Apologetics For A New Generation

The ‘A Word’ with Sean McDowell from ConversantLife on Vimeo.

I came across this video of Sean McDowell, son of famous apologist Josh McDowell, and Brett Kunkle discussing the issue of apologetics for a new generation and found it really interesting. First, let me say that I appreciate what Sean and Brett are trying to do in recasting the way evangelicals practice apologetics. For folks seeking out how to form a concrete rationale for what they believe and why they believe it, I’m glad that these resources are available and I welcome guys like Sean, Brett, and my friend Dan Kimball into an arena mostly dominated by guys like failed child actors or a dude with an unhealthy fascination with bananas.

With that said, I feel compelled to take these two guys to task for their failure to really understand the post-modern perspective. More specifically it is their often repeated claim that the post-modern view doesn’t value reason and rationality. If you watch the first few minutes of the video, the sixteenth to twentieth minute, and around the thirty-one minute mark, you’ll hear this claim repeated. They even use the absurd example of a bottle of rat poison and that we don’t apply “postmodern literary theory” to it’s label. I’m not sure if I can politely describe how intellectually dishonest or lazy these claims are.

The problem may stem from the possibility that for many apologists, there are only two modes of wrestling with objective reality. One is to view reality from a rational perspective and the other is to view reality irrationally. Any truth claim that is not based in rational thought is irrational. But this is not the case. There are three modes of rational thought and they are 1) pre-rational 2) rational and 3) trans-rational. For Brett and Sean, they understand post-modern thinkers as folks who disregard reason or rationale so they downgrade their status from rational to pre-rational. But what a post-modern perspective claims is that reason and rationality are limited. It is not that they are unimportant or should be completely discarded but that our ability to reason can only take us so far. The problem apologetics runs into in this day and age is that even if they prove through all their various methods that what they say is objectively true, the post-modern era greats their proof with a, “So what?” Let’s assume all of the truth claims of Christianity are true, what does that matter in the here and now? How can I objectively see that truth affect the reality of the “right here, right now.” Asking these sorts of questions doesn’t necessarily mean that reason and rational thought are kicked to the curb. It is just an acknowledgment the Enlightenment can only get us so far and it is a beginning point to find a trans-rational view. A view that doesn’t negate reason, but stands on the shoulders of reason and rationality to explain truths that rational thought simply can’t access. What apologists seem to miss is that they need to point to an objective reality in the here and now and how their Christian faith transforms life from old to new. And that can be objectively witnessed and rationalized by the world around us.

It’s as if I were talking to a really close friend of mine and I was trying to explain to him how much I loved my wife and how great our relationship is. I could use logic and reason to explain to him why I fell in love with her and why I still love her so much today, but my description still falls short. Ultimately, love is trans-rational. It includes reason but reason alone cannot testify to it’s beauty and wonder. Love cannot be explained as much as it can be experienced or witnessed. My friend ultimately assumes I love my wife by his own experience, his own witness of how our love transforms us both. Nothing I say can fully speak to what he suspects based on his own experience.

But what is the motivation of apologists to begin with? I suspect that Apologetics is primarily a function to massage away the disbelief people who already believe rather than inspiring new belief in others. This is not to say that it can’t accomplish both tasks but if one were to do a study on who is buying these kinds of books, the believers seeking to reason away their doubts would likely greatly outnumber those who are unbelievers, seeking a convincing, rational argument for Christian truth claims.

For folks who are passionate about apologetics and evangelism, it would do them a great service to have a thoughtful understanding of the post-modern worldview. To misunderstand this massive shift in our culture, as the two men above have done, will be your undoing. Today evangelism and apologetics are most effectively done through telling our stories and living lives that have been transformed by our story and God’s participation in our journey. One can talk about manuscripts, historical accuracy, the reliability of the biblical texts ad nauseam. The only folks that kind of information is affecting are the believers seeking to relieve their doubts.

In addition to what I’ve pointed out here, there is a slew of doozies in this video like Sean’s logic that good can exist without evil but evil can’t exist without good. Talk about a logical fallacy. But I’ll leave that for someone else to dissect. After all, I’m a “post-modern” and logic doesn’t matter to guys like me. I’m off to ignore some warning labels and poison myself.

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6 thoughts on “Apologetics For A New Generation

  1. Good post Zach I especially agree with this comment you make:

    “…but if one were to do a study on who is buying these kinds of books, the believers seeking to reason away their doubts would likely greatly outnumber those who are unbelievers, seeking a convincing, rational argument for Christian truth claims.”

