Want to Defend the Faith? Read this

Want to Defend the Faith? Read this January 26, 2012

Some people specialize in apologetics (like Lee Strobel); some apologists love to debate (like William Lane Craig); others approach the issues from subtle angles (like John Polkinghorne). Some are convinced by apologetics and become believers, while the standard observation is that Christians read the apologists and to to hear them and that apologetics then becomes in-house confidence-building. There seems to be a rise of interest today in apologetics and I’d like to commend one scholar, Alister McGrath, who has been at the apologetics task for decades.

What is your favorite apologetics book? What book do you think is the most convincing in our world today?

His newest book, Mere Apologetics: How to Help Seekers and Skeptics Find Faith (Baker Academic), is more or less taking a class on apologetics from McGrath. And the book’s chps are a sketch of major topics, except this book doesn’t read like a textbook and it is tailored more for a new generation (ahem, postmodernity, but it is not kitschy or clever about postmodernity). I highly recommend it for college classes and for adult groups. Apologetics is not for everyone, but those who are so inclined — this is a great place to start.

Any form of apologetics, other than a strict embodiment theory (apologetics is not argument but seen in the Christian community), will have to engage in how the rhetoric will work best, and McGrath sketches it this way: address the specific audience, identify the authorities that carry weight with that audience [I wish more did this], use lines of argument that carry weight with that audience. If you are arguing with a Dawkins type, don’t quote Michael Behe; quote Polkinghorne or some well-known scientist that audience will respond to and not one they will react against.

McGrath thinks the Christian faith is reasonable in two ways: we can provide arguments and evidence for the faith, but also that the Christian faith makes more sense of reality (I see this in Polkinghorne quite often). But I suspect that the chp that will become grist for a larger volume, or which will be the place where many classes camp, is chp 6’s “Pointers to Faith: Approaches to Apologetic Engagement.” I will now list his eight clues to faith:

1. Creation: origins of the universe
2. Fine-tuning: a universe designed for life? [Anthropic principle]
3. Order: the structure of the physical world
4. Morality: a longing for justice
5. Desire: a homing instinct for God
6. Beauty: the splendor of the natural world
7. Relationality: God as a person
8. Eternity: the intuition of hope

[I would add a ninth, and I think it might be the most provocative and suggestive “clue” to the Christian faith: Jesus. I find that plenty of non-Christians are interested in the subject of Jesus but are not all that interested in any of the above topics. I also find that Jesus points folks to God and to the Christian faith. To be sure, you can pack a hall if a debate between an atheist and an apologist is announced, but I’d be willing to say that the most effective apologist in the (post)modern world today is Tom Wright.]

Back now to how the rhetoric can be assembled, and McGrath sees four gateways: we can use explanation, argument, stories, and images.

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  • Tim

    Interesting post Scot.

    I don’t think (1) and (2) make any sense for me though. And I don’t mean that in a personal, idiosyncratic manner either.

    The bottom line is that we don’t really “know” anything firm about ultimate origins or about the most fundamental nature of reality. We don’t “know”, for instance, precisely what caused the Big Bang. Was it a singularity? Was it cyclical? What caused it exactly? We have hypotheses, but nothing very solid as of yet. We also don’t “know” why the quantum parameters seemingly “tuned” for life in our universe are precisely what they are. Are they arbitrary, with our specific set representing just the ultra-narrow suitable combination for life? Or do they more or less “have” to be what they are, given the fundamental nature of the fabric of the universe? We have no idea. So claims as to the necessity of “fine tuning” or multiple universes as combined with the anthropic principle seem premature at this point.

    In other words, if we can’t really say much about ultimate origins and ultimate reality, how on earth can you base an apologetic argument off of that? Off of nothing?

    I think the arguments concerning Order (3) would also come into question along similar lines. If we had a more thorough understanding of the fundamental nature of the universe, would Order still serve as an seeming pointer to God, or would it come across as just a very natural and inevitable outcome of reality?

    In addition to these, I would also question apologetics based on universal morality (4). Sociobiological explanations for a universal, underlying moral sense (as moderated by culture of course) are serious and should be taken seriously by anyone wishing to navigate enter into this arena. Far too often, I’ve seen apologists naively assume that Evolution would favor more individually selfish behavior, thus inviting a theistic explanation for altruistic/sacrificial morality. I would be interested to see if McGrath engages the Sociobiological material robustly – otherwise I’d have a hard time seeing what value he can bring in (4).

    I would be more interested in (5) and (6), perhaps most strongly in (6). I think beauty is a significant (though very subjective) pointer to God.

    I don’t know about (7) or (8). I’d be interested in hearing more.

    Perhaps one item missing off this list that should really be there is sentience. There is no natural explanation, and arriving at one seems a very, very, long way off – if ever. I’m not suggesting, however, that because we can’t currently explain sentience in a naturalistic manner that we should then default to a theistic explanation. But I do think that sentience is so very different from anything else we see in the natural world, that to strongly consider a theistic explanation could be considered appropriate / warranted.

  • That’s a good list. I agree that Jesus should be listed explicitly as one, but I’m hoping he’s covered in Ch. 7 and 8 or is THE theme woven throughout the book?

    Tim, sentience or consciousness is a good one as well. Like you mention, any topic that is based on the natural world will receive criticism from non-theists anyway as God of the Gaps, so why not add 1 more to the pile, right? But I agree…

    I also think love would be a great choice. But that’s a very good list.

  • Natalie M

    I have read many apologetic books, and hope to keep reading more as I find time. One organization that seems to have a balance of all of the 8 items you mentioned is Answers in Genesis. There quarterly publication “Answers” addresses all of these aspects, to one degree or another, and they always bring scripture and the real world into perspective under the proper authority, Jesus.
    The magazine articles zoom in and out of the details of creation, scientific observation, everyday struggles of Earth and it’s inhabitants, as well as much more and yet at the very core, I still feel, from their reminders and Scripture quotes, the very strong and loving touch of my personal Everlasting Father, Mighty Counselor, and Prince of Peace.
    Most people still don’t understand that for the most part, the scientific discoveries, methods, and formulas, that affect our lives today are mentioned in the Bible and had been used to spur the study of the universe and all that is in it. In my opinion, and I could be wrong, it wasn’t until the church broke away from the Jews, under the suggestion of Constantine, and separating from the eastern traditions of astronomy and science that were preserved by Jewish scholars and possibly magi who were remnants of Daniel’s teachings while he was in Babylon, that the Church went into it’s dark ages and in some ways is still there!
    Then there are scientists who still snark in mockery at God because they can go into a lab with all of their “man made” equipment and “create” life. Yes, that is all good and well, but where did the equipment come from? And who made the metal and glass and where did they get their raw materials. Who made the raw materials? And can they stand back in a vacuum and speak forth their creation? NO!
    I tend to ask people who lean on their own understanding that man has written or discovered all there is to know about in the universe in general terms, isn’t it possible that they just don’t know all there is to know, yet? It isn’t logical to say there are no mysteries. To us who are spiritual, God has cleared that mystery up. But to the spiritually challenged, it is an area in their brain perhaps that must be opened and set free! They purport that evolution is a scientific fact. How on Earth can something no one has ever seen and I mean witnessed with their own eyes, before, during, and after the event, be categorized by the “learned world” as scientific fact as defined in every science textbook? That is to me, more of a mind blowing mystery, than any ever posed in the history of the universe.
    I feel like I am speaking quite infantile, I don’t have all the words to express what I am trying to say, so I hope you could follow what I mean. I am still incorporating apologetic words and concepts into my vocabulary. I am forever playing “catch up” with all the information I keep stumbling across on the internet from sites such as yours. It is hard sifting through it all to see whether it is legit or not! Thanks for your great blog!

  • scotmcknight

    Tim, I don’t know about the fine-tuning or anthropic principle. The one thing that is unquestioned is that if there are slight variations it all falls apart; or, were it not for these factors all being what they are, we wouldn’t be here. That, in and of itself, is a set of factors that must be considered. There is a the minimum “we are very lucky to be here” kind of inference, no? What is the best explanation for that vastness and capaciousness and almost microscopic tuning?

    And with sentience would you move to a similar conclusion with the mental ability to know what is out there or that there is accurate correspondence in our mental actions with what is out there? (Plantinga thinks evolutionary naturalism has no grounds for correspondence like this.)

  • Susan N.

