Is there a place for apologetics?


(Laura) #1

I’m curious to get other parents’/teachers’ thoughts (regardless of whether or not you homeschool) about the usefulness of apologetics in general for kids/teens. Do you (or do you plan to, or have you in the past) taught apologetics, such as in a church or home setting?

I’ve been thinking about it because so much of the “apologetics” I got growing up were YEC related, and so I’m wondering about their effectiveness in general. I think a lot of it was overdone, fairly shallow (and as I believe now, flat-out wrong), seeming to aim for pat answers, or even to try and discourage honest exploration. Or worse, leaving me and others (though probably unintentionally) with the idea that our faith was something that had to be “proven” in the physical realm if it was to be of any value.

I guess I can understand the desire to “head off” difficult questions before they arise – or the worry that if I don’t bring up an apologetics topic (other religions, cults, new age, mythicism, etc.), my kids will learn about it from somewhere else with a different agenda.

And sometimes I hear from Christians who didn’t grow up in Christian households who have found apologetics very useful, after coming to faith in Christ. So I know there must be a place for them. Has anyone else wrestled with this?


(Christy Hemphill) #2

I’ve had very similar thoughts. I’m interested in any resources people have found helpful and not obnoxious.


(Andrew M. Wolfe) #3

This is a great question, and one I haven’t thought much about yet. I’m curious to see how others respond. But for me I think it would depend in large part on the goal of the endeavor. Apologetics to show that everyone else is wrong? Nah. But apologetics to show why the faith I want to instill in my kids is reasonable? Absolutely! And I would encourage dialogue so they know I want them to learn critical thinking, that I’m not necessarily telling them how to think.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #4

I think of C.S. Lewis as an apologist that tends to still enjoy approval and who profoundly affected a lot of lives including Francis Collins. He (Lewis) fits your category of those who did not grow up in Christian homes.

But, sharing in your general disapproval in some stereotypical forms of apologetics today, I have to wonder if apologetics today have gotten shallower than in prior generations, or if seasons of exposure have just made today’s audiences more jaded against yesterday’s ideas. Not that people today are more literate or have dismissive answers handy, I suspect they don’t. But maybe those insights probably have to be rediscovered, so that they have a veneer of sensational “freshness” about them. Even more likely, though, we seem to be moving into a “post-authority” age where experts in general are suspect (except for that narrow cadre of “experts” that you have chosen as the “right ones” to listen to). So when we hear arguments given that seem good, we tend to think: “yeah – well, somebody probably has a good answer for that, so I need not be too concerned.” And we free ourselves from a need to deal with what, after all, is probably just somebody else’s alternate reality and freely stay cozy in our own. And so we do to philosophical discourse what has already been done to science: the art of planting doubt so that we can comfortably dismiss what we don’t like.

Apologetics may be a currently under-appreciated activity. And we should widen the concept to recognize it isn’t just uniquely a Christian or religious activity. I think all of us engage in apologetics to the best of our ability and according to our cultural surroundings. I suggest that everybody in a forum such as this (whether self-identified as believers or not) is engaging in apologetics. Maybe it’s okay to abandon the word, though, if it now provokes offense, as long as we don’t abandon the activity itself.

I know I’ve brought it up before, but I’ll say it again here … Philip Yancey is a good author, and one of his books: “Soul Survivor” is itself a good little cross-section of a few spiritual greats (mostly contemporary) and their approaches to the big questions and life itself. I remember being very challenged in good ways as I read through all those even if I can’t now remember who all they were. In fact I think work and words that are relayed from some of these chapters end up being apologetics at its best even though most of them (and Yancey himself) might actually shun that particular word for some of the same reasons we share in here.


(Laura) #5

I agree with you about C.S. Lewis. I continue to be amazed at the degree to which his writings appeal to Christians from so many different denominations and backgrounds. I guess I wouldn’t have thought of him as an “apologist,” but as you imply, it may be more of an issue with semantics – or simply with the methods and/or reasons behind apologetics rather than the act of “defending the faith” itself.

