On apologetics


Often I try to process my faith publicly, either through my blog or through facebook or twitter. Sometimes in personal conversations, although my introverted self has a rough time with that. Usually this is a good experience. I receive support and affirmation, “me too”s and “I believe something else but your way is cool too”s, or “have you considered ____”s. I have friends who know more theology than I do, who chip in. I have friends who are atheists who challenge me. There are times when I agree, times when I disagree, times when I change my mind, and times when I store-info-for-processing-at-later-date.

Overall, this is a healthy, fulfilling, often-difficult, always-intellectually-stimulating experience. It’s what I’d always wanted, and rarely found, in church. No one has an agenda to save me from hell. My eternal security isn’t on the line. We can just talk about what we believe and why we believe it and how we struggle with those beliefs and how those beliefs affect the work we do in repairing the world.

Every now and then, though, someone decides that I’m a poor, misguided soul and they’re going to set me straight. At this point I start thinking of Pokemon (because I am pretty sure my default state of thought is Pokemon): A WILD APOLOGIST APPEARS! Doo-dooo-doo-do-doo-do.


It’s funny because I went to a Christian school my entire life. And not just any Christian school, but a Fundamental Baptist Christian school that believed all school subjects (from history to science to literature) had been infiltrated by the “worldly” system, and that one of the main focuses of education must be to teach students to recognize the way the “world” taught those subjects as an attack on our faith.

The world was out to get us, and we’d better arm ourselves.

Not only that, but I was THAT student. I’d like to call myself a Hermione, but back then Harry Potter was the devil, so I’d probably have just called myself a nerd. If we had to learn how to arm ourselves against the wicked outside world, I was going to learn to arm myself BEST.

After Fundy High came Evangelical University, where the ideas of the world being out to destroy us were toned down a bit but still quite existent. I took entire classes (that are worthless now that I’ve transferred but I’m not bitter…) on how to defend my faith (or what my professors assumed was my faith) against the evils of the world.

So, when A WILD APOLOGIST APPEARS and claims I’d be able to believe in ______ or ________ if only I talked to HIM/HER, I often play a game called “guess what the apologist is going to say next!”

I almost always win that game.

You see,  the thing with the apologetic system that I grew up with is that it’s not founded on anything solid. It’s not really defending anything but itself.  It’s built upon pretenses that–if false–cause the entire system to collapse.

And because it doesn’t have much of a foundation, it becomes more “let’s see if I can back you into a wall with my questions so that you can’t answer anymore in the context that I’ve established” than a search for truth.

It’s like the game Bejeweled (anyone remember that) where the player (or the person answering the questions of the WILD APOLOGIST) must be extremely careful to choose correctly, because a wrong choice can get you stuck and make you lose the game. It’s a puzzle game, rather than a real conversation.

But I have the cheat codes.

I know what THE WILD APOLOGIST is going to say,  and it all seems so silly to me. I also know (from experience) that even if I provide a satisfying answer to all of THE WILD APOLOGIST’s loaded questions, he/she will write me off as a “crafty” and “persuasive,” you know, like Satan.

I have the cheat codes, but the game is rigged, and I already know that.

Besides, I’m not interested in playing puzzle games.

I just want a faith that is as logically coherent as possible, yet reflexive enough to admit its shortcomings, gaps, biases, and flaws. I want a faith that is humble enough to admit that it may not be best or right for everyone. One that empowers me during difficult times and inspires me to repair the world around me.

I think I’ve found that faith, or, at least, I’ve started to explore it.

I think I’m happy with where I am. I wish people would stop using the same arguments I’ve been hearing since first grade to try to convince me otherwise.




10 thoughts on “On apologetics

  1. I appreciate your blog post here, especially since sometimes apologetics can be presented in a simplistic (and often arrogant and superficial) way.

    I do have a question of clarification for you, though. Can you unpack the following statement you made in this post?

    “I want a faith that is humble enough to admit that it may not be best or right for everyone.” I like the use of the word “humble” here, but I’m wondering what you mean when you say “it may not be best or right for everyone.”

    Do you mean that Christian faith is true for some people but not for others?

  2. You are so….oh God so exactly how I feel, I can’t even tell you. I have come to a similar place after a similar experience and I am so glad to hear someone say what I am thinking, this is. yes, this so much. Thank you so much for writing this, and I will follow your blog and your twitter, I would love to talk to you more about things like this!

  3. And my job as an ordained clergy guy of one of the ‘mainstream’ denoms is to teach the faith to 8th-9th graders. “Nope,” I say,”not my job.” My job is to open their minds of ALL the possiblities of the Oversoul (thank you, Emerson) and how s/he/it is manifested in our world. Music, art, poverty, drama —-find something and throw your life into it.

