man balancing on top of telephone pole
Reading Time: 6 minutes (Ryan Tauss.)
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Hi and welcome back! Lately, I’ve been thinking about apologetics as an industry. As Christianity continues to hemorrhage members and credibility, the apologetics industry continues to gain popularity. The way that apologists themselves market their product has always fascinated me, but it feels like they’ve gone into overdrive lately. Today, let me show you how busy apologists are — and why all that busy-ness won’t result in tangible change for their religion.

man balancing on top of telephone pole
(Ryan Tauss.)

A Quick Overview of Apologetics.

Officially, apologetics is an attempt to defend the Christian faith. An apologist uses and/or creates apologetics arguments, often as a paying occupation.

This post explains that way back in Ye Olden Dayes of Classical Greece, in courtroom cases the apologia came after accusations got made. The apologist would reply to those charges, hopefully refuting them. By the time Christianity was invented, the term had also come to mean making a defense of one’s beliefs. Now the term almost exclusively gets used in the context of arguing for the validity of Christianity.

Catholics very famously pioneered apologetics. Evangelical Christians also adore apologetics, though their version tends to be way more simplistic and more obviously wrong. Today’s post concerns evangelical apologetics, since it’s the kind most people encounter most often.

Back when I was Christian, evangelicals didn’t have a whole lot of apologetics books on their shelves. I think I had some C.S. Lewis and a few others. But a lot’s changed since the 1990s. The field has exploded since then. Now it’s probably a very rare evangelical indeed who doesn’t have a few bookshelves full of popular apologetics books.

It’s also a rare non-Christian who hasn’t ever had these works thrust at them by well-meaning evangelical family and friends who just wanna make sure you read this, dude, cuz it’ll answer, like, ALL of your questions.

(And it’s an even rarer evangelical who’s actually read whatever book they’re suggesting.)

“A Busy Year for Christian Apologetics.”

The Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC), a subset of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), adores apologetics.

Consequently, the MBC has built up a whole network of apologetics teachers for their Missouri Baptist Apologetics Network. Not long ago, I ran across a January 2020 ad for apologetics workshops on the MBC’s main site. In this ad, they declared that 2019 had been “a busy year for Christian apologetics in Missouri Baptist churches.” Member churches could sign up for free for an apologetics presentation — though the ad mentions that “a love offering is appreciated but not required.” (See endnotes for this Christianese.)

These teachers offer a variety of topics to interested churches, including but not at all limited to this selection. For many topics, as well, the MBC provides guidelines for how long these sessions last.

  • How do I know the Bible is true? (1-3 hours)
  • Who is the real Jesus? (1-2 hours)
  • What should Christians know about same-sex attraction? [No times given]
  • What should everyone know about the afterlife? (1-3 hours)
  • How do I know God exists? [No times given]

The apologist-teacher might be free, but the MBC sells participant guides for most of their topics “at the deeply discounted price of $5 per copy.”

These apologist speakers sound busy, too. The guy writing the ad, Rob Phillips, claims he gave 65 lectures in 26 locations last year and that he’d traveled around the country to do it. He’s got a schedule page that has a half-dozen engagements listed on it still for 2020.

After seeing this ad, I got curious about just how many apologetics seminars and conferences were happening in 2020.

Hooboy, did I ever find out.

A Huge List.

I found many, many dozens of conferences that took place in the past six months or so.

There’s lots more. (Another, and another, and another…)

And the hilarious part is, these conferences change nothing

The Function of Apologetics.

Christians themselves don’t agree on exactly what functions apologetics should perform. That said, these are usually the functions apologists say their work accomplishes (and yes, some overlap exists between them):

  • PROVE YES PROVE that Christianity is TRUE YES TRUE.
  • Answer accusations against the religion by its critics.
  • Lay to rest the doubts and concerns of existing Christians.
  • Slam opposing beliefs to make Christianity seem like the Last Ideology Standing.
  • Persuade those outside the apologist’s tribe to adopt the apologist’s beliefs.

Unfortunately for them, apologetics fails at all of these functions. I base that observation on my own experience and those of others. Strangely, nobody seems to have done even a badly-designed Christian study on the ability of apologetics to achieve any of those goals. Hucksters just say this stuff works, and Christians just believe them.

Alas for apologists, I know a number of ex-Christians who deconverted after reading apologetics books — and a couple who deconverted after writing one. These products can backfire spectacularly, and they do so often enough that you’d think Christians might have noticed!

But no, Christians persist in believing that apologetics can and does accomplish its goals.

Why Christians Put Such Faith in Apologetics.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, Christians think apologetics is powerful. They think this for two reasons:

  1. Apologists market their materials ruthlessly hard, and Christians tend to believe whatever their salespeople and leaders say about their products.
  2. Christians’ preferred apologetics products align with their existing beliefs, reinforcing those beliefs without challenging any.

By now, apologists have so ingratiated themselves with evangelical Christian culture that anybody suggesting the truth about apologetics gets attacked hard. Indeed, a few years ago we saw that truth in action. Christians cheerfully discard apologetics products that argue for stuff they don’t believe, but they think their own team’s apologetics arguments are completely bulletproof.

That’s what’s so comical about apologetics and apologists generally.

Almost all apologetics efforts consist of and center around arguments. Almost all of those arguments can be eliminated out of the gate as baseless assertions, outright logical fallacies, attempts to terrorize and manipulate, and poor analogies. Any left over fail for other reasons. Still, apologists use these arguments in lieu of real evidence for any of their claims. Thanks to apologists’ offerings, many Christians nowadays actually confuse apologetics arguments for real evidence.

Apologetics-idolizing Christians suffer both from misplaced trust in the effectiveness of their own apologetics and a general confusion about what real evidence actually looks like.

Amusingly, these errors have become nearly universal beliefs in a religion that boasts very few of those.

Reality Speaks Louder Than Arguments.

Remember how I said a minute ago that those conferences don’t change anything?

They don’t.

As the American apologetics industry has thrived, Christianity in America has declined. Along with that decline, a new generation of Nones, Dones, atheists, and more besides have gotten very good at spotting bad arguments and rejecting manipulation attempts. We’re also a lot less shy about poking holes in apologetics attempts — and it’s a lot easier to find debunks already made by those walking the path ahead of us. As we push back on apologetics attempts, too, we give Christians cause for doubt — which is exactly what happened to me in college!

I don’t see evangelicals giving up apologetics, though.

Not only is apologetics making way too many Christians way too much money to abandon it, but it’s also entered the flocks’ canon that it’s very super-lots-effective. They don’t care what silly ole reality has to say about this matter — or any other, really.

At least it keeps them busy, I suppose, and paying money into someone’s coffers.

NEXT UP: I found a hilarious post by Sean McDowell — yes, the son of Josh McDowell — explaining why all Christians need to buy his apologetics products. It’s great, and I’ll show it to you tomorrow! See you then!


Regarding love offerings: They’re a sort of not-really-impromptu request for crowdfunded donations that pretend to be impromptu shows of appreciation. When a preacher or evangelist visits a church, its pastor requests the congregation put up a love offering to give to the visitor. Before he deconverted, the famous evangelist Charles Templeton denounced this practice, correctly calling it a “scandal,” and refused to accept love offerings. Instead, he asked his church group to give him a reasonable weekly salary of $150. According to the above link, he ended up shaming Billy Graham into abandoning love offerings, though Graham requested almost twice what Templeton did. (Back to the post!)

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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...