Thanks for the Yancey recommendation – I’ll have to add that to my list. I read “The Jesus I Never Knew” a couple years ago and have been meaning to read more by him since. I suppose reading about Jesus is really the best part of apologetics anyway. Perhaps that’s where some of my aversion comes from, is feeling like apologetics have focused far too much on peripheral issues that are not at the heart of the Christian faith.


(Andrew M. Wolfe) #6

I’m actually in the minority view that C.S. Lewis was not a good apologist. A thought-provoking, must-read Christian writer? Absolutely, yes. A good apologist in 2017? No. I say this because I remember quite vividly sharing Mere Christianity with an atheist friend in high school (last century) and he read the whole thing and all my hopes were dashed when he came back and said it was quite easy to poke holes all through Lewis’s arguments. I realize now that Lewis was a product of his time and very much bound to modernity and rationalism. For a more postmodernity-proof (if there is such a thing!) apologist, I recommend Lesslie Newbigin.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #7

I’ve seen a few holes poked in Lewis’ arguments myself (particularly his moral one, but also his ‘trilemma’ one too) so I haven’t harbored any illusions that he (or anybody else other than Christ himself for that matter) will be any sort of ‘end-all’ for apologetics. But the main thrust of his (Lewis’) influence I think still stands on its own as he has a wealth of prolific insights, many of which still touch people today. I wouldn’t be so hasty to dismiss him whole cloth just because that book failed to connect with your friend. Arguments alone (even good or unanswered ones) will still be insufficient to really bring somebody where they need to be in relation to Christ. They are merely tools that the Spirit may see fit to use along the way for some of us.

Afterthought edit: …and all that said, thanks for the recommendation to Lesslie Newbigin. I’ll have to check it out as I’ve never read him. Is there one penultimate work of his that would make a good first read?


(Christy Hemphill) #8

This. I’m less interested in my kids being able to argue effectively that Christianity is the best and rightest and more interested in them being able to present Jesus as attractive.

One book I liked is Speaking of Jesus: The art of non-evangelism by Carl Madearis.

One that was recommended to me by several people and I have on my kindle waiting to be read is Tactics. The author just won a CT book award for his newest book. It might be more conservative than my typical choices though. Another recommended book I am hoping to take a look at soon is A Practical Guide to Culture: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today’s World. It is not an apologetics book, but I guess I put “how to relate to the world around you as a Christian” books in a similar category.

@Mervin_Bitikofer Lesslie Newbigin is good stuff, but maybe above the level of most kids. The Gospel in a Pluralist Society is the one I see cited the most. Here’s an annotated list of seven of his books: http://englewoodreview.org/lesslie-newbigin-introductory-reading-guide/


(Andrew M. Wolfe) #9

Very good point. My friends were all reading him in college, not middle or high school. And they were reading TGiaPS as you said. I stumbled across #6 on Englewood’s list, Proper Confidence, and it helped me a lot with picking apart my then-scientific-positivistic epistemology, as I’ve mentioned previously on the Forum.

It’d be nice if somebody wrote a “Lesslie Newbigin Lite”! :slight_smile: Then I could share him more easily with my kids in a few years…


(Andrew M. Wolfe) #10

Agreed. And there were, besides my belief in C.S. Lewis as the shining knight of Christian intellectualism, all kinds of issues with the fundamentalist faith of my youth that probably would have served as barriers to Christian faith for my friend Karsten, who was the son of German atheist intellectuals. But I digress.

I don’t dismiss C.S. Lewis just because of Karsten. But as I myself read Lewis, I find that he has too much faith in the essential rationality of all humankind. I think he would have vigorously rejected the idea prevalent nowadays that people usually make decisions at an emotional, tribal level and then back up those decisions with reason as only a secondary consideration. He almost mocks as obviously silly the notion that humans are mere animals — and yet this is the working assumption of much of academia today. Such matters need to be discussed in an apologetic context, not assumed or dismissed.

