“God is just an invention that humans created to deal with the harsh realities of the world.” A statement like that began several weeks of my college Sociology professor giving his apologetic for atheism.
“If you believe in God, you need to leave it at the door. God is not welcomed in scientific inquiry.” As a psychology major and a Christian, it was difficult to know how to process that statement from a psychology professor.
“I know they call it the theory of evolution, but it’s pretty much a fact. Science has demonstrated that there is no God” said my Biology professor the first week of classes.
My first semester at Truman State University, I was challenged in three different classes about my faith. I had no idea how to answer these brilliant scholars. Since they were assumed authorities, their words carried more weight and felt more convincing. I was scared, confused, and ready to leave my faith behind.
It was in that moment in time, God placed in my path Dr. J.P. Moreland’s Love God with All Your Mind. Dr. Moreland was a scholar with a different voice – a distinctly Christian voice that intellectually contended for the truth of Christianity. This was the first book I read of my own choosing (not assigned). Dr. Moreland challenged me to think deeply and rationally about my faith. At the end of that series, I walked away feeling significantly more confident in defending my faith. But, you know what else happened? I started to take my faith more seriously. Desire shifted toward character. As I was more confident in my faith, I found myself naturally giving Jesus more of my heart.
Apologetics is giving a rational or reasonable case for the Christianity. Part of apologetics, then, is also defending objections to Christianity as well as arguing against competing views such as other religions, atheism, and the like. Apologetics has been around since the early church. You can see apologetics being practiced by Paul in Acts 14 and 17 as well as in other places. Michael Green, in his book “Evangelism in the Early Church” suggested that one of the three reasons why Christianity spread in the early days of the church is because the believers could outthink and outreason their opponents through offering solid apologetic arguments.
Often, apologetics done in church is focused on outreach – addressing the concerns of atheists, skeptics and other religions. While I find this to be important and even a passion of mine, I am suggesting a different approach. I call this the INREACH of apologetics. In other words, the church should seek to convince Christians that the claims of Christianity are true. Outreach is about evangelism to non-believers. Inreach is about discipleship to believers. At bottom, I find that I am more prepared for outreach if I do inreach by identifying and seeking evidence to the doubts that reside in my heart. However, I am not always prepared for inreach if I just focus on outreach.
It’s a strange notion to suggest that Apologetics should be done first as inreach to believers and then secondly as outreach. 1 Peter 3:15 says “in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense (literally give apologetic) to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” As you read this passage, Peter is clear that apologetics is motivated by a character that is submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. As we regard Christ as special in our hearts, we become “prepared.” As I am more grounded in good reasons for my faith, I am willing to give more of my heart over to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Then, organically and authentically I speak to others about the reason for the hope within me.
Taking time to explore those questions that you have about your faith, Jesus, other religions and the tensions/doubts you are currently holding, I believe, can be an essential part of the discipleship process and can make a huge difference in giving your heart to Jesus. This requires developing an apologetic character.
Dr. J.P. Moreland said:
“So understood, an apologetic character is not a set of answers a person memorizes and adds to a life otherwise defined without regard to the apologetic mandate. No, an apologetic character is a way of being present in the world, an approach to life, a part of the very structure of one’s embodied soul. Just as there is a difference between someone who can spit out answers from one’s home medical book and a skilled physician who sees the world as a doctor, so there is a difference between one who memorizes a set of answers to certain apologetic questions and one who has an apologetic character. An apologetic character is part of the very warp and woof of one’s journey, of one’s very life as a disciple.”
Thus, the person who has a character of apologetics has “set apart Christ as Lord of your heart;” lives a life that is surrendered to Him, and has “prepared to give a defense…”, not just a list of answers to tough questions, but a life that is prepared (though rational apologetic study). This inreach could be the most life-changing shift a Christian makes in their life as they do it in step with the Holy Spirit.
Alister McGrath said, “Apologetics is not simply about reaching outside the church and helping people realize why Christianity makes so much sense. There are many people inside church congregations who are wrestling with apologetic questions; who come to faith but haven’t …had all of their questions answered. I think the pastor, the preacher, needs to realize if they want their people to be good and minister to the faith, apologists and evangelists, they’ve got to be equipped. They’ve got to be reassured about their faith. They’ve got to be helped to be able to explain it and defend it in the secular marketplace.” He goes on to say… “there’s a real need for the local church to see this kind of ministry as a priority in our present cultural situation.”
Let me suggest the following process as a way to begin to develop this apologetic character:
- Identify Your Doubts
- Push Yourself Intellectually
- Don’t Allow Any Questions to Be Off-Limits
- Do All with Gentleness and Respect (even to yourself)