A Mouthful of Grace

In 2002, I took a graduate seminar in Boston under John Warwick Montgomery, one of the leading apologists for the Christian faith. Montgomery suggested that apologetics (the defense of belief in God) can be divided into two types--

  • He called the first type “Apologetics for the hard-headed.” This is what he did— giving philosophic, scientific reasons why faith is both reasonable and demanded by the evidence. He suggested that modern liberal theologians have adopted a “If you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em” mentality that makes too many concessions to and compromises with the modern world. He also said that fundamentalists take a “If you can’t beat ‘em, avoid ‘em” approach that isolates itself from the modern world. He suggested that the correct approach, his approach, was “Just beat ‘em!

  • Montgomery (rather grudgingly) admitted that there is another type of apologetics, one that he called “Apologetics for tender-hearted.” In our postmodern world, many people no longer trust philosophy or science to have an answer. They are rather looking for something, not that they can prove is true, but something that works like its true.These people aren't looking for our arguments, but at our lives.

I think both of these apologetic types are important. Faith is reasonable, and we must be able to share reasons why we have accepted those reasons with people who don't believe. But I doubt that our arguments for faith will matter too much if we are living a faith that works. Montgomery's first type of apologetics won't matter too much if we aren't actively living out the second. And if we are doing the second correctly, then maybe the first will be easier.

Whatever it is that we say to our skeptical world, whatever approach we take, it must be done with a mouthful of grace. Whether we are speaking to the hard-headed or the tender-hearted, our speech follow Paul's instruction--

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:5-6)