A previous post of mine is entitled: Evidence does not produce faith. I see the primary role of apologetics as building the faith of those who already believe. See the post for my full thoughts. I am not saying that God can never use apologetics to bring someone to faith. Arguments can stimulate the thinking of those who are seeking truth. 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.
Recently I came across this quote about CS Lewis that I thought made a similar point in a succinct way:
It is commonly said that if rational argument is so seldom the cause of conviction, philosophical apologists must largely be wasting their shot. The premise is true but the conclusion does not follow. For though argument does not create conviction, the lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish. – Austin Farrer on CS Lewis
I hope you can see the tension or balance that is needed between apologetics and faith. Christians need to be seen as rational people, yet it can be easy for Christians to lose perspective or focus. Believers can misuse apologetics, thinking that more arguments are always the answer.
Apologetics can be wielded like a club, as if it is something that guarantees belief. A few more solid defenses and the truth will be knocked into them!
Believers need more wisdom about when to defend the faith and when not to. Prayer, spiritual discernment, and simple observation/common sense are needed. Don’t always rush to give a defense. Whether it is an in-person or on-line setting, take some things into consideration:
- What do you know about this person? Where are they coming from? Questions or negativity about Christianity can be for very different reasons, and should affect how or if you respond. Ask some thoughtful questions to discern the root of their concerns. Listen. Look at their blog, or at other comments they have made on-line. One person may need a more rational or academic approach, while another may need a more heart-felt approach. It could also be that their apologetic concerns are a symptom of another issue entirely!
- What is their underlying attitude? Is it…hostility? honest curiosity? cynical yet still open minded? Closed minded? Etc. If someone comes across as hostile and closed-minded, I don’t waste my time. They will miss the point of anything I share, no matter how articulate I am. Deflection might be best – change the subject. Perhaps they will accuse you of not having an answer. Oh well. An answer would not have satisfied them anyway.
- This may be similar to the previous point but is a little different. Is the person an honest seeker of truth, or are they looking for any excuse not to believe? I’ve been in on-going conversation with 2 different people where I’ve seen them move, slowly over time, from the former to the later. Somewhere along the line, their hearts grew hard. Initially, I found interaction with them beneficial. It was valuable dialogue. But then it became evident our discussion had become fruitless. Previously they considered my answers, but now they were quickly dismissive. We were going in circles, getting nowhere. I pulled out of the discussions but maintained the relationships. Of course, I have not given up on them but pray for the Spirit to work in their lives.
Don’t get so focused on defending the truth, that you forget who the truth is. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6). Look for opportunities to bring things back around to the basics of the Gospel.