In my last blog, I presented the first three of my “Ten Commandments” of apologetics. In this blog we’ll look at the next two. Altogether, they lay out the “dos” and “don’ts” of effective apologetic evangelism. If you would like a fuller description of the commandments, see my book Engaging the Closed Minded; Presenting Your Faith to the Confirmed Unbeliever (Kregel Publications, 1999).
4. There is more latitude in apologetics than theology: The intent of apologetics is to provide intelligent responses that demonstrate what unbelievers think are insurmountable obstacles to Christianity have rational, justifiable explanations. But apologetics is not theology. When a challenging issue arises, we are not obligated to give the definitive theological answer, or even our own personal position on the topic. We must give answers that are theological legitimate and will bear up under biblical scrutiny. If these conditions are met, apologetic responses that avoid dogmatic theological positions are an acceptable means of lovingly removing obstacles that prevent unbelievers from seriously considering Christianity.
Two examples come to mind: the age of the earth and eternal fate of people who never had an opportunity to hear the Gospel message. Christians can legitimately disagree on both these issues, but one’s personal theological position may not be the best apologetic response. Sticking exclusively to a young earth creation model causes some apologists to omit convincing Intelligent Design data because it implies an old earth. There is nothing wrong with using big bang cosmology or the anthropic principle when doing apologetics, regardless of the age of the earth.
Likewise, there are at least three views on the fate of people who never heard of Jesus (or lived before His incarnation). One can argue that these people are destined to eternal separation from God, or one can point out that God may well judge them according to the “light” they have received and how they responded to it (i.e. general revelation). Even if you believe the former—and many Christians do—the latter will get you further in terms of removing this particular obstacle to belief in Jesus Christ. By the way, I explore both these topics in my book, The Christian Combat Manual; Helps for Defending your Faith; A Handbook for Practical Apologetics .
5. Find out the real problem: Sometimes unbelievers will raise issues against Christianity that do not mirror their real concerns. It may be a person feels more comfortable discussing a popular argument, such as alleged contradictions in Scripture, rather than what’s really bothering him. Or perhaps the real issue is not apologetic in nature at all. A bad experience in church has turned many people away from Christianity.
Whatever the issue, Christian apologists must identify it and respond accordingly. Sometimes we may have to deal with peripheral concerns or non-apologetic matters before we can discover the real obstacle to faith.
Objections to Christianity fall into one of three categories: emotional, willful, or intellectual. Emotional issues, such as anger at God or a bad experience with church or an individual Christian, are not solved through apologetics. These people need to have personal friendships with mature, committed Christians. They need to experience Christian love and observe real Christian faith in action.
What about people who willfully reject Christianity in spite of hearing the Gospel and our best apologetic efforts? These people have made a commitment to unbelief. Their minds are made up, and they don’t want be bothered with the facts. Normally, the best we can do in these cases is to try to maintain an ongoing friendship, and continue to pray that God will open their hearts and minds to truth—and provide us with further opportunities to share.
Finally, to the person with genuine intellectual obstacles, we apply apologetics.
The point of this 5th “commandment” is that if we fail to identify the unbeliever’s real issue, or apply the wrong approach, we will never convince him or her that Christianity is true. It’s crucial that we identify whatever the obstacle is that stands between an unbeliever and faith in Jesus Christ, and then deal with it through Gospel, apologetics, or law. (Law is helping someone to see that they could never be good enough to enter Heaven on their own merits. Jesus applied law with the rich young ruler). (c)
In my next blog, we’ll look at more of the Ten Commandments of Apologetics.