(A Review by Chistopher Laurence)
Professor Elaine Graham is not a flashy speaker and had a dreary-sounding title for her lecture. But the barrage of questions that followed her lecture indicated how closely her listeners had attended to what she had to say. (“Public Theology and Christian Apologetics”at the Lincoln Theological Society lecture, Bishop Grosseteste University, 20th May.)
I guess that most of us feel we are failing as witnesses to our faith. Its apparent irrelevance is fed back to us by statistics and by family, friends, neighbours and colleagues. The language which resonates for us in church has no meaning for those outside. No wonder we were interested in what the professor had to say about the problem. She has written several books about it.
She described the context of her subject: a massive decline, not only in church-adherence but in any sense of affiliation to residual Christian faith, particularly among the under-30s. But alongside this there is a growing awareness of a spiritual dimension, often expressed in nonreligious terms. The evidence of this is so strong that some have called our times not merely “post-christian” but “post-secular”.
Elaine Graham sees a great opportunity and responsibility for Christians in these times: not for a “propositonal” – take-it-or leave-it – style of evangelism, but for a “dialogical” style in which we listen for truth while offering our own. “This is my truth: what’s yours?” For her, Christian apologetics are less about winning souls and more about achieving truth, justice and mercy in institutions as well as souls. For this endeavour she offered three biblical injunctions: “Seek the welfare of the city”, “Speak truth to power”, “Be ambassadors for Christ”.
It was a substantial lecture and not so dull as its title might have suggested. Those of us who feel our failures will have left encouraged to live our faith without apology. That may be the best form of apologetics.