Previously, I wrote of the importance of apologetics. Aside from my recent experience serving to reinforce this point, here are some insightful quotes which make the bigger case why it is important.
They come from William Lane Craig’s book “Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics”. I encourage you to read through them all as they are both inspirational and informative, especially for those who are aware of the challenges we face in culture and as parents.
…it is imperative that we shape the intellectual climate of our nation in such a way that Christianity remains a live option for thinking men and women.
It is for that reason that Christians who depreciate the value of apologetics because “no one comes to Christ through arguments” are so shortsighted. For the value of apologetics extends far beyond one’s immediate evangelistic contact. It is the broader task of Christian apologetics to help create and sustain a cultural milieu in which the gospel can be heard as an intellectually viable option for thinking men and women.
What is to-day a matter of academic speculation begins to-morrow to move armies and pull down empires. In that second stage, it has gone too far to be combated; the time to stop it was when it was still a matter of impassionate debate. So as Christians we should try to mold the thought of the world in such a way as to make the acceptance of Christianity something more than a logical absurdity.
Fortunately, in the United States in recent decades a revitalized evangelicalism has emerged from the Fundamentalist closet and has begun to take up Machen’s challenge in earnest. We are living at a time when Christian philosophy is experiencing a veritable renaissance, reinvigorating natural theology, at a time when science is more open to the existence of a transcendent Creator and Designer of the cosmos than at any time in recent memory, and at a time when biblical criticism has embarked upon a renewed quest of the historical Jesus which treats the Gospels seriously as valuable historical sources for the life of Jesus and has confirmed the main lines of the portrait of Jesus painted in the Gospels. We are well poised intellectually to help reshape our culture in such a way as to regain lost ground, so that the gospel can be heard as an intellectually viable option for thinking people. Huge doors of opportunity now stand open before us.
The idea that we live in a postmodern culture is a myth. In fact, a postmodern culture is an impossibility; it would be utterly unlivable. Nobody is a postmodernist when it comes to reading the labels on a medicine bottle versus a box of rat poison. If you’ve got a headache, you’d better believe that texts have objective meaning! People are not relativistic when it comes to matters of science, engineering, and technology;rather, they’re relativistic and pluralistic in matters of religion and ethics. But that’s not postmodernism; that’s modernism!
Indeed, I think that getting people to believe that we live in a postmodern culture is one of the craftiest deceptions that Satan has yet devised. “Modernism is passé,” he tells us. “You needn’t worry about it any longer. So forget about it! It’s dead and buried.” Meanwhile, modernism, pretending to be dead, comes around again in the fancy new dress of postmodernism, masquerading as a new challenger. “Your old arguments and apologetics are no longer effective against this new arrival,” we’re told. “Lay them aside; they’re of no use. Just share your narrative!”
Not only is apologetics vital to shaping our culture, but it also plays a vital role in the lives of individual persons. One such role will be strengthening believers. Contemporary Christian worship tends to focus on fostering emotional intimacy with God. While this is a good thing, emotions will carry a person only so far, and then he’s going to need something more substantive. Apologetics can help to provide some of that substance.
As I speak in churches around the country, I frequently meet parents who approach me after the service and say something like, “If only you’d been here two or three years ago! Our son [or our daughter] had questions about the faith which no one in the church could answer, and now he’s lost his faith and is far from the Lord.”
It just breaks my heart to meet parents like this. Unfortunately, their experience is not unusual. In high school and college Christian teenagers are intellectually assaulted with every manner of non-Christian worldview coupled with an overwhelming relativism. If parents are not intellectually engaged with their faith and do not have sound arguments for Christian theism and good answers to their children’s questions, then we are in real danger of losing our youth. It’s no longer enough to teach our children Bible stories; they need doctrine and apologetics. Frankly, I find it hard to understand how people today can risk parenthood without having studied apologetics.
Unfortunately, our churches have largely dropped the ball in this area. It’s insufficient for youth groups and Sunday school classes to focus on entertainment and simpering devotional thoughts. We’ve got to train our kids for war. We dare not send them out to public high school and university armed with rubber swords and plastic armor. The time for playing games is past.
