LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The apologetic landscape has changed and defending Christian morals is one of the chief tasks today, Timothy Paul Jones, professor of apologetics and family ministry at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said in the annual Faculty Address.
Previous generations asked, “Is Christianity true?” but a primary question being asked of the faith today is, “Is it good?”
“Apologetics is no longer limited to scholars and theologians,” said Jones. “Cultural and social changes have turned apologetics into an unavoidable consequence of living publicly as a Christian. Pursuing the Christian way of life will inevitably require a defense of this way of being in the world—not merely for apologists, but for all of us.”
Jones said the Christian ethic is no longer assumed as a positive good for society. The current cultural climate is similar to the one in which the second-century church lived; we can glean much wisdom from those early Christians, he said.
“This is not the first time Christians have faced the charge that their faith is immoral,” said Jones. “My goal is to consider the ways second-century Christian apologetics might inform what we do in our churches and classrooms in the 21st century.”
Jones observed three truths from second-century apologetics that may benefit current churches.
Second-century Christians posed a threat to the social order because their monotheism opposed the reigning civic religion of that day. Jones applied this principle to the 21st century where Christian values clash with the dominant secular morality.
“Christians contributed good to the social order, not only through prayers to God, but through their care for the disadvantaged,” said Jones. “This good was greater than any good enacted by those who worshiped the Roman gods.”
According to Jones, today’s public sphere demands civic obedience. Like the second century, modern society accuses Christianity of enacting civic harm because Christians refuse to participate in its cultural liturgies: wearing LGBTQ+ pride patches, recognizing preferred pronouns, and affirming bisexual identity.
“We’re all apologists now because the conflict is between two contradictory sets of religious convictions,” said Jones. “Aristides (d. 134) described a goodness so rich and so radical that it could not be fitted into the world’s categories, and so should we.”
Second-century Christians living out their beliefs provided evidence for Christianity’s superiority in a culture where participation in the rituals of the gods did not require belief in the stories of the gods.
“For apologetics today, the internal coherence of Christian faith reminds believers that any commitment which contradicts Christian faith will also contradict itself in the end,” said Jones. “Every commitment, which includes some fragment of truth, goodness, or beauty will cohere with Christianity and introduce internal contradictions in every other belief system.”
Jones argued that glimpses of common grace best accord with the truth of Christianity’s metanarrative and expose contradictions in every other worldview.
“As the dominant cultural narratives in our own day turn from a neutral perspective on Christianity to a negative view, the glimmers of common grace may grow dimmer and more distorted, but they are never completely absent.”
While these suggestions may not convince progressives of the social good of Christianity, Jones said God uses these practices to build his church.
“God works through practices like these to form us into the type of community that will persist past the rise and fall of every power that resists God’s truth,” he said. “What is likely to take place is not the persuasion of the world, but the formation of a people who persist in publicly practicing and proclaiming their faith.”
Jones said Christians must defend the very morality of living out their faith in public.
“No one among us can avoid defending our way of being in the world. Even if our defenses do not persuade the world that Christianity is good for the world, the gospel remains the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.”
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. praised Jones’s address and encouraged the faculty and students to heed Jones’s call to exhibit the social good of Christianity.
“You heard the heart, not only of a professor, but of an apologist,” said Mohler. “It is clear by Dr. Jones’s imperative that we are all apologists or we are all unfaithful.”
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