From the archives…This post was originally run on January 1, 2011. Here it is again, slightly edited:
Recently I said to someone that “evidence does not produce faith”, and they did not seem to agree with me. They mentioned certain apologetic writers who had initially (as unbelievers) gone on a pursuit of evidence, and ended up becoming believers as a result. Their comment is indeed accurate, yet I still stand by my statement that “evidence does not produce faith.” For this post, I want to flush out my thoughts on this issue. Bear with me…
Apologetics (the discipline of defending a position) is important and has a vital role to play in the Christian faith, but this role is not one of producing faith. We can not argue or debate someone into the Kingdom of God. If only it were that easy! If someone does not have a heart to believe, no amount of “evidence” will bring them to faith in Christ.
The Gospel of John should make this point clear. The first section of John is often called “the book of signs” for the 7 miraculous signs performed by Christ. Yet, while some people believed, others did not. John 12:37 summarizes “But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him.” Their unbelief was not caused by a lack of evidence. The Lord Jesus had given convincing proof of His deity, yet some would not believe.
The book of John also warns against a “sign dependent” faith. (See John 2:23-25 for example.) Some people came to see Jesus simply out of curiosity, hoping to see something sensational. But a sign dependent faith is insufficient. One must have faith in the person of Jesus Christ, and not just in the signs. Jesus realized that some of these people were not committed to Him in their hearts, and only had a shallow and outward fascination with the signs.
So should we just throw apologetics out the window? No, of course not. But I see apologetic’s primary role as being one of building the faith of those who already believe. Books by authors such as Lee Strobel or Josh McDowell can help believers have a more solid foundation in their faith. Christians need to know that there are intelligent reasons to believe. Yet, let’s face it, the evidence can be more compelling to those who already accept the conclusions, than to those who deny the conclusions!
But don’t misunderstand…I am not saying that God can never use apologetics to bring someone to faith. Arguments can certainly stimulate the thinking of those who are seeking truth. I see faith and evidence as synergistic, but it is a one-way relationship. The Spirit can use many things, such as apologetics, to help draw people to faith. But evidence in and of itself can not produce faith. Only God can do that. If the Spirit has not begun to soften someone’s heart, all the evidence in the world will not convince them.
Too often I have seen Christians trying to debate unbelievers into the Kingdom of God. I think their focus is off. They have made apologetics primary, when it should be secondary. We should keep the focus on Christ and the Gospel. Does the person have a proper understanding of the person and work of Christ? While some debate may indeed be beneficial, it is imperative to keep bringing it back to Christ. It is ultimately about Him.
If I was dealing with a genuine seeker, I might give them a book like “Basic Christianity” by John Stott along with encouraging them to read one of the New Testament Gospels such as John. Until they have properly grasped Christ and His work, I really don’t see a place for an apologetic evidence book.
If the person does grasp the Gospel yet has not believed, there may indeed be a place for some apologetic work. They may have questions and concerns that deserve a response. But we don’t want to lose focus. Our most eloquent defense may not bring a faith response to the Gospel. We should pray intently for the Holy Spirit to be at work in their life, and that one day their heart will be responsive to the Gospel.
[One reason I re-posted this is I plan to share some new thoughts in another post in the next day or two.] Next post here: More on faith and evidence.