Apologetics in the 21st Century - Part III
In support of this goal, I have asked my good friend Dr. John H. Armstrong to share his helpful series “The Postmodern Context and Apologetics,” which underscores the necessity of a new approach to Christian apologetics in the twenty-first century.
I am certain you will find this series extremely helpful as we seek to understand our rapidly changing cultural context and how we can most effectively engage the world for Christ.
The Postmodern Context and Apologetics
By John H. Armstrong
No Ideal Apologists
John Stackhouse (Humble Apologetics) has convinced me that "we are to become better versions of ourselves, not to resemble some ideal type of 'apologist'" (xvii). This is liberating and it is also truly missional. David Kinnaman, in the widely cited book UnChristian (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), discovered by means of significant research that non-Christians increasingly see us as hypocrites, judgmental, anti-homosexual, sheltered, overly political, and too focused on getting people "born again." Simply put, his research reveals what I have discovered time and time again by talking to non-Christians, especially non-Christians under the age of 35. The attitude most unbelievers have toward us is very, very negative.
The basis for apologetics, in this context, is not a great argument but rather a great life. We must teach people who are Christ-followers how to gain and keep a clear conscience. We must shape their lives holistically, not simply get decisions from them for Jesus. Before anyone will ask us about the "reason for the hope we have" they must first see the kind of evidence that makes us different for compelling reasons. I fear that we have thought that being different means being odd, being quick witted, or being able to destroy another person's arguments with our own.
The context of 1 Peter is very revealing to me. These letters were written to Christians who were undergoing suffering for their faith (cf. 1 Peter 4:12-19). The writer notes that "judgment" always begins with God's people first (cf. 4:17), a message you almost never hear in North American pulpits.
The most astounding statement about this point occurs in 1 Peter 2:11-12. We read:
Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
"The day he visits us" is clearly, in the larger context of these words, a reference to the end. But it also appears to be a reference to multiple "ends" that come before "the [final] end." It functions as a way of saying that God "visits us" both at the end of this age when Christ comes again and at various times of visitation when he blesses us in our trials. These times allow people to "see our good deeds" and "glorify God." I see here an applicable statement about the apologetics that I am calling for in this series of articles.
These Christians would not bow to Roman gods or religious expectations. But they also lived truly "good lives." This meant things like caring for the sick and dying, adopting abandoned infants, meeting the needs of their neighbors and blessing those who needed encouragement and hope. This kind of living prompted people to say: "Why do you live the way you do?" In this context the gospel can be genuinely shared with credibility.
What creates this context in a postmodern, or premodern, age? (The biblical context can rightly be called "premodern" since it not only came prior to the Enlightenment but it was clearly prior to the establishment of Christianity as the dominant cultural religion.) The answer to the postmodern question is the same as that for the premodern. No longer living in a privileged position of cultural or religious dominance, as was also the case when Peter wrote about apologetics in this epistle, we must learn how to out love and out live our neighbors. Our faith is not primarily about arguing down other people's ideas. It is about living out our faith in transforming ways from day-to-day. Transformed lives create transformed communities. And these transformed communities become apologetical communities that break down the walls that keep us from sharing the good news with disillusioned and hopeless people.
The modern question was: "Is it true?" We answered that with some compelling explanations and rhetorical defenses for the Christian faith. The postmodern question is this: "Is it real?" This question goes beyond moral or pragmatic reasons. It goes right to the modern problem of disillusionment.
I confess that I am not enamored with the term postmodern. I actually think the American context is better understood as hyper-modern. I will say more about this point in my next article.
Regardless of what we call our times I believe that it is safe to say that the world we live in is radically different from the world that I knew in the 1950s and 60s. In my lifetime this radical difference has come about in a way that makes it apparent that the culture war is now over. We lost! It is only a matter of time until this becomes self-evident to even the most radical of the conservative culture warriors among us. That time can't come too soon for me.
It is clear that we now minister in a post-Christian context. The story of our lives, as a nation of people, is no longer shaped by the Christian story. (This is clearly true among those who were born in the 1970s and since.) The sooner we recognize this reality the more effectively we can use our resources for the real advancement of the kingdom and the spread of Christ's good news to our post-Christian neighbors
© 2009 by John H. Armstrong
About the Author:
John H. Armstrong is the founder and president of ACT 3, a ministry for the Advancement of the Christian Tradition in the third millennium. He is a former pastor and church-planter, of more than twenty years, the author/editor of eight books, and the author of hundreds of magazine, journal, and web-based articles. Besides his writing ministry Dr. Armstrong is an adjunct professor of evangelism and apologetics at Wheaton College Graduate School, teaches in various seminaries and colleges as a guest lecturer, and is a seminar and conference speaker throughout the United States and abroad.
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S. Michael Craven is the President of the Center for Christ & Culture. Michael is the author of Uncompromised Faith: Overcoming Our Culturalized Christianity (Navpress, 2009). Michael's ministry is dedicated to renewal within the Church and works to equip Christians with an intelligent and thoroughly Christian approach to matters of culture in order to demonstrate the relevance of Christianity to all of life. For more information on the Center for Christ & Culture, the teaching ministry of S. Michael Craven, visit: www.battlefortruth.org
Michael lives in the Dallas area with his wife Carol and their three children.