Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

My Concerns with the “Neo-apologists”

A phenomenon I have witnessed growing among red state, evangelical churches is the rise of what I call "the neo-apologists."  Most of these “apologists” are tied to the classical school of apologetic methodology. Their emergence  within Christian circles is due primarily to the development of the internet over the last decade or so, roughly 2000 to the present.  The world-wide web has allowed groups of Christian apologists to network with each other, as well as disseminate information, tactics, and techniques for practicing apologetics with non-Christians.
Additionally, a number of Christian colleges have developed specialized "schools" or "programs" dealing exclusively with apologetics.  These programs can be a few weeks during the summer or more involved 1 to 2 year degree programs aimed at providing students extensive training in the area of apologetic philosophy and instructions in the ways of cultural engagement. 
On top of all of that, certain apologetic "ministries" will pull together popular, well-known instructors in apologetics for weekend conferences throughout the country. The conferences will be centered around a theme addressing cultural challenges for Christians like same-sex marriage, abortion, and evolution.  The instructors provide talks designed to help pastors, youth pastors, and even lay people, to become their own apologists of sorts so they too can engage the culture with the Christian worldview. 
Now. A lot of folks will ask, "Isn't it a good thing Christians are being trained to think critically about their faith and equipped to defend Christianity in the marketplace of ideas?" Well, Yes.  I certainly agree that it is a good thing having apologetically equipped believers engaging the world. Heaven forbid I come across as totally dismissive of the ministry from these "apologists." A few of them offer solid instruction that I know has benefited me personally. 
Yet, in spite of those positive elements there are some areas of concern I want to address.  Keep in mind I'm aiming broadly with my points.  Certainly there has to be exceptions. I definitely recognize that.  I base my concerns upon a general observation of this apologetic movement as a whole.  And… Rather than taking these concerns as mean-spirited criticisms, I hope they come across as blind-spots we can all bring into focus.
1) I don't see these "neo-apologists" anchored in a local church.  I have to believe all of them are involved with a church in which they attend regularly and serve faithfully.  Looking over their websites and hearing their presentations, however, I don't really encounter any emphasis placed upon a commitment to a body of believers.  Perhaps they believe church attendance is a secondary, back-seat issue that can be discussed at a later time because church isn't immediately relevant to their apologetics.  If this true, then I have to disagree.
If I am a youth pastor and I'm told my students will have a great opportunity to learn from a trusted Christian "apologist," I'd kinda like to know where he attends church.  That tells me a little something about where the guy is coming from and what his doctrinal commitments may be.  Think about it: If that "apologist" convinces an unbeliever of the "reasonableness" of the Christian faith so that he believes upon Christ and becomes a Christian, where will that new convert be told to attend church?  I don't consider that decision to be a secondary, back-seat issue. 
2) They are not necessarily Scripture focused. A more serious concern I have with these neo-apologist is the devaluing of Holy Scripture as the ground and pillar of our faith.  Instead, their presentations are saturated in philosophical rhetoric and anthropocentric appeals to logic. 
Simply put, they are suppose to be Christian apologists. The primary document for Christians is the Bible.  Why isn't it sufficient in and off itself as the sole means to convince unbelievers of Christianity?  I just find it woefully inconsistent that a Christian apologist, whose chosen worldview is derived exclusively from the Bible, appeals to outside, non-biblical authorities in order to convince people to choose his Christian worldview which is defined exclusively from the Bible. It looks like to me such a position sets up one of those "circular arguments" classic apologists so tend to despise. 
3) They invest way too much authority in novice, untested youth.  When I visited a few apologetic web portals that launch me out to a myriad of apologetic themed blogs and websites, an overwhelming number of them are maintained and operated by young, 20-something college grads.  I'm sure folks will say, "That's awesome! All these young men and women taking on the challenges of our secular culture."  Maybe that sounds encouraging, but I'm of a contrary opinion.
I think it lays hands upon people way too soon, particularly untested, immature youth, and sets them up as an "expert" in various fields of study.  Just because a 22 year old guy or gal attended an apologetic worldview degree program for a year and passed with flying colors doesn't make the person an "expert" apologist. 
But when I look at those websites, I see grad students hiring out their "expertise" to youth groups, Bible study fellowships, and churches, on subject like the reliability of the NT, proofs of God's existence, and ID and evolution debates.  As a pastor, should I truly expect a 24 year old guy who did an intensive apologetic program over the summer at a Christian college to be an "expert" who will train my college students how to refute Bart Ehrman?
4) Lastly, there is an artificial "office of the apologist" that has been established.  The Bible tells us God has appointed elders and deacons to serve the local churches.  These are the pastors and teachers who shepherd and take care of the people.  God has not, however, appointed apologists to guard the flock. 
Now I imagine most of these "neo-apologists" would not consider themselves in the "office of an apologist." They see themselves as coming along side and helping churches grapple with the cultural challenges they face by teaching them how to defend their faith. Yet in spite of their best faith efforts to keep their role as apologist distinct from biblically ordained leadership, their position as a "trained specialist" sets them apart as a unique authority in the minds of people that is in the same category as a pastor.  That may not be their intention, but it is reality in many cases.  
They're not entirely to be blamed for this. Pastors and other leadership have helped to create this identity problem by shaking off their responsibility of teaching and training the people in sound doctrine.  Rather than engaging in the cultural challenges their churches face with a Scriptural framework, pastors pass off that duty to trained apologists who they can hire for a weekend seminar. 
That's not to say specialized apologists aren't useful for Christians to hear.  They most certainly can be.  But pastors should be teaching the people how to defend the faith and their congregations should be exhorted in how to think theologically about apologetics in their daily lives.  In other words, specialized apologists can be useful, but they should not be who everyone looks to as the ones with all the answers.  All Christians must learn how to engage the unbeliever with the Christian Faith. 

