The Problem with Separating Apologetics and Theology
During William Lane Craig’s latest podcast, he provided a belated defense of Andy Stanley over the not-so-recent controversy involving Stanley denying the authority of God’s Word (For more about the Stanley controversy, see this article by Bud Ahlheim; For more on the Podcast, see this article by Seth Dunn or this episode of the Dividing Line). One of the statements that Craig made stood out to me. He said,
“It may be fundamental to theology, but we are not doing theology. We are doing apologetics.”
How can the two be divorced? Maybe there is an off-chance that someone can do theology without apologetics, but how can one do apologetics without theology? Apologetics is, by nature, theological. There is no way it can be avoided.
The answer you give to criticism will flow from your theology. Craig’s theology clearly influences his own apologetics. The objection that God is unfair because He condemns those who have never heard the Gospel is a clear example of this. Craig, as a Molinist, gave a very Molinist response. He said that God placed everyone who would respond to the Gospel in the position to hear it, and that those who didn’t hear would’ve rejected it anyways. As a Calvinist, I would have claimed that those who did not hear were non-elect and God can do whatever He wants with His creation, especially since we have sinned against Him and He’d be perfectly justified to send us all to Hell. An adherent to the Inclusivist heresy would say that God saves some (Or even all) of the unevangelized. That’s three different apologetic responses from three different theological views.
Furthermore, just ask the question, “What is Christian apologetics?” It is a defense of the Christian faith against those who are outside of professed Christianity. The answer that is given is a theological answer. It presumes that there is a Christian faith, and it presumes that there are people on the outside of the faith. Those are theological beliefs. Even your belief of what apologetics is could be classified as a doctrine. In the article, Craig claimed,
“Again, this isn’t the way you do systematic theology, but we are talking here apologetics – of how one might convince an unbeliever to accept first and foremost belief in Christ and then on the basis of Christ’s teaching the inspiration of the Scriptures.”
Who is Christ? What are the Scriptures? What constitutes belief or unbelief? Even Craig’s defense of divorcing apologetics from theology is, by nature, theological.
These attempts at a theology-less Christian apologetic are not only erroneous, but harmful. It leads one to reduce Christianity down to the lowest common denominator. Instead of defending Christianity, the apologist will end up defending mere theism. Instead of converting someone to Christianity, they seek to make someone an Abrahamic theist. If they are lucky, they will convert someone into what they perceive to be Christianity, but that will include various cults, sub-Christian sects, and heretical movements. This “Mere Christianity” movement (As it has been called) is what leads well-known apologists to partner with the Pope, speak at Mormon tabernacles, promote Word-Faith heretics, and defend people who deny the authority of Scripture.
Any attempts to separate theological belief and apologetic argument lead to both self-refuting inconsistency and ecumenical compromise. It is only an apologetic method that is well-informed by good theology that would be consistent, unwavering, and (most importantly) Biblical.
[Contributed by Brandon C. Hines]
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