Why Do Longhorns Study Apologetics?

September 6th, 2013

Why do we study apologetics?

I have studied apologetics (with greater and lesser diligence) since I was in college (the first time) as an undergraduate at the ever-sunny, and perhaps ever-summer, University of Texas at Austin.

Alas, some clarification may be in order: apologetics comes from a host of words that all sound like the English word ‘apology.’ There is the Latin apologia, which itself comes from the older Greek apologos, or “story.” By the time of Plato and Aristotle, apologia is the rhetorical genre of a defense of one’s actions; in the Greek of the New Testament, 1 Peter 3:15 contains the Holy Spirit’s exhortation to dispersed Christians, “Always be prepared to make a defense (apologian) to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence.” Wonderfully, the Greek apologian has become, in the New Vulgate Bible translation, defensionem. Alas, words are familial beings, and the Spirit gives them freely.

So this, then, appears a capacious spiritual warrant for the study of apologetics—by which we mean, typically, a rational account (rationem New Vulgate, logon Greek) or defense or explanation of the Christian hope.

In short, apologetics is all about defending the Christian faith using reason.   

And I’ve been at this for over ten years now, if not with much skill, at least with persistent desire to have much skill. But why?

The reason given me by way of invitation to join the Apologetics Small Group at the Wesley Foundation (shout out to the Methodists!) at UT Austin was so that we could use reason to convince (or invite – the distinction could be elusive) others to believe in Jesus and God, etc. Quickly, though, all 5 or 6 participants in the group discovered that we weren’t so much there to gain skill at convincing others of the truth of the Christian faith, as we were people who loved reason, or thought we should love reason, and wanted to know if the Christian faith was true, or at least credible. We were used to hearing professors dismissively trash belief in God, and the Christian faith in particular, generally through flippant ad hominem assertions. In short, apologetics, for us, had more to do with building ourselves up and continuing in some kind of Christian faith than it had to do with aggressively converting the world. We were on the defensive, wanting to defend the hope that was in us, or that we wanted to be in us.

Little did we know that this was right in line with the long and deep tradition of Christian practice of “declarative theology” or “defensive theology.” The medieval scholastic William of Auxerre (died 1231) says in his Summa that rational arguments support faith in three ways.

First, true to our experience, “natural arguments increase and strengthen faith in believers.” So the small group of us reading through popular apologetics titles like Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ and, better, J.P. Moreland’s Jesus Under Fire, were strengthened and enabled to continue in the faith we had received at the hands of our families and churches. William of Auxerre even says these strengthening natural arguments “stimulate and stir up one’s love for God.” And this is the best of all. By gazing into the reasons of the Christian faith, we gaze, in some way, into the logos or Word who is God (Jn 1:1), which is Reason itself. This is freeing indeed, and begets in the soul love for God and neighbor. Similarly, those of us in the Apologetics Small Group, as we shared prayer requests and argued interminably week after week, defending eventually all of us our predictable and habitual positions, grew in friendship.

And that is a gift indeed.

I’ll be back next Friday with more fun, more apologetics, more William of Auxerre, more faith and reason.

And, by the way, if you clicked on this article because you thought the headline was going to be a joke, you were right. But you’ll have to come back next week for the punch line. For now, you should comment with what you think the punch line should be. I realize that at this point it could be either a Longhorn joke or an Aggie joke. Or an OU joke. OHHHHHHH sick burn! I got you there Aggies!

Peace be with y’all!

comments powered by Disqus