If you are anything like me, you never really fit into a box. People try to put you in a box, and you search for the box you should fit into. This is what we do in Western culture; we identify people by their boxes. I am a Myers Briggs ESTJ, a senior engineering design technologist with an associate in theology and an MA in apologetics, an Australian with an American wife, a father of three little kiddos, the founder of a foreign NGO, the manager of a cross cultural team in a foreign land, a speaker of three languages (four if you include Australian), a child of God, and have been a minority neighbor to Muslims, Buddhists and Communists. It is from this perspective that I find myself struggling to fit into the apologetics box as some have defined it.
A friend recently shared with me that apologetics is, “giving a reasoned defense (or explanation) for a tenet of the Christian faith.” I agree with this but would also like to add from the Oxford Dictionary that it is “a reasoned argument or writing in justification of something, typically a theory or religious doctrine.” In the West, the focus on apologetics is primarily academic and intellectual. This is what the general educated public perceives as a reasoned defense and is an essential, strategic, and wonderful expression of our faith. That is why we see the likes of guys like Bill Craig debating opponents of the Christian faith in Ivy League colleges and ministries like Ratio Christi on college campuses (now worldwide). I am also glad to see the “apologetic movement” now filtering down to the church level.
Even so, many of the arguments are still academic and appeal more to those with at least a basic post-secondary education. This is not to say the practitioners are not able and willing to share with the less educated. I love academia but I know that in Australia only 20% of my graduating class went to university. This is normal in Australia, unlike in the US.
Here is the problem we face: I would suggest that around 1/3 of everyday people in the West have no idea what to do with the arguments often presented by current Christian apologists, whether it’s a million dollar argument or one of the one million one dollar arguments. In Asia, my stomping ground, I would say around 90% of the packaged Western Christian apologetic arguments have little impact on the average person on the street. Westerners would be surprised at how quickly logic and reason are dismissed in life in developing Asia.
A number of years ago, I led a men’s ministry in Australia, and I frequently had men ask me how to answer the questions from their workmates or family members. The arguments were not often about the problem of evil, the cosmological argument or the origin of the universe. They were mostly worldview issues such as abortion, legislation, euthanasia, etc. Because of the lack of understanding about worldviews and how they impact our values, my friends quickly become confused when discussing these emotive topics in a highly sensitive environment. It is here, where “the rubber hits the road” for the average person, that I hope to make an impact for apologetics – in a language and through a cultural grid that people can connect with and understand. Offering an argument that does not engage a person right where they are, amounts to a wasted opportunity. Impact is my goal, not winning an argument. As Ravi says, “In Christian engagement, the goal is to win the person who is of the other worldview—not to destroy the person.”
I prefer the concept of giving “a reasoned argument justifying something” over giving “a reasoned defense.” The “something” I strive to justify as I practice apologetics is the biblical worldview. Every person struggles with conflicting worldviews (thus the title of my personal blog, When Worldviews Collide). What I try to do through apologetics is take the biblical worldview and defend that against the many cultural worldviews that impose themselves on all 7 billion of us.
Whether a person lives in the US, Australia, Europe, or Asia, he/she will have to choose which worldview to follow and then have the ability to defend that. Most people are unaware of this metaphysical struggle for their allegiance. For the Christian, what is called for is the defense of a biblical worldview over their natural cultural worldviews.
This, for me, defines cultural, grassroots, everyday man, applied and practical apologetics. I applaud the academic interaction because it is important, and it is why I have an MA and hope to do my PhD. My desire though is to adapt the defense of our faith and worldview and be able to offer it to people living in different cultural frameworks around the world.
Apologetics isn’t just about defending Christianity against atheists or other religions. It’s about defending Christianity against cultural influences as well. This is going to become more important, right in our own backyards, as Eastern culture takes a foothold in the West. Through the wonderful world of writing and technology, I hope to help equip my friends around the world as they engage and defend the biblical worldview in their daily conversation.
In “Learning to Think Critically,” Ravi Zacharias says, “I’ve just come back from parts of the world where I had to be so careful in what I said and how I said it because ninety percent of the audience sitting in front of me was not sympathetic towards my belief. I was engaged in a critical analysis of my own worldview and then showed why it was tenable and coherent. So for the Christian today, and especially for our young, it is important to instruct them not only on how to defend what we believe but also how to do it with gentleness and respect.” Our daily reality is even more restricted than this, but it is where I am able to explore what apologetics means and how it can be applied in similar situations around the world.
If I had to pick a box, I think I would put myself in the Cultural Apologist box, whatever that really means. Actually, I would rather discard the box and just be “the guy who is using his God-given life experiences to bring the hope of Christ to people through an observable, lived-out, gentle and appropriate defense of the biblical worldview against the backdrop of their competing cultural worldviews.”
Cross posted on “When Worldviews Collide”