I’d like to make apologetics my next major intellectual project. This is what I want to give my thoughts and spare reading to during my late 30’s.
It’s been brewing in me for a while. Part of it is my innate love of philosophy, which I haven’t formally studied since college, and which feels refreshing and fun to go back to. The greater reason, though, is that it seems like we are at a fascinating cultural moment in which fresh work in apologetics is needed.
I thought about this recently while reading my latest book in this personal project, Tim Keller’s Making Sense of God. Its a great book, and I won’t give a review of it here. What is most interesting to me is the way this book advances further than The Reason for God, Keller’s earlier (2008) apologetics book. Keller explains that he wrote Making Sense of God because The Reason for God does not start far back enough for a lot of people. Many people are simply apathetic about the topic of religion. It does not seem relevant. Related to this, Keller sees a need to explain why Christianity makes emotional and cultural sense, which he does by addressing topics like justice, meaning, happiness, identity, etc. This is the core of the book, while the final section, which provides the rational case for Christianity, is relatively brief.
This approach resonates with me, and coincides with my own interest: to explore the emotions of arguments for Christianity. I’m interested in an approach to apologetics that utilizes beauty, tells a better story than its rivals, appeals more comprehensively to human experience, and relies on abductive more than strictly deductive arguments. Of course, there are all kinds of different ways to do apologetics, and different approaches work for different people. But for a variety of reasons, it seems like this approach resonates with a lot of people in our culture right now. As Sarah Zylstra put it, “even as our neighbors lose belief in the truth of the gospel, they’re still, on a gut level, looking for its goodness and beauty.”
I believe that when the gospel is understood, in contract to secular worldviews, it will often feel like stepping through the wardrobe into Narnia. The Empty Tomb means supreme happiness. If you get a whiff of it, you think, “can it really be that good?” It’s like waking up as a little boy on Christmas morning—times a billion. I want to help people feel that.
I learned a lot from Keller’s book, which is very well-researched and well-presented. Here is one insight in particular that struck me, and relates to all this, from the chapter on happiness:
We have a much thinner life satisfaction than we want to admit to researchers or even to ourselves. On the whole, we are in denial about the depth and magnitude or our discontent. The artists and thinkers who talk about it most poignantly are seen as morbid outliers, but actually they are prophetic voices. It usually takes years to break though and dispel the denial in order to see the magnitude and dimension of our dissatisfaction in life (80).
When I read that paragraph, I thought wow! To think that human beings are so unhappy that it takes years to fully realize it! Amazing.
All the more reason, I think, for apologetics that emphasizes the gospel’s beauty, and its tug on the human heart.