We’re looking at Christian apologetics in their proper Christian context. And we began in my first article by examining the location of healthy Christian apologetics. Namely, rightly seeing it as part of discipleship through the message of Jesus. In this article we’ll focus in on the content of apologetics. We might summarise this as prayerfully taking people to Jesus via the scriptures.
Perhaps our experiences differ, but two issues related to the content of some apologetics have stood out for me as problematic.
1. Reasoning Doesn’t Guarantee Repentance
I’m highlighting here a potential overreliance on rational arguments. Some apologists seem convinced that a good argument constitutes a surefire means of bringing people into the kingdom of God—if that is even their aim! And the exasperation bubbles over when that doesn’t work: ‘But I’ve argued well, why won’t they just believe?’ The answer? “The god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel in the glory of Christ who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
We trust God’s power of salvation, not our power of persuasion.
What can transform that kind of blindness? One rational argument on top of another? I don’t think so. We’ve all been there with loved ones and strangers, talking until we’re blue in the face. This is a humble reminder that while we want sharp methods and logic, at the end of the day the Lord must pierce through to people’s hearts. Crucially, God invites us to lean more and more into him in prayer. For him to move people from death to life, and from immaturity to maturity. We trust his power of salvation, not our power of persuasion.
Where Do We Place Our Trust?
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for rational arguments. And for trying to persuade people (2 Corinthians 5:11). After all, regarding the former, our re-formation to love the Lord includes our minds. And Jesus set the bar in his handling of logic and questions and answers. Or look at Paul who oozes reason—just read what he wrote under God’s Spirit—never mind his pleading and persuading. So, I’m not against the use of rational arguments and flows of logic. Hopefully this article contains both. Instead, the issue relates to where our trust lies. Is it in being able to convince or argue people into the kingdom of God? Yes, God may use that. But don’t place your trust there. Rather, it must rest in the content of our apologetics.
Arguments are not enough to save someone.
Consider the Corinthians, a community enamoured with the best preachers and defenders of the faith. And how does Paul respond? He won’t put his trust in “eloquent wisdom” but instead in the cross of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:17). Why? “The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is the power of God to us who are being saved” (1 Corinthians 1:18).
Of course, a double level of meaning glistens here. On the one hand, Paul won’t pander to the sign seeking of the Jews, or the wisdom seeking of the Greeks. Instead, he’ll present Christ crucified—what a disappointment to those Jews and Greeks, and perhaps the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 1:22-23)! But on the other hand, Paul understands that God works through this message of Christ, proclaimed openly and without distortion (2 Corinthians 4:1-2). Here lies the true power and wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24)!
But the point remains: in and of ourselves, even if we use tremendously sage arguments, this is not enough to save someone. You can’t argue someone into the kingdom of God! The Lord must work, even as we pray to be faithful and wise ambassadors under him. Linked, this then brings us to the next potential issue with some forms of apologetics, which focuses on having all the answers without offering the life-giving content of the gospel.
2. Take Them to Jesus
I’m underlining here how some apologetics can tend towards being ‘Jesus-lite’ and lacking in scriptural foundations.
We should support talking about topics like science and creation. Or defending the fine detail of certain historical facts. After all, Christianity stands in strong relationship with both science and history. And for good reason: God created the order that makes science possible, and God and his works sit flush within real human history. But, and here’s the point: when those topics and related arguments fill most of our apologetic speech and discussion, I think we’re missing the mark.
What do I mean? Well, when you have a group of 2, or 20, or 200, or 2000 people in front of you, take them to Christ! Yes, defend and promote the other points and topics—after all, truth matters, and all truth is God’s truth. So, go ahead! But let’s not miss the sharpest edge and great fulfilment of God’s fullest revelation in Christ. Show them Jesus, he must always be central to the content of our apologetics.
Why aim for conversion to truth as a concept when Truth has a face?
It’s about making sure we keep what is central at the centre (1 Corinthians 15:1-5). And it relates to our first article, on the location of healthy Christian apologetics, namely as part of discipleship. In other words, what is the point of apologetics? Is it to:
- Be right?
- Impart information?
- Convert people to a fact?
- Make people more moral on certain societal issues?
- Brilliantly display reason and logic?
While there can be a goodness in those things, surely our aim runs deeper! For instance, why primarily aim for conversion to truth as a concept when Truth has a face? Take them to Jesus! Keep Christ central. As per the purpose for apologetics communicated in 1 Peter 3:15, give the reason for the hope you have in Jesus as Lord. Why wouldn’t you want to stay close to the heat of God’s work—through the message about his Son—in our world?
Practise Prayerful Apologetics
Yes, let’s have robust discussions about the age of the world, this societal issue or theory, or whatever the case may be. Again, space should be available for that. But if that’s all we’re doing and where we focus, then I think we’re missing the opportunity—and call—to expose people to the beautiful sunlight of God’s glory in Christ. Take them to Jesus, his life and death and resurrection and return.
Again, let me say: I’m not against reasoning, and rational arguments, and even using worldly philosophy where helpful. And I’m not against arguing about the minutia of certain details. After all, truth matters. Instead, the point I’m raising is about the overall content of Christian apologetics. In closing then, let’s not forget:
- We can’t argue anyone into the kingdom of God. So, let’s keep relying on God’s Spirit to do the deeper work. So pray, pray, pray.
- To lift our eyes (and those of our hearers) to the bright burning sun of Jesus as Lord. And to do so from the Bible.