My Reply to “Defending God?”: Thoughts on Apologetics and Evangelism
I just read an article by Ryan Fouts entitled “Defending God?” This blog post is a collection of my thoughts in reply to that article, which can be found at his blog: http://ryanfouts.com/defending-god
I think this article has some good points, namely that God doesn’t need defending, and that you can have all the sound arguments you want and all the answers to their refutations of your arguments ready, but at the end of the day, there will always be people who remain unconvinced and refuse to “see the light” or acknowledge the truths of your point. This I think is not a matter however, of us living in a country where Logic is not king (though I agree that our country is a unique blend of modern and post-modern thinking with a splash of Eastern thinking increasingly making its way in), but is rather a matter of the way in which we form and hold to our beliefs.
A person’s thinking about and opinions/beliefs on a particular topic, such as whether there is a God who created the world, is more than simply a matter of listening to logic and rhetoric; it is deeply entrenched in a person’s worldview. If that worldview does not allow for a supernatural Creator, then no amount of argument is going to convince them. Our beliefs are as much a matter of the heart as they are a matter of the mind, and as such, we must take that into account when witnessing to others. What is it that causes a person to think the way they do? Why do they believe what they believe? It is not always a matter of “it seems to me proposition X is more plausible/evidenced than proposition Y, therefore I will believe X” but is a formulation and extension of their worldview and what they deem possible and impossible.
As such, I think there is a great need for understanding not only the tenets of your own worldview (James Sire’s book “The Universe Next Door” is quite helpful in this), and how that worldview integrates all aspects of life, but we must begin to understand and identify the worldviews of those who think and see the world differently than us. We need to be able to understand the answers to the basic worldview questions, ranging from questions of Prime Reality and Human History to questions of morality and whether and how we can know anything at all. If we understand our own worldview and how it all fits together, we then need to try and understand the worldview of others, and if, how, and why the worldview they hold to is (in)coherent and (in)consistent. Once you understand the basic framework for the worldview of another (and here I say basic because no worldview has a single set of beliefs that hold exactly true for all persons who hold that view, and as unique individuals, we all have unique nuances to what we believe), you can better understand how when presented with your arguments for God’s existence, or the historicity of Jesus, or the veracity of the Gospels, they still reject it. It is simply because the claim of your argument does not fit into their framework of the world and how it works, so no matter how coherent and air-tight your arguments are, they simply cannot accept them.
When you wish to witness to an individual, especially to someone who holds a worldview that is in direct opposition to your own, you have to get to know that person, and cannot expect to convert them over night. You must ask them questions about how they think the world works, and how their worldview accounts for the facts of the world around us and the way it functions, and be willing and ready to get asked the same and similar questions in turn (here is a part of where I see apologetics coming in, but more on apologetics later). If we wish to witness to someone and help them come to a saving relationship with God, you must be willing to put in the necessary time and effort needed to first get to know them, and second to understand what they think and why.
This coming to understand what they believe and getting to know them personally can help you develop a relationship with them so that you can ask them questions about what they believe that will challenge the very core of their worldview. This can help them come to believe by helping them to critically examine what they themselves believe to be true. A person is (almost) always more convinced by a challenge to their worldview that they themselves bring up or arrive at rather than when it is pointed out to them/shoved in their face by an opponent of their worldview. Once you begin to dialogue with them on these things in a non-confrontational way in simply trying to understand each others point of view better, it becomes much easier to talk about and point out inconsistencies in the framework, rather than pointing to a particular point of contention and saying “see this proves my worldview is right.” Here I don’t mean you won’t challenge their beliefs or ask tough questions, because you will, but you aren’t simply doing so as an opponent or enemy, but as a friend whom they have gotten to know as a person. A gentle question can be more powerful and more effective than a sharp and well thought out argument thrown at them in refutation to their beliefs.
