Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Necessity and Danger of Apologetics

For practical purposes, in this discussion, I'm going to define Apologetics as the verbal defense of the Christian faith. I understand that in a much broader sense, the way we live our life is a way of showing that God is who he said he is and is an apologetic, but in this discussion, I want to discuss the verbal aspect of communicating the gospel, since the spoken Word is vital in new believers coming to faith.
Last night, I heard a kind professor point out that many of his students can't defend their Christian faith to him, and they often call their pastors to come and go after him. I believe one of the biggest problems in the church today is a lack of desire to be able to defend our faith. I remember many years ago, being in a small group setting where someone said, "in sharing our faith, we don't need to worry about knowing the answers, we just need to show them Jesus". Although, I can appreciate the spirit in what this person said, I believe that many in the church are just down right lazy in believing that if they just live their life properly, then people will come to Christ. 1 Peter 3:15 says:
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,
Does that mean that a believer will have an answer to every single question that an unbeliever might throw at them? Of course not. However, I believe that that many if not most believers don't love God's word enough to feel the need to study and defend it. To many, that job is for the seminarians and academics. This is sad and more pastors and churches need to be urging their people to study and search out answers to the tough questions.
Now, for most of you reading my blog (I know who you are!), up until this point, I'm assuming that you are agreeing with me. I'm probably preaching to the choir. However, let me now talk about what may offend you. I believe to those of us who think apologetics is important, we need to be careful to not give it too much importance. Apologetics can easily become a form of idolatry. There are three ways I think this Idolatry can manifest itself.
One way I've seen apologetics idolatry manifest itself is that the apologist actually starts to believe that a persons salvation is contingent upon logic. It seems that quite often the apologist begins to believe that if his argument is good enough, then the unbeliever will get saved. This is not meant to downplay the importance of logic, but we need to remember that logic is primarily an instrument of the mind. I do affirm that part of the sanctification process is a renewal of the mind (Romans 12:1), however the key to salvation is receiving a new heart and we need to remember that God is the only one who can grant a new heart. I've seen plenty of unbelievers that have no issues with our message, and it even makes logical sense to them, however, their hearts still remain unchanged. They understand who God is and what Christ has done, yet they don't value God. They need a heart change. And this is where I think we need to be very careful. Yes, we need to be ready with answers, but we also need to fall on our knees and plead with the Lord to change the hard heart. Instead, the apologist often spends his too much of his time looking for a logical answer and for a way to convince the unbeliever. We need to realize that we are only an instrument, and yes we need to be prepared, but it is God alone that wins a man to Himself.
Another way that apologetics idolatry manifests itself is that it becomes an academic endeavor rather than an endeavor to bring glory to God. To the unbeliever, our apologetic efforts often (or should I say "usually"?), appear to be an attempt to show how smart we are and how stupid the atheist is. And I would also say, that is probably usually the goal of the atheist debating the Christian. In participating in apologetic debate, we need to be careful to make sure that our motives are to bring glory to God, and not to win an argument. There just seems to be such a fine line there. To the Christian apologist, his motives may truly be to bring glory to God, but despite his best efforts, it can appear to the unbelievers that he is just trying to make his opponent look foolish (even though his opponent probably is!). Too often though, the Christian apologist becomes too focused on winning the debate rather than his words and attitude bringing glory to God. If our apologetic endeavors have any motivation rooted in winning the debate, then it is idolatry. May our debate be filled with grace and may our loved for lost people be evident in our speech.
Finally, too often a witty apologetic is trusted more than our prayers. None of us would say that, but our actions speak louder. The wise apologist, would spend an equal time praying for the Lord to change hardened hearts as he would studying to come up with good answers. We need to be praying for lost souls.
Some of you reading this, may be attending or participating in an upcoming debate at our local university. I plead with each of you, that we begin to pray now for the lost souls who will be attending. Let us pray that the words spoken by our side, be words used of the Lord to change the hardend hearts. Let us pray that our words will be full of grace. Let us resolve that no one in attendance leave, believing that we are trying to win an argument but rather let them leave saying "Their God is marvelous!". Let our apologetic efforts not become a form of idolatry and let us repent of ways that it has become idolatrous.

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