    Those who have been around the JC blog since I came on board will understand my ambivalence with the sport of “apologetics.” Evangelism + Me = Epic Fail. That’s really how I see it.

    I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but… I think the argument of numbers 1 through 8 of the “clues of faith” are more for the “in” group (already believers). Once we take a step of faith toward following Jesus, these 8 matters (and more) become more important, and interesting, to engage in and, hopefully, understand more deeply. At least, we like to think about such deep matters, because as God becomes the center of our lives, *everything* is relevant to our faith/beliefs. Doing “apologetics” refines, affirms, and strengthens our own faith, in other words.

    It’s not bad at all to be discussing and debating these things. To the contrary, I think that we should have the courage to think and talk about deep matters, much more than the average believer or church body typically does.

    I just don’t know how effective it will be to build up a strong “case” for belief in God and Jesus as the King of Kings, in convincing someone who has not been drawn to Jesus for *other* reasons.

    The best “apologetics” is a life lived in such a way that Jesus gets the best PR possible; so that if and when an opportunity arises (e.g., a person asks, or the topic of faith, or church attendance, or theology comes up), then you can tell in detail about the “reason for the hope that is in you.”

    I know that there must be members in the “body” who are gifted and called to evangelize with an “apologetic” strategy, but I guess if I am good for anything in the mission and mandate to “make disciples” it is in living and telling *my story*, maybe? As we invest in the people around us, live with them and enter into their struggles and joys, love them, etc., we are making the strongest case for our faith in Jesus Christ.

    Just my half shekel’s worth 🙂

  • Tim

    Scot (#4),

    On the fine-tuning bit, I would not agree that there is some consensus that an arbitrary set of constants happen to just be just so narrowly right that we are “lucky” to be here in effect. Yes the constants essentially must be what they are within very narrow parameters for life as we know it to thrive. But the key question to ask here is whether or not these constants are in fact truly ARBITRARY. Could they REALLY have occupied any range of values?

    In the quantum model, of course they can be anything in a mathematical sense. So in that model they are arbitrary. But one shouldn’t read too much into that as we know that the quantum model is descriptive only. No one understands the underlying fundamental nature of the universe that the quantum model describes. String Theory of course attempts to understand our universe at this level, but it is currently theoretically incomplete, to say nothing of the fact that it as of yet lacks any real predictive validity. But should some version of String Theory turn out to be correct, theorists such as Brian Greene believe that it may hold answers to the reason why these quantum constants are what they are, with such constants being potentially natural outgrowths of some more fundamental properties of the universe. Even should String Theory turn out to be false, alternative formulations would still potentially hold such promise. Now, there is debate of course in the Theoretical Physics community on the issue of these constants and their implications. But I think it would be erroneous to suggest that there is some consensus that has emerged that these constants must of necessity be truly arbitrary.

    Concerning extending the sentience argument to our ability to accurately perceive external reality, I don’t think I’d follow Plantinga down that rabbit hole. For all his brilliance, I don’t really think Plantinga really “gets” comprehensively the science behind evolution. I think this explains why he is so sympathetic to Behe’s arguments, while they have essentially been weighed and found wanting by his peers in the life sciences. While evolution may be a “blind” though adaptive process, it does not then follow that adaptive organisms arising out of this process must then be similarly blind. Just as it does not follow that as evolution is essentially a “selfish” process, that organisms arising out of evolutionary processes must therefore be themselves selfish. An organism can be probabilistically self-serving in propagating its own genome or related genomes of its kin, while at the same time engaging in “unselfish” behavior individually given a role that organism may serve in its community. This unselfish behavior, while not directly related to propagation of the organism’s genes, by virtue of its indirect effect accomplishes this goal. Same thing with an accurate sentient understanding of reality. While accurately understanding reality does not directly result in the propagation of an organism’s genome (such as a human’s), it does have the indirect effect of achieving this end, as the better we understand reality the better equipped we are to make decisions advantageous to our survival and thriving as individuals, families, and communities.

