Apologetics is not about "Defending the Faith."

 

swordandshieldThe theological field of apologetics is exalted by most within Christendom and challenged by many outside of it.  Great strides have been taken by the church to raise up “defenders of the faith.”  Debating others in public on the truths of Christianity has become a spectator sport.  Many bare the title “Apologist,” or are labeled as such.  Winning arguments has become almost as important as winning souls… almost.

I can remember my youth in Christ, when I wanted to learn all that there was about Christianity.  I wanted to soak up every theory, every angle, and every point of view regarding the faith, I wanted to so nail it down that I could defend my positions, doctrines, and propositions.  I was encouraged by others along the way and even cheered on like a marathon runner to stay the course.  I read everything I could get my hands on and entertained my thoughts with a seemingly infinite set opinions.  I also read from those who directly challenged my religion; atheists, agnostics, deists, scientists, and the various writings from those sources that christians would call “the cults.”  I read the Quran, the Vedas of Hinduism, the book of mormon,  and many other other “holy” texts.

I engaged others purposefully and confrontationally, sparring with them in a sense to see if I had weaknesses in my theological armor. Looking back though, It was probably more about picking fights and being a theological bully than anything else.  It was a self centered and self serving approach to apologetics that, if I were to be honest, probably had more to do with me wrestling with my own doubts rather than trying to convince others of the truth.

Deep down in my immaturity, I wanted and needed to be right.  I can remember how much I enjoyed the mind play with others.  I can remember “The Hunt.”  I can remember the exhilaration of drawing first blood in theological debates, and the thrill of my own perceived victories.  It wasn’t until much later that I realized that I could win all the arguments and take the lead in the fine art of debate and yet still not “win” a soul, lead another to Christ, or make a disciple.  Sometimes my opponents would admit defeat and relinquish their faulty viewpoints but still not want to have anything to do with Christ.  Instead of defending the hope within, I was making them hopeless without.

My love for apologetics had turned to lust.  I had exchanged Christ, my Hope, for the fallacy of “faith defending.”  I didn’t say, like David, “For You are my hope; O Lord GOD, You are my confidence from my youth. “ Psalm 71:5

In one way, I had become like the church in Ephesus who tested those who called themselves apostles and found them to be false, yet left their first love.  Revelation 2:2-4  Personally, I count that time in my adulterated apologetical walk as idolatrous and wasteful.  Where I sought to defend the faith, I was, in many cases defaming Jesus name.  If any of this strikes a chord with you, stop for a moment and ask the Lord for wisdom, then read the rest.

Somewhere along the way, the church went from “defending the hope within us,” 1 Peter 3:15, to “defending the faith,” our stance, and our pet doctrines.  You know as well as I, what forms a vigorous defense of the faith has taken on throughout history and how Jesus’ name has been discredited in His supposed defense.  Maybe it’s time to apologize to some we’ve practiced our apologetics on.  I dare say that if any of us had to give a defense of our faith, we could  at least give it a decent showing.  I wonder though, how many could give a solid defense for the HOPE within them.  The defenders of doctrines far outnumber the defenders and confirmers of the hope of the gospel. (Philippians 1:7)

In order to defend hope, one has to have it.  Even as I am writing this, my reflection stares back at me from the computer screen and asks, “What is your hope?”  As you read this, I would ask the same, “What is your hope?”  This is where your biblical apologetics will rise or fall.  Can you outline your hope?  Could you even come up with three bullets points that encapsulate what your hope is?  I would wager that most reading this could defend your church’s doctrine, your denominational distinctive’s, and perhaps even debunk the theory of evolution with ease.  But, when it comes to giving an answer for why you are hopeful in Christ, I think there would be a noticeable silence.  This post will serve as Part I to a three part series on apologetics.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not against apologetics, I am just wondering how we’ve gotten so off track.  Just one question for now:

  What is your hope, and are you ready to give a defense of it to the next one who asks?

 

33 thoughts on “Apologetics is not about "Defending the Faith."

  1. Ross Rohde says:

    Hi Miguel,

    Thanks for addressing this significant topic. A number of years ago a friend of mine asked me a question about apologetics that has forever changed my heart about the subject. First he noted the I Pet. 3 passage you quoted above in its immediate context.

    Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

    Then came the question: Ever notice these Christians were being asked a question?

    That question created a number of insights and further questions in me. The early Christians were being asked about their hope because of the their lives were characterized by doing good and what was right. People were genuinely curious about their lives; some aggressively and negatively so, others, most likely, because they were impressed. How many of us live that distinctively beautiful life? How many of us have others coming to us to ask about our hope? Why has apologetics become an aggressive debate when the early Christians weren’t out picking fights; they were merely answering questions about their good life. And, they responded in gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience and maintaining good behavior even when maligned.

