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Go Beyond Arguments with Augustine’s Apologetics

Many Christians think of apologetics as the elite playground for a few select Christian philosophers—and we haven’t been picked for the team. We may appreciate those who do it, and occasionally pass along their YouTube clips, but we think we’ll never be effective at defending the faith. We feel inadequate, uninformed, or ill-equipped for the task of apologetics. Sure, we might read a book about sharing our faith or attend a class on evangelism, but apologetics? That’s for “those people” over there.

It’s true some are trained as professional apologists, but every Christian is called to be an apologist. At the end of the day, apologetics is conversational. It answers honest questions while seeking to love one’s neighbor in the process. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to defending and advocating for the Christian faith. The context of unbelievers’ questions may change, but the basic principles of apologetics remain the same.

In The Augustine Way: Retrieving a Vision for the Church’s Apologetic Witness, Joshua Chatraw and Mark Allen invite Augustine of Hippo to offer his insights into our current apologetic moment. Chatraw is a fellow with The Keller Center and the Beeson Divinity School Billy Graham chair for evangelism and cultural engagement. Allen is professor of biblical and theological studies at Liberty University. This book represents a continuation of their efforts in their coauthored Apologetics at the Cross.

Though more than 1,500 years old, Augustine’s thought offers an apologetic remedy for what ails a fractured and self-focused society. The method commended here connects Charles Taylor’s work with Augustine’s. It seeks to return apologetic ministry to members of the local church.

Discover the Augustine Way

Apologetic methods in our post-Christian society can’t assume people understand biblical and theological categories. Augustine faced a similar reality. His world was rapidly Christianizing, but the vestiges of paganism persisted. When the Bible was used to explain reality, the explanation was often mixed with abstract philosophy and non-Christian beliefs. This is what led Augustine to the group known as the Manichees. They mixed bits of Scripture into their otherwise pagan view of the world, not unlike New Age spirituality today.

The Augustine Way, as Chatraw and Allen describe it, is a process of addressing the universal questions of our day with hope while humbly critiquing the philosophical and spiritual flaws of alternative worldviews. We know from Augustine’s autobiographical Confessions that he explored several cultural options to solve his deepest questions. None of them could quite satisfy his desire for truth, but each held elements that helped him on his pilgrimage toward truth.

Traditional apologetics relies primarily on evidence and reasoned arguments. The Augustine Way affirms the value of arguments, but it also recognizes we must step inside common cultural narratives, critique what’s lacking, and pinpoint the perennial issues they address. “People reason within the images, stories, and myths they’ve inherited through their social setting,” Chatraw and Allen argue. “Indeed, they will use a kind of logic, but it will be one that fits the larger framework that they live and move within” (39).

Good apologetics considers individual people rather than dealing only with universal ideals. This requires understanding our current “social imaginary,” as Taylor describes it, present in the hearts of late-modern men and women. There’s a need to “zoom out to see the big theological picture,” Chatraw and Allen argue, but those concerned with the souls of others “can’t afford to settle for approaches or arguments aimed at an imagined abstract or universal person” (66).

Good apologetics considers individual people rather than dealing only with universal ideals.

Throughout Augustine’s spiritual journey in Confessions, we see a unique focus on his interior life. Augustine’s inward turn was for the purpose of eventually looking upward to God for ultimate meaning. In contrast, the authors note, “In our day each person imagines themselves creating their own unique meanings out of raw material of a universe devoid of any necessarily true, universal purpose” (39). The Augustine Way understands this modern impulse yet seeks to reorient the inner toward seeking rest in God.

Walk the Augustine Way

The Augustine Way is a renewed apologetic posture for the 21st century. It begins by finding points of agreement in the culture, then offering the hope of the gospel. We need humility to do this. The authors write, “Sometimes it’s tempting (and pleases our Christian base) to simply try to burn rivals to the ground rather than explore what might be apologetically salvageable in their beliefs, excavating to expose foundational posts still standing amid the debris, pointing beyond themselves to the triune God” (97).

The goal isn’t to win an argument or destroy someone’s worldview. From within the church, we’re inviting people to become part of the church, which is “a community of pilgrims on a journey home” (99). This humble posture demonstrates our renewed hope and identity. We’re shaped and formed in our desires and eternal outlook in the community of the saints. We hear the voice of the bishop of Hippo beckoning: Come into communion with the Lord and his body and find rest.

The deeply personal and life-shaping Christology of Augustine brings into focus our new identity as pilgrims. “Christ was not just someone Augustine looked to but rather the one he looked through to see himself and the world around him,” Chatraw and Allen write. “Christ healed his sight and opened his eyes to a point of view in which humility was the key to knowledge” (116).

Continue on the Augustine Way

Chatraw and Allen demonstrate the contemporary applicability of the Augustine Way through their interactions with famous YouTube exvangelicals Rhett and Link and the popular Apple TV+ shows Ted Lasso and The Morning Show, inviting readers to make meaningful apologetic connections. This, however, is a two-edged sword because readers in 2033 will be less familiar with these references than readers in 2023.

The goal isn’t to win an argument or destroy someone’s worldview. From within the church, we’re inviting people to become part of the church.

The argument of the book relies heavily on two main works from Augustine, Confessions and City of God, which are helpful. However, it could have benefited from a deeper engagement with other works, such as Augustine’s sermons and letters. These writings have an “on the ground” quality, demonstrating how he directly addressed the concerns of his audience, whether a wealthy Roman widow or the common Christian worshiping in North Africa. Other works of Augustine are addressed and referenced, but perhaps The Augustine Way could be clearer through a closer examination of additional texts.

Though presented by an academic press, The Augustine Way should make an appearance on every pastor’s shelf. It should also appear in the hands of Christians wishing to understand how to best engage neighbors, coworkers, and others given our secular age. The book is enjoyable, practical, and not burdened by academic jargon. After reading The Augustine Way, perhaps readers will finally see they belong on the apologetics team after all.

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