I’ve been involved with Christian apologetics since 2005; it’s one of the catalysts for my conviction in the Christian faith. I know how it influenced me personally and so, I know how valuable it can be. While I was an agnostic, I read dozens of books and my heart was convicted of the truth of the Christian worldview. This is why I’m often saddened and confused when I see or hear Christians disparage Christian apologetics. To be frank, I don’t understand any of the objections I’ve seen leveraged against Christian apologetics.
A typical complaint against Christian apologetics goes something like this:
“You are testing your faith. Do you not think the Holy Spirit is capable of reaching anyone, at any time? Do you think that attempting to answer the questions that represent the pure and human need to intelelctualize are helping those people, or are they hurting you? You think you are smarter than Satan? Where is the astronomical proof of the star of Bethlehem? Who was there when Mary was informed by the angel she would become pregnant with the Son of God? How accurate are the words of the four Gospels? Who took notes? Who counted the fishes and the loaves?”
Now, let’s unpack the various portions of the typical complaint starting with the basics.
The word “apologetics” is derived from the Greek, apologia, which means a reasoned defense of a particular position. In general, a reasoned defense of one’s position is a good thing. It means that one’s view has the backing of rational arguments; that there are good reasons for trusting the position to be true. So why should it be different for Christianity? Why would one assume this to be the case? Given the fact that there is a biblical precedence for apologetics employed throughout the biblical narratives, why would we think it to be unbiblical? We want good reasons for trusting in any number of things in our lives – our cars, our planes, our spouses. Why would we want to turn off our minds in approaching God?
If one reads the New Testament, examines the original Greek and digs deep into its theological riches of specific wisdom relevant for one’s life, is one testing God? Is one testing one’s faith? No, any insight we can gain into the Scriptures is beneficial. As Paul wrote in his second letter to Timothy,
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” – 2 Timothy 3:14-17
Paul puts a strong emphasis on learning the sacred writings, which are “able to make you wise for salvation.” He says that all Scripture is ‘profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training.’ Not only that, but he also insinuates that unless a person does learn and examine the Scriptures, he will not be complete and equipped for every good work. What are we to make with all of this? Why is Paul laboring over the Scriptures and instructing Timothy to do that same? Is he “testing” his faith?God is not threatened by our investigation of the nature of reality. Click To Tweet
Just as it is with the Scriptures, the book of God’s Word, so it is with the world, God’s book of nature. God created the world, both the material and immaterial realms. Any examination we make of God’s Word is in principle, similar to an inquiry into God’s world. The difference is that in the revelation of the Scriptures, God is a lot more explicit in what He’s revealing about Himself. In nature, God has revealed a general revelation that anyone should be able to see. Notice how Paul doesn’t say a single thing about any examination of the Scriptures being a testing of one’s faith or putting God to the test. God is not tested by our desire to know Him more deeply.God is not tested by our desire to know Him more deeply. Click To Tweet
Of course, there is also a danger in over-intellectualizing the Christian faith. After all, we are not saved by our knowledge of the secondary details of God’s creation, but by our faith in Him. However, the opposite end of that spectrum of over-spiritualizing the Christian faith is also dangerous.
Scripture is clear that God is the one who saves. God loves us while we are still sinners. Without God’s redeeming actions, no one would be saved. As the apostle, Paul wrote,
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” – Romans 5:6-11
God is also actively drawing people to salvation. But the actions of all of the saints that have come before us demonstrate to us that God also works through people. God could have easily freed the Israelites from their bondage in Egypt in any number of ways without any human “intrusion.” If the free will of people plays no role at all, God could have simply wooed everyone, Egyptians included, into His presence and convicted their hearts. The Egyptians would have willingly let the Israelites go free. Why did Moses have to go to Egypt? God chooses to do things the way in which He chooses them. To question His manner of bringing about the ultimate good is a matter far more serious than to question the exercise of people coming to a more thorough knowledge of God through the mind.
Many of the heroes of the faith also engaged in a pursuit of their own of understanding and giving good reasons for the faith. Notice how Paul reasoned with the Greeks in the Areopagus (Acts 17:22-34). And what happened as a result? Paul tells us that as a result of him engaging with them in dialog, some men joined him and believed, among whom “were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris” (Acts 17:34).
The Holy Spirit is fully capable of drawing people into His presence. Yet Paul went and reasoned with the people of Athens. Why would Paul do this? Did he not know that the Holy Spirit is completely able to do this work? Of course, he did, but Paul also realized that God works through people – something that every notable figure revealed in the pages of Scripture also knew. Paul further knew that he must worship God not merely with his heart and soul, but also with his mind. Recall how when Jesus was asked which is the greatest commandment, he responded by saying,
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” – Matthew 22:37
Note that Jesus said that we must love God not merely with our heart and soul, but also with our mind. Human actions matter. The heart and soul are important, but so is the mind.
While it is true that God plays the central role in salvation, He has gifted us with free will. His love is the way in which our free will is put to the test. If we desire God, we will freely choose Him, and our joy will be complete. If we freely reject Him, the state of our heart is also evident in our rejection. Since God is not merely interested in our knowledge of Him and wants out love, our free will must play a critical role as well. For how does one love someone? Certainly not without free will and not apart from any tangible information about the object of his love? The same can be said about our affection for God. Can not a person’s love for God grow the more through the understanding he gains into God’s nature and all His works?
God is not threatened by our investigation of reality. Not only because He is the one who created this reality but also because He is this reality. Any proper investigation of reality is going to either be a direct examination of God or an indirect examination of God through the facets of reality which He has made. Earnest and legitimate pursuits of knowledge of His world or His nature glorify God.
Christian apologetics is undertaken by people. God works through people. Subsequently, God works through the apologetic of His nature and His world to reach people who may simply want to know why they should believe. And God is gracious enough to give those reasons to those who would humble themselves under its truth. When Thomas doubted that Jesus had been raised from the dead, Jesus did not call down the Holy Spirit to convict Thomas. Instead, Jesus obliged Thomas with a direct proof.
Christian apologetics does not compete with the Holy Spirit. It is consistent with how God wants us to worship Him. It glorifies Him. It is consistent with how others have drawn people into His kingdom. And most importantly, at least for me, you would not be reading any of this had it not been an instrument of God that pulled me out of the pit and drew me into His kingdom.
Arthur is an author, a former agnostic, and a current ambassador of Jesus of Nazareth who loves to share the best of reasons for God's ultimate reality. His love and passion are helping skeptics and Christians grow in their faith and knowledge of God through accessible materials.