All this is to lead up to my point/opinion about apologetics. I believe that Christian apologetics is a useful and much needed tool that many Christians would benefit from having a better understanding of. I think I would agree with the thrust of the argument that Ryan makes, that God doesn’t need a defense, and the Word has a power all its own, but I think to a person who doesn’t accept the possibility that the Gospels are true or historical, that power will not pierce their hardened hearts. Jesus said, “Seek and you shall find, knock and the door shall be opened” (Matthew 7:7). It is the one who seeks God who finds Jesus and the power of Scripture, not the one who has the gospel shoved in his face at the end of a logical argument. This is what I think Ryan is getting at. The power of God’s Word is compelling, but only those who seek it.
What I want to contend is that apologetics is useful in two ways. First, as stated above, I believe one of the best ways to reach a person whose believes oppose your own is through a friendship build on mutual truth-seeking. If I am engaged in conversation with another that involves questions of worldview and how each others views account for the way the world is, then I must be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in me, and that includes questions of my worldview (See 1 Peter 3:15). This is where apologetics comes in. If we are going to engage others in questions of worldview, then we must be willing and ready to answer those questions ourselves.
Note that this verse goes on to say we must do so with gentleness and respect. We are not called as Christians to shove our beliefs in the face of those who do not believe in God, but we must be ready to give an answer to everyone. The key here is give an answer, not force a belief. An answer is given in reply to a question, not shoved into the face of those who are not asking questions, let alone willing to hear your answer. The point is, I do not see Apologetics as an offensive weapon, with which we attack enemies, but it is a defensive weapon that we use to “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 5a). We don’t go out seeking an enemy to slay, but rather we build relationships, and ask questions, and in the course of that relationship, you will be confronted with questions and challenges to the way you think and view the world, and here we use apologetics as a defense of our views in the face of such challenges. We should first and foremost be Scripturally sound, and be able to answer questions asked of us with Biblical authority, but when engaged with a person who does not accept the validity of the Bible, you can be able to point out why what you believe is rational, but more than that why it is more reasonable to believe in God’s existence than to disbelieve.
The second use of apologetics and why I think it is a useful and needed tool for Christians is in helping other Christians establish confidence in their own worldview. Many Christians who have not studied or understood apologetics would be ill equipped to defend their beliefs against the challenges of many evangelical atheists (This is a term I have coined to describe the type of Atheist who is just as outspoken and evangelistic in their beliefs as the Christians whose beliefs they are opposing). They wouldn’t be able to give an adequate defense of why they believe what they believe without appealing to Scripture whose veracity is being questioned in the first place.
Many teens who have grown up in the church and have attended youth groups and bible studies have not been exposed to this kind of rigorous challenge to their faith, and when they go off to secular universities, they are confronted with many professors and fellow students who are atheist and have thought about the Christian worldview more so than they themselves have. There are professors who have it as their mission to undermine and destroy the faith of their students. The Barna Group estimates 70-75% of students leave the church after high school, and this is because they are ill-equipped to handle objections to their faith. They simply don’t know why it is reasonable to believe in God, why it is reasonable to accept the Bible as a source of historical truth, or anything about the historicity of Jesus.
The New Atheists are fervently defending atheism and just as fervently attacking Christianity. If we as Christians are not prepared to answer such objections, then how can we expect to convince others of the truth of Christianity and the Bible? If we do not teach our children as well as Christians both young and old how to answer such objections, then we run the risk sending them out into a hostile world who will challenge and erode their faith, and we have no cause for wondering why 70-75% of our young Christians are leaving the church (see survey data at http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/16-teensnext-gen/147-most-twentysomethings-put-christianity-on-the-shelf-following-spiritually-active-teen-years)
They go off to college, and they must answer to the world, and if they are not prepared, they will be ineffective. This is also why I feel the way I do about understanding and incorporating our worldview into all areas of our lives. If we compartmentalize our Christianity apart from the rest of our lives, whether that is our work, our study or even our play, we risk being ineffective and inconsistent.
This is why I think we still need apologetics. It is not a defense of God, but a defense of our faith in the face of a full frontal assault. It is useful in giving a reasoned response to those who ask about and/or challenge our beliefs in the work of evangelism, and it helps us prepare ourselves as Christians to withstand the assault of the secular world which stands opposed to Christianity. Apologetics can help us to stand firm on the foundation of Jesus and the truth of the gospel.