Learning apologetics in New Zealand (Part 1)

Fact: New Zealand is at the arse end of the world. In the words of a certain chaplain at Massey University, apologetics in New Zealand is like the backwater of a backwater. We are likely the only English-speaking country out there without a Reasonable Faith chapter. I’m working through my Reasonable Faith study questions so that may change some day. But until then, heh.

Fact: I am an amateur Christian apologist. Os Guinness, citing G.K.Chesterton, pointed out in “The Call” that the word ‘amateur’ is rooted in ideas of ‘Lover’. “A man must love a thing very much if he not only practices it without any hope of fame or money, but even practices it without any hope of doing it well.” I’m haven’t got my MA in Christian Apologetics or Masters in Philosophy/Philosophy of Religion and Ethics from BIOLA or OCCA or TEDS (at least, not yet!) – but I have been using the last 3 years to sharpen my craft and use it in academia, table-top conversations, and even with lay people. Plus countless hours of listening to Craig, Zacharias, Ramsden, Koukl, etc. And also got my Certificate in Christian Apologetics from BIOLA. So the following are a series of posts about my $0.02 worth of opinions from stumbling in the dark and trying to figure out how to learn to do apologetics without the equivalent of US$50,000 to learn it in the US or UK – but written from the perspective of someone who have tried and found what didn’t work.

I am writing these as a collection of thoughts that stems from a suggestion that I should talk to the Scripture Union bunch in my high school Alma Mater which may happen next year. May do the talk in the context of “asking questions and dealing with doubt” as well as a Q&A. We’ll see.

So what, exactly, is apologetics? Let’s start with what it ISN’T. The Greek word apologia means “defence” – but this is in the context of bring rhetorical i.e. a court-room style defence. So let’s be clear: It’s not just about “DEFENDING YOUR FAITH”. There is nothing defensive about Christian apologetics. There was nothing defensive about Paul’s apologia to Agrippa and Festus in Acts 26. It is about “making a case”, or “give an answer”. Something worth pondering on the next time you see people trying to sell apologetics as “how to defend your faith”.

Apologetics also isn’t CHRISTIANITY DELUXE. This is blatantly almost word for word by Michael Ramsden as this point: Christianity doesn’t come in the BASIC edition where “normal” people go to church and sing songs and listen to sermons and put money in the collection and then go home and DELUXE edition where you get fanatical Christians who becomes pastors, elders, preachers, theology students and people who hand out tracts. It’s part of a lifestyle. Again, often apologists love to quote 1 Peter 3:15 – but no one actually put it in its right context of 1 Peter 3:8-17. Apologetics, in other words, is a lifestyle and a mentality that ought to flow from the life of one who knows he has been propitiated, redeemed, reconciled and justified.

Apologetics therefore, as well as being inherently evangelistic, is also existentially appealing. I use the terms “existentially appealing” because I affirm some tenants of Reformed Epistemology: that within the human soul, not only is there moral and rational intuition built into us but we are also built with what Calvin termed sensus divinitatis, and what CS Lewis as well as Alistair McGrath called the “homing-beacon” argument”: that man is built with a longing for meaning and truth and a good apologetic case not only fits our rational and moral intuition well, it should also make sense and fit our being.

John Piper put it quite succinctly: Good News that isn’t defended isn’t good, it isn’t even news.

 

What this means is that an apologist is essentially a blend between God’s appointed lawyers and a Special Forces Operator. We make a case for Christianity and communicate across the Good News, we rebutt and remove objections without injuring people, but most important of we are good communicators who listen and strike at the most important points – part of the Col 4:6 “well-seasoned” mantra. Again, to quote Michael Ramsden, giving the right answer to the wrong question is the wrong answer. Words are revealed thoughts, but thoughts aren’t revealed necessarily in words. 

 

Why all these pre-amble?  For 2 main reasons:

A) Apologetics ought to play an important role in the normal church life yet I despair a little when I move up from PN to Hamilton to Auckland. There is an amateur apologetics meeting once every 2 weeks down in Palmerston North where we discussed everything from the ontological argument to the Substance dualism. I moved from a town with a population of 60K up to Auckland expecting to see more, not less. Guess what I found.

 

B) I feel the North American approach to apologetics isn’t going to work in NZ. Culturally Yanks and Kiwis are world apart- what we treasure are worlds apart. North American apologetics feels far more… confrontal, towards Classical Apologetics. Which is fine in probably 20% of New Zealand setting especially if you work and deal in the scientific and knowledge environment (e.g. university, biotech, etc.) , but for the vast majority of Kiwis even something as simple as “Objective Moral Values and Duties”  will most likely sail over their head less you take the time to explain it to them. If they even care to start with.

Greg Koukl isn’t always right (especially when it comes to Molinism) but he is right on a lot of things. In the same way he linked the idea of apologists as ambassadors and to split ambassadorship into “Knowledge, Wisdom and Character”. I’ll talk a bit about each in the next few series… especially once I finished my final exam on a paper on the Historical Jesus this semester.

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