An argument can be made that the best apologists often don’t do apologetics. They live with commendable character, they teach and preach and write well, and they minister to others in such a way that their faith is compelling. Dallas Willard was that kind of apologist. In other words he did apologetics but not the way most think of apologetics.
But he has new book — posthumously edited by his daughter, Rebecca Willard Heatley — on apologetics with a Willardian-life-like title: The Allure of Gentleness: Defending the Faith in the Manner of Jesus. It’s a book worth you read, not so much to defend the faith or confirm your faith, which it will do — especially on the problem of evil, but to give you a new character-driven vision of apologetics.
Today, what is apologetics? Some do apologetics and they are noted by being rational, methodological, intellectual, while others do them and they are noted by polemics, cage-fighting (term from Becky, his daughter), or triumphalism, while others… are … well, Dallas Willard like. Character-driven engagement in relationship and mutual inquiry.
Here are some great lines from this book:
However, as we will see in this book, given we are seeking to do apologetics in the manner of Jesus, what is not fitting is for apologists to engage in debates and arguments with an antagonizing, arrogant spirit. Indeed, the best way to make the intellectual aspects of apologetics more effective is to combine them with a gentle spirit and kind presentation (2).
Truth reveals reality, and reality can be described as what we humans run into when we are wrong, a collision in which we always lose (3).
So, if at all possible—sometimes it is not, due to others—we ‘give our account” in an atmosphere of mutual inquiry animated by generous love (4).
And that is why our apologetic needs to be characterized by gentleness. Like Jesus, we are reaching out in love in a humble spirit with no coercion. The only way to accomplish that is to present our defense gently, as help offered in love in the manner of Jesus (4).
Although apologetics is really the reasoned defense of any position, a Christian apologetic is the only kind I’m interested in. And a Christian apologetic is one that would be done the way Jesus would do it. Apologetics is not a contest of any kind, with winners and losers. It is a loving service. It is the finding of answers to strengthen faith. It should be done in the spirit of Christ and with his kind of intelligence, which, by the way, is made available to us (Phil. 2:5) (17).
Tm not here to defend the Christian faith; the Christian faith defends me (49; all italics in original).
Which leads him to a brief exposition of 1 Peter 3:15-16:
We see two dimensions in this passage: (1) the context of apologetic work: it is work based on the character and quality of your life; and (2) the scope of apologetic work: apologetics is for everyone (25).
A Summary definition then of apologetics:
A biblical apologetic is the best use of our natural faculties of thought in submission to the Holy Spirit to remove doubts and problems that hinder a trustful, energetic participation in a life of personal relationship with God (39, all italics in original).