This is, admittedly, just my $0.02, and based on foggy recollections of things read many years ago. So take them with a grain of salt. :slight_smile:

Merry Christmas to you and yours!


(Mervin Bitikofer) #11

You all have given me a wonderful Christmas present: the discovery of Lesslie Newbigin! Reading this mini-biography of him sold me on him if you hadn’t already done the job before! My only concern is that after reading some of the accessible excerpt of his “Gospel in a Pluralistic Society”, I see he ran with the line that Christianity tells this story, and in opposition Evolution tells that story (which is technically true, but it isn’t clear to me whether he lumps in all evolution together as a bundle into Evolutionism as so many erroneously do today.) But even if he did / does, I plan to read him! I think I’ll see if I can get his “Proper Confidence” for Kindle reading in an imminent car trip. Thank you, @AMWolfe and @Christy!

Merry Christmas to you all too!


(Andrew M. Wolfe) #12

Yes, his biography was also, for me, one of his great selling points: having served as a missionary for many years in India and then returning to his home country to find a similar philosophical turn setting in there, he had a uniquely perspicacious understanding of this postmodern era. In my opinion he was ahead of his time, in large part because of his decades of service overseas.

Very good point about this. As I haven’t yet read TGiaPS, I didn’t pick up on this theme in his writing. Good to know! I’ll be interested to hear if you find this to be problematic as you dig into it.

Btw, Proper Confidence is 111 pages — 111 small pages. Iirc, it can be read in a (long) sitting. I hope you enjoy it!


(Mervin Bitikofer) #13

I have it now … you’re right. I’m gonna tear through this in a hurry. Will have to also get TGiaPS as well so it all lasts a bit longer (and that is where I found his line about evolution). Since that is a 1989 work and “proper confidence” was 1995, it is possible his views could have evolved in that space of time too. But I need to read both before I speculate.


(Daniel Fisher) #14

My own thoughts… i similarly find the simple “pat answers” particularly unhelpful. Giving a simplistic, pat answer to a question all too often looks more like trying to avoid the genuine difficulty of the question, and more like gives the appearance of wanting to find the desired, rather than the true, answer to any particular question.

On the other hand, I saw many classmates in college quickly jettison their faith when exposed to even some of the simplest challenges to their faith, they seemed unable to recognize that there were, in fact, real answers to the questions their atheistic or agnostic professors were offering… or they didn’t know how to recognize the weaknesses in the atheistic view they were being exposed to.

So I, personally, am a huge fan of apologetics…if done right. It prepared me, at least, to be ready to wrestle with the atheistic and unorthodox views I was exposed to in college, not to be simply taken in by the first alternate ideas I found. I was already aware that some challenges exist, and had some practice in wrestling with those questions, and was aware that Christians had real answers to those questions.


(Daniel Fisher) #15

I’d be interested to hear the exact objection your atheist friend raised against Lewis’s arguments, particularly the moral argument (if you remember it). I personally find his observations inescapable, even in 2017.

I have seen atheist friends and professors try to dismiss Lewis’s moral argument by (whether intentionally or not) misrepresenting the argument he made. I had a long discussion with an atheist philosophy professor in college, who continued to emphasize his objection to Lewis’s moral argument on the grounds that “I don’t need to believe in God in order to recognize that murdering an innocent person is wrong.” I could not get him to grasp that this simply wasn’t Lewis’s argument; rather, Lewis’s very point was that, indeed, even atheists do clearly recognize moral absolutes… and that is inconsistent with their worldview; that an atheistic world view has no basis for claiming any moral absolute.


(Daniel Fisher) #16

Also, for what it is worth, Lewis addressed this very line of reasoning (though not specifically in mere Christianity, as I recall)… he observed various views en vogue in his own day that tried to invalidate human rationality, and observed that, if they were true, they didn’t just invalidate Christian thinking, they invalidated their own.

