Is apologetics good, valuable, and important for Christians to learn?
It is commanded by God
Learning and using apologetics is commanded by God After all, the first step of making disciples (per Jesus's command)1 is making Christians—evangelizing. This is relevant because, like the early Church fathers, the apostles relentlessly used and encouraged apologetics in evangelism:
Jude 1:3-- “…contend earnestly for the faith”; i.e Phillipians 1:7 -- “…the defense and confirmation of the gospel…”
R.C. Sproul was right:
“The defense of the faith is not a luxury or intellectual vanity. It is a task appointed by God….”2
Acts 17:2-- “according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence…”; 18:28 -- "…he powerfully refuted the Jews in public”
- I refer here to the ‘Great Commission’ (Mt 28:19-20), to “Go… make disciples…”
- Defending Your Faith (Crossway Books), 9.
It helps/serves believers
Learning and practicing apologetics helps and serves fellow believers
After all, through apologetics, believers can bring relief to Christians tortured by doubts. Plausibly, God allows some sufferings in order to give us opportunities to serve one another1 and being used as an apologist by God in this capacity is a great good.2 Many believers feel apologetics played a vital role in their conversion or reconversion, but also the prevention of their deconversion.3 Even Bible-students and pastors can be ill-equipped to answer basic questions, often needing relief themselves.4 Even entry level apologists can have a lot to offer their Christian fellows who have no one else to turn to.
Truly, one cannot be an active apologist for very long without feeling this:
C. S. Lewis: “…to not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground -- would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defense but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.”5
And as put by Oxford scholar and close friend of Lewis's,
Austin Farrer: “It is commonly said that if rational argument is so seldom the cause of conviction, philosophical apologists must largely be wasting their shot. The premise is true, but the conclusion does not follow. For though argument does not create conviction, the lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish. So the apologist who does nothing but defend may play a useful, though preparatory, part.”
- This point is made frequently in Swinburne's Providence and the Problem of Evil (Oxford, 1998).
- It can also be incredibly rewarding. Consider perhaps the most encouraging e-mail I have ever received (used with permission, my emphasis added): “Thank you again for your time. I don't know what I would do without you, I've posed many of these questions that you have answered effortlessly to Christian college campus groups and all I get is stunned silence or ignorant answers. To have you in my life is the biggest breath of fresh air that my shaky faith has ever had. Thank you again, and God bless you." In another e-mail: “But now since I'm making good progress in getting out of my God doubting depression I want to get back to giving to God…” I know this individual has gone on to study more apologetics himself, and works to share it with others (he would find it absurd to say apologetics does not legitimately help/serve believers).
- Consider these excerpts, from a carm.org chatroom. It highlights two Christians defending apologetics (one a former skeptic who became an apologist), talking from personal experience about how it prevents de-conversions and facilitates conversions. To save space, line-breaks are denoted by //:
K---: Who's more effective for Christianity: the fundies, who come in here and state the gospel message which atheists already know, or [Blake (in my capacity as an apologist)]? //K---: If I had known someone like [him] back then, I would never have deconverted. // K---: When I met him, he sort of opened Christianity back up for me. // K---: He wasn't responsible for my conversion per se, // K---: that was due to other stuff // K---: but he sort of opened the door, I think.
R------: I nearly might have lost faith myself
- Another excerpt from a conversation on the carm.org chat. To save space, line-breaks are denoted by //:
B--------: i really appreciate your help tonight I have spent 5 years in Bible College. // B--------: I was a pastor. // B--------: I am active in my church. // B--------: I ask this question to ony 2 kinds of people. //B--------: the ones strong enough to sustain doubt and those so pagan it couldnt matter. // B--------: and i have never gotten such a reasoned answer. //B--------: I really appreciate it
- The Weight of Glory (Eerdmans, 1949), 50.
It helps/serves non-believers
Learning and using apologetics helps/serves non-believers
After all, insofar as apologetics removes intellectual stumbling blocks (a feature of successful evangelism) all the love-based motivations to evangelize can be co-opted to motivate apologetics. These motivations can be both positive (e.g. “Evangelism is just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread”)1, and negative (e.g. “You must have, more or less, a distinct sense of the dreadful wrath of God, and of the terrors of judgment to come, or you will lack energy in your work, and so lack one of the essentials of success”).2
Some people need to see reasons to believe in order to take the Christian faith seriously.
Blaise Pascal: “Ordinary people have the ability not to think about the things they do not want to think about....But there are some without this ability to stop themselves thinking, who think all the more for being forbidden to do so. These people rid themselves of false religions, and even of the true one, unless they find solid arguments for them.” [Human Happiness 816.] Apologetics can also target cultural/academic reform, laying important groundwork for subsequent evangelists (2 Cor 10:5 -- “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God,…”).
William Lane Craig (Famed Christian apologist and philosopher): “It is at the university that [our most influential people] will formulate or, more likely, simply absorb the worldview that will shape their lives. And since these are the opinion-makers and leaders who shape our culture, the worldview that they imbibe at the university will be the one that shapes our culture. If we change the university, we change our culture… If the Christian worldview can be restored to a place of prominence and respect at the university, it will have a leavening effect throughout society.”3
J. Gresham Machen: “…it would be a great mistake to suppose that all men are equally well prepared to receive the gospel. It is true that the decisive thing is the regenerative power of God. That can overcome all lack of preparation. But as a matter of fact God usually exerts that power in connection with certain prior conditions of the human mind, and it should be ours to create, so far as we can, with the help of God, those favorable conditions for the reception of the gospel. False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel. We may preach with all the fervor of a reformer and yet succeed only in winning a straggler here and there, if we permit the whole collective thought of the nation or the world to be controlled by ideas which, by the resistless force of logic, prevent Christinaity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless delusion. Under such circumstances, what God desires us to do is to destroy the obstacle at its root…” [Christianity and Culture," Princeton Theological Review 11 (1913): 6.]
