Episode 144 - Two Bad Reasons for Apologetics (and One Good One)

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It's been a while since we've actually talked about the name of this podcast, which is actually the name of a book I've also written too, Unapologetic: A Guide for Defending Your Christian Convictions. Apologetics is an area of Christian study that aims to give answers for why we believe the things we believe.

Why do you believe what you believe you believe? What are the reasons behind the things we teach and affirm as Christians? That's what apologetics does. It simply aims to give an answer. So unapologetic is obviously kind of a pun on that because a lot of times people actually seem to apologize for Christianity, and not in the “apologetic” sort of way. What some people seem to do is present their Christian beliefs only if asked, only if pressed, and they do it almost as if saying, "I'm almost sorry I believe this. I believe this but maybe I don't know if I should, or I don't know if you should."

They're just not confident, and it comes across actually like they're apologizing, like saying, "I’m sorry for," as opposed to apologizing by giving a defense. That word apologize actually has two meanings. We've kind of lost the meaning in popular conversation, that means to give a defense, but that’s what Christian apologetics is. It gives an answer. It gives a reason. It gives a defense for the things we believe as Christians, the things that are taught in Scripture, the gospel, those sorts of things. That's what apologetics is.

We haven’t talked about that in a while, but being unapologetic means to not say you’re sorry while giving an answer for the Christian faith.

So today, let’s talk about some bad reasons for apologetics. The good reasons should hopefully be somewhat self-explanatory. There are a lot of questions out there that need answering, so we should be prepared to answer them. That's the simplest way to say that, but I think there’s some bad reasons too that maybe come out of a good impulse, but nonetheless are negative.

Bad Reason 1: Self Justification

The first bad reason for doing apologetics, for giving an answer, for being equipped to give an answer, is to justify ourselves. I am sure that I am not the only one who, when you are in any type of conversation or disagreement and someone thinks you’re wrong, someone thinks you’re stupid, or someone thinks you’re a bigot, you want to justify yourself. You want to prove yourself to be right, to be on the side of the correct view, to hold the moral position.

You want to justify yourself. That’s what that means, so a lot of times that actually flows over into doing apologetics. Maybe you've had an encounter where someone made you feel dumb in front of a large group of people because you couldn’t give a reason why someone should believe in the resurrection or why God exists, and so you studied. You didn't like getting licked in that conversation, in that argument, and you come back, and maybe the reason you’re doing this is because you didn't like to feel dumb. You didn’t like to feel stupid.

Now, I think sometimes we can find that we were ill-equipped for a conversation or a discussion, and that can drive us to study and be more equipped. That doesn’t have to be a negative thing, but sometimes there’s a turn that can be taken where it actually becones a way of us feeling better about ourselves than someone else, us showing that we, as the Christians, have all the right reasons, and the atheist or the non-Christian or whoever actually is the one that is irrational and that sort of thing. We do it from a position of pride, not a position of humility, and that can be a problem. When we seek to justify ourselves so that we're not thought of as stupid or bigoted, and that’s the primary goal that can be a problem.

Now, I do think there’s a place for wanting someone to not think Christians are bigoted. We should not want people to think Christians are bigoted, but here’s the thing. Even if we present the truth in the best possible way, many in society today are going to still think it’s bigoted. Christianity, correctly understood, is off-putting. We have to work through that and understand that while we should not add offense to the gospel. The gospel is offensive and so if we're simply trying to justify ourselves so that people think well of us, it’s ultimately not going to work either because in order to justify yourself and be found to be socially acceptable today, you will have to change the message.

That takes us to our second bad reason for apologetics, and that’s to make Christianity appealing or acceptable.

Bad Reason 2: To Make Christianity Appealing it Acceptable

The first bad reason is to justify ourselves, and that kind of fits like the other side of a coin almost with making Christianity appealing or acceptable. The first thing I just want to say is you can’t make Christianity appealing or acceptable without changing it. It is fundamentally not able to happen and Scripture tells us why this is. The flesh is at war with the things of the Spirit. The cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but the message of the cross is life and salvation to those who are being saved.

