I’m not a philosopher, or a particularly deep thinker. I like to think as deeply as I can, but the more I read, the more I realize how far I am from true philosophy. This week, I’ve been reading a book by C.S. Lewis as well as a couple of debates by William Lane Craig. If you ever want to feel mentally outclassed, that would be my recommendation.
Why do I share this? Because I can.
Now to this week’s topic (it’s kind of related)
1 Peter 3:15 talks about being prepared to give a defense of the hope that is within us. This verse informs and supports a very important discipline within the Christian community- the discipline of apologetics.
Apologetics provoke a range of responses among Christians. Some love them and see them as the only (or most effective) method of evangelism. Others, often quoting lines like, “nobody was ever argued into the kingdom,” avoid apologetics and see little value in the discipline. We have Christian philosophers who have built a career around defending the faith, pastors who’ve built a ministry on proving God through the miraculous, and theologians who’ve spent a lifetime presenting scripture as the ultimate revelation of God’s existence. Apologetics are most dangerous in the hands of the young. Without the wisdom of age and experience, it is tempting to build your faith on the foundations of Ravi Zacharias or Lee Strobel.
I’m not an apologist. If I had to classify my approach to engaging with Christianity, I would (cautiously) define myself as a theologian. As a theologian, I would like to let theology guide my views on apologetics. There are a lot of topics covered under the banner of apologetics, but I’m going to focus on the branch of apologetics that seeks to prove God’s existence.
First, the Bible doesn’t go to much length to prove that God exists. Genesis 1 begins with, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” The Bible says that evidence of God is in nature and pretty much expects us to find this evidence ourselves. “The heavens declare the Glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). Paul says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them” (Romans 1:18,19).
In a way, this almost feels like a cop out. It’s like God is saying, “I exist, get over it”. And to everyone who doesn’t see it, He doesn’t do too much to convince them otherwise. Well He does, which leads to my second point…
Jesus is presented to us as God’s clearest evidence of Himself. Hebrews, Colossians, and John make this most clear. In the book of John, Jesus tells people that to believe in Him is to believe in the Father. “He is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature” (Hebrews 1:3).
I once heard someone say, “If God was real, He could very easily arrange the stars into a message or something like that, and then we’d know.” John says, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” Why did God choose to reveal Himself this way? I don’t know. One possible clue: Jesus frequently says things that suggest that He is not interested in revealing Himself in such a way that everyone will see, but He deliberately obscures the truth so that only certain people will see.
Finally, Peter doesn’t instruct us to PROVE God, but to DEFEND our hope in Him with gentleness and respect. One would be tempted to argue that Peter lived in a time when everyone believed in some concept of God, which is fair. However, except for the Jews, almost no one believed in a transcendent God. The Greek gods were essentially immortal humans. They were bound in time like us, more interested in sleeping with each other than holding man accountable for our sins (If anything, they were more sinful than humans, because they lived longer). The early disciples, even the highly educated Apostle Paul, didn’t put a lot of effort into challenging their ideas of God.
If people doubted the divinity of Jesus while He was on earth, then they will be very easily able to reject our best arguments today. Defending the hope that is within us is more about presenting the real reasons why we personally believe. It requires us to wrestle with our faith, but it remains very personal. For some people, their testimony is the apologetic they will present for why they believe. Some wrestle with philosophical constructs and find the worldview presented by the Bible to be the most plausible. Whatever evidence supports your faith, be ready to express that clearly and confidently, with gentleness and respect.
I’m not saying all this to dissuade the discipline of apologetics. I have a number of conversations with friends and with students in the context of Power to Change ministry about why I believe God exists. I love the intellectual challenge that these conversations usually present. It’s generally beneficial to have your worldview challenged because it either strengthens or refines it. Some people are particularly gifted at thinking philosophically or leveraging science to support belief in God through Jesus. I believe in using the gifts God has given us to advance His kingdom. My purpose in this post is to give two pieces of advice:
- Build your faith on the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.
- Build your evangelism around the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ
I believe this is what makes C.S Lewis, Ravi Zacharias, William Lane Craig, and others, so effective. Their works always present Jesus as central to the Christianity they defend. Very few people, if any, will become Christians because of your defence. At the same time, your defence may remove obstacles that prevent people from engaging in the life changing message of Jesus.