Thinking Christian

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Motivation and Purpose in Apologetics

Posted on Apr 16, 2013 by Tom Gilson

So here I go with another big tweak on my blog. You’ll see it showing up here tomorrow, God willing. Why? It’s a successful enough blog, showing up frequently in the Top 100 most influential Religion blogs on Technorati. Why not leave well enough alone?

Here’s why. It has to do with motivation and purpose in apologetics. You might even say it has to do with not wanting to continue being successful doing the wrong thing.

Motivation

Let’s talk motivation first, and specifically about human nature in the apologetics environment. Some are describing our day as a “Golden Age” of apologetics. I agree; the evidence is everywhere. Academic research is booming. Conferences are sprouting up everywhere. Books are selling.

More to the point, we have answers to hard questions like never before, and new research keeps bringing us more.

So this is a great time to be in apologetics: to be the person with answers.

The Motivated Core Group

Having answers is great. It feels good. And then what feels even better is being affirmed for having answers. That affirmation comes from two opposite places. First, there are those who agree and support your answers, which means other people who are deeply interested in questions and answers: others involved with apologetics, that is. When it really gets motivational is when others link to your blog page, publish your articles or books, or invite you to speak.

The effect of that — and this is still human nature I’m talking about — is a self-reinforcing closed circle of people encouraging one another in their mutual interest in apologetics.

The Loyal (?) Opposition

But it’s not as if the circle is entirely closed, for there is another set of people who are deeply interested in Christian apologetics: skeptics, atheists, and others who disagree. These are the PZ Myerses, the John Loftuses, the Richard Dawkinses, the Sam Harrises (why do all their last names end with s?) and all the blog commenters here and elsewhere who think our answers are all wrong. They keep us questioning, and they keep us challenged. If there’s anything lacking in our answers, we’ll find out about it from them.

For those of us who enjoy a little fight over our answers, this too is highly motivational.

But even though this side circle of skeptics is large — based on Internet traffic, much larger than the community of Christians interested in apologetics — it’s still a relatively closed group.

The Inward Turn

All this amounts to a production factory churning out psychological strokes to motivate people like me with an apologetics bent. And speaking of “bent,” the motivational effect is to bend me (and others like me) inward toward the closed circle of like-minded (or totally opposite-minded) people.

I’m painting with broad strokes, I want you to know. I could name lots of exceptions: leaders and others who are resisting that inward turn. At the risk of leaving many more than I’m including, I could mention Josh McDowell, Mark Mittelberg, Lee Strobel, Frank Turek, Greg Koukl, and the whole Ratio Christi movement, among many others who are people bucking this tide.

And I don’t want this to come across as if it were some deep dark secret in the apologetics world. Here’s how I found out about it: I observed it in myself. It’s nothing more or less than what comes with being human. Yet God did not want us to be content living on a merely human plane of operation (1 Cor. 3:3).

One more thing: everything I’ve just said is multiplied in the case of blogs. Most bloggers write what interests them. The circle of interest doesn’t have to be any larger than one person: me.

Purpose

The effect is strong. It’s hard to break free. I really do like the links from other blogs, the Technorati ranking, and the other publishing and speaking opportunities I get. If we’re doing it all for the closed circle, though, we’re wasting our time. There are millions of people outside the circle who need encouragement with their questions.

To Serve

Jesus Christ didn’t come to teach us how to get strokes. Speaking of himself, he said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

And If I might be permitted to borrow a line of thought Jesus used in a different concept (Luke 5:31), those who are already equipped have no need of an equipper — even though in this case they are the ones most likely to support and encourage the equipping. So apologetics needs to break free of that circle. As I’ve already said, this is happening among some. It needs to happen more. I myself need to break free.

To Encourage

But it’s not as if no one outside that circle has any interest in being equipped. I think the big issue is that we apologists have been so caught among our own group, we’ve lost track of how to connect with others outside of it. Ask an average church member if they’re interested in apologetics, and their most likely answer will be, “Huh?” They don’t even know the term. But ask the same church member if they want their children to be solid and confident in the faith, or if they’ve ever been puzzled by hard questions, and you’re very likely to hear them say “Yes, absolutely!” It’s the same question either way, except it’s spoken in different language.

Breaking Free

Blogging and apologetics are both prone to inward-focused motivational patterns. I’m trying to break free of that. I made a good run at it with a blog re-design early in January, and I learned some things about how to organize the information on the page, as well as how not to organize it. Some things worked and some didn’t. The way I had it set up, it didn’t work well enough to do what I thought it needed to do.

I also learned some things about how I think, strategize, and decide what to write for whom. I think I have a structure that will work better now for my motivational set, flowing with my more helpful motivations and compensating for the competing motivational patterns I’ve described above.

I don’t know for sure about any of that. This remains a work in progress. I’ll be grateful for your feedback once it gets rolling.

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