Helmut Gollwitzer Miniseries: Lessons for Theology from Encounter with the Marxist Criticism of Religion, Part 3

This is the third of an eight-part (one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight) miniseries on the concluding chapter of Helmut Gollwitzer’s The Christian Faith and the Marxist Criticism of Religion (Scribner, 1970).



For Gollwitzer, the Marxist criticism of religion sets six tasks for theology. The second of these tasks is to reassess the practice of apologetics. Gollwitzer makes a distinction between two types of apologetics. On the one hand is what we might call “better” apologetics. This form of apologetics is necessary for theology, and it is concerned with
going beyond the positive exposition of the meaning of the statements of Christian faith, to a polemical rejection of the appeal of Marxism to so-called contradictions between Christian faith and modern science, to challenge the validity of the opponent’s arguments, and so on (152).
It is clear that Gollwitzer has in mind here something like defensive apologetics, aimed at showing the plausibility, or the non-contradiction of Christian faith with life in the modern world. In other words, the task of this apologetics is to establish and maintain the distinction between methodological atheism in the natural sciences, for instance, and dogmatic atheism as a worldview. Worth noting is Gollwitzer’s proviso that any sort of “God of the gaps” apologetics is a non-starter and ought to be rejected.

Another form of apologetics is what we might call “bad” apologetics. As opposed to “better” or “defensive” apologetics, we might call this one “worse” or “offensive” apologetics. In this form, apologetics attempts – to put things crassly – to argue people into the Christian faith. Such is simply not possible, for reasons that will be explained more thoroughly in Gollwitzer’s next point (to be treated in the next installment of this series, Part 4). Suffice it for now to raise a warning:
apologetics cannot afford to attempt to adduce supports for Christian faith, which can then be pulled around, and whose questionable character discredits Christian faith (ibid).

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