I've been involved in a couple of discussions about apologetics with Tom Price from the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics. It began when David Meredith tweeted out this:
— David Meredith (@DCMeredith) April 1, 2015
I enthusiastically retweeted it. Tom pushed back and we ended up having this discussion.
That got picked up by folks at Premier Christianity and so we wrote a couple of brief defenses of our positions. Now I didn't choose the wording of the "motion" and wish it had been different, but we ended up debating the proposition: "Apologetic sermons rarely work." My case for the affirmative begins like this:
Being 'anti-apologetics' is like being 'anti-good works'. Who could possibly be against good works? Well, every Protestant is – if those good works are placed on the wrong side of the line. Good works are great. But their proper place is on the far side of knowing Jesus.
Revelation is exactly parallel to salvation (John 17:3) – to know God is to be saved by him and vice versa. Therefore, just as we don’t work our way towards God (and get topped up by grace), so we don’t think our way towards God (and get topped up by revelation). The arrow must come all the way down. Gospel preaching, then, is not bottom-up philosophizing, it's top-down proclamation.
In hindsight I wish I'd stated in the clearest possible terms that what many consider to be "apologetics" is simply what I'd call thoughtful, responsive, contextualised evangelism. If all a person means by "apologetics" is simply answering people's questions then sign me up - I'm a keen apologist.
But the trouble is that apologetics has, unfortunately, become something else - something in addition to gospel proclamation. And wherever people want to make a case for another kind of proclamation other than a top-down declaration of God's word, then I take issue.
You can read the whole of my piece, Tom's defense and the lively comments thread HERE.
As a taster, here's my comment on Acts 17:
If you ask me Acts 17 is a classical apologist's one shot at a Scriptural example - and in it, Paul does the complete opposite. He babbles on about Jesus and the resurrection in the market place (*not* the most reasonable starting point for the Athenian philosophers!) When asked to step back and give the big picture he is very rude to them. He tells them how superstitious they are. He is incensed by their idolatry. He doesn't think "Ooo, look at all these potential stepping stones to truth faith." He thinks "Look at the ignorance." He makes fun of the fact they're so ignorant, they've even got an unknown god. So he tells them "The one thing you guys know is that you don't know God." Then he declares God to them in a way that is 180 degrees different to their understanding of God and the world (we live in his world, he doesn't live in ours, etc, etc). Yes he quotes their poets (I quote pop culture too!) but he quotes them *against* the prevailing cultural narrative. He then does an Adam and Christ christology (which none of them would have thought "reasonable"). Then he announces that they must all repent of their ignorance because God has raised this man from the dead. Says who? Where's your proof Paul? No that *is* Paul's proof. He announces the resurrection (without any supporting evidence whatsoever!) and expects them to repent. Some do! Others want to continue dialoguing - Paul doesn't seem interested at this point so he leaves.
If you're an apologetics-lover I'd say:
1) Make sure you understand what it is I'm opposing. I love, practice and completely endorse engaging with non-Christians and non-Christian world-views - I just want to make sure my "answering words" are gospel words. Click the apologetics tag here and see that for every post about rejecting bottom-up philosophizing there are five posts on positively engaging with culture, science, religion, atheism, the news, etc.
2) Realise I'm not at all "anti-reason". I just happen to think that the race of Adam is anti-reason. The word of the cross is the very definition of rationality - it's just that the wisdom of this world will never agree with it.
3) The Bible's verses about our hostile minds and the stark opposition of the gospel to human philosophy need to be faced with the utmost seriousness (e.g. Romans 1:20ff; 8:9; 1 Cor 1-3; 2 Cor 10:4-5; Eph 4:17-19; Col 2:8-9). Paul is ruling out something here. Make sure you're not doing the thing he's opposing.
4) If you're lifting high the name of Jesus, you are my brother/sister and I thank God for you. Be blessed.