From Apologetics to Apologizing by Bo Sanders

Bo Sanders is a pastor, coffee shop theologian, tattoo evangelist, and a soccer fan. He is also a PhD Student at Claremont School of Theology in Practical Theology: Religious Education. He is a co-host of Homebrewed Christianity where he also blogs religiously.

I emerged out of an Evangelical upbringing where Josh McDowell’s Evidence that Demands a Verdict was quoted more than most books in the Bible. I went to the Billy Graham school of evangelism and while I could go on, my point is simply this : we did apologetics.

I loved speaking at colleges and youth camps. I was solid in my response to the most popular answers and I had innovative approaches to some of the more difficult questions. At some point the questions changed and then the answers didn’t seem to work as well.

Around this same time I read authors like Brian McLaren and Len Sweet and, like a billiard ball struck by the cue ball, I was radically redirected into a different trajectory. Actually, truth be told, I didn’t know that at the time. I didn’t figure it out until I was cautioned about using N.T. Wright as my go-to scholar. One day it just hit me: if McLaren and Wright are the far edge of exploration before you are ‘out of bounds’ then this might be the wrong team for me … or maybe I have just been taught the wrong rules of the game.

I went to a progressive Evangelical seminary* – by that I mean that it acknowledged post-modernity and interacted with biblical scholarship- which propelled me into a PhD program here at Claremont. I also started working at a Mainline church. I love the doctrinal freedom and the intellectual integrity, even as I do miss a couple of things as well.

Perhaps the greatest adjustment I have had to make is not just the absence of apologetics (which is noticeable) but the presence of apologizing for our Christian heritage/perspective. It gives me whiplash every time I realize that we have moved from Christian apologetics to apologizing for Christianity.

Now, I have strong Anabaptist leanings and I am as suspicious of Christian-ism as anyone. But I think that we are in real danger here.

Last month a blog came out that asked “Is Progressive Christianity is the last best hope for the future of the church?” I’m not convinced that it is, in fact I’m nervous about the future of this branch of the family tree.

Forgive me if you think that I am being harsh. I am simply trying to say that if we who are not conservative-fundamentalist go into the world feeling bad about what we represent and embarrassed about the tradition that we have inherited, it doesn’t provide much to build on.

As a contextual theologian I am a huge proponent of articulating our particular – constructed – embedded – conditioned located-ness. But if we are going to walk around with our tails between our legs people will mistake our epistemic humility for being spineless and impotent.

I’m proud to be a thoughtful Christian. I think that we bring something great to the world. I am not interested in conceding the microphone or public spotlight to less-thoughtful [since no one is thought-less] Christian voices (i.e., Pat Robertson) just because they are loud and proud.

In fact, I am under the impression that this is what others want from us as well! In my interview with Brian McLaren, he has a great story about an inter-religious dialogue encounter where a leader of a different faith community tells him so. What we are up to at Claremont Lincoln University is incredible. I am so honored to be a part of it. It is our articulation of the Christian faith and the embodiment of our tradition’s practices that we bring something of great worth to our partner traditions in the program. We can not apologize for that or we will end up depleting the value of the very engagement we claim to offer.

*George Fox Evangelical Seminary


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