“A Fresh Agenda for Apologetics in the 21st Century”

 

 

The Apostle Paul preaching to a pagan Greek audience on Mars Hill in Athens

 

My Evangelical counterpart at the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy, John W. Morehead, has posted an interesting essay elsewhere on Patheos, entitled “A Fresh Agenda for Apologetics in the 21st Century.”

 

One of my ambitions before I was purged from the Maxwell Institute at BYU was to someday convene a conference on “meta-apologetics” at the University under its auspices — to discuss not so much specific apologetic topics but the theory and practice of apologetics itself.  (Perhaps that conference can still occur eventually, but I’ll have to do it elsewhere now, and with funds and institutional support that I don’t yet have.)  Relatively few Latter-day Saints know this, but apologetics has a long and rich history, not only or even especially in the Mormon tradition but, far and away more so, in the overall Christian tradition, involving some of the very greatest of Christian thinkers.  (And that’s to say nothing of apologetics in non-Christian faiths, with illustrious examples such as al-Ghazali, Qadi ‘Abd al-Jabbar, and Moses Maimonides — all of them authors whose works have, coincidentally or not, been published in translation by BYU’s Middle Eastern Texts Initiative.)  There is much in the history of apologetics to ponder and to profit from.   I hadn’t yet begun to think the idea of the conference through very clearly, but I believe I would have wanted to invite Protestant and Catholic scholars participate in it.

 

I’m quite sympathetic to the Evangelical apologetic enterprise; on many if not most topics we Mormons can make common cause with Evangelicals in this regard or (more accurately, given their greater numbers, and given their greater sophistication and superior expertise in and commitment to apologetics) at least cheer them on.  And we can learn much from them.

 

I was particularly struck by this passage in John’s essay:  ”Wilkinson believes that a reformulated and relevant apologetic for the 21st century will be winsome and diverse, incorporating not only logical arguments but also ‘narrative, image, poetry, dance, music, and parable.’  Wilkinson suggests that the apologist’s self-conception as artist in addition to scientist or lawyer is crucial to the success of contemporary apologetics that seeks to be culturally relevant.”

 

I’ve tried, on at least one occasion, to make a similar point — as in this rather embarrassingly chatty little talk transcript.  (I think there are better specimens, but I can’t remember where they are at the moment.  Perhaps I’ve just thought about the idea, and haven’t really written on it at all, confusing undeveloped idea with execution.  It wouldn’t be the first time.)  We need to make the Restoration attractive to them before many people will be inclined even to listen — and that, in its way, is also apologetics.  It can take many forms, some of them (I believe) artistic.

 

And I also noticed John’s comment about “the frequently confrontational and uncharitable nature of many Christian apologists.”  I think this is one of the greatest problems facing Christianity today in the secularized and secularizing West (although it doesn’t stem entirely or even largely from Christian apologetics):  People in the broader culture tend to see conservative Christianity, or Christianity as a whole — and, rightly or wrongly, they tend to include Latter-day Saints in this judgment — less as “good news” about redemption, and cosmic purpose and meaning, and life beyond the grave, than as something hateful, narrow, and judgmental.  And, if that’s their attitude, Christianity in any form is unlikely to get a hearing, however good its (unheard) arguments may be.

 

 


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