The Problem with Traditional Apologetics

1 Peter 3:15 says “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.”

The word “defense” in the Greek is “apologia.”  Christian apologetics is the defense of the Christian faith.  The traditional approach to apologetics is to lay out various evidences in hopes people will conclude God is real and submit to Jesus.  Here are 3 problems with that approach: 

1) People Re-Interpret Evidence based on their Worldview

A worldview is the way we understand the world around us, as in how we got here and how we can know what we know.  In an atheist worldview, there is no God and there are no miracles, so if you talk to them about evidences for Jesus’ resurrection, they’ll just re-interpret that evidence as a hoax or give some alternate explanation. 

Likewise, atheists might point to the age of the earth as evidence against Christianity, but because of our worldview, Christians interpret that evidence based on the effects of worldwide flood in Genesis 6. 

So we bring our evidence to the unbeliever, they bring their evidence to us, and neither of us are impressed because it can all be alternately explained within our worldview.  We end up stuck at an impasse where we agree to disagree and go our separate ways.  

People have always filtered evidence through their worldview.  In the Pharisees’ worldview, Jesus could not possibly have been God’s Son, so no matter how many miracles He performed, they still concocted alternate explanations, no matter how irrational.  “This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons.” (Matt. 12:24) 

2) We Pretend to be Neutral

According to Peter, before we give a defense, we must “Sanctify Jesus as LORD in your hearts.”  Yet so often in traditional apologetics we give up our conviction that Jesus is LORD and pretend He may not be.  We step into the unbeliever’s worldview and say “Okay, let’s just say it’s possible you’re right and God doesn’t exist; let’s follow the evidence to see if that’s true.” 

This is a serious problem for 3 reasons:  One, it usually leads to the impasse I described.  Two, it’s not Biblical.  No apostles or Christians taught people about God from a neutral position.  They always spoke from the conviction that God’s Word is the ultimate authority and the standard by which all things are measured.  They sanctified Jesus as Lord in their hearts.  Three, it makes human reasoning the ultimate authority, not God’s Word. 

When we talk to fellow Christians, we never ask, “How do you think we should live?”  That would make us the standard, not God’s word.  Yet when we talk to unbelievers, we abandon the truth that God’s Word is the ultimate authority and ask them what they think about this or that piece of evidence and then we leave it up to them to determine by the authority of their own mind if God exists. 

It’s logically inconsistent because on one hand we’re trying to get them to see that God is the ultimate authority, but then in our apologetic we make the unbeliever the ultimate authority for determining whether or not God is the ultimate authority.  We make them the judge over God instead of God the judge over them. 

Plus, it’s inconsistent with what we believe.  We sing in church on Sundays with absolute conviction, “There is a God, He is alive,” and then on Monday when we talk to the unbeliever we treat God like He’s a mere probability.  We present our arguments as if the evidence makes God’s existence more probable than His non-existence, and since we’re trying to be neutral, we’re going to side with the more probable explanation.

Jesus demands that Christians not be neutral, and that’s okay because no one is neutral.  We all interpret the world through our worldview. 

3) It makes lack of evidence the problem, not sin 

Romans 1:18-19 says “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.”  The problem, according to Romans 1, is not that people don’t have enough evidence.  God has made Himself evident to all people in creation and conscience so that they are without excuse.  Literally in the Greek, they are “anapologetos” or without an apologetic, without a defense.  No one can stand before God on Judgment Day and say, “I didn’t have enough evidence!” 

Yet traditional apologetics treats the problem as if it’s all in the mind and if we could just show them enough evidence, they would believe.  In fact, atheists will say things like, “If God would just show Himself to me, then I’d believe.”  But the Bible says lack of evidence is not the problem.  Everybody already knows God exists based on the evidence; the problem is sin and unrighteousness which leads people to suppress that knowledge.  People not becoming Christians is ultimately a problem of the will, not just the mind.  

In Luke 16, the rich man begged Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead to warn his family to repent so they wouldn’t be tormented for all eternity.  Abraham answered, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.” (16:31).  Abraham knew they already had enough evidence, and a person rising from the dead wouldn’t change a thing because the problem was with their sinful hearts that don’t want God in their knowledge.  Jesus experienced that firsthand when He rose from the dead and people still didn’t believe. 

To be clear, I’m not anti-evidence.  There’s a ton of evidence for Christianity and it’s good to know those things to bolster our faith and answer the questions of genuine truth seekers.  But for the most part, evidences only take us so far with unbelievers because they address the mind, not the heart, and it’s all re-interpreted through the their unbelieving worldview.   

There’s a 2-step solution to the problem of traditional apologetics.  Lord willing, in the next article I’ll share step 1. 

I owe these thoughts to the work of men like Greg Bahnsen, Jeff Durbin, and Sye Bruggencate.  You can find Jeff and Sye on Youtube, and Greg Bahnsen’s books for sale on Amazon.  While I disagree with their Calvinistic doctrine, their approach to apologetics is fantastic! 

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