Can You Argue Someone into Heaven?
by Alan Anderson
Every Christian apologist has heard the phrase, “you can’t argue someone into heaven!” This objection has seemingly become the mantra against the advancement of apologetics within the church. When this phrase is spoken, it is issued as a denouncement of the Christian apologetic approach. The objection is founded on the presupposition that apologists are merely interested in ‘arguing’ and that apologists are honestly convinced that ‘arguing’ will somehow direct people to a personal relationship with Christ. Does this objection of apologetics accurately characterize how genuine Christian apologists truly interact with unbelievers? If this denouncement doesn’t fairly criticize the shortcomings of apologetics, what false presupposition does this criticism maintain that leads these objectors to a misunderstanding of apologetics? Given the prevalence of this criticism within the church, it’s important to give some attention to it by honestly addressing the merits and shortcomings of the objection.
The Merits: First and foremost, a meritorious quality of the statement ‘you can’t argue someone into heaven!’ is that it’s true. You can’t argue someone into heaven. Apologists who conduct themselves with an argumentative demeanor are being counterproductive to their cause of bringing disciples to Christ. If individuals assume that arguing is merely what apologists are out to do, then maybe they have developed this assumption after observing the conduct of some apologists. While this assumption of apologetics may be entirely false, their perception was molded by real experiences with apologists. The reminder that ‘you can’t argue someone into heaven’ can serve as a helpful hint that apologists should be mindful of how they are perceived and cognizant of the way they communicate with others of different worldviews. We don’t want to give the impression of being impersonal, uncaring, and argumentative.
The Shortcomings: The shortcomings of this objection vastly outweigh the merits. While the objection is true on the face of it, it precludes an honest description of what Christian apologetics is and how it should be practiced. Simply because some Christians have practiced it poorly does not mean that the practice of apologetics is inherently bad. It’s comparable to saying that Christianity is bad because of how Hillsboro Baptist Church conducts themselves. Obviously, those that claim they’re acting in the name of Christianity while acting in contradiction to its teachings shouldn’t be viewed as accurate representations of Christianity. We look to Christ as the perfect example for what Christianity is supposed to look like. Since apologetics was embraced by Jesus, we can safely assume that this objection has an inherent fault within it.
So, where is the fault? It assumes that apologists are motivated by the sheer act of argumentation with unbelievers. Contrary to this objection, apologists genuinely believe that arguments for the existence of God will not bring a person into a saving relationship with Christ. We acknowledge that the Holy Spirit is only capable of that. However, would these same individuals stand by the objection, “You cannot preach someone into heaven!” with the same zeal as they have argued against apologetics? Obviously, no rational Christian would make this objection…
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