Last post I expressed my hesitations about Christian apologetics and particularly Ravi Zacharias and his apologetics ministry.
I mentioned two main concerns. First, I find Mr. Zacharias’ understanding of Postmodernism is at best partial (and at worst, inaccurate), such that by failing to grasp Postmodernism accurately his responses to it are neither valid nor viable.
Thus in subsequent posts I will detail Mr. Zacharias’ views on Postmodersim and then contrast them with those of some prominent scholars. 1 And while I need not have chosen solely Christian thinkers, arguing on the basis of the work of eminent Christian scholars may be the most effective way of convincing Christians that Mr. Zacharias has indeed misunderstood Postmodernism (and so misportrays Postmoderns and, further, advocates responses that neither respect nor actually love them).
Yet despite the importance of my first concern in this post I want to focus on my second concern, as presenting a positive response best sets the stage for the critical discussion that follows. Specifically, my second concern is that the epistemologically focused, “question and answer” nature of Christian apologetics is actually counterproductive in presenting Christianity to postmoderns.
This is because postmoderns not only live in but have deeply internalized the implications of existing in a post-Holocaust, post Rwanda world. Most pointedly, postmoderns are far too aware that the reality of evil trumps any “grand ideas” (such as the ideal of progress, the virtues of modern science, or Christian ideals such as forgiveness and reconciliation). In a very real sense, these amounts to only “words, words, words.”
So where Mr. Zacharias and other Christian apologists approach postmoderns with rational arguments and emphasize biblical truth claims, postmoderns instead require the proof that would validate those reasons—the truth value that corresponds to such truth claims—while being thoroughly sceptical about such claims to such validation (and suspicious of those who are offering it). Where such is the case, any approach that offers truth claims without providing the appropriate truth values is deemed useless.
So how would I instead suggest that Christians engage with non-Christians?
Well, I engage with others—Christians and non-Christians—quite similarly.
First, I want to understand who this other person is, and be understood by them. This involves listening to others in such a way that I accept and “live out” the truth that their beliefs and views have as much innate value as my own. The goal here is respect as compassion, which is a form of “loving my neighbour.”
Second, my intention is not first to teach others but to learn whatever I can from them, while realizing that I also have things of value to offer to others. The goal here is truth-seeking, which is a form of self-love and is aided by not only tolerating the tension between confidence and humility but embracing it as a productive and necessary reality of being human (and finite).
Third, my starting place with anyone is not the Bible but my humanity. By starting my engagement this way I enter the process of mutual understanding (my first interest, above) where it is most likely to meet with success and situate truth-seeking (my second interest, above) within its proper framework: in both cases, beginning with the human and creational. The goal here is living with others according to my best understanding of how life works: creation frames salvation; salvation transforms creation.
Fourth, I want to engage with others in the process of living a fulfilled and meaningful life. Thus I connect with others as I am “living out” the truth and love, love and truth that I see at the core of human flourishing and as the result of proper connection with the Christian God. The goal here is living rightly, according to my best understanding of being in right relationship with God.
Fifth, I want to advocate to others the joys, benefits, and truths that I have experienced and come to believe about myself and life, in light of rightly relating with God. I do this by integrating my new understandings and experiences, derived from right relationship with God, within the entirety of my person and existence. The goal here is to jubilate in becoming my best self as one who is loved by, in love with, and rightly relating to God.
Thus it is only in the wake of this fivefold approach that I can offer significant, biblical truth claims to others (such as that God loves us, that we can be forgiven and so can forgive ourselves, and that living well and being fully ourselves requires relating rightly with God) in such a way that their meaning is clarified and their potency is maximized.
In other words, I must offer myself as proof of my words—as (at least partial) truth value to justify the truth claims that I purport.
Next post I will expand on these five points: defining them as well as explaining why their order and logic matter, both theologically and philosophically.