The changing role of apologetics
Proclaiming the truth with grace
Cover photo by Pete Markham/Flickr.
I have been a pastor and an expositional Bible teacher for over 30 years. As a Bible teacher, I love the field of apologetics, or the defense of the Christian faith. How delightful it is to know that Christians can give reasonable and gentle answers that are at the same time respectful, intellectually rigorous and convincing.
When I first began to take interest in apologetics (back in the good old days), the primary questions being asked were decidedly different than the questions being asked today. In the past, the major questions included, but were not limited to, the following:
- Can I trust the Bible?
- Was Jesus a real historical figure, and can we prove His death and resurrection?
- What about evolution and the apparent old age of the earth compared to the biblical record found in Genesis 1-2?
Today, even though these same questions are still being asked, the major focus has changed substantially. Now, major questions being asked include, but are not limited to the following:
- What about the LGBTQ community and the charge that Christians are hetero-sexist?
- What about religious extremism, the kind now being felt with the threat of ISIS? Is your religion open to differing views, or are you hostile to an inclusive understanding of religious differences?
- What has your religion to say about environmentalism, climate change and animal rights?
On the one hand, questions will always remain questions. Sometimes they are asked as a way to justify unbelief, and sometimes they are asked by those who genuinely seek answers. But, there is a definite shift from the leading questions a generation ago that dealt with objective reality (Questions like, “can the claims of the Christian faith be objectively verified?”).
Today, the concern is with the very nature of objective truth. Anyone claiming objectivity on matters of faith and morality is considered to be the “problem.” Of course, we know that truth claims, when speaking about faith, are by their very nature, exclusive and excluding. But this view, in the minds of many, is akin to “hateful language.”
How do we respond? First, we cannot escape the reality that the Christian faith, when rightly proclaimed, does make exclusive truth claims. Consider Peter on the day of Pentecost who said, “Therefore, let all the house of Israel know with certainty that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). No matter how we try, our faith is declarative, and makes objective truth claims.
So, does this mean we get louder and more strident? I fear that this will only make us less believable. Perhaps, on the other hand, the time has come for us to learn how to make our most assertive statements in an attitude of demonstrable, sacrificial love towards those who ask. Perhaps a great opportunity lies before us, if we can but learn to demonstrate both truth and grace in the realm of apologetics.
John Neufeld is Back to the Bible Canada’s first Canadian Bible teacher in its 75-year history. Previously he served as senior pastor at Willingdon Mennonite Brethren Church in Burnaby, B.C.
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