Avoiding overly apologetic apologetics

If you follow apologetics at all, you’re likely familiar with Christopher Hitchens, the fiery atheist who has participated in a long string of debates with Christian thinkers and apologists. (I had a chance to attend one such debate last year; it was a fascinating experience.) On the heels of a new movie about his debates, Hitchens has written an interesting piece at Slate about what he learned from debating religious people around the world.

There are some characteristically sharp barbs about different branches of Christianity in the article, so bear that in mind before you read it. But I do recommend reading it, because it’s always useful to hear an honest account from the “other side” of the great debate over the truth of Christianity. What stands out to me is the reason Hitchens cites for respecting his debate opponent, Pastor Wilson:

Wilson isn’t one of those evasive Christians who mumble apologetically about how some of the Bible stories are really just “metaphors.” He is willing to maintain very staunchly that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and that his sacrifice redeems our state of sin, which in turn is the outcome of our rebellion against God. He doesn’t waffle when asked why God allows so much evil and suffering—of course he “allows” it since it is the inescapable state of rebellious sinners. I much prefer this sincerity to the vague and Python-esque witterings of the interfaith and ecumenical groups who barely respect their own traditions and who look upon faith as just another word for community organizing.

Hitchens finds it more intellectually satisfying to debate a Christian who firmly and unapologetically believes in the core doctrines of the faith—as opposed to waffling on controversial questions or trying to tone down difficult topics.

Now, I don’t want to be unfair to the ecumenical groups that Hitchens criticizes here. But in thinking through my own responses when my faith is challenged in some way, I can’t deny that one of my strongest initial impulses is to try to tone down or moderate Christian beliefs that I actually hold strongly. I’m not sure if that’s a form of cowardice or a misguided attempt at conversational peacekeeping, but it’s helpful to be reminded that a response which communicates embarrassment about my own beliefs is not only shameful to me, but it’s intellectually and spiritually unhelpful to the person I’m talking to.

Is this something you struggle with? Have you learned how to earnestly contend for your faith without either being obnoxious about it, or apologetic about it? How do you respond when challenged to defend a belief that might draw scorn or skepticism?

4 Responses to “Avoiding overly apologetic apologetics”

  • When Hitchens talks about the ecumenical, interfaith community, he is not referring to those that take the Bible seriously but may tone down non-essential doctrines for the sake of the argument. He’s referring to those that will throw out the creeds just so we can all get along. It’s always refreshing to find someone, atheist, Christian or whatever, who actually believes the tradition they espouse and spar with it.

    Being an apologist, I’m disappointed that most apologetics has taken the non-relational approach towards defending the faith. The the most enduring of the last century were literary, imaginative, psychological, as well as philosophically/theologically versed. Today’s apologists seem to hover around the philosophical/theological and so we grow less interesting. I’m glad Wilson was willing to step into the fray with Hitchens, as Wilson is a man of the historical liberal arts before a man of the modern analytic academy. And, hence, likely a big reason he garners Hitchens respect.

    Evangelicals, in general, tend away from the relational in our apologetics, which is why it has become a general turn-off in the marketplace as well as in the church. My wife, Jonalyn, and I wrote a book coming out this coming Spring to help start a new kind of apologetic conversation. It’s called “Coffee Shop Conversations: Making the Most of Spiritual Small Talk.”

  • Semantics,semantics. To apologise for our apologetics maybe a good idea. Let’s get real and share the good news about Jesus and what He has and is doing, with the enthusiasm that a sports fan or arts enthusiast would engage in conversation with friends and colleges. If we love and have a real true intimate relationship with our Lord and Saviour, we will have no problems talking about Him.

    Remember how you felt in the first flushes of love. Did you intellectualise
    about what to tell your friends? or could you just not help your self. When we truly love, we want to shout it from the roof tops.

  • sue lucas says:

    Too many individuals and churches are watering down the Bible to fit into modern day ideals and the THEORY (Yes it is only one fallible mans idea!) of evolution. Gods Word is exactly what Gods Word says it is! God tells us in his Word that “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my father in heaven. Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.” Matthew 10:32-34. You need to be prepared, as it tells us in 1 Peter 3:14-16 “But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened. But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously
    against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”

  • Mark Harvey says:

    “Hitchens finds it more intellectually satisfying to debate a Christian who firmly and unapologetically believes in the core doctrines of the faith—as opposed to waffling on controversial questions or trying to tone down difficult topics.”

    I have observed elsewhere that evangelical atheists such as Hitchens and Dawkins have contempt for so-called ‘moderate’ Christians. I wonder why. Could it be that the views of ‘fundamentalists’ are easier to attack?

    The viewpoints of ‘moderates’ are not necessarily the products of cowardice and compromise. If moderates have arrived at their positions through scholarship, reason, prayer, and inspiration, then their views are worthy of respect. Moderates should be prepared to stand up for what they believe against attacks from extremists of either side, atheist or fundamentalist Christian.