What do hot coffee lawsuits have to do with apologetics?

What does a “frivolous” lawsuit have to do with apologetics? As it turns out, a lot!

Stella Liebeck spilled 8 ounces of McDonald’s coffee on herself and awarded $2.9 million from a lawsuit. If you’re like me you remember this case well. It was on every talk show and news station, and even Seinfeld and Toby Keith made a joke about it…What a ridiculous, frivolous lawsuit…or was it?

I came across this video from Upworthy, that tells the other side of the case. The side no one heard was that this woman needed skin grafts to cover over burns from super-heated coffee. In the video, John Llewellyn, a Professor of Communication at Wake Forest University had this to say:

“Vey much like urban legends, It is a very compelling story, once everybody decides what is true about something, and the media has been sort of an echo chamber for it, then how do you deal with the fact that they might be wrong.”

This got me thinking about another thing people and the media get wrong: the idea that God is obsolete and Science can explain everything. If you’re like me you’ve heard this repeated, A LOT! But is it really true?

Science has made God obsolete and irrational…

Alister McGrath sets out to challenge this view in his book, Intellectuals Don’t Need God and Other Modern Myths. He states that the view of God as obsolete has itself become obsolete. It is a myth founded in rationalism, the idea that you can know everything by reason alone. Yet in our modern and very scientific day we still can’t prove the sun will rise tomorrow, we take it on faith, based on history.

Is faith in God, based on the history of the life of Jesus Christ really any different? The intellectual and media would say, Yes! Faith is irrational! But what if they’ve got it wrong? Just like we were all wrong about poor Stella Liebeck.

So in John Llewellyn’s words, “how do you deal with the fact that they might be wrong?” And the answer is…apologetics. Apologetics does not create faith. “The aim of apologetics is to create an intellectual and imaginative climate favorable to faith; it does not itself create that faith.”[1]

[1] McGrath, Alister E. (2010-12-21). Intellectuals Don’t Need God and Other Modern Myths: Building Bridges to Faith Through Apologetics (Kindle Locations 782-783). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.


3 thoughts on “What do hot coffee lawsuits have to do with apologetics?”

  1. Tracy,
    Great explanation of apologetics and its role in faith discussions. I love the analogy to urban myths that take on a life of their own even if they are false. Apologetics, in some sense, can be thought of as setting the records straight? Would you agree?

  2. I came to an understanding years ago that if you want the truth, you need to work for it. As you pointed out with the coffee, what is given on the surface is only half the story. It comes from an environment that accepts what it receives. Apologetics brings about a different environment. In my mind, it does not need to create faith. If faith develops within an environment that is not encouraging to Christianity, imagine what can happen in one that is encouraging. The question for me becomes how do we effectively create this environment while still living within the other environment. You may have already addressed that and if so I apologize for not researching. Thank you for sharing.

    1. I don’t have an answer for how to create an effective environment, conducive to faith apart from allowing our faith to show. Most effective apologetic work is done at the individual or small group level. Apologetics works in relationship to people. If we don’t allow our faith to influence our lives and show, we are limiting the number of organic opportunities for apologetic discussion to arise. Instead we end up raising forced and artificial questions.

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