We have a perception problem. By “we,” I mean Christian philosophers and apologetics. What is that problem, and is it a fair one? What should we do about it? While I won’t claim to have all the answers to these questions, I am hoping to get some discussion going with respect to these issues.
First, many of us don’t seem to be the most well-adjusted people, socially speaking. By this I mean that people are often flabbergasted by the way we interact with others, especially online. Hardly a Facebook status goes by that we don’t correct some “minor problem” or challenge something someone has said. Don’t get me wrong: sometimes this needs to be done. But I can tell you, if you have friends in the “real world,” it doesn’t need to be done that often. In fact, sometimes, if we have nothing “normal” to contribute, it’s best just to hit “like” and move on. People don’t care, frankly, whether numbers exist, or if their statement was precise enough. As long as you understand what is being said, my recommendation is not to bring it up. And if you don’t understand what is being said, philosophically, and it’s not meant to be philosophical, either think about it alone in private or else discuss it with someone who is interested in these issues. Right now, the perception is that Christian philosophy and apologetics is for weirdoes (smart ones, but still weirdoes). I believe this also can come down to a matter of pride. We want people to notice how smart we are. It feels good when they do. So we make something a complex issue so that we can hijack the conversation into something that’s more about us. That probably needs to stop!
Second, we have the perceived problem that our discipline is either irrelevant or largely irrelevant to everyday life. Sure, the thinking goes, apologetics and even Christian philosophy can keep good theology going, and answer doubts, and help along evangelism—but what about the committed Christian who does not have these doubts and who already has sound theology? What difference does all this make to the average man in the pew? Of what practical use is this?
Of course, I don’t think this thinking is correct; that’s why I said it was a perceived problem. Nonetheless, a perceived problem by the average man in the pew is ultimately an actual problem for us to overcome. What most people don’t realize, but many contemporary preachers do, is that good theology is practical. It works! It’s all a matter of conveying the point of theology and how to live it out. It was once said to me (something along the lines of) “If you don’t understand how to apply a particular point in theology, then you don’t fully understand that particular point in theology.” I think that’s quite true. For Christian philosophy, we need to be able to relate specific points in philosophy and apologetics to specific points of practicality for the average man. No, this cannot always be done in every post (this is because, inevitably, every post would be a popular-level post). But it should be done in the appropriate context. So, if you want to convince your church to take part in apologetics, you should not only extol the general intellectual benefits of apologetics, but link it to practical issues as well. This could be done by linking philosophy to theology and doctrine, and using those points of doctrine as applied in life. So, for example, knowing Christ is a divine person enables us to see that he could not sin; knowing Christ could not sin means it was never even possible that he would fail in his mission. A God who cannot fail morally is a God who is the perfect being, and Jesus could therefore be the sacrifice for sins. Following the example of Jesus Christ in submission to the Father, therefore, is the best example we could follow!
Finally, I want to give one last point. We don’t want to overplay our hand. We don’t want to say that everything is necessary to understanding theology, or the Christian life. Instead, we want to show that philosophy and apologetics are relevant to the Christian life; they can help not only the intellectually curious, but also the person in the pew who never does much with apologetics or philosophy at all! What do you guys think?