By Eddy Wu
Apologetics is a crucial and important tool for providing a reasonable defense of the Christian faith. The study and application of apologetics evolves from generation to generation. The secular culture around the church often has questions about or arguments against the Christian faith that form the popular apologetic topics of that time. As time passes, apologetic arguments and responses that were once effective may no longer be the culture’s primary focus.
I believe the focus of Christian apologetics is shifting once again with a focus toward ethical apologetics.
Previous Apologetic Approaches
First, the traditional/classical approach to apologetics often involves an appeal to philosophical and scientific arguments for the existence of God and specific doctrines of the Christian faith. Examples of these arguments include: the cosmological, teleological, moral, ontological, or the argument for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. These apologetic arguments are often found in apologetic textbooks and other popular apologetic literature. Emphasizing scientific evidence and philosophical reasoning, these arguments demonstrate that God’s existence and the Christian faith are not irrational.
Second, cultural apologetics may not be as familiar as the traditional approach, but advocates include Francis Schaeffer and Paul Gould in his recent book, Cultural Apologetics. While Schaeffer and Gould approach cultural apologetics with their own distinct arguments and styles, the approach is largely the same.
Cultural apologetics is focused on examining both the Christian and secular worldview. A cultural apologist (such as Schaeffer) may highlight the emotionally unfulfilling nature of living with a secular worldview. By presenting the inadequacies of the secular worldview, the apologist can demonstrate that a non-Christian worldview is lacking. Or, the cultural apologist (a la Gould) could promote the idea that there are existing points of shared contact where the Christian worldview provides the better explanation.
However, even with two strong apologetic methods available, I wonder if today’s culture views the traditional or cultural approach to apologetics as convincing or relevant to their current lived experience. This is not to say that the traditional or cultural approaches to apologetics are no longer beneficial or should be abandoned. Rather, the cultural attitude of the day does not appear interested in philosophical or scientific arguments for God’s existence or whether the Christian faith provides the best cultural explanation. The arguments found in traditional/classical and cultural apologetics are not the primary issues hindering non-Christians. Thus, in order to be effective in reaching the lost, Christian apologetics must identify what pressing questions require answers.
If the topics of traditional and cultural apologetics are not the focus of the culture of the day, then what is? I would like to suggest that ethical issues are the biggest hindrance to the Christian faith today. As such, ethical apologetics must be further developed and utilized.
Ethical apologetics would examine oppositions to the Christian faith from the issues arising in ethics. These issues are not always new but may be old ethical conversations that have recaptured the public’s attention once again. Such topics can include abortion, LGBTQ issues, race conversations, and questions involving justice. The Christian response to these issues is often considered unsatisfying and, as a result, non-Christians believe that the Christian worldview does not provide sufficient answers to ethical questions. Ethical apologetics would seek to provide biblically grounded answers to complex ethical concerns in a winsome manner.
If the focus has truly changed, then the Christian apologetic approach must also change accordingly. Rather than rely on traditional arguments for God’s existence or on an appeal to a cultural methodology, apologetics today should focus on the pressing ethical concerns. This is not to say that older apologetic methods are unimportant, but, rather, that they may miss the point. The watching world is grappling with complex and difficult ethical questions and often believes the response from a Christian worldview to these ethical concerns is unappealing or uninformed. An effective Christian apologetic takes into account the ethical questions and dilemmas of the day. What are some ways to do this? Here are some steps to consider.
1. Be familiar with the ethical debates of the day.
In order to engage in ethical apologetics, you must first be aware of what ethical topics are currently being discussed. While some topics continue to capture public discourse, new ethical dilemmas arise as technology and culture progress. Remaining cognizant of the surrounding conversations will help ethical apologists identify where to focus their attention.
2. Know the biblical response to the ethical issues.
Just as it is important to be familiar with the ethical topics of the day, it is just as important to know what a strong biblical response is. Apologetic engagement should never be devoid from scripture and theology. Thus, understanding the biblical position on each ethical question forms the foundation for your apologetics.
3. Understand the other side.
Confidence in your apologetic response does not mean you can be ignorant of the other side. Even though a Christian ethical apologetic may be antithetical to a secular approach on ethical topics, Christians should take time to understand the arguments and reasoning from the other perspective. Understanding the other side helps us see why people are attracted to those positions and where rhetorical adjustments can be made with the Christian response.
4. Represent Christian ethics with love and grace.
Regardless of whether we stand on the right side of truth, our representation of that truth must not come across as mean-spirited or arrogant. Rather, Christian apologetics must be grounded in love and gentleness for our neighbors.
Christian apologetics is an important part of the Christian evangelism and ministry. However, we must recognize that the questions Christian apologetics helps to answer are always changing. What was once the roadblock to faith before may no longer be the case as different issues grip the culture of the day. Ethical apologetics may be the way forward as the culture wrestles with complex ethical questions.