One of the commenters on the previous post in this series made an excellent point that I want to explore here. Sacred Vapor said, “I've been thinking about how apologetics would best operate in a postmodern world, I'm not so sure the evidentialist approach should be abandoned as 'making a case' is always a valuable option -- hence our justice system is built on this, not just science.”
Is an “evidentialist approach” appropriate in a postmodern context?
I affirm the remarks of Stan Grenz on this, saying that apologetics in a postmodern context must move beyond Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict towards an incarnational apologetic.
“We must move from being well-equipped apologists to becoming a believing community. Increasingly, people are looking for communities who, together, embody the message that they proclaim and thereby provide credence to its truth. They are looking for a community of people among whom they can discover the goal of their search — the life-giving presence of Christ. Today, many people are converted to community before they are converted to Christ.” (From "Does Evidence Still Demand A Verdict?: The Church’s Apologetic Task And The Postmodern Turn" available online from ag.org)
I will develop this idea of incarnational apologetic in my next post. In the meantime, however, we must ask if “evidence” has any place in a postmodern apologetic.
I think it does. Why? Because “evidence” does not always need to rely on the strict definitions of classical proofs that are the presumptions of a modern rationalistic philosophy. The problem with modernity is that we began to rely too heavily on a Cartesian foundationalist approach to knowing. According to Foundationalism, the only things allowed as a foundational belief is (1) something evident to the senses, (2) something self-evident, or (3) something incorrigible. Anything that is based on foundations that meet these criteria will withstand what I’ll call “Enlightenment Rational Validation.”
But the postmodern asks, “How many beliefs actually fit into those three categories?” The answer is very few! Therefore, a postmodernist rejects Enlightenment Rational Validation as the only way to know.
But this does not factor out looking at the accounts of others as without merit in their quest for knowledge. Theistic arguments that are person- or community-relative may be accepted as “evidence.” Kelly Clark, in a book that seeks to show the irrelevance of Enlightenment Rational Validation, writes,
“There are surely many reasonable beliefs that we maintain without classical proof—precious few of our beliefs are proved in this extremely strong sense. A jury making a decision on the basis of the evidence, an historian making a considered judgment about historical trends on the basis of ancient texts, a literary critic defending an interpretation of several poems by the same author all lack classical proof; but surely their beliefs may nonetheless be rational.” (Return to Reason [Eerdmans, 1990] p. 53)
So, much of what we believe is based on evidence and our ability to process that evidence rationally. However, this is a far cry from Enlightenment Rational Validation, because we are not saying that in order to be “rational” we must submit to the premise that truth is only found in validation through the rules of reason.
As long as evangelicals attempt to adhere to the rules of Enlightenment Rational Validation, their apologetic will fail in a postmodern culture. The evidence that demands a verdict may not always be built on the premises that adhere to a modern concept of truth.
technorati: postmodernity, apologetics, emerging church, evangelism