So it’s the same message. It’s the same ideas, but to one group they’re totally acceptable and not just acceptable, they’re beautiful and esteemed and they are the power of God for salvation. For the other group, they're stupid and foolish and off-putting and bigoted. If to the non-Christian you want to make Christianity appealing, you will have to change the message. At that point, it is no longer Christianity. So to put some specifics on this, there are some examples that come to mind when I think of people doing apologetics, trying to make Christianity look appealing or be acceptable. There are rough edges in Scripture. There are things that grate against the non-Christian sensibilities, and honestly, sometimes the Christian sensibilities.

I don’t think either of these are good things, but sometimes let’s say there’s an issue of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility or freedom. Some people, some apologists (people who practice giving an answer for Christianity) will say that they choose their view because it’s easier to understand or it’s more palatable. That should never be a consideration when we choose a view. The degree to which it’s accepted by a non-Christian should not be any form of criteria we use to choose a view. In fact, I would actually say if it is, it should be a negative one. In other words, if this view was more acceptable to the non-Christian, it's probably more likely to be incorrect. I mean, think about it. If the message of the cross is foolishness and something makes Christianity seem less foolish, then perhaps, I’m not saying this is always true, but perhaps you’re going in the wrong direction.

Also, sometimes when it comes to how we talk about Scripture with non-Christians, we'll go to their level and talk about it like, "Well, it’s just historical documents, which could have errors." Some actual apologists will say things like, "Well, Paul and James disagree on justification, and Acts contradicts itself about Paul’s conversion," and things like that, “but it's still generally true.” We can still have confidence that Jesus rose from the dead. Well, whenever we accept the non-Christians premise that Scripture is not accurate, that it’s not the word of God, we're speaking about the word of God in a different way than God speaks about his own word.

I don’t want to speak differently of something than God does, because if I’m putting forth a different thought or a different belief than God has, I’m putting forth an incorrect thought. To believe something that’s true is to think God’s thoughts after him, and so whenever we present a view contrary to how God has presented a view, we're not doing something good. We're doing something bad. We're trying to make Christianity more acceptable by speaking of it differently than its founder spoke of it.

So that surfaces, like I mentioned, with issues of God’s sovereignty and freedom, it surfaces in how we talk about Scripture, and sometimes it surfaces in how we talk about hell. Some people will say when asked, "Is my aunt, who is not a Christian, going to hell?", "Well, God's not going to send someone to where they don’t want to go," and that’s an example of an answer that borders, in my opinion, on trying to make something acceptable at the risk of not presenting the true consideration, because the fact is, if you asked people, "Do you want to go to hell," the answer is no. If you ask people, "Do you want to go to heaven," and they believed it’s a place, they would say yes, but most people don’t think heaven and hell are real places, in spite I would say of sometimes what polls have shown. I think there’s some confounding factors there, but nonetheless, they don’t want to go to heaven on the terms that God has set for heaven.

They might not believe in the God who actually has spoken in Scripture and talked about heaven or has talked about hell. Both are places he has created, and so to say, "Well, people are going to go where they want to go," is not necessarily true. Now, yes, people will go where they go because of their choices and their sin, or because of the grace of God, that is certainly true, but when we talk about hell in such a way like that, I think we obscure some more-real truths behind the scenes.

I don’t think anyone wants to go to hell. Now, I don’t think anyone, apart from the work of the Spirit, wants God, but that’s not the same thing as saying they don’t want heaven. Everyone wants to live in a paradise. Not everyone wants to bow the knee to their creator and sovereign Lord. That’s the distinction when it comes to that sort of issue too.

Okay, so if those are bad reasons for apologetics, justifying ourselves, making Christianity appealing, and we looked at that in terms of maybe how we talk about Scripture or hell, or Christian exclusive claims, or sovereignty and things like that, if those are bad reasons, well what is the good reason for doing apologetics?

The Best Reason for Doing Apologetics

I would say that the aim of Christian apologetics is to glorify God in the presentation and defense of his truth, to glorify our sovereign creator and Savior in the presentation and defense of his truth. That's a responsibility he’s given us. We see that in First Peter 3:15. "Be prepared to give an answer." We've looked at that in previous weeks recently, that we should do that with gentleness and respect. Our manner and our message are both important. But if our understanding is that we are glorifying God and accurately representing what he said, not trying to justify ourselves, not trying to make Christianity look appealing, sometimes that will result in people rejecting our message, but we must realize that the degree to which God is glorified in our apologetics is not dependent on a person’s response.

We must have a category of God being glorified in the end because of a person’s rejection of a defense of the gospel, because of a rejection of the good news. This is not something we should take joy in, but the fact of the matter is, is that God is glorified both in the salvation of sinners and in the punishment and judgment of sinners. The more revelation someone has, Jesus tells us, the more responsible they will be, and so the more they are deserving of judgment, if God justly punishes them. Conversely, God is also glorified in the salvation of people who he would have otherwise justly punished. We must have that category, too.

Now, yes, our task is not to increase people’s judgment. Our task is to be faithful, to share the gospel. Romans 10, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news." We are sharing good news, but it is not up to us to bring fruit out of our faithfulness there. The Spirit alone is the one who brings salvation to people. We are simply responsible to be the messengers, but when someone rejects our message, that doesn’t necessarily mean we did it wrong, that doesn’t mean we said it wrong, that doesn’t mean we should have made it more acceptable or appealing. What it often means is that man’s heart is hard apart from the Spirit, that the person who is not a Christian thinks the message of the cross is foolishness.

We must remember that, and so if we understand that God is glorified in the accurate presentation of his truth in love for his glory, then while we might still be saddened and grieved by people’s eternal state, what we'll still realize is, is God is ultimately glorified in our act of sharing, in his act of salvation, and if he doesn’t save that person, in his act of judgment. The reformers had a phrase that the same son that melts the ice hardens the clay. We are the ones, in a way, sharing the message. We are bringing light to a darkness, but if God has not transformed that heart from clay to ice, that message will not necessarily melt that heart. It will not soften it, it will likely harden it, but that’s not our responsibility. We don’t know whose heart has been softened, whose heart is hard, what the Spirit is going to do.

No. We, kind of like the person who throws seed in the parable of the soils, just throw it indiscriminately. It will land where it lands. It will accomplish what God wants it to accomplish. We're not responsible for what that seed does, bu we are responsible to share that seed, to spread that seed for the glory of God. Yes, we should care how people respond to our message. Yes, we should care about how skilled we are to present the message, and what our character is while we deliver the message, but if we ever move from those considerations, which have the glory of God as their primary consideration, and move to justifying ourselves or trying to make Christianity appealing or acceptable, we have erred and we will most likely end up changing the message.

Our apologetics should never drive our theology, our apologetics should never drive our biblical interpretation. I should never come to hold a different belief simply because I will end up communicating that belief than if I were never to speak with someone about it. Now, obviously, we should share our beliefs here, but my point is, if the thought of sharing this belief makes me change it, I’m probably doing it wrong.

I'll end here with a recent example from someone I respect, Greg Koukl, who is an apologist. He’s done this for 25 or 30 years. He got a question recently on his radio show, and it was basically, "If God told you to kill all left-handed people, would you do it?" Now, obviously, the God we know would not command that. The God of the Bible would not command that.

This is one of those questions I think asked by non-Christians that really attempts to make the Christian look bad, and so Greg goes through a response to this showing that’s not the character of the God in the Bible. (Don’t judge his response off of my description here, you should listen to it on your own but just hear me for the summary I'm trying to give.) After he gives all reasonable caveats, he says, "Yes, if God actually commanded that, and I knew that, then it would actually be the good and right thing to do because God, the standard and ground of all morality, has told me to do something."

I really respect that answer because I think there are some who do apologetics today who would not give that answer, but as Martin Luther said when asked to recant his testimony about the gospel, he said, "Here I stand. I can do no other.”

I think that’s what we have to do as apologists. We have to be willing to say, "Yes, this Christian claim makes me look bad. It sounds bigoted. It strikes your ear wrong in 2018, but here I stand. I can do no other. I can’t make Christianity appealing or acceptable to you. That’s the job of the Spirit. My job is simply to communicate it as clearly and winsomely and kindly and accurately as possible." My prayer for us this year is that we would do that, that we would be encouraged from Scripture in how to do that more effectively with a better character and a better clarity. Well, I'll talk with you next week, on Unapologetic.