Positive v. Negative Apologetics: A Brief Reflection & Evaluation
A distinction has often been pointed out between positive and negative apologetics. Negative apologetics is the “defensive” side of the coin; the goal is to go after arguments that have been lodged against the Christian faith; to show, perhaps, that the argument is invalid, or that some premise is faulty, or that the conclusion is implausible or impossible. Positive apologetics is more “offensive” in nature; it is concerned with giving reasons for the Christian faith. In a courtroom scenario it would be akin to the difference between, on the one hand, the prosecution making the case that some evidence of the defendant’s (perhaps an alibi) be dismissed from the trial, and on the other, the prosecution presenting some evidence which demonstrates that the defendant was in fact present at the scene of the crime.
Negative apologetics is a rich and busy field. Apologists are up to their eyeballs in arguments against the Christian faith, or “problems” for the Christian faith. There are the perennial problems that are special enough to earn a definite article: The Problem of Evil, The Problem of Silence, The Problem of Unbelief. There are historical arguments which are made against the reliability of Scripture or against the plausibility of a historical resurrection. There are philosophical arguments to the effect that the concept of God is incoherent or a priori implausible. There are psychological arguments against the Christian faith; arguments that often turn on non-theistic explanations of theistic belief. There are arguments against the internal coherence of the Christian faith: e.g. arguments that the teachings of Christ contradict the teachings of the apostle Paul. There are arguments against the scientific presuppositions or scientific claims of the Christian faith; or arguments which attempt to show the incompatibility of Christianity with well-supported scientific theories. There are arguments-against-Christianity galore.
And many of these arguments are forceful for a great many people. There are many who testify that these arguments are the reason(s) why they reject or do not accept Christianity; and they are often, I believe, the reason(s) for doubt or worry or confusion amongst those who do accept Christianity. In as much as the rejection or non-acceptance of Christianity is a bad thing, and in as much as the doubt, worry, and confusion these arguments cause is a bad thing, the project of negative apologetics is a good thing. At the very least, we can say that the influence of these “anti-Christianity” arguments makes the project of negative apologetics an important one — its precise value, I suppose, depends largely on how well this enterprise is practiced.
But negative apologetics, as necessary a project as it is, is not sufficient. It is not sufficient to meet the intellectual and dialectical needs of the church and the world. Perhaps it would be sufficient if the mere absence of “evidence against” the reasonableness/rightness of the Christian Way were enough to justify the Christian way; but, for many of us, the mere absence of “evidence against” is not enough. Many of us do not presume theism, much less the Christian Way. Perhaps there are those who do presume theism. Perhaps there was a time when many presumed theism. But we do not live in that time, and there are many of us who are perfectly content to be agnostic even if there are no knock-down arguments against the reasonableness/rightness of the Christian Way. The beliefs and attitudes and practices of the Christian Way strike most people as bearing some sort of burden of proof. Thus, the need for some sort of positive apologetic.