I’ve recently been reading a book by Alister McGrath called “Intellectuals Don’t Need God & Other Modern Myths: Building Bridges to Faith Through Apologetics.” It was published back in 1993, so I’m sure you can get some good deals at Amazon. In my next few posts I’ll be sharing some thoughts from McGrath and some of my own commentary interwoven.
In his introduction, McGrath makes a point to explain that apologetics is an art. He writes, “Classical apologetics has tended to treat Christianity simply as a set of ideas, meeting a series of intellectual barriers that can be neutralized, or perhaps even overcome, by judiciously deployed arguments.” Apologetics deals with a variety of topics including, but not limited to, the existence of God, human suffering, and an ethical standard of living. These arguments, says the apologist, can help individuals overcome the barrier to faith in Jesus Christ. But, McGrath remarks, “too often, traditional apologetics has sought to commend Christianity without asking why it is that so many people are not Christians.” Apologists, McGrath thinks, need make a “serious effort” to discover why it is that thousands and thousands of people find Christianity unattractive.
One of these reasons is that people interpret historical events, specifically political or social oppression, as being the cause of Christianity. Certainly this is true for many of us who have heard it said, “The Crusades were started by Christians” or “Christians are responsible for starting religious wars.” Sadly, as McGrath points out, these beliefs are not arguments, per say, but are pressures that shape attitudes against Christianity. These pressures require an answer.
But the answer is not solely to be given in academia. The “cutting edge of faith” is found in the pulpit, the business conference room, and the student lounge. The traditional use of apologetics must adapt. “The science of apologetics needs to be complemented by the art of apologetics.”
This art focuses on the responsibility of adapting to one’s audience. People have all sorts of different reasons for rejecting Christianity; they come from various backgrounds with various emotional, psychological, and intellectual baggage. “An apologetics that is insensitive to human individuality and the variety of situations in which people find themselves is going to get nowhere—fast.”
Apologists must be able to connect to the hearts and minds of their audience. History has shown that this can be done. The “effective apologist is one who listens before speaking” (“quick to listen and slow to speak,” James 1:19), and who provides the adequate and relevant resources from the science to the individual’s needs. McGrath writes,
The art of effective apologetics is hard work. It simultaneously demands a mastery of the Christian tradition, an ability to listen sympathetically, and a willingness to take the trouble to express ideas at such a level and in such a form that the audience can understand them and respond to them.
This is hard work, indeed. For myself, I struggle with at least one of these three. It is something that I have been working on and I think I’m getting better at. It seems that there is always something for us to work in the science of apologetics. But perhaps equally important is the art of apologetics, providing the pastoral role for people. “For when all is said and done, apologetics is not about winning arguments—it is about winning people.”
For the apologist in all of us, what are some of the things you struggle with and what do you think you could do to improve in those areas?