This is the second part of a series I am doing on Trends in Apologetics. I have covered Urban Apologetics and will look at Women in Apologetics and Children’s Apologetic in future posts.
What is Cultural Apologetics? Answering this can be a little tricky. So, given that this tricky I will let someone else answer the question: Holly Ordway. Dr. Ordway is the professor of English and on the faculty at Houston Baptist University in the M.A. in Apologetics program. She specializes in cultural and imaginative literary apologetics:
In this short clip by Dr. Ordway she describes “Cultural Apologetics [as] the approach to defending the truth of the Christian faith that involves engagement with all aspects of our culture. From literature, the arts, the media, film, all the way into the political realm, to economics, to science and the way we understand those kinds of questions. The questions how can we present the truth in such a way that is understandable and in such a way that it can be lived out in every aspect of our lives and not compartmentalized. So, culture apologetics strives to do that and do that in every sphere of activity.”
That is a good start and as I analyzed and researched what was involved in Cultural Apologetics I notice that instead of Cultural Apologetics being a narrow sub-discipline of Christian Apologetics that it is much broader and multi-disciplined. It seems that traditionally (or sometimes termed philosophical, classical or historical) apologetics has focused, understandably, upon rational arguments for God’s existence and the veracity of Christianity. The focus is on reason and argument. Cultural Apologetics understands that human experience is much broader than just reason. It’s not an irrational approach, but a wholistic approach. Humans are more than just rational beings, we have emotions, imagination, creativity, as well as intellect.
Houston Baptist University is spearheading this movement of Cultural Apologetics with a M.A. track in the field. They define Cultural Apologetics as focusing on integrating imaginative and rational apologetics, studying a range of issues in philosophy, literature and the arts, and cultural issues in order to analyze and engage with culture for apologetics at both the intellectual and popular level (including creative work).
Here is Dr. Ordway and Dr. Ward, two leading lights in the movement, describing Cultural Apologetics and its distinctives for Houston Baptist University’s program in apologetics:
Rational Apologetics “vs.” Cultural Apolgoetics
The “vs.” in the heading above is not meant to denote that they against each other but that there is a between them. In a great article by Ordway, she describes the pairing of reason with imagination for a complete Cultural Apologetic:
Theologian Austin Farrer sums up the role of Reason in apologetics: “Though argument does not create conviction, the lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish.”
Rational apologetics includes philosophical arguments, such as the arguments from contingency and from morality; evidential arguments, such as the arguments for the Resurrection based on historical evidence; and scientific arguments, such as the argument based on the fine-tuning of the universe for human life. However, no argument is complete in itself. For instance, while the Kalam cosmological argument and arguments from design suggest that it is reasonable to believe in a Creator, these arguments do not in themselves suggest anything about what that Creator is like, or draw people to desire a relationship with Him. Scripture-based arguments can show more of who God is and how He has acted in history, but these arguments are only helpful if people care about what the Bible says – if they are interested and willing to listen. We can’t automaticallly assume that people are interested, or that they have the adequate context to understand Scriptural references.
The best approach for the challenges of the 21st century is to provide a holistic argument involving different, complementary, mutually supportive arguments, which build up to a convincing overall picture.
Another way to approach Cultural Apologetics is put succinctly in this interview of Dr. Ordway who is recounting her conversion experience:
When I was so firmly an atheist, I would not have listened to the arguments that ultimately convinced me. I found the very idea of faith to be so repellent that I would not have listened to any arguments.
However, although I was not interested in apologetic arguments, I had, without knowing it, been experiencing the work of grace through my imagination. As a child and young adult, I read fantasy, fairy tales, and myths, and I especially fell in love with the Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings. I didn’t know that I was encountering God’s grace through those books, but in fact I was. Later, I wrote my doctoral dissertation on fantasy novels, and had Tolkien’s great essay “On Fairy-stories,” with its powerful statement of the evangelium, the Good News, at the heart of it. Later I began to teach college literature, and in re-visiting classic poetry for my class preparation, I was deeply moved and intrigued by the writings of specifically Christian poets. I had to admit that whatever it was that these authors believed, it was not simplistic or silly. Eventually, I realized that this question of ‘faith’ was more complex, and more interesting, than I had thought – and I decided to learn more.
