New Frontiers in Christian Apologetics

Christian apologetics is this strange field of work that is always answering two questions: what are the eternal truths worth defending? and, what is going on in culture right now that needs to be answered? The Christian apologist always has one foot in the eternal and one foot in the moment.

When this is done well, apologetic work is at its best.

Twenty years ago when I was finishing my Seminary work, I did my thesis on the philosophy and ethics of Richard Rorty. Never heard of him? Most haven’t. But at the time, he was the leading English-speaking postmodern philosopher. Postmodernism was a philosophy which made its way into people’s daily discourse and evangelical theology, so I spent time with one of that spring’s fountainheads to get a better sense of what was going on. Though the effects of Postmodernism are still being felt, it is unlikely anyone will do their graduate work on him today.

But that’s OK. At the time, it was an important philosophy for Christians to understand. In fact, it caused more than several Christians to walk away from their faith – deconversion stories among evangelicals who think their faith is too narrow is not new.

This is what apologetics does; it is continually adaptive. There are new frontiers upon us as Christians who take eternal truths and the health of the church seriously. In some ways these issues are not new at all, but their cultural cache and recent scholarship make them topics that deserve new attention.

Here are three areas of study I think deserve a new wave of serious interaction from Christian pastors, theologians, philosophers, and apologists.

Critical Theory

Hopefully you have not only run across this term by this point but have a few good resources for critically dealing with it. As of today, the central tenants of Critical Theory are pretty much taken for granted in many colleges and universities, are making their way into primary and secondary education, the corporate board room, and even the church.

As with just about any theory (Postmodernism included), there are positive insights to be found there. But it simply cannot be swallowed whole and needs to have more attention paid to it by an increasing number of Christian thinkers. There are ideas central to Critical Theory that are simply at odds with biblical theology.

Among those who are interacting with Critical Theory well (and often in significant depth) are: Neil Shenvi, Samuel Sey, and the podcast, Free Mind.

One of the responsibilities of the Christian church is to pay careful attention to what is going on around them and filter it through the lens of a sound biblical worldview.

Safetyism

This one may be completely new to many of you. It is a label given to a trend you have seen and been frustrated by but may not have known how to express what you think about it. In their book, The Coddling of the American Mind, Lukianoff and Haidt describe Safetyism as:

…the idea that people are weak and should be protected, rather than exposed, to challenges. Safety culture has the best of intentions: protect kids from danger. It began with a focus on physical safety – removing sharp objects and choke hazards, requiring child seats, and not letting children walk home alone. Safety, however, has experienced substantial concept creep. It now includes emotional safety, that is, not being exposed ideas that could cause psychological distress. Taken together, the focus on physical and mental safety makes young people weaker.

Are you frustrated or concerned by increasing calls for the end to free speech? Are you confused by the belief that any speech that might make someone uncomfortable should be banned? If so, you are wrestling with Safetyism.

How can Christians interact with it? As one starting point, we can draw on the best of our theological tradition. If we believe that “all truth is God’s truth”, we can be devoted to the constant benefits of thoughtful and respectful interaction with other ideas, including Safetyism. People seeking truth need not be afraid of any conversation and can be simultaneously devoted to tracking the history of ideas and learning where they might lead. Making the case for pursuing truth is an apologetic in and of itself.

Marxism

There is certainly nothing new about this one. (The origins of Critical Theory can be traced back to mid twentieth century Marxism.) The political philosophies of Karl Marx and Communism have been some of the most consequential ideas in the world for the last 150 years. This makes its resurgence something of a black swan. There is an abundant amount of historical information about what happens when Marxism or Communism are tried on large scales, and it is never good. All hand-waving by modern-day Marxists aside, there is no evidentiary reason to be a Marxist.

And, yet, it is in ascendency in the West again. Many who are enamored with Marxism, however, may not know what they speak of. They may have heard a few lectures, watched a few speeches on YouTube, but have never really reconciled Marxist philosophy with history and reality.

Here, however, is where the Christian apologist can step in. Making the case that Marxism is the antithesis to a biblical worldview is not hard to do. From private property, to family, basic human rights, anti-Semitism, eugenics, to its inherent atheism, all one needs to do is read the (relatively short) Communist Manifesto, follow a few trails, and the case presents itself.

In the end, one of the responsibilities of the Christian church is to pay careful attention to what is going on around them and filter it through the lens of a sound biblical worldview. We often call it, “exegeting culture.” And while our arguments for the existence of God and the historical reliability of the resurrection of Jesus Christ will always be vital, we will also learn to scratch where our culture is itching (or hemorrhaging).

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