Apologetics has to do with preparing the soil for the gospel by trying to answer rational obstacles unbelievers may have. This article discusses the basis of such an engagement and why it is important.

Source: Australian Presbyterian, 2004. 3 pages.

Mercy for Doubters Apologetics, or Pre-evangelism, is a Form of Compassion

“You know, all this stuff about arguments for God’s existence and evidence for the Resurrection is interesting, and I know there is a place for it, but I’ve never needed it,” the pastor said as he looked in the rearview mirror to change lanes. The young man seated next to him remained silent for a moment, slightly shocked by this statement.

The pastor continued, “The people I share the Gospel with just don’t ask those questions. They aren’t interested in whether truth is objective, or what ancient historians said about Jesus and the Resurrection, or solutions to the problem of evil. Most people just aren’t philosoph­ical about what they believe.”

Finally the young man blurted out, “Really? They’re the only kind of ques­tions I ever get!” He had come from a family that was Christian in name only and raised in a part of the country where religion was typically ridiculed. When he finally became a Christian in college, he had to work out a lot of difficult questions about his faith, and the unbelievers he had contact with had been thoroughly trained skeptics and agnostics.

Through his whole life he had been keenly aware of the fact that the world is opposed to Christianity on intellectual grounds. Whenever he shared Christ with someone, he or she would inevitably raise some of the objections that he himself had once voiced. From his experience, it seemed inconceivable that a pastor could minister without ever confronting the same kind of opposition.

These two men were engaged in two different ministries. Both are valid and both are necessary. The pastor's min­istry focused on evangelism, but the other man was used by God in a separate and distinct ministry of pre-evangelism. Rather than first trying to lead people to Christ, he removed the obstacles to faith. Rather than just preaching the Word, he spent more time using reason to explain why objections are groundless. Instead of asking immediately for a spiritual com­mitment, he sought intellectual agree­ment on the issues that must be under­stood before the Gospel can be accepted.

For example, if someone does not believe that God exists and that He can perform miracles, then it makes no sense to him to say that God raised Jesus from the dead, because that is a miracle — a big one! Not all people have questions of this kind, but when they do, they need answers before they can believe. Before we can share the Gospel, we sometimes have to smooth the road, remove the obstacles, and answer the questions that are keeping that person from accepting the Lord.

The objections that unbelievers raise are usually not trivial. They often cut deep into the heart of the Christian faith and challenge its very foundations. If miracles are not possible, then why should we believe Christ was God? If God can’t control evil, is He really worthy of worship? Face it: if these objections can’t be answered, then we may as well believe in fairy tales. These are reasonable questions which deserve reasonable answers.

Most skeptics have only heard the questions and believed that there were no answers. But we have some great answers to their questions. The most important reason for giving people answers is that God told us to do it. Over and over, the New Testament exhorts us to defend the faith. 1 Peter 3:15 says,

But in your hearts acknowledge Christ as the holy Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to every one who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.

This verse says several important things.

First, it says that we should be ready. We may never run across someone who asks the tough questions about our faith, but we should still be ready just in case. But being ready is not just a matter of hav­ing the right information available; it is also an attitude of readiness and eagerness to share with others the truth of what we believe.

Second, we are to give a reason to those who ask the questions (cf. Col. 4:5-6). It is not expected that everyone needs pre-evangelism, but when they do need it we must be able and willing to give them an answer.

Finally, it links doing pre-evangelism with making Christ Lord in our hearts. If He is really Lord, then we should be obe­dient to Him by “destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and ... taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). In other words, we should be confronting issues in our own minds and in the expressed thoughts of others that are preventing them from knowing God. That is what Christian apologetics is all about.

In Philippians 1:7, Paul speaks of his mission as one of “defending and con­firming the gospel”. He added in verse 16, “I am put here for the defense of the gospel” (Phil 1:16). And we are put where we are to defend it as well.

Jude 3 declares:

Beloved, while mak­ing every effort to write to you about our common salvation, I felt it necessary to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith once for all given over to the saints.

The people Jude was writing to had been assaulted by false teachers and he needed to encourage them to protect (literally “agonise for”) the faith as it had been revealed through Christ. Jude makes a significant statement about our attitude as we do this in verse 22 when he says, “have mercy on some, who are doubting.” Apologetics, then, is a form of compassion.

Titus 1:9 makes a knowledge of Christian evidences a requirement for church leadership. An elder in the church should be,

holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.

In 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Paul declares that “the Lord’s bondservant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentle­ness correcting those who are in opposi­tion, so that perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth”. Anyone attempting to answer the questions of unbelievers will surely be wronged and be tempted to lose patience, but our ultimate goal is that they might come to know the truth that Jesus has died for their sins.

Indeed, the command to use reason is part of the greatest command. For Jesus said,

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.Mt. 22:37-38

A further reason why we should address people’s intellectual barriers to Christianity is that God created us with human reason. It is part of His image in us (Gen. 1:27, cf. Col. 3:10). Indeed, it is that by which we are distinguished from “brute beasts” (Jude 10). God calls upon us to use our reason (Isa. 1:18) to discern truth from error (1 John 4:6) and right from wrong (Heb. 5:14). A fundamental principle of reason is that we should have sufficient grounds for what we believe.

An unjustified belief is just that — unjustified. Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” And the unexamined belief is not worth believing. Therefore, it is incumbent upon Christians “to give a reason for their hope”.

The simple fact is that many people refuse to believe without some evidence, as indeed they should. Since God created us as rational beings He does not expect us to live irrationally. He wants us to look before we leap. This does not mean there is no room for faith. But God wants us to take a step of faith in the light — in the light of evidence. He does not want us to leap in the dark.

We should have evidence that some­thing is true before we place our faith in it. For example, no rational person steps in a lift unless he has some reason to believe it will hold him up. Likewise, no reasonable person gets on an airplane that has a bro­ken wing and smoke coming out the tail-end. Belief that is prior to belief in. Evidence and reason is important to establish belief that. Once this is estab­lished, one can place his faith in it.

Thus, the rational person will want some evidence that God exists before he places his faith in God. Likewise, rational unbelievers will want evidence for the claim that Jesus is the Son of God before they place their trust in Him.

There is a common misnomer among many Christians that giving reasonable answers to people never helped to bring anyone to Christ. This is a serious mis­representation of the facts. A case in point is the great Christian theologian Augustine. There were several significant rational turning points in Augustine’s life before he came to Christ. First, he was reasoned out of Manichaean dualism. One significant turning point here was the suc­cess of a young Christian debater of Manicheans called Helpidius. We read about this episode in Augustine’s Confessions.

Again, at another stage, Augustine rea­soned his way out of total skepticism by seeing the self-defeating nature of it. He explains what happened in this instance in his tract, Against the Academics. Finally, he again reminds us in his Confessions that if he had not studied the philosopher Plotinus, he would never have been able to conceive of a spiritual being, let alone believe in one.

Christianity is under attack today and must be defended against attacks from within by cults and from without by skep­tics and other religions.

We have a reasonable Faith, and the Bible has commanded that we give rea­sons for it. As perhaps the greatest apolo­gist of the 20th century, C. S. Lewis, said:

To be ignorant and simple now — not to be able to meet the enemies on their ground — would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defence but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.The Weight of Glory, 50

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