  • I partially agree with you. Regarding points one and two, I believe science can show us and point us to a more plausible explanation for the things that we see. For example, it is difficult to explain the universe’s origin through either necessity or chance or that the intricate design and specificity of the universe is from necessity or chance. It is a much more plausible argument to suggest design as the cause. It does not “prove” it, but it lends itself to a better probability. I see, really, the argument in point 6, the beauty and splendor of the natural world as being much weaker than some of the other points. Isn’t beauty in the eye of the beholder? How is this any more of a “proof” for God’s existence than points one and two? This leads to a subjective argumentation which is even more difficult to prove than some of the other points.

    I do believe that Jesus is the key to any discussion about God and God’s existence. If the historicity of Jesus clearly demonstrates that Jesus was who he said he was, then that proves it. Through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus we can know not only that God exists, but some things about His nature. We can begin to know more about God, through Jesus, than we could possibly know without Jesus.

    Finally, I would like to say the the morality argument is also very strong. We do have an inner sense of morality. Some are very good at hiding it, some never really find it, but, for a vast majority of people, we have a sense of what is right and wrong, what is good or evil. Where does this come from? Again, as in arguments one and two, it seems extraordinarily remote to see this developing by necessity or by chance. Read Dr. William Craig’s book, “Reasonable Faith”, and you will get a good explanation. I have become somewhat of a disciple of Dr. Craig in that I see his analysis logical and profound.

  • Amos Paul

    I *like* apologetics… but I don’t believe in it. I don’t believe we can ever ‘convince’ someone into the faith. Or much of anything really. All we can really do is learn to assert our faith positively and well so that others might have more well-reasoned, positive impressions of. And I think it might have been Lewis who said that apologetics, then, is more for the beliver than the un-believer.

    Ultimately, a decision to turn towards belief in something is a decision that must be made internally on the part of another. Spontaneously. Whenever two parties spar words, we assert our various positions. But who has ever been genuinely convinced by that? It’s only when someone’s own thinking mulls on their perspective and realizes–they might believe what the ‘other side’ has to say after all (or at least something like it). But it’s doubtful this will be based upon mere arguments. More likely an accumulation of experience and intuitive understanding.

    And for Christians, that’s not our job. That’s the Holy Spirit’s job. Apologetics is something we do to present a good faith assertion of ourselves to the world. But we aren’t supposed to convince the world. Merely let those seeds grow in them and recognize when someone might be able to ‘reap’ with a gesture towards Christ.

    And, as you say Scot, I find simple subjects like talking about Jesus. Or spirituality. Or whatever to be a much more effective gateway in ‘reaping’ people interested in the faith (whether they realize it yet or not) than the more abstract philosophical/theological questions. Indeed, I tend to talk philosophy with non-Christians more when they aren’t even interested in Christianity. Because that’s just part of a well-informed, philosophical discussion.

  • Rick

    Is apologetics for convincing, or for defending?

  • DRT

    For similar reasons as outlined by others, 1-8 don’t do anything for me. I like Scot’s 9, Jesus, and then as Susan N. says that makes me appreciate the others and be grateful for them.

    I have a difficult time getting over the fact that the only way we could be here is for us to exist in a universe tuned the way ours is and therefore it is natural for it to be that way. The odds of it happening for us is 100%.

    I also am believing that we may be in just 1 of a potentially infinite number of universe systems that all could have slightly different tuning and constants. There is no reason to think otherwise.

    But Jesus, that is the unique thing that leads to God.

  • TSG

    Hesitatingly weighing in on the fine-tuning, mostly because of the perspectives that haven’t been mentioned.
    “The laws of science, as we know them at present, contain many fundamental numbers, like the size of the electric charge of the electron and the ratio of the masses of the proton and the electron…The remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life” Stephen Hawking,A Brief History of Time,1988. The fundamental design of our universe is that the elements are the building blocks. If you take the mass of everything in the system, stars are 70% hydrogen which is fused to their 30% helium at the core. All said to show that the most simple building blocks make up almost all of everything. But the amazing thing is that these have to be very fine tuned for the possibility of what has happened on Earth. There are so many examples of fine tuning because only their past histories led to the current conditions. This allows for an anthropic explanation of why we find ouselves in a universe of complex matter and life, without invoking the notion of multiverse. The chances of obtaining even one single functioning protein by chance combination of amino acids is mathematically impossible without fine-tuning.

