[Please note that this is part 3 of a series on apologetics. Although it would be tempting to start with this post, please read the other two posts first.]
I would like to turn my attention to my reasoning behind rejecting apologetics itself. I have a lot of thoughts on this, and I will probably not think of them all as I type. But I will try to be content with providing my main reasons.
First, I reject apologetics because Scripture is against it. I already demonstrated in my last post that the passages of Scripture often used to support apologetics fail to do so. I will not revisit those arguments here. However, I would like to add there are multiple passages of Scripture that not only do not support apologetics, but actually teach against it. The most significant of these passages is 1 Corinthians 1-2. In this text Paul teaches that the gospel runs counter to the wisdom of the Greeks. God intentionally designed the gospel to be foolish in order that no one would be able to boast that they came to God out of their own great intelligence and wisdom. Therefore Paul in his own evangelism did not use brilliance or eloquence or persuasive words of wisdom. Instead, Paul simply proclaimed the gospel in a straightforward, clear manner. There has been some pushback from apologists against this plain understanding of this text. They try to say that the “wisdom” employed by the Corinthians at this time was a very vapid form of rhetoric. However, Paul does not take issue with their style or method of argumentation. Paul takes issue with the idea that a man could be properly converted by human reasoning of any kind. The issue is not the kind of reasoning, but rather the source of the reasoning. Human-generated reasoning is unacceptable.
Second, I reject apologetics because I reject one of the central tenets of apologetics. In order for apologetics to work, the believer and the unbeliever must agree upon some common standard by which to judge the truth or reasonableness of the claims of Christianity. I think it is impossible for such a common standard to exist.
On the one hand, there is the group of intellectual unbelievers. These are skeptics who know something about science or history or philosophy, etc. In real-life encounters with such people, more and more I find that apologetic-type conversations degenerate into epistemological questions. Intellectuals will often deny the existence of objective truth, deny the ability of humans to construct logically coherent belief systems, etc. In other words the intellectual unbeliever has an entirely different set of standards by which they govern the argument. It is like the believer and unbeliever are on the same playing field, but they are playing two different games with two different rulebooks policed by two different referees. In the end, the apologist is required to defend his own epistemology before a productive conversation can continue, and when an apologist attempts to prove his epistemology, he discovers that he has to appeal to many different assumptions and presuppositions – assumptions and presuppositions that the unbeliever violently disagrees with. In other words, there is no way the apologist can have a productive conversation with an intellectual unbeliever.
On the other hand, the majority of unbelievers are not intellectual. They do not even know what the word epistemology means (nor do they have to). Most unbelievers are too uninitiated in debate to recognize when a point has been proven. They will spout non sequiturs and ad hominem arguments, etc. They will shift ground and erect straw men. A carefully reasoned argument bears little fruit with the average man on the street. They are on the playing field, but they are playing their own game, and they keep changing the rules to make sure that they come out the winner. An apologist will not find a common standard of rational argumentation in a conversation with the average unbeliever.
But the real issue is not the lack of intellectual agreement on the standards of rational argumentation. The real issue is one of spiritual blindness. According to 1 Corinthians 2:6-16, the natural man is not able in himself to receive the truth of Scripture. He cannot believe without being enlightened by the Spirit of God. According to 2 Corinthians 4:1-6, the gospel is to be proclaimed simply and clearly. Those whose minds have been opened are able to respond. Those who do not respond have had their minds veiled by the spiritual forces of darkness.
Third, I reject apologetics because it is unnecessary. According to Romans 1:18-32 every human being already believes in good theology. From the evidence they see in creation and from the internal evidence of their own sense of the divine, all humans believe in the existence of God – a God that is a close approximation of the biblical God (verses 19-20). Furthermore, they believe in biblical morality and that death is God’s judgment upon sin (verse 32). In other words, all humans have an innate understanding of the negative side of the gospel: their own sin before the judgment of a righteous God. What they need is not rational argumentation, but rather the solution to the problem that they already recognize. They need the gospel. And this is what Paul expresses just previously in Romans 1:16 – that the gospel is itself powerful enough to save. The reason that Paul gives for unbelief is not intellectual doubts or skepticism. According to Paul, the reason people live by worldviews other than the Christian worldview is the sin in their hearts blinding them and turning them from God to other things. Again, the solution to the problem of sin is not rational argumentation, but rather the proclamation of the gospel followed by the call to repentance and belief. If apologetics ever appears to be successful it is because it is accompanied by the proclamation of the gospel.
