I’m in the midst of trying to write an article on Christian apologetics — the art of negotiating conversations in which you answer objections and tackle common ‘defeater beliefs’ about the Christian faith.
And I’ve come unstuck (evidently — otherwise I’d be writing the article rather than posting this).
Why? What’s my problem?
Well, first a bit about me:
I’m someone who’s read numerous books and articles, attended training courses, and even run my fair share of training on apologetics. I’m not an expert. But I do have a bunch of answers under my belt. And a few tricks up my sleeve — ways of nudging these conversations in more fruitful directions (e.g., where they’re more likely to end up focusing on Jesus rather than some obscure details about the origins of the universe — which, to be honest, neither I nor most of my conversation partners actually know anything about).
And yet I’m no longer confident this is the kind of thing envisaged in the most frequently quoted prooftext for the enterprise of apologetics (1 Peter 3.15-16):
In your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.
I’m more and more convinced that the sanctifying Christ as Lord in our own hearts bit is the key to the rest of it. And that readiness to make a defence doesn’t equal carrying concealed argumentative weapons into every conversation and trying to hijack it so that it goes where I want it to go.
Rather, I suspect all the stuff there about gentleness, reverence, and keeping a clear conscience is the main game. (This would certainly fit with the overall thrust of the section of 1 Peter running from roughly half-way through chapter 2 through to the end of the letter.)
What this means is that we need a peacemaker’s guide to Christian apologetics — a set of strategies to break out of what Holly Weeks in her book Failure To Communicate calls the ‘combat mentality’, the inclination to see every potentially tricky conversation as a battlefield either to be avoided or upon which to fight.
And I’m not sure I’ve found any of those in my reading about apologetics.