I am fascinated by religious apologetics. Apologetics is the defense of faith or a defense of THE faith, given the particular religion of the person offering a defense. I consider myself to be an apologist for faith, generally, and have no interesting in defending any particular dogma, belief, or practice. I have found, however, that most religious apologists engage in the defense of specific religious truth-claims. Dan Story is one such apologist and defends conservative Christian theology quite confidently and aggressively. And, while I appreciate Story’s sincerity and faith, I have been disappointed with some of his specific arguments/claims made in regard to 1) the exclusivity of Christian truth and 2) criticism of other religions and/or philosophies.
In Story’s book Engaging the Closed Mind (Story, Dan. Engaging the Closed Minded: Presenting Your Faith to the Confirmed Unbeliever. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1999.), Story brazenly states:
Anyone who lives an active Christian life, that is, anyone who is not too embarrassed or intimidated to let people know he or she is a believer, will be called upon to defend his or her faith. It’s one of the ironies of the modern world that Christians must continually demonstrate that what they believe to be true is true. Christians are always put on the defensive.
It shouldn’t be this way. Why? Because Christians are the ones who possess the truth, not unbelievers. We are the ones with a grasp on reality as it really exists. We are the ones who can demonstrate the legitimacy of our truth-claims. Unbelievers—not Christians—are the ones who should defend their worldview. (pp. 63-64)
It is no surprise that Story boldly proclaims his Christian beliefs. However, Story’s suggested approach is anathema — in my view at least — to the core faith Story is trying to defend. If Christians had absolute assurance that their beliefs explain “reality as it really exists” then what is the purpose of faith? Peter counseled the Saints to defend their beliefs with gentleness and reverence. Trying to shift the burden of proof to critics circumvents this counsel. No longer is the Christian simply defending their beliefs but rather, they are becoming critics themselves; attacking the beliefs of others, albeit politely.
But there is another apologetic strategy that we will examine in this chapter. In this approach, rather than defending our beliefs, we challenge unbelievers to defend their beliefs. This is “positive” apologetics or what I prefer to call offensive apologetics. I don’t mean offensive as in bad taste, but offensive as in a football game. We become the aggressors. We force the unbeliever to take the defensive position and account for his religious or philosophical beliefs. In this approach, the “evidence” for Christianity becomes the unbeliever’s inability to defend his worldview. Christianity is supported by default. (p. 64)
Story surely realizes that poking holes in competing views does not establish the fact, or reality, of one’s own position.
Story advocates using the Socratic method to essentially tie Christian critics up in knots. But again, even if a Christian is successful in demonstrating flaws in the metaphysics of others, this does absolutely nothing to promote — or even defend — the worldview of a Christian believer.
Do you see what’s being done here? Rather than defending our beliefs, we are challenging unbelievers to account for their beliefs. We are shifting the burden of proof away from Christianity to the non-Christian. (p. 76)
This advice is completely contrary to the counsel found in 1 Peter 3. Christians are to defend their faith by answering critics with gentleness and reverence. What Story is advocating is a rhetorical word game which, ultimately, accomplishes nothing. Apologetics isn’t about winning debates. It is about expressing Christian devotion by demonstrating 1) a firm commitment to Christian discipleship and 2) showing respect to critics through understanding their viewpoint and offering a substantive explanation of the Christian position.
I do agree with Story on one important point, however. And that is the need for Christians — or any religionists — to be prepared to answer questions about their faith with a working knowledge of competing worldviews.
Using the Socratic Method demands that we know the Christian solution to the problems inherent in the unbeliever’s position. If we don’t know the subject at hand, we can’t identify hidden assumptions, inaccurate data, or misconceptions.
Moreover, once an unbeliever concludes for herself that her present view possesses fatal flaws, it’s necessary to demonstrate that the Christian alternative is correct. Otherwise, the unbeliever may opt for still another erroneous worldview, and you are back to square one. It’s impossible to be effective using the Socratic Method (or any apologetic tactic) without a background in evidential apologetics.
Fortunately, a good self-education in apologetics is available to all Christians. The answers to 99 percent of the questions unbelievers ask, and the arguments they present, can be found in many introductory books on apologetics. (p. 84-85)
Of course, I find Story’s confidence to be both misplaced and potentially damaging to the Christian position. I will provide more detail in subsequent posts but suffice it to say, Story’s grasp on competing views is problematic and his claim that “99 percent” of answers can be found in existing apologetic literature is simply false.