In his day (particularly in his essay on “Bulverism”), he specifically addressed freudianism and Marxism, both of which claimed that we cannot believe thoughts to be simply rational, but the result of various social or psychological factors… not unlike the emotional tribal factors you noted here. His response was insightful:

There are two questions that people who say this kind of thing ought to be asked. The first is, are all thoughts thus tainted at the source, or only some? The second is, does the taint invalidate the tainted thought - in the sense of making it untrue - or not?

If they say that all thoughts are thus tainted, then, of course, we must remind them that Freudianism and Marxism are as much systems of thought as Christian theology or philosophical idealism. The Freudian and Marxian are in the same boat with all the rest of us, and cannot criticize us from outside. They have sawn off the branch they were sitting on. If, on the other hand, they say that the taint need not invalidate their thinking, then neither need it invalidate ours. In which case they have saved their own branch, but also saved ours along with it.
The only line they can really take is to say that some thoughts are tainted and others are not - which has the advantage (if Freudians and Marxians regard it as an advantage) of being what every sane man has always believed.


(Daniel Fisher) #17

Indeed, Christ must certainly be the goal, purpose, means and end of Apologetics. Being the inveterate fan and disciple of C. S. Lewis that I am, though, I would observe he came to a similar conclusion based on his interactions and evangelism… :slight_smile:

Fortunately, though very oddly, I have found that people are usually disposed to hear the divinity of Our Lord discussed before going into the existence of God.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #18

I think Lewis would say (wrote) to the effect that an atheistic view can offer no basis for any objective moral views. And I imagine most thoughtful atheists (e.g. ones who hang out here) would agree with him in that they have denied the existence of any moral absolutes at all. They just go further to insist that neither do Christians (nor anybody else) offer any compelling (to atheists) moral foundation either.

Lewis also wrote somewhere though, coming at this from the other way, that the mere presence of this culturally irresistible inclination to acknowledge moral structure should in itself be troubling to the naturalist. It cuts across all major religions and cultures that a very basic set of values seems to compel us – it might be culminated in something roughly equivalent to the golden rule. And science can never justify that. Science can only potentially touch on what is, and perhaps even show how some of that moral compunction developed (i.e. through evolutionary development of altruism with its reciprocal or even communal/tribal benefits), but it can never jump the gap to bring all that to an “ought” in the present. “Is”, “was”, and efficient naturalistic explanations about “why”, can never get us to the “ought”. Yet we so strongly feel the ought. I remember Lewis also writing that all our urges have corresponding satisfactions to be found – we have hunger–food exists; we have longings for companionship–friendship exists; we have the urge to procreate–sex exists; we have the urge to compel moral behavior–a moral law must exist.

I find his argument above still compelling, but I find it that way as a Christian already and I can understand how people who choose different starting points (apart from theism of any kind) would not find the above as a compelling line of reasoning. By itself I don’t think it gets you there (but then again, I don’t think anything does outside of God reaching in to us with revelation.) And Lewis admits as much I believe: that none of this gets you even close to Christianity in particular. But I think he did put it forward as something that should prevent anybody from being able to find a complete account of reality from a solely materialist foundation. I don’t think today’s persistent materialists feel all that compelled by such an argument, though.

Here is my bigger objection to the phrase above: I’m not convinced there is any such thing as an “atheistic world view”. There are atheists, to be sure. And I’m sure many of the outspoken ones among them (especially those who put the empirical sciences forward as allegedly their only commitment) would love for us all to believe that this view alone is some sort of neutral vantage point from which all other faith commitments must be evaluated – in short, it is the only view that is allowed to wear the mantle and mitre of “objectivity” in the secular public square. In fact they try to shun the word “faith” in reference to their own commitments --which is a sure sign of a strong and healthy underlying faith in full operation; (and I mean that as a compliment even though it is never received as such.) To roughly quote Lesslie Newbigin (whose book I am presently enjoying, and who is giving much substance and word to my thoughts above): Nobody doubts anything without believing something else first. And he said “believing” (not “knowing” or being certain about). There is no scientific certainty to be had for anyone at these fundamental levels of thought.

