APOLOGETICS: ITS USEFULNESS AND ITS LIMITS

I became a Christian the summer before my senior year at a large state university.

At the time I nursed an irrational fear that I was in danger of intellectual embarrassment if my conversion became too widely known. I write “irrational” for any number of reasons.

My university was known more for athletics than academics, and I had no right to any intellectual pretension in the first place. For insupportable reasons I had formed the opinion that the evidence for Christian claims was somewhat meager, but that my robust faith would compensate for the deficits.

I have few memories more embarrassing than that one.

I soon discovered that the proportions were precisely reversed.

My own faith was microscopic, whereas the evidence for Christian claims was overwhelming.

I would like to say that my faith grew in proportion to the evidence. Even though I am far more convinced of the truth of Christianity now than I was at the beginning of my Christian life, the perpetual discovery of validations to the claims Jesus made has made it impossible for my poor faith to keep pace with the strong evidence everywhere apparent.

Defending the Christian faith is the enterprise we call Apologetics. There have always been strong defenders in the ranks. Stalwarts from Tertullian to Augustine to Calvin to C.S. Lewis have been so prolific that we might well ask, “What more could be said?”

The answer to that question is multi-faceted.

Challenges to biblical authority, Christian beliefs, and the Lordship of Jesus over all things continue unabated. Attacks upon the Christian faith have waxed stronger in recent years. Some of those attacks are frontal while others are more subtle. The anti-theistic arguments may appear new but mostly they are old and tired.

But God is faithful.

He has proved Himself more than sufficient to equip the Christian Church not only to defend but to assert, not only to shield but to assault and to hurl formidable challenges to those secularists and adherents of religious philosophies incompatible with the New Testament proclamation.

Apologetics has its limits because Apologetics itself does not convert.

Only the Gospel converts.

Defending Christian claims meets a felt need as a kind of pre-Evangelism.

When we engage in Apologetics, we are not formally proclaiming the Gospel. We are rather pleading the plausibility of the Gospel. We seek to give good answers to hard questions. Our aim is to ask questions the secularist cannot answer. Biblical truth can serve to make the unbeliever pause. He may realize that all his bases are not covered. Some of his cherished notions are demonstrably false, other objections are superficial, and some of his quarrels with Christianity are founded upon false assumptions. A thoughtful defense of the faith may quieten the shrill voices which incessantly propagandize.

In the quiet of that pause Truth sees an opportunity. It is at that point that the Christian witness begins. If the terms “preach” and “Gospel” sound too churchy to find contemporary resonance, then we may simply say that Apologetics often affords the opportunity for the believer to get in a word edgewise. The Christian may then have his rare opportunity to make clear what he believes.

What we believe is this: There is one God who made heaven and earth, and Jesus of Nazareth is His Son. In the first century God sent His Son to Roman-occupied Palestine to teach, to heal, to dispute, to comfort, and to encourage for a very active three years.

Mainly God sent His Son to save.

At the end of the three years, at the insistence of irreligious priests, the Romans were persuaded to crucify God’s only Son on a Cross. Ghastly as that outcome was, it was a part of God’s intended plan to offer forgiveness of sins to those willing to believe Christ’s divine identity and to receive His saving offer.

Receiving that offer is akin to the reception of a gift. We receive the gift with the conviction that the gift will do us good. We believe it is a gift we need. We trust the motive of the Giver and believe that His intent in making the offer is true and valid. In other words, we believe His salvation actually saves.

The Apologist will do well to consider the very real disadvantages.

One thing we seek to do as Christian persuaders is to bring convincing evidence that the events reported in the New Testament actually happened. We are sobered by the fact that there were eyewitnesses to those events who, though present, were not brought to a threshold of faith by what they saw and heard. Even if we Christians are successful in convincing our hearers that the mighty words and amazing acts of Jesus of Nazareth and His followers have been reported accurately, that is no guarantee that there will be a corresponding increase in Christian commitment.

One of the greatest Christian persuaders of all time, the 19th century London Baptist C. H. Spurgeon once declared that he could just as easily create a planet as he could save a soul.

Salvation is God’s work.

“All is vain unless the Spirit of the Holy One come down.”

But the followers of Jesus have been commanded to faithfully relate the story all the same.

This we hope to do.

And when we do, we trust that the Spirit of the Holy One will come down and make believers out of skeptics and disciples out of scoffers.

That is our prayer.

We worship a prayer-answering God.

Those answered prayers are a part of the evidence we offer.

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