Fourth, I reject apologetics because the circumstances always call for something other than apologetics. For this I return to my previous posts. In my first post on apologetics I listed out many techniques that are not strictly apologetics. In my personal experience, encounters with unbelievers call for one of those techniques (and many others that I am sure that I left off of my list). As I mentioned in my post, I spend most of my apologetic encounters actually engaging in what I call “differentiation.” In this way, I avoid picking apart someone’s point of view. Instead, by comparing and contrasting the teaching of Scripture with their worldview, I am able to share a lot more than I am able to when I make it a debate. They will listen much more attentively. A good example is a common discussion I find myself in with coworkers about the biblical perspective of marriage as a committed lifetime relationship of sacrificial love. I contrast the biblical view of love with their jaded, cynical, worldly concept of marriage. In the process, I am able to talk about loving one’s wife as Christ loved the church. This is a great opportunity to share the gospel. I sincerely believe that what keeps people listening in these conversations is two things: the non-confrontational nature of the approach and the fact that as the biblical worldview is contrasted with their own, their hearts resonate with the truthfulness and beauty of the biblical worldview. More on that in a moment. For a great biblical example of how a seeming perfect opportunity for apologetics was handled far better by other means, look back at the discussion of Acts 17 in my previous post. When Paul is before a group of philosophers, he avoids engaging in rational argumentation. Instead, he speaks the gospel directly to the needs of their hearts.
Fifth, I reject apologetics because I reject the epistemological assumptions inherent to apologetics. I do not believe that people truly come to believe things through rational argumentation. In the end people just know what they know. The actual epistemology that governs people’s deepest held beliefs is much more intuitive than rational. A great example is Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” (or Augustine’s much earlier version: “I doubt, therefore I am.”) On the surface, it appears to be a very rational defense for one’s own existence. Because I find myself to be thinking, there must be an “I” in existence to do the thinking. However, this defense only works if I accept a couple of basic assumptions. I must accept that I am really thinking, and that my thoughts are not merely illusions. Also, I must accept that existence is a prerequisite to thought. These are purely assumptions. I have nothing to offer as proof of these assumptions. So at its essence, Descartes’ statement is not a rational defense of his own existence. It is merely a recognition that I am self-conscious. It is a statement of intuitive belief. The starting point for Descartes’ understanding of the world is his fideistic belief in his own existence and his own self-conscious perception of the world.
Whether or not Descartes’ statement is the best starting point for philosophy (something I would contest), it is certainly true that most people accept their own existence as a matter of course. They also intuitively accept a lot of other things. They accept a lot of their sense perceptions in spite of what some philosophers might say to cast aspersions on sense perception. Also, people live their lives by things that fall outside of the realm of rational proof. They live much of their lives in service of those they love for the sake of love itself. They live by an internal moral compass that they have never rationally defended. Contrary to what the philosophers believe, this is not proof that people are irrational and in need of guidance by those more intelligent than the masses. This is actually proof that the average person has the common sense to recognize truth when it presents itself.
This is because truth is bigger and more complex than our feeble attempts to represent it in systems of philosophical thought. Pick the person you know and love the most, and then try to represent them as a series of philosophical propositions or scientific hypotheses. You may make some true statements, but your attempts will fall far short of reality.
This problem is even more magnified when you switch to speaking about God. Is the Unmoved Mover or the God of the ontological argument really the God of the Bible? Is any depiction of God within philosophy an accurate depiction of the God of the Bible? Does philosophy make you tremble in awe of the wrath of God? Does science comfort you with the loving care of God for his creatures? God is an awful and terrible and frightening and comforting and transcendent and immanent and inescapable reality. He is the ultimate reality – the ultimate truth. He is not an idea, but a Person. He is not a set of propositions, but a great and infinite Someone. Such a God cannot be known by the Babel towers erected by human reason. He must reveal himself to us. He has revealed himself to us most clearly in his Son Jesus – who declared himself to be the Truth. This kind of Truth does not contradict reason, but it most certainly transcends it.
Finally, I reject apologetics because I do not need apologetics to be a rational human being. Anyone who knows me knows that I am very rational and cerebral. I like to think through things with care. I like to make careful decisions based on sound reasoning. I am intellectually bent by nature. However, I am not driven by a need to prove my set of beliefs to the satisfaction of the rational side of my brain. I stand within the boundaries of the Christian worldview. I have encountered no argument or piece of evidence that has brought my faith crumbling down. From my perspective looking out at the world around me, all that I see lines up with the teachings of Scripture. I have no need to remove myself from that worldview and then to try to argue myself back into it in some kind of twisted, sadistic, mind-bending intellectual exercise. Furthermore, I have lived enough to recognize that there is more to life than what I can prove with my brain. I would rather live by the Old Testament category of wisdom than by modern-day philosophy. I am very rational, but I am comfortable believing the truth of Scripture without absolute rational proof. The reason for this is that the reality of God and Christ as revealed in Scripture and more specifically in the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ resonates so deeply within my soul, I cannot shake the conviction that it is absolutely true.