Development in Apologetics—George Trumbull Ladd


One of the paradoxes of human existence is that, while there is nothing new under the sun, nothing stays the same. And so it is in the world of ideas. It is no less so in the realm of religious belief, even when the object of belief is eternal and changeless.

As long as Christian belief has been proclaimed it has had to adjust to the challenges unique to each period of proclamation. And wherever it has been propagated, it has needed to respond to the immediate conditions of its propagation. Changes in circumstance call for new methods of commending Christian belief.

In an article on “Modern Apologetics,” published in 1903, George Trumbull Ladd (1842-1921) explained the need this way:

“Now, that Christian apologists should alter their methods, and even many of their claims, in order the better to defend their religion amidst altered circumstances, is no new thing in the history of apologetics. On the contrary, changes in the points attacked and in the methods of attack call peremptorily for changes in the points where the defense is concentrated and in the methods of defense. The vitality of Christianity has always shown itself in its adaptability to meet https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/9/97/George_Trumbull_Ladd_cph.3b32185.jpg/150px-George_Trumbull_Ladd_cph.3b32185.jpgthe new requirements with a reconstructed apologetics. In the time before the political triumph of the church under Constantine, the history of Christian apologetics shows it to have been constantly engaged in a vigorous and almost life-and-death struggle with a series of determined and powerful hostile forces. But both the form of these forces and the form of repelling them have long since passed away and are never to return. To defend the Christian faith against the modern scientific, philosophical, and sociological objections by recurring to the arguments of the church fathers would be as unskilful and ineffectual as would be the use of the weapons of war belonging to the same centuries in a contest with the modern rifle and modern artillery. Mediaeval apologetics was, from the intellectual point of view, a comparatively tame affair—a dialectical contest over the comparative merits of the different religions, which, however, became realistic and bloody enough when it was waged in the political field against rival heathen, Jews, and Moslems. Even the apologetics which introduced the modern era, and which consisted in a defense of the older orthodoxy against the modifications attempted by the older deism and rationalism, is thoroughly unfitted for present use. Both the attack and the defense of a hundred years ago are now largely antiquated.”

– George Trumbull Ladd, “Modern Apologetics” (1903), 523-24

Ladd was trained at Western Reserve College and Andover Theological Seminary. He was pastor in Congregational churches in Ohio and Wisconsin. He later taught philosophy at Bowdoin College for a few years and philosophy and psychology at Yale University for several more years. He served as a kind of ambassador for the United States in Japan in the last decade of the 19th century. He wrote extensively in psychology, philosophy, and religion.

The complete text of Ladd’s essay may be found at this link. Today, July 1, is the anniversary of this publication.

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: