Should Christians Practice Apologetics?

At Josh McDowell Ministry, we focus a great deal on Christian Apologetics. In other words, we work hard to defend Christianity, providing reasons to help people confidently believe in Jesus and the Christian message.

In another article we sought to defend the biblical case for apologetics. Peter, Apollos, Paul and Jesus all modeled or spoke about apologetics at some level in a positive light. This provides plenty of reason for Christians to be engaged in that kind of work.

However, there are still some objections against the practice of Christian apologetics which are worth mentioning. Although we reject these objections, they often contain valid concerns which any Christian apologist should bear in mind. Because of this, we encourage all of our readers to work through these points no matter where you stand on this issue. Let’s address three different concerns. Here they are:

1. “You don’t need to defend God.”

Perhaps you have heard it said against apologetics: “God is a lion. You don’t need to defend a lion. Just open the cage!” The idea is that God doesn’t need our help. He doesn’t need a lawyer or an attorney. This illustration originated from the great preacher Charles Spurgeon. In one of his sermons from 1986, he writes:

A great many learned men are defending the gospel; no doubt it is a very proper and right thing to do, yet I always notice that, when there are most books of that kind, it is because the gospel itself is not being preached. Suppose a number of persons were to take it into their heads that they had to defend a lion, a full-grown king of beasts! There he is in the cage, and here come all the soldiers of the army to fight for him. Well, I should suggest to them, if they would not object, and feel that it was humbling to them, that they should kindly stand back, and open the door, and let the lion out!1C. H. Spurgeon, “Christ and His Co-Workers,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 42 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896), 256.

Unfortunately, this quote is sometimes presented without the first sentence. Spurgeon is not opposed to defending the gospel; he says that “it is a very proper and right thing to do.” His concern in when apologetics is used in replacement of the proclamation of the Gospel, which, by the way, is very very bad! Apologetics is meant to serve the Gospel; it does not exist for its own sake. If your apologetics does not move toward the proclamation of the Gospel, you better think long and hard about what you are trying to use it for!

Regardless of what Spurgeon thought of these matters, isn’t it still true that God doesn’t need our help defending Him? Certainly. In fact, it could be said that God doesn’t need us to open up His cage, either! It could even be said that God doesn’t need us at all! But it’s plain in Scripture that God has chosen to create us to and to use us to proclaim His Gospel (2 Tim. 4:2) and to demolish arguments against God (2 Cor. 10:5). So it’s not like apologetics, in itself, is some idea foreign to the Gospel, distracting us from what God is trying to do. Apologetics, through human agency, was in God’s program all along!

2. “You can’t argue a person into Christianity.”

Apologetics was never meant to argue a person into Christianity. If you think that apologetics can be used to argue people into Christianity, then you are misusing apologetics and it won’t work. Again, apologetics is meant to serve the Gospel. If you are familiar with Josh McDowell’s story coming to faith in Christ, you know how he tried to disprove Christianity but ended up being faced is an overwhelming supply of evidence in favor of the Christian faith. However, Josh will tell you that apologetics didn’t save him. It didn’t get him onto the other side of the cross. It simply cleared the way.

We are happy to submit that apologetics is not the only path by which God reveals Himself to the unsaved. Take a look at the different salvation stories of the New Testament. For some people, all it took was to simply look at Jesus and to marvel at His saving power (the second criminal on the cross, Luke 23:39-43). For others, they came to believe when scripture was explained to them (Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, Acts 8:27-38). Others became followers after being persuaded through the work of apologetics (Paul in the synagogues, Acts 17:1-4). Others came to faith after witnessing divine miracles (Pentecost, Acts 2).

Most of these stories include a presentation of the Gospel, which is so important. All of them include the work of God who showed up and opened their hearts, which is absolutely imperative! So, apologetics is not everything. But it is something. As evangelists, our tool belt should be equipped with every tool God has given us. Apologetics is one of those tools, and it must find its proper place within God’s action to seek and save the lost.

3. “Apologetics ruins faith.”

One of the concerns about apologetics, particularly when it is presented among fellow Christians, is that it is antithetical to faith. If you know why you believe something, what is the point of faith? Why is faith even needed if we are convinced in our minds that something is true?

This objection against apologetics seems to understand “faith” as a blind faith, a non-intellectual acceptance of Biblical data where we embrace the truth of God without any good reason for doing so. Proponents of this objection may cite Hebrews 11:1 which speaks of faith as a “conviction of things not seen.” The worry is that once we introduce reasons for embracing God’s truth, faith is lost and replaced by reason.

It is true that Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” but this is not blind faith at all. Just keep reading! Multiple examples of faith are presented to us. “By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark” (v. 7). “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going” (v. 8). “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin” (v. 23-24). In these examples, faith is belief in action. It is a forward-looking trust in God and a posture of obedience. Faith looks like something! Since apologetics doesn’t do that for us, it does not disrupt faith.

Further, if you look up the word “conviction” from the phrase “conviction of things not seen” in our best Biblical Greek dictionaries, you will find that it is understood as “the act of presenting evidence for the truth of something” (BDAG) or “the evidence, normally based on argument or discussion, as to the truth or reality of something” (Louw and Nida). So you cannot argue that faith is blind using Hebrews 11:1.

Apologetics can disrupt our walk with God if we are not careful. Sometimes we think ourselves pious if we can win an argument, but we don’t even have a prayer life and we read the Bible as a textbook to be mastered rather than as the word of God meant to cut us to the soul and discern the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts (Heb 4:12). We may hide ourselves in apologetics rather than in God, and we may wield apologetics as a way to attain a worldly form of power. None of these things are good, but this the misuse of apologetics. In fact, almost any form of Christian spirituality can be used to “manage” God rather than to help us draw near to Him. Let us strive to avoid these temptations as we pursue our life with God!