Apologetics in South Africa, or Lack Thereof.


Cape Town, South Africa.

Some readers at my site will probably know that I live in Cape Town, South Africa. This puts me at quite a distance from my main American readership base (although South African viewership hovers around 7th place, which I think is a success). The religious climate is certainly thriving in the US especially in retrospection of apologetics; apologetics is the giving of viable reasons to place faith in the truth claims of Christianity. Over in the US there seems to be a good supply of regular high profile religious/non-religious debates, widely known apologists such as William Craig & Alvin Plantinga (and many others), high profile seminaries and Christian universities and so on. In other words, judging by both this and my website readership, things happen predominantly in America; that is where those seeking out spiritual truths are most likely to come across apologetics. That is, of course, not to deny that there are many apologetic organizations and think tanks in other parts of the world. Beyond America, however, there do exist notable apologists of the likes of Alister McGrath, John Lennox, Richard Swinburne and, lest we forget, the late C.S. Lewis. However, I think it is quite safe to say that America plants the global apologetics flag on the highest peak.

But South Africa is mostly a different story. A solid 80% of South Africans regardless of their race, whether they’re black (80.2%), coloured (8.8%), or white (8.4%), identify as Christian believers. Christianity coupled with other religions makes South Africa a very religious nation. However, such high numbers don’t appear to translate to a higher number of apologists. I’ve read much apologetic material over the last few years and I can count on one hand how much of that comes from South Africa. Beyond a few university magazines (two of which I’ve written for), several private Christian colleges (none of which offers any form of apologetics though I’ve come to note that one university in Johannesburg does offer an apologetics course), two or three websites (one of which is my own, and two others that are in Afrikaans which orientates them towards an extreme minority audience), and a couple of online church material there is next to nothing resembling apologetics.

I also routinely visit bookstores. The larger chains such as Bargain Books and Exclusive Books have the usual “Religion Section” with lots of spiritual good feel books but minimal apologetic material. CUM Books (a dedicated Christian bookstore), to its credit, does have a dedicated apologetics section. But any of excitement soon evaporated when I realized that the entire section was no more than three shelves with products that I’ve already either purchased on Amazon or have on Scribd. Considering the enormity of the shop, and the number of books, that was quite a let down. Moreover, nearly all of the products on the shelf were American and certainly none were South African. Book wise it is safe to say that apologetics is near non-existent in South Africa. Locals like myself mostly have to settle for online purchasing (not that I mind).

There are also very few if any prominent theologians and Christian scientists here too. The highest profile scientist with a Christian orientation would arguably be cosmologist George Ellis of the University of Cape Town. And beyond Professor Dirk Jacobus of Stellenbosch University there are few, if any, professional theologians. No theologians, except Jacobus, that I have met during my Theology Studies have been South African. All of them are American or European.

Luckily, however, South Africa seems to be a relatively popular destination for prominent apologists to visit. Last year I was privileged to view John Lennox at Jubilee church. Lennox has also visited Rondebosch Boys High School and the University of Cape Town on several occasions. This year Frank Turek toured South Africa and ended up in Cape Town. Unfortunately I could not go to his presentation as I wasn’t in Cape Town during the time. I also found that prominent apologist and New Testament scholar Mike Licona actually studied in South Africa at a prestigious university in a very small town. I was also pleasantly surprised to discover that back in 2010 William Lane Craig debated Yusuf Ismail in Cape Town. Sadly that was two or three years before I was a Christian so I wouldn’t have known about it. Finally, Josh McDowell also had one such debate with Sheikh Ahmed Deedat in Durban. Beyond these, however, I recall one formal, recorded Muslim/Christian debate with the debaters actually being South Africans. Maybe I am just ignorant and thus have missed a lot, but I’d still bet my house that it’s near non-existent. And outside of Muslim/Christian debates there exists next to nothing else; no Christian/atheist debates, no Jesus mythicists trying to argue that Jesus never existed, zilch.

Moreover, I’d truly love to present numbers and statistics to further demonstrate this obvious point, however, statistics simply do not exist which is hardly surprising. Recently I had a discussion on the Christian Apologetics Alliance (as far as I know I’m the only South African in the group) and it was well affirmed that, in general, the number of Christian apologists to the number of Christian believers is dismal to say the least. If that would apply to America then how much more so to South Africa? Here there are certainly more than enough churches for everyone but when it comes to apologists there just aren’t enough to go around.

3 responses to “Apologetics in South Africa, or Lack Thereof.

  1. I live up north – North West province – and I’ll also readily admit that there isn’t much of a presence of apologetics here. I’ve only read of Peter Hammond. It’s mostly just foreigners like John Lennox who get invited by the universities.

    However, South Africa has a missionary culture. Unfortunately apartheid cast a big shadow on the rest of the white South African’s involvement in South Africa, but our missionary culture is quite old and matured. The Dutch reformed churches still sponsor missionary organizations and trips. Moreover, while many young South Africans are leaving the faith or at least becoming nominal Christians, others are signing up for missionary trips, especially university students.

    Unfortunately we don’t have big names in apologetics, but equally important is the fact that we’re still part of God’s great commission – Matthew 28:16-20.

  2. Great site , James. We live as missionaries on the Camino de Santiago, I need apologetics daily since there is a constant stream of well educated post christian Europeans passing through as “Pilgrims” on their way to Santiago de Compostella. You would love it on the Camino, non stop debate about all the stuff on your blog.Saludos, Craig Wallace.

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