In my later teen and early young adult years, apologetics were a fairly important discipline to me. I read all of Lee Strobel’s “Case For…” books. Looking back on them, there were some great ideas that I’m glad I picked up in an accessible way there instead of in a philosophy class. There were also a lot of things that I soon realized were really bad arguments, such as the treatment of evolution as obviously contrary to true Christianity as well as a lot of thoroughly-debunked arguments against evolution. I have an easier solution to that one: why couldn’t God create the world and move it to where we are today through an evolutionary process?
Arguing Into the Kingdom?
At the time, the purpose for apologetics was essentially to be able to argue people into the Kingdom. That never works. Discussing issues with somebody may be helpful and I’ll get to that, but if you approach a discussion with the attitude that you need to convince inferior intellects of why you are right, you are never going to convince them you are right. People don’t respond well to being treated as inferior. They get defensive and usually end up further entrenched in their prior beliefs.
Jared Byas recently talked about this on Pete Enns’ blog. He points out that when we present Christianity as the obvious common sense truth, that only leaves two options for people who don’t agree: are they ignorant or are they evil? Either they just don’t know better, so you really should inform them of how they are so unaware of the obvious realities of the world, or they are evil and are outright rejecting obvious common sense because they don’t like implications on their lives. Insert stereotypes of atheists “living in sin” here: premarital sex, abortion, drugs, rock and roll, whatever.
The world is not that simple. There are good arguments for atheism. There are good arguments for any religion you choose. Yeah, I probably think there’s enough good arguments for Christianity for it to win out for me on a purely intellectual contest, but that’s not my point.
The Foolishness of Christianity
I find Christianity to be the most compelling worldview by a wide margin, but that’s not even the same thing as being the most logical. A big part of what I find so compelling about Christianity is that it isn’t logical. I’m not talking about historical facts or trusting the Bible or anything like that which usually dominate apologetics discussions. I’m talking about some of the bigger truths about how God works in the world.
Here are some examples:
I believe that love wins over hatred. That’s not logical. We can all think of examples where hatred seems to win, seriously harming those around us, and we feel like we must resort to hatred ourselves in order to fight back. But Christianity says not to repay evil for evil but to overcome evil with good.
I believe that hope wins over fear. That’s not logical. We have natural instincts to be afraid of a lot of things. It’s necessary for survival, when we’re talking about things like the instinct to avoid that tiger staring at us and licking its lips in the wild. Hope isn’t usually a common sense default. And yet I hope for the better world that Jesus invites us to be a part of right now.
I believe that grace wins over judgement. That’s not logical. Common sense says that some people are bad and others are good, and we (the good guys) must punish them (the bad guys). And yet I follow Jesus in seeking to give grace to everybody because I still believe that while all of us do good and bad things, we all are still infinitely loved.
I believe that life conquers death. That’s not logical. We know that everybody dies and we have no verifiable idea of what happens after. And yet I believe that Jesus rose from the dead, the first fruits of all of creation’s redemption.
Christianity isn’t primarily a logical faith. There’s actually quite a bit foolish about it.
So What About Apologetics?
I don’t want to completely scrap a place for apologetics. Christianity isn’t primarily a propositional faith, but we are still somewhat logical creatures. The best analogy I have heard is that of running a race with hurdles, where apologetics is removing the hurdles. We can help remove the intellectual roadblocks that are making it a lot harder or sometimes impossible to run the race.
But we can’t run the race for them. There still has to be something at the other end of that track which compels them to walk or run toward it. That’s Jesus and the kind of illogical things that I talked about above. Our first priority then, as it is in every other area of life, is to first reflect Jesus to the world. Help them see Jesus and be drawn to love, hope, grace, and life. Then within that relationship of helping them move toward that Jesus, help them wrestle with any hurdles that are in their way – really wrestle, where you might learn something too.
Apologetics don’t have to be about convincing people why they are ignorant and should just agree with you already. It can, however, be an act of love. I’d like to see apologetics redeemed.