This article is written primarily to the Christians readers. If you happen to not call yourself Christian, I’m glad you’re here! Feel free to stay. To be honest, you will probably agree with everything I’ll say. 🙂
To Christians, to churches, to the Church: you need apologetics. This is not an option. Through this post I hope to convince you that it is not an option.
First, what is Christian apologetics? Generally, it can be considered that branch in Christian theology which seeks to provide rational warrant for Christianity’s truth claims. However, we ought not make that mean “rational according to a modernist mindset”. Christian apologetics ought to contextualize itself to be able to communicate truth in any cultural moment, even our current post-postmodern one.
Truth claims. That’s the first thing we have to realize. Christianity makes truth claims (so does every other religion; and relativism; and someone claiming the earth is round; but I digress). That is to say, Christianity makes a claim about the way reality actually is. To say God exists is to say he actually exists, independent of human thought. To say Jesus is God is to say that He actually is, in fact – whether someone likes it or not or thinks it or not – the real, living God.
Why? Is that the case? Could you tell me? A lot of people have asked that question. I’ve asked that question. People in your church have asked that. They are still asking.
What shall we say then? Will we give a defence? Is it actually true? This is the realm of Christian apologetics. It is not enough to teach what the Bible says. We need to teach why we should care what the Bible says.
People question, as they should. They ask why Christianity is true. They ask why they should care. And when the only response you ever get are emotional appeals, or circular answers that already assume that Christianity is true (“the bible says so”, “just have ‘faith'”), or blatant avoidance, or a call to repent from seeking, you realize there’s no point. Christianity must not be based in reality. It must just be an emotional life jacket, keeping people afloat as they deal with the tragedies of life and death. Or maybe it’s just a club to join; one of many equally valid clubs; no more weight than that. Are we then seriously surprised when we see the absolutely massive exodus of young people from Christianity? (see here, here, here) Are we shocked that unanswered questions are so commonly cited as the reasoning? And while I’m asking questions, why do we feel guilty about evangelism and not apologetics?
The shocking reality is that we have dropped the ball. Having retreated to the intellectual closet, choosing instead to rest in borderline-prosperity-gospel emotional appeals, and being content with teaching Moralistic Therapeutic Deism in our youth groups (and see here, there’s pictures!), we allowed not only our society, but our churches, to no longer think Christianity is a rational option. Churches! We have even convinced ourselves. “It’s not rational, it’s about faith.” That’s not what Biblical faith means! (Future blog post on this) Youth are taught how to play tag. Adults are taught spirituality equals emotional highs. And the friend you invited to church sits there wondering how you live with such cognitive dissonance.
But I need to hit the brakes. I admit, this is passionate and bit of a low blow. That wasn’t even a rant against anti-apoligetical believers. That was against anti-intellectualism in general. It was against coasting in intellectual neutral (a must read). Many churches aren’t like that. They genuinely preach the Gospel. They clearly and articulately teach Christ as king, as ruler, and as lover of our souls. Proper exegesis is held at lofty standards. It’s highly intellectual.
And emotions aren’t bad. Since Christianity is about knowing God, not just about Him – although that is supremely important – but knowing Him intimately, like a spouse or a parent, emotions will be involved. How many times have you seen a normally stoic man cry at his wedding as the bride comes down the isle? Anything with love will be emotional. With Christ, emotions will be involved. In fact, if emotions aren’t involved, if we think we are supposed be Vulcans in our approach to Him, I would be equally concerned, if not more so.
But to say that most churches, or most parents, teach why it’s actually true that Christ, in His love, “for the joy set before Him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2), would be a lie. We just don’t. I never did. Did you? Did your youth pastors or parents prepare you for the intellectual challenges to Christianity? Did they teach you how to contextualize how to share your faith in a post-postmodern context? Did they do the research and answer the questions you and your non-Christian friends have, or just answer the questions they had?
Our young adults go to university and for the first time ever their faith is challenged. And not even particularly well challenged, either. (see here, here) Their Phil 100 prof, whose expertise is not Philosophy of Religion (but, you know, he’s a philosopher. Sort of like an astrophysicist can teach biology because he’s a scientist), gives some awful argument against God in general and Christianity in particular. Or they ride the waves of our post-postmodern world into rejecting any view by anyone associated with hegemonic power. Or they read Richard Dawkins grotesquely misrepresent arguments for God in The God Delusion. But they don’t know that. They haven’t been taught to weigh what the prof said. So they do what they were taught to do; accept the authority. But besides this, they feel betrayed; betrayed by their parents; betrayed by the Church. Sheltering doesn’t work. It causes resentment. We need to be fairly and accurately teaching what the best critics are saying. We need to be doing our research into the cultural waves of our day. Then we need to provide our apologetic.
Now, we do need to be careful here. When doing apologetics, we need to be making sure that we’re answering the questions people actually have. The current post-postmodern world is quite different than the world of my parents or grandparents. The questions will be different and our approach must be contextualized. However, eventually questions of truth will arise, even today.
“But I don’t need apologetics for my faith.”
J. Warner Wallace, a cold-case homicide detective who became a Christian by studying the evidence like a cold-case, said there are 4 groups of people in the world. Group 1 are those who, no matter how strong the evidence is against Christianity, the witness of the Holy Spirit provides them sufficient warrant for their belief. To them, His witness is an intrinsic defeater of any defeater against Christianity. So for them, apologetics isn’t that important. Group 2 are those who are Christians, but they’re on the fence and open to the evidence. Group 3 is similar to Group 2 in that they are on the fence. But they currently sit on the non-Christian side. Group 4 are those that, no matter what the evidence, will not follow God. They have shut themselves away. So you’re in Group 1? Great! But your kid is in Group 2. And your co-worker? They’re in Group 3. If you don’t need apologetics, they do. Pray for Group 4.
