As I have mentioned, one of my two main focuses in working with students at CU-Boulder will be training them in apologetics, that is how to understand, articulate, and defend their Christian faith. Now, if you’re like me, perhaps you used to think that apologetics was something that only specialized, trained people such as theologians, pastors, or seminary professors engaged in. After all, since apologetics involves defending your faith, don’t you need specific training or the weight of a degree or two behind your name in order to be effective? Well actually, no! Because apologetics is ultimately something that all believers are called to engage in. Here are two verses which help underscore this point. In Matthew 22:37, when Jesus is asked what is the greatest commandment, His first response is: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind”. To love God with all your mind means that everyone is called, to the best of his or her ability to employ their intellect in the service of the faith. Then in 1 Peter 3:15 we are told “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear”.
Therefore apologetics is something not only that all Christians are called to engage in, but it is also something that we’re already doing, perhaps without having realized it. Any time someone asks you what you believe and why you believe it, your response involves apologetics. If you think this is sounding a lot like sharing your faith, you’re right! Apologetics is really inseparable on a larger level from evangelism. So just as we’re all called to fulfill the Great Commission, we’re all called to be apologists. Sure, some people have had the benefit of more specialized training, and they may be more skilled in particular areas of expertise, such as responding to scientific challenges to Christianity, or challenges from a philosophical angle. But just as with evangelism, everyone has their part to play. This is the message that I hope to convey to my students. And with apologetics, the right attitude means everything.
I was fortunate enough to hear the eminent Oxford mathematics professor and noted Christian apologist John Lennox speak in Boulder while I was visiting in the fall of 2013 (I’ll be saying more on his talk in an upcoming post). Lennox told an interesting anecdote of a time when he had made some conclusive points that had essentially refuted the argument of an acquaintance who was a non-believer. But he had done so in such a way that the individual had ended up feeling humiliated. Thus Lennox lost out on any potential chance to share the love of Christ with this person. Lennox’s story highlights the fact that apologetics is not about “winning” arguments. And it is not about us trying to convince someone of the truth of the Bible, Jesus’ claims, or any other Christian doctrine. It is God’s job to convict the hearts of others, a process to which we can add nothing. Our role involves clearing the air of misconceptions and misunderstandings about Christianity, thus opening the door for a more effective presentation of the Gospel message. But apologetics will never save anyone—only Jesus can do that.
Therefore it is vital that our apologetic approach is always one of love. If others do not see our genuine concern for them, and instead only perceive that we are trying to gain the upper hand in an intellectual debate, it’s very unlikely they’re going to have an open heart or mind to consider the teachings of Jesus which we are trying to lend validity to in the first place! Thus apologetics can be a great tool, but when as 1 Peter advises, it’s done in a spirit of meekness-–that is with measured humility, and with an eye towards instilling hope in others. It’s hard to be joyful or hopeful if we are solely in an argumentative frame of mind. But we must remember that God’s truth will prevail regardless of how eloquently or forcefully we express it. Then perhaps we can free ourselves up to focus on being vessels of Christ’s love when we engage in the regular defense of our faith which is a part of the calling of every Christian. Stay tuned as I will be talking in more depth about different areas of apologetics in future posts!!