In our age of post-Christian anxiety, where so many worry about young people leaving the faith and the implausibility of Christianity in a secular age, we get a new apologetics. The goal of the new apologetics is not to prove or defend the puzzling and scandalous aspects of orthodox Christianity. Instead, the goal is to show that “authentic” Christianity, or the “true” Gospel, is not offensive–that the “God of love” worshiped by Christians is pretty much the God you would want.
That presents a challenge, of course, but the challenge is not located where you might think. Instead of spending its energy on articulating, explaining, and defending the coherence of biblical, historic Christianity (including all the “hard truths” that attend it), the new apologetics expends its energy convincing the skeptic that all sorts of aspects of “Christianity” are, in fact, non-essential accretions or downright deformative perversions of “true” or “authentic” Christianity. This is undertaken in the name of removing “intellectual hurdles” to the Christian faith. If you look again at how many new apologists frame their “reconsiderations” of hell, or the doctrine of the atonement, or the doctrine of original sin in light of evolutionary evidence, or traditional Christian sexual ethics, I suggest you’ll often find they “frame” their project something like this:
“These are aspects of Christianity that are just not believable today. But that’s OK, because it turns out that they’re also aspects that are not really biblical and not really Christian. So don’t let those things stop you from believing.” [Then cue your favorite tale about “Hellenization” or “Constantinianism” or “fundamentalism” here.]
But it seems to me that this sort of project is predicated on a particular account of faith that is often left implicit. In particular, it seems to assume that if someone is going to come to believe the Gospel they must be convinced since their belief is a matter of their choice. Or at the very least, the intellectual hurdles that stand in the way of their believing must be removed. If we do that, then the way is clear for them to choose to believe.
The new apologetic, in other words, is fundamentally Arminian, perhaps even Pelagian (and yes, I know the difference*). The drive to eliminate intellectual and “moral” hurdles to belief is a fundamentally Arminian project insofar as it seems to assume that “believability” is a condition for the skeptic or nonbeliever to then be able to “make that step” toward belief.
While this might confirm a lot of prejudices, it should be said that this is an odd strategy if one is an Augustinian or a Calvinist–since in an Augustinian account, any belief is a gift, a grace that is given by God himself. So if God is going to grant the gift of belief, it seems that God would able to grant and empower a faith that can also believe the scandalous. In other words, God doesn’t need our help.
*Readers might consider Charles Taylor’s description of the sort of intellectual Pelagianism that he sees as characteristic of the “providential deism” in modernity (A Secular Age, p. 222).