Tag Archives: Biola University

Why I am not an Apologist

Every now and then, I’ll get into a discussion with someone about the rise of apologetics as a field of study for Christian Education. In recent years, several universities or seminaries have built or added apologetics degrees including Biola, Houston Baptist, and Denver Seminary, all of which have highly respected faculty and programs.

Personally, I think it won’t reach most students’ learning goals.

Okay, so that’s a strong statement, but let me explain. Many people value apologetics because they feel it helps them spread the gospel. In their view, they want to gain answers to any and all questions in order to be prepared to give a defense. Unfortunately, I believe they’re preparing to answer the wrong questions, and will therefore give the wrong answers.

Most of us in the church have been educated according to a Modernist mindset wherein the major philosophical category is epistemology. In simple English, when we encounter issues or problems, we first ask “Is this true?” before moving forward. Therefore, we gravitate to degrees like apologetics because it helps us to understand the truth, to argue about what is true, and to see the truth.

We live in a post-Modern era wherein the major philosophical category is axiology. When a post-modernist encounters a problem, they first ask, “Is this valuable?” before moving forward. A post-modernist wants to understand issues of importance, value, or good. This is why many people will respond with, “Well that’s your truth,” when you tell them about something you understand as true. What they’re really saying is, “You may think that’s good/valuable/important, but I don’t.” You may have every argument for the authenticity of the Bible, every philosophical proof of deity, all truth in all of existence about the veracity of what you have to say, but if you do not convince them that what you have to say is good, they will never accept it as true.

In short, I feel that apologetics degrees and approaches suffer because they ask and answer the wrong questions. A post-modern apology for Christianity must defend the notion that (1) God is good, (2) Christianity is good, and (3) what Christianity produces is good. If your apology (defense) neglects any of these, I feel that you will not reach this generation. As a side note, I’ll also point out that actions speak louder than words in this case.

I respect those who take the path of the apologist. I respect those who teach apologetics to others. I observe, however, that arguing over the accuracy of this or that New Testament manuscript may not have the effect you think it does. As the old saw goes, no one every became a Christian because they lost the argument. And what is good? “He has told you, O man, what is good, and what the Lord really wants from you:He wants you to promotejustice, to be faithful,and to live obediently before your God.”

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Student Development in Christian Education

As I reflect on my personal experiences and observations of student development and student development theory as it applies to Christian education, I find our practice of it severely lacking. While I do agree with current movements and secular theorists that the entire educational environment contributes to the student’s education, I would say that a Christian educational institution should also concern itself with Spiritual Formation and the spiritual development of the student (of course, I would argue that the entire curriculum should work toward this aim as well).

We talk about this a great deal, and schools dedicate entire departments and degrees to such (see Biola University, Wheaton College, and Fuller Theological Seminary, to name three). Unfortunately, these usually boil down to mandatory chapels and quiet times interspersed through the semester. That little-to-no research exists in spiritual formation as student development exists indicates that Christian educators and scholars have not recognized the need to take seriously the art and science of shaping the spiritual growth and development of students in Christian education. We then wonder why our seminary-trained pastors remain out of touch with their congregations, unable to communicate the wonders of the word to the world. We gape in amazement (and a bit of condemnation) at our pastors who spend years studying the word but then indulge in inappropriate behaviors when the pressures of ministry bring deeply buried sins to the surface. We stare in astonishment at our students who go through years of Christian schooling only to live lives we find contrary to our values and practices.

I do not hold institutions responsible for the sins of others, but I do suggest that we need think through the training and formation we practice in Christian education. I think we need to start by engaging in serious conversation, deep evaluation, and contemplative study guided by historical practice, current social science research, solid theological guidance and careful biblical exposition. Some have begun, but we need to do better. We must do better.

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