Apologetics? No Thanks
Tough questions. We all have them.
Surprisingly, it is us Christians that often have more tough questions than our unbelieving friends or classmates.
“But,” some are quick to say, “that’s why it’s about having faith.”
There’s an assumption that we don’t need these tough questions answered since that’s what faith is for—filling in the gap between our unanswered tough questions and God. And if unbelievers have tough questions, well that’s between them and God.
I’ve heard Christians I know say this again and again, and to be honest, I get it. It was my response, too.
If a tough question came up and I really didn’t want to have the “God conversation”, I would think, they can believe if they want, and if they don’t, that’s ok with me. No need for an awkward chat with their tough and honest questions that I didn’t have the answers to. I even remember one high-school class where I shot down a Christian who was trying earnestly to plead with some of her classmates that God existed.
“You can’t prove it,” I thought. You just have to believe.
The Truth About Faith
What most people in our culture fail to realize is that no matter what they say about religious or spiritual worldviews, everyone has faith of some kind.
It is commonly objected that science is the opposite of faith but we must understand that even science can’t prove things beyond a shadow of a doubt. Rather, the most reasonable explanation is sought given the evidence, and we trust, to some degree, in what is most likely true.
In fact, properly understood, faith is not blind by definition.
The Christian faith in particular is rooted in historical truth. As the Apostle Paul writes, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins… If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:17,19).
If Christ has not been raised from the dead, our faith is futile. Paul’s argument hinges on a verifiable and historical event. If this event is not true, our “faith” is for naught. Paul was reasoning with the Corinthians who doubted the idea of bodily resurrection, making this claim at a time when skeptics could still go and talk to eyewitnesses of the resurrected Jesus.
If Paul didn’t see encourage them to “just believe” blindly; why should we?
When it comes to telling and explaining Jesus to others, the “just believe” paradigm can be quite unhelpful.
Put yourself in a skeptics shoes: someone shares a potentially life-changing message with you, but when you have honest questions about it, they tell you that “it’s about having faith.” How do you understand this? Immediately, our cultural position that faith and your intellect are to be kept separate starts to ring pretty true, and you might have a fair bit of trouble trusting in this new life-changing message, let alone the person who sharing it with you. I mean, they don’t seem to have any interest in helping you understand!
Apologetics: Mud Clearing
Part of our job as followers of Jesus is to make the gospel message clear to the unbelieving world around us (even though it is ultimately the Holy Spirit who will give them eyes to see it for what it truly is). Ravi Zacharias (a Christian speaker and thinker) suggests using apologetics—a field that searches for rational justification of Christian truth claims—as a means of helping that process.
He writes, “Apologetics is not the gospel; but it clears out the mud along the way.” To me, that is an important truth. Apologetics never saved anyone—but it can be and often is a great way of loving someone by helping them see the light of the gospel.
Apologetics comes from the Greek word apologia which means “to give a defence.” Christian apologetics, then, seeks to provide rational bases for Christian truth claims (e.g. the existence of God, the resurrection of Jesus, etc.).
Why should I learn how to answer tough questions?
Whether you think apologetics is necessary or not, I think its usefulness is undeniable. Here are just a few reasons why we should use apologetics and hone our skills in defending our faith:
1. It’s Biblical
Not only did the apostles model “reasoned argumentation” as they witnessed for Christ, but the Apostle Peter used the Greek word we get “apologetics” from when he said, “… always be prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…” (1 Peter 3:15, emphasis mine). Peter says to always be prepared, and though he might not have meant specifically to “memorize arguments for the existence of God,” I think it is fair to say that we should do our best to handle the questions of unbelievers (and believers, too), so that they may see more clearly our awesome hope in Christ and why we hold to it.
2. It Encourages Believers
I’ll never forget my first year of university when I began to take on the barrage of hard questions that my peers were throwing my way. Some answers were easy, while some are still being explored to this day. But beyond any shadow of a doubt, the relentless pursuit of truth has played an essential role in growing my faith.
As I see Christian truth claims backed up by reason, I can’t help but see that God is indeed behind it all and I trust Him and His Word even more. The attacks the world throws my way can in fact be resisted; truth can be spoken amidst lies. I can give people (and myself) more than a “just believe”!
3. It Helps Clarify the Message
Anyone who does attempts to help others discover Jesus regularly will know that when sharing the gospel (or just talking about God or anything spiritual), there are many barriers that can stop someone from not only believing, but sometimes even just understanding.
Whether they are questions about evolution, the origin of the universe, a supposed lack of evidence for something, or a problem with objective truth claims, people often have questions and problems that make it difficult for them to even listen to the gospel. Not only that, but they definitely don’t want a weak “that’s why it’s about faith” platitude. Fortunately, a lot of common problems can be quite simply solved or answered, and often an unbeliever will appreciate a loving and intellectually sound response.
How do I start?
So maybe now you’re more sold on apologetics and want to defend your faith. Where do you begin?
The following are some basic principles that I have found really helpful:
1. Start somewhere
Have a few of your own burning questions? Has a friend or peer asked a question you don’t quite know how to answer? Write it down; think about it; ask other Christians for their input.
2. Do your research
Some questions require a bit more than just a think-through (note that, in addition, you might need to learn how to think critically). Sometimes a Google or YouTube search is a great place to start, but be careful what you read and what resources you trust. Listed below are some great resources and websites I wholeheartedly recommend.
3. Keep a “Question Bag”
You may not find satisfying answers for every question right away, and even if you do, often a bunch of other questions will then rear their ugly heads. So take your time, and trust God before you trust “having all the answers.”
When a question comes up, put it in the “question bag” and don’t feel the need to pour your life into finding an answer right away. Once in a while, go back and pull out a question and spend some time digging for some satisfying answers. After five years of thinking and constant question-asking, I still have some old questions I pull out every once in a while, even while new ones are surfacing.
4. Win People, Not Arguments
As helpful as finding answers will be in your own relationship with God, hopefully and prayerfully you will find opportunities to help others discover Jesus and His good news.
But there is a great danger in gaining too much knowledge: it can lead to arrogance (1 Cor. 8:1b-2). So remember that love builds up and does not have its own agenda. Don’t tout your new-found knowledge by trying to show others how wrong they are. Being clobbered over the head with truth is not a pleasant experience.
Focus on Jesus and lovingly help “clear the mud” as the Spirit leads. Finally, be gracious and don’t be afraid of asking for an forgiveness if your words come out too sharp. Learning to speak the truth in love takes time and requires the Spirit’s transforming power, like anything else.
A New Approach
I think there’s a need to change our Christian culture’s assumptions that faith and intellectual reasoning are in opposition. More and more of the unbelieving Western world has many honest and sincere questions and we as Christians should not fear our own or other’s questions. Our loving Heavenly Father, who wouldn’t try to hush curiosity and sincere searching is a God who loves seeking and loves truth. It was Jesus who said both, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7) and, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29) God will lead us into all truth even if faith, at times, means not having all the answers.