I have a love/hate relationship with Christian apologetics.1 On the one hand, I am extremely thankful for the reasonableness of the Christian faith, for it’s rootedness in historical fact, and for the fact that I don’t have to turn off my brain when it comes to thinking about my relationship with Christ. I greatly respect those who have spent hours compiling information that supports the reality of the resurrection or those who have searched archeological evidence and shown it to match beautifully with the words of Scripture. It is a wonderful thing that God has made his truth something that is revealed in the order of the world and the events of time past.

What I dislike about apologetics, then, is not its existence but the way we as Christians often use the truth we learn from it. Maybe an example will help: Imagine I am having a conversation with a non-believing friend – a skeptic. I begin to talk about what I have recently been reading in the book of Exodus, and my friend begins to discount the facts of the deliverance of the children of Israel and their desert wanderings. I’m not sure what to say at that point, so the subject changes, but I determine to find some facts to bring to the table the next time we meet.

So, over our next cup of coffee, I begin to share some new-found information: records from the annals of Egyptian history that hint at Moses, artifacts found in the Sinai dessert, quotations from respectable historians who affirm the events of the Exodus. I lay them all out, complete with photographs and a little reading for my friend to do at home.

At this point, I have appealed solely to the facts of history and the evidence I have found that supports them. I have presented these facts to my friend, who is a reasonable person, and I expect him to admit that my research has convinced him of the reliability of the Exodus account. But what if he doesn’t? What if looks at all of my pictures and quotations and says, “I still don’t believe it’s true”? At that point, having made a case for the truth of Exodus based on history and artifacts, my conclusion may simply be that my friend is closed minded, irrational, or even dumb.

Herein lies my issue: while there are certainly intellectual roadblocks to a person accepting the truth of Christianity that apologetics helps to break down, the real issue is one of faith. And if all I do is appeal to a person’s intellect through means of apologetics, I am winning them more to cognitive agreement than to faith in God through Christ. Understanding the truth of the gospel is certainly a part of true faith – if a person denies the resurrection but claims to be a Christian, they do not have true, saving faith. But if I emphasize apologetics so much so that I miss the necessity of repentance or the fact that faith involves the heart and the will as well as the head, then I am winning someone to something other than true conversion.

So maybe I’ve overstated my case – hate is such a strong word, and it is probably beginning to sound like I am throwing out the baby with the bathwater. But I have often viewed the presentation of the gospel as an argument to be won rather than a miraculous work of the Holy Spirit, whereby God opens the eyes of the blind to see the truth of the gospel. I can polish my presentation and get my facts straight, having an answer to every objection known to man, all of which are right and good. But I cannot argue someone into the faith. I think of Acts 2 and Acts 5:27-33, where in both passages Peter preaches a clear gospel message and calls his hearers to repent and believe, and in both passages it says that they were “pierced in their hearts” or “cut to the quick”. But in Acts 2:37-42 they respond in faith, while in Acts 5:33 they want to kill Peter and the apostles. Same message. Same facts. Same appeal. Completely opposite responses.

Tim Keller in The Reason for God has been helpful to me here. I appreciated the tone of his book and his consistent appeal to the fact that Christianity as revealed in the pages of the Bible is the most reasonable way to understand the world as we all see it. But that was never said to be enough. The ultimate response to the truth of Christianity cannot simply be, “Yeah, Christianity makes sense and all the facts I’ve read seem to show it to be true.” There must always be repentance of our sins, alongside an understanding of the truth of the gospel, a love for the Savior who died for our sins, and a willful submission to his rule in our lives. Apologetics can pave the way to such a life-change, but may we never forget in the midst of all of our reasoned responses to skeptical inquiry that, to borrow from Edwards, only “a divine and supernatural light immediately imparted to the soul” can change a heart of stone to a heart of flesh and cause an enemy of God to humbly bow in repentance and faith.

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1 Apologetics refers simply to the defense of the Christian faith, and here I am thinking specifically of the use of reason, history, etc. in making that defense

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