Why should you and I care about learning apologetics? Why bother?
To me the answer seems self-evident. After all, it was in reading the works of Christian apologists like C.S. Lewis and Josh McDowell and John Warwick Montgomery that my mind was first opened to the idea that Jesus of Nazareth might have actually been who he claimed to be and that Christianity might actually be true. And I needed to be made open in this way, because I was skeptical.
I remember looking for the first time at McDowell's Evidence that Demands a Verdict---huge wooden cross and judge's gavel on the cover and thinking, What? Christianity being presented as the truth of history and not as mere religion? Could it really be?
Except that many have been taught to think of apologetics as a useless pursuit. Some view it as worse than useless, as in fact harmful and counter-productive to the task of evangelism. "After all (so the argument goes) what does it accomplish to debate with people, attempt to convince them that they're wrong and you're right? It's unkind. It's unloving. And in the end, isn't kindness and love worth more than ten thousand rational arguments that appeal only to the mind?"
With this in mind, we begin with a defense of Christian defenses, an apologetic for doing apologetics. (Please don't ask me to defend presenting a defense of defenses.There's nothing quite like like getting caught in an infinite regress to drag down the flow of thought.)
Why should we bother with apologetics?
1. The Command of Scripture
Of course, the classic text is I Peter 3:15:
In your hearts reverence Christ as Lord, and always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence.
At the same time, we're called to be as prepared as we can be to defend that truth with words, evidences, reasoned arguments. "Always be prepared to make a defense," St. Peter says. The word translated "defense" here is the Greek apologia, from which we get our word "apologetics".
2. The Example of the Apostles
There's one place in the world where you and I can see something of the actual evangelistic practice of the Apostles. It's the New Testament book of Acts, St Luke's account of the spread of Christianity in its earliest years beginning immediately after the resurrection and ascension of our Lord. Listen to the kinds of words and phrases that are used to describe St Paul's preaching.
For several days he was with the disciples at Damascus. And in the synagogues immediately he proclaimed Jesus, saying, 'He is the Son of God.' And all who heard him were amazed and said, 'Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called on this name? And he has come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests.' But Saul [Paul] increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ" (Acts 9:20-2).
Paul went in [to the synagogue], as was his custom, and for three weeks he argued with [the Jews] from the scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, 'This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ" (17:2-4).
Now while Paul was waiting at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So he argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the market place every day with those who chanced to be there" (17:16-17).
And he argued in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded Jews and Greeks" (Acts 18:4).
For he powerfully confuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus" (18:28).
And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly , arguing and pleading about the kingdom of God" (19:8).
Listen to Paul in his own words:
For the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God. We take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:4-6).
Clearly, St Paul did not view argumentation as contrary to kindness and love. In fact, his example teaches us that apologetics is a natural part of evangelism.
3. The Demand of Love
Scripture commands it. The apostles exemplify it. But I would argue that kindness and love demand that we engage in apologetics---as best we can and when appropriate.
Why? Because many people have sincere questions, reservations, doubts about the truth of Christianity. And it isn't kind or loving to ignore the sincere questions, reservations and doubts people have. What is kind and loving is to at least want to try to answer those questions---or recommend sources where answers can be found. Love demands this.
And again, I agree that in most cases the argument of a holy and good life is going to be the most powerful argument that can be made for the truth of Christianity. No debate.
I think of the example of Mother Teresa. She could speak in the simplest of terms---even childlike terms---and have the most extraordinary effect on those listening. She could come to the campuses of the most secular universities, stand up and say "God loves you" and the students would sit there with tears streaming down their faces---not because she'd presented some irrefutable logical syllogism, but because of what they saw in her. What they knew of the life she lived.
No argument. Our world is inundated with ideas and opinions. Everybody has a position. And I have little doubt that what will most powerfully lead your friends and family members and co-workers to listen to what you have to say, maybe even to ask you about your faith, is what they see in you.
But when Christians say we shouldn't engage in the rational defense of the truth but instead ought to love people, they're presenting a false choice---as though the two were mutually exclusive. As though you can't love people and appeal to their minds, or love people by appealing to their minds.
But of course, you can. And to the extent that you love people, you will want to.
4. The Effect on Ourselves
Nothing needs to be added here. It's simply common sense that the study of apologetics can serve to strengthen our own conviction of the truth and increase our confidence to share that truth.
Besides those who say "it isn't loving and kind to engage in apologetics", the main objection I hear from Christians goes like this: "But you cannot argue someone into the kingdom of God. Faith is more than mere intellectual assent to propositions. It's the attachment of the entire person---heart, mind and will---to God. It's a supernatural virtue instilled in us by the Spirit of God. It's not something you 'get' at the end of a seamless intellectual argument."
The problem here is that it presents, again, an entirely false choice---this time between (a) argumentation and (b) the work of God's Spirit in a human soul. As though either the Holy Spirit leads one into faith or an argument leads one into faith. When the reality is that the Holy Spirit uses means to lead people into faith. And one of those means is argumentation, rational demonstration, the presentation of evidences.
This is what apologetics is about. It's about demonstrating the reasonableness of the Christian worldview and (as we shall see along the way) the unreasonableness of all opposing worldviews. It's about removing intellectual obstacles to faith. It's a means to faith.
Obviously, we don't all have the same gifts and abilities and inclinations and (here's a big one) opportunities. Some don't have the time to learn how to put oil in their cars, much less how to rationally defend and vindicate the Christian worldview!
My daughter Blythe spends her days chasing five kids around. My son-in-law Kirby works full-time and then chases five kids around. When are they going to find the time to crawl around in Kant's Critique of Pure Reason? (That's why this blog exists!)
By the way, here are my three granddaughters.
I can already hear some of you apologetics freaks:
"So you preach the importance of learning apologetics and then you conclude by giving your own daughter a pass? Nice. But look at those faces. How much trouble could these little ones be? Surely there's time for your daughter and her husband to read John Henry Newman's Apologia Pro Vita Sua. Surely there's opportunity for them to digest the works of G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis and Peter Kreeft, to master Aquinas and his five ways! Maybe not during the day, but in the evening, after bedtime. You know, after these precious sweethearts have put away their toys and changed into their pajamas and brushed their teeth and gathered in the living room to sing, "So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, good night!" After they've kissed mom and dad and skipped off to read bedtime stories to themselves and tuck themselves in and get themselves a drink of water and..."
Good argument. But then again, maybe something you haven't factored into the equation. Meet my grandson, Johnny, and cast away all dreams of his parents reading Aquinas any time in the near future.
Don't ask. I'll explain when we talk about the fall of the human race.
But the point is... We don't all have the same abilities and opportunities and this is something each person must take into account. Still, as best we can, given our gifts and situation in life, the defense of the Faith is something we Christians ought to care about and strive to learn and be able to do.
Clear enough? Let's get started with Lesson Two: In His Image and Likeness