  • I’d also like to add several other possible apologetic strategies or categories:

    1. The Miracles (confirmed even from Jewish sources) and Fulfilled Prophecies of the Bible.
    2. The impact of Christ on History and Civilization.
    3. The Existence of the Laws of Physics, Reason and Logic.
    4. Extra-Biblical Confirmation
    5. The Wisdom of the Bible (I particularly like to demonstrate how the Bible’s teachings provide for optimal social and psychological well-being.)
    6. The Harmony of the Bible (Especially between OT and NT. I challenge people to show me one doctrine in the NT that can’t be found in some in the OT.)

    In short, everything points back to the God of the Bible as its author and sustainer.

  • AHH

    Amen on adding Jesus to the list. Otherwise one is left with arguments for ill-defined theism, maybe an anonymous “Designer”, which is just another Idol.
    Apologetics that spends all its efforts on the existence of God and never gets to Jesus is like a basketball team that focuses all its efforts on clever ways of getting the ball inbounds but never aims for the basket.

  • MikeK

    Your “suggestive clue” at the end is well-taken: While apologetics does have its place, we might just as well ask others, “Would you care to read the Gospels together?” A little humility thrown into a bold invitation to learn together could prove to be an interesting apologetic…

  • Karl

    I’ve come to think of apologetics as having a place, in some instances with some people, as a gap-narrower for the leap of faith.

    That is, apologetics admittedly falls far short of “proof”. But humble and intelligent apologetics that is sensitive to its audience can serve to clear away some of the misconceptions, common objections and other rubble that sometimes stand in the way of a person making the decision to accept the Christian story and choose to follow Jesus. It can help some people feel like the leap is a reasonable one to make – can help them realize that they don’t have to totally check their brain at the door of the church in order to believe that Jesus Christ was God incarnate who was crucified, died, buried and rose again. But it’s still a leap, an act of faith, a decision to believe something that can’t be proved with certainty.

    Tom Wright’s historical work on Jesus, in particular The Resurrection of the Son of God, is a great example.

  • Scot, you said, “Apologetics is not for everyone, but those who are so inclined…”.

    I disagree with this statement. Many other things (like evangelism) are listed as giftings, but apologetics seems to be universal (cf. 1 Pet 3:15 for example). What that apologetic looks like might vary, but it doesn’t appear optional for the Christian. McGrath’s book looks interesting and a bit different than the standard. Thanks for blogging about it.

  • @ Tim #1 –

    IMO, you are making a mistake I see many making when looking at apologetics. These things are often used, not in some sense that any one of them are absolute proof, but in the sense of cumulative case, best explanation weight.

    For example, do we know exactly about the origins of the universe? No, but to the best of our knowledge, the universe had a beginning. And, to the best of our knowledge, things don’t just pop into existence on their own. Fine tuning and design are also things human beings tend to recognize, so unless there were some other better explanation, the weight goes with our experience. While we can’t be 100% certain, we can say quite a bit.

    re: morality – I don’t think it is so much that evolution couldn’t account for societal moral agreements (if, as you mentioned later, sentience could be explained in the first place), but that this would lead to moral relativism, not objective morality. (ie: rape would only be wrong in so far as a particular society decided that to be so. Some other people group might see it as a good thing. etc.) Certainly, if an individual could invent morality, a society could also come to agreement on some things. But, that really isn’t what is at issue or being argued here.

    re: sentience – I agree with what you’ve said. I’m guessing you’ve studied or read some in this area? (I read “Self Comes to Mind” by Antonio Damasio not too long ago and found it quite weak.) I’d suggest that it won’t be explained, as it is a category error. It’s like seeing how the electrons behave in computer chips and thinking we’ve discovered how the programs created themselves (rather than being written). I agree, we’re not even close, even though some ^ seem to think they have it figured out. Might I suggest that if you dig a bit more deeply into some of the other categories, you’ll discover the same? That has been my experience anyway.

    @ Justin Topp #2 –

    Be careful with letting people assert the ‘god of the gaps’ thing though. A true ‘god of the gaps’ is when we don’t know something and simply insert god out of ignorance. Inserting god as the best inference from the evidence is not god of the gaps. (It’s only god of the gaps in this latter case if you first ASSUME naturalism; in which case, it becomes naturalism of the gaps.)

