“You always probe to the depth of something and grab onto the meat in a way that requires careful consideration before answering,” a friend said to me just the other day. I’d reminded him of a question I’d asked him that he’d not answered, and he was explaining why. What he was telling me was, I make him think. It was music to my ears.
The observation makes for a good opportunity to explain what I mean by ‘Analytical Apologetics.’ Apologetics is simply the discipline of giving a rational explanation, or defense, for a belief in order to demonstrate its truth. Christian apologetics is just the application of the discipline to the tenets of historical Christianity. But where apologetics in general, and Christian apologetics in particular, are about us doing the talking, analytical apologetics takes a different tack and invites the other person to give a rational defense for his belief. All three approaches begin with the understanding that truth can be rationally defended but falsehood cannot.
If you read these posts regularly, you may have noticed that two of my last three contrasted atheism with theism. And they did so, not as if the existence of God is a matter of subjective religious feelings, but as if it’s a matter of rational truth. As a matter of objective truth, either there is a God or there isn’t. And if God exists, he exists regardless of whether people believe in him or not. It’s not a matter of opinion or religious preference; it’s about reality. This is why we can confidently invite the atheists to present their case for the non-existence of God. There is no rationally coherent case for the non-existence of God.
There were two examples demonstrating the tactic in Let’s Rally for Reason. Each consisted of an invitation for the atheist to go to the depth of his adamantly voiced belief system and think about it in a way that required careful consideration. Had either of them actually responded with an explanation, we could have engaged over it, examined it, and analyzed it together, with the ultimate goal of getting at the truth. Sadly, both of them responded with what amounted to, Can we please not talk about this anymore? The ‘analytical’ part of the process was virtually over soon after it began.
But it permanently altered the conflict, both on its intellectual and relational fronts. At least three benefits came out of it.
- The relational tension of the impasse has been released.
- The door has been thrown wide open for us to resume the discussion at any point in the future; the impasse has been made passable.
- Each of them has been presented with the meat, or heart, of the issue to think about … if they are willing.
AA makes a nice shorthand for it because there is an element of detox that takes place in the process. The Bible says the ways of the world and its wisdom are like shifting sands, or waves on the sea, blown and tossed about by the winds. In contrast, the truths of God and Creation are firmly established, unchanging. If this is true, then those who follow the ever shifting wisdom of the times will inevitably suffer a measure of inebriation. All of us will, actually, simply by virtue of living in a world with shifting ways. But if God and his truth are firmly established, there will always be a rational explanation for them because they are true, and appropriating them will give us an anchor that holds steady amid the turbulence. Conversely, there will never be a rationally coherent explanation for that which is false. Ever. The principle applies to everything that is a matter of objective truth.
I would add one caveat, though. This tactic is best suited to the militant, in your face, type of combatant, and we should always engage, not to score a dialectical win, but for the benefit of the other person and anyone else who may be listening in. It’s the people that matter, and it is for their benefit that we engage in the first place. Discussions about religion are notorious for being contentious, but notice that in both of these cases, it was the atheist who opted – respectfully, peacefully, and willingly – to leave the conversation. I don’t know if they gave the matter another thought; each of them must make that choice for himself. But the dialogue was advanced and the ball firmly placed in their court to deal with … or not. Their choice.
The relationship is at peace. The ball has been moved. And the contention has been cast back onto their false view of the world. Exactly where it belongs.