Saturday, March 3, 2007

Apologetics in the Church Today

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have" (1 Peter 3:15)

The Greek word for the English rendering of "answer" is the same word from which we get the word "apology" and "apologetics." Since apology has the modern meaning of expressing regret or offering an excuse, the better translation here would be "defense."

The church has thus always been called upon to "make a defense" of the Faith. Apologetics is the reasoned defense of what the Christian faith claims as truth.

The Reformed have certainly been on the front edge of apologetics in the church, with names like R.C. Sproul leading the pack. Roman Catholicism is having a renaissance of apologetic work, but it seems that it is as much directed toward defending themselves against Protestant objections as it is against the unbelieving world. Lutherans found a very visible champion in Dr. John W. Montgomery, who as a prolific author is recognized positively well outside of Lutheran circles. Currently he is associated with an online school called Trinity Bible College and Theological Seminary, which has had mixed reviews from academia, not least of which is its frequently questioned accreditation. It offers some degrees specifically in apologetics. Montgomery seems most involved these days with his International Academy of Apologetics in Strasbourg, France. All said, Montgomery has undoubtedly been one of the leading lights in apologetic work inside and outside of the Lutheran church.

Nevertheless, apologetics has not been a real "front burner" issue for Lutherans. Montgomery is long gone from the academic halls of our colleges and seminaries. The late Dr. Kurt Marquart, in my mind, could be most credited with keeping the apologetic interest alive within our system. My only regret is that I never took a class with him in this area while he was alive. In his seminal work Anatomy of an Explosion: Missouri in Perspective (1977), Marquart offers a workable definition of apologetics for us to begin with:

"Apologetics seeks merely to clear away the obstacles, that is, the false arguments, which keep unbelievers from giving serious consideration to the claims of God's own Law and Gospel: they alone can smite the sinner" (128). Here Marquart puts the apologetic effort into the wider perspective of what it means to be about the theological task in the church. Apologetics is needful, but it is a servant to the proclamation of the Gospel.

He then adds that "In this apologetic realm it is perfectly valid, indeed necessary, to reason from the common ground of public information and argument which the unbeliever too must acknowledge. But this is merely incidental to the proclamation of Law and Gospel which alone can convert. It is simply a service of love, a missionary accommodation, to deprive the unbeliever of his chief excuses for dismissing Christianity out of hand. It is purely 'preevangelism,' to secure at least external engagement with the Gospel, which will then do its own work" (129).

In our day this apologetic task is still very much needed. In the last few years we have seen first the onslaught of false information in the infamous DaVinci Code, and then more recently in the soon-to-be released documentary on the so-called Jesus Tomb. The unbelieving world will always question and challenge the existence of God, the divinity of Jesus and other tenets of the Faith. This is to be expected. But our people in the pew are being assaulted with their caustic criticisms via a means unheard of in previous generations: popular media. T.V., movies, trade paperbacks, novel series, and the like are being employed to proclaim their questions and wear down the resistance of faith. Coupled with this is their opportunity to gain entry into the homes and minds of those outside the faith and poison the pool of knowledge and understanding.

As a pastor I have found it necessary to address these attacks from concerned parishioners. In some cases I have taken to my word processor to produce concise statements exposing the false information and shoddy research so that these people can at least have a balanced view, one not provided by the outside media.

The Lutheran church has a wonderful opportunity to take the lead in the apologetic defense. Dr. Paul Maier, a celebrated historian in our midst, has himself done much to present the historical facts straight for those who would investigate the story of Jesus. But the old apologists of a previous age are growing more gray, and even dying. Where is the voice for the future? Will we equip our people and pastors to address the excuses of the unbelieving world so that we might again assist the missionary effort of our day? This is an oft overlooked area, especially in the LCMS, which while promoting evangelism with evangelical fervor, may be missing the boat entirely both in the apologetic endeavor, and just as importantly, in the catechetical arena as well. It will not do to simply spray the name of our Lord on billboards. We must be prepared for the long hard work of teaching as well.

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