In this series, we will take a closer look at sayings and things that are common place in streams of the church and talk about the truth and error of these sayings and things.
There is a group in the world called “The New Atheists.” They are made up of very scientific people who toil night and day to disprove the existence of God and the need of the church. Due to this, the call for apologetics has increased greatly. The movement to know the roots, history, and theology of the Bible is gaining speed. Many times this knowledge is used to debate these atheists or to argue God’s existence with someone on an intellectual plane. The main (if not only) verse I’ve heard quoted from the Bible to argue the need for apologetics is this one:
But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15)
This verse seems to imply that the gospel and the truth need an intellectual defense from people who would question the need and existence of God. The problem comes when we look at the context of this verse.
But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:14-17)
The context of this main apologetics-themed verse is in the context of suffering. Peter is saying don’t fear those who will inflict suffering on us, but rather be prepared to answer them when they ask us “why are you suffering for this?” or “is your God worth all this pain?”. In context, Peter is saying “be ready to glorify God when people ask why you’re so willing to suffer for Him.” He says to always be prepared for this and make sure that answer is gentle and respectful. No where in this verse does it say find atheists and debate them intellectually. In fact, Paul attempted this at Mars Hill in Athens in Acts 17. I’ve heard it quoted as Paul’s greatest sermon, but we don’t remember the outcome/result of such an intellectual debate:
So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them. (Acts 17:33-34)
No massive revival. No church planted. A few souls saved. A city left unturned by the gospel. It’s no wonder that Paul would write later to the Corinthian church:
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)
He would say earlier:
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Corinthians 1:17)
Why does this matter?
I want to make it clear: I am not arguing whether apologetics should exist. I believe it is well needed. I’m arguing the reason that they should exist for. I take issue with the debating and arguing with unbelievers. The fruit is little if any. Many times, at best, it may help someone who was teetering between agnosticism and Christianity decide to investigate the Bible more. The Bible is clear: only the gospel, preached in weakness, can turn an atheist into a saint. In