A Fresh Agenda for Apologetics in the 21st Century
A fresh apologetic agenda might also involve a reassessment of evangelical humility and empathy in apologetic ministry. Given the frequently confrontational and uncharitable nature of many Christian apologists, we might ask ourselves whether in our zeal for truth we have been caught up in a crusade against false ideas or whether we genuinely love "not-yet-Christ followers" and seek to communicate Christ to them. The reminder of the need for humility as we embody an appropriate apologetic is important, because as missionary statesman David Hesselgrave reminds us, "although missionaries have been commanded by Christ to preach the gospel, they cannot command a hearing. They must win a hearing by demonstrating that they are people of integrity, credibility, and goodwill."
Further, Christopher Partridge has noted the changing religio-cultural landscape of the West and the resulting missiological and apologetic implications for the church. He concluded,
Generally speaking, when communicating the Christian faith in the West, confrontational evangelism, rationalist apologetics, and dogmatically expressed exclusivist theologies are inappropriate. Rather, what needs to be appreciated is the value of genuine friendship, humility regarding one's knowledge of another worldview, and a palpable desire to understand.
Evangelical apologists may go a long way in demonstrating their willingness to learn, as well as to be empathetic and humble, by developing a greater willingness to listen, a lesson that may be difficult for some of us used to an apologetic of rebuke, argumentation, and proclamation.
In our age of religious and cultural pluralism, apologetics still has a vital role to play. But as we have seen, apologetics must be reassessed and reformulated in order to serve more effectively in communicating the gospel with cultural relevancy. Those who take seriously Lesslie Newbigin's call for a genuinely missionary encounter with the post-Christian West will work to develop and apply appropriate apologetic methodologies to the challenges before us.
John W. Morehead is the Custodian of the Evangelical Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy, the Director of the Western Institute for Intercultural Studies, and has been involved in interreligious dialogue for many years in the contexts of Islam, Mormonism, and Paganism. He is editor of Beyond the Burning Times: A Pagan and Christian in Dialogue, by Philip Johnson and Gus diZerega.