Going Public with Apologetics

As this is my first post for the NCAC, a word of introduction is certainly in order.

My name is Shawn Ferguson. I’ve been a Christian for almost fourteen years and I’ve been interested in apologetics right from the beginning, although I came to faith on relatively unintellectual terms. I see apologetics as essential to evangelism, and it’s primarily because I’m interested in evangelism that I value apologetics. Not that this is the only value I see in it; the issues with which the field interacts are interesting in their own right, incorporating theological correctness, philosophical depth, and rhetorical tact all into one complex discipline, the bane of anti-Christian crusaders everywhere. If done well, and empowered by the Spirit, apologetics can be a veritable juggernaut for “…pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God…” (1 Corinthians 10:4-6, NKJV)

In my pursuit of being a more effective evangelist and apologist I studied philosophy at the University of Calgary. Because it’s a secular university my faith was subjected to intense philosophical scrutiny virtually every day. My success in defending it against the attacks made my faith stronger still, and trained me to think on my toes, a skill which I’ve yet to regret developing.

This has opened many doors for me over the years. Recently it led to an invitation to be interviewed on the Australian podcast, The Herd Mentality (episode 15), with Justin Spearing, which is the primary subject of this post. If you have some time, you may wish to listen to it before, or after, reading this post.

The podcast is designed to promote atheism and show religion to be less than satisfying intellectually. That being said, I found the host, Adam, to be quite humourous, congenial, and an all-around enjoyable fellow. This is good because we had to record two separate shows, as the first recording was lost due to technical error. It’s is a real shame because for the most part we discussed different topics on each recording. I won’t go into great detail about the conversation that took place; I’ll let the reader listen to the show if interested.

I feel that I did rather well, although it can sometimes be difficult doing an interview with another Christian whom you know relatively little about. Actually, this is even the case with a Christian whom you know much about. Apologetics is hard to do as a team. I have my method and background experience and other apologists have theirs. It’s very easy to step on each other’s toes. Some arguments and responses take development, and if the other guy doesn’t recognize where you’re going, he can easily jump in with a seemingly simple comment and derail the entire argument. I found this to be a little frustrating, but it is unavoidable unless people work together in this way with great frequency.

My answer to the problem of evil, for example, was impeded in this way. I was able to answer the logical problem with the free-will defense, but the conversation was carried off to another topic before I could mention my answer to the problem of natural disasters and other non-volitional causes of suffering. I’m sure I blocked an argument or two for him as well along the way.

Another difficulty is that after the podcast was aired, many sceptics began to tweet their responses to our comments, running my thoughts and Justin’s together as though they were supposed to be one coherent whole. Whatever Justin said was automatically attributed to me as my view, and vise-versa. This is unfortunate, because I don’t necessarily endorse everything that Justin says, nor does he necessarily endorse what I say. We don’t attend the same church; we’re not even members of the same denomination. His theological and philosophical stances on many issues may be quite different from mine, and at times I did not agree with his responses.

An outspoken atheist has even written a long blog post responding to our comments on the show, systematically trying to tear our beliefs apart. His responses are for the most part confused, and built upon straw men and a running of our separate views together, but many in the Twitter atheist community, even the host himself, seem impressed. This leaves me in the awkward position of having to respond to a relatively uninteresting critique of my comments. I’ll post that response on my blog over at Wax Axiomatic when it’s finished, if anyone’s interested.

What was really reinforced for me in this interview is something that I mentioned at the beginning of the show: the biggest problem, with both atheists and Christians alike, is ignorance. The vast majority of problems that skeptics have with Christianity are largely based on misunderstandings of what Christianity teaches. This was proven time and again throughout the show, and pointedly in the follow-up blog response that I mentioned above.

This is a Christian problem as well. An effective apologist absolutely has to know the ins and outs of Christian theology. Without this, it’s nearly impossible to do the job consistently well. In my experience, the work of an apologist in Western society is 90% correction and clarification about basic Christian truths, and 10% everything else. The vast majority of Christianity’s critics are only critiquing a caricature of it that exists in their minds, so if you are called to apologetics, please study your theology extensively.

Another necessity for the Christian apologist is to know the ins and outs of the dominant alternative worldviews on the scene today. This both prepares you to know how to handle them and shows your opponents that you are intellectually honest enough to have looked deeply into their views. It’s a win-win situation, really.

Think about it, can you really be said to disagree with a viewpoint if you don’t even understand it fully? Of course not! If I asked the average Canadian if they believed in the propositions set forth by scientists regarding quantum mechanics, would they be able to respond either affirmatively or negatively? Clearly not. The majority of them would say simply, “I don’t know, because I don’t really know what quantum mechanics involves.” And they would be wise in answering in such a way. Why then do we suddenly feel confident in our assessment of the views of others when we don’t even really know what they are? Ignorance is a real problem, and the church needs to resist the tendency to be one of the perpetrators of it.

I think I’ve said enough for now. These were some basic thoughts that came to me after doing the show. What do you guys think? Have any of you had similar experiences?

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About Shawn Clayton Ferguson

I have a B.A. in philosophy with distinction from the University of Calgary. I'm a Christian seeking to share the good news of the coming Kingdom of God. You can learn more about me on my website at www.waxaxiomatic.ca.
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