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Clarifying Apologetics: Pt. 3
June 18, 2014 D.J. Clark

Clarifying Apologetics: Pt. 3

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Part Three: An Alternative Understanding of Apologetics.

At the forefront of this essay series I said:

I want to try to bring a bit of clarity to the term “apologetics”. More precisely: I want to try to bring a bit of clarity, not primarily to the way the word “apologetics” is commonly used, not primarily to the task that historical apologists have most focused on, but to the normative question, How should we understand the task of apologetics? If – as the Church has believed – there is a need for intellectual and dialectical defense within the Church (put differently: a need for a discipline of reason-giving), what precisely is this need? What sort of intellectual and dialectical defending is most valuable to the Church and its mission?

That is the question. If we follow the Church in assuming that there is some reason-giving enterprise which is vital to the Church’s mission (and that this reason-giving enterprise is the thing we should call “apologetics”), we should what to know just what this reason-giving enterprise is. (If we want to be more precise, we should notice there are probably all sorts of reason-giving enterprises that benefit the Church; what we want to know is which of these enterprises is most beneficial, most essential to the Church’s being faithful to its mission).

Notice the language of “the Church’s mission”. Given that I have framed our question about apologetics this way, it is clear that discerning an answer to our question will require us to answer a preliminary question: What is the mission of the Church?

Suppose the mission of the Church was, primarily, to effectively spread a message about salvation from the guilt and punishment of sin through the atoning work of the Cross, a salvation which can be obtained by merely accepting it. If this were the mission of the Church, then the reason-giving enterprise which is apologetics would be in service of this mission. The sorts of reasons that would be most in need of giving would be those reasons which, ultimately, make this message believable and attractive. Defending the Atonement, the Incarnation, divine punishment, the reality and gravity of sin — things like this would take center stage.

Suppose the mission of the Church was, primarily, to serve as God’s human instrument for bringing about a just social order in the world. If this were the mission of the Church, then the reason-giving enterprise which is apologetics would be in service of this mission. The sorts of reasons that would be most in need of giving would be those reasons which, ultimately, enable to Church to enact justice. Defending the truth of the Love Commands, the biblical conception of justice, the goodness and justness of God, the social teachings of the Church — things like this would take center stage.

Suppose the mission of the Church was, primarily, to worship God. If this were the mission of the Church, then the reason-giving enterprise which is apologetics would be in service of this mission. The sorts of reasons that would be most in need of giving would be those reasons which, ultimately, enable the Church to worship God. Defending the worthiness of God, the nature of worship, the nature and “truth” of the Sacraments — things like this would take center stage.

I offer these “suppositions” merely to show how dependent the nature of apologetics is on the nature of the mission of the Church; how we understand the mission of the Church dictates how we ought to understand apologetics.

Now here is an interesting question: Is there an orthodox (small-o) position as regards the mission of the Church? Or a bit more mildly: Is there an orthodox position as regards the heart of the mission of the Church? I ask this question because if the answer is No, then we are in the difficult position of not being able to discern what we have called the “proper task of apologetics” on the basis of historical Christian consensus. For if the proper task of apologetics just is that reason-giving enterprise which is most necessary for the Church to fulfill its mission, then a lack of traditional agreement on the nature of the mission of the Church means we will have to look beyond the consensus of “orthodoxy” to answer our overarching question.

So before I conclude this series with my own convictions, I turn this most recent question loose for you the reader. Is there an orthodox position as regards the heart of the mission of the Church?

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