense of Christianity as true, reasonable, pertinent, and knowable, apologists should attempt to offer their arguments in as many public venues as possible. Therefore, qualified Christian apologists should learn to become public intellectuals: thinkers who have mastered their material and are willing and able to enter public discourse and debate in a way that challenges and engages the non-Christian mind as well as galvanizes other Christians to hone their apologetic skills. Areas of engagement include the following:

1. Letters to the editors of newspapers and magazines.
2. Op-ed pieces for newspapers.
3. Calls to talk radio programs.
4. Public debates and dialogues on religious and ethical issues.
5. Apologetic contributions to interactive web pages.
6. Lectures on college campuses on apologetic themes.
7. Books oriented to those outside the typical evangelical market, published by secular publishers if possible.
8. Any other creative outreach—drama, poetry, cinema, and more.

14. Young Christians with an aptitude in philosophy and academic pursuits in general should be encouraged that these disciplines are just as spiritual as anything directly church-related. For example, being a Christian philosopher at a secular college or university is just as godly and spiritual than being a pastor, missionary, or professor at a Christian institution (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17). One may prudently apply one’s apologetic skills in these settings and extend the Christian witness.

15. All apologetic endeavors should manifest the virtues of both humility and courage through the empowering of the Holy Spirit. If we have been bestowed by Almighty God with truth to defend rationally, this is because of God’s grace, not our own goodness. There is no room for pride. If Almighty God has bestowed us with saving truth to defend rationally, we should take it to the streets and not shrink back from appropriate encounters with unbelief. There is no room for cowardice.

16. Apologetics must be carried out with the utmost intellectual integrity. All propaganda, cheap answers, caricatures of non-Christian views, and fallacious reasoning should be avoided. One should develop competent answer to searching questions about the truth and rationality of Christian faith. This demands excellence in scholarship at all intellectual levels, even the most popular. This cognitive orientation takes time, money, and sustained effort. It will not happen by watching television or by otherwise wasting our limited time.

17. All apologetics ventures—whether in writing, speaking, or dialogue—should be backed by personal prayer by the apologist and supporting prayer of the church (Ephesians 6:18).

15 comments:

Jeff Downs said...

Thanks for the post. I have been doing some of the things listed for some time now.

Let me tell you though, it is like pulling teeth to get the Church excited and backing one on such projects.

I can not understand this mentality.

D. P. said...

Doug--thank you for this fine post! I will be linking.

Jeff--I have encountered the same mentality in churches. I wonder if it has to do in some cases with an anti-intellectual climate where it is enought to "just believe in Jesus" and in others with a hyper-intellectualism that is afraid to appear intellectually naive by insisting that the Christian faith has content that can be reasoned out.

J.L. Hinman said...

I have read some of your essays on your website. I was already familiar with both you and your wife, from egalitarian circles. That's why I was excited to find your blog. In fact it was my apologetics group (the CADRE) that pointed it out to me. I am even more excited to find that apologetics is so important to you because it's one of my major passions.


I find this statment interesting:

"Any theology, apologetics, ethics, evangelism or church practice that minimizes or denigrates the concept of objective, absolute, universal and knowable truth is both irrational and unbiblical. As such it must be rejected and repented of."

The problem I have with that is most atheist arguments on the net revovle around an over comittment to empiricism. They believe in a pure orbjective truth, but not a transcendent truth, but one that can be gotten at through hared line scientific observation. It is the lack of rigor in Christian belief (from an empiricist persective) that leads them to reject Christian truth.

To coutner that view one must either, bolster some found of transcendent foundationalist persective, or undermine empiricism by undermining objectivity.

Perhaps I've been in a Arts and Hummanities program too long, but I can't help but suspect the concept of objective truth in the sense of a empirically gleaned truth, and I find that a phenomenological persective dove tails with my Christian charismatic presupossitions.

How would you resolve this dilemma? How can you offer an "objective" transcendent truth? How can you offer an "ojbective" personal experince of God's trnasformative power?

nancy said...

Thanks for bringing this back to the forefront of my mind. I'll ponder and include a few nuggets when I teach Adult Sunday School this Sunday. We've been covering the historical reliability of scripture and this Sunday we're talking about "why" this is important!

