Avoiding the Pitfalls of the Contemporary Apologetics Renaissance Outline

For those interested, here is the outline I handed out at my EMNR/ISCA conference workshop this morning.

Avoiding the Pitfalls of the Contemporary Apologetics Renaissance

Or: A Word of Exhortation to 21st Century Apologists

*Adapted from an in-progress essay

I. Surveying the Apologetics Landscape in 2014

A. Annual conferences

B. Ratio Christi

C. Apologetics degree programs

D. Social Media groups such as the Christian Apologetics Alliance

E. Success of movie, God’s Not Dead

F. Increased respectability of Christianity in the discipline of philosophy


II. Why Critique Ourselves?

 A. Tribe of Issachar (1 Chronicles 12:32)

–> They understood the times and knew what Israel should do.

B. Let us never praise new movements—even ones we like— without asking what we may lose in the wake

C. We must seek a standard of objective excellence in all we say and do

–> See Matt.12:36-37; James 3:1-12


III. Warnings

A. Beware of cultivated obsolescence

1. We cultivate our own obsolescence whenever we speak, write, or act in way that encourages other people to stop listening to us.

2. A fool takes no pleasure in understanding,

but only in disclosing what is on his mind. (Prov.18:2)

3. When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable,

But he who restrains his lips is wise. (Prov. 10:19)


B. Guard against stylistic homogeneity

1. When all we do is talk to each other, we begin to sound like each other

2. We each need to pursue our unique callings in our own corners of the Kingdom

3. If we only read each other’s books, articles, Facebook posts, and blogs, then we end up not only recycling each other’s points, but also spreading each other’s errors.


C. Flee from flashiness over solid content

1. Pretty PowerPoint graphics cannot save you from inadequate preparation

2. Be teachers, not mere presenters

3. You can “charm” away you ethos: Do not distract from your message with your  personality


D. Do not neglect discipleship

1. Possible over-emphasis on conversion

a. Arguments are sometimes inappropriate

b. The success of the argument is not everything

c. The Holy Spirit will work in his own way, in his own time

d. Dare to befriend a non-believer, and love him or her regardless of  apparent interest in converting

2. Possible over-emphasis on either the intellect or the character at the expense of the other:

 I assure you, so far as the university is concerned, I have no patience with piety alone—I want the most rigorous intellectual training, I want the perfection of the mind; equally, I have no patience with reason—I want the salvation of the soul, I want the fear of the Lord… (Charles Malik, “The Two Tasks,” 1980  address, transcript found in The Two Tasks of the Christian Scholar, eds. William Lane Craig and Paul M. Gould)

3. A healthy church where inter-generational discipleship thrives should be a  priority. One suggestion: Revive adult education in hermeneutics, philosophy, theology, and apologetics. This strengthens hearts and minds. (Do not buy into the lie that “millennials” have different needs. We need to live around and with non-millennials to mature.)


E. Resist the temptation to pontificate beyond our competency


F. Do not favor the “viral” over the classic


G. Fight against the pressure to respond speedily


H. Avoid turning well-known philosophers and apologists into celebrities

1. If famous apologist X says “Y,” “Y” may not be correct or wise. They are  fallible humans, too.

2. Do your own thinking, using these souls as your intellectual mentors, not as the providers of your script.

I. Do not develop an adversarial posture toward nonbelievers


J. While the apologetics movement is growing, there is still much to be done.

                        Therefore, if evangelization is the most important task, the task that comes   immediately after it—not in tenth place, nor even in third place, but in second place—is   not politics, nor economics, nor the quest for comfort and security and ease, but to find   out exactly what is happening to the mind and the spirit in the schools and universities.   And once the Christian discovers that there is a total divorce between mind and spirit in the schools and universities, between the perfection of thought and the perfection of soul and character, between intellectual sophistication and the spiritual worth of the individual human person, between reason and faith, between the pride of knowledge and the contrition of heart consequent upon being a mere creature and once he realizes that Jesus Christ will find himself less at home on the campuses of the great universities in Europe and America than almost anywhere else, he will be profoundly disturbed, and he will inquire what can be done to recapture the great universities for Jesus Christ, the   universities which would not have come into being in the first place without him. –    Charles Malik (“The Two Tasks,” 1980)


IV. Encouragement

A. We have a greater platform than ever before thanks to the work of those who have  paved the way

B. If we carry on at this rate, next generation of Christians will be more prepared to defend the faith than ever before.

C. Learn to listen well

1. The best apologists are prophetic when the need arises. Prophets must be listeners in order to understand the times.

2. Listen to popular culture

3. Listen to the academy

4. Listen to individuals right in front of you

5. Listen to the Church

D. Upgrade your core beliefs into knowledge (justified, true belief). Use whatever knowledge you have, and never stop studying

E. Seek faithfulness over effectiveness

“Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.”

1 Cor. 4:2

F. Do not fear! The truth will prevail, and God is in control.


Recommended Reading:

 Harry Blamires, The Christian Mind, (Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Books, 1978).

William Lane Craig and Paul M. Gould, eds., The Two Tasks of the Christian Scholar (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007).

Andreas Kostenberger, Excellence: The Character of God and the Pursuit of Scholarly Virtue (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011).

Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2001).

N.T. Wright, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters (New York: HarperOne, 2010).

How Study is Necessary for Devotion

Bookshelf (2)Certainly, the benefit of reading must come to the soul by the way of the understanding. When the high priest went into the holy place he always lit the golden candlestick before he kindled the incense upon the brazen altar, as if to show that the mind must have illumination before the affections can properly rise towards their divine object. There must be knowledge of God before there can be love to God: there must be a knowledge of divine things, as they are revealed, before there can be an enjoyment of them. We must try to make out, as far as our finite mind can grasp it, what God means by this and what he means by that; otherwise we may kiss the book and have no love to its contents, we may reverence the letter and yet really have no devotion towards the Lord who speaks to us in these words. Beloved, you will never get comfort to your soul out of what you do not understand, nor find guidance for your life out of what you do not comprehend; nor can any practical bearing upon your character come out of that which is not understood by you.

-“How to Read the Bible,” a sermon delivered in 1879 by Charles Spurgeon