The Missing Link: The Case for Pre-Apologetics

The Missing Link: The Case for Pre-Apologetics

by Mia Langford

January, 2018

We need to put a new area of apologetics on the map, folks. Let’s dub this sub-genre focusing on the apologetic for apologetics “pre-apologetics.” Pre-apologetics focuses on why we must learn to give a defense of our faith or why one should care about truth, and it’s underutilized and underexplored in contemporary apologetics – to our detriment.

Throughout my childhood my mom repeatedly admonished, “people don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” Well, apologists are pretty aware that, in general, the church doesn’t care as much about apologetics as it should.

And we’re correct that it should. Hearing the statistics on the youth exodus from the church, we know the situation is becoming dire. We look at the emerging trend of “street epistemology,” and we find average Christians are falling away upon exposure to what amounts to second-rate worldview pick-up artistry. The church at large must embrace apologetics. This isn’t something we can afford to get wrong.

Meanwhile, we find ourselves in a culture increasingly numb to the need for answers. Many unbelievers assume the search for truth has become irrelevant, unattractive, or uncompelling, leaving us in a position where we must first cultivate an interest in such a search in order to pass “Go.”

This is where pre-apologetics becomes critical. For those unfamiliar with or even uninterested in apologetics, pre-apologetics acts as a bridge between apologetics and other concerns, ideas, or areas of study. It opens up an exciting world, earnestly exploring the relationship of apologetics to everything else around us. It cultivates interest and catalyzes personal motivation by drawing explicit connections people may have missed. It focuses more why than on what. Aside from modifying the language we use — the subject of another post — let’s look at two other ways we can approach this genre within apologetics more effectively.

Don’t Just Be a Downer

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. – I Thessalonians 5:11 ESV

Not only is the pre-apologetic category of engagement underutilized, available examples are sometimes demoralizingly lop-sided with regard to the implications they explore. Many examples focus on alarming statistics or the apocalyptic fallout of ignoring apologetics. The negative implications of neglecting apologetics deserve our full attention, and we must continue to make people sensitive to them, but we are equally tasked with showing people that apologetics brings with it great hope and inspiration.

I can tell you from a psychological standpoint fear sometimes has a paralyzing effect on people. Motivation propelled by fear will only carry us so far. Research shows negative reinforcement – or removing bad consequences – only serves to aid in initial habit change. Even if avoidance of pain will motivate us for a short while, long term, negative reinforcement doesn’t get the job done.

I can also tell you this psychological principle merely reflects the corresponding biblical principle that we are designed to pursue and value good and beautiful ends. Apologetics can do good and beautiful things, and here’s where we bring in positive reinforcement. These exciting angles need to be fleshed out for people in a deliberate and comprehensive way, and we will be exploring these facets in future posts here at Project 360.

Don’t Just “Should” All Over People

To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. – I Corinthians 9:22 ESV

Yes, there are things believers absolutely should do, and apologetics is one of them. However, apologetics is an area of study that naturally and disproportionally attracts both the bold and cerebral among us, and there can sometimes be an empathetic deficit in apologetics. This includes our approach to convincing our fellow believers of the need for apologetics. And it’s hurting our cause. It goes beyond sheer pragmatism; it is a directive. The Bible calls us to be all things to all men (1 Cor. 9:22). This verse receives much distorted application, but it is a pretty explicit imperative to not only actively engage in empathy, but to work in tandem with any valid, admirable objectives that are already present.

Examples of these objectives include:

  • Increased faith and intimacy with God
  • Encouraging others when tragedy strikes
  • Strengthening marriages
  • Feeling more confident in sharing one’s faith
  • Pastoral care

Suspending our agendas and taking time to really “see” and validate the person, their concerns, and their sense of personal mission can transform the nature of an interaction. Failing to see the goodness in front of us is a sure fire way to miss our opportunity to work with it. What do they already care about? What is admirable about it? How can apologetics help them achieve their objectives? Their vision? Often our fellow believers have laudable, biblically-savvy objectives that could be catalyzed by apologetics. Yet apologetics itself is not always packaged to adequately convey this. We need to draw an explicit connection between what apologetics has to offer and the benefit to that person’s life and current aspirations. This does three things:

  1. It empowers that person, and capitalizes on their knowledge and insights.

It breaks my heart when the expertise of an apologist is not given due appreciation. Make sure to acknowledge what we learn from other people. We all bring perspective to the table, and we need others as much as they need us.

  1. It galvanizes ownership.

Buy-in. You’ll get nowhere fast without it. People identify with their decisions. If you want people to get on board, they must take ownership of apologetics on a personal level. We will be exploring these dynamics further in future posts.

  1. It enables you to be heard as well.

Honoring perspective and putting yourself on the same side as the other builds rapport – a two-way connection of trust and emotional affinity. This cannot — and more importantly, should not — be faked or fabricated. God doesn’t have fake relationships, and his disciples shouldn’t, either. Genuine understanding on the part of both parties takes place. That trust and understanding is key to the embrace of ideas.

In short, show people you care about what motivates them, and pretty soon, they will care what you know. Pre-apologetics puts apologetics within a holistic, relational, systemic, and spiritual context that provides powerful motivation to delve more deeply into the evidence God has made available to us. Or in the words of John Bunyan in Pilgrim’s Progress:

“Not that the heart can be good without knowledge, for without knowledge the heart is empty. But there are two kinds of knowledge: the first is alone in its bare speculation of things, and the second is accompanied by the grace of faith and love, which causes a man to do the will of God from the heart.”

Mia Langford

Mia Langford

Mia aspires to embody the Renaissance woman in our time. Her roles at Project 360 make use of her background in content creation, research, public speaking, program design and evaluation, fundraising, special events, administration, promotion, outreach, and marketing. Her experience is enhanced by some degrees in psychology, advanced generalist social work, and Biblical studies. She loves Jesus, coffee, sheep-dogging, and anything nerdy.

More posts by Mia.

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