What’s the Point of Apologetics?
“You can’t argue people into the Kingdom, it just doesn’t work that way. People just need to be shown God’s love, to have an encounter with the Holy Spirit’s power. Trying to prove God’s existence is a waste of time.”
I think this statement captures the feeling that many of us have about apologetics today. Those of us who don’t take this position are probably familiar with it. Apologetics is associated with heated arguments that lead nowhere, arrogant rationality, and a misguided understanding of what motivates human beings to change. Was anyone ever logically persuaded to become a Christian? On the contrary, ask any number of recent converts how they got saved, and you will hear countless stories of God’s love breaking into a person’s life, softening their heart, and showing himself to them. These things speak for themselves. Perhaps there is a small place for defending the faith intellectually, for a few high-flying Christian academics in Universities, but by and large we have more effective ways of spreading the gospel.
I want to suggest that we’ve misunderstood the point of apologetics. I believe if we think about it differently, we will see that apologetics is actually an essential way to show God’s love to our non-Christian friends and neighbours – a love enriched with wisdom and understanding. Also, we will see apologetics as something for everyone, to a greater or lesser degree, to get involved with.
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First of all, I agree wholeheartedly that you can’t argue anyone into salvation. A lot of harm has been done by attempts to do this, and it usually alienates people even further from the gospel. It’s also obvious that hardly anyone has ever become Christian from losing an argument about God’s existence.
Second, I agree with the two usual evangelism alternatives for evangelism: “Just love people” and “They need an encounter with the Holy Spirit.” Once God has touched someone’s life – either in a way that we call supernatural, or through the power of the love of Jesus operating through his church – only then will they be open to the gospel’s message. Belief will come after experience has made belief possible.
However, I think we’re often too quick to assume that we know what it looks like to love people and what it looks like when the Holy Spirit encounters them. We think that we can love someone adequately without understanding how they see the world, and we think that the Holy Spirit works through miracles or emotions that happen instantaneously, not through slow, gradual transformation of our thoughts.
Let me be precise about what I mean here…
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