My Problem with Apologetics

We have now reached the end of the apologetic portion of Mere Christianity, consisting of Lewis’ argument for the existence of God and for Jesus Christ being who he said he was.  But before we go any further, I want to digress and offer you an explanation of my problem with apologetics.

You see, I have this problem with apologetics.

Not with apologetics as such.  I believe that it is vitally important to know what you believe and why you believe it, and to be able to give a reasonable answer to people who ask you why you believe what you believe.  I believe that people like Lewis, McDowell, Strobel, and others do us a valuable service in equipping us to be able to know what we believe and why we believe it.  I would heartily recommend the resources offered by these people as essential to the growth of anyone who wishes to know what we believe and why we believe it.

No, my problem with apologetics has to do with the way apologetics is frequently used in evangelical Protestant-dom.  You see, it’s as if we go around believing that we have the superior case, that all the evidence is on our side, and that if anyone with an ounce of sense were to look honestly at the evidence then they would have no choice but to fall to their knees and surrender to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.  That if they would just read such-and-such book or listen to so-and-so’s sermon on such-and-such, it would explain everything, all their questions would just melt away like the morning mist, and they would have no choice but to accept Jesus into their hearts.

Combine this with our “wretched urgency” mindset that our sole purpose for existence is to make other people become Christians, and what you get is the apparent belief that anyone who doesn’t believe in God for whatever reason is just dying to debate about it.  As a result, whenever anyone admits that they don’t believe in God or gives their reasons for not believing in God, we consider it an automatic invitation to debate, to jump in and drop the bomb by bringing out all of our superior evidence and watch them fall to their knees and cry out “What must I do to be saved?”

Nice try, people.

Now there are a few crazy liberal college professors running around out there who are like that.  Those of you who went to Georgia know what I’m talking about; you probably had one or two of them somewhere along the line.  If you didn’t, then you probably know or knew someone who did.  But the vast majority of atheists are not just walking around itching for a debate.  The vast majority of atheists believe what they believe and that’s just fine for them.  They don’t want to talk about it; they just want to go on and live their lives.

Here’s a novel idea:  Let’s try not entering into argument with people whose stereotype of us as Christians is such that trying to start an argument over the evidence for Christianity is exactly what they would expect us to do.

Let me try saying that again.  Most atheists out there have us pegged; they think that the moment they say anything about being atheist we will try to start an argument with them to get them to become Christian.  Let’s mix them up by not playing into that stereotype.

Now I know, that may be hard for some of us.  Some of us are just primed for debate because we know the arguments and the evidents and we are just itching for an opportunity to use it to convince other people to become Christians.  I know.  I used to be that way once, a long time ago.  When I was at Georgia I was actively involved in a literary society that specialized in debate and public speaking.  There were quite a few atheists in this society, and some of them were pretty outspoken.  I used to relish the opportunity to get into these debates and present the arguments and the evidence for Christianity whenever the opportunity presented itself.

So I know what it’s like to be itching for a good debate, and I know it will be hard for those of you who are.  But just think:  Won’t it just rock some atheist’s world if they’re expecting us to jump into some vicious debate with them about the evidence for Christianity and we don’t take the bait?  They won’t know what to think, will they?

And therein lies our opportunity.

Let’s try talking with these people, but not in the form of a debate.  Let’s try finding out what their perceptions of Christianity are, what issues and problems they may have, what experiences they may have had that led them to where they presently are.  Let’s try listening to these people.  Novel idea, isn’t it?

And instead of trying to pummel them with evidence that Christianity is right and they are wrong, let’s invite them to air whatever issues and grievances they may have with Christianity and/or with other Christians.

In one of Donald Miller’s books, he talks about his time at Reid College in Portland, a crazy liberal place with a lot of hostility toward Christianity.  He was part of a small campus ministry (about 4 or 5 people), and one thing they did was set up a confession booth in the middle of campus where they would confess to people the sins that Christianity has in its past.  I love that idea.

One of the standard arguments against Christianity is that religious people are hypocritical.  The truth is that religious people are human, just like everybody else.  That makes them prone to the exact same level of sin, brokenness, and corruption that you will see in nonreligious people.  Human beings are violent, human beings are arrogant, human beings are intolerant, human beings are unfaithful, human beings are thieving–not just religious human beings and not just nonreligious human beings.  One of the failings of present-day atheism is that it marshals all these charges against religious people that anyone with an ounce of sense would see are true of all people.  (And one of the failings of contemporary Christianity is its insistence that religious people are different, that they are superior people who by the power of God live to a superior standard.  But that is a subject best left for another diatribe another day.)

But we don’t need to go there right away with our atheist friends.  Instead, the first thing we need to do is listen.  We should be willing to own up to the areas in which Christianity and Christians have failed and have fallen short.  In time, we can mention that Jesus was never about many of the things that bad Christians were about, and that where Christians have failed Jesus never fails.  In time we can even mention the immense good that has been done in the world by people who believed in Jesus Christ and sought to live their lives in accord with His ways.

But for now, let’s stop using apologetics as a club to beat people over the head with.  Let’s just sit down and listen.

Now wouldn’t that be a novel idea?


2 thoughts on “My Problem with Apologetics

  1. If you look into Jesus’ teaching he often answered a question with a question to narrow the focus of the questioner. I believe that by asking and listening to the people who are trying to debate you, you can show the love of Jesus in a real manner.

    I’m listening to a Podcast from Ravi Zacharias ministires this week called Conversational Apologetics and it is very interesting. You and your readers may be interested in listening to this podcast as Ravi and his team are very good at what they do in terms of sharing the gospel in some of the most hostile places in the world (college campuses and the eastern part of the world).

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