Friday, January 23, 2009

Are apologists "jerks"? Avoiding the pitfalls

Rob Bowman of the Institute for Religious Research has written a thoughtful post about what it means to be a Christian apologist ("Who Wants to Be an Apologist?"). Too often those who defend the faith are viewed, in short, as "jerks." Certainly some unfortunately are, but this should not be the norm (see 1 Peter 3:15, for instance).

Bowman offers these eight helpful "ideals," abbreviated here, that he thinks "should characterize Christian apologists":
  1. A good apologist defends only what he has already become convinced is the truth.
  2. A good apologist constantly seeks truth and critically reviews his assumptions and beliefs.
  3. A good apologist seeks to grow as a whole, Christian human being.
  4. A good apologist cares about people as well as about the truth.
  5. A good apologist eschews poor arguments even in the service of true conclusions.
  6. A good apologist welcomes constructive criticism.
  7. A good apologist clearly distinguishes essentials from non-essentials.
  8. A good apologist seeks to honor Christ in all that he says and does.
To this I would add James Sire's list of traits for a Christian apologist, as noted in his fine book A Little Primer on Humble Apologetics (see my review):

"What then are the requirements for success as an apologist? There are, I believe, five basic requirements of equal importance: (1) a fascination with and delight in the intellectual life, (2) a passion for what can be learned from the Bible, (3) a life characterized by consistent holiness, (4) a love for people and (5) a growing ability to communicate with them on a profoundly personal level" (p. 94).

Read Bowman's entire post here.


Kevin Winters said...

I would add one very important point:

A good apologist makes every effort to get the views that it criticizes right and to be as charitable as possible in so explicating them.

I am not an Evangelical and may not be considered Christian, but the quality of Evangelical and so-called counter-cult research on various religious traditions is spotty at best. I could mention Mormonism (with which I am probably no longer affiliated; it’s complicated) and Buddhism as two primary religious traditions that have been poorly explicated in Evangelical circles. This poor 'scholarship' alone makes me incredibly hesitant to accept Evangelicalism (regardless of the other issues I have): so many of their 'experts'...well, are not.

There's plenty in these religious traditions to criticize from the Evangelical perspective without having to resort to misunderstandings and sensationalisms. Let me add that this is one primary reason why many see apologists as "jerks": no matter how many times they say, "We don't believe that," or, "The issue is more complicated, intricate, and nuanced than you are allowing," they keep on repeating the same old arguments and claims without listening to actual members of those groups. That is pretty "jerky", don't you think? It's akin to Evangelical frustrations with Hitchins and his crew...

Robert Velarde said...

Thanks, Kevin. I agree that too often viewpoints are misrepresented by overzealous apologists, resulting in straw man situations.

As an antidote on evaluating other religions I suggest Anthology of World Scriptures by Van Voorst. He provides helpful introductory material followed by excerpts directly from the writings of various religions and new religions. This is not an apologetic book, but an academic anthology intended to fairly introduce readers to many religions.

I've also found Winfried Corduan's approach in Neighboring Faiths to be gracious and desiring to represent other views correctly.

It's important to remember, too, that there's usually a difference in the way adherents practice a religion on a day-to-day basis and the "official" position of a religious body. As a result, listening and seeking to understand a position is paramount prior to engaging in apologetics.

Martin LaBar said...

The combination you have posted makes an admirable to do list for apologetics.