I had an interesting discussion with my good friend and mentor, Dr. Mark Bird, this past weekend. He read a post from a college professor at a Christian college who suggested that our approach to apologetics is dated, and does not meet the demands of the Post-Modern culture, as that culture is steeped in Relativism. This got me to thinking about this issue more. Does the current culture require a new approach to apologetics, the defense of the church, as it is traditionally studied? My short answer is, yes and no. First, we cannot start from the same point as the Relativist, since to do so destroys any notion of objective truth. Thus, we have to engage the Post-Modern by literally teaching them how to think, since this is something they have been robbed of in college classrooms around the world. Once we help them understand the nature of truth, and the objectivity of truths, then we can move on to the traditional apologetic arguments, which they would not be in any position to grasp were they to be left in the limbo of Relativism. I also think it is important that our apologetic training begins to address the common arguments against the church specifically. I would suggest an approach similar to G.K. Chesterton, who addressed the underlying presuppositions behind most challenges to faith.
We can all obviously agree that the church has taken a beating of late, with scandals arising in the media, and some less than proud moments in our shared history. Also, the fact that there are so many denominations, each claiming to hold to the truth has been cause to challenge our truth claims. The Post-Modern will challenge us by saying, “How can you claim objective truth when you yourselves can't agree on those claimed truths?.” These church specific accusations call for a proactive apologetics. A defensive apologetics is when we assumes a low profile, shoulders hunched and head tucked, murmuring an apology for being Christian who loves the traditions of our faith. A proactive apologetics is what Chesterton demonstrated. Using his approach, we could respond to the aforementioned objections by first accepting their objections, at least at the beginning. This might take them aback for a moment, since they likely view us as backward dolts, or as not being intellectually equipped to accept the progress of culture; or we are not conceptually competent to understand Post-Modern thought, etc. Let’s take these objections as they come, and reassure our Post-Modern friend that we are not against them, at least not right away. Then answer with the following: I do, however, get the impression that you're bolstering your position with a caricature of us, which allows you to keep your positions unchallenged. The challenge I put to you is to know whether this picture is genuine or not. Would you be willing to examine why you rely on these stereotypes? Are you really so sure of yourself, and why? You wonder how someone can be a Christian today. And I ask you how you can be an atheist/agnostic (fill in the blank) today. When we look at the situation, and not at stereotypes, we can see that what characterizes Post-Moderns is dispersion, disintegration–anything but unity. Yes, there is division within the church and always has been, precisely because division is a human problem. There are as many churches as there are ministers, and perhaps as many creeds as congregations. And this is not without connection to the state of contemporary society in which we find a growing absence of social unity since there is no longer any common good that transcends individual selfishness, nor any recognition of objective truth by which to establish unity. It is everyone for himself. The individual is his/her own king, and is a perfect, and solitary, totality, as conceived by Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
At this stage, it is important to help the Post-Modern realize what the state of the modern world to which the Church should, for some strange reason, continually adapt itself to actually is. Tell him bluntly that Post-Modern culture is anemic, and that anemia is self imposed. Deep down the Post-Modern knows this to be true. That is why they are so attached to their stereotypes and slogans, not just of Christians and the church, but of their political adversaries. They have a genuine need to reassure themselves. But our apologetics approach must prevent them from anesthetizing themselves to reality.
We must then ask the question that logically comes at this point: how can you still be a Progressive/Post-Modernist, when there is no real unity, no recognition of truth to base said unity on, and the culture is doomed to failure as a result. At the very root of the Post-Modern worldview is autonomy, freedom, the refusal of order, duty and anything transcendent. It is Man who takes the place of God, but it has to be obvious today that Post-Modernity is in a state of absolute and total decadence. For the Post-Modern to insist on holding onto to this worldview of death and confusion while it is collapsing all around them, is literally insane. Post-Modern culture cuts man off from all transcendence, from God and from reality. Thus, the Post-Modern invents over 100 fantasy genders, denies the objective biological fact of masculinity and femininity, denies that the unborn are human and worthy of protecting, while advocating the death penalty for those who cut down trees and demanding we accept the fantasy identities of a people lost in a lost culture. Post-Modern man has the illusion of living autonomously, without dependence on any superior, exterior authority, but this illusion is fatal. And Rousseau’s perfect individualist is a horrible farce. Marcel De Corte spoke of “the intellect in danger of death”– it is no longer a danger, it’s a reality. From this standpoint, apologetics is exciting. Cracking the books and taking notes is not tedious. We find ourselves today in a critical situation that imposes on us a duty to go to the aid of people in very real spiritual and temporal danger. Apologetics today needs enthusiasts, and not anesthetists. Minds and wills have to be awakened. Practically, to do this will require demonstrating that its attachment to absolute freedom, which is the characteristic of the Post-Modernist, is what is destroying them. That is the heart of the problem.
At the beginning of your conversation, we accepted the stereotype used to add strength to the Post-Modern rejection of Christianity. But now it’s different. He begins to notice that it is perhaps he who is in an untenable position, because he sees that health, equilibrium, and order are on the side of Christianity and the cultures that have been built on it. At this point he just might see the church, not as a useless institution of oppression or an institution lacking unity, but as a solution, a remedy. Such an intellectual conversion, such a change of mind, is what our apologetics must try to press for. At the conclusion, the time comes to say to our Post-Modern friend: You started out by asking me how I could be a Christian. Here's my answer: because I am a dissident; a true revolutionary; a counter-culturalist to Post-Modernism. I don’t mean the dissidence of political conspirators–the sort of people who try to establish an enclave wherein they lord it over the others. I mean a vertical dissidence in the midst of a world immersed in itself. The kind of dissidence in which the mind adheres to God, the author of the natural and supernatural orders, resulting in our being in the world but not of the world.