Apologetics and religion in the public square

(Mervin Bitikofer) #1

I started this topic from out of the “AIG / Biologos debate about Adam…” thread, though I may not have done so efficiently or correctly. Here is my manually created new topic.

I used the word itself to make more of a conceptual point. You say you need to explain that word in Britain; I guess most people on the street here in the U.S. probably wouldn’t know what it meant either. But they very much would know what you were trying to do if you brought up your Christianity in any conversation with the (in any way visible) agenda of defending (or worse yet) promoting “your religious opinions”; and they would resent you for it. So while we may have lost track of the actual label “apologetics” due to its marginalization in the public arena, we certainly have a cultural memory for what the monster looks like and people are trained to run screaming in the other direction (if the monster is of the theistic genus anyway – persuasion on nearly any other ground is tolerated and even expected.)

Here is an interesting talk at the Veritas Forum (NYU) by guests Pastor Tim Keller, and Jonathan Haidt (self-described Jewish Atheist) on this very topic. I only listened to the short speaker portions by both these gentlemen, so I can’t speak to the quality of the rest of the hour and 25 minutes presumably spent in Q&A with the audience. But what both men had to say (particularly Keller) was interesting and challenging to me. I’d be curious as to your thoughts on it as well as others here. I’m guessing that Europe faces these same challenges though perhaps is less shrill about it?

(Mary) #2

That is an interesting talk! I travel quite a bit in the US, so this is of interest to me as I compare what I see with what I am used to in the UK. I think in the UK that we are more pluralistic - and tolerance is value number one in society. That doesn’t always work - it can be “tolerance if you agree with me”! But as you say, the same challenges as in the US are probably there, but less shrill. However, anything that is a challenge in the US usually comes our way a few years later!

So when it comes to apologetics, that is something done mostly within churches to help people know what they believe - rather than being something you do with lots of atheists in the audience (except perhaps in a university debate setting). There is a group of Christians in Oxford who are known as being apologists, and generally respected within the church, but other than that, it isn’t really known any more. The church isn’t too worried about these kinds of questions - except in summer camps/gatherings where workshops might go into these subjects. So when it comes to BioLogos questions, most of the church is not too worried - many vaguely believe the 7 day story, but they think days might be longer. The ID viewpoint sounds good (without the usual militancy about schools). They certainly wouldn’t want to argue it out, but they sometimes throw out a dismissive comment of evolution in church circles. Many pastors would never preach on these subjects, but they would encourage respect of people who think differently. If anyone wants to study more, the pastors would send them to books by the Oxford apologists! Into this mix of indifference comes the DVDs from AiG etc. And some people swallow them whole - including pastors. So we have a relatively new situation where young enthusiastic Christians are starting to get more militant, following the views of those DVDs - and many don’t realise that there is an alternative Christian “evangelical” narrative. Now I have to define “evangelical”, right?

This is my view of the UK from what I have seen. Others are of course free to disagree with me.

(Mary) #3

When it comes to publicly declaring our beliefs, I think that big meetings where a speaker argues their view logically is past its sell by date. The only effective means of sharing our faith in the UK seems to be coming alongside and being a friend. Then if people have questions, we supply a book or an Alpha course to help answer them. The most effective churches are those that clearly love and welcome people, where visitors can see the difference that God makes in the lives of the church members. Healing and other answers to prayer are very attractive. So while I can be very logical about what I believe, and I could explain it very rationally, I generally don’t do that when faced with someone who doesn’t believe yet!

(Mervin Bitikofer) #4

I wonder if this chestnut hasn’t always been true for all people in all places?

In fact one could even reverse it to say … first come alongside a friend – not in order to share your faith [with words, anyway] but because they need a friend. In doing that one is already sharing their faith in their deeds. The other stuff takes care of itself, if we are just faithful even to follow what God wants in these simple things.

(Mary) #5

I’m totally with you there!

So any “apologetics” should be for Christians so that they know their faith has a good basis.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #6

Strengthening faith is good, though I would contend that in the end that (alone) will not be an adequate foundation. One of the valuable things we need to recover more is using apologetics to remove unnecessary stumbling blocks. Biologos works at this. William Lane Craig has been discussed here of late (speaking of someone with ties on both sides of the Atlantic). He thinks we should be re-investing ourselves in the powers of argument again since detractors are using bad arguments to shipwreck the faith of vulnerable believers.

And I seem to be getting this message from different independent angles lately, because I encountered this video which strongly brings up the same theme. It is very Catholic oriented (Catholic bishop addressing a conference of educators), but his [Robert Barron’s] message applies to the whole church. This one is worth watching for the entire hour, though you can skip the first three minutes of introductory comments before he gets to the subject at hand.

(system) #7

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