There were a lot of questions that I needed to ask and have answered before I came to accept Christ, but Imagination opened the door. As George MacDonald’s novel Phantastes baptized C.S. Lewis’ imagination, so Lewis, Tolkien, Donne, and Hopkins had baptized mine.
Further examination reveals some distinctives in Cultural Apologetics. There seems to be a distinction within Cultural Apologetics between Imaginative Apologetics and Literary Apologetics.
Here is a series of articles on Imaginative Apologetics at Transpositions, which is the blog site for the Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts (ITIA) which is one of the leading centers in the world for bringing together the study and practice of theology and the arts. It contains articles from some of the leading scholars in cultural apologetics such as Holly Ordway, Michael Ward, and Louis Markos discussing issues like how imagination and reason relates, how the myth made fact in the local congregation, and the impact of Austin Farrer.
Imaginative Apologetics: Theology, Philosophy, and the Catholic Tradition published by Baker Academic attempts to provide a fresh, contemporary introduction to apologetics. The back of the book describes it as:
A Fresh Introduction to Christian Apologetics
This timely introduction argues for a version of Christian apologetics that is theological, philosophical, and “catholic” and that embraces the whole of human reason. It emphasizes a foundation in theology that is both confident and open and makes reference to philosophy in an accessible way.
John Hughes on proofs and arguments for faith and reason
Andrew Davison on Christian reason and Christian community
Alison Milbank on apologetics and the imagination
Donna J. Lazenby on apologetics, literature, and worldview
Michael Ward on C. S. Lewis’s view of imagination and reason in apologetics
Stephen Bullivant on atheism, apologetics, and ecclesiology
Craig Hovey on Christian ethics as Good News
Graham Ward on cultural hermeneutics and Christian apologetics
Richard Conrad, OP, on moments and themes in the history of apologetics
Alister E. McGrath on the natural sciences and apologetics
Much of Cultural Apologetics focuses on the literary brights of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, G. K. Chesterton, Dorothy Sayers, and others. Holly Ordway, again, helps delineate this subfield:
As a poet and an English professor, I am most interested in the way that poetry and narrative can be ways to present the experience of knowing Christ. That is, I work primarily in literary apologetics.
By that term, I mean the presentation of the truth of the Christian faith in and through literature. When I speak of doing the work of literary apologetics, I am speaking as an apologist, not a writer: I am talking about exploring Christian ideas through great literature that someone else wrote.
“Literary Apologetics: The Legacy of G. K. Chesterton and Dorothy Sayers” by Louis Markos | Christian Research Journal Vol. 34, No. 11 (2011)
This article by Markos begins:
If I were asked to identify a single root cause for the success of C. S. Lewis as academic, novelist, and, especially, Christian apologist, I would respond that the key to Lewis was his ability to fuse reason and imagination, logic and intuition, the rational and the emotional. Unlike such quintessentially American apologists as Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel, who are at their best when collecting data, sifting arguments, and marshalling witnesses in favor of Christ, the Bible, and Christian doctrine, Lewis took a more literary approach to defending the faith. Rather than divorce the facts of the Bible from the power it exerts over us, rather than separate the historical claims of Christ from the mythic force of His status as God-Man, rather than distinguish between the forensic evidence for the resurrection and the numinous awe that the event provokes in those who contemplate it, Lewis combined the testimony of head and heart, thinking and feeling, adult ratiocination and childlike wonder.
“Holly Ordway: Literary Apologist” Interview by Marcia Bosscher | InterVarsity: The Well Dec 13, 2012
“What is Literary Apologetics?” by Holly Ordway | The Christian Apologetics Alliance Aug. 19, 2012
Scholars in the Field of Cultural Apologetics
Resources for Cultural Apologetics
“In Defense of Imaginative Apologetics” by Anthony Horvath | Athanatos Christian Ministries April 20, 2016
“Literary Apologetics” by Louis Markos | Christian Research Journal 2011
“Dr. Holly Ordway and the Power of Cultural Apologetics: An Interview” by Zak Schmoll | Entering the Public Square Jan 5, 2017
Be on the look out for Holly Ordway’s book Imaginative Apologetics which is to published this year (2017) by Emmaus Road Press.
Other posts on Trends in Apologetics:
Women in Apologetics (forthcoming)
Children’s Apologetics (forthcoming)