There’s a lot to know, isn’t there? There are a lot of convictions that we as Christians have that we need to be able to give an answer for, that we need to understand and be able to explain and defend to other people. We don’t apologize for the fact that we are Christians and we believe the gospel, and we believe that God spoke in his word and those sorts of things. No, we need to be able to give an answer for them, for the hope that we possess in Christ.
But what you have probably realized is, and maybe this is why you listen to a podcast like this, there’s a lot to know. I, too, think there’s a lot to know. There’s still so much I want to grow in. So all of that to say, it can be overwhelming to start thinking about all of the different areas that we need to know about and be prepared to give an answer for. I wonder if you’ve ever felt this and if you’ve ever been overwhelmed by it.
Consider the fact that we need to talk about the Bible and where it came from, and has it been corrupted, and didn’t people just take a vote and decide what should be in the Bible. There are so many questions about the Bible. And then there’s Jesus, was he really God, did he actually exist? What did he do on the cross? Was he perfect? There are lots of questions there, And, who is God? What is God? The questions could go on and on and on. There are lots of questions, and pretty much every episode on this podcast has addressed a question and we’re nowhere near hitting them all because there are almost as many questions as there are people. People are individuals, yes but, there are common questions and objections, though you’ll often hear new ones.
So all of that to say, there’s a lot to know, and I want to be an encouragement to you today that _if you apply yourself and you study, just slowly and consistently over time, you will see it all fit together at some point. _Not every single thing, but you will get to a place where you have a firm grasp of these things and can navigate in conversations with confidence, knowing generally how to answer most of the questions that are out there. This is the approach of compound interest, you put in small amounts over time and at some point in the future it has grown such that it will reap dividends.
There’s a book called the Compound Effect that talks about this, applying concepts of compound interests to how we live our daily lives. I’ve read it almost a decade ago, I think, and it was very helpful, but that’s what we need to do with Christianity in our Christian walk. We do that with spiritual disciplines, so we start reading the Bible a little and slowly we start reading it more and more and at some point, you realize, wow, I have really been shaped by this. It’s the same way with prayer. These things pay dividends in the future. Small changes progressively over time really make a difference at some point in the future. It’s the same way with apologetics, you can’t just jump in and say I want to learn how to defend all of the essential doctrines of Christianity in a day, in a month, or in six months, it doesn’t work. But if you apply yourself over time, it will all coalesce and come together in the future.
I want to talk about a conversation I had where it kind of worked that way. Now, it doesn’t always work that way. I don’t have answers to everyone’s questions and I am generally hesitant about holding myself up as an example, but I want you to be encouraged because I have tried to apply myself to these questions and I have tried to see how can I grow in this area over time, and I try to, on the podcast, help equip you all to do the same.
So I had a conversation recently with a couple of college students, and it was after after church one Sunday morning and they had a lot of questions, and the questions were all over the place, not because they were scatterbrained, but because that’s how questions about Christianity almost always go. One thing leads to another thing which leads to another thing. One moment you’re talking about a social issue and the next you’re talking about a specific verse from Leviticus 18. It can be overwhelming to think “how am I supposed to understand how this verse from first Kings fits with second Chronicles something” and then a moment later, talk about a social issue in public policy, and a moment later talk about the deity of Christ.
There’s a lot to know there, I’m not going to downplay that. But what I am going to say is if we apply ourselves progressively and even slowly over time, we will get to the place where we are equipped to deal with the majority of objections out there. We won’t know what to do with everything, and we should be very equipped and feel confident in saying “I don’t know” when we don’t know. There is no shame in not knowing. There is shame in trying to give an answer and bluff your way through something, or giving a bad answer, just because you can’t admit when you don’t know. So it’s much better to say I don’t know if you actually don’t know.
So, let me tell you about this conversation. We talked about who God was. They asked me who is God, what is God, and so I give an answer, and the answer that comes to mind is from a catechism I memorized. If you have not heard of catechisms, they are generally arranged in a question-and-answer format where there might be a question, well, “who is God”, and then the person who is learning the catechism, memorizes an answer. So there are questions like what is the purpose of life, or how and why did God create us, and then someone remembers and memorizes answers that come from Scripture or assembled from Scripture to that question.
I was asked what is God, and what came to mind was from the new city catechism, “God is the sustainer and creator of everyone and everything. He’s eternal, infinite and unchangeable in his power and perfection, goodness and glory, wisdom, justice and truth. Nothing happens except through him, and by his will.” That’s something I learned that came out, that I had put in earlier, and we often talk about this with Scripture but it works with other things too, what you memorize in training will hopefully come out on the field.
The person replied when I asked them what they thought God was, that they said God was just love. I said, “Okay. Is there any concept of justice or wrath in your idea of God?” And they said, “Well, no.” I said, “Okay. Well, let’s go back to the Holocaust,” and they had brought up the Holocaust as a question earlier about where was God in that, and I said, “Would it be loving to the victims of the Holocaust for God not to punish the people who murdered them?” The answer that was given was no, it wouldn’t. I said, “Okay. So it seems like what you’re saying and admitting is we can’t just have God be only love, he actually needs to be just too or he might not actually be as loving,” and they said yes, and I think that’s true. God is fully just, he is fully loving, but love is not God. It doesn’t work in reverse.
So we talked about who God was, and then I asked the question, well, where should we go to learn about who God is? We can look inwardly at ourselves, but that’s just an opinion, so where should we go to learn more about God? I think someone said, well, what about the Bible, and I said, “Yes, I think that’s a great answer. In fact, it’s probably the only way we’re going to learn about who God is, is to listen when he tells us about who he is.” There are certain things we can learn about God from nature, but to learn more about his person and his character, we are going to need to look at his word.