P.S. Great start!

Douglas Groothuis said...

A follow up to "Metacrock" (what a name).

One must distinguish the concept of truth as objective (or the correspondence theory of truth), which is what truth is (metaphysics) from the justification of truth claims (epistemology). Empirical observations and inferences derived from them are ways to verify some truth claims, but they are not the only way. Moral claims are not known through empirical observation. Testimony is not identifical to empirical observation either, and it is extremely important for knowledge. However, God has revealed some truths about himself in the creation that are empirically detectible. See Romans 1. He has revealed some truth through the conscience. See Romans 2.

The case for Christian faith includes, but it not limited to, empirical verification. Hard empiricism is self-refuting. The principle: "Only what can be empirically verified can be true" cannot itself be empirically verified, nor it is a necessary truth of logic. Therefore, it is false. I hope this helps Metacrock.

J.L. Hinman said...

Ok thanks Dr. G. that's a useful distinction, between the metaphysical assumption of objective truth and the demonstrable apsect of epistemic claims.

Sure you wouldn't like to try some message boards? ;-)

David said...

It seems your new blog is already generating a buzz. The Stand to Reason blog referenced it in a recent post, and a new friend in the philosophy department down here mentioned your 17 theses the other day. So let that be an encouragment to you that your insights are greatly appreciated in the blogosphere.

Stephen (aka Q) said...

Your post reminded me of Francis Schaeffer's dictum that Christians must be prepared to compete in the free marketplace of ideas. In other words, Christians should not aim to impose their truth on others, but aim to persuade them of its validity. Persuasion necessarily entails engagement with secular humanists, Buddhists, pantheists, et al., and essentially comes down to apologetics.

I am a liberal Christian, not an evangelical. But I think it is important for Christians, including evangelicals, to maintain and communicate a distinctive worldview. Truth emerges as differing perspectives dialogue with one another in the kind of marketplace of ideas envisioned by Dr. Schaeffer.

As a result, I agreed with almost everything contained in your 17 theses. My only serious objection is to your remark about "a passion for the lost", since I do not agree that non-Christians are perishing. (St. Paul's statements to that effect notwithstanding. As I said, I'm a liberal.)

Actually, my view is better expressed as, Christians are in need of redemption to the same degree as everyone else.
Q

Laura said...

6. Any intellectual discipline or church practice that minimizes or denigrates the importance of apologetics is unbiblical and must be repented of (Acts 17:16-34; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5; 1 Peter 3:15; Jude 3).

This raises a question for me. Between theology and apologetics, which is of greater importance? I would place apologetics below theology. Yes, apologetics should not be denigrated, but what constitutes "minimizing"? I travel in circles that put a very high value on apologetics. Sometimes it seems the apologists and philosophers look down upon the theologians and expositors. For this reason, the term "minimizing" raises some red flags. I guess I need some clarification.

Jason D. said...

Mr. Groothius, I appreciate your post and can see that you have a passion for apologetics. I do have a few questions for clarification if you have the time.

In your second point, you said that “The fundamental issue for apologetics is not how many apologists one has read, or what apologetic method one embraces (although that must be worked out). Rather, the fundamental issue is whether or not one has a passion for God’s truth—reasonably pursued and courageously communicated—and a passion for the lost because of the love of God resident in one’s life.” Why would you say that this is the fundamental issue for apologetics? The passion of the apologist is important, but it seems in my humble opinion that it is the content of the truth that the apologist communicates that should be considered the most important issue. After all, there are passionate apologists of other faiths. A comment of this nature concerns me because it could lead one to believe that the validity of the truth (in the case of the Christian- the truth about Christ) is based on the empassioned plea of the apologist. I tend to agree with Derek Webb who confesses in one of his songs, “I thank the Lord that the truth’s not contingent on me.”

In my experience discipling others, there are many who are a little timid about sharing the faith because they do not yet fully understand the truth content thereof. It seems that the more they grow in their understanding of the Christian worldview, the more comfortable they seem to be in sharing the faith. To take someone who does not understand the Christian worldview very well and ask them to be apologists in the many facets of life that you have mentioned could be a dangerous thing do to possible heretical pitfalls- don’t you agree?

