I have had some epiphanies down the years, during bible studies. In 1988 I realised Christians can declare they believe in something without considering the emotional effect it has on someone whose experience of life is very different.
So, I walked out of a bible study where remarriage was being denigrated as unbiblical. No one taking part in the discussion in a small lounge in a small seaside town came from a background where divorce and remarriage had figured. Except me. It was dark outside, and windy. I cycled home home in disgust, feeling suitably self righteous whilst also regretting the lost opportunity for coffee and biscuits.
Ten years later I was in another small lounge, different town, happily discussing 'the questions you might be asked' by unbelievers, to which you will need to be able to give a thought out answer. I was in my early thirties and already had two children and a mortgage. It wasn't as if people were stopping me in Sainsburys every other day demanding to know: 'But what exactly is the evidence for the resurrection?'
I suddenly realised, in that bible study group, that no one was asking me 'apologetics' questions any more. It had been about twelve years since anyone had engaged me in an intentional conversation which required an intellectual defence of my faith. Everyone I knew was talking about endowment policies, nappies and nursery schools. If no one was asking about this stuff any more, what was the point sitting around talking about it as though everyone was still at University? Shortly after this epiphany we quietly and amicably left the bible study group and joined a village church where no one had heard of bible studies.
I never thought about 'Apologetics' again until, bizarrely, we had one random lecture on it at the end of three years at Theological College. It felt like we had fallen back into the 1980s, where evangelism meant your church put on an evening with 'a speaker' and you all cringling-ly invited your two non Christian friends to come and hear him (it was always a 'him') put forward an intellectual defense of Christianity, point by point, topping it off with an altar call, during which everyone tried not to (but secretly wanted to) look round and see if anyone had 'responded' (i.e. magically turned into a Christian).
And then I came across Francis Spufford's Unapologetic (2012, Faber and Faber), subtitled 'Why, despite everything, Christianity can still make surprising emotional sense'. In his clever (nay brilliant) way, Spufford has taken apologetics off the remotest shelf, dusted them down and given them a poetical reworking for the 21st Century. Though he says in the book he is not engaging in apologetics the net effect is of giving a defense, but an emotional, not intellectual one. When writers such as Julian Barnes are saying 'I don't believe in God but I miss him', this would seem to be a good idea.
He begins with listening to a Mozart clarinet concerto and 'feeling' the mercy. He walks into a church and tunes in to the 'inhabited' silence. He considers 'the crack in everything' and 'the human propensity to f*** things up', both ideas readily related to by most human beings. He is not interested in presenting the 'facts' of faith for a cold assessment to take place of their validity; he wants to say how it feels to believe. As he puts it 'You can easily look up what Christians believe in. You can read any number of defences of Christian ideas. This, however, is a defense of Christian emotions - of their intelligibility, their grown up dignity'. He continues: 'The book is called Unapologetic because it isn't giving an apologia, the technical term for a defense of the ideas. And also because I'm not sorry' (p. 23).
It's a must read for anyone tired of being put down by endless sniping and/or ignorance from the 'new atheists' and the media combined. Traditional apologetics may have their place in academic debate still. I would be delighted if hordes of unbelievers tracked me down each day to test me out on theodicy or the reliability of the New Testament manuscripts. But till then Francis Spufford has become one of those writers you go to for wisdom when you can't quite remember why it is you do believe. Or just feel a bit defeated by it all. And to be encouraged by the fact that not only does Christian faith make sense in the light of the historical fact of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; it also still makes surprising emotional sense.