One attitude that I’m often confronted with from other Christians is, in my opinion not only nonBiblical but nonsensical. It is usually stated with the conviction that stating the truth excludes further discussion along with an air of smug ‘piety’. It can most easily be summed up with a statement that I heard last night (paraphrased for clarity):
“There is no need for apologetics; only the Spirit can convince (Mormons, atheists, etc – fill in the blank). You can’t reason with those people or argue them into the Kingdom. Besides, we’re supposed to be Christlike, and Jesus never argued with people, nor are we told to in Scripture.”
Let’s examine the statement against apologetics one assertion at a time, but first some groundwork by way of defining terms. For a definition of just what Christian apologetics is, take a look here. The most common definition of an argument is ‘reasons presented in order to persuade”. Here’s a link to a collection of dictionary definitions of the term. Notice that for practical purposes, an a apologetic and an argument (in this technical sense) are one and the same. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to it!
First point: “only the Spirit can convince (fill in the blank).” This statement is irrelevant to the question of whether the Christian should engage in presenting apologetics, for two reasons:
First, the primary purpose of an apologetic is to offer a reasoned DEFENSE of the Christian faith – to show that it is a reasonable belief. The primary purpose is not to prove the opposing world view false (that is a polemic). If God uses that defense to convince the nonChristian that his position is untenable, great!
Second (and I believe this is the case), if Christ and the apostles modeled and encouraged the use of apologetic reasoning, it is my duty as a Christian to follow that example and directive regardless of the outcome. God is in charge of the results; I am responsible to obey.
Second point: “You can’t either reason with these people or argue them into the Kingdom.”
I contend that not only is it possible to effectively present an argument with non-Christians, but, in many cases that is the method by which God confronts them with the truth of the Gospel and their need to become a disciple of the Christ.
My case is twofold; Biblical example and personal observation. Let’s look at examples of where the Bible shows the presenting of an argument in order to bring someone to Salvation.
Carefully read Acts 8:29 – 38. It tells the story of Philip presenting the Gospel to an Ethiopian. Notice that he presented reasons (an argument) for the deity of Jesus, giving the reasons from the book of Isaiah.
Next, look at Acts 2:5 – 41. This is the account of Peter’s first recorded public speech after the resurrection. The populace had accused the the Apostles of being drunk. Peter gives an eloquent argument demonstrating that not only are the Apostles not drunk, but that Jesus is the Messiah. The result of this ‘ineffective and unnecessary’ argument? THREE THOUSAND souls were saved as a direct result!
There are many more examples of the use of argument and apologetics in Scripture; I’ll present a few more examples when we look at the last anti-apologetic point.
My other refutation of the ‘you can’t argue people into the Kingdom’ assertion is personal observation. While in the sense that a ‘I’m right and you’re wrong” exchange is rarely effective, I have yet to meet a single former Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness who has become a Christian that has been presented a reasoned argument for the supremacy of Biblical truth over their doctrines.
So now we come to the final point, summarized as ” Christ didn’t do apologetics, and the Bible tells us to be loving, not argumentative.”
I’ll grant that the Bible does instruct us to be loving, but there is a great difference between presenting an argument and being argumentative. The difference is in attitude; an argumentative attitude almost always results in anger and a failure to examine the argument presented, while a calm, friendly presentation of an argument MAY result in angering the person you are presenting an apologetic to – but it is an anger about the argument, not an response to an aggressive attitude. Besides, isn’t refusing to present the need truthfulness and need for the Gospel essentially telling the person you are talking to to ‘go to hell’? How loving is that??
But back to the point: there are many examples in Scripture that show that not only did Jesus engage in presenting apologetics, but that we as His followers are expected and instructed to do the same. I’ll give you a few examples, with those of our Lord first:
-) John 5:16 – 47
In this passage, Jesus is giving an apologetic for both His deity and the acceptability of healing on the Sabbath.
-) John 7:14 – 24
Here Jesus gives another argument for the propriety of healing on the Sabbath.
-) Luke 5:20 – 26
Jesus is accused of blasphemy for forgiving a man’s sins. He heals the man, and clearly states that He did so as a demonstration of his authority to do so.
There are many more examples of Jesus using apologetic arguments in the Gospels, but I think the point has been made.
The book of Acts has many examples of the Apostles presenting arguments to defend the Gospel or a position of faith; I’ve already mentioned Peter’s first public speech. Acts 6:15 – 7:53, 8:30 – 36, 15:5 – 21, and 17:16 – 31 are a few of these many examples. Additionally, most of the Epistles (especially Romans) are writings that are apologetic in nature.
And finally, we are instructed in the Bible to engage in apologetics, and in Jude 3, specifically to present a reasoned defense of the Gospel to those (like the Mormons and other heretic groups) who spread false doctrine:
“Beloved, while I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I was constrained to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.”
1 Peter 3:14-16 commands us to “always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you”. The word translated ‘answer’ is apologia – so it can be said that we are commanded in Scripture to give an apologetic to everyone who asks for a reason for our hope in Christ.
Doesn’t get much clearer than that, does it?
For more information about this topic, here are some additional thoughts by well-known apologists:
Stand To Reason has a LOT of information; here’s a short article by Alan Shlemon
CARM lists Eight Reasons Why We Need Apologetics
Icthus77 has a lengthy article on this topic, with many links to related information