The discipline of Christian apologetics is the outflow of the integration of theology into our lives wherein we provide an apologia “defense” or reasoned contention for our faith in Christ. This is a practical and evangelistic element of the Christian faith that all Christians should be prepared to engage in and is meant to be a conversation (not a contentious display of pride) about what we believe to be true as Christians and why. However, this is not meant to be an apology for our beliefs.
There is pressure within our culture for Christians to essentially apologize for Christian beliefs, to not speak about anything that would contradict what someone wants to do, to walk a cultural minefield of sensitivity and academic scrutiny based on worldly principles in order to keep “credibility” while presenting arguments, and to remain silent about certain beliefs for the sake of tolerance and the protection of others from hearing those contrary beliefs that have been painted as “harmful”, among other things. These factors can make it far more tempting for a Christian to not be bold in their witness for Christ and God’s good commands and teachings.
Another obstacle to this task can be that there are some terrible things that have been done throughout history in the name of Christ and oftentimes people will try to discredit any reasons to believe in God because of this. If the wrongful actions of people claiming to be Christian in the past have been in direct conflict with orthodox Christian teachings, then we can confidently acknowledge their error, but also remind people that the error of sinful, and possibly not even genuinely Christian, people does not negate the rich truths of the perfect and gracious Lord and God that we serve. Although, this provides us with an opportunity to unveil this straw man argument being used as a place to hide from facing the choice of belief in God. We can only try to help ensure that the misuse of Scripture and muddying of Jesus Christ’s good name is not repeated. This can be helped primarily by a concerted effort from our Christian leaders (pastors, deacons, scholars, evangelists, etc.) to educate and equip both their congregants and peers to know and teach right doctrine that honors the Lord (2 Tim 4:2).
If someone has been believing and putting their hope in a lie, then hearing the truth will naturally be uncomfortable because it would mean that turning to the truth would be to give up the lie that has become their refuge. Therefore, our job while engaging in apologetics is not to walk on eggshells, dancing around arguments to make sure that we don’t “offend” people, but to gently and graciously share with them the reasons for the hope that is within us, especially when, by seeing the conduct of our lives they inquire about our hope. Let’s take a quick look at Peter’s exhortation to the Church:
“But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” (1 Peter 3:14-17, ESV)
There are times where I have been tempted, whether it be to avoid sharing the awkward truth that may impact my relationship with others or to make sure that others view me or Christianity as a whole “high regard”, to neglect sharing what the Spirit of God was leading me to share. I have been tempted to, and at times I did, sacrifice possibly sharing life transforming and important truth with someone on the altar of preserving my image. As I partake in apologetics more and more, I have realized the power of something that we may often forget or are tempted to cloak when we engage with others about our reasons for faith… The Word of God.
Of course, we have many other reasons for our beliefs than the biblical witness, but many important reasons for our beliefs do come from the Word of God (fulfilled prophecy, evidence for Christ’s resurrection, Christ’s teachings and their correspondence to reality, etc.). I am not saying that we always need to force biblical arguments onto people as we engage with them about the truth that they are possibly nowhere near being ready to receive or understand. But we should be prayerfully in submission to the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we are talking to others. In this way, our pride will be less of a factor that could get in the way of the Spirit’s work. We must use our discernment to allow the conversation to flow organically, but also so that we know when something needs to be said, exposing or revealing the truth that is founded in God’s Word.
I have seen far more fruit from conversations where I allowed God’s Word and the Spirit of God to do their work instead of trying to water down biblical reasons for belief, almost pretending I’m free of bias (there is no such thing as an an entirely unbiased viewpoint), to avoid any semblance of allegiance to the biblical witness. And thus, I may have preserved my “credibility”, but at what cost to my listener? As sons and daughters of God, we DO have an allegiance to God and His Word and we shouldn’t hide from it. Jesus said:
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19, NIV)
We should not feel the need to be constricted to the assumptions and limitations of someone who operates on a worldview void of the possibility of miracles, the supernatural, etc. for the sake of preserving our “credibility”. Of course, we should display an understanding and ability to navigate fairly what those assumptions and limitations are. But credibility can be preserved without divorcing ourselves from the very source that enables and equips us for the task of apologetic engagement.
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:12-13, ESV)
The truth of the matter is that when engaging in apologetics, we should be in submission to the Spirit’s leading and ready to share the Word of God to compliment and support our reasons. Just as we see in 1 Peter, it is perfectly alright to be willing to suffer for doing what is right and good, which may mean saying something that is uncomfortable or risk tainting our public image. Christ calls us to bear our cross with and for Him, just as He did for us. It is always more loving to gently and respectfully tell someone about the truth, especially if they are being harmed by belief in a lie, than to applaud them as they continue in something that is slowly destroying their lives. All while we know the truth, but would rather look out for ourselves… “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (Proverbs 27:6, ESV). It’s like the saying goes: if you knew someone was about to walk off of a cliff, would you tell them or let them go without trying to warn them?
Peter exhorted the saints to honor the Lord as holy, which means that to us, loving Him and loving others is more important than looking out for ourselves or trying to make ourselves feel good at the cost of losing our hearers or dishonoring the Lord. We can trust that God’s Word will accomplish His purposes as we share it as ambassadors for Christ.
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
And do not return there without watering the earth
And making it bear and sprout,
And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater;
So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth;
It will not return to Me empty,
Without accomplishing what I desire,
And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.”
(Isaiah 55:10-11, NASB)