The Apologetics PR problem

For my day job I do predictive analysis on large gas compressors for the Oil and Gas industry. My clients want to assemble a compressor package and they want to reduce the likelihood that the unit will vibrate when they start it up. I use some state-of-the-art software to model their units, tap into my expertise regarding the physics surrounding vibration, predict the likelihood of vibration problems, and decide what changes are needed in order to make the unit run as smoothly as possible.

What’s the purpose of my job? Is it to discover the perfect way to build their unit so that they do not experience vibration problems? Actually, no! My job is not done until the unit is actually built the right way. Merely discovering the perfect way to build it is pointless unless that information ends up being implemented on the unit before they fire it up. Inherent to my job, then, is the human element. If I have personal knowledge of the perfect solution but it never leaves my mind, it’s pointless. It was all a waste. They’ll build the unit the wrong way, it will shake, and the end result would have been precisely the same as if I had never done any analysis in the first place.

My work is absolutely useless unless my clients are given the information in a manner they are able to understand so that they can actually use the information. In other words my highly technical engineering career – one that centers on analysis, number-crunching and leading edge implementation of scientific principles – is utterly dependent on the human element. My job is meaningless without relationships.

Let me change channels now to the world of Christian Apologetics. Apologists often bemoan the lack of wider interest in the discipline. There is this theme within the community (a justified theme, I would suggest) that the Church has been ignoring challenges to the Faith to its own detriment. There is often an “us versus them” mentality with respect to Apologists and the Church at large. We are the intellectual elite who take seriously the development of our mental faculties (we love God with all our mind, as commanded – Mark 12:30) and the rest of the Church has settled for a pop-culture spirituality that majors on fluff and sentimentality and minors on serious analysis and rigorous development of the Christian worldview.

Our concerns are wholly justified, and our call to correction is perfectly legitimate, but why do so many people show so little interest in Apologetics? We have been trying to raise interest for so long, and often so loudly, yet it seems the vast ship of Christian sub-culture is only barely starting to swerve a little less off-course. The problem gets worse. We share some solid reasons and evidences for the Faith and unbelievers just shrug their shoulders. Moving beyond the realm of Apologetics, many of us have noticed that our relationships are strained on non-Apologetic issues. I sometimes find it difficult to just talk to people, even family (even my wife) about random stuff in life… just talk.

To help answer this question I think we need to consider who tends to get involved in Apologetics. There are some distinct trends. For instance, you are more likely to find a woman at a Star Trek convention than at an Apologetics conference. The Apologists I interact with sometimes discuss their personality types and the personality trends within the discipline. Not surprisingly most Apologists end up leaning toward one extreme on the Meyers Briggs test. We have lots of Introverts who rely on iNtuition, like to Think a lot and like to make Judgements about reality (INTJ). We don’t tend to fit in well at large “care” groups that share their feelings and run through kleenex like it’s going out of style.

So is Apologetics only important for one personality type? Is it just a “guy thing?” Hardly. Even those who are not well suited to dive into the discipline really should at least have a basic understanding of the field. The questions that Apologists interact with are important questions for all Christians to understand, even if they do not master the content to a deep level. And it is the fact that Apologetics is important to everybody that inspires us to build bridges to those Christians that simply don’t give it the credit it deserves. We thank authors like Lee Strobel for simplifying and popularizing the subject matter for a broader audience than just hard-core Philosophy, Science and History buffs. We tell the other Christians that they really need to take this stuff seriously. We tell them that they need to think beyond their personality types. We reach out to them and try to draw them in.

But they don’t come. In fact, sometimes they respond negatively to our invitations. Why won’t they listen?

The more I dive into Apologetics the more I understand its importance. But, interestingly, something else is going on at the same time. Apologetics is well suited to my personality type, and the more I study it the more sharpened my personality traits become. I become more introverted. I become more analytical. The further I dive into Apologetics the more I find that everything in life gets filtered through the lens of philosophy. All Christian ministry is analyzed from the perspective of Apologetics and the development of the mind. I find it difficult to interact with others because my framework for seeing the world has become dramatically different from those around me; where is the common ground? An introvert will have a default tendency to find small talk difficult; now it becomes all the more challenging. I already have a tough time processing reality from the “how does this make me feel” perspective and now my feelings become all the more subdued and foreign.

What’s going on here? Ironically, Apologists like myself have suffered from the polar opposite problem that the Church is suffering from. Christian ministries have been tailored too strongly for a certain personality type and this imbalance is costing the Church dearly. At the same time, though, Apologists like myself have allowed ourselves to become too imbalanced in the other direction. I have become so focused on analysis, truth, evidence and the intellectual pursuits that I have failed to grow a very important aspect of my humanity; my relationship skills. Those skills have never come naturally for me, but my Apologetics studies have made them feel all the more alien.

