This quote has been bouncing around in my head a lot since I read it a few weeks ago. It’s John Frame, presuppositionalist apologist, responding to Gary Habermas, evidentialist apologist:
The attitude of many [non-Christian] people today is that, whatever Habermas and the other [evidentialist] apologists may say, there must be some explanation of the data other than the traditional Christian explanation. We may be able to refute some naturalistic explanations of the biblical reports, but we have not refuted all possible explanations. And, for many people, the biblical claims seem too incredible and we are too far from the events in question to be sure one way or another. To such people, the issue is not whether naturalism or Christianity best explains the facts; it is rather whether the data warrant either of these explanations, indeed, whether they warrant any explanation at all. (Five Views on Apologetics, 137)
Josh McDowell and Gary Habermas and others like them have performed a useful service for the church. I’m certain also that they have been used of God to convince people of their need for a very personal acceptance of Christ’s resurrection (my own mother was converted under Josh McDowell’s ministry).
But I wonder if they are building off of cultural capital that is noticeably fading. Waltz into India or Saudi Arabia, places that have never been substantially Christian, and argue based on evidential grounds that Jesus rose from the dead. You will seem utterly implausible, if not blasphemous, and not only because the people have a different overall logic (as I believe they do). You will seem like an idle babbler for an additional reason: Christianity has never been plausible in the cultural memory of those nations. Any positive talk about it will be coming from way out in left field. By the fence. Buried under it.
That isn’t the case in America. There is a living cultural memory, preserved not least in our major cultural symbols (and, sadly, our cuss words), that a fair number of more or less respectable American people have taken Christianity seriously.
But my read is that this memory is fading, and not just fading but coming under ever more active assault. This very day I read in the New York Times about a gay marriage anthem which says, among other things,
The right-wing conservatives think [homosexuality is] a decision
And you can be cured with some treatment and religion
Man-made, rewiring of a pre-disposition
Ahh nah, here we go
America the brave
Still fears what we don’t know
And God loves all His children
And somehow forgotten
But we paraphrase a book written
3,500 hundred years ago
I don’t know
If biblical Christianity is successfully tied to bigotry culture-wide, it will lose that much more cultural capital. Evidentialist defenders of the Christian faith will be able to count on that many fewer “plausibility structures” to engage people’s interest in questions of Jesus’ historicity. Increasingly, they will feel as if the “data” from Scripture warrants no explanation at all.
Indeed, what do you do with all the evidence presented to you on your doorstep by Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses? Do you take any of it seriously? They’re probably making some good points in there somewhere, but is it worth missing a portion of the third quarter to find out?