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Some missiology for campus 3: Apologetics?

What I’ve been referring to as ‘participation’ is sometimes included under the banner of apologetics, and since I first ran an apologetics group as an undergraduate student, I’ve seen periodic attempts to make apologetics into something more encompassing. Sometimes we seem to use apologetics as a sort of catch-all category for responding to the world.

However, it is still the case that apologetics typically concerns itself with defence and debate, and is geared towards solving modernistic problems. Apologetics can deal with atheism and anti-theism, but maybe not religious nones or other religious communities. Apologetics can address esoteric topics about worldviews and epistemology, but not so much the pressing social issues of today.

So when the Keller article calls for more and better apologetics, I’m not satisfied. For them, apologetics is anything that deals with ‘why questions’. It has been stretched beyond breaking point, and I don’t believe it can cover the ground that we need to cover. Rather than trying to make it an umbrella category for every kind of intellectual witness on campus, we should revisit our ministry practice.

I suspect that apologetics has been sucking up the oxygen we need for participating more fully in the campus. No doubt apologetics still has a useful part to play, but we will need to reduce our reliance on it in order to make space for participation. More than that, the balance should favour participation.

My point is a missiological one. As campuses have become increasingly fragmented, we need to have more to our repertoire than an ability to pit ideas against one another. Our context calls for Christian leaders who can promote listening and shape conversations. It’s not enough to upgrade apologetics by making it winsome and fun, because it still involves an oppositional way of relating to the world.

This would be a pretty big gear-shift in our thinking. If we really are living in a situation where arguments and reasoned defences are less likely to gain traction, then we should ask why we still think it’s important to emphasise those. Is it because it’s what we’ve favoured for many years? Is it because we think the terrain is still fundamentally ‘modern’ — or that we wish it was? Is it because we think our faith depends on it?

Image credit: Joshua Earle

Categories: University ministry Written by Arthur

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Arthur Davis

Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

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