Why Apologetics and what are they?

Why apologetics and what are they?

The term comes from a Greek word – apologia – it is used with regard to one’s faith or world-view.  It does not mean apologising for one’s faith, rather the contrary, it means ‘to give a reasoned explanation’.  For both Paul and Peter this was an essential part of Christian faith, we are told that Paul gave his apologia before Agrippa in Acts 26 and by the same token we Christians are encouraged in 1 Peter to be ready always to explain the hope that is within us.

We are up against two issues.  One is that many Christians would be hard-put to speak of their faith.  Where do you start? What do you say?  A little more significantly, what do I actually believe?  Then comes another more challenging issue – how do I speak of my faith to people of another faith in ways that they can understand and without using Christian jargon?  Think about how a vegetarian Hindu would respond to the traditional Christian phrase ‘washed in the blood of the lamb’. Deeply moving as that phrase may be to many Christians, it’s going to fall on deaf Hindu ears or simply close down the conversation. We have attempted to have at the heart of our purpose two matters, clarity of presentation of our faith and establishing a non-threatening stance in that presentation.

What, then, is on offer in the coming pages? 

We start with brief guides to the major faiths of the world.  They must be seen for what they are, they are intended to help Christians, both lay and ordained in their conversations with people of other faiths.  They are certainly not exhaustive introductions, rather we deal with basic issues so as to give the Christian at least a little understanding of the faith of others.  If you wish to delve deeper please recognise that it is best to let people be self-defining, so further reading is best done through material written by people of the other faith.  However, we do recognise that other faiths, like Christianity are not monolithic and one sometimes comes across some very idiosyncratic views.  Reader beware!  The next step is to consider the critiques of Christianity made by other faiths.  One of the major mistakes made by missionaries in both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is that they gave answers to questions that people of other faiths did not ask. Imposing our own understanding of human nature will close down a conversation rather than enhance it.  It is at that point that we come to the major task, that of trying to find ways of speaking about our faith that enables people of other faiths to understand the nature of Christianity.

We do not consider this to be an exercise in finding ‘ten easy ways’ to convert a person of another faith. This is not the aim of our writing.  But witnessing to our faith is our purpose.  Such witness comes through confidence in being able to speak of our faith in the light of how other people perceive and understand us and knowing what we, ourselves, believe. How the Holy Spirit uses our witness is the Spirit’s choice.  We cannot aim to produce a ‘standard’ Christianity, recognising that we come from ‘broad’ Churches espousing theological difference but united in the purposes of God. One (theological) size doesn’t fit all!

Our methodology.

There was a major assembly of missionaries in Edinburgh in 1910.  In effect it was a forerunner of the later to be formed World Council of Churches.  Prior to that assembly the participants were sent a questionnaire in which one question asked them to write of the points of contact, positive or negative, with other faiths.  That question is as relevant today, nearly 110 years later, as it was then.  It forms the basis of the third part of our work.

We do not intend to dictate a conversation but to give pointers of both commonality and difference to enable a conversation with people of other faith to be started – these are points of contact.  Needless to say any conversation will then open up in a way dictated by the interests of the people involved and the matters that come to mind.

A word about faith.

In all that we do ‘faith’ is the operative word.  For many ‘faith’ is equated with belief, the cerebral acceptance of a series of theological propositions.  In dialogue between people of differing faiths what we need to recognise and acknowledge is that whereas we will probably differ in terms of what we believe, we will not differ in terms of the need to be faithful to the Being whom we Christians call God.  Here faith is a matter of trust.  In dialogue we find that people of other faiths will place their faith and trust in the One, probably addressing that Being by other names.  For our part, as writers, we would want to suggest that there is only one Being, but that our understanding and perception of that Being will differ.  However we may envisage the nature of God we have to acknowledge that those with whom we will be in discussion do not hold their faith lightly but regard it as a guiding principle in their lives, so we must be careful to tread carefully lest you step upon other people’s deeply held beliefs and recognise that the ‘other’ is never wholly ‘other’.

Our experience over many years is that in dialogue we may be both challenged and affirmed in such ways that our own faith in God is deepened and our understanding enhanced, but remembering always that we ‘see through a glass darkly’ and that as the hymn-writer says: ‘the Lord hath yet more light and truth to break forth from his word’.

Further Reading (General)

Davie, G. Religion in Britain, A persistent paradox John Wiley & Sons Pub. 2015

Woodhead,L. and Catto,R. (Eds) Religion and Change in Modern Britain Routledge Pub. 2012