In a lecture at Fuller Seminary last year, Brian McLaren declared that he had stopped using apologetics because it didn't work. His example presented as the breaking point for him was a conversation with someone struggling with a personal loss and this experience with suffering and evil in his life. McLaren used Lewis' "Lord, Liar, Lunatic" argument on him, which didn't help. So McLaren said he realized then that all these pat answers from apologetics were worthless.
At the Biola conference on and with the Emerging Church last month, Robert Webber shared a similar experience where the "evidence that demands a verdict" didn't result in a confession of faith by the person he shared it with. So he came to the same conclusion as McLaren (though years earlier) and literally, as he described it, threw this useless information in the trash.
But this is like prescribing penicillin for diabetes and concluding the medicine is useless when it doesn't cure the disease. The problem is the wrong medicine or wrong expectations.
In McLaren's example, it seems to me that he prescribed the wrong medicine. "Lord, Liar, Lunatic" strikes me as an odd and obviously wrong response to someone who is personally suffering. And Webber seems to have expected a miraculous recovery.
Both McLaren and Webber impress me as intelligent, thoughtful men so their unwarranted conclusions from their experiences surprise me. Perhaps there's more to their stories than their examples represent. But apologetics does serve a useful purpose when it's used wisely by a sensitive ambassador. (That's why knowledge is tempered by wisdom and character.) "Face" at the A-team blog wrote a good essay on this. And The Christian Mind demonstrated a wise and tactical use of apologetics. Not to mention the Apostle Paul.
Two years ago Greg and I visited a large Christian ministry on the east coast that teaches apologetics and yet we sensed a negative reaction to that word. We later learned from someone with more insight that "apologetics" has a negative connotation in that part of the country because it's perceived as a bossy, know-it-all answer machine. No doubt there are Christians who use apologetics like that. We must never lose sight of the patient as we prescribe the right medicine using wisdom and character. But the patient does need the medicine.