“No one is argued into the Kingdom”
First, by argue I don’t mean quarrel. I mean to present a reasoned case, contextualized to the cultural setting.
Also, we need to clarify what is meant by “arguing into the Kingdom.” In a strict sense, I would agree. The convincing of someone to come to Christ is solely the work of the Holy Spirit. However, if that is a sound reason to dismiss Christian apologetics, we can rightly dismiss church, small groups, missions, etc. because it’s the Holy Spirit, not those things. Rather, I’m claiming that Christian apologetics is a tool the Holy Spirit can use to draw people to Him.
Now that that’s behind us, this is just completely false. In the forward for William Lane Craig’s popular book On Guard (also a must read, and great for those just starting out. I’d also say the student version is probably better), Lee Strobel writes that in one formal debate that Dr. Craig did on the existence of God, 47 people noted on the comment cards afterwards that they were giving their lives to Christ. 47! And look at people like Lee Stobel and C.S. Lewis. They became Christians through the evidence. And I look at my own life. I didn’t become a Christian through apologetics per se, but I’m still a Christian because of apologetics.
But even if this weren’t correct, even if apologetics was never directly used by the Holy Spirit, it would still be important! Why? The Gospel is never heard in a vacuum. It will always be heard against our cultural background. Right now, the cultural thinking seems to be that people are either rational or religious, at least in Eurocentric western society. The Gospel can’t even get a hearing. It’s a priori dismissed because it’s not considered a legitimate reasonable position. This is because everyone has the right to their own truth, but it is unethical and irrational to push that on others or think your truth is any more than that. However, atheist/agnostic philosopher Quentin Smith says this:
Due to the typical attitude of the contemporary naturalist… the vast majority of naturalist philosophers have come to hold (since the late 1960s) an unjustified belief in naturalism. Their justifications have been defeated by arguments developed by theistic philosophers, and now naturalist philosophers, for the most part, live in darkness about the justification for naturalism. They may have a true belief in naturalism, but they have no knowledge that naturalism is true since they do not have an undefeated justification for their belief. If naturalism is true, then their belief in naturalism is accidentally true. The Metaphilosophy of Naturalism, Philo: A Journal of Philosophy (Fall-Winter 2001)
What if that was the cultural milieu we lived in? What if it was widely known that naturalism, generally defined as the view that nature is all there is (no supernatural, although it can be defined more precisely, as Dr. Smith does in his article), has no real justification? What if it was known – because it’s the case – that theism, and Christian theism in particular, is the evidenced position? I dare to dream.
“Wait a second, is it Biblical?”
Absolutely! In William Lane Craig’s article Christian Apologetics: Who Needs It?, (another must read) he states:
Now this dismissive attitude toward apologetics’ role in evangelism is certainly not the biblical view. As one reads the Acts of the Apostles, it is evident that it was the apostles’ standard procedure to argue for the truth of the Christian view, both with Jews and pagans (e.g ., Acts 17:2‑3, 17; 19:8; 28:23‑24). In dealing with Jewish audiences, the apostles appealed to fulfilled prophecy, Jesus’ miracles, and especially Jesus’ resurrection as evidence that he was the Messiah (Acts 2:22‑32). When they confronted Gentile audiences who did not accept the Old Testament, the apostles appealed to God’s handiwork in nature as evidence of the existence of the Creator (Acts 14:17). Then appeal was made to the eyewitness testimony to the resurrection of Jesus to show specifically that God had revealed Himself in Jesus Christ (Acts 17:30‑31; 1 Cor. 15:3‑8).
And, of course, you have the classic apologetics verse, 1 Peter 3:15. However, the verse is much more than that. In 2:12, Peter says that we should “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” He then works through areas where that can be lived out: politically (2:13-17), for servants (2:18-25) (employment?), and marriage (3:1-7). Next, he addresses everyone to live righteously and even to suffer for righteousness’ sake. Then we get to the famous 3:15. “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…” Notice it’s assumed that people will be asking you! We are to “live such good lives” – even in suffering – that people want to know why. And we are to have an answer ready, full of gentleness and respect (I definitely preach what I need to practice). The greek word translated “an answer” here is apologian, a form of the word apologia, meaning “a defence.” It’s where we get the term apologetics from. We are to always be prepared.
Christian apologetics, therefore, is biblical both as a means of outreach, as the apostles did, and as a way of helping seekers. In both, it should be done with an air of love and humility.
So what should you do? Follow the advise of Natasha Crain, I’d say. You need to do some reading and, if you have kids, so do they. Natasha has resource suggestions, even reading plans for both adults and kids. The resource section on Pondering Peniel has links to organizations and writers that are awesome. Even if you just like them on Facebook, you’ll often have a news feed full of short, helpful videos or articles. On a larger scale, we need pastors of all sorts, those in full time ministry or not, to be studying and teaching Christian apologetics. Adult Sunday school classes on apologetics would be great. You don’t even need a teacher. Watch a debate and discuss it. Work through an apologetics book. Do the same in your Small Groups. Books like On Guard have discussion and study guides, as well. Don’t wait for someone else to do it. You do it.
Christianity is actually true. It is the way reality actually is. So what are we afraid of?