I’m not an easy person to surprise. (Just ask my wife.)
More than once during our first years of marriage, for example, a considerable amount of frustration was caused for her via my ability to successfully figure out what gifts she had secretly purchased for me for Christmas, birthdays, and other occasions. (Sorry, Honey.)
I have been genuinely surprised, however, at one thing I’ve seen a few times over my 19 years working in various types of ministry: the reluctance of some followers of Jesus to embrace the idea of “case-making” in terms of the truths of Christianity (or “apologetics,” as it is also called.)
Don’t get me wrong: I hear their concerns and understand where they’re coming from.
For some people, it’s a matter of the heart. They feel that the heart/emotional side of life is all that’s needed to both experience Christianity to its fullest and share it with other people.
For others, it’s a matter of obedience and/or faith. After all, if we start attempting to use logic, reason, and evidence to try and prove things like God’s existence and the validity of the Bible, aren’t we stepping outside the realm of faith? (And isn’t faith what God wants from us?)
Or worse, they may fear—“doesn’t apologetics just lead to us relying on ourselves rather than God and His Holy Spirit?”
“Is there even any Scriptural basis for pursuing apologetics?” some ask.
Let’s take a look.
The first thing that hits me is how often Jesus Himself used tangible evidence to make a case for Himself as the Messiah. When pressed for a “sign” from opponents, or asked for reassurance from an imprisoned John the Baptist, or simply explaining His identity and plan to His disciples before His crucifixion, Jesus was constantly pointing toward His miracles as evidence of Who He is. (See Matthew 16:1-4, Luke 7:18-23, John 5:16-30, and John 14:11, for example.)
That makes perfect sense, however, since the Greatest Commandment in all of Scripture according to Jesus is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30, NIV).
That’s something the early church clearly took to heart, as well—especially in order to expose and combat false doctrines about God.
The Apostle Paul, for example, sought to use logic and reason in evangelizing the people of Athens (Acts 17:16-34) and wrote to the Corinthian church concerning the importance of “[demolishing] arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and [taking] captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5, NIV).
Likewise, the Apostle Peter encouraged the readers of his first letter to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have,” (1 Peter 3:15), and the Apostle John urged the audience of his first letter to make sure not to simply believe everything they heard taught about God, but to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1, NIV).
“But what about relying on the Holy Spirit?” someone may ask.
And, I agree:
Relying on the Holy Spirit is essential to apologetics—according to the Apostle Peter himself in his second letter! Peter says that it’s actually because Christians have the power of God’s Spirit available to us that we should use that power to “make every effort to add to our faith…knowledge,” as doing so is exactly part of what will help us be effective and productive in terms of growing and evangelism (see 2 Peter 1:3-9).
In fact, at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel, the titular author says that his entire reason for writing his “carefully investigated” account of Jesus’ life was so that his audience “may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (see Luke 1:1-4). Sounds like case-making to me—as the motivation for writing an entire Gospel!
And even a quick reading of the other Gospels reveals that, at the very least, their goals were to provide a record of the actions of Christ as evidence to persuade their readers of His identity as the Messiah. For example, Matthew includes numerous references to Jesus’ fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies in hopes of helping a Jewish audience to connect with Jesus, and John says he wrote his record of the “many…signs” Jesus performed so that his readers “may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing [his readers] may have life in his name” (see John 20:30-31).
…Which brings up yet another important point, too: even each Gospel was written to evangelize a different “type” of listener, since—as the authors of the Gospels clearly knew—while everyone needs the same Savior, not everyone is successfully “evangelized” the same way.
I think there’s an important lesson there that we too easily forget in American Christianity: not everyone is just like “you” or “me.”
And while, certainly, you or I may connect best with God in terms of “heart” and “emotion,” other people may connect best in terms of “mind” and “evidence.” And they may have honest questions that stand between them and their acceptance of Christ as Savior. Seems to me that apologetics is exactly what is needed in order to reach such people, if we are to be effective “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Cor. 5:20).
(And I haven’t even mentioned the importance of the belt of “truth” as part of the Amor of God that Paul discusses in Ephesians 6:10-19, the importance of “keeping our heads” in a culture that often gravitates away from “sound doctrine” and toward “whatever their itching ears want to hear” [see 2 Timothy 4:3-5], nor the lesson the Old Testament prophetic books [such as Jeremiah] teach us repeatedly about making sure we follow the true messages of God amidst false messages people will claim to have received from Him…)
Really—for me, at least?—in light of Scripture, the only question that comes to mind concerning Christian case-making is this:
If Jesus has called us to preach the Gospel to all the world as His “ambassadors,” and to always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks about the hope we have, then why wouldn’t we be passionate about apologetics?
For further study on this topic: check out Forensic Faith by J. Warner Wallace, available here: https://www.amazon.com/Forensic-Faith-Detective-Reasonable-Evidential/dp/1434709884/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1501554638&sr=8-1&keywords=forensic+faith