The Church Needs Apologetics

Posted: February 8, 2012 by Brett Kunkle in Truth Matters

“Just some ordinary conversation over dinner.”  At least, that’s how my host described this event.  In January, I was invited to have dinner with a couple of dads and their sons to facilitate a discussion on the problem of evil.  It was a spur-of-the-moment request and details were a bit fuzzy, so I met my host Jon 30 minutes prior to talk specifics.  He informed me that not only would Christian dads and sons participate, but his 60-year old parents, both skeptics of Christianity, would join us as well.  That night’s conversation turned out to be exceptional.  Why?  Because of apologetics.

For too long, apologetics has been given a bad rap.  Too many Christian voices point to a few poor apologetic examples, extrapolate them to every apologist and apologetic encounter, and then dismiss the entire enterprise.  But in doing so, Christians abandon one of our greatest tools to engage the world for Christ.  My recent conversation demonstrates why.

(1) It was intelligent.  Any robust discussion of the problem of evil will include a host of issues.  We covered almost all of them, exploring objective and subjective views of morality, the definition of evil, human freedom, moral intuitions, the soul, and more.  It was a rational, well-informed dialogue between Christians and Jon’s skeptical parents.  And it was my apologetic training that enabled me to lead an intelligent discussion.

(2) It was gracious.  The apologists I know take I Peter 3:15 seriously.  All of it.  We are not to be defensive with our defense, but gracious.  Apologetics can give you confidence that what you believe is actually true and reasonable.  That kind confidence can keep you from getting defensive.  And when you’re not defensive, you can relax, give others space to question and doubt, and even enjoy the challenge of a tough question.  My apologetic training has done just that for me.

That night there were no raised voices.  No frustration or irritation.  Not a hint of defensiveness. Rather, the entire group was cool, calm, and collected.  Yes, this occurred in the context of a religious discussion, where participants held diametrically opposed viewpoints.  Jon’s parents raised serious intellectual challenges to God from evil, but heard a defense that was gentle and respectful.

(3) It was patient.  Beforehand, Jon was clear with his instructions to me.  He wanted a methodical discussion, walking carefully through the arguments and objections.  No jumping to unjustified conclusions.  And there was no pressure to “close the deal.”  Rather, his stated goal was to leave a stone in his parent’s shoes, an approach he picked up from Stand to Reason.  He was patient with their skepticism, knowing there were many barriers to be removed before Jesus ever came into view.  Apologist Ravi Zacharias puts it this way:

The longer I am in this work, the more I realize that intellectual struggles are merely the hazardous waste of life, blocking the heart from truth.  The task of apologetics is to carefully remove that hazardous material and keep it from igniting into a destructive fire.  Once that is done, the way to the heart is always through the way of the Cross, God’s love for each and every one of us.

I wanted to use apologetics to move some of that hazardous material away from Jon’s parents’ hearts, but my apologetic training helped me to understand this approach takes time and requires patience.  That night, his parents were able to air a few of their intellectual grievances, which were met with listening ears and patient answers.

When you pay careful attention to what most Christian apologists are saying today and you avoid the temptation to demonize the entire apologetic endeavor because of one or two bad examples, you’ll be open to one of the great tools the Church has employed for 2,000 years.  When I teach apologetics, this is the approach I commend.  It’s the Stand to Reason way, the Ambassador’s way.  Of course, it’s always nice to be reminded it’s also an effective way.

What was the result of that night’s intelligent, gracious, and patient conversation?  As we said our goodbyes after dinner, Jon’s skeptical dad shook my hand, looked me in the eye, and with a smile said, “Let’s do this again.”

  1. Glenn says:

    The church certainly does need apologetics. But how do you get the church to want apologetics?