Saturday, February 26, 2011

Dealing with Opposition to Apologetics

One of the more frustrating times for any Christian apologist is when he encounters opposition from within his own camp. Many well-meaning Christians discourage defense of the faith as unnecessary and even potentially wrong! Here are the most common objections to apologetics I’ve encountered.

1. You can never argue anyone into the kingdom.

By this people mean that one’s clever arguments are not going to cause people to throw themselves at your feet and exclaim “what must I do to be saved!?” Thus, since the goal of apologetics is evangelism, apologetics is an ineffective tool.

However, this assumes that no one is ever saved while hearing apologetic arguments. True, no one is saved because of the arguments (that’s the grace of God and the conviction of the Holy Spirit generating a response on the part of the hearer). True, the number of those saved after hearing the arguments is low. But they do exist. There are people who have just a few intellectual barriers who would otherwise believe in Christ. These people are typically highly influential and many go on to be apologists in their own right. Why punish these people by not using an evangelistic method that would work for them? If we judge evangelistic methods based on an “effectiveness percentage,” I’m afraid we’d consider most methods a failure (as they all come in under 50%!).

2. Doesn’t the Bible say to stay away from philosophy?

Not quite. In that case, it would be the Bible’s philosophy that we should stay away from philosophy, which is obviously self-refuting. Since it is unacceptable that the Bible should be mired in self-contradiction, we must look to understand the meaning of the passage.

The passage in question is Colossians 2:8: “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” In this same verse the context is revealed: the philosophy we may be spoiled through is the one that is not after Christ! So philosophical apologetics, dealing and answering objections to Christ and God cannot in and of itself be contra Christ.

Further, the context of the passage is revealed through surrounding verses. Verse 4 is Paul’s encouragement to avoid “enticing words,” which would bring them away from walking in faith (v. 6). There should be no doubt Paul was not condemning the use of apologetics and philosophy (cf. Acts -34).

3. We should do apologetics from the Word of God only.

This is an objection which states “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God,” (Rom. ) thus anything else is superfluous at best, and unbiblical at worst.
This, when applied consistently, would yield absurd results. In preaching, for instance, one would never comment on the text or use illustrations, since such are unnecessary! While it is true it is the Word of God which is necessary for salvation (that is, the hearing of it is necessary), there’s no problem with explaining the text. In many respects that is what apologetics is doing. It answers the question “how can this be?” or “is this really true?”

4. Apologetics removes the faith component.

This objection is pretty straightforward. By engaging in apologetics we are diverting the unbeliever from a heart-focus on the Gospel to one of mere intellectualism.

While pure intellectualism is always a danger, apologetics by no means gives people the right to avoid faith. In fact, the only way one could avoid having any faith is if he knew all facts and truths about God with absolute certainty. But we do not know these things with absolute certainty in many cases. However, it then follows we take certain things on faith. Faith does not mean belief in the absence of any good reason. Faith does mean an active trust—and anyone willing to place an active trust in God has his own reasons (not to mention the conviction of the Holy Spirit!).

Indeed, apologetics is one of the legitimate ways we can fulfill the Scripture that implores us to love the Lord our God “with all thy mind” (Matt. , Luke ).

5. Only the select few can get involved in apologetics, therefore I have no reason to do it.

That is simply not true! As Christians we have an obligation to engage in apologetics! 1 Peter says, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.”

Peter’s message, in context, is that even in the face of persecution, we may suffer for our good lifestyle in Christ. If this is the case, give every man an answer for why you are doing that. I’m willing to bet Peter’s apologetic went along the lines of his sermon in Acts 2. In this sermon, Peter appealed to fulfilled Old Testament prophecy as well as eyewitness testimony of the Resurrection. Sounds like apologetics to me!

But what about those whose intellectual talents are somewhat lacking? Did Peter really expect them to be able to give a reason? Yes. Inasmuch as one is able, he must present an apologetic for Christ. Suppose one cannot follow complex philosophical arguments. What can he do? He may argue from personal experience or a changed life. He may point someone who is interested in the direction of apologetic resources. In essence, any Christian should learn as much as he is able to learn. Almost every Christian I know is capable of presenting the common-sense cosmological argument (“whatever begins to exist had a cause, the universe began to exist, therefore the universe had a cause”).

Not only is apologetics defensible and important in bringing certain types of people to Christ, it is also commanded of every believer. The Bible never commands the level of skill of an apologist, just that the believer holds and expresses a reason for his hope. The more I study the stronger in faith I become. There are always questions I will be unable to answer, but God has answered so many more in such wonderful ways I just have to trust him!


  1. Excellent post.

    Have you seen this one by Doug Groothuis?

    My comments are here:

  2. Hey thanks for commenting! I had not seen that one it's a great read. Thanks for pointing it out!


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