Interested in low interest rates? Try apologetics in the church!

Full Trust

(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

I was in a discussion on a Christian forum on the question, ‘Is Jesus God?’ A fellow responded:

I have the Bible to do that. If they don’t believe the Bible why woud (sic) they believe what some man says? You and I cannot convince anyone that Jesus was God. Only God’s Holy Spirit can lead people into the truth.[1]

Why was the ministry of apologetics dismissed in this response?

Our pluralistic world

I responded as follows:[2]

We live in a world that also has the Muslim Quran, the Hindu Vedas, the Book of Mormon, etc. How are you going to convince people that they ought to listen to the Gospel from the Bible?

The Mormons speak of a ‘burning in the bosom’ that awakened them to the ‘truths’ of Mormonism. How will you convince them that the Holy Spirit leading you into the truth is different from the burning in the bosom and that you have the truth?

Just believe

How would this person reply to such content?

I can’t convince them. It is not my job to convince gthem [sic]. If given the opportunity all I can do is tell them what I believie [sic] and why I believe it.  Then they are God’s problem….

All one can do with Mormons is show them where some things in the other writings, the BOM for example, contradict the Bible and wher [sic] some of the prophecies of past leaders did not happen.

Again I canot [sic] convince them of anything. All I can do is tell them wht [sic] I believe and why I beleive [sic] it. Then it is up to God.

I am in sales not management.[3]

This is an example of why the church is in such a sorry state with its ministry of pre-evangelism, known as apologetics. This ‘just believe’ mentality that it is not the Christian’s responsibility to convince anyone of the Gospel and to clear up difficulties with the Gospel, is expressed here as, ‘all I can do is tell them what I believe and why I believe it’ and the rest ‘is up to God’. This ‘just believe’ mentality is very damaging to the Christian’s and the church’s responsibility to exercise the ministry of apologetics when people have objections to the Christian faith.

It is also damaging to the promotion of thinking Christianity. Why are Christians required to ‘be transformed by the renewal of your mind’ (Rom 12:2) if they are not required to do some biblical thinking and living in the real world?

The problem with ‘only believe’ and apologetics

My response was as follows.[4] The problem with this fellow’s comeback is that it contradicts a command of Scripture, which is the primary reason for doing apologetics with people who have questions about the Christian faith, including questions about the reliability of the Bible.

This is what I find in the command of the fundamental statement of 1 Peter 3:15,

but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect (ESV).

What is commanded of all Christians?[5] The command in the Greek language is translated at ‘honour’ in the ESV. Other translations have the meaning as:

 

  • ‘sanctify[6] Christ as Lord’ (NASB; NRSV; NAB);
  • ‘sanctify the Lord God’ (NKJV);
  • ‘revere Christ as Lord’ (NIV);
  • ‘you must worship Christ as Lord’ (NLT);
  • ‘set Christ apart as Lord’ (NET);

So Christians are commanded to honour, sanctify, revere or set apart Christ as the holy Lord and they do that by being ready/prepared to make a defence of the faith to anyone who seeks a reason for the hope that Christians have. They must always be prepared for an apologia (a defence of the faith). How is this to be done? It is delivered with gentleness and respect.

The exhortation here is that all Christians must honour Christ by being ready to do this. Whenever we come across someone who asks tough questions about the Christian faith, including penetrating questions such as, ‘Surely you are not telling me that you accept that Bible crap? (which someone said to me)’, we have to be ready to give a defence (an apologetic). What was this fellow recommending? His statement was that ‘it is not my job to convince them’. That is far from the exhortation in 1 Peter 3:15. All Christians, including this fellow, are commanded to give a defence of the biblical perspective. I found him to be diluting – even running away from – the biblical exhortation to be engaged in the pre-evangelistic ministry of apologetics.

Apologetics is pre-evangelistic in the sense that it is an attempt to provide answers to objections to the Christian faith that may be in the way of a person receiving the Gospel message. These are some of the primary objections I have struck over many years of proclaiming the Gospel and defending the Christian faith and have addressed them on this homepage.

3d-red-star-small The existence of God.

See:

A biblical theist responds to an atheist;

Evidence for the existence of God;

What is a biblical method for defending the Christian faith (apologetics)?

3d-red-star-small The trustworthiness, integrity and accuracy of the Bible.

See:

Can you trust the Bible? Part 1

Can you trust the Bible? Part 2

Can you trust the Bible? Part 3

Can you trust the Bible? Part 4

3d-red-star-small The problem of evil and suffering.

See:

September 11 & other tragedies: Why doesn’t God stop it?

Is God responsible for all the evil in the world?

Did God create evil?

Isaiah 45:7: Who or what is the origin of evil?

‘I will beat the hell out of God’;

Can God do anything and everything?

We may never come across anyone who doubts the authority and integrity of, say, the Bible, but we must be ready – prepared – to respond if someone asks. This is not being ready with this person’s remark, ‘All I can do is tell them what I believe and why I believe it.  Then they are God’s problem’. That is fobbing off our biblical responsibility.

