Do you think that Christians still need to do apologetics?
Some Christians would say the answer to this question is no: we don’t need to defend Christianity, we just need to present people with the gospel.
Os Guinness would say that this is wrong, and fails to understand both the culture we live in now, and the way God communicates with us (as an example for us of how to communicate with others). He wrote a book called Fool’s Talk, which is a book about apologetics, but really a book about how Christians need to get back to their roots and relearn what he calls ‘the art of Christian persuasion’. One of his main arguments is that Christians face a big problem: when we try to talk to people about the gospel, we assume that they are at least one of three things- interested in the gospel, open to the gospel, or needy for the gospel due to something they see lacking in their own experience.
Often, in a Western modern context, our audience is none of those things. So why should they listen to us?
Os Guinness argues that this is why apologetics is still needed today- to help open up our audience to the gospel message, by being persuasive Christians.
Christian history is littered with people who were masters at communicating their faith: whether this was in spoken form, writing, or music and art (see some of our other blog posts in the series #whoevenis to get a snapshot of this!). So why do we struggle so much to defend and present our own beliefs now?
Os Guinness highlights some of the reasons Christians have wandered from this persuasive art, and also gives some tips on how we can get back to this- both in our thinking and in our skill set. But first he thinks about some of the problems we have when we try and do apologetics.
The first issue that Guinness highlights is that often when Christians do apologetics, they do this in an intellectual way that forgets that this should always be preparing our audience to hear the gospel. In response to this, Guiness says this:
We must never divorce the two tasks. They should be joined seamlessly. The isolation of apologetics from evangelism is the curse of much modern apologetics, and why it can become a sterile and deadening intellectualism. Whenever apologetics is needed, it should precede evangelism, but while apologetics is distinct from evangelism, it must always lead directly to it. The work of apologetics is only finished when the door to the gospel has been opened and the good news can be proclaimed. P. 110-111
The second issue, which is related to the first one, is that often in apologetics Christians fall back on using formulaic arguments or strategies, rather than engaging with people and where they are at and their worldviews. In response to this second issue, he points out that:
Our urgent need today is to reunite evangelism and apologetics, to make sure that our best arguments are directed toward winning people and not just winning arguments, and to seek to do all this in a manner that is true to the gospel itself. P.18
This is not something we should be surprised by really, because we already have a good example of this:
Jesus never spoke to two people the same way, and neither should we. Every single person is unique and individual and deserves an approach that respects that uniqueness. P.33
So how do we fix this problem? By communicating in the way God communicates- he is our example. When we go back to a Christian way of communicating by going back to the bible as our example, instead of being swept aside with our culture, we can winsomely engage with people in a way that directs them to God.
This book not only points out some of the problems with current Christian apologetics, but also gives a path on how we can do this better by understanding the people we are talking to, rather than memorising clever arguments or formulas. Os Guinness looks through the bible story to see what it shows us about how God communicates, as well as looking at the culture around us to help us know how to engage with the worldviews of those around us.
This is a deep but excellent book, and one you could add to your summer reading if you feel like having your brain stretched!
Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion
Os Guinness (InterVarsity Press, 2015)