Shaping Culture and Helping Believers

In my last post I talked about the first of three reasons for every Christian to use apologetics: that it helps us to reach unbelievers.  We saw this happening in the Gospels and Acts. Today’s post is about exploring the other two reasons for using apologetics: Shaping culture and strengthening believers.

I don’t think I’m the only one to notice this but the United States is slowly becoming post-Christian. Most unbelievers do not see theology as a source of knowledge anymore. Christianity is seen to be anti-science (even though it is not) and reason and religion are becoming at odds to many Americans in this country. More and more, non-Christians are holding onto a worldview (i.e., their view of the world/reality) that includes the idea that science can explain everything (which it cannot) and religious beliefs are just person-relative and hold no objective truths about God and reality.

Apologetics Shapes Culture

Why are these considerations of culture important? These considerations are important because the gospel is never heard in isolation. It’s always heard against the background of the cultural context in which a person lives. A person raised in a cultural context in which Christianity is seen as an intellectually viable option will display an openness to the gospel which a person who grew up in a very secularized culture will most likely not. For the secular person, you may as well tell them to believe in Santa Claus or the Tooth-fairy than Jesus Christ!

It is for this reason that Christians who depreciate the value of apologetics because “no one comes to Christ through arguments” are shortsighted.  For the value of apologetics extends far beyond our immediate personal contact. It is the broader task of Christian apologetics to help create and sustain a cultural context in which the gospel can be heard as an intellectually viable option for thinking men and women.

In an article called “Christianity and Culture,” on the eve of the Fundamentalist Controversy, the great Princeton theologian J. Gresham Machen soberly warned,

False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the Gospel. We may preach with all the fervor of a reformer and yet succeed only in winning a straggler here and there, if we permit the whole collective thought of the nation to be controlled by ideas which prevent Christianity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless delusion. 1

Unfortunately, Machen’s warning was ignored, and biblical Christianity retreated into the intellectual closet of Fundamentalism. Anti-intellectualism and second-rate scholarship became the norm.

Fortunately, in the United States in recent decades a renewed Christianity has emerged from the Fundamentalist closet and has begun to take up Machen’s challenge in a serious manner. To put it simply, we are living at a time when Christian philosophy is experiencing a genuine renaissance, arousing interest in 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 history, and at a time when biblical criticism has undergone a renewed quest of the historical Jesus which treats the Gospels as valuable historical sources for the life of Jesus. The church is 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.

Apologetics Builds Up Believers

My final reason why a Christian should engage with apologetics is because it strengthens fellow believers. Contemporary Christian worship tends to focus on attaining 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. Unfortunately I hear all the time about a married couple’s kids leave the church because all they get from the church is an emotional rush. If parents are not intellectually engaged with their faith and do not have valid arguments for Christianity being true and good answers to their children’s questions, then we are in real danger of losing our kids to unbelief. It’s no longer enough to teach our children Bible stories; they need sound doctrine and apologetics. We’ve got to train our kids for war (spiritual war that is). 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 long past.

But apologetics does much more than keep Christian believers from lapsing into unbelief, it also has an up-building effect. By studying apologetics we can find a much deeper and richer faith than what is available to us in a mere experiential  faith. American churches, as a whole, are filled with Christians who are idling in intellectual neutral. As Christians, their minds are going to waste. One result of this is an immature, superficial walk with Christ. 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.

So to summarize: Christian apologetics helps shape culture to where the Christian faith is seen as an intellectually viable option and it strengthens believers by keeping them from dropping into unbelief and gives them a mature, deep, and satisfying faith in Jesus Christ.2

  1.  J. Gresham Machen, “Christianity and Culture,” Princeton Theological Review 11 (1913): 7.
  2.  Much of this material has been taken out of William Lane Craig’s book, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, 3rd edition (2008).

What Are You Apologizing For?

What are you apologizing for? This is often the question I get when I talk to Christians and non-Christians about Christian apologetics. To be fair, it does sound like I’m apologizing in a professional manner but in reality that is not the case. Apologetics comes from the greek word, apologia, which means to give a defense. The word shows up a few times in the New Testament (Acts 22, 25; 1 Corinthians 9; 2 Corinthians 7; Philippians 1; and 2 Timothy 4:16) but it’s most prominent use is in 1 Peter 3:15. If you want a definition of Christian apologetics, this is the verse to read. 1 Peter 3:15 says:

“…but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense (apologia) to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.”

