An Emmanuel Apologetic - Part 1

Apologetics Beyond Reason

In a postmodern culture, it seems to me that we need to emphasize a “God With Us” Apologetic. In this series of posts, I’m going to explore what an Emmanuel Apologetic may look like for emerging Christian ministries in the 21st Century.

In the modern era, evangelical apologetics were of two types:

The first type was of the Reason/Rationality sort—as in “Evidence that Demands a Verdict.” The word “apologetic” is from the Greek word apologia, translated either as “answer” or “defense” in English translations. In 1 Peter 3:15, we are instructed to “always be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you.” Unfortunately, modernism stripped apologia from its context here in Peter’s letter and made it mean “a rational defense based on logic for all things Christian.” The NIV tells us to give a “reason” (as opposed to "an account), feeding into our modernist mindset that we must give reasoned arguments. There is a whole genre of Christian books that are “apologetics,” or “ready defense” books, written by philosophy of religion specialists who offer “reasonable arguments defending the faith.” Christians gobble these up hoping to accomplish three things:

  1. They have a passion to arm themselves with Christian rational arguments for their faith in order to counter the arguments for heretical teachings that distort Christianity or the theologies of other religions.
  2. They want to be ready when they have to defend why they believe certain doctrines that they believe as Christians, like the resurrection, miracles, or even the existence of God.
  3. They want to shore up their own belief, in order to be assured that their faith is not just pie-in-the sky beliefism, but also rests of the firm foundation of rationality.

But look again at the context of 1 Peter 3:15. The “answer” or “defense” that one is told to be prepared to give is to those who ask us Christians why we live in such hope. What this presupposes is that the Christian community is living in such a radical and conspicuous way in the midst of those who do not yet know Christ that these people are either genuinely wondering why we have such a hopeful lifestyle or they are suspicious that we are just play-acting it. Most often it will be the latter. Many will mock a Christian community of do-gooders (they will “speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ” v. 16), but we must follow Christ as our Lord (v. 15a), and willingly suffer for the good done for people as Christ did (3:18, 4:1).

So the “defense” is not so much a "reasoned argument" but an “account” (not a “reason” as in the NIV—but a logos, as it is in the Greek: a “word”) of why we have hope. We are told here to tell our story. We're not told to provide a list of reasoned propositions, but to give an account. We are to tell our story of encounter with Christ, transformation in our faith, and why we are so radically living in such a different manner—spreading hope to those around us. While I believe that some people, if they have cognitive roadblocks to faith, may still need to have things explained to them in rational ways, the main biblical apologetic has always been an Emmanuel Apologetic—an apologetic that displays God to people by living among people as a community of hope.

Next post: The second type of modernistic evangelical apologetic.

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Steve said...

Good post Bob. I think this is a crucial issue for the church right now. I'm looking forward to your future posts on the topic.

Bob Robinson said...

Thanks, Steve, for commenting about this post over at your blog. It has created some good conversation there.

For my readers: check out the discussion at Steve's blog, reformissionary.