Monday, October 09, 2006

Apologetics diminished as an evangelism help

From PreachingNow newsletter:

Haddon Robinson makes the case that apologetics has less impact in evangelism today than in past generations. In a recent interview with PreachingTodaySermons newsletter, he says, "There was a time in which apologetics had great force. I don't think that's as true today. In a postmodern age, to use that cliché, people aren't as impressed with evidences that demand a verdict. That's not just my opinion. It's the opinion of a lot of people who are skilled at reaching non-Christians, who have, in the past, used apologetics. Usually apologetics are more forceful for those who have come into faith, and having come to faith, have all kinds of questions.

"Often a church that has small groups, that has warm fellowship, that draws people to an atmosphere of love, has something going for it. People are drawn to that, and then they want to talk about the gospel. People want relationships; they want to know there are people who care about them. When they find that, then they will hear the gospel, but I don't think apologetics is as strong and as needed today as it was 25 years ago."

Has something taken the place of apologetics? Robinson believes that it is, "people telling their story. I'm not talking about the modern theology that you have your story and I've got my story, but there's no great story, no meta-narrative. I'm talking about telling your testimony, what's happened to you along the way. You're telling how coming to trust Jesus Christ has made a difference in your life. When someone hears that story, and it overlaps their story, there's a way in which that can connect. That's truer today than in the past. We've always used testimonies, but today the witness box has an appeal to people because, in a way, that's the way life comes to them." (Click here to read the full interview.)



At 12:54 AM, Blogger philjohnson said...

I think that the characterisation of apologetics along the lines that Robinson describes is itself an incomplete and misleading portrait.

It may well be the case that the pop apologetics movement spurred on by Josh McDowell and others appeared to be a prominent form of apologetics in the 1960s and 1970s. However as Edward John Carnell once remarked, there are as many apologetics as there are facts in the world. In other words apologetics in the west in the last quarter of a century is not coterminous with Evidence That Demands A Verdict (even though it was a widely read work in that period).

One also needs to look beyond the internal methodological debates among apologists over classical, presuppositional and evidential approaches to recognise that apologetics in the twentieth century (as well as through church history) has been handled in many diverse ways.

Some of the great apologetics experiments have occurred in interreligious-missionary encounters between Christians and Buddhists, and Hindus, and Muslims, for example. But even inside the Western world apologetics has involved literary or mythic apologetics as a style, alongside of apologetics addressing existentialism (as per Carnell's The Burden of Soren Kierkegaard), and personal testimonies have often been regarded as part of the popular apologetic task.

Meanwhile in the academy theoretical apologetics has ensued in philosophy since the 1980s with the "Christian Renaissance" in that area (Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig etc).

However, what is occurring is not the dumping of apologetics but the recalibration of the discipline into cross-cultural missions models and applied inside the West. This is something that is show-cased in Encountering New Religious Movements, edited by Hexham, Rost & Morehead (Kregel 2004), and in responding to alternate spiritualities in Clifford/Johnson, Jesus and the gods of the New Age (Lion 2001/Victor 2003).

Contextualised apologetics is also something that is discussed in harold Netland's Encountering Religious Pluralism IVP 2001.

It is also being worked out as a project in progress in the on-line e-journal Sacred Tribes ( For example there is an entire edition devoted to apologetically contextualised ways of interacting with neo-pagan and wiccan spiritualities.

The recalibration of apologetics does involve personal testimony, alongside of responding to cultural issues, specific spiritual quest issues, the power of myth and symbol, and the list rolls on. A lot of creative work is happening in Europe, England, New Zealand and Australia, as well as inside the USA.

In this regard I feel that Robinson is out of touch with what is going on in regards to contemporary religious pluralism in the West (one of the greatest challenges facing Western Christians), as much as postmodernity is a challenge.


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