- Famously said by D. T. Niles.
- Charles Spurgeon, The Soul Winner (Cosmio, 2007), 120. The quote continues: “Let every teacher weigh these words of Paul, 'But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children; so, being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not only the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us.' The genuine soul-winner knows what this means.”
- “Apologetics Ministry - Advice to Christian Apologists - Part 2” at ReasonableFaith.org, online.
It builds your own confidence
Learning and using apologetics builds your own confidence
In addition to supercharging your own faith, learning apologetics can turn what used to be threatening discussions with non-believers into an anticipated source of joy and fulfillment. Regardless of your personality, in the right situations, you will automatically desire to speak up and "give an answer" when you have one; in fact it can be hard to resist. Moreover, you might be surprised with how often God presents you with opportunities to share what you have just learned.
It facilitates a love of truth
Learning and using apologetics facilitates a love of truth
After all, we are rational creatures, like the God whose image we bear. Your conscience should testify clearly that science, math, reason, and logic are very good things.1 The Universe is God's, designed in part for us to enjoy discovering[Forthcoming], and it's embarrassing when non-believers champion intellectual pursuits like science more than God's church (the unique “soil” in which science could[Forthcoming] and historically did naturally form[Forthcoming]). God is surely pleased when aspiring apologists embrace the church's intellectual heritage, and dabblers often find new interest in academic subjects, joyfully obeying Jesus's command:
“love the Lord your God with all your heart… and with all your mind.” (Mk 12:30)
“It depends on ‘worldly wisdom’”
Apologetics allegedly depends on so-called “worldly wisdom” insofar as it utilizes reason, philosophy, and science. This is relevant because 1 Cor 1-4 denounces the “wisdom of the world.”1
By way of response, however, worldly wisdom refers primarily to expressed human value judgments/proverbs/rhetoric; the concerns Paul addressed had nothing to do with legitimate academic pursuits, like history, science, and analytic philosophy.2, 3
- Notably, 1-Cor-1:20 -- “Where is the wise man?… the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (cf. 3:18); 2:13 contrasts “human wisdom” with the Spirits.
- After all, here is how Paul describes worldly wisdom:
• It is emotional/rhetorical and juxtaposed with real evidence. E.g. Paul notes in 1 Cor 1-2 that, unlike his competitors who, with the graces of elocution, he came humbly, grounding his wisdom/message in the “demonstration of the Spirit” and “power of God” (see Rom 15:19), i.e. he brought evidences like healings and tongues (Acts 10:38, 1 Cor 14:22).
• It scoffs at the poor/weak/lowly men and means God often uses (1:26-27), notably Jesus's shameful death on a cross (1:23)
• God exposes it as “trickery” (3:18), “foolish” (1:12), e.g. through weak/ineloquent men like Moses. (Cf. 2-Cor-2:14)
• It judges the poor, persecuted, etc. as fools. (4:10-14)
• It induces Paul to speak of value judgments, e.g. “the one who examines me is the Lord” (4:3-4); [things must be] spiritually appraised” (2:14).
- For example, consider two independent excerpts from the renowned IVP dictionaries series:
• Dictionary of Paul and His Letters: “What can be said with confidence is that the root of the problem was the Corinthian addiction to the power, prestige and pride represented in the Hellenstic 'wisdom of of the word' (1 Cor 1:17, 20, 26, 2:1; 3:19)…” [From S. J. Hafemann's entry “Social Values and Stuctures”, eds Hawthorne and Martin (IVP, 1993), 165.]
• Dictionary of New Testament Background: “…the wisdom referred to is likely to be about the social prestige associated with rhetorical prowess as much as about metaphysical speculation; the boasting about (what Paul regards as) immorality in the community (1 Cor 5:6) probably has to do with the high social status of the offender at least as much as with practices arising out of incipient Gnosticism of one kind or another; the conflict between the strong and the weak over eating meat probably has as much to do with differences of wealth, status and social mobility as with fears about idolatry and apostasy (1 Cor 8:1–13); and so on (Theissen).” [From Stephen Barton's entry "Corinthians, Letters to The", eds. Evans & Portner (IVP, 2000)]
“Faith is belief without evidence”
Allegedly, faith is belief without evidence.
See article here to assess 2 arguments:
This is relevant because apologetics aims undermines ones ability to believe without evidence, since the whole enterprise is aimed at answering objections and giving evidence for the truth of core Christian doctrines.
“It is essentially quarrelsome”
Allegedly, apologetics essentially involves quarreling/fighting; it's hostile. This is relevant because hostility is something Christians should frown upon. [Forthcoming]
By way of response, however, apologists are commanded to “be prepared to give an answer [apologia], yet with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pet 3:15). So it is not essentially hostile. (See tips on how to have a cordial discussion).
“It credits men, not God”
Allegedly, apologetics attributes conversions to human efforts. This is relevant because pride is sinful and scripture teaches that God gets the credit.
By way of response, however, the apostles both commanded and actively engaged in apologetics, so they did not believe it was crediting man rather than God. Instead, the apostles knew that God blesses evangelism which reflects God's character. And God's character is one of love, but also of reason. (For example, Isaiah 1:18 -- “‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ Says the LORD”
“It does not work”
Allegedly, apologetics does not play any role in alleviating doubts and/or bringing people to faith. This is relevant because if apologetics does not result in these things we should not do it.