We need to have pastors who are schooled in apologetics and engaged intellectually with our culture so as to shepherd their flock amidst the wolves. For example, pastors need to know something about contemporary science. John La Shell, himself the pastor of a Baptist church, warns that “pastors can no longer afford to ignore the results and the speculations of modern physics. These ideas are percolating down into the common consciousness through magazines, popularized treatises, and even novels. If we do not familiarize ourselves with them we may find ourselves in an intellectual backwater, unable to deal with the well-read man across the street.” The same goes for philosophy and for biblical criticism: what good does it do to preach on, say, Christian values when there is a large percentage of people, even Christians, who say that they don’t believe in absolute truth? Or what good will it do simply to quote the Bible in your evangelistic Bible study when somebody in the group says that the Jesus Seminar has disproved the reliability of the Gospels? If pastors fail to do their homework in these areas, then there will remain a substantial portion of the population—unfortunately, the most intelligent and therefore most influential people in society, such as doctors, educators, journalists, lawyers, business executives, and so forth—who will remain untouched by their ministry.
As I travel, I’ve also had the experience of meeting other people who’ve told me of how they’ve been saved from apparent apostasy through reading an apologetic book or seeing a video of a debate. In their case apologetics has been the means by which God has brought about their perseverance in the faith. Now, of course, apologetics cannot guarantee perseverance, but it can help and in some cases may, in the providence of God, even be necessary. For example, after a lecture at Princeton University on arguments for the existence of God, I was approached by a young man who wanted to talk with me. Obviously trying to hold back the tears, he told me that a couple of years earlier he had been struggling with doubts and was on the brink of abandoning his faith. Someone then gave him a video of one of my debates. He said, “It saved me from losing my faith. I cannot thank you enough.”
I said, “It was the Lord who saved you from falling.”
“Yes,” he replied, “but he used you. I can’t thank you too much.” I told him how thrilled I was for him and asked him about his future plans. “I’m graduating this year,” he told me, “and I plan to go to seminary. I’m going into the pastorate.” Praise God for the victory in this young man’s life!
But Christian apologetics does much more than safeguard against lapses. The positive, upbuilding effects of apologetic training are even more evident. American churches are filled with Christians who are idling n intellectual neutral. As Christians, their minds are going to waste. One result of this is an immature, superficial faith. People who simply ride the roller coaster of emotional experience are cheating themselves out of a deeper and richer Christian faith by neglecting the intellectual side of that faith. They know little of the riches of deep understanding of Christian truth, of the confidence inspired by the discovery that one’s faith is logical and fits the facts of experience, and of the stability brought to one’s life by the conviction that one’s faith is objectively true. One of the most gratifying results of the annual apologetics conferences held by the Evangelical Philosophical Society in local churches during the course of our annual conventions is to see the light come on in the minds of many laymen when they discover for the first time in their lives that there are good reasons to believe that Christianity is true and that there is a part of the body of Christ that they never knew existed that wrestles regularly with the intellectual content of the Christian faith.
When you reflect that only a minority of people who hear the gospel will accept it and that only a minority of those who accept it do so for intellectual reasons, we shouldn’t be surprised that the number of people with whom apologetics is effective is relatively small. By the very nature of the case, we should expect that most unbelievers will remain unconvinced by our apologetic arguments, just as most remain unmoved by the preaching of the cross.
Well, then, why bother with that minority of a minority with whom apologetics is effective? First, because every person is precious to God, a person for whom Christ died. Like a missionary called to reach some obscure people group, the Christian apologist is burdened to reach that minority of persons who will respond to rational argument and evidence.
But, second—and here the case differs significantly from the case of the obscure people group—this people group, though relatively small in numbers, is huge in influence. One of these persons, for example, was C. S. Lewis. Think of the impact that one man’s conversion continues to have! I find that the people who resonate most with my apologetic work tend to be engineers, people in medicine, and lawyers. Such persons are among the most influential in shaping our culture today.So reaching this minority of persons will yield a great harvest for the kingdom of God.