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  5. I think apologetics has been useful to me … in showing that evangelicalism does not work when followed to its logical conclusion. In contrast, the scientific method is willing to admit when it’s wrong. The apologetic system serves to insulate itself from foreign ideas, so that that one way is made supreme by its proponents. It could possibly be useful if it allowed the believer/thinker to accept the logical end he or she comes to (though the rest of us just call that system “logic”). But the fact that it’s a system created to break “controversial” questions instead of attempting to provide answers means it’s not going to be particularly useful. As it is, it oppresses proponents and outsiders alike with its circular reasoning.

  6. I’m a lousy apologeticist, mostly, I suppose, because I’m mostly figuring out what I think and believe and am not particularly interested in “convincing” someone else. If I have something to say I think might actually help someone, I might mention it to them. And I tend to enjoy a pleasant back and forth among friends. But I’m not particularly fond of arguing or debates. I suppose sometimes I can be argumentative if pushed, but it’s not something I enjoy. So when things take a turn in that direction, I tend to shut up and/or disengage.

    Of course baptists, fundamentalist or otherwise, have a particular construct and supporting apologetics that do not necessarily align with those of other Christians. But then, I’m the sort who will read something like, “Man is mud that God has commanded to become god” and will let that bounce around for sometimes months. (The sentence alone without any context is probably not particularly helpful, but when it’s bouncing around in my head, it carries its context with it.) Or I think of something I heard Fr. John Behr say in a talk — that when Jesus says “It is finished” within the theological construct of John’s Gospel, it’s as God declaring the creation of man, a story begun in Genesis and reframed in John, finally completed. I tend to reflect on things like that for as long as it takes because something in them strikes me as true, while other things I tend to dismiss or even reject outright. (Penal substitutionary atonement has pretty much always fallen into that latter category for me. I suppose I’ve developed arguments against it over time, but in truth I rejected it even before I had those arguments because it describes an evil God and not one worthy or worship.)

    And I suppose that’s another thing that always seems to puzzle people. In many cases, I couldn’t care less what their arguments are and am not shy about saying the arguments don’t matter to me. Perhaps it’s because I’ve believed and practiced a variety of different religions and other beliefs over my life that I’m more concerned about the sort of a god people describe. If they don’t describe a god I’m willing to worship, it really makes no difference if they are “right” or not. So I don’t waste much time with their arguments in those cases. I’ll assume they are right for the sake of the argument and simply reject their god.

    Of course, I think it’s silly for people to talk like there’s some single “Christian God” these days. The fundamentalist or neocalvinist “god” is almost the diametric opposite of, for instance, the Orthodox Christian God. I’m too much the pluralist to try to treat them as somehow speaking of the same God. I just accept what they say about their God and respond accordingly. Besides, who am I to tell someone they have incorrectly described the god they worship? ;-) I think most people get that much right, at least.

    Me? I’ve come to believe in a good God who loves mankind. And that was quite a journey from a belief in Brahman (or something like enough that I could use the same name label) as the ground of reality.


    • I love how you allow yourself to reflect on things for as long as it takes because something in them strikes you as being true. Having grown up in a non-credal church (and my current church is also non-credal), that is our “normal”. The intention is to educate not indoctrinate, and allow the Holy Spirit to do Her work in us … for as long as it takes. The whole concept of apologetics seems, I don’t know, arrogant or something. Like it lures us into a false belief that we can do the Holy Spirit’s job better than She can.

  7. Ugh, that’s what I hated about the way my high school taught apologetics. I went to a private Christian school (mine leaned towards Presbyterianism AND Baptist teachings – fun stuff) and we just learned the rote arguments instead of learning to think for ourselves about our faith and why we believed it. It makes me sad that people are scared to let Christian students think, because they may come to the “wrong” conclusions instead of arguing the “right” way. And those rote arguments leave you with nothing once they’ve been dismantled or run through.

  8. Just wanted to say thank you for reminding me that I’m not alone in this process of faith. Yout story resonates because it is so familiar to me.

  9. Great post! I am also a huge fan of pokemon. :)

    And my experience with apologetics is similar to yours- I read all the books and thought I had all the answers, and I thought I would bring people to Jesus by debating with them. Like when someone had a reason to question Christianity, I would have all the emotion of a computer consulting a look-up table, and tell them “the answer” that I had read somewhere. (Wrote about this on my blog a while ago: I was wrong about being right)

    But the truth is that it’s GOOD to question and to treat other people’s questions seriously (instead of “oh I read about that once. Here’s the answer”). Following Jesus is more about love and acceptance than information.

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