The What and How of Apologetics
One of the things I frequently forget while playing chess is that I’m not the only person playing. Because I’m in such a headlong rush to attack, I sometimes have to remind myself that I have an opponent who is not only busy defending but is also plotting counter-moves as well. In chess, you must play offense and defense simultaneously. Apologetics is similar, and it is necessary for us to try to keep our balance in the midst of the fray. One goal of apologetics is to attack (the idea – not the person). That is to say, one of our primary objectives is to demonstrate how and why false ideas are false. It’s no good to simply say, “Oh, that’s just wrong.” We should have good and reasonable explanations to back up our charges.
But we’re not the only ones on offense. Increasingly, or so it would seem, Christianity is under fire. The New York Times’ Bestseller List has been occupied by books from Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett and a host of others who seem to have the goal of disproving the very existence of God. Some of their attacks on our faith are thoughtful; many, however, are utterly ridiculous.
Oh, and just in case you ever wonder about how this all might end, remember: This isn’t the first time people have come against the Christian faith like this; and it won’t be the last. The Christian faith is an anvil that has been wearing out hammers for nearly 2,000 years. I don’t think God’s losing any sleep over it.
So, if, on the one hand, our objective is to demonstrate how and why false ideas are false, we must also be prepared, on the other hand, to demonstrate how and why true ideas are true.
Now, in my experience, this is where a lot of Christians muck everything up. Many Christians believe what they believe because it’s what their parents told them to believe. If that’s you, I’m sorry to be the one to break this to you, but your parents may have told you lots of things that aren’t really true. My mother told me that if I went outside with wet hair, I’d catch cold. She also told me that if I let a dog lick me in the face, I’d get M.S. She swears she did not, but I have eyewitnesses.
Parents tell children lots of dubious things. Do I need to mention, say, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy?
Some Christians simply shrug and are able to muster nothing other than, “I just believe what I believe because I just believe it.” Or, “I just feel like it’s true. It just feels right.”
No one should believe anything without at least doing some checking first. Is there a good reason to believe what we believe? Would I be willing to change my beliefs if someone could demonstrate the falsity of them?
If I hadn’t been willing to change my beliefs based on new information, I would still be avoiding stepping outside with wet hair; my dog would be kept far away from my face, and there wouldn’t be many presents under the tree come December 25.
Suffice to say, there may be some beliefs lurking in our heads that have absolutely no basis in reality. Perhaps they have come about as a result of some beloved authority figure from our past, or a misunderstanding of the facts, or the time and place we were raised. Before we try to set someone else straight, we would be wise to scrutinize our own beliefs.
Let’s use our heads. Let’s think deeply and ask probing questions. Let’s not settle for second-hand faith that cannot withstand scrutiny. Let’s take some time to reclaim the Christian tradition of loving God with our minds again - show the false to be false. Show the true to be true. Those are the two goals of apologetics. That’s the “what” of apologetics.
We still have to figure out the “how.”