The apologetics adventures of Matt and Madeleine Flannagan in New Zealand

Posted at the Christian Apologetics Alliance.


Here in New Zealand, I am often told by evangelical leaders that we now live in a post-modern society, which has moved beyond “arguments” and that Apologetics is an outdated “modernist concept.” They say we need instead to “tell the story” so that people will see the “meta-narrative of scripture”—whatever exactly that means.

Last night, Madeleine and I were invited to a Christmas function for new lawyers, organised by the Law Society, the professional association for lawyers in New Zealand. The function was in a major law firm in central Auckland’s business district. So I was right in the thick of the up-and-coming legal professionals in New Zealand.

Anyway, Madeleine struck up a conversation with some young lawyers who were working for an arm of the government. They discussed aspects of their respective legal professions. Then one of them turned to me and asked me, “what do you do?” I answered that I was a theologian. Immediately, this caused them to pause (it often has this effect) and one told me he had been reading a book called The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. Without thinking, I said, “Oh, that book, it’s crap.” He replied, “Yeah, but you have to say that, don’t you?” I responded, “No I don’t actually.” I then mentioned to him the works of some other atheists to whom I would not respond in that fashion, despite the fact I disagreed with their conclusions.

Then, for the next thirty minutes, these lawyers began asking me genuine questions about the Christian faith.

You have to click through to read all the interesting questions and answers, but here is the conclusion:

Sometimes being an apologist in New Zealand is surreal. I commented to Madeleine on the way home that we, two people from west Auckland—a theologian who did not have full time employment and very little resources to support my ministry, and a lawyer from a tiny firm who largely does legal work for poor people who don’t pay handsomely—were at a function at one of the largest law firms in the country, in the central heart of Auckland city, sharing our faith with some of the most successful up-and-coming lawyers in NZ, many who worked for the government. How can Apologetics be boring when stuff like that happens? I also wonder, however, how many of my “post-modernist” colleagues with their youth churches and really “cool” music, would have been able to have that conversation with any real meaning with the urbane elite of Auckland.

I also have to say that this is not the first time something like this has happened. In the last few years Madeleine and I have frequently found similar things have happened over and over. Apologetics is not “dead”.  It is not a “thing of the past”.  It’s extremely relevant. What’s irrelevant are those who are so culturally out of touch that they don’t realise that the questions apologists address are being asked, and answers to those questions assumed, in the conversations of some of the top lawyers in New Zealand; and those people, ostensibly secular liberals, are hungry and interested in credible answers to those questions.

I can sense some of the frustration that Matt and Madeleine feel, because I also know what it is to do what actually works with no support or recognition. In my case, the problem is with the Church, which is largely opposed to apologetics and scholarship in general.

I was having a chat about Matt’s post with my friend Dina Monday night, and I told her that I believed that Christians are not entitled to many of the things that the world considers fun. We aren’t entitled to popularity, we aren’t entitled to happiness, we aren’t entitled to a life of comfort. But we are entitled to the joy of defending our faith to interested skeptics in a world that is chock-full of logic, historical evidence, and scientific evidence. That is one source of happiness that we are fully allowed to draw on. If we put in the time to study the laws of logic, and the evidence from mainstream science and history, then these wonderful encounters become possible. Anyone who has had a good encounter will tell you that it is a good feeling. It doesn’t make up for the difficult side of being a Christian, but it is something.

Here are a few Bible verses that I think are relevant to Matt’s post:

1 Peter 3:15-16:

15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,

16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

Matthew 10:32-33:

32 “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.

33 But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.

1 Corinthians 4:1-2:

So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God.

Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.

I like the third one especially.

God expects us to testify about his existence and character. And not by sharing our personal experiences, but with evidence. Fortunately, our task is easier because there is plenty of evidence available to us. This is the world that God has made, and his fingerprints are all over it. It is a joy to be asked questions and to have studied and prepared in order to know the answer. It good for us to be called by God to give a defense, and to be found faithful. Cultivating our intelligence through difficult and often dull study is one of the ways that we show God that we are his friends. We show him that when push comes to shove, we side with him. We are his friends and his allies.

5 thoughts on “The apologetics adventures of Matt and Madeleine Flannagan in New Zealand”

  1. Why do you think the church is opposed to apologetics and scholarship in general? I would have thought apologetics would be classified internally as a branch of evangelism. That certainly seems to be how WLC views it; I’m surprised you think the church tends to view it differently.


    1. Oh my gosh, don’t get me started on how rotten the church has been with apologetics. I can tell you stories of how much they will do to suppress any serious engagement about whether Christianity is true. Let me just give 3 examples. Campus group leaders preferring postmodern subjective testimonies to lectures by PhD-credentials professors from our university. Campus groups preferring “prayer walks” to showing live debates or DVD debates. Churches refusing to hear about the evidence from the Big Bang or the fine-tuning because of it women complained that it disturbs the comforting purpose of the service. Organized Christianity’s resistance to apologetics has been my nemesis since high school. I have heard every excuse for opposing apologetics and debates in the book.


  2. One of the problems is that church leaders are just oblivious. They seem to live in their own little world, which I suspect is a corner of the larger academic world, perhaps mixed with a bit of hipster for cool factor.

    But the average person isn’t academic and thinks hipsters are lame. So appeals to coolness or post-modern ideas like narratives simply fails.

    Here in New Zealand, we have found that the only way to really make church leaders see how important apologetics is, is to get decent apologetics stuff happening around them. When they see how much their congregations crave this stuff (especially the younger generation), they are amazed.

    We recently were blessed to have Jay Watts from the LIfe Training Institute, and Amy Hall and Brett Kunkle from STR, over in New Zealand to do a tour. We managed to get the pastor of one of Hamilton’s biggest churches to host a talk (by Jay iirc), and as I understand it, the turnout was well over double what he expected. People just eat this stuff up because it completely changes how they see their faith. It’s meat instead of milk.

    Sadly it takes lay people to make this thing happen :/


  3. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my apologetics studies, it’s that people genuinely enjoy talking about God. Whether they be atheists, buddhists, or even nunners, they are genuinely interested in the idea of God.

    I’ve never come across the “apologetics is dead” statement; from personal experience, most people have never even heard of apologetics, Christians alike.


  4. You might challenge any post-modern Christian who thinks ‘apologetics is dead’ to attempt serious dialogue with atheists, etc. on (pushing legalized euthanasia & physician-assisted suicide in the name of reason & science) and (pushing atheism in the name of reason & science). These atheist bloggers could really not care less about any stories these post-modern Christians might like to share with them. They are interested only in hard evidence and logical argument, not in some subjective experiences and opinions.

    It seems that most post-modern Christians who think ‘apologetics is dead’ are not interacting about their faith in the real non-Christian world. Jesus did not call us to live in a Christian bubble (see John 17: 15-19).


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