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).
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