Culture At Large

A comeback for apologetics?

Andy Rau

Is the field of apologetics making a comeback? An article at Christianity Today observes that in the wake of a recent onslaught of criticism by high-profile atheists and their books, Christian apologetics is primed to strike back. But it might not be the same type of apologetics you remember from the last few decades:

Dinesh D'Souza, who wrote What's So Great About Christianity? (CT, March 2008), says the New Atheists are raising new types of questions requiring "21st-century apologetics."

"The apologetics of the 1970s and '80s are useful if you are teaching in a church camp, but it's not that relevant to the claims the New Atheists are making, which are very different," D'Souza says. "The New Atheists are really surfing the waves of 9/11, equating Islamic radicalism with Christianity. These are not questions addressed by C. S. Lewis or Josh McDowell."

It's interesting to hear that, because over the last few years I've definitely found a lot of the "apologetics classics" of the 70s and 80s to be somewhat uninspiring when confronted with postmodern critiques of Christianity. The apologetics I was exposed to while growing up—tracts, books, sermons—was usually of the "five ironclad easily-memorizable proofs that the Gospel is true!" variety. They connected with me at the time, and they certainly make good points, but brandishing them in response to modern doubts and critiques, I get the impression that the precise target audience they're aimed at no longer exists.

Rachel Evans puts it more eloquently in her response to the CT article:

What I found was that always being ready with an answer didn’t always work. I knew the “Christian response” to the Problem of Evil like the back of my hand, but it somehow didn’t make as much sense in India, where I struggled to understand why so many children had been orphaned by AIDS. I knew how to prove that Jesus rose from the dead, but I couldn’t convince my non-Christian coworkers that Jesus was alive and well in the Church today, when so many of them had been mistreated by believers. I knew how to win an argument with a universalist, but couldn’t quiet my own nagging questions about the eternal destiny of the un-evangelized. I’d built my faith on answers, so when I started asking questions, my faith began to crumble.

Is the apologetic method needed today different than it was 20 years ago? In your personal interaction with others, do you find the "classic apologetics" approach (with its focus on reasoned-out, point-by-point arguments and being ready with the "right answers") useful? Do you, personally, find it convincing?

Is the new flock of Christian apologists, taking aim at critics like Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens, on the right track? If you've engaged with non-Christians about the truth of the Gospel, what have you found to be the most effective approach?

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, Faith