More often than not, when I talk about how important Christian apologetics is for the Christian in evangelizing, I get a lot of push back from my brothers and sisters in the Lord. I want to first list my reasons for why everyone who claims to follow Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior should, in some capacity, be equipped to defend their faith in front of non-Christians:

  • Persuading non-Christians to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior
  • Strengthening Christians’ beliefs in times of doubt
  • Shaping culture to where the Gospel is seen as plausible to non-Christians (Pastor Josh Moore has written a brief post on a related topic here.)

However I’m going to wait for a future post to delve more deeply into these three important reasons for using apologetics. In this current post, I want to briefly look at some objections that I have often been confronted with from Christians about using apologetics.

Objection 1: I’m not smart enough to defend my Christian beliefs!

My first response is reminiscent of the words of the Christian philosopher and theologian William Lane Craig who responded to this kind of objection. To paraphrase Dr. Craig, how dare you insult your Creator who endowed you with reason and intelligence and not use it to glorify Him in defending His truth. The different (and numerous) defenses of the Christian faith does not require Ph.D.-type knowledge nor dozens of complicated text books to understand. There are books out there written on a high school (some even middle school) level that a person of average intelligence could easily grasp.

Objection 2: The apostles were unlearned and they did okay!

In Acts 4, we read that the Jewish leaders noted that Peter and John were uneducated and unlearned. Some have taken this cue that it’s okay to not use their reason and intelligence when reaching out to unbelievers. I have a couple of responses to this:

1) When the Jewish leaders said that Peter and John were uneducated and unlearned, they probably meant that Peter and John had not undergone formal rabbinic training headed by the Pharisees and Sadducees.

2) Even if we grant Peter was uneducated and unlearned, it doesn’t appear he stayed that way. Keep in mind at the beginning, he was just a fisherman but he must have taken his own advice (1 Peter 3:15) and got himself educated. This is evident in his letters. 1 and 2 Peter are considered to be written in highly educated, intellectual Greek style which is unlikely from someone with just a fisherman background. If Peter did write those letters, he must have devoted himself to intellectual cultivation in his travels. All of this could be said of John as well with his letters and gospel written in Greek.

Objection 3: In 1 Corinthians 1-2, Paul argues against the wisdom of the world and reminded his readers that he did not give them persuasive words of wisdom!

Some conclude from this that reasoning and argumentation doesn’t do us any good when it comes to evangelism. I have a few responses to this:

1) If this is an indictment against argumentation and reasoning with unbelievers then Paul contradicts himself a lot as shown throughout the book of Acts.

2) Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 1 and 2 should be seen as a condemnation on the exclusive use of Greek rhetoric. Greek orators at that time did not have substance to their rhetoric but used empty rhetoric to persuade others to a position.

3) Paul is likely making the claim that the content of the gospel cannot be deduced by pure reason from a set of first principles. I have no problem agreeing with that. I don’t see how it’s possible to start with some abstract concept of an unmoved mover and conclude that a crucifixion must take place sometime in human history.

Objection 4: Our response to God’s ways should be that of ignorance, otherwise we dishonor God by using reason!

Christians will often use Isaiah 55:9 (God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours) and 1 Corinthians 8:1 (knowledge puffs people up and makes them arrogant) to justify this position. The fact that God’s thoughts are higher than ours means that we will never be able to fully grasp God’s purposes, motives, or guidance in the world. But who would ever think we could attain to the full knowledge of such things?  To admit this says nothing about loving God with our minds by defending his truth with reason and arguments.

In regards to arrogance, I want to make two important points. First, Paul’s statement is not going against knowledge but against a certain attitude toward it. It seems that the proper response is humility, not arrogance. Second, there are as many unknowledgeable persons who are arrogant as there are knowledgeable persons who are arrogant. Arrogance is not solely for people who use their reasoning to defend God’s truth.

Doubtless there are other objections but I tried to answer the most popular ones that I have heard. In my next post, I’ll delve more deeply into my three reasons why a follower of Jesus Christ should engage with apologetics.