Apologetics has been through some rough waters in the last twenty or so years. Some have found apologetics to be arrogant or so rational it leaves the seeker cold. Yet others, and many read folks like Bill Craig, Lee Strobel, and Paul Copan, are excited to the point of obsession with apologetics. In their book, The Cross is Not Enough, Ross Clifford and Philip Johnson make an astute point, one that can be both threaten and liberate at the same time. Their point? That our theology is not unrelated to our personality type. They refer to Leslie Francis’ works, which I have myself used at times (see the end of Blue Parakeet ).
Which kind of apologetics appeals to you most? What do you think of their idea that apologetics is shaped by personality type?
What Clifford and Johnson are getting at is that Christian apologetics can’t assume everyone moves to or deeper into faith by reason and careful inductive reasoning. Many come to the faith as a result of art or story or relationship. They take some time to summarize and criticize Peter Rollins, whose approach is decidedly contra-traditional and rationalist apologetics, because some are very rational while others are not. Rollins appeals to the latter but not always to the former. When I heard Pete, when asked if he believed in the resurrection, say that he denies it daily by the way he lives … my response was “Clever, but not the point at all.” What he did was change from the traditional apologetical approach to a postmodern apologetic, to a lifestyle or embodiment apologetic. Clifford and Johnson would say his response appeals to only one sort and, in fact, they push back for a few pages at his own understandings of a variety of topics, including his (mis)appeal to apophatic theology.They map four kinds of apologetics: vindication (positive case), defense (making the faith credible), refutation (challenging the naysayers), and persuasion (appealing to non-Christians to consider and believe in Jesus).
After sketching a few approaches to apologetics today, including the value of story, the need to be alert to post-Christendom, and to an apologetics of “touch” (this section seeks to connect to post-modern spirituality and seekers), Clifford and Johnson propose a few elements for a more rational approach:
1. Commonly agreed facts: Jesus’ death by crucifixion, appearance tellings, personal transformation, importance of resurrection in early churches, and the conversion of folks like Paul and James.
2. Some details: resurrection meant embodiment, Paul’s belief in a physical resurrection of Jesus and believers, story of death and resurrection, early Christian testimonies, credibility of the stories, and the unlikelihood of the Gospels being about hallucinations or just visions.
So they think this leads to four central questions to be asked:
1. Can we trust the NT Gospels?
2. Did Jesus really die?
3. What circumstantial evidence exists for resurrection?
4. Any evidence for the theme of resurrection outside the Bible?
And they suggest entering into resurrection through a resurrection theology — that is, through the difference resurrection makes. Forgiveness, whole person, empowerment, hope for now and future, and confidence.