Ken Boa on Apologetics and Lifestyle Evangelism
- Cheryl Johnston Crosswalk.com Spiritual Life Editor
- 2001 12 Dec
KEN BOA: As I surveyed the literature, there was nothing that was as synthetic as I wanted to see it. This is, I think, the most synthetic and broad-based approach to apologetics, insofar as it tries to commend the best elements of all four approaches, rather than argue for one as being superior to another. And, again, that reflects my interest, kind of a both-endedness, rather than an either/or approach, and in my own experience working with people, makes it obvious that I need to approach people in person-specific ways because I do not know what one thing may work for one person and fall flat with another person. And in this book, we talk about the classical approach to apologetics; an evidential approach; what we call a reformed approach, which is more of a biblical authority; then what we call "fideism;" and more along the lines of experience and the encounter with Christ, the existential dimension, the story-driven. And, frankly, each one of those has elements that are relevant to different people, depending on their personality and so forth.
My whole approach is, "Let's try to create a more broad-based apologetic." It was largely based upon my first doctoral dissertation (this was at NYU in philosophy of religion) where I tried to create four systems of Christian apologetics. And then Rob Bowman worked together with me and we updated it and expanded it and we kind of turned it into this much more massive thing. Actually, the other was just as big, but this is now more extensive and comprehensive. It's a comprehensive approach, and I hope it'll become a standard textbook for seminaries, Bible colleges and Christian universities, but I also hope that it'll go into the hands of many interested lay people. And when I was at the Wilburforce Conference, there was a good deal of interest in it. I led two of the workshops in apologetics and I think the people were pleased to see, "Ah, there's more than just the classical and evidential." We talked about these two other approaches as well. They began to see that there's a lot more that we can offer people and we can . . . just be, at least, basically, familiar with different approaches. In other words, having more tools and adapting to the individual.
CROSSWALK.COM'S CHERYL JOHNSTON: Should everyone be interested in apologetics?
KEN BOA: That's a good question. I don't think everyone needs to become a master or an expert in apologetics; but, to some degree, I think everyone should have the interest, insofar as we are expected to give an answer for the hope that's in us when someone does ask us. Now, 1 Peter 3:15 presupposes that there's a quality of life about us that expresses an information of transcendence, that there's something about us where people ask us to give an account for the hope that's in us. And then we're supposed to be prepared to do that, but to do it with gentleness and reverence. So, as I see it, everyone, if if we are working in this culture and if we are having relationships and a real influence and if we're salt and light, chances are as we build relationships, we may have that privilege of dealing with objections or answering some questions. And you can be certain questions are going to come up over and over again.
The first book I wrote on apologetics, called I'm Glad You Asked, deals with twelve of these basic objections, and you can be sure that these are questions you're gonna get asked. So, that's a good introductory apologetics text for the lay person because I'm Glad You Asked talks about everything from "How do you know there's a God?" down to the level of "Isn't religion just a psychological crutch?" or, "Isn't it arrogant to believe that Christ is the only way? What about those who never heard?" "Isn't the Bible full of contradictions?" ... Those standard questions you know you're going to -- Well, frankly, if you are really mixing it up with people who don't know Christ, eventually, one or more of these questions will surface.
And I tell people, "Look, you don't need to know all the answers in order to be effective in sharing your faith. But, when someone asks you a question you don't know, admit it and just say, 'That's a great question. I haven't thought about that. Let me look up some answers and see what we can come up with and chat about it later on.'"
And that way, I'm not fretful or fearful. But, at the same time, I'm giving myself a chance to learn the answers because you learn by doing them. You can look up and find the answers, and then you go back. When you're asked the first time, you're not responsible, but when they ask you the same question the second time and you don't know the answer, that's a different story.
CROSSWALK.COM'S CHERYL JOHNSTON: Exactly.
KEN BOA: And I tell people, "You don't need to know all the answers, but it's good to have at least a sense of where these questions go. Because I believe objections are opportunities and, ultimately, my goal is always to bring them to the person of Christ and to help them understand. My desire is to help people make an informed decision about Christ.
There's such a wide range of approaches that people have used . . . if you want to see what C.S. Lewis has to say or Francis Schaeffer or Pascal, you look up that section in this book and read about that.
But, I think that the more we read on these areas, again without being big experts, the more it enhances our confidence that we really have the best worldview around. But, it also gives us some skills that we can build upon.
CROSSWALK.COM'S CHERYL JOHNSTON: A lot of churches focus on trying to make the gospel relative to non-Christians living in a non-Christian culture. Do we need to present Christianity that way?
KEN BOA: There's a debate on that, as you know. And some people feel, "Well, let's kind of modify and make it culturally relevant," and there's something to be said for that, but there's always a danger of accomodationalism, where you accommodate and pitch the message too low, reduce it. I find it intriguing that when the crowds got bigger, Jesus actually sharpened the edge of His teaching and reduced the crowds.
Just the opposite of what we'd normally do. So, when they wanted to crown Him king, He started coming up with some very hard sayings, "Except you drink my blood and eat my body." These were hard sayings and, frankly, many of His disciples were no longer walking with Him.
He then turns to the Twelve and says, "What about you? You don't want to leave also?" And they say, "Where can we go?" I don't believe the disciples knew any better what He was talking about at that juncture than the others. It's just that they were committed and my view here is, let's be very careful lest we are ... suppose we can measure the ministry by quantification.
It's a dangerous thing, if we pitch the message too low or accommodate it too much. I think we can communicate with good worship and with good liturgy and with good corporate expression. We can actually make it attractive enough without having to reduce it to the lowest common denomination of our culture.
I think sometimes people try too hard to accommodate it and it becomes something that's just our culture with a Christian veneer. There are other times, however, where there's another dimension added to it. So, I don't want to just be one-sided on this.
There's a dimension that's lost when it's all contemporary, with no connection with history or with tradition or with mystery or wonder. In fact I'm talking with a publisher about creating a kind of an evangelical book of prayer for that very reason, of making certain elements of liturgy easily accessible to an evangelical or Bible church context. Not that they have to go full blown, but let's add a little bit here and elevate, and let's have some connection with the great saints who've been around before and let's see some of these rich prayers and traditions that are good. So, I think the church needs to be more than just a reflection of the culture, with a kind of baptizing of cultural agendas. It needs to have a little bit more than that, although it can be more cutting-edge. And some churches do that well. Other churches, perhaps try too hard to accommodate and maybe go a little bit farther than they needed to go. But, you know, there are different views and schools of thought on this.
CROSSWALK.COM'S CHERYL JOHNSTON: It seems like more and more people are going to mega-churches because they can say, "Well, I belong to this body where there are 10,000 members ..."
KEN BOA: Exactly. And A.W. Tozer had some strong words about that in In The Pursuit of God, when he talked about the whole danger that actually we take ambition, and the big splash, and so forth, and actually make that signs of acceptance that this is showing that the Gospel is good. We have to be careful to avoid that and, I feel, that we don't reduce it merely to an entertainment model. That's where I think the danger is, you see? When worship is reduced to entertainment and when organizations and churches use a management model and a psychologically driven model, we've gone a bit too far. I think we need to be more biblically informed than that.
The Book of Deuteronomy really was a Hittite covenant, or used the Hittite treaty form. It takes those elements that were known, but then elevates it far higher than would have ever been known and so forth. So, you can do that as long as you don't debase it. It's a balance, isn't it?
It's a tension. It's a moving target. And we live in a time where people want to explore and experiment and so forth, and that's fine, for what that's worth. But, you know, there's gonna be a danger in going too far.
CROSSWALK.COM'S CHERYL JOHNSTON: Please explain how you use the term "reformed apologetics."
KEN BOA: OK, we use the term "reformed apologetics" to include two different thrusts. Up 'til recently, we would have said "presuppositional apologetics," along the lines of Cornelius Van Til, who was influenced really a great deal by Dutch Reform theology and so forth, and Abraham Kuyper in particular. And the whole idea of what does Athens have to do with Jerusalem? Let's get away from this kind of approach that uses modern or secular thought processes. Let's inform ourselves by the authority of Scripture and argue that the transcendent God of Scripture is the foundation for knowledge and for truth.
However, more recently, there's been a whole school of writers, along the lines of Alvin Plantinga and others, who have developed what they call a "reformed epistemology," a way of knowing that argues that belief in God is properly based. That is to say, you can start with that as a foundational assumption, just as I can know what I had for breakfast this morning. I don't have to prove that. There are certain basic assumptions that one can have. And so he comes at a more of a common sense kind of epistemology and I would say that both come from a very reformed perspective on knowledge, but they do not agree entirely. In fact, there are lots of areas of clear disagreement where you couldn't say they both have the same approach. Therefore, in order to avoid just reducing it to presuppositionalism or this reformed epistemology, let's call it "reformed apologetics," and put them both in there and show that both of them have their strengths. So, that was the term we made up for that.
Of course, of all these approaches, it's the one that's probably the least well known in an evangelical readership. People involved in Westminster Seminary and in reformed seminaries would be real familiar with that, and people who go to PCA churches, for example, would be far more familiar with that sort of approach, but the average person who goes [to an evangelical church] . . . they wouldn't be familiar with that.
So, we again in this book try to express, "Look, there are some tremendous strengths and very important insights that this provides that I think can be very helpful in apologetics." And, with a fideistic approach -- it was a term we used, sometimes, people use it negatively. They say, "Ah, you see, it's just subjectivism." And we're saying, "No, no. Here it's apologetics of the heart. It's story-driven in a post-modern culture. We need narrative. We need story. We need a sense of connection with Jesus, and their answer to the problem of evil, for example, it would not be a philosophical defense, but it'd be more of a personal connection with One who knows and cares, One who's entered into the human condition, and One who suffers with us." And that, frankly, is a very meaningful approach that has been downplayed, I think, too much in the past as being something that's irrational, and it's just not. It's another way. The heart has it's reasons, and that's an extra dimension. I think it speaks well to a visual and a cultural vehicle. Film is a great vehicle for apologetics now, and culture itself can be a powerful vehicle. I think that there's lots of value in that. So, my view is, "Let's adapt accordingly." I could use an argument for the resurrection of Jesus that might be effective with an attorney or an engineer, that might fall flat on a literature major. They might not be at all impressed with that. One might be more intuitive in their orientation, one may be more sensory in their orientation.
CROSSWALK.COM'S CHERYL JOHNSTON: But, you can create that approach, molding it to the person that you're delivering it to based on "reformed apologetics ..."
KEN BOA: ... Based on all those approaches ... the classical, the evidential, the apologetics reformed, and the fideist. All have some strengths. And all we're hoping to do in this book is at least help people become familiar with their strengths so that they have more tools that they can use. Not to say that they master them all, but at least they have enough familiarity so that they can realize, "You know, you don't have to always go down the same line. You can adapt according to the needs of the person."
And so I find myself kind of adapting where people are. And I find myself asking more questions, too. I'm asking people more questions about where are they coming from, about origin, purpose and destiny, so that I help them understand that often, they don't have a real clear understanding of what their view is, even though they supposed that they did. And sometimes, people aren't really very keen on knowing where you are until they realize, "You know, I'm not so sure if I know what I do believe?" Just some penetrating questions can be very helpful.
CROSSWALK.COM'S CHERYL JOHNSTON: Do you hold off explaining your own faith until someone asks?
KEN BOA: Depends. There are certain situations where I'd rather build a right to be heard and build up a relationship and go into it in an easy way. I'm more relational, less confrontational. There's a place for proclamation as evangelism. Evangelism is proclamation, as confrontation and as relationship. And I think each has a place. But, most people would not be comfortable with the first of the two.
You have to have a bit of a sales personality, for example, to be a good person to sit next to someone on a plane and lead 'em to Christ. A gift of personal evangelism requires a person to be willing to take some of those risks and to be able to get away with certain things that another person might not be able to get away with. But, anybody can build friendships. So, when I'm working with people in my neighborhood, for example, I'm not gonna hit 'em right away with where I am, but I may tell them some things, but basically, let them ask and build a relationship. And again, it all is person-specific.
Sometimes we may only have one contact with a person, other times you can build a relationship or a friendship. So, I connect those different approaches to lifestyle evangelism with apologetics. And I just think that there are volitional barriers, there are intellectual barriers, and there are emotional barriers.
And realize that they may not even be interested in dealing with intellectual issues until the emotional barriers are overcome. And that is overcome by the bridge of friendship and relationships. So then the emotional barrier, the intellectual barrier, then you can deal with misconceptions about Christianity. Still, the volitional barrier can only be overcome by the Spirit of God and by prayer. We're involving ourselves in a project that will fail unless God intervenes. We must be dependent upon Him and not on our answers. And so, there's a wonderful tension here between having skill and knowledge on the one hand, but depending on the Spirit on the other.
If you haven't already, be sure to read Part I of my interview with Ken Boa, in which he discusses Christianity in a secular culture and how Christians can present their faith without forgoing sensitivity, creativity, and intellect.
Dr. Kenneth D. Boa is the president of Reflections Ministries. He has authored numerous books including Pursuing Wisdom and The Art of Living Well (both NavPress) and is a contributing editor to the Open Bible, the Promise Keeper's Men's Study Bible, and the Leadership Bible. Dr. Boa earned a B.S. from Case Institute of Technology, a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary, a Ph.D. from New York University, and a D. Phil. from the University of Oxford. He resides in Atlanta, Georgia.
You can purchase Faith Has Its Reasons here from Christian Book Distributors.