Summary: The Purpose & Scope Of Apologetics
Apologetics exists as a field of Christian study to aide the believer in understanding his beliefs, why critics refuse to ascent to these eternal truths, and how these beliefs apply to broader intellectual concerns. Upon hearing of these applications of the discipline, those unfamiliar with such studies might conclude the field to be a subject preoccupied with trivial, esoteric arguments divorced from more pressing issues arising in the course of everyday life.
However, Apologetics does not have to confine itself to the halls of higher education. Apologetics does, in fact, have a role to play in the more popular forms of communication and cultural expression often looked down upon by more traditional academics and clergy.
Many students enrolled in formal degree programs and academic courses of Apologetics no doubt embrace aspirations of serving the Lord in the capacity of a pastor, missionary, or some other form of traditional Christian service. While these students are to be commended for such lofty goals, it must be noted that formalized education in Apologetics can also be good preparation for vocations involving more direct confrontation with the social and cultural realities of the day.
Such an assessment is not a detached observation. Rather it is one derived from my own experience of nearly two decades as a writer of editorial and op-ed commentaries. These efforts began in local newspapers but eventually migrated onto the Internet as that particular technology became more widespread and assessable.
One would not, at first glance, suspect a connection between Apologetics and scathing news analysis. However, Apologetics can serve as as useful tool to get at the ideas and assumptions concealed beneath the theatrics and hoopla surrounding most public issues.
Likewise, the Evangelical might be surprised by the receptivity of many of these public forums to the presentation of the Christian worldview since most believers have grown accustomed to a hostility towards traditional religious perspectives in the mainstream media. The point is not so much for the Christian to expect to anchor the nightly news on one of the major networks but to capitalize on those opportunities made available by new technologies contributing to the democratization of the means of mass communication.
The ability of the Christian to stake a foothold and win at least a modest audience in the tumultuous arena of public debate is predicated on the nature of truth itself. Romans 2:14 says, “Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, since they show that requirements of the law are written on their hearts...”
This reality serves as a gateway to an apologetic utilized by some of the most influential Christian thinkers. Dr. John Warwick Montgomery writes in “The Law Above The Law”, “...the fundamental function of the legal profession is to seek justice by seeking truth. The lawyer endeavors to reduce societal conflicts by arbitrating conflicting truth claims (68).” Similar things could be said of the journalist or columnist as these modern scribes chronicle the events of the day and attempt to relate them to the overall human condition.
Yet the Christian taking the insights of Apologetics into the public debate should not expect things to always go along peachy keen. After all, this is an age whose prevalent outlook of relativism stands in opposition to the absolute claims of the Christian faith. It, therefore, falls to the apologist to show the contemporary unbeliever, acculturated to the temper of these times, the disjunction that exists between what the average non-Christian publicly professes and the stable moral order the heart actually longs for whether the individual fully realizes it or not.
C.S. Lewis in “Mere Christianity” noted that when there is a disagreement between two individuals, “It looks, in fact, very much as if both parties had in mind some Law or Rule of...morality...Quarelling means trying to show that the other man is wrong. And there would be no sense in trying to do that unless (there was) some sort of agreement as to what Right and Wrong are (31-32).” If radical tolerance really was the ultimate principle around which the universe operated, argumentation would be pointless and perhaps impossible. Alister McGrath writes in “Intellectuals Don't Need God & Other Modern Myths”, “Lewis's point ... is that there is a core of moral constraints underlying human civilization (40).”
The Christian makes the argument for the superiority of his answer by comparing how well Christianity and the competing belief system in question measure up to various tests such as that of systematic consistency and coherence. By this test, the philosophical investigator examines how well the statements within a given worldview logically fit together and how these propositions square with the external facts. In the arena of public debate, this test is carried out by extrapolating from policies and ideas to their ultimate conclusions and how they either help or hinder both the individual and the nation.