    I find this to be the case as well.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this. Your point about mostly Christians reading these books is extremely important. My point of view has always been that if Christians want to know how non-Christians view the world, they should just ask the people around them. Talking to people is superior to any book that talks generally (and often oversimplifications abound) about demographics of agnostics or other folk. Often it is the people who read these books who have no non-Christian friends. This is a major problem in my mind. Thanks for the good and thoughtful post.

  3. Hey Zach!

    I haven’t watched the video, so I am not commenting on the whole “postmodernism” take Sean or Brett talked about. I do know it gets oversimplified and I have been guilty of that in the past for sure and don’t even try to get into that discussion now.

    But, I did want to make a comment about apologetics in general.

    As you know, I didn’t grow up in the church and all my friends were great thinking creative non-Christians. When I began exploring Christianity – apologetics were critical to my faith conversion. Because I needed “evidence” as best as I could find, to trust in the Bible and Christianity in general. So for my story, apologetics was a key component in my trusting in Jesus. As what we know of “Jesus” is in the Bible. So trusting the Bible was major for me. I didn’t have Christians helping me at that point. It was mainly books on apologetics.

    I have heard Lee Strobel’s story also. He was a non-Christian trying to prove Christianity wrong. But for him, as it was with me, apologetics and studying some of the key apologetical issues is what led Lee to faith in Jesus. Of course, the Spirit is involved.

    I have been in vocational ministry for 18 years now and I can attest that I believe younger people in particular are very interested in apologetics. Non-Christians, is what I mean by that. They don’t call them “apologetics” but they ask questions. We live in a world where everything is so incredibly subjective. On late-night television infomercials we see passionate testimonies that using a certain mop can change someone’s life. So relational interaction is important, but I am experiencing people who are not yet Christians very interested in the reasons and rationale for believing in Christianity and the Bible.

    Last week I had an hour long conversation with someone who very plainly told me he is not a Christian. He is around 25 years old. But our conversation centered around some kep apologetical questions. Interestingly, this young guy even had Googled enough and was familiar with a radio apologist that he then heard the name of our church on who mentioned me – so he came to our church.

    2 weeks ago, we prayed for and sent off someone who became a Christian at Vintage Faith Church who was formely a Hindu. She was leaving to go to a seminary. Before she was a Christian, she had relationships with Christians who were a major reason she developed enough trust in church/Christians to come to our church gatherings. But then we met and she had all kinds of apologetically oriented questions about the historical development of Christianity compared to other world faiths. Specific questions about creation and evolution and origin of the Bible as a sacred text. She didn’t use the term “apologetics” but everything she was asking was apologetics.

    So in that regard, I personally experienced and regularly see non-Christians very interested in apologetics. But again, they don’t say that term, but the questions they are asking are ones apologetics covers.

    Having said all that – the chapter I wrote in the book Sean edited was “A Different Kind Of Apologist” and said all the bad types of apologists I have experienced that don’t understand the minds of people outside of the church so their approach and questions they try to answer may not even be ones people are asking today. So my chapter even tells negative apologetic stories in it. But I wrote about why I believe apologetics are still very important today.

    I also think that with the whole apologetics discussion, we have to consider human temperaments. I think that depending on one’s temperament – the inclination towards apologetics will vary. For some considering putting faith in Jesus, apologetics and rationale arguments are the last thing they care about. For some, it is the first thing they care about. So I believe that much also has to do with one’s personality and temperament in this whole discussion too.

    OK. Long post! But I love reading your thinking as always – and wanted to share a bit and why I even wrote a chapter in that book.

    Bye bye!! Green Day 4 ever,

    Dan

  4. Dan, I’m really glad you are involved in this and I don’t mean to belittle the usefulness of apologetics. Lee Strobel had a big impact on me as well so I really do appreciate what apologetics is and why it’s needed. But my main point is that if Sean and Brett want to have success evangelizing in the midst of this cultural shift, they should have a competent understanding of post-modernism in general. Using William Lane Craig as your authority on the nature of post-modernism is like asking Fox to tell you all about the hen house. 😉

    I’m looking forward to reading your chapter! Be well.

  5. Like Dan, apologetics played a huge role in my conversion. I spent a year reading Strobel and McDowell’s books, and I became convinced. The most powerful part of my testimony, which I share pretty often as a pastor, is what happened when my life was transformed by that truth. You can’t discard this sort of study. It’s not the ultimate answer by any means, but it has power to it. I definitely agree with you about the greatest impact being our changed lives put on display. People in this conversation always swing their pendulum too one extreme or the other.

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