Sorry … a centre for what?

The Gospel Coalition have announced the inauguration of The Keller Center for Cultural Apologetics.  The centre will bring together a number of prominent names in the world of apologetics as fellows with the aim of enabling collaboration in research and then to provide training for Christians. 

I want to be clear at the outset that I have nothing against the individuals involved in the project.  Tim Keller himself has been a wonderful servant to the Gospel over many years and we particularly appreciate his support for church planting here in Birmingham through City to City.  Quite a few of the people involved as fellows are people I either know of or know and again those I know/know of have often been helpful teachers and guides.  I also believe that the mix of male and female members offers a healthy and positive model. Though it is heavily western leaning (US/UK centric), where are the in context Latinos, Africans and Asians?

However, I have two concerns/questions.  The first has already been raised by a number of people.  Is it wise and helpful to have ministries named after individuals?  This is perhaps an even more poignant question when the named person is still alive, serving and involved in some way with the organisation. It begs the question as to whether we have learnt the lesson from Ravi Zacharias. 

My concerns go further though.  Of the setting up of institutions, there seems to be no end.  Now, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t set up new things ever.  However, it does mean that there needs to be a clear reason, a purpose for doing so.  What is it that this centre will uniquely deliver? Why is it needed?  There have been a number of  things set up to do with cultural studies and apologetics in recent years. 

The named fellows are all fairly prominent and it is easy to access their books and in some cases their blogs and podcasts.  There is nothing to stop them collaborating. I’d rather see things that enable new, unspotted people to come to the fore and help them connect.

Although, I would even gently challenge the whole question of needing collaboration. It suggests that the work of evangelism and apologetics is like some kind of science research project needing technical specialists and expensive equipment.

I don’t think that apologetics functions like that. Indeed, I wonder if we have pushed too heavily into a world where the “apologist” is some kind of specialist role or department.  Really Apologetics is about knowing and teaching God’s Word with an eye on particular disciplines form where objections might come, particularly the fields of history, archaeology, philosophy and science.  The best way to do apologetics is in the context of the local church. We need pastors who know God’s Word well, are sufficiently trained in systematic theology and are alert to the world around them.

The Center for Cultural Apologetics says on the TGC website that there is a big problem because we live in a post -Christendom world and church leaders don’t know what to do yet. If that is so, then it is a damning inditement on our Theological Colleges who have trained Churhc leaders and I’m sorry to say it, but on the very men and women who are part of this venture because the problem of a post Christendom world is not a new one. 

It says that it will help us close the backdoor so that people don’t leave the church whilst opening the front door so that we can engage sceptics with the Gospel.  It will help close the backdoor by conducting a survey to find out why people have left the church.  Now, again, we get to the rub.  Decent pastors/elders should know why people are leaving. 

And here again is why I believe that apologetics is best done by pastors/teachers in the local church context, not in academies and centres.  Pastors should know their congregations and know their contexts.  One of my great frustrations over the years is that I so often read or hear the apologist and I’m left thinking “well those were some very interesting answers but they are answers to questions that no-one in my context is asking.”  That’s because apologetics is an academic discipline for a student and graduate world but that is not the world that most people are inhabiting.  Not only that, I also find myself wondering whether the way that the apologists think, or at least the way they show their thinking in their answers just isn’t the way that the people I meet think.  This is I would suggest particularly true of presuppositional apologetics (even though this is my preferred method).

This brings me back to the question of reason and purpose.  This begs the question “who was asking for this?”  You see, if parachurch organisations are set up then it should be because the local church is asking for them.  I don’t think that this is something that local churches on the frontline have been asking for.

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