Yes, we need to be ready to share the truth of what we believe, but we are to give a reason (an apologetic) to those who ask questions – even penetrating questions like, ‘You Bible people don’t seem to have an answer for all the garbage that is happening in the world like Syria, the Sudan, Afghanistan, 9/11, the Japanese tsunami, etc.’

Not everyone will need this kind of pre-evangelism, but when they do seek answers, we must be ready, willing and able to give an answer. This includes being prepared to reply: ‘Wow! That’s a penetrating question and I’ll have to think further about it. Can I get back to you?’

Heart faith and defense of faith

What is interesting and critical about 1 Peter 3:15 is that it links heart faith with defence faith. Those who honour Christ the Lord in their hearts are also those who are ready and prepared to engage in apologetics for the Christian faith. This is not a, ‘Just believe’, or ‘I tell them what I believe’, kind of response.

If Jesus is truly our Lord, we will want to be obedient to the command of 1 Peter 3:15 and not fob somebody off with, ‘This is what I believe and this is why I believe it’. Instead, we will be eager, prepared and ready to ask: ‘What questions do you have about the Christian faith? Let’s see if we can dialogue to find answers for you and if I don’t know the answers, I’ll seek them out and get back to you’.

First Peter 3:15 goes hand in glove with our biblical requirement in 2 Corinthians 10:5, ‘We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ’ (ESV).

This requirement is that we, as Christians, not only confront the issues that trouble our own thinking, but also deal with the ‘lofty opinions’ of others that are raised against knowing God, the Bible and other aspects of the Christian faith.

This is some of what the ministry of apologetics involves, but this fellow on the forum fobbed it off with his statement: ‘Again I cannot convince them of anything.  All I can do is tell them what I believe and why I believe it.  Then it is up to God. I am in sales not management’.

Biblically, I find this to be a false perspective. He is in sales so he knows that there will be those who object to some features of the product and, if he is pressing for a sale, he will deal with the objections. It is his responsibility to give an apologetic for the Christian faith – he is commanded to honour Christ the Lord and to do that requires that he provide an apologetic response to questions about the faith.

Of course God is involved in convincing people of the truth of the Gospel, but that does not exempt him from engaging in pre-evangelism. He is commanded to engage in apologetics with everyone who seeks answers for their objections to the faith.

Will he become ready and prepared to do this with gentleness and respect? Or will he continue to fob off this responsibility?

Resorting to use of a logical fallacy

When I shared some of the above material with the fellow mentioned, these were some of his responses:[7]

  • I can and do answer such quesions [sic] but I cannot convince them they are true and neither can you.  Does everyone you explain the Scriptures to fall donw [sic] and worship God?  There is no command to convince anyone that the Scriptures are true.  Only God the Holy Spirit can do that’.
  • ‘I am prepared to do that and do when somone [sic] asks me to, but I have not convinced many that what I beleive [sic] is true’.
  • ‘When you tell me you have been 100% effective in convincing those who ask, get back to me’.

[8]Telling people what you believe and why you believe it is not the ministry of apologetics of 1 Peter 3:15. Apologetics is not declaration, but an endeavour to wipe away the cobwebs of doubt that are presented to us. It is pre-evangelism.

I told him that if his response to me is any guide, he doesn’t seem to be convinced of the need for the ministry of apologetics, so why would he want to give them an effective apologetic answer? I suggested that he become exposed to more of the teaching of Ravi Zacharias, William Lane Craig and Norman Geisler on apologetics. Geisler’s book, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Baker Books 1999) is a marvellous resource for so many aspects of an apologetic ministry with an evangelical Christian response.

When he stated, ‘When you tell me you have been 100% effective in convincing those who ask, get back to me’, he was using a straw man logical fallacy. At no point have I ever stated to this person or anyone else on Christian Fellowship Forum that I’m 100% effective in convincing people. Here he has used a straw man fallacy.

What’s a straw man logical fallacy? Dr. Michael C. Labossiere, professor of philosophy Florida A&M University,gave this definition:[9]

The Straw Man fallacy is committed when a person simply ignores a person’s actual position and substitutes a distorted, exaggerated or misrepresented version of that position. This sort of “reasoning” has the following pattern:

1. Person A has position X.

2. Person B presents position Y (which is a distorted version of X).

3. Person B attacks position Y.

4. Therefore X is false/incorrect/flawed.

This sort of “reasoning” is fallacious because attacking a distorted version of a position simply does not constitute an attack on the position itself. One might as well expect an attack on a poor drawing of a person to hurt the person.

The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Dedicated to 12 million Holocaust victims who suffered and died
at the hands of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime

When a person uses logical fallacies, it makes it extremely difficult – it is nigh impossible – to have a logical conversation. Therefore, I find it necessary to expose the use of logical fallacies in a conversation, especially online. I have engaged in discussions on other Christian forums in which I found it necessary to draw attention to such fallacies. Most will not admit to their fallacious reasoning. I think it’s often because they don’t understand what logical fallacies are and how they use them.

