Fitch’s Case Against Apologetics (3)

WAYM2David Fitch is no friend of traditional, evidence-based apologetics. In his 2005 book, The Great Giveaway, he singles out Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, Creation Science, and defenders of inerrancy for pointed criticism. Their approach “wanes” in effectiveness if we at once embrace a postmodern perspective. Further, their arguments naively rely upon the “authority and objectivity” of science, thereby “training the new believer to trust science more than the Scriptures of the church.” This effectively “undermines Christian authority in a person’s conversion” [1] Clearly, these are serious charges and not to be taken lightly. If Fitch is right, McDowell, Strobel and company should really cease and desist from their apologetic speaking, training, and writing lest they cause even further harm to the church.

Well, as it turns out, there is not much for the “evidentiary apologists” to worry about here. In our previous two posts (see here and here), we noted that Fitch’s criticisms are very poorly established. Some are based on unsupported assertions, some on logical fallacies, and still others on invalid inferences – nothing that would cause the foundations of evidential apologetics to so much as wobble.

The New Criticism

More recently, however, Fitch has extended his criticism to include the apologetics of Tim Keller (e.g., in his The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism [2009]). In a post entitled How Apologetics Hurts Our Witness (Nov 26/13), but also in his Moody radio debate (Jun 21/14) with Nancy Pearcey (link), Fitch presses a new criticism. Apologetics is disingenuous and presumptuous. Thus Fitch:

Is it not disingenuous to come to a new cultural situation armed with an already prepared apologetic? We cannot know beforehand what issue, or with whom, we will be ‘arguing’ with…It seems Christian apologetics trains us to think we have the answers before listening to the questions. For this reason, training in apologetics hurts witness…We are in essence malforming Christians for witness in post Christendom places [2]

The proper way of “‘being with’ those who live outside of Christ,” he says, is to

tell our story of the gospel in a posture of listening and responding in mutual learning…We do not assume to know the issues/problems that arise in each person as they hear the story told [3].

Apologetics hurts our “external witness” in that it “shapes us to know or assume the answers before we know the questions” [4]. So it’s presumptuous.

Response

What shall the “evidentiary apologist” say by way of reply? First, it needs to be said that we can know the answers to many questions before they’re asked. On a trivial level, before anyone asks me, I know what my name is, where I live, and whether Tyndale is a college at Cambridge University (I was asked that once. It’s not.). Further, I know (before you ask, and even if you don’t) whether there is a God, whether there is evidence for him, what form that evidence takes, and so on.

Indeed, we can actually anticipate questions in advance simply by knowing the content of our message. No doubt Paul was perfectly well aware of the Greek belief that the world is eternal and uncreated. Still, he begins his speech on Mars Hill by claiming that there is a God who made the world and everything in it (17:24. cf. Rom 1:18-20). Unquestionably, Paul knew that when he was finished he would be asked such questions as: How can you say the world is made? That means it’s not eternal. Don’t you know that contradicts Aristotle? Why should we listen to you over the Stagirite?

Now if you think  about it, there’s nothing wrong with thinking through (and answering) these questions ahead of time–if you’re reasonably familiar with your audience. As a matter of fact, it’s a sign of respect that only enhances one’s credibility. What an insult to people’s intelligence (thus truly harming our witness) to arrive on the scene, make a bunch of pronouncements, and then have to admit, “Oh, I’m sorry. I can’t answer your questions. I didn’t bother to think through either my position or yours in advance.”

Second, it’s not true that apologetics is committed to answering questions people aren’t asking. People do ask what reason(s) there are to believe in God. They do ask whether Jesus is the only way of salvation. They do ask how a loving God could permit evil. These are perennial questions. They have been asked by honest inquirers ever since at least the first century. They continue to be asked.

Third, we should note that apologetics doesn’t involve answering all of a person’s questions. Apologetic answers are appropriate for certain types of questions—e.g., if you’re asked what “reason” (logos) there is “for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet 3:15). But if your question is “Why do my relationships keep breaking down?” or “Why am I so unhappy in my work?” the proper response would be personal or professional, perhaps even pastoral. It’s simply a category mistake, though, to think apologetics should be held accountable for providing answers to such questions.

Fourth, apologetic reasoning can take place whether or not questions are being asked. For example, Jude tells his readers to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). The context here isn’t a Q&A session; it’s the need to address the matter of false teaching inside the church. Apologetics kicks into gear when there is a need to “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor 10:5), or when we must “refute those who oppose [sound doctrine]” (Titus 1:9).

Again, consider the Apostle Paul on Mars Hill. He defends the contention that God “commands all people everywhere to repent” (17:30) by appealing to a future day on which Jesus will judge everyone. And then these words: “He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead” (17:31). But notice that no one is asking for the proof. Unprompted, Paul simply presents it – just in case anyone was wondering.

Fifth, I wonder whether Fitch has really listened to the apologetics community. I mean really listened. That community (its individual apologists, writings, conferences, and training programs) is by no means static. It is continually adapting, as it listens, interacts, and creatively responds to new criticisms. Just think, e.g., of how many revisions Bill Craig’s Reasonable Faith has gone through. That book actually began as Apologetics: An Introduction (Moody, 1984). And over the years, as he has dialogued with skeptics and unbelievers all around the world—listening patiently to their questions and critiques—he has added new chapters and modified others. He’s also taken the time to answer weekly questions and criticisms sent into his ministry at ReasonableFaith.org, culminating in his A Reasonable Response: Answers to Tough Questions on God, Christianity, and the Bible (Moody, 2013). These aren’t questions no one is asking; they’re actual questions asked by real people. You can look at them for yourself. Moreover, no one could ever conclude from Dr. Craig’s ministry that he didn’t believe in the importance of listening to Christianity’s fiercest critics. In fact, he sets a wonderful example in that regard.

A final word. It’s good to remember that apologetics is a communal affair. We shouldn’t hold any one apologist (e.g., Strobel, McDowell, or Keller) responsible for doing all the listening and all the answering. Apologists specialize in different areas, and they live in different places of the world. Apologists in Eastern Europe can devote themselves to listening to and aiming their work at the good people in that region. We can do the same for those here in North America. There is a natural division of listening and apologetic labour here in terms of one’s talents, interests, and cultural/geographic situation.

Yes, new questions will arise. And if they are apologetically relevant, books, websites, and training programs will need to be updated and revised. That is to be expected. I suspect that if we all followed Fitch’s lead, there would be conversation, listening, and mutual learning – but nothing ever written. For of course, the minute something goes into print, it runs the risk of answering questions someone somewhere isn’t asking (perhaps some reader a generation from now). But surely this is not a genuine criticism—or if it is, it applies with equal force to The Great Giveaway and any future criticisms Prof. Fitch decides to lodge against the evidentiary apologists.

——-
If you would like to ask a question or make a comment about this post, please consult our Comment Policy here.

Advertisements

One comment on “Fitch’s Case Against Apologetics (3)

  1. […] “My Life” Apologetics (MLA). One of his central criticisms of evidence-based apologetics (see here) is that it “trains us to think we have the answers before listening to the questions” (2). But […]

Comments are closed.