    @ Susan N. #5 –

    I completely agree with you in some sense that apologetics will never work on the unbeliever if God hasn’t already opened the heart. However, since we don’t know who God is working on, and many things we do are the ‘means’ through which God works, our job is to get out there and do it. 1 Pet 3:15 says we all need to be prepared to give and answer for the hope we have in Christ.

    re: life lived – while I agree, I think we need something more as well; that Christianity is, in fact, true! I’ve met many people from other religions who live a seemingly more exemplary life than many Christians (often, myself included). I think living correctly is certainly good bait (and, of course, what we want to do out of love for Jesus), but once they are interested in WHY we are living that way, we need to give them the truth. That hope IS apologetics, but I don’t think the life lived really is apologetics, it’s more a result of apologetics and the Gospel. There are certainly people more gifted in the technical aspects of apologetics than others, but 1 Pet 3:15 doesn’t seem to leave it as optional.

    @ Tim #6 –

    re: “it does have the indirect effect of achieving this end, as the better we understand reality the better equipped we are to make decisions advantageous to our survival and thriving”

    I think that is Plantinga’s point. We could match reality in behavior, but not necessarily come up with the truth about it.

    re: Behe – I think Behe has been misunderstood and pre-judged. I think his arguments, in general, are quite valid (Didn’t Darwin make them?). (Yea, the jury seems out on one of his examples, but maybe he just picked a bad example; we’ll see.)

    @ Rick #9 –

    Both (granted the Holy Spirit must first work, but I think apologetics, among other things, is used in that process)

    @ DRT #10 –

    re: multiverse and we happen to be in the 1 – Do you realize there is no evidence for that? It is just a theoretical possibility. So, you find that other things unconvincing but this one you believe? why?

    @ Daniel Mann –

    Agreed. McGrath’s list was not comprehensive, certainly, and seems aimed at a different audience than a lot of other apologetic material.

  • Rick

    I think of combination of the apologetic work of McGrath, Wright, and Keller covers much of the needed areas/topics. Furthermore, each one of can be used to address a specific audience.

  • Tim


    I don’t know where to start. One, there is no reason to think that the Universe had to have a ex nihilo beginning. It could owe its existence to a broader cyclical, eternal context. Two, a sociobiological basis for morality does not imply strict cultural relativism. The foundation for shared universal moral values would derive from shared universal, biologically based pro-social dispositions. Three, I can see no reason to limit adaptive decision making to only strictly behavior-based. We don’t just engage in behaviors that are adaptive to our environment in a behavioral context (though that is certainly a part of it), but we also arrive at adaptive decision making grounded in a cognitive-based understanding of our environment. Advances in cognitive psychology have clearly demonstrated the utility these processes have over strictly behavioral learning. You could consider accurate cognitive perception of our environment as parallel to accurate sensory perception of our environment. The greater the acuity, the better our position to adaptively respond.

  • Susan N.

    Good grief, Steve (#17) – let me simply say that speaking or acting in a manner intended to “bait” someone into believing or doing something is precisely the type of “evangelism” or “apologetics” that has repulsed me in the past.

    It is coercive, manipulative, and disingenuous.

    Jesus did not operate that way.

    Neither did Paul.

    The impression I get of “baiting” or enticing someone to believe or come along is of a slick lawyer or politician. There’s a time and a place for clever argument and “defense” I guess. I just don’t think the vast majority of people will be “won over” to Christ by that method.


  • Brian C

    The best apologetic that no one can reasonably argue against is my personal testimony of what Jesus did for me. The rest I have given up trying to argue about because they are irrelevant to that one basic apologetic – I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.

    Although I do think some of the Catholic apologists do a fine job of reasoning from the available data – Robert Spitzer and Edward Feser.

  • Kenny Johnson


    I’m curious. Why do you believe (I assume you do)? And why Christianity rather than Islam, Judaism, or Buddhism. And if the answer is Jesus, why Jesus? And why historic Christianity rather than LDS, for example?

    It seems to me that you’ve rule out everything. Not just as “proof” but as even the most likely explanation.

    As someone who came to the faith in my 20s and who struggles with skepticism and doubt — apologetics has saved my faith numerous times.

    And yes, I know that ultimately it’s a leap of faith. Ultimately I have to just trust. But I CAN’T do so blindly. And I don’t expect God wants me to. Otherwise, why not just trust the Book of Mormon when I get that warm feeling in my heart after I pray.

  • Tim

    Brian (#21),

    The last thing I would want to do is impugn your or anyone else’s testimony. But the problem with using personal testimony as an apologetic tool is that the recipient of your testimony would have to consider it more valid than competing testimonies from followers of other religions. What cause would they have to do this? Is your personal testimony in some way more compelling? I know of Buddhist monks who with utmost sincerity and conviction claim to have literally received divine visions, and their entire presence just seems to emanate love and peaceful tranquility. What would you say that would compete with that? Would you dismiss their testimony as somehow wrong, perhaps delusional in some way, or at least mistaken in their interpretation of their subjective experiences? What then would be the reason that others ought not do that to your testimony? Could you object, particularly if you find yourself dismissing the testimonies of others?

    The thing is, you can’t really expect others who don’t share your religious convictions to grant your testimony any more worth than that which you grant the testimonies of others who don’t share yours.

  • Tim

    Kenny Johnson (#22),

    I would say in response that I have a very humble perspective on spiritual and theistic truth. I have faith, in that I accept a reality for which I have less than conclusive evidence – so there is a leap of trust there. Believe me, I get how subjective the evidence is. But as far as coming down firm on specific dogma, this isn’t something I so much do. I hope that when I am judged it will be more according to the Beatitudes than what more commonly is considered proper soteriology by Evangelicals.

  • Joshua

    I think a number of books have been helpful in different ways at different times of my life. Letters From a Skeptic by Greg Boyd has probably been my favorite. Case for Christ/Case for Faith were good at the time, though I wouldn’t recommend them now. WIthout doubt, Reasonable Faith by Bill Craig is certainly one of the best in the pile.

  • Joshua

    And I completely agree with what you said about N.T. Wright .

  • Taka KOJIMA

    It’s interesting you added Jesus as the ninth point. I guess there’s a slight difference between apologetics and evangelism (or in your term in the King Jesus Gospel, “gospeling”), or between convincing someone the reasonableness of the Christian faith as a package of beliefs and leading someone to faith in Jesus as the Messiah and Lord to become a Jesus-follower.

  • @Susan N. #5…

    Besides God’s general call to “be holy because I am holy,” we have the call to share the Gospel in Matthew and, as others have noted, the need to be prepared to give an explanation (account) for our hope (1 Peter 3). I accepted Christ as my Savior in 2001. I didn’t accept Christ in my life because someone convinced me that Christianity was the best option. Although I can point to people in my life who influenced me to start considering Christ, and eventually, to start talking to God; I am a Christian today because of a singular event in my life when I clearly heard God calling me to Him – and answering that call.

    I am interested in apologetics from an academic standpoint – how can I communicate some of the variables of faith more effectively. Growth is a huge part of my faith in God. For me to be more like Christ, I need to grow in knowledge as well as faith and works.

    But as for ‘evangelizing’ (a word that is too churchy for me), we are all called to share the Gospel with others. As Steve (#17) alluded to, and I blurbed on Facebook about last week, none of us can save anyone. For goodness’ sake, when I heard Jesse Duplantis last Sunday talking about, “Send me $100 and I’ll save 100 people,” I thought I was going to throw the remote at the TV.

    Still, we all have a responsibility to open ourselves to be used by God in whatever way He sees fit to use us. We like that to be comfortable, but sometimes it’s not. Nine years ago, I didn’t have a thought about teaching Sunday school. But a year after I accepted Christ, there I was teaching. Heck, I even had our new pastor in my class…talk about putting the cart before the horse!

    And even after teaching adults for several years, leading seminars and all sorts of other teachy things, I still find it extremely uncomfortable to walk into a neighborhood (even my own…ESPECIALLY my own) and knock on a door and ask someone if they know where they will go when they die.

    But lately, I have found a place where I can be as ‘evangelical’ as I can be. Would you believe it – that place for me is in Haiti.

    For the last two years I’ve been a team member on short-term missions to Haiti. We focus primarily on teaching children but on top of feeding kids (and grownups), leading a Bible school, providing funds for orphanages, food, clothing, housing, etc., I share my faith with all kinds of people.

    Go figure!

