September 7, 2010

History vs. Apologetics

The first problem with apologetics(*) is an assumption.  But I don't mean logical, theological or historical assumptions - which are also problems, at times.  I mean one particular assumption, namely, that any plausible explanation provides reason enough for believing the claims of a text.  It may.  It may not.

The second problem with apologetics(*) is an inconsistency.  But I don't mean logical, academic or argumentative inconsistencies - which are also problems, at times.  I mean one overarching inconsistency, namely, that many apologists work to support claims of historicity, but they do not focus on reconstructing an actual history.  In most cases, once the objection's been covered, they stop.

Plausible explanations nearly always get considered by historians, if the suggestion is properly qualified.  We don't have evidence to support every claim of most ancient texts, that can be reasonably verified.  But any thoroughly historical analysis of the past can contribute towards historians' attempts at reconstructing that past, even if the analysis may be somewhat uncritical.

In contrast to all this, apologetics(*) is almost purely defensive, and very rarely constructive.

Here's my suggested alternative:  Christian scholars, believe that the scripture is trustworthy and affirm that its historical content is accurate.  But, don't make proving that your objective.  Begin there.  Assume historicity, and then go on further to reconstruct actual history.

I think that what most people want is not extra reasons to believe that it happened.  More than that, we want a scenario to suggest how it happened.  So flesh it out, scholars!  Just as the writing process forces stray thoughts into discipline, so can a four-dimensional reconstruction illuminate both strong and weak points in one's historical supposings.

Of course, that makes affirming the scriptural Jesus and the scriptural Church a bit more "leap of faith" than a defensible goal - but that's not just a more Christian strategy for dealing with things.  That also happens to be the chief distinction between "apologetics" and good historical work.

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(*)  It should be clear that I'm referring to a particular strand of Christian Apologetics, often practiced by leading Christian Scholars, ostensibly focused on defending the historical reliability of scripture, but primarily aimed at shoring up traditional interpretation and practice.

9 comments:

Jeffery said...

Wow!! Well put, good post brother.

Bill said...

Well thanks. Is this Vetta's Jeff? Or Jeffery who?

Blogger says you haven't enabled access to your profile. :-(

Jeffery said...

Yes sir Vetta's Jeff it is..lol

nearemmaus said...

Very well said!

Franklin said...

I guess that's why I like what you do...and I'm one who hates apologetics. I love a good story, and you are writing one (or explaining one). Of course, I am also trying to challenge some of your assumptions...but that's hard to do when they are assumptions...but I still like to try! Who knows, perhaps we will explore some other assumptions that help us write the story "better".

Bill said...

Brian (or JohnDave, or Robert?), thank you.

Frank - Yes, that's precisely it! Seriously, what else can we do?!!

Josh L said...

Four-dimensional reconstruction? Care to elaborate on that one?

Bill said...

Sure. Here.

You can also type "four-dimensional" into my search bar, like, dude. ;-)

Bill said...

Oh yeah, you read that already.

Well, one might say "four-dimensional" refers to a 'living' cross section of historical activity. Events never quite freeze in time, parts are constantly moving, and the evidence to demonstrate significant cause/effect chains may not even form a pattern that's necessarily linear (nor one that's consistently progressive).

However, activities themselves do (at least) constantly progress. Attempting to view history as it was happening - "on the run", so to speak - that requires a four dimensional imagination.

Clear as mud?

Okay, try this.

Consider a courtroom drama where the right piece of evidence finally clears up the timeline and reveals who did, could or couldn't have committed that murder. (On Teevee, sometimes when they finally play out the scenario everyone had assumed to be true, its own logic leads them all to reject it as no longer plausible.)

Doing history is like such a court case. Who was where, when, doing what, with whom, and how did it all tie together... in actual sequence?

It may not always work out so neatly, but at any rate, that's what we mean by "four dimensional" reconstruction.

Gosh, that's a whole other post.

Okay, you owe me double whatever you put in the offering plate! ;-)

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