Tuesday, May 26, 2009


A break from Kant, although we'll be back to him at some point, to discuss apologetics. I'm going to assume you know what I mean by that, and that you have some familiarity with different types of apologetic strategies. If not, Wikipedia is a useful starting point.

A bit of autobiography: I have always been sceptical of a lot of apologetics. In my younger days, I wondered whether there was any point in it - shouldn't we just proclaim the gospel? Over my time at Uni, I moved to a more appreciative position. I began to see that reasoning and persuading went hand in hand with proclamation in the New Testament. As my thinking on the subject matured a little, I discovered presuppositionalist apologetics, and the semi-presup apologetic of Francis Schaeffer. All of this was very useful to me. I started to bash evidentialism in apologetics as a failure to understand the epistemological effects of sin. More recently, though, I've started to doubt the presup position. Mainly because it is so strong.

The thing about presuppositionalism is that it is an unassailable position. It is a closed circle position. On Christian presuppositions, Christianity is true and reasonable. On other presuppositions, not so. The strength of the position is that it does not expose the gospel to the twisted logic and arationality of unbelief. The presup apologist is clear that there is no neutral ground from which the truth claims of the gospel can be evaluated. And this is surely true - everyone brings their own worldview to the party.

But that doesn't seem to fit with the way God acts in history. He seems to make himself weaker than this - to base his claim to his people's loyalty on actual events in history. Think about the OT. How often do you get a phrase like "then you will know that I am the Lord"? Answer: quite often, directed both at Israel and at others (notably Pharaoh in the Exodus narrative). God stakes his reputation on contingent facts, and expects human beings to be able to discern from those facts that his reputation has been vindicated, regardless of their initial worldview. God exposes himself to the critique of a watching, sinful world - most notably in Christ.

Presup apologetics is too strong for the gospel. I think evidentialist apologetics is also too strong, for different reasons - it tries to make the evidence unambiguous, clear, solid. I always find it unconvincing. Too strong a claim is being made - did people find Jesus unambiguous, at the end of the day?

So am I retreating, setting the clock back to my 'apologetics = bad' days?

Well, no. Because I note that the answer of many in the no apologetics camp is to disengage, to stop trying to communicate, to just repeat the words of the Bible again and again until people are convinced. It is just as much a power play as sophisticated arguments of the apologists.

Is there an apologetics of the cross?


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  2. Nice. I'd recommend you get hold of Benno van den Toren's paper,
    a new direction in christian apologetics. It's in the European Journal of Theology 2/1 (1993): 49-64, and the Wycliffe library has a copy.

    It's pretty rough, essentially, following MacIntyre etc, he's suggesting that discovery/encounter is more like reading a book than building a house - truth, if you like, comes at the end not the beginning of reasoning.

    Especially in John Frame, I find the term presupposition is a confused one: sometimes they mean "premise" (whence circles), sometimes they mean "criterion" (ie authority), and those two get conflated in the term "commitment" (whence the problem): they ain't the same, and challenging one don't necessarily mean challenging t'other - I guess it's a bit like Carson's distinction between a formal & a norming norm.

  3. that said, I'd be wary if by "apologetics of the cross" you don't go too down the "hidden" line of eg John Hick, who says for us to be free & for Christ to be hidden on the cross, God must appear to the world etsi deus non daretur. You'll see that cropping up all over the place. I don't like it one bit.

    Instead, my own attempt at it is to say the gospel calls your bluff - the temptation in apologetics is to explain the gospel in such a way that of course everyone would want/see it. I take 1 cor 1 to mean notsomuch "you can't understand the cross", but "precisely when you do understand it, you'll hate it", because to glory in the cross means to hear God say, "you weak fool".

  4. Thanks Chris, useful stuff. As a rule, I try not to walk down any paths that John Hick has passed along ahead of me! I think your assessment at the end is spot on and captures the offence of the cross perfectly. I'll look up the paper you mention when I am a student again and have access to a library!

  5. "Presup apologetics is too strong for the gospel" - very helpful sentence!

    We had a seminar at my college with a German chap called Heinzpeter Hempelmann who's interacted with people like Hans Albert regarding critical rationalism. Check this out if you're into German. His conclusion is that Christianity must be falsifiable if it is to a) mean anything and b) not be viewed as a metanarrative powerplay.

  6. Thanks Sam - alas, my GCSE German is insufficient for the task. But the point about falsifiability (if that is in fact a word) must be right. I feel this point needs pursuing further, just not sure in what direction yet!

  7. I struggle to understand half the terminology to do with apologetics, but i am gleefully diving into the german file... (where I shall probably understand viel less)