    I guess what I’m trying to say is we don’t have to all be Billy Graham or Lee Strobel to be used by God in a way that honors Him and nurtures the Kingdom. We just have to open our hearts (and minds) to what He is leading us to do, even if it makes no sense at all to us. And just like me, you might discover one day to your complete amazement that you’re an ‘evangelist’ after all!

    God bless!

  • Susan N.

    Mike (#28) – Your story is inspiring. Thanks for sharing it.

    However, I maintain that apologetics is primarily for believers, not something we argue or use to convince others to put their faith in Christ.

    And, I’m not afraid to repeat, our servant-ministry to others should not be done with a mind to “bait” anyone into belief. If the authentic, Spirit-filled love for others isn’t there, eventually people catch onto that and end up being more cynical of Christ and Christianity. In my experiences, influencing anyone for Christ takes a long-haul commitment to the relationship. Sometimes years. Evangelicals expect instant results too often, I think, and then get frustrated that our fancy apologetics aren’t working to effectively win converts. I’m (more than a bit) cynical about that type of evangelism.

    But Mike, I am so happy to hear that you have responded to a calling to minister to the people of Haiti. Thanks for your willingness to go and be the hands and feet of Christ to a people in great need. May God use you in a big way and continue to bless and guide you.


  • Thank you Susan (#29)! I agree with you in many ways. A lot of what happens in and around church is more for the benefit of believers than non-believers. In the main, two out of the three main components of church – reaching up to God and reaching in to minister to each other – are centered on believers. The reaching out part is the only bit that focuses on the people Jesus wanted us to reach. We shouldn’t go to Haiti (or anywhere else) with the mindset that we’re going to ‘save’ x number of people. We don’t save anyone – God does that. We’re just trying our best to be the folks God created us to be.


  • Susan N.

    Amen, Mike, Amen. I’m with you and for you, 100%.

    Thanks for your good words and testimony in this discussion.


  • @ Tim #19 –
    1) Big-bang cosmology is one of our more solid areas of science. Can we know for sure? No, but we’re about as sure of that as anything as far as I know.
    2) Ok, so then you have social-relativism rather than individual? I’m not sure what that gets you. If some culture has a disposition to favor rape, then that is fine?
    3) You’re using terms like ‘decision making’ and ‘understanding’, etc. These seem to be borrowed terms IMO. How do we make that first jump from a recorded piece of data to pondering that recorded piece of data? Just because something has utility, doesn’t explain it by invoking the magic of evolution. I can forever add higher-rez cameras to my computer, but without a program, it would at best, just keep storing more and more information.

    @ Susan N. #20 –
    Hmm, I’m not sure what you think I was trying to say. My point was that unless peaking someone’s interest in your lifestyle ultimately leads them to truth, it is just bait, of sorts (it draws them to a worldview that is false and will only harm them). People in many worldviews might live attractive lives and ultimately offer little of use. Christianity absent of apologetics doesn’t really give anyone a good reason to stick with it, rather than chasing some other worldview where one likes the lifestyle of the adherents. (And from post #29, I think we’re quite on the same page. We probably just mis-read each other. Apologetics doesn’t argue anyone in, but neither can we love someone in. Both can be used by the Holy Spirit to work in others’ lives.)

    @ Mike #28 –
    re: knocking on doors – I think that is uncomfortable for a LOT of people, and I honestly question the effectiveness of it (though I’m sure it has worked at times). I think it would be a much better idea to be apologetically trained so that when all the opportunities that happen nearly daily with the people we run into, that we can give them a bit of Christian worldview to chew on (as it will ultimately clash with other worldviews). For some, that might just ‘put a stone in their shoe’. For others, with whom we have built a close enough relationship, it might lead to an in-depth discussion where they want to hear the details of Christianity. And certainly, behaving as a Christian should is part of this, as it is what we do anyway, but it also causes curiosity.

    @ Mike #30 –
    I’m with you both on apologetics being more internally focused, at least at this point in time. (That is why my ministry is focused on getting apologetics training into churches, more than towards unbelievers.) This is, though, because our churches are in such a bad state. If this were not the case, then most Christians would be using apologetics in their daily conversations with unbelievers, so it would also be quite external. It is kind of like triage. 100 apologists could work on 100-200 unbelievers, OR each of them could try to generate some more apologists. The latter, currently, is more urgent.