The Task of Cultural Apologetics

As the popularity and reach of apologetics have expanded over the last few decades, I’ve loved seeing God bring people with different gifts and perspectives into the movement, rounding out the work of apologetics so it applies more fully to us as whole human beings. The Christian worldview is, after all, much more than philosophical syllogisms. Worldview apologetics address all of reality because every aspect of life is touched by the Creator and can point back to Him.

Over the years, the questions I’ve heard from the people around me have moved steadily in the direction of whether or not Christianity and its God are desirable. Are they not only true, but also good and beautiful? This current emphasis fits right in with the task of cultural apologetics. Paul Gould says in his book Cultural Apologetics: Renewing the Christian Voice, Conscience, and Imagination in a Disenchanted World,

These three universal longings, for truth, goodness, and beauty, can serve as fitting starting points for a cultural apologetic…. Humanity was made to be nourished on them. These universal human longings cannot be eradicated. Unfortunately, they can be and often are muted and repressed. It’s possible to settle for cheap counterfeits too. This is why God has provided guides within the human soul to help us on our journey. Reason guides us on the quest for truth. The conscience leads us to goodness. And the imagination transports us toward beauty. This is also why we have intellectuals, prophets, and artists. They can perform a priestly duty, leading us if we allow them toward the ultimate object of our soul’s longing: Jesus Christ, the source of all truth, goodness, and beauty.

So how does the cultural apologist work to guide people from their longings for truth, goodness, and beauty to Jesus Christ? Gould explains in Christianity Today:

[T]he first task of the cultural apologist [is] the task of understanding culture. I do a fair amount of worldview analysis in my book. Any cultural apologetic worth its salt will do likewise.

The cultural apologist does not stop with understanding, however. The cultural apologist works to awaken those within culture to their deep-seated longings for goodness, truth, and beauty. Part of that process involves engaging with and working within the culture-shaping institutions—the university, the arts, business, and government—to help others see the reasonableness and desirability of Christianity. Worldview analysis is necessary but not sufficient for a cultural apologetic.

The cultural apologist works to resurrect relevance by showing that Christianity offers plausible answers to universal human longings. And she works to resurrect hope, creating new cultural goods and rhythms and practices that reflect the truth, beauty, and goodness of Christianity. To summarize, cultural apologetics is defined as the work of establishing the Christian voice, conscience, and imagination within a culture so that Christianity is seen as true and satisfying, and it has both a global and local component.

This definition allows—even necessitates—the use of philosophy, science, and history as well as the creation of new cultural artifacts in making a case for Christianity…. Cultural apologetics must demonstrate not only the truth of Christianity but also its desirability.

If you’re not familiar with this kind of apologetics, read the full article, take a look at Gould’s book, or just start by listening to Brett Kunkle’s interview with Gould on our podcast.

Amy K. Hall

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