I love Christian apologetics. Not so much because it “proves” Christianity but rather as a tool that helps you go deeper in your faith convictions. Most apologists dabble in many areas as they marshal all sorts of arguments for a Christian outlook on life. The standard apologist is a jack of all trades and master of almost none. This is not a knock on them but rather I think it is very important. Of course most of the top Christian apologists in the world have graduate degrees and some are even bona fide experts in certain fields. Yet they have to defer to the expertise of others in relevant disciplines in the course of promoting and defending the Christian worldview.
One of my favourite Christian apologists, a relative new comer to the scene, is former cold-case detective Jim Warner Wallace. He likened Christian apologetics to mixed martial arts. Most MMA fighters come from a background in specific combat sport whether it is boxing or jujitsu or something else. To fight in the octagon (the MMA fight ring) they learn all sorts of other disciplines like Muay Thai for instance, to supplement their skills and give them varied abilities to take on different sorts of opponents. This means MMA athletes are phenomenal fighters but restricted to one discipline they might not fair too well. That is how many Christian apologists are.
I became acutely aware of this quite recently when I was listening to Dr Ravi Zacharias. Intellectually I owe the man so much. Listening to his broadcasts served as an informal course in philosophy as well as the history and development of Western philosophy. I learnt from him that philosophy undergirds all that we do. This was especially useful in the arts as I learned to recognize the metaphysical underpinnings of a song, a movie or any story for that matter. I listened to him a few months ago after a long time on an interview he had with Christian rapper Emmanuel “Da’ T.R.U.T.H.” Lambert. When he came to evidence for the Christian faith, I noticed he was not as erudite when it came to historical reasons. At first when I noticed my own critique of a great hero of mine it alarmed me. Then I remembered that Ravi himself would not really mind since he encouraged me to investigate things for my own and not simply take his or anyone’s word for it. That incident caused me to reflect on generally how Ravi handles history and I realized he never did it with as much authority compared to other areas like philosophy for instance. I think the same criticism holds true for even a great like C.S. Lewis who had a massive influence on Ravi Zacharias and countless other Christian thinkers.
The other thing I noticed through the interview was the strong influence Nicholas Thomas Wright had had on my own learning and thinking. Wright is a historian and having religiously devoured his work for over a year, I am more attuned to the importance of history. Tom Wright is also in his own way a Christian apologist but not someone you would instinctively think of if you were asked to name one. Yet, it is through Ravi Zacharias and others that I got to hear of Wright and other potent Christian thinkers, simply because they reference those who know much more than themselves.
Sometimes Christian apologetics is accused of being smug, of trying to “do the most.” That was not my experience because that is not how I encountered apologists. I was neither an unbeliever nor a believer riddled with doubts. I began to listen Ravi as a teenager hungry to grow in the faith who came across sound and mentally challenging teaching through his radio broadcasts. Later on I simply wanted to have a greater grasp on my faith and not take things for granted. Being already familiar with his work I knew Mr Zacharias could point me to the resources that I needed to go further. I think this should be our approach to Christian apologetics. Since it is a multidisciplinary task by nature, it connects you to so many different fields and gives you a fair idea of their relationship to Christian faith. Their task is not to defend the faith for you but rather help you ground yourself in it. Apologists are not there to think for you, as if you can pull some knockdown argument from them to win the debate you are having with you sceptical friend. They are there to help you think. That is actually the tag line of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and judging by their impact on my life alone, they have certainly achieved that.
We should have reasonable expectations of Christian apologetics. It is not perfect and we should not be afraid to be self-critical of it. After all, sceptics and enemies of the faith are very comfortable with doing that. However, its weaknesses are not as debilitating as opponents make them out to be. Its advantages are also not as phenomenal as some apologists might like us to believe but we must recognize it does have many great virtues. We must be honest about where it fall shorts but also maximize its strengths and celebrate its triumphs.