the shape of leadership

Christian, Stop Apologizing!

Why apologetics is not a sufficient approach

Preston Ulmer on September 18, 2020

YouTube sensation and podcaster Ben Shapiro has coined the most inconsiderate phrase: “Facts don’t care about your feelings.”

While it is impossible to be offended without becoming the target of those words, pastors cannot afford to take such a position. The facts of apologetics are not working against the feelings of a deeply inquisitive culture.

As culture continues to deconstruct any confident claims of existential truth, the Church has responded with apologetic seminars, sermon series, and small group curricula. Facts, facts, and more facts.

The questions that were once reserved for the academy are being asked in coffee shops and around dinner tables. The interrogation of fundamental Christian beliefs has become more common.

At the same time, there seems to be an apathy toward truth claims. And although uncertainty about spiritual matters remains a badge of honor for pseudo progressives, the questions being asked are quickly changing.

Traditional questions about God’s existence and the resurrection of Christ are not always interesting to the “ex-vangelical.” Nor are our well-rehearsed facts to answer those questions. Their questions are birthed from social pressure. Their questions come from experiences. Winning their intellect doesn’t work when the culture is winning their hearts.

And while the traditional apologetic approach is necessary for building a strong foundation, it might be an irritating starting place for the unbeliever. Apologetics, as we know them, are not a good starting place.

Christian, stop apologizing!

I recently talked with a friend who is a clothing designer. He shared with me the growing difficulty he is having with New York City Instagram models wanting to have transgenders promote his clothing line.

“The conversations shut down as soon as I share my Christian convictions on the issue,” he told me.

Defending his Christian stance on sexuality is not helpful. It may be logical, and even scientific. But since their questions have evolved from social pressure and meaningful experiences, they must be met with something else.

“What if we tried a different approach to those conversations,” I suggested. “What about siding with the skeptic where we can?”

There is a growing trend toward critiquing truth claims that have either been around for a long time, or that seem repressive to progressive thought. It’s not entirely unwarranted.

In fact, I think this is a great time for believers to listen to unbelievers, include their critique in the path forward, and transcend the “facts of the matter” with the experience of a transforming community. Apologetics then become a foundation for the believer’s confidence, but not the starting point for journeying with the skeptic.

Christian, stop apologizing!

Are there places where we can side with the skeptic? Are there valid critiques about our faith? Have we capitalized on certain dogmas and minimized the effect it has had on a certain groups of people? Of course, this has all happened.

Winning their intellect doesn’t work when the culture is winning their hearts.

Just last week, a friend asked why so many Christians are volunteer lobbyists for the right. I could give a Christian defense of my brothers and sisters and their inalienable rights.

But instead, I decided to stop apologizing. I did what I mentioned above: Side with the skeptic when you can, include their critique in the path forward, and transcend the “facts of the matter” with the experience of a transforming community.

When siding with the skeptic, it’s important to listen for stereotypes and pain. People tend to stereotype groups of people who have caused a lot of pain in their lives. Acknowledge the lack of Christ’s compassion in their memories. Choose to not be like the disciple Thomas. You don’t have to probe their wounds to believe something hurtful has happened.

So many times, a person’s outcry against Christianity is rooted in an event of spiritual trauma masked as an apologetic objection. A few examples of this would be abuse of power, hypocrisy, and harmful cultures of shame. All are areas in which we can rightfully express frustration with them. There is nothing to defend here.

When including their critique in the path forward, help them imagine a world where those incongruities between who Jesus is and what they experienced don’t exist. Chances are, such a world is what Jesus envisioned when He instructed His disciples to pray for God’s kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

Skeptics are a gift in this way. They help us imagine a more just world where God’s interactions are without interference, where His grace does, in fact, cover a multitude of sins.

Apologetics have missed it on this point. We wield our knowledge of Scripture like a weapon, seeking to defeat the other side with knowledge and irrefutable arguments. What if we used our knowledge instead like a machete in a forest, clearing the path as we journey forward to Christ’s kingdom together?

When transcending facts with experience, it is all about community — a community that extends the tent pegs to welcome in the unbeliever. This sort of community finds a place at the table for the skeptic. It’s a “romance” of sorts when discussions of God are the bridge builder to life with God.

I use the term “romance” in the same way G.K. Chesterton did, to describe a deep feeling of desiring an active and imaginative life, full of wonder and curiosity, and needing a companion for the adventure. This is how Chesterton saw it in his famous work, Orthodoxy:

To show that a faith or a philosophy is true from every standpoint would be too big an undertaking even for a much bigger book than this; it is necessary to follow one path of argument; and this is the path that I here propose to follow. I wish to set forth my faith as particularly answering this double spiritual need, the need for that mixture of the familiar and the unfamiliar which Christendom has rightly named romance.

Once more, Christian, stop apologizing!

There is something that should happen, simultaneously, with cognitive unfolding and community inclusion. People should be included in community as they ask questions. All questions arise from a person, or about a person. They are driven mainly by the experiences we have. Experiences don’t need experts; they need to be engaged.

Influence is proud to partner with Preston Ulmer and The Doubter’s Club on a new series of articles about spiritual conversations with non-Christian friends. The series will appear biweekly on Fridays. Ulmer is founder of The Doubter’s Club and director of network development for the Church Multiplication Network of the Assemblies of God.

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