Monday, February 13, 2017

Imaginative Apologetics VIII - Engaging Contemporary Culture

Apologetics, Imagination, and Imaginative Apologetics

In earlier posts, I set the framework for the core material in Imaginative Apologetics, seeking to provide the lay of the land in contemporary apologetics and the faculty of imagination.  Now we are engaging the individual articles in Andrew Davison’s edited volume, Imaginative Apologetics: Theology, Philosophy and the Catholic Tradition.[1]  In this final post, I look at the 4th and final major section of the work, and make some general comments on the book as a whole.  As a reminder, you can find my full treatment in Trinity Journal.[2]

Situating Christian Apologetics

The fourth and final section of Imaginative Apologetics (“Situating Christian Apologetics”) contains three chapters attempting to place contemporary apologetics in cultural and historical context.
Graham Ward (University of Manchester) contributes an excellent chapter on the need for Christian apologist to skillfully exegete the language and signs of his or her culture.[3] He exhorts apologists to learn from early figures like Justin Martyr: to demonstrate an in-depth understanding of opponents’ own work and appropriate what is good and true in it, before correcting what is erroneous or heretical.[4] Christian cultural bubbles may help believers feel safe and secure from external threats, but they similarly hinder the effectiveness of Christian apologetics and evangelism. Imaginative Christian apologetics must include an “in-depth reading of the culture” to help people understand themselves—their lives, values, activities, and culture—and the “true orientation of the human heart towards” the God of the Gospel.[5]
In chapter nine,[6] Richard Conrad (of Blackfriars, Oxford) works through a historical progression of Christian (exclusively Catholic) preachers and apologists who “sought to find clear and imaginative language for their message” in order to “engage both the intellect and the desires of their hearers.”[7]
Imaginative Apologetics concludes with Alister McGrath’s (King’s College, London) knowledgeable summary of the relationship between faith and science.[8] McGrath notes that the contemporary picture of science waging intellectual warfare against repressive religion is a modern myth without historical foundations and insists that science is a secure source of knowledge and understanding only when it keeps to its natural boundaries.[9] In particular, McGrath notes that science is incompetent to answer questions of a metaphysical, ethical, or aesthetic nature—those are simply outside the scope of scientific inquiry, and attempting to bring them within the realm of science “runs the risk of discrediting [science].”[10] He proposes that the scientific method of “inference to the best explanation” is a helpful epistemological tool,[11] and that when used with regards to fine-tuning in the universe, can provide persuasive reasons to believe in Christian theism.[12]
McGrath offers the strongest and most accurate definition and exposition of apologetics in the entire volume—setting forth the negative (responding to objections and concerns about the faith) and positive (commending the rational, moral, and aesthetic imagination of the faith) aspects of apologetics under the overarching umbrella of showing “why it is reasonable, with the help of grace, to accept God’s word.”[13]
While the individual essays within Imaginative Apologetics are of varying quality, the volume as a whole admirably pursues McGrath’s picture of apologetics. In particular, the work is commendable for its reminder that apologetics is not, and should never be, a purely or coldly rationalistic enterprise—the heart of Christianity is a conversion of will, a baptism of imagination, a reorientation of the whole person. The Holy Spirit certainly uses arguments and even theistic proofs to draw people to saving faith in Christ, and as Michael Ward (via C. S. Lewis) notes, a cultural milieu of reasonable intellectual credibility is essential to the viability of the gospel. Nonetheless, a persuasive argument requires imaginative meaning to be accurately and winsomely conveyed.
Imaginative Apologetics gets at the heart of conveying Christian truth accurately in the midst of a postmodern and often post-Christian cultural context. Andrew Davison has collected a diverse group of scholars and articles in the pursuit of broadening the apologetic enterprise of the contemporary church. His project of Imaginative Apologetics joins hands with other contemporary works, such as James Smith’s Imagining the Kingdom, James Beilby’s Thinking About Christian Apologetics, and Clifford Williams’ Existential Reasons for Belief in God, in setting forth a complement to the persuasive and important rational apologetics that currently populate the market (e.g., William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith, Douglas Groothuis’ Christian Apologetics). Christian apologetics is emphatically not solely a matter of the head, nor is it solely a matter of the heart. As Michael Ward emphasizes, “imagination is necessary,”[14] but “imagination is insufficient without reason.”[15]

[1] Andrew Davison, ed. Imaginative Apologetics: Theology, Philosophy and the Catholic Tradition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2012. 169 pp. $25.00.
[2] Tawa J. Anderson, “Apologetics, Imagination, and Imaginative Apologetics,” in Trinity Journal 34 (2013): 229-51.
[3] Graham Ward, “Cultural Hermeneutics and Christian Apologetics,” in Imaginative Apologetics, 115-25.
[4] Ward, “Cultural Hermeneutics and Christian Apologetics,” 123.
[5] Ward, “Cultural Hermeneutics and Christian Apologetics,” 125.
[6] Richard Conrad, “Moments and Themes in the History of Apologetics,” in Imaginative Apologetics, 126-41.
[7] Conrad, “Moments and Themes in the History of Apologetics,” 126.
[8] Alister E. McGrath, “The Natural Sciences and Apologetics,” in Imaginative Apologetics, 142-57.
[9] McGrath, “The Natural Sciences and Apologetics,” 144-49.
[10] McGrath, “The Natural Sciences and Apologetics,” 148.
[11] McGrath, “The Natural Sciences and Apologetics,” 151-52.
[12] McGrath, “The Natural Sciences and Apologetics,” 154-57.
[13] McGrath, “The Natural Sciences and Apologetics,” 143.
[14] Ward, “The Good Serves the Better and Both the Best,” 68.
[15] Ward, “The Good Serves the Better and Both the Best,” 73.