It becomes esp. important that we capture other goods besides “truth” when we turn our attention away from a myopic focus on claims, to things like practices, attitudes, and virtues; after all, the term “true” is not really a predicate we can apply to these things. Of bigger concern to us with regards to these things is whether they are right, or rational, or appropriate, or healthy, and so forth. So if we accept my advice in (1), then we have even more reason to move beyond a focus on the mere “truth of…” But notice: “intellectual goodness” is still too narrow if we consider practices, attitudes, and virtues. Most of the goods which apply to practices, attitudes, and virtues are not intellectual goods, they are something more broad, something like “moral goods”. So let’s say this:
Christian apologetics is The defense of the intellectual and moral goodness of the claims, practices, attitudes, and virtues of the Christian Way.
That seems better. And it seems to fit with a lot of the attacks that Christians receive. I’m thinking in particular of folks like Richard Dawkins, and the departed Christopher Hitchens: A good many of their attacks came, not in the form of challenges to the truth of certain claims, but to the moral goodness of religious practice and religious attitudes. (Dawkins’s TV series “Root of Evil” is a great example.)
But still, I’ve got a beef. And it actually has to do with the very word which we said is nearly synonymous with “apologetics”: “defense”. I find this an unfortunate word, because it gives the impression that the apologist is “on the defensive”. There’s a popular distinction between positive and negative apologetics. Negative apologetics involves giving undercutting reasons which defeat some argument against Christianity. For example, offering a theodicy in an attempt to defeat some of the force of the Argument from Evil. Positive apologetics, on the other hand, involves attempting to offer, well, positive reasons to think some Christian claim true (or some practice, e.g., morally good). Apologists are involved in both positive and negative apologetics, but the term “defense” unfortunately connotes that the apologist should only be interested in the latter. So, I want to suggest an alternative term. Try this:
Christian apologetics is the articulation and motivation of the intellectual and moral goodness of the claims, practices, attitudes, and virtues of the Christian Way.
I like that better. The “articulation” bit captures well the fundamental public practice they are involved in; and the “motivation” bit captures well why they are in the business of articulation.
Of course, we’re left with a bit of a mouthful. It’s definitely something that the original definition had on our final draft: concision. So let me close by offering a very concise definition, which maintains more of the content of our final draft whilst being short and sweet: Christian apologetics is the articulation and motivation of the goodness of the Christian Way.
This is all very off-the-cuff, so feedback and pushback would be greatly appreciated. I do think getting clear on the job description of the apologist is a worthy endeavor for the apologist, so I’d like to continue sharpening this definition.