While Lewis may be superseded in some ways in this, I think he deserves full credit for initiating (or carrying one) these insights in the directions they have gone.


(Peaceful Science) #19

I would endorse the suggestion to use CS Lewis. His work is really good. “Is Theology Poetry” is one of his best, but might need HS level kids.

http://augustinecollective.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/1.2-Is-Theology-Poetry-Reading.pdf

Religion and Rockery is really great, and would work even for younger kids.

Also take a look at Pensees by Pascal. It is really interesting. Also, it comes in short bites. For younger kids, you could read just one aphorism (about a paragraph or two), and get enough for serious thought.

https://www.gutenberg.org/files/18269/18269-h/18269-h.htm

See for example:

Blaise Pascal, Pensees, Section 7, 547. We know God only by Jesus Christ. Without this mediator, all communion with God is taken away; through Jesus Christ we know God. All those who have claimed to know God, and to prove Him without Jesus Christ, have had only weak proofs. But in proof of Jesus Christ we have the prophecies, which are solid and palpable proofs. And these prophecies, being accomplished and proved true by the event, mark the certainty of these truths and, therefore, the divinity of Christ. In Him, then, and through Him, we know God. Apart from Him, and without the Scripture, without original sin, without a necessary mediator promised and come, we cannot absolutely prove God, nor teach right doctrine and right morality. But through Jesus Christ, and in Jesus Christ, we prove God, and teach morality and doctrine. Jesus Christ is, then, the true God of men.
http://peacefulscience.org/tour-pascal/

This last one is great to pair with radiocarbon dating of the Isaiah Scroll (see here https://journals.uair.arizona.edu/index.php/radiocarbon/article/viewFile/1537/1541), which I explain here http://peacefulscience.org/tour-pascal/.

The strength of CS Lewis and Pascal, in my view, is that they are much more theologically grounded than most in the “apologetics” general. The one contemporary classic I would include, especially for Jr High and above, is More than a Carpenter.

This last one is particularly important, IMHO. It is critical to give kids grounding in the Resurrection and in Jesus, which is what this book does. The last reccomendation some people will dislike, but as an Indian I thought it was good. The Lotus and the Cross by Ravi Z., a conversation between the Buddha and Jesus.

In general, I think the work that focuses most on Jesus is the best. The work that is grounded in solid theology is best too, and particularly hard to find in our world. The best of all are rooted in stories. Thinking about stories, it is worth pairing these with CS Lewis’s novels, which he personally viewed a apologetics. For example, The Space Trilogy pairs really well with Religion and Rocketry. Till We Have Faces is considered a true masterpeice, and pairs well with the Myth the Became True.

Hope that helps. Great question.


(Christy Hemphill) #20

A couple years ago we read The Case for Christ for Kids. It is an adaptation of the Lee Strobel book for adults. I think it was helpful for my kids in giving a context for our beliefs and modeling that when you have questions about faith or the Bible, there are knowledgeable experts you can consult. (Instead of just googling your question and seeing what random Joe on the internet says about it, which seems to be what is modeled by their peers.)

Getting back to the OP, I think apologetics absolutely does have a place if we are talking about helping people who already have faith understand the historical and philosophical context of that faith and helping them develop a more coherent or more easily articulated explanation of what they believe. What grates on my nerves in the homeschool world is that apologetics are often marketed as either a weapon (kids should be able to rhetorically beat up on atheists if the occasion arises) or an innoculation (can’t send your kids off to college to be exposed to secular culture until they’ve had their apologetics shots.)

I don’t think apologetic arguments alone bring people to faith or destroy competing truth claims. When people say they came to Christ through apologetics, I almost always hear them talk about important relationships with Christians or some kind of life circumstance that made them spiritually vulnerable and receptive. And I’m more interested in preparing my children to engage their culture than fight it or hide from it.