“Culture orients us to the world. It programs our minds to think about the world in a certain way.” Dr. Kevin Vanhoozer, Professor of Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, stated in his lecture to the C.S. Lewis Fellows.
As a graduate of the C.S. Lewis Fellows program, I was lucky enough to sit in on a recent lecture by Dr. Vanhoozer on the topic of “Cultural Apologetics.”
What Is Cultural Apologetics
“Cultural Apologetics” is the ability to critically examine our culture and how it is shaping assumptions and presuppositions in order to respond thoughtfully. Dr. Vanhoozer, the author of “Everyday Theology: How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Trends” asks that we Christians stop “sleepwalking through culture” and start to critically analyze the forces at work all around us.
Why is it important to do so? Dr. Vanhoozer argues that “Culture spreads beliefs, values, ideas, fashions, and practices from one social group to another. Culture grows and shapes human spirits.”
It’s Not About The Arguments
One of the small ways that Christians can start to thoughtfully engage with our “post-Christian” culture is to understand that apologetics shouldn’t hang its hat on rational arguments and hard evidence. In fact, as Dr. Vanhoozer stated, “too much emphasis on intellectual arguments misses the point that humans are feeling creatures. Before we are rational beings, we are desiring beings.”
He went on to say that:
“too often evidential apologetics makes the mistake of thinking that people are rational. Roman 1 says that they suppress the truth.”
So do we just give up apologetics? Stop studying the rational defense of the faith and the evidence for it? Absolutely not! What Dr. Vanhoozer was suggesting is that reason and evidence doesn’t always work with some people.
To relate that point, he relayed a story about a debate with an atheist philosopher. After the debate, Dr. Vanhoozer was told that while his “logic was sound” his opponent still refused to believe in God.
This called to mind what I read in R.C. Sproul’s book, “Classical Apologetics” where he mentioned that with some people, reason, logic, or evidence will not sway them because they have a vested interest in rejecting God. As such, it does not necessarily follow that the arguments themselves are deficient.
It also brought to mind a talk that I listened to with atheist philosopher John Gray who stated that human beings are only “partially rational” and will “block out anything that disturbs their view of the world.”
To be clear, he was not suggesting that we toss intellectual arguments in the trash, but he is saying that our primary focus shouldn’t be “winning arguments.” By focusing solely on the intellectual arguments for Christianity, we ignore the fact that human beings are also emotional creatures.
Called to be Salt and Light
As Dr. Vanhoozer stated in his lecture, we are living in an age of “disenchantment” and a “post-truth” culture. What people crave is authenticity. We need to not only be able to critically examine our culture and determine what most influences us in our own lives, but we also must embody our arguments.
Dr. Vanhoozer implores the Body of Christ to get “beyond the theoretical arguments.” While there is nothing wrong with those arguments, he states that they come off hollow if there isn’t an authentic life lived behind them.
It is through living authentic lives backed by intellectual arguments that we will start to affect the culture around us by showing others the truth of Christianity.
One Minute Apologist has a great, short video explaining what Cultural Apologetics is: