On the RELEVANT site last week, I read an article that examined mainstream apologetics in our culture today. Having studied and written on apologetics, I was instantly drawn to it, curious to see what the author would say. With honesty and sincerity, he cautioned us about the danger of adopting the world’s philosophy and reasoning when we present the Gospel. It would be tragic, he said, if, in the process of defending Christianity, we abandoned the faith we claim to hold.
This raised some serious questions for me, and rightfully so. Does mainstream apologetics replace biblical faith with secular reasoning? What is the goal of apologetics? What is biblical faith?
Biblical faith vs. secular reasoning
In asking if apologetics replaces biblical faith with secular reasoning, I think we need to begin by asking if it could do so. And the answer is yes. If we’re honest, we know we are constantly in danger of replacing a biblical worldview with a secular one. Whether it is in the area of apologetics, social justice, theology or education, we can fall into reasoning that does not honor God. Every day, the world’s secular ideology confronts us. So it should come as no surprise that the New Testament tells us time and again to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2), to keep our eyes fixed on Christ (Hebrews 12:1-3) and to trust Him to guard our hearts and minds from godlessness (Philippians 4:7).
But the question remains: Does mainstream apologetics fall into the world’s trap? Does it exclude biblical faith in favor of secular reasoning? To this question, I believe the answer is no. Yes, apologetics engages secular culture and reasoning. But its goal and the role faith plays is anything but secular.
The goal of apologetics
I consider it a blessing and privilege to have friends engaged in apologetics around the world. Whether they live on the East Coast, in the Middle East or in the Far East, they regularly address the difficult questions and issues of life—and they are not doing this for the sake of cultural relevance. They take part in apologetics because in the Bible, apologetics and evangelism are inextricable. To quote the most popular verse on the subject:
But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15)
The goal of apologetics is not to win arguments. Apologetics acknowledges that life is full of hard questions and difficult days but that in the midst of this, there is a reason for assured hope. The reason is Jesus Christ.
While the goal of apologetics is to introduce people to Christ and invite them to faith, it cannot save anyone, and as far as I know no apologist thinks it can. Salvation is the work and gift of God:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Yet apologetics acknowledges there are barriers in our lives that keep us from truly seeing Jesus and responding to Him in faith. As Christ’s ambassadors, we have the great privilege and responsibility of being used by God to begin removing those barriers, providing open doors for people to either turn toward or away from Christ. For example, many people question the historical reliability and inspiration of the Bible. How can someone put their faith in Christ if they believe the book that tells us about Him is unreliable and not from God? This is where apologetics steps in. It shows that there are good reasons to trust the Bible’s reliability and message. This does not replace or create faith. It simply demonstrates the trustworthiness of faith. There are reasons for hope in the Gospel. Our faith is not blind.
The role of faith in apologetics
However, this raises another question: What is faith? All religions contain faith or trust in something—so why put your faith in Christ and not Buddhism, Islam or atheism? What sets the Christian faith apart? These questions are at the heart of apologetics.
The biblical understanding of faith is an act of entrusting your mind, heart and will to someone. In discussing faith’s definition, evangelist and apologist Michael Ramsden points out that the biblical word for “faith” is the idea of trust, or trustworthiness. This is clearly seen in Hebrews 11:1 and 6:
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen … And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
Ramsden states, “Faith is knowing that God is real, and knowing that you can trust his promises. You cannot trust someone who isn’t there. You cannot rely on someone if you think that their promises are not reliable. This is why faith is talked about as the ‘substance’ of things not seen and as the ‘evidence’ of things hoped for. Both words carry with them a sense of reality … Faith does not make God real. Faith is a response to a real God who has made himself known.”
So while apologetics affirms that faith is more than reason, involving trust and relationship, it is not less than reason. Apologetics does not surrender faith on the altar of cultural reasoning or relevance. Rather, it seeks to show that the longings (and rebellion) of humanity as expressed in culture point to our great need for the salvation that only comes by grace through faith in Christ alone. Faith is what grounds apologetics. It trusts that the Bible tells us the truth about God, our condition apart from Him and the way to experience redemption.
Faith and reasoning for the glory of God
As long as people ask us to give reasons for our hope, mainstream apologetics has a rightful place in evangelism. And just as apologetics and evangelism are inextricable, biblical faith and reason are intricately woven together. The Gospel is about stepping from darkness into light. It is not a message that promotes ignorance. It is God’s revelation of Himself in the person of Christ.
God is knowable, and knowing God through biblical faith involves every aspect of our humanity. Mainstream apologetics often addresses issues of the mind, but it does so in order to invite people to know God holistically—to love Him with all of their heart, mind, and soul.
As long as we take Christ’s command to make disciples seriously, we’ll encounter objections to our faith via secular reasoning. And as long as we seek to engage culture and share Christ’s love, we’ll have to remember that apologetics goes hand in hand with evangelism. We’ll also have to remember that it’s not about winning an argument, sounding smart or being merely relevant. It’s about Jesus Christ. Apologetics, like evangelism, is about honoring God with our mind, heart and actions. It’s about introducing people to the glorious beauty of God and inviting them to find redemption for their broken souls.