When I decided to attend Fuller Theological Seminary to study for the ministry, I eagerly pored over the catalogue to see what specific courses I would be taking. Studying Church History and Biblical Theology seemed logical and exciting to me, and learning the Bible’s original languages, Greek and Hebrew, sounded difficult, but it promised to give me deeper insight into my faith heritage. The one course that seemed strange to me was called Apologetics. Why would I want to learn how to apologize for my Christian beliefs? I was going to seminary so that I’d never have to apologize for my faith again!
Of course, I soon came to learn that apology, apologize and apologetics have different meanings in the history of Christianity than they do in our modern English usage. Coming from the Greek roots logia (speaking) plus apo (for); speaking up for, or defending the Christian faith. I came to learn that the great Christian apologists throughout Church History — from Justin Martyr’s Apology before the Roman Senate (AD 155) to John Henry Newman’s Apology for My Life (1888)— were critical figures in establishing the solid rock of sound Biblical beliefs my own faith is built on.
However, modern Christian “apologists” often sound more like they are apologizing in the everyday sense of the word, than in the classical defender-of-the-faith sense. I think the problem is they are too conscious of the nuances of belief between various denominations and church movements. They’re not sure which beliefs are timeless critical elements of true Christianity and which are arbitrary expressions of a certain culture at a particular time. So they may fight for Saturday (rather than Sunday) worship with as much passion as they defend the teaching that Jesus is the Son of God. They may affirm that women having their heads covered in a worship service is just as important as worship itself.
These days you’ll see a lot on Evangelical Christian social media conversation about a trend called “deconstruction.” It refers to the process by which a person who was brought up in a Christian environment begins to question different elements of the belief system they inherited from their parents and their home church. Usually, the questioning begins with behavioral issues, like listening to secular music, drinking alcohol, watching R-rated movies, dating people who believe in a different religion or none at all. Sooner or later, more serious questions are raised, about the unique deity of Jesus Christ, the authority of the Bible, even the very existence of God. Unfortunately, some people deconstruct themselves out of any faith at all, and that’s sad.
But others, at some point, stop deconstructing and start reconstructing! With God’s guidance, they are able to separate the wheat from the chaff, the ultimate truth from the cultural expressions that may be meaningful in one time and place and not another. It’s a great feeling to settle on the timeless truths you’ve discovered for yourself, with your Spirit-led mind. And when you’re part of a church fellowship that affirms the timeless truths that matter to you, this is your faith family and your spiritual home.
But the modern Christian apologists will be fighting you all the way. They’ll be warning you that, if you cross this line or that line, you’ll no longer be a Christian. When you feel their pressure, you need to remind yourself that apologists have always set the faith fences farther out than they should, making the believer on a personal journey of reconstruction feel guilty for questioning or disregarding even minor traditional practices.
These apologists owe us an apology!
— Pastor George Van Alstine