On the one hand the Church is suffering because it has allowed itself to grow too lopsided toward a certain personality type. On the other hand the Church continues to suffer because Apologists like myself have grown too lopsided in the other direction to effectively engage people on a more “human” level. They will not correct the imbalance until we persuade them of its necessity, but we cannot persuade them because we suck at relationships. We tend to suck at relationships while the rest of the Church is truly stellar at relationships… but they lack something else that we’ve got a good handle on. In Arguing with Friends I say that we need to take a serious interest in people, but we simply cannot afford to fake such interest. However, those who are really good at Apologetics will probably not be nearly as good at developing such an authentic interest in people. They will want to dive into the person’s beliefs and oftentimes completely bypass the person on the way. I know I’ve done that!

Many in the Church who ignore Apologetics need to take it seriously even though it will be doubly hard work for them because it is not on the same wavelength as their personality. But they will never do so unless we get better at persuading them to do so. We cannot persuade them until we get better at our interpersonal skills; something which is doubly hard for many of us. If we are right to demand very hard work out of the rest of the Christian Church, we have no right to ignore a similarly difficult magnitude of hard work that we need to embrace. We need to move beyond the INTJ bubble; we need to solve our PR problem.

What is our PR problem? Spock is our spokesman. We need to give Spock a little heart. As much as we expect the Church to take seriously something they simply cannot fathom the use for (deep theological and philosophical study) we need to take seriously something that many of us (myself included) simply cannot fathom the use for; feelings, relationships, and all that touchy-feely mush. If we can look past our natural disdain for such a perspective in life – if we can actually work to change our own personalities a little bit – then maybe, just maybe, we can begin to effectively persuade the Church to reconsider its attitude toward Apologetics. Perhaps there is hope for our relationships.

Though I somehow doubt that God is particularly interested in all that “love” stuff anyway (John 3:16).

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6 thoughts on “The Apologetics PR problem

  1. These are really good insights! Being a woman who’s very relational and loves apologetics, the field is very tied into relationships for me. The method of apologetics I have been taught and try to practice is very relational; getting to know the person as a friend and then having conversations about faith and God based upon his/her questions and who he/she is. Yet, at the same time, because I love the intellectual aspect of the subject, I have to constantly remind myself that not every conversation I have needs to be philosophical, and having “normal” every day conversations is just as important.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Sarah. I am starting to become convinced that the real future of Apologetics lies with the women. The work of ladies like yourself, Holly Ordway, Mary Jo Sharp and many others is precisely what the Church needs to see more of. You bring something to the table that us men (well, most of us, anyway) are simply ill-equipped to address.

  2. You’re too hard on yourself. I know you, and you’re not some geeky, hard-core, anti-personal engineer type. So that’s not the problem!

    Here’s what I’ve discovered: Truth needs to be attractive if people are to submit to it. Let me give you an example. Roger Olson is a Baptist theologian who responded something like the following to this question: If you were to be persuaded indubitably that the five-point Calvinist God is the true God, how would you respond? And Olson has said, “I would refuse to worship such a God, because that God would not be good.” I agree with Olson. Here’s the point: if the truth is not attractive, such as the hypothetical truth that God is not good, then regardless of how true it is, I will not submit myself to it, or change my life to be consistent with it. I would, I suppose, go to hell refusing to give my adoration to such a God.

    Now, I happen to believe that God is good, and part of my apologetic task is to persuade others of God’s goodness, and the desirability of embracing that belief. Let’s take William Lane Craig as an example. If his colder, harsher, more unfeeling apologetic (and feel free to disagree about my depiction here) were the only approach to apologetics, then I would say that it needed to change to become more personable. But Craig’s is not the only approach. Ravi Zacharias, for example, employs a more existential approach. Together, they engage in a formidable apologetic. Craig is aware of a serious deficit in the church’s intellectual understanding of the reasonableness of its faith, and he is right to address that deficit through his ministry, and I think he is effective.

    But just because something is reasonable doesn’t mean it is desirable. Apologists also need to show how the truth is something people should desire, and there we have much work ahead of us.

    • Well I was somewhat caricaturing my depiction of myself in order to sharpen the contrast. However, I have not always been quite so easy to get along with; there has been growth in this area. Part of the reason I feel like I’m in a position to shed light on this issue is because I’ve started to see the value in pushing myself to become something other than my natural personality. I am no longer persuaded when people churn out the old, “it’s how God made me” line. Change is possible, and in many cases necessary.

      I definitely agree with your comments to the effect that we need to help people see the attractiveness of Christianity (without redefining its essence) but we also need to be attractive Christians. We need to be attractive as people on a “toughy-feely” level (I’m sure there is a less condescending phrase, I just cannot think of it right now) without divorcing our intellectual roots. Both pillars need to be in place.

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