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.