    When one really looks at the context of I Pet. 3 it becomes clear that what we currently call apologetics isn’t even really what the passage is talking about at all.

    • Miguel says:

      Ross,

      The path to apologetics that you have suggested is the narrow one, and I agree. The path to the common practice of apologetics is wide, and many go there. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Claudia Labrador says:

    I remember sitting at our backyard patio, in the days when our relationship was new, engaging in deep conversations into things of God and faith. And I remember very distinctly how much I would share from the perspective of a hope that I have carried since young childhood, while you stood on the ground of correct theology predominantly more than a hope. Neither one of us budged much from our faith and world views for a while, but it didn’t seem to affect our ability to grow together into such a powerful force of love in ministry. You’ve come so very far from where our journey together in marriage and faith began, as have I. As ‘your wife’ I want to say that of all the things you’ve written in our ten years together, *this* one captures the essence of why I am so very proud of you.

    • Miguel says:

      It’s a good thing when your wife comments on your blog and gives affirmation. I hope that in time, my hope becomes more apparent to you and those around us. Thanks Claudia!

  3. STELLAR. You need to be proud of this post. I had similar idea on my radar to write about but you have killed it here. I don’t need to muddy the waters with my thoughts. We have become pros when being right is wrong. It’s that old saying you won the battle but lost the war.

    • Miguel says:

      Hey Ken,

      Thanks for reading it, and thanks for your comment. I like how the Lord puts things on many people’s “radar” simultaneously. Now, I must go to your blog and see where else we are kindred.

  4. Dennis Hesselbarth says:

    Miguel,
    When I was first introduced to this Jesus guy, I was attracted, but I had lots of questions regarding evolution, environmentalism, truth before I was ready to surrender my life to Him. My impression was that Christianity was anti-intellectual. The apologetic writings of authors like Francis Schaefer, Norm Geisler, Josh McDowell, and others helped provide an intellectually honest foundation. (I also discovered that many Christian authors were intellectually dishonest, especially regarding science.) Apologetics helped to provide insight to me in my searching.

    But clearly, the thing that most attracted me to Jesus was the gentle loving follower of Jesus who talked with me, cared about me, patiently answered my many questions, and stuck with me while I continued my up and down ways. His contentment and positive expectation about life – hope – was such a huge contrast to my nihilism and despair.

    I think Ross has it right. Apologetics is valuable when someone sees our hope and wants to learn more. It’s not about convincing someone, it’s about patiently and lovingly sharing answers to help people see our Savior for who He is.

    What is the sure sign of Jesus among us? Our love for one another, not our intellectual prowess.

    • Miguel says:

      Thanks for you comment Dennis,

      I too was much of a self feeder early on. I still tend towards learning more of the Lord solo. But, I think being around others who live “hopefully” in the body is a more powerful apologetic. Appreciate your comments about the dishonesty in apologetics, and that was going to be part of the next post in this series.

  5. Phil Stephens says:

    This was a dagger to the heart… My fervor to “be right” and show others to be wrong, ruled me for many years. Like you, it was probably more reflective of my own doubts that i dared not wrestle with.

    Thanks for sharing.

    pas

    • Miguel says:

      Good to hear from you brother! It has been many years. These days, while I am known for my provoking questions, I have to always ask myself if I need the answer more than those I ask. It changes my attitude.

      Likewise, if someone comes to me with a question and looks for me to “defend my faith,” then I take some time to consider that they too may be struggling with doubt and hopelessness. Again, it changes my attitude.

  6. Wow – what powerful post! It is so powerful to read about your personal experience with learning to rest in the hope of Christ, rather than the glory of being right. I think that’s a common struggle for young believers (and old!) as we wrestle with knowing the truth and wanting others to understand. Unfortunately, even when we out-do someone in terms of apologetic argument, like you said it just doesn’t win someone to Christ. I volunteer with high school students. Something I always try to encourage them about is to bring those arguments about evolution, abortion, pre-marital sex, heaven/hell, etc. back to Christ. The real question isn’t what does a person believe about all those things, it’s what does a person believe about Christ. And that’s where your point about defending our hope comes in so well. We don’t have to prove to someone that our faith is the right one–we can place our hope in a God who is alive and powerful to do the convincing Himself. Thanks for sharing!

    • Miguel says:

      Ashleigh,

      Thanks for your comment. You raise many additional relevant points. What if our lives begged the question from those outside of the faith, “what makes him/her so hopeful?

    • garyfpatton says:

      Have you ever wondered like me, Ashleigh, that demanding people in the world to do things the New Covenant only commands Jesus Followers to do, i.e. your “those arguments”, doesn’t make much sense Biblically?