I find that in some/many TV and radio interviews, politicians are experts at using the red herring fallacy. No matter what question is asked by the interviewer, the politician has a political agenda he/she wants to push and will promote it, no matter what the question that was asked. Going off topic in the answer (a red herring) is commonly used by politicians when in mass media interviews.

In this person’s response to me on this Christian forum, there were also elements of a red herring logical fallacy. Dr. Lobossiere explained: ‘A Red Herring is a fallacy in which an irrelevant topic is presented in order to divert attention from the original issue. The basic idea is to “win” an argument by leading attention away from the argument and to another topic…. This sort of “reasoning” is fallacious because merely changing the topic of discussion hardly counts as an argument against a claim’.  [10]

Conclusion

Apologetics has reached a very low level of importance in the evangelical church, in my view, for these reasons:

  1. ‘To equip the saints for the work of ministry’ (Ephesians 4:12) is not high on the agenda in many of these churches. Getting a handful of leaders to do the ministry by themselves is standard fare in some churches. So equipping other believers is not a strong suit for pastors and teachers in such churches.
  2. Learning to defend the faith, using apologetics, seems to be left to leading public apologists for the Christian faith. A pastor said to me recently, ‘Whenever I have people with questions about evolution and creation, I refer them to Creation Ministries InternationalThey have lots of pertinent responses. I’m not equipped to do that’. Amazing! A pastor who doesn’t want to equip himself to an adequate level to be able to provide a ready apologetic for those who question creation.
  3. When one has a presuppositional approach, ‘Just believe’ and ‘I cannot convince you’, which is being defended in some churches, then evidential apologetics will not be considered a necessary ministry.
  4. I attended an evening presentation in 2013 by leading Indian cultural apologist, Vishal Mangalwadi, ‘What GOOD is Christianity?’
  5. At question time I asked him, ‘Why is the ministry of apologetics given such a low priority in today’s evangelical church?’ He pointed to the contemporary emphasis in churches on telling stories about the faith and this does not harmonise well with the nature of apologetics. I found this to be a pointed and true observation. See Mangalwadi’s book, The Book That Made Your World; How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization (2011. Nashville: Thomas Nelson).
  6. I consider that there is an additional problem: Thinking Christianity is in short supply. In churches that place such a strong emphasis on the experience of knowing Jesus and the charismatic gifts (I am a supporter of such gifts), there is a problem integrating a warm Christian faith with logical, thoughtful, apologetic ministry. That’s why it’s important to emphasise 1 Peter 3:15 as these two ministries go together. They are both needed for the health of the Christian Church. However, there is a necessary biblical emphasis on the need ‘to be renewed in the spirit of your minds’ (Eph. 4:23) and Christians ‘have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator’ (Col 3:10).(Col 3:10).
  7. I don’t recall ever hearing a sermon by a regular pastor of a church on the need to be a thinking Christian who engages in logical discussions, exposes logical fallacies, and uses discernment in knowing when to stop a conversation in pre-evangelism when it becomes argumentative.

If this minimising of the ministry of apologetics is not rectified, there are grim consequences for Christian upper high school and university students who have their faith challenged in these places of learning.

Why is apologetics of such low interest in the church? It is not given the place it deserves by church leaders in equipping believers for the work of ministry (Eph 4:12) AND I suggest it could be that not enough Christians are seeking answers for some tough, challenging questions that are asked of them by unbelievers. Or, are too many Christians out of touch with unbelievers and their issues against the Christian faith?

Notes:


[1] Christian Fellowship Forum, Bible Study & Discipleship, ‘Is Jesus God?’, Kermit, who responds sometime as ‘k’ for kcdavis222, #9, available at: http://community.compuserve.com/n/pfx/forum.aspx?tsn=6&nav=messages&webtag=ws-fellowship&tid=122312 (Accessed 31 August 2013).

[2] Ibid., ozspen #14.

[3] Ibid., kcdavis222 #16.

[4] Ibid., ozspen #20.

[5] For some of the following content, I used material from Norman L Geisler 1999. Apologetics, Need for, in Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, p. 37.

[6] The footnote was ‘set apart’.

[7] kcdavis222 #21, loc cit., available at: http://community.compuserve.com/n/pfx/forum.aspx?tsn=16&nav=messages&webtag=ws-fellowship&tid=122312 (Accessed 31 August 2013).

[8] This is my answer at ibid., ozspen #24.

[9] The Nizkor Project 1991-2011, Fallacy: Straw Man, available at: http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/straw-man.html (Accessed 31 August 2013).

[10] This quotation is courtesy of The Nizkor Project, Fallacy: Red Herring, available at: http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/red-herring.html (Accessed 31 August 2013).

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 16 October 2015.