In this series of posts on Christian Apologetics I have utilized a military metaphor to survey the landscape of Apologetics: its content, its aims, and some of its major proponents (or “operators” in keeping with our analogy). I have broken down the field of Apologetics into three levels: the strategic, the operational, and the tactical and argued that each tier of the apologetical pursuit is equally important and when properly synthesized can strengthen the overall mission of bringing the Gospel to an intellectually confused, emotionally unstable, and spiritually dead culture. In this final section, we will discuss a handful of operators, who have specialized in particular areas, making them unique voices in the world of Apologetics. Let’s call them the “Special Operations” of Christian Apologetics.
In our first category of special operations, we have the debaters. Debate can be a particularly inflammatory concept, especially in a Western culture riddled with emotivism, individualism, and radical political correctness. To discuss, in an academic exchange, the most significant, and therefore, most controversial questions of human existence (e.g. origins, meaning, morality, ultimate ends) can seem unsavory or superfluous in a culture where safety zones and street activism are the normal context for worldview articulation. Still, at the end of the day, scholarly exchange remains the most time-honored and useful medium for getting at the Truth, if it is indeed “out there.”
Hashing out the facts, then developing logically coherent (i.e. deductive or inductive) arguments for a position is not entirely lost in our culture of emotional appeal. Therefore, due to politics and pop-culture, it can be refreshing to see qualified individuals debate openly, clearly, and charitably the claims of the Christian faith.
The most prominent special operator in the category of “debater” over the last few decades is easily William Lane Craig. Few men have impacted the intellectual world of Philosophy of Religion as much as he has in recent years (aside from Plantinga, perhaps). To go through his body of written work, his online teachings, or to engage with the extensive and varied corpus of his oral debates against atheist scientists, philosophers, biblical scholars, or other theists (e.g. Muslims), would itself be a months-long pursuit. It is safe to say that most other bloggers and writers at the operational or tactical level of Christian Apologetics draw heavily from his research and popular material. Beyond debating, Craig also is unique in his ability to produce and publish high-level academic works and more simplified popular books. If there was one place to go early and often for Christian Apologetics it would his website, Reasonable Faith.
While Craig is often seen as the “Patton,” or “MacArthur” of Christian debaters over the last few decades, there are others, like James White, who have specialized in debating, particularly on issues relating to the historical reliability of the Bible. White’s extensive debates against Muslims, agnostics, liberal Christians, and even Roman Catholics, Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons, can be found here. Please note, with the exception of Roman Catholics, I would not classify any of the aforementioned groups as being definitionally Christian (that is to say, I would define Christianity in such a way, that it would exclude Mormons, Jehova’s Witnesses and, at least some “liberal” Christians). This is not an uncommon view, and I will discuss it more in future posts.
One final mention in the category of debater has to go to John Lennox, the Oxford mathematician, who has taken on the likes of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and other so-called “new atheists.” In my opinion, since Dawkins refused to debate Craig, Lennox is the one who handed the Oxford biologist his most thorough defeat in the public arena. He did the same to Hitchens, but then again so did Craig here.
Of course, watching debates can be difficult, as not everyone is trained in discerning between substantive arguments and mere rhetorical devices. Some training in logical fallacies is usually required if we are to recognize flaws in speaker’s arguments (Hitchens, for example, was notorious for not making arguments to support his case, but for making clever, rather brilliant, rhetorical attacks). This ability to discern between substance and rhetoric is also a topic that I will try and cover in future posts.
Finally, it should not be lost on us that debates alone are insufficient to ultimately sway one over to the Truth of Christ and Christianity. As I mentioned earlier, only the power of God can ultimately capture and conquer the hardened human will. Still, debates and debaters like these can help clear away some of the intellectual barricades to belief, and help motivate for non-believers a new journey of belief formation. They can also bolster the believer’s confidence in the intellectual viability of her faith.
Moving away from the realm of debate, we have another category of special operators, namely content specialists. These are scholars, who have dedicated their lifetime to one particular topic or focused area of study. One example would be Clay Jones, who has dedicated most of his career to studying genocide and the problem of human evil. Another content specialists, this time on one particular argument for theism, is Robin Collins, who has published extensively on the cosmological fine-tuning for the universe. In the area of Philosophy of Mind, there are none better than Richard Swinburne or J.P. Moreland. Other content specialists include: Gary Habermas for the Resurrection of Jesus, Michael Brown for Jewish Apologetics, and Craig Keener for New Testament studies and Miracles. Obviously there are many others who could be mentioned under this category, but these few special operators should provide any young Christian or questioning skeptic with enough material to get the journey started.
Finally, I should make mention of other Apologists, who can only be regarded as something like “all-stars” or “past heroes.” Literary geniuses like C.S. Lewis or G.K. Chesterton fall into this category. Also in the second half of the 20th century, men like Chuck Colson and Francis Schaeffer will be immediately recognized by most western Evangelical Christians, and perhaps even by several Catholic and mainline Protestants. Colson might even be known to non-Evangelicals for his role in the Watergate scandal during the Nixon administration, as opposed to the dynamic Christian life that followed his prison sentence. Francis Schaeffer has left a legacy on late 20th century Christian thought that is hard to fully gauge. That said, all of these men are now considered giants of contemporary Christian Apologetics and their books and essays on the Christian life live on. The first book my wife and I read together was Colson and Pearcey’s How Now Shall we Live?, a great starter for anyone interested in defending their faith and understanding other worldviews.
This post wraps up a series of posts related to mapping out the landscape of Christian Apologetics. At this point I hope that I have provided any reader, Christian or non-Christian, with a simple overview of Apologetics that will be helpful in their search for Truth. Obviously the military metaphor is only one way to understand the world of Apologetics, but its one that I think fits well and can help guide us through, what for many, is still a relatively undiscovered country.