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Blogger Solameanie said...

Hi, Fred...great article and largely agree. I retweeted it and posted a link to it on my FB page. The only thing I would raise gently is that I have always tried to build a bridge between the presuppositionalist and evidentialist apologetics camps, who tend to shoot at each other a lot. I don't think it's an either or, but a both and. By all means the Bible should be our only spiritual authority and our primary frame of reference. Yet that same Bible also talks about how creation itself is evidence for the Creator and declares the glory of God. I see no harm in discussing philosophy, science etc..as long as that does not become the primary emphasis of our witness. That always must be solidly based on God's Word.

8:47 AM, August 29, 2012  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

I would agree with you as well. I tried to not make this a bashing evidentialist post by qualifying my comments before I launched into my concerns. I don't want folks clicking away from my post thinking I am just shooting at classic apologists. Some of these concerns, particularly the third one about investing way too much authority into youth, can spill over into the presuppositional camp as well.

8:52 AM, August 29, 2012  
Blogger k said...

Hi Fred, nice post and great blog. I was wondering though, how you see the role of a theologian in relation to concern 4. Do you think some are at risk of establishing an artificial office?


1:53 AM, August 30, 2012  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

It depends on who you have in mind when you say "theologians." Can you clarify a bit?

6:47 AM, August 30, 2012  
Blogger Mark | hereiblog said...

Do you have any evidence for these assertions?

7:42 AM, August 30, 2012  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Yes. Though I tried to preface my claims by pointing out how I was broadly speaking to my personal observations.

I go into a little more detail about what I mean if you look at some of the articles under this tag:

Certainly if you search around on the net for some apologetic webportals, you can research a little bit of what I had in mind under #3.

8:56 AM, August 30, 2012  
Blogger Mark | hereiblog said...

Fred, thanks. I was just toying with you a bit - a play on words if you will.


12:48 PM, August 30, 2012  
Blogger AJM said...

Great post.
This is mostly evidence of pastors focusing on wrong
Regarding concern 4: why arent pastors training others in congregation?
Why arent pastors encouraging reading by recommending the right books?
Not bashing pastors only connecting to the mention of them in the post.

4:09 PM, September 02, 2012  

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