Throughout Christian history there have been varying responses to the use of philosophy within theology. Tertullian is famous for decrying philosophy while the Medieval Schoolmen took its use to academic heights, believing that it is impossible to fulfill the mandate in 1 Peter 3:15 “unless we inquire rationally into what we hold on faith.” The church’s stance on the relationship between philosophy and theology has swayed between these two poles for centuries. Traditionally, when theologians have elected to make use of philosophy, it has often taken the form of apologetics, i.e. philosophy as a defense for theology. Thomas Aquinas is famous for pointing out that one must appeal to some common authority in order to defend against objections to the Christian faith. In Thomas’s time, the appeal inevitably was to Aristotle.
The 21st Century holds many challenges for Christian faith, including cries to rethink the role and nature of apologetics. William Edgar points out that there is now a “credibility gap” such that good arguments now fall on deaf ears. This is particularly apparent in contemporary shifts toward theologies and philosophies of love. Where Aquinas appealed to Aristotle, today there are increasing appeals to love. The postmodern philosopher Jean-Luc Marion claims that, while a non-apologetic is untenable, apologetics fails in its goals as long as the emphasis is on coercion of the will through demonstrative arguments. Apologetics succeeds only when construed as constraining reason. It is in quickly settling rational disputes that apologetics identifies the place where love and will must come into play. Arguments gradually fade as love builds in a believer until there is only love. Art Lindsay claims that love is itself an apologetic. Love is the best apologetic, and it is the one that Jesus used. Further, Lindsay claims that atheistic and pantheistic worldviews are incapable of sustaining love in the lives of individuals, while Christianity provides this basis for love. In both cases, that of Marion and of Lindsay, the nature and purpose of apologetics takes a new turn from the traditional one, or at least the medieval understanding. Does apologetics exist in a traditional sense only to fail in light of the objective of loving God? Or does apologetics exist in a traditional sense but only through acts of love rather than rational philosophical arguments?
Where is the field of apologetics headed?
Where should it be headed?
What is the goal of todays apologists?
Do our panelists see any wrong turns on the horizon?