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.