Apologetics Introduction

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Version 1.0, 3-20-05

Apologetics came to my attention very early as a part of my attempt to be comprehensive in evangelism. I wanted to know how to evangelize everyone; and if I got right down to basics and found out how to convince atheists, I thought I could cover all my bases.

There was a more practical reason for my study of apologetics, and that was that I really was trying to evangelize atheists. I was friends with at least a couple of them and also a Mormon. I spent most of my junior high and high school years trying to persuade them and got basically nowhere, but at least it helped me. Studying apologetics taught me a lot about critical thinking, Christianity, the Bible, philosophy, science, and scholarship in general. It also taught me that the world is very complicated. Not only do people not simply convert just because of a few arguments, but the truth is not always a simple matter to uncover. Things are not always as they appear.

At first I read popular apologists because they were readily available and I wasn’t aware of anything else. But the libraries I visited did have a few books on the academic level; and once I discovered them, those were the authors I gravitated towards. Two notable examples were William Lane Craig and Michael Martin. The first Craig book I picked up was The Son Rises, a popular-level treatment of his arguments for the resurrection. The resurrection had been the subject of one of Craig’s doctorates. I was immediately impressed. Michael Martin was not an apologist (not for Christianity anyway), but his book Atheism: A Philosophical Justification gave me my first major dose of analytic philosophy.

As I wandered deeper into the world of academic apologetics, it bothered me that there was not more material like this available to the general Christian public. The average churchgoer was not going to walk into the local university library and make a beeline for the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science. But this information was important, at least to people who wanted to talk meaningfully with the skeptics in their lives. Bridging that gap, I decided, was one of my life goals. Since then I have noticed a trend in that direction in Christian publishing, for which I am glad.

In that first round of apologetic study, I concentrated on evolution, Mormonism, the cosmological argument, and the resurrection. Evolution was first, probably because it’s the most visible apologetic issue. I studied Mormonism because my best friend was Mormon, and we spent about two years straight debating religion over lunch. The cosmological argument came along because I wanted to study apologetics systematically, and the creation of the universe seemed like a natural place to start. The resurrection entered the scene with Craig’s book, and it stuck because it was just such a fascinating topic and, of course, so central to Christianity. I came out of that period thinking that a) the creation-evolution debate is hopelessly complex and not very important anyway; b) Mormonism is unfounded but not easy for its adherents to walk away from; c) the cosmological argument probably works but proves very little; and d) among Christian historical evidences, the arguments for the resurrection are uniquely compelling, both in their force and in their implications. Through an apologetics listserv I subscribed to, I was also introduced briefly to presuppositionalism.

My study of apologetics was interrupted at the end of high school by my personal revival, and during my college and grad school years I neglected apologetics almost completely. Too many other pressing issues were weighing on me. I did learn a lot more about presuppositionalism in my study of Reformed theology, and I considered myself a presuppositionalist for a while; but as with most things, my mounting pile of questions overcame my commitment to the position, and I ended up agnostic on the subject. I also took a short graduate course on apologetics which added some important elements to my thinking about the existential, human side of apologetics. But mostly I was occupied by other things.

During this non-apologetic period, questions settled like dust on my mind. These came from both my studies and my independent reading and reflection. Despite being an evangelical school, Wheaton was still a good place to collect troubling questions about one’s faith. I found that my professors in the biblical studies program did a good job of exposing us to non-evangelical scholarship and of training us in evangelical methods of interpretation, but they did an uneven job of refuting their opponents’ viewpoints. I suppose you can’t do everything. But I did gain the tools to answer many of these questions myself.

These questions nudged me back toward apologetics, and they had help. My professors and other influences inspired me to develop my research and critical thinking skills further. This resolve was strengthened when I became irrationally alarmed by some conspiracy theories just before the Iraq war. After I recovered from my brief paranoia, I concluded that I was too gullible and that the solution was to learn to use critical thought more consistently.

Somewhat unexpectedly, I realized that if I was going to be a critically thinking person in general, I couldn’t leave religion out. I had to think critically about that as well. My reasoning was that each person is born into the world in circumstances that they didn’t choose, and these circumstances include one’s religious environment. People are accustomed to taking the religion they grew up in to be true. But if not all religions are basically the same, then letting your circumstances choose your religion amounts to rolling dice to decide on your spiritual condition, perhaps your eternal destiny. It would be wiser to make an informed choice. And I was not exempt.

So the nudge back to apologetics became a shove. I knew the need for critical thought about religion from my earlier expeditions into apologetics, but during that period I took it for granted that Christianity had solid foundations. I probably gave lip service to evaluating one’s faith; but Christianity was my starting point, and as far as I was concerned it only needed rational defence, not evaluation. Non-Christians were the ones who really needed to evaluate their viewpoints. But once I acquired this more critical approach to life, I believed that Christianity had to be examined along with everything else. I didn’t want it fail, but a serious test seemed necessary. So that’s where I find myself now.

This section is not for the faint of heart. I ask difficult questions, and I don’t settle for easy answers. If you’re a believer and you easily careen into anxiety and doubt, maybe you would do better to go somewhere else. Check out my apologetics links. These guys will take care of you. I can promise you no such thing.