An Apology for Apologetics
I was walking my town one day, not because I needed the exercise (although I did) but because that’s what pastors should do - walk their town. I came across a large man with a long beard. Although he was on foot too, he clearly looked like a man who would rather be riding his Harley. I had never seen him before so I made a point to introduce myself as the local pastor. I asked him if he had a church. He said “I don’t do religion; they start too many wars.” Who knew a biker could be such a pacifist! I didn’t have an answer to his objection. I politely invited him to call me if there was anything he needed, and we continued our walks in opposite directions. I never saw him again.
A few years later I drove up to a large university hospital. I turned into the wrong entrance. Apparently many people had made the same problem a student was stopping cars and pointing the drivers in the right direction. I happened to be wearing a clerical collar and as the young man was about to hurry me off in the right direction, he said, “Hold on. I got a religious question for you.” I admit that I profiled him as a Muslim man and possibly an angry Muslim man because of his skin color and his imposing build. I was right on the first count. He asked me a very specific question about Mary being the mother of God (he was obviously skeptical). I gave him my best ten-second answer on the incarnation and its connection with the gospel. It wasn’t very good. He thanked me and sent me off to deal with the next wayward driver. I never saw him again.
In both instances I wasn’t prepared to give an answer for the hope I had (1 Pt. 3:15). The only thing which could assuage my guilt was God’s promise to bring his elect into paradise with or without my bumbling confession. There was clearly room for improvement. In each case there was little time to make an impression, and I risked making my first impression one more brick in these men’s wall of doubt blocking the Christian faith. I needed to be better. What I needed to do was what Gregory Koukl calls “putting a stone in their shoe”. I needed to give each man a reason to think or rather to rethink the Christian faith. I needed to show them that the claims of Christianity could not be so easily dismissed.
I needed to do apologetics. Christian apologetics is the defense of the faith using reason. It is not a replacement of the Spirit’s work through the Word of God – nothing can be that. It is an answering of objections so that a skeptic can then hear that gospel message and the Spirit can do his work. No true apologist ever claims to do the Spirit’s work but rather, knocks down that wall of doubt brick by brick and clears the way for a preaching of Christ crucified. And it doesn’t matter if that message is preached by that particular apologist or by another Christian down the line after the skeptic has walked with that nagging stone in their shoe, the bothersome thought that maybe there is more to this Christianity thing then they first thought.
Many Christians have dismissed apologetics as an assault on faith but nothing could be further from the truth. The Christian faith is based on actual events which occurred at a real time and in a real place. It is not simply a spiritual exercise towards some sort of enlightenment. It is real and it is reasonable. As Siegbert Becker wrote, "It is not Christianity that needs to be made reasonable. It is reason that needs to be made Christian." There are a lot of bad reasons out there to not believe. An apologist aims to show that these reasons are invalid. From there the gospel can be preached. And at that point we pray that the Spirit will give faith.
Scripture encourages us to do exactly that. Peter tells us to always be prepared to give an answer for our faith (1 Pt. 3:15). The word he uses for “answer” is apologia. This is where we get the word apologetics. St. Paul carried out the apologetic task in Athens when he argued for the true God as opposed to the Athenians’ altar “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD” (Acts 17:22-31). Later he said to the Corinthians, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). And to the Colossians, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Col. 4:5-6).
I would even argue that all Christians do apologetics, and the only question is whether we do it well or poorly. How often have we tried to comfort a troubled friend by saying, “When God closes a door, he opens a window”? That’s an apologetic statement, just not a very good one. In a world where our children and young adults hear the constant barrage of one-line dismissals of their faith, they need to be prepared to answer those objections, for themselves and for the skeptics.
I don’t know exactly what I would say if I could go back in time and speak to those two imposing men, but I do have some ideas now, and next time I’ll be ready to put a stone in their shoe. I pray that God places the right words upon my lips. Until then I will prepare. You can too. If you are interested in such a task, may I suggest two short books to get you started: Religion on Trial by Craig Parton and Tactics by Gregory Koukl. Also, come back for my next post [HERE] which will try to demonstrate a solid argument that any Christian can use to defend the resurrection. With that argument, I pray that you will be able to lead the skeptic to the cross of Christ as quickly and efficiently as possible.