I find it very frustrating at times to watch television programs aired on the History Channel or the Discovery Channel where liberal and/or secular scholars tend to misrepresent historic Christianity.
It is also hard for me to watch the critics of Christianity present my faith in the worst light possible without attempting to be fair and objective in their presentation. Therefore, I admire scholars of all stripes who are careful, measured, and who work hard at being objective in their analysis, especially when it comes to evaluating the beliefs of others.
The Golden Rule enunciated by Jesus himself asserts that we must seek to “do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12). And since this ethical principle covers all actions, it applies to Christian apologetics (1 Peter 3:15-17).
All apologetics efforts include critiquing other people’s arguments, positions, and overarching worldviews. Therefore as a Christian apologist, I feel an obligation to work hard to fairly represent any alternative system of belief that I explore and critique. Just as I don’t want my faith to be misrepresented, so I need to treat other people’s beliefs with appropriate care and respect.
Throughout my apologetic endeavors I have developed six practices that ensure that I handle my opponents’ opinions and views with evenhandedness. We’ll explore two in this article and four more in future installments. I hope that you will find these practices useful in your own apologetics ventures.
Six Practices of Apologetic Fairness
1. Identify Central Tenets of a Belief System
Understand the position that you are critiquing (for example, naturalism or postmodernism) well enough to be able to correctly identify the very essence of the system. Knowing the heart of a belief system helps enormously to achieve accurate representation. And a critique is always most effective when the essence is identified and engaged apologetically. I certainly appreciate it when non-Christians have taken the time to familiarize themselves with the central tenets of historic Christianity.
2. Affirm Positive Features of a Belief System
Every worldview system evinces strengths and weaknesses. It is important to identify the positives as well as the negatives. It expresses objectivity when a person weighs and evaluates the strong and weak elements of a formal system of belief.
For example, the Eastern worldview of pantheistic-monism while having profound problems, including lack of coherence, explanatory power, and correspondence, nevertheless has some positive features as well. This mystical religious perspective affirms the existence of a spiritual reality and values such concepts as unity and justice. Identifying these positive features can serve as a bridge for Christians to utilize in discussing this worldview with its many adherents. Additionally, in terms of personal persuasion, people are more likely to listen carefully to the negative critique when they have first heard you enumerate the positive features.
Accurately representing a system’s core beliefs as well as identifying both its positive and negative features goes a long way in helping Christian apologists to perform their critical task with intellectual integrity and charity.
In ensuing articles I will continue my discussion of the “Six Practices of Apologetic Fairness.”
For more on building intellectual virtue in the area of apologetics, see chapters 3-4 of my book A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test.