I recently finished Tactics by Gregory Koukl - a book I’d recommend to anyone who is interested in improving their skill in articulating the Christian worldview. The primary tactic in the book follows the Socratic Method
and is taught through practical application. Though tactics are important, and the author does a fine job teaching you how to use them, it is helpful to have a holistic perspective on apologetics. The book focuses on the how
, but only touches on the why
. In this blog I want to briefly look at these other aspects and recommend the reader delve deeper for a well-rounded perspective.
The word apologetics finds its origin in the Greek apologia
which means to give an explanation or defense. It is the same word used in 1-Peter 3:15 where it says “always be prepared to give an answer
…” To be able to give an honest and persuasive answer about your worldview is a good thing, whether you are a Christian or not. Being able to think critically about what you believe and why you believe it is essential to living an honest intellectual life. Ironically, as I am writing this morning someone posted this on Facebook:
People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic. -- Tim Keller
For the Christian, I would add; a deeper and substantive integration between the life of faith and the life of experience and understanding is rewarding in and of itself. A rich and consistent worldview can be a blessing to those we interact with as well as add greater meaning to our own faith.
When it comes to sharing what we believe as Christians, reason is typically downplayed in the contemporary church. You may have heard it said; you cannot argue anyone into the Kingdom. The usual undercurrent in this comment is love overrides the need for reason. So based on this, why give apologetics any consideration at all? However, Koukl rightly points out in his book, you cannot love someone into the Kingdom either. The bottom line is God can use both love and reason to draw someone to Himself. If you have any doubt of this, all you have to do is look at the life of the apostle Paul in Acts. He reasoned with the Greeks. He reasoned with the Jews. I can tell you where Paul stood on the question of “why.”
In preemptive discourse where you lead the topic, tactics ought to be guided by an apologetic strategy. This is also true of defensive situations; though probably less so if you are only dealing with a skeptic’s comment or question. As an apologist, you may find certain strategies more appealing than others. A good book covering some of the most common strategies is “Five Views on Apologetics” (Craig, Habermas, Frame, Clark and Feinberg, 2000). The book covers:
Classical: start with theism employing natural theology and then move to Christian particulars
Evidential: employ specifically Christian arguments using evidence (such as the historicity of the Resurrection) - natural theology may be helpful but not necessary
Cumulative Case: employ multiple arguments with the assumption formal proofs are less effective than making a case like a legal brief - each argument adds towards a preponderance
Presuppositional: emphasizes the noetic effects of sin and concludes believers and unbelievers are unable through argument to bridge the gap in their worldviews- attempts to show only the Christian worldview can make sense out of life’s experiences
Reformed Epistemology: deemphasizes the need for evidence in establishing a warranted belief in Christianity - uses negative apologetics to clear the way for the unbeliever
Having a broad understanding of the most common strategies gives you the flexibility to select the best approach in any given circumstance.[ii]
Who, When and Where to Engage?
In Tactics, most of the scenarios presented are cases where a skeptic or unbeliever makes a false verbal assertion opening the door for discourse. In my experience, this happens fairly infrequently. For example, once unbelieving coworkers know you are an informed Christian with tactical skill, they will usually avoid any confrontation. If they take any stabs at your faith, it will most likely be out of earshot. There was an example in the book where Koukl sparked up a conversation with a Wiccan, but it was triggered by a nonverbal statement (a pentagram necklace.) So unless like Koukl you come into contact with a lot of people, I think the one-on-one verbal confrontation is the exception. Social media however is changing the landscape and I think here one can find greater opportunity.
When you do find yourself confronted by the hardened skeptic, it is time to employ Koukl’s full frontal assault – right? Well, not necessarily. If I had a dollar for every wasted engagement with a skeptic, I would be better off than a $100 for every successful one. There really is wisdom in Matthew 7:6 where it says do not throw pearls to pigs. Heaven forbid you are naïve enough to jump onto your average infidel-freethinking-atheist website and start going head to head. You’ll have better luck finding Jimmy Hoffa. Skeptic’s forums and closed-door confrontations with incorrigible atheists are almost always a waste of time. However, Koukl suggests what I think is the best opportunity for such an engagement. It is where there is an audience. If there is the possibility of one or more individuals present who are open-minded, then it may be worthwhile to engage with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3). But if the audience is made up of those solidly in one camp or the other, once again, it may not be worthwhile to engage.
I want to conclude returning to the requirement of love – or charity as C.S. Lewis describes it in The Four Loves. Scripture says we will sound like a resounding gong when we speak without love. Charity is a necessary component of the apologetic enterprise. Unfortunately in our busy and often compassionless day to day struggles, charity may be lacking more than reason. As I was reading Tactics, I kept struggling with Koukl’s use of statements like “Please help me understand your perspective…” even when dealing with ridiculous self-contradictions. I thought: “How disingenuous to ask for help when you don’t need it!” But then it dawned on me. The problem wasn’t with Koukl’s approach – it was with me. With charity, the statement “please help me to understand” really means something like “I’m interested in hearing your perspective even if I’m absolutely certain it’s wrong.” But only by charity is this attitude even possible. Frankly I’ve never been able to muster this up on my own. You probably will not be able to either. We have to recognize the essentiality of charity and ask God for it. Otherwise our apologetic efforts are potentially worse than being ineffective, they can be detrimental.
[ii] If anyone knows of other good books on strategy, email me, I’d like to add them to the endnotes.