Defending the faith is thriving today
Are you aware of the many Christian thinkers who are excellent at apologizing for Jesus? That may sound weird, but I don’t mean in the sense of, "Sorry, I follow Jesus," but rather in the biblical meaning – our word "apology" comes from the Greek word apologia meaning defense. Thus, Paul states in Philippians 1:16, "I am put here for the defense [apologia] of the gospel." Yes, an apology but not, thankfully, in the modern sense.
This task of defending and explaining the gospel – Christian apologetics – is mandated in 1 Peter 3:15: "In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord, being ready at all times to make a defense [apologia] to all who ask." I am glad to tell you this arena of Christian ministry is thriving.
Today’s leaders in apologetics owe a great deal to a small group of evangelical scholars who have reshaped the field since the 1960s. Pride of place goes to Alvin Plantinga (b. 1932), the philosophical giant known for his unique contributions to proofs for God and rationality of Christian faith. If someone tells you, "There are no smart Christians," refer them to Plantinga.
Other modern trailblazers include the late Francis Schaeffer, Norman Geisler and Clark Pinnock, as well as Richard Swinburne and John Warwick Montgomery. The latter has three earned doctorates among his 11 degrees in history, law, theology and philosophy.
Plantinga and the others did not operate without predecessors. They drew on the likes of ancients such as Augustine, medievals such as Thomas Aquinas, post-Reformation thinkers such as Pascal – and then in modern times on G. K. Chesterton, Dorothy Sayers and of course C. S. Lewis, whose defence of the Christian faith ranged from nonfiction such as Mere Christianity to science fiction, poetry and children’s novels.
More Christian women are engaging in apologetics, particularly related to cultural themes.
Building on this heritage, Christian apologists in the last 50 years have worked on six broad themes – the existence of God, the problem of evil, the truth of Jesus, the integrity of the Bible, conflicts from science (particularly around evolution), and the relationship of Christian faith with other religions.
There are so many apologists now that even the subtopics are explored with integrity and expertise. I think for example of Steve Matthews (a former student) investigating the World Mission Society Church of God, Mark Wynn (Oxford) working on embodied religious epistemology, or Mike Licona, Gary Habermas and N. T. Wright all exploring aspects of the resurrection of Jesus.
Beyond the popularity of apologetics, there are three very encouraging specifics to note.
First, more Christian women are engaging in apologetics, particularly related to cultural themes. I have in mind Amy Orr-Ewing (based in Oxford), Mary Jo Sharp, Melissa Cain Travis, Kristen Davis, Holly Ordway and Nancy Pearcey. These six are featured in a 2015 Christianity Today cover story on women in apologetics. Pearcey, author of Love Thy Body and Finding Truth, has been called by The Economist "America’s preeminent evangelical Protestant female intellectual."
Second, I’m glad to report significant Canadian contributions. Apologetics Canada, founded in British Columbia in 2010 by Andy and Nancy Steiger, is doing creative work.
Two veteran Canadian apologists are Paul Chamberlain and John G. Stackhouse Jr. Chamberlain is director of the Institute for Christian Apologetics, also in B.C. With a PhD in philosophy from Marquette University, he has taken his learning to the public square through lectures, debates and popular books such as Why People Don’t Believe (Baker, 2011).
Faith Today readers already know Stackhouse for his regular columns. A longtime Regent College prof, he now teaches at Crandall University. He deserves kudos for his ability to navigate secular realms, whether media like CBC or universities like Harvard. His latest book is Can I Believe? Christianity for the Hesitant (Oxford, 2020).
Third, apologists have become better attuned to the emotional aspects of belief. Matters beyond logic are getting more notice, and properly so since God uses answers to prayer, divine coincidences and miracles to open eyes to truth. On the latter consider Craig Keener’s two-volume Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (Baker, 2011). Many of us have also been excited to hear reports from various sources about how God is using dreams of Jesus to reach many Muslims for the gospel.
Ultimately, it is the gospel of Jesus that meets the cry of the human heart for meaning, forgiveness and hope. Apologetics is important work in co-operation with the Holy Spirit to remove some of the obstacles to Christian faith and provide the wideranging case for trust in Jesus.
James A. Beverley, research professor at Tyndale University, has been studying apologetics for five decades and teaching in the field since 1978. His latest book is The QAnon Deception (EqualTime Books, 2020).