Well, that led to questions, as often happens, of can we trust the Bible? It was interesting, one of the people actually held a view that I’ve never heard in person before, and it was that he believed that, yes, the Bible actually was originally the word of God, but it’s been changed and it’s been corrupted and it’s been translated and translated and translated. Well, that’s a very common claim that the Bible’s been translated and translated translated, kind of like the telephone game, and it’s simply false because any time a translation is made we go back to the oldest and best manuscripts. So we were able to talk about that.
And then the question became, well, where does temptation come from? Does God tempt us? You’re holding a Bible, let’s turn to James one and let’s see what God says and answer to that question, and it’s says God tempts no one and he’s not tempted himself. And then we we talked about some social issues, and we talked about morality, and we talked some more about the Bible, and we talked for 35 minutes and we were all over the place. There were so many different sorts of questions about who was Jesus and who is God, and what happened on the cross, and can we trust the Bible, and this goes back to what I was saying,
If you’re just getting started in apologetics some of those questions might be unanswerable for you, and they are all over the place. You can’t just study one topic and be equipped there, but what you can do is progressively apply yourself, little by little over time, and you will arrive at the place where you’re able to answer those sorts of questions in one sitting, and converse with people.
Here’s the thing, it’s very helpful to be able to answer other people’s questions, that’s certainly true, but we don’t always have to play in the sandbox that other people give us. If I couldn’t answer half of their questions, that doesn’t mean we can’t have a conversation because I can actually ask questions of my own. Christianity is not proven false if I can’t answer someone’s question. I have a friend, he’s been on the podcast before, Hunter Levine, he loves making this point, two thousand years of teaching and the success of Christianity does not hinge on your ability to answer someone’s question. There are always going to be questions we can’t answer, and that’s okay. Now, we should strive to get answers, we should follow up with people and we should also say we don’t know when we don’t know like we said before. But even when I don’t know the answer to a question, I can stop being on the defensive or serving as the answer-man, and I can ask questions of my own.
Here was a question I asked them, and I think this is important, I said to them “let’s say one day, when you die, you arrive at the gates of heaven and it’s one of those kind of scenes from a joke where Peter’s standing at the gate, or God’s standing at the gate, and he says why should I let you in, I said, “What would you say? What is your answer to why God should let you in to heaven?” They didn’t really give one. I said to them, “If your answer is anything else than pleading your inadequacy and the merits of Christ’s work on the cross on your behalf and trusting solely in that, he’s going to say depart from me, I never knew you.” That’s the truth.
So often, in these conversations, we sit back, and I do this too, and we talk about issues or maybe we don’t talk at all, I actually think that’s much more common where people just do not enter into conversations because they don’t think they know what to say or something. But we must enter into conversations, and when we enter and we cannot simply approach them, like they’re neutral theological or philosophical questions that we lean back in our chairs and we just converse about it, and it’s just ideas being exchanged. No, these are the most important things we could ever talk or think about, and there are right or wrong answers, and the wrong answers are really damaging. The wrong beliefs people hold, that their hearts love and hold onto, also, will lead to their destruction and their judgment because of their actions, so we can’t just approach these dispassionately. I can’t be content to just talk with a non-Christian and just talk about the age of the earth and what does it matter and everything like that because I could change his view on the age of the earth, maybe, and it’d still not make an eternal difference. I could change someone’s mind on a social issue, maybe how we look at gender or sexuality, and it not matter in the light of eternity.
So it’s helpful to also steer the conversation, and you can do this, like I said, even if you don’t know the answer to their questions, ask them some questions. Say, have you done wrong things? Have you done wrong things and known they were wrong? And the answer for everyone is yes. I think another question to ask is, do you think wrong deeds should be punished? This is a very interesting question because people are going to want to say yes if it’s not about them, and maybe say no if it is about them, but the answer most people will give is yes. You could say, yes, that’s correct, your intuition has informed you correctly, and the Bible affirms that too, that the wages of our wrong deeds is our judgment, and that creates a problem for all of us for you and for me. That’s a great segue to talking about the gospel. Everyone is guilty and everyone needs forgiveness, everyone, I believe, carries the guilt of their sin. They address it in different ways, they don’t maybe have a formal category for it, and so talking to people about the mercy of God that is found in submitting your life to Christ can be very freeing if people could simply turn to it and would believe it.
So all of that to say, ask your own questions, figure out a way to make a thread to the gospel, not in an awkward since, it doesn’t have to be awkward. But if someone’s willing to sit with you for 5 and 10 minutes and talk about things, about religion and Christianity, you can ask one of your own questions.
Now, is the conversation a failure if you don’t get to that, if you don’t get to the gospel? No, it’s not. It’s not at all. You can’t make someone believe, obviously, but what we can do is try to be faithful stewards and we can realize two main things, one, if we progressively apply ourselves over time we will be better equipped to answer questions. We’ll never be able to answer all of them, but we’ll do a better job with most of them, the common ones. The second thing is, we can ask our own questions. Even if we’ve been able to answer their questions, or if we haven’t, it’s very reasonable in a conversation for both parties to ask questions.
So use a question to get to the topic of the gospel, that is the thing we should be most prepared to defend and yet often in apologetic circles, it’s the other way around. People are really comfortable talking about the age of the earth, and evolution, and arguments for God’s existence and we often don’t spend nearly enough time talking about the gospel and how do we defend it, justification by faith alone. How do we defend the work and person of Christ on the cross? How do we talk about those central things, because you can reform someone’s worldview and they still go to hell. It really matters if we get the gospel right, so let’s focus on that, and how we apply ourselves, and where we study, and let’s use questions to get there in our conversations. And just realize, at some point, if you progressively apply yourself, it will all come together.
Well, I’ll talk with you next week on Unapologetic.