  7. Tyrell Samuels says:

    As a teacher, I always pondered on that passage in 1 Peter 3 and how it clashed with what we know today as Apologetics. Being reformed I always thought it silly to try to intellectually persuade someone to be a Christian when it takes faith to follow Christ. I am glad someone has pointed the perspective back to the hope that we have instead of it being the evidence for God per se. I do agree that Apologetics is suited for the believer not the non-believer. You have done a marvelous job in this article on clearing up many misconceptions. Superb write my brother. May the Lord continue to bless you and use you for His Glory!

    • Miguel says:

      Thanks Tyrell,

      It’s interesting that you bring a reformed perspective to the post. I wonder if the non-reformed, soteriologically speaking, would have the same sentiments. As to clearing up misconceptions, I hope that it will lead to dispelling misapplication.

      Blessings

  8. Will Rochow says:

    Miguel,

    This takes me back to my College and Career group at a church I attended soon after becoming a believer. One of our planned activities was to go to a larger popular inner city park where we were “going witnessing.” What a disaster! The only thing we ended up doing was to become nuisances to the good people in the park who were minding their own business.

    Some time later I read a book by Dick Innes entitled, “I Hate Witnessing.” In it he described a situation on a plane where he told God that he hated witnessing for him. Suddenly he sensed God saying to him, “Good, Dick, I hate the way you witness for me too.”

    Today I’m at a point where I truly believe that effective witnessing must be relational. To use a salesman’s term, “cold calling” isn’t as effective as taking the time to really get to know the individual first. I think people are more likely to be actively engaged in the apologetics when a healthy relationship has been established first.

    That’s my take on it anyway. Thanks, I enjoyed that. Blessings.

    • Miguelito says:

      Thanks for commenting Will,
      If witnessing must be relational, then what do you do with the example from scripture where the gospel is shared in the apparent lack of any real relationship?  i.e.  Acts 17 – Mars Hill, Ethiopian on the road etc… 

      • garyfpatton says:

         @Miguelito Might one answer to your question be that the kinds of situations about which you question Will involved our “Spiritual Ancestors” and watching “cloud of witnesses” operating in their “equipping gifts”, which we don’t ALL have …while ‘witnessing’, as Will seems to be using the term, is what the rest of we Believers, i.e. ALL Christians, are called to do by our saviour in His “Great Commission” ALL the time as led and “as we’re going along”?

      • Tom Schultz says:

        I’ve wondered for years if Paul’s Mars Hill experience was the crowning failure of his missionary journeys. He seemed to influence no one and we read that he was with the Corinthians (his next stop) “in weakness and trembling” as though he left ‘with his tail between his legs’, spiritually and it took some time to recover from the bland reception of the intellectuals.

        • Miguel says:

          Tom, what a fascinating speculation.

          So many wan to emulate Act 17 and Mars Hill, but could it be the wrong desire?

          • Tom Schultz says:

            It is interesting that Athans was Paul’s most “intellectual” audience. They listened politely, didn’t stone him or attack–just mildly mocked him–and left untouched. I think reaching a highly educated audience is perhaps the most difficult ministry there is. As the song says, “To eyes made blind because they will not see…”

  9. Miguelito says:

    Testing livefyre to facebook and twitter in response to the blog post:  “Apologetics is not about defending the faith.”  

  10. garyfpatton says:

    Powerfully written, my difficult-question-asking Brother! Well said! Being human and full of flesh, still, I suspect most of us would say about ourselves re the things you used to do: “This is still me when I’m not careful to “walk in the Spirit”! (Galatians 5:16 & 25-26).
     
    Blessings, @garyfpatton  in Toronto

    • Miguelito says:

       @garyfpatton I don’t slip into my old apologetical self, but sometimes I capitulate to others.   

  11. […] do believe that we should preach the gospel (evangelism), give a reason for the hope that is in us (apologetics), and Make Disciples by “going,” “teaching them to observe all things that Christ […]

  12. […]  WittyVangelism – Ready to give a defense of THE HOPE. Be wise as serpents, and harmless as […]

  13. […] wasn’t until the other day when a commenter on this blog post, suggested that Acts 17 and Paul’s skirmish with the Athenians might just have been his most […]

  14. […] a person, the person of Jesus Christ.”  A while ago, I wrote a blog post entitled “Apologetics is not about defending the faith.”  I still believe that.  In that post, I suggested and “defended,” that […]

  15. gibby espinoza says:

    Most excellent thoughts, my brother and friend. I believe we’ve confused ourselves through the decades in thinking that “contending for the faith” is to be “defending the faith.”

    • Miguel says:

      Gibby, that’s brilliant!

      I’ve not thought of that before. “Contending vs Defending.” I just might have to write a blog about that. I’ll mention you as my inspiration of course… 🙂

  16. […] Apologetics is not about “Defending the Faith.” March 18, 2012 […]

  17. […] One of the more standard definitions is as follows;  ‘Apologetics is the branch of Christian theology which attempts to give a rational defense of the Christian faith.’ I take a different approach to apologetics which you can read here. […]

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