The word “apologist”, in line with its etymological roots, is generally understood to be more-or-less synonymous with “defendant”. An apologist is someone who defends something. The begging question with regards to Christian apologetics is, Just what is it that the Christian apologist is defending?
The most common answer, so it seems, and the answer which is probably implicit in the way apologetics has actually been done over the centuries is something like this: The Christian apologist is defending the truth of the central claims of Christianity. (Most commonly, what gets to count as “central claims” are the claims of the Church’s various creeds.) That is Christian apologetics: the defense of the truth of the central claims of Christianity.
I find this understanding of apologetics too be too small, too narrow. For a few reasons. I’ll name four.
Start with this one. I think Christian apologists ought to be concerned with much more than “claims”. Why? For the simple reason that Christianity is far more than a claim or a collection of claims, and if apologists are interested in defending Christianity, then they will have to be concerned with defending more than claims. Ok, then. But what else is there for the apologist to defend besides claims? Here are a few things: Practices, attitudes, virtues. These are just as central to Christianity — or, as I prefer to call it, The Christian Way —, and are in as much need of “defense” as are the creedal claims. Loving your enemy as yourself: What does that mean? Should human beings actually follow this command? Possessing faith, hope, and love: What does that mean? Are these in fact virtues? Liturgical practice: What is it, and is it a good thing? Those are some examples of questions that fall outside of the scope of creedal claims, but which seem just as important to the Christian Way, and just as much in need of defense. So why are these so often ignored by the apologist?
Thus far, we have reformed our definition of a Christian apologetics to this: The defense of the truth of the claims, practices, attitudes, and virtues of the Christian Way.
I also think Christian apologists need to be concerned with more than just the “truth” of claims, etc. Why? Well, even if we focus our attention solely on claims (i.e. we ignore my advice in (1)), defending the “truth” of claims still falls short. Sometimes apologists are only concerned with demonstrating the “rationality” or “justification” or “entitlement” of belief in Christian claims. Perhaps we should use a wider term, perhaps replace “the truth” with “the intellectual goodness”. That might capture the wider range of epistemic goods – truth included – that the apologist is defending with regards to Christianity.
Thus far: Christian apologetics is the defense of the intellectual goodness of the claims, practices, attitudes, and virtues of the Christian Way.
More to follow…