My second question concerns point #3 where you stated, that the truth should be “rightly harmonized with general revelation (truth knowable outside of Scripture).” Just for clarification, what happens when it would seem that special revelation contradicts general revelation? Which one should we choose?

I could not agree more with point #’s 4, 5, 6, and 7 more. Especially #7, well said. I also like your point about there being no distinction between the secular and sacred professions- all are lived to the glory of God.

Thanks for your consideration of my questions

Douglas Groothuis said...

A response to my interlocutors.

1. I do not place apologetics above theology. Apologetics is dependent on theology for what it defends. Moreover, rightly formulating doctrine (avoiding contradictions, imprecision, pedanticism) serves the apologetic cause. I rail quite abit against the lack of solid theology in Christianity today. See these books by David Wells: "No Place for Truth" and "God in the Wasteland."

2. My emphasis on the passion of the apologist does not mean I downplay knowledge. That should be evident from the other 16 affirmations. Only an understanding of God's truth creates proper passion in the apologist or anyone else. Passion is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for biblical apologetics.

3. If Chrisianity is true, general revelation will never contradict special revelation. The Book of Nature and the Book of Scripture are written by the same Author. Both must be interpreted aright. Fleshing this out is complex and challenging, to be sure, but that is my programmatic answer.

Thanks to all who contributed on this topic. Please take it to the streets.

Jason D. said...

Thanks for the clarifications.

Alexander M Jordan said...

Dear Dr. G:

I hope it's not too late to continue the discussion. I have just come across your blog.

Thank you for proclaiming this well-reasoned and passionate challenge to all believers. I really appreciate your call to a passion for the lost-- it seems to me that this is what burned in the hearts of Jesus, Paul and the early Christians-- a heart overflowing with the love of God to people, which created a sense of urgency as well as compassion in their mission. I think that such a passion is critical as it perhaps can help us keep from becoming unbalanced by, say, trying merely to reason with people. The Christian faith of course is reasonable, and I agree wholeheartedly that we must present it that way, yet the Spirit will convict in many ways.

So I think your post is very timely -- both to the times we live in, and for me personally.

Just a few days ago, I had encountered on the web a 1982 address by Francis Schaeffer, titled "A Christian Manifesto", and linked to it at my site.

Your post complements that one well and thus I am including a link to it on my blog, Jordan's View.

I'm a New Yorker and recently had the opportunity to hear Billy Graham at what may have been his final crusade. At the time I did some research into the Graham ministry. I became concerned because of the approach to apologetics it appears his very visible ministry has chosen.

It seems over the years that Dr. Graham decided that the best way to reach the most people with the message of the gospel was not to get involved in challenging false doctrines or providing very much instruction in Christian living, but rather making a simple gospel presentation primarily aimed to those who don't know Christ.

The problems I see with that kind of an approach is that it seems the spiritual welfare of "decision-makers" is put in danger by not warning them about false doctrine (uncritically sending them to the Roman Catholic church, for example).

I have written about this on my blog since then, and have also made comments in a discussion over at another blog. I have encountered the argument that as an evangelist, it is not necessarily Graham's responsiblity nor purpose to counter all the possible ways people might go wrong, but rather to present the true gospel.

In response, I have argued that it is a Christian responsibility to counter false doctrine, and that without doing so, the people to whom you have preached the gospel may have snatched away what was sown in their hearts.

I was wondering if you have any thoughts on this issue.

Thanks for your time and for the inspirational post!

Blessings,

Alex

Paul (probably - maybe Liz) said...

I think it's right to link apologetics with evangelism. I would also agree that many Christians don't take it seriously enough. However, I would plead for a greater focus in this manifesto on the role of the local church, which is the visible expression of the (still hidden) universal church, and has significance as such in God's purposes. Teaching Christians (being a pastor/teacher) is a different gift to explaining the gospel.

We always see our own gifts as, in some sense, being the most important. However, the truth is that all gifts are needed; God has a role for them all. Also, that the local church, insofar as it reflects the universal church, reflects something of eternal significance.

biomcgary said...

Re: apologetics is just as spiritual as pastoring

I agree, but with clarification. For those who have been called to apologetics, it is much more spiritual than pastoring. If apologetics is your Ninevah, pastoring could be your Tarsish.