Thursday 5 July 2007

An apologetics of imagination

The new issue of the Sydney magazine Case (published by the Centre for Apologetic Scholarship and Education) features articles by Richard Bauckham, Michael Jensen, Greg Clarke, and others. It also includes my essay on “An Apologetics of Imagination,” where I argue that “what Christian apologetics has often lacked is an ethics of apologetic discourse, a probing ethical investigation into the modes of speech that are best suited to apologetic dialogue.”

Against certain forms of apologetics, I suggest that “the task of apologetics is not one of rational coercion, but of imaginative invitation. It is the invitation to envision – or rather, to re-envision – the world through the lens of the gospel of Jesus Christ…. The fundamental mode of such apologetic discourse, therefore, is one of peace and freedom. It is, in the words of David Bentley Hart, a ‘rhetoric of peace,’ grounded on an awareness that the gospel itself has already crossed the closed circle of an ‘economy of violence’ and a ‘war of persuasions whose guiding impulse is power’…. It is precisely by resisting the irresistible – by choosing rhetorical peace over a rhetoric of violence and coercion – that we allow our hearers to be opened to the compelling imaginative power of a Christian vision of the world…. Such apologetic dialogue thus finds its goal in the authentic expression of human freedom and selfhood – in a fully personal response to the liberating message of the gospel.”


Sean said...

THis sounds excellent. Any chance you could email a copy through? There's no way I can get to it from Africa!

If you can, that would be great.


Ben Myers said...

Hi Sean -- no problem, just send me an email.

Fr. Gregory Jensen said...

This is really quite lovely.

It reminds me for Alexander Schmemman's comment that a missionary doesn't bring Christ to a people in darkness. Rather the true missionary is the one who goes somewhere and finds Christ there to greet him. I rather like the idea that apologetics and evangelistic witness are not matters of "rational coercion, but of imaginative invitation." Alas, Christians have been seduced by violence.

I second Sean's request for a copy via email if you would be so kind. My email adress, (absent <>) is frgregoryj<@>gmail<.>com.

And again, thank you for a lovely thought beautifully expressed.


Anonymous said...

Doesn't the phrase "not one of rational coercion, but of imaginative invitation" just perpetuate a bad opposition? I doubt that anyone has ever been "rationally coerced" except from within, while "imaginative invitation" without reason leads to bad theology. In my case I can say that the imaginative invitation was rejected until a rational critique of the underlying modernist metaphysics was carried out.

Anonymous said...

Back in my college days when I first learned apologetics (from books by the likes of Josh McDowell), I learned the key verse supporting the apologetic enterprise was 1 Peter 3:15. Pretty plain and obvious.

But several years later, after having read through the whole bible several times (and missing it), I finally observed the context of 1 Peter 3:15. It's all about what happens when Christians suffer.

Apologetics, taken from this passage at least, is not a discipline the knowing Christian imposes on the ignorant. It is an answer given to those incredulous that Christians would be willing to suffer.

Scott Savage said...

Given this, do you think N.T. Wright's Simply Christian was a successful apologetics?

Ben Myers said...

Thanks for these various comments. Yes, Scott, I'd say Wright's Simply Christian is an excellent piece of apologetics -- much better than all those tedious evidence-based books! I hadn't specifically thought of Wright in this connection before, but, now that you mention it, he really does model this approach of invitation rather than persuasion.

michael jensen said...

nice to be in such august company!

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