The One, The Many And The Few: Shadow Apologetics
- Wednesday, March 01, 2006
But how prepared? Do you have to know exactly where people are coming from? Is it necessary to know all the ins and outs of their strange readings of the Bible or their clever arguments against the existence of God? Before you share the faith with a Hindu or Muslim, shouldn’t you have extensive knowledge of their religions? If you answer yes to these questions, apologetics (giving answers for why you believe) will quickly become a monstrous scholarly effort, with tons of difficult books to read and ideas to memorize. It’ll like cramming for finals or a knowledge quiz, or like preparing to crush your opponents in debate.
Another, subtler problem emerges. The message may come across that since apologetics is such an important thing to master, if you don’t want to do all this work, if you have other spiritual interests or gifts, or if you simply aren’t cut out for it, you are somehow inadequate or just not as committed as you should be as a believer. Shame on you! for not devoting yourself to know a whole lot about a whole lot.
As a new Christian I tried the apologetics route while clinging to the one thing. There were some benefits. Apologetics helped satisfy me that the Christian faith is not based on fable and it’s not throwing your mind out the window. I like apologetics. Churches needs apologists and their gifts.
But massive apologetic knowledge isn’t for everybody. It took me a longer than I’d like to admit, but eventually I figured out I wasn’t as smart as the guys who were really good at apologetics. So I began looking for a way to keep my eye on the prize and not go crazy trying to turn myself into a Christian Einstein.
I came up with this: Affirm the one thing, but realize you don’t have to know a million things. Learn just a few things well.
This approach isn’t traditional apologetics. Rather than focusing on body-slamming unbelievers into submission with the total competence of black-belt verbal jujitsu, honed by years of dedication and single-minded training, the goal is to understand the basic underlying structures of how people think.
To do this you need to understand the concept of worldview. All the thousands of philosophies, religions, truth-systems and conceptual worlds boil down to just a few worldviews. Catch on to the basic worldviews and their rules, and you’re ahead of the game.
A worldview approach fully accepts that all people have a common humanity; that none of us has all the answers; that what we know is conditioned by our worldviews and our faith in our worldviews; and that nothing we can do can change that.
It also assumes that if you know someone else’s worldview, you can be much more empathetic toward that person, and you can listen better. Rather than mere speech-making or making your debating points, you can have genuine conversations, you can better earn the right to be heard, you can communicate your ideas better, and you can potentially be a better friend.
So, what should this approach be called?
I’ve toyed with and rejected Dadaist Apologetics. This name is attractive, fun and iconoclastic, but it conveys too much contempt for tradition. Here’s what I mean: recently a Frenchman was convicted of defacing a public urinal that Marcel Duchamp had declared back at the turn of the 20th century to be a “work of art.” Duchamp was one of the leaders of the Dadaists, a movement that mocked conventional standards in art, thought and morality. The man, who had taken a sledgehammer to the urinal – once in 1991 and once recently – actually pleaded in his own defense: “This was a wink at Dadaism. . .I wanted to pay homage to the Dada spirit.”
In other words, the Frenchman with the sledgehammer defaced “art” that wasn’t art, but had been called “art” by anti-artists (and later, in their honor, by the government) who themselves were trying to destroy art as it had been practiced up until that time and put in its place a new form of “art.” Did you follow that?
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