Monday, May 22, 2006

Apologetics as Love and Relevant Communication

Some of my interactions with those who have sent along comments to recent posts made me think of John Stackhouse, author of Humble Apologetics (Oxford University Press, 2002). Salt Lake Seminary is working to secure his teaching in the upcoming fall semester as part of the intercultural studies program, and I look forward to benefitting from his instruction.

Quotes from his book on apologetics provide evangelicals with pause for reflection. The first addresses the areas of the purpose of apologetics and the attitudes of the apologist (p. 141):
Apologetics must alway look like God's love at work...Apologetics is not, primarily, about me. I can read apologetics in order to strengthen and sophisticate my faith, yes. I can engage in apologetics that can benefit me in various ways. But I ought to be commending the faith to my neighbor primarily for her benefit, to the glory of God. I ought not to be engaging in apologetic conversation out of some need of my own, whether a need to save face, or show up an enemy, or congratulate myself on my fervor. Apologetics, again, is a form of Christian speech, and as such it is always and only to offer a gift to the recipient - not aggrandize the speaker. Fundamentally, then, apologetic is about winning the friend, not the argument.

The second collection of quotes addresses adapting apologetic approaches for diverse audiences (pp. 142-3):
With love for God and love for our neighbor guiding and motivating us, therefore, when it comes to apologetics we will take each audience seriously on its own terms. We will not, that is, present apologetics to discharge a duty to our own satisfaction and then depart. In particular, we will not devise an apologetic that impresses us, but an apologetic that meets the needs of the particular audience we are addressing...Many Christians, and particularly those in the evangelical tradition to which I belong, are typically better at speaking, at proclamation, than at these two necessary skills: asking questions and listening to answers. Yet we must begin by asking questions. Who am I dealing with? What are their questions, their cognitive style or styles, their concerns, and their criteria for deciding about religious matters? Before I rush in with my package of stirring apologetic arguments, I need to ask just what my audience cares about, and how they will likely hear and respond to what I have to say.

I wonder if more evangelicals took these words to heart and modified their thinking and action as result, then would not the complexion of many apologetic and countercult ministries have to change dramatically?

1 comment:

Sally said...

I find this very helpful and encouraging... I was trying to put these thoughts across to a group of evnagelists last evening, thank you for the quotes you have supplied me with the vocabulary I needed!