Why Does Opposition to Apologetics Come From Mostly Within the Church?

Introduction

Apologetics is a branch of Christian theology that helps give reasons for the truthfulness of the Christian faith/worldview. The word “Apologia” means “to give reasons, make a legal defense” (Acts 26:2; 2 Tim. 4:16; 1 Pet 3:15). The apostles approach to spreading the message of the Gospel is characterized by such terms as “apologeomai/apologia” which means “to give reasons, make a legal defense” (Acts 26:2; 2 Tim. 4:16; 1 Pet 3:15); “dialegomai” which means “to reason, speak boldly” (Acts 17:2; 17; 18:4; 19:8), “peíthō” which means to persuade, argue persuasively” (Acts 18:4; 19:8), and “bebaioō ” which means “to confirm, establish,” (Phil 1:7; Heb. 2:3). [1]

Over the years, I have the privilege to collaborate with many others who are involved in the apologetic endeavor. One thing is for sure: Most of the opposition to apologetics comes from within the Church itself. But why is this? After all, though Jesus didn’t run around calling Himself an apologist, he did offer reasons and evidence for His Messiahship. As I just said, Paul and the apostles did apologetics on several occasions. I have written about more about here.  Recently, I sent an email out to several ministry leaders about the need for apologetics in the local congregation. Keep in mind, the list had about 100 people on it. I did get one response which led to a radio interview. Robin Schumacher discusses a story about his friend who sent a similar letter to ministry leaders.

So having said all this, let me offer some reasons as to why there is so much opposition in the Church itself:

  1. Ignorance about apologetics in the Bible: I have taught on many occasions where we see apologetics in the Bible. In many cases, Christians have never read the Bible apologetically.
  2. Seminaries: Sure, pastors and ministry leaders are taught to exegete the text. That’s important. But in the end, they probably go to a seminary that doesn’t even offer a class on apologetics. This makes no sense. So they end up doing a lot to equip the people to know and study the Bible correctly. But is it not true that most if not all of our churches start with a set of presuppositions that a fairly large part of our culture rejects?3. The Impact of Postmodernism and Emergent Church: Space precludes me from going deeper on this topic. Paul Copan has two concise articles on the topic here and here. But I run across many false dichotomies in the Church such as the following:
  • The Orthodoxy/Orthopraxy divide: This plays out in the following sayings: “We spend too much time on orthodoxy (right belief). Hence, what really matters is our orthopraxy (right practice).” This is a false dichotomy. After all, it is true a Christian needs to be loving, caring, and feed the poor and show good works. But can’t a Mormon, a Jew, or a Buddhist display good works as well? Sorry but the truth question can’t be left behind.
  • Propositional Truth vs Personal Truth:  The saying goes like this: “Truth is in a person (i.e., Jesus), and is not based on a set of propositions.” Once again, there doesn’t need to be a dichotomy here. Personal and propositional revelation work together! Hence, this gets really old.
  • Faith vs Reason: The majority of the culture thinks the word “faith” is something that is just a private and subjective belief that is not grounded in any kind of knowledge.  The problem is that this is the way many Christians define faith as well. My question is the following: How many pastors and ministry leaders teach on  what the Bible teaches about faith? We could use a lot more sermons/teachings on this topic. When I ask my fellow Christians why they think Christianity is true, the average response I get is “It is true because I have faith.” So if this is the case, what would you say if a Muslim or Mormon said they know Islam or Mormonism is true because they have faith? I guess that makes Islam or Mormonism true! Case closed!To read more on this, see our post called Why So Many People Misunderstand the Word “Faith”

    4. Christians Being Spoon Fed By Their Pastors: Many Christians won’t take the initiative to learn anything unless their pastor tells them to. This is tragic and shows the problem with the clergy/laity divide. See the article Laypeople and the Mission of God, part 1 — Killing the Clergy-Laity Caste System. I was recently asked by a Christian how to get an apologetics programs started in their Church. They were shocked to learn how many resources are out there.

    5. Christians are not sharing their faith: I think this is one of the largest obstacles to apologetics in the Church. I recently taught a class on religious pluralism. I asked people to raise their hand as to how many times they have been asked “How can you say Jesus is the only way to God?” Out of 40 people, two people raised their hand. I was baffled by this one. I assumed everyone had heard this objection. Hence, if people aren’t sharing the Gospel, they aren’t getting challenged!

Let me close by saying this: We are here to help. I know myself and others love the people of God and desire to see our fellow brethren equipped to engage the culture around us. I am not saying apologetics is all that matters. It is ONE BRICK in our foundation. I hope ministry leaders will see the need for this brick in the local congregation.

Sources:
1. Garrett J. Deweese, Doing Philosophy as a Christian (Downers Grove, ILL: IVP Publishers, 2012), 78-79.

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6 thoughts on “Why Does Opposition to Apologetics Come From Mostly Within the Church?”

  1. Well done good and faithful follower of Christ. Paul on Mars Hill is a good example of an expert who is gifted in engaging the opposition in debate. Then there is Athanagoras (c.133-190), Iranaeus (c. 130-200), Minucius Fexis in the 2nd century, Origin (c.185-245), Augustine of hippo (354-430), Tertulian (c.160-230 I love this guy, Blaise Pascal (Pensees), Alvin Plantinga (still living), Peter Kreeft (Living), J.P. Moreland (living) to name but a few apologists.
    We must prove the Bible is true as best as we can with fulfilled prophecy, archeological studies (one Biola prof was a biblical archeologist), scientific accuracy in everyday language in the Bible, and personal experiences that prove the Bible is true (conversion experiences–modern miracles).
    We have to make the Resurrection believable or our faith is dashed to the ground by using W.L. Craig and N.T,. Wright to give us ammunition.
    We need to point out Christians can be brilliant (Hazen’s recent IQ essay).
    We certainly need fiction authors that can bring the message to the home such as Dostoyevski, Lewis, Tolkein and films such as Quo Vadis by the Nobel Laureate (1905) Polish author.
    Don’t forget to differentiate between micro and macro evolution. Darwin didn’t get it–tectonic plates and the Cambrian Explosion. God’s work with Cosmic Constants and creating the sub atomic particles that make up hydrogen for the Big Bang vs. pure chance which is impossible since the magic cut off number is vastly exceeded.
    Thank you for motivating me to write this. Hope you can use some of it.
    Frank Crawford CAA apologist.

  2. From my perspective, the above listed reasons for misunderstanding apologetics add up to what I consider to be the primary reason for the churches rejection of apologetics; anti-intellectualism. The statement I often hear is “you can’t argue someone into the kingdom.” They then attempt to argue people into the kingdom using nothing but Bible verses, not even considering that the person they are throwing proof texts at doesn’t believe the Bible, is unfamiliar with the Bible and doesn’t get why these ancient words should be believed at all.
    The anti-intellectual won’t even take the time to read an article on the reliability of the scriptures so they can at least give the unbeliever a reason why they throw out Bible verses like rice at a wedding.

    1. I’m appreciative of all the above input. Church opposition to apologetics is indeed adamant and disturbing. Most of my forays of equipping the church apologetically have been met by opposition. Early on I recognized at least one predominant reason. It is related to the anti-intellectualism that Larry mentions, and the faith versus reason scenario that chab123 mentions, but runs deeper.

      In one construct, the earthly Church can be divided into two camps: 1) those driven by the spirit, and 2) those driven by the mind. For those who may not otherwise know, spirit-driven Christians can be generally characterized by practicing the spiritual gifts, acute interaction with the spiritual world, and Christian mysticism. Mind-driven Christians can be generally characterized by focusing on bible study, sermons, and other didactic enterprises.

      Those who are mind-focused often hold animus toward and spurn the things of the spirit, just as those who are spirit-focused often hold animus toward and spurn the things of the mind.

      It is rare to enter an assembly or engage an active Christian who cannot be ascribed to one of these camps.

      That being so, I have found that mind oriented churchgoers tend to be far more receptive to apologetic instruction, whereas spirit oriented churchgoers usually reject apologetics with gusto, insisting that such mental machinations hold little sway, possess little power, intimidate those of lesser intellect, and mostly obfuscate “what should be a focus on the spirit.”

      This reality is obviously unfortunate. I believe God’s plan is for each of His children to equally embrace things of the spirit and things of the mind. Or as the apostle Paul put it: “What is the outcome then? I shall pray with the spirit and I shall pray with the mind also; I shall sing with the spirit and I shall sing with the mind also” (1 Corinthians 14:15).

  3. If you think you have it bad in the US you should visit the UK! I think #5 is one of the key reasons, if Christians made a greater habit of sharing the gospel they would very quickly realize the need for reasonable answers to peoples questions. I like Tim Keller’s observation that the Gospel is the ‘what’ and apologetics is the ‘why’ and we confuse people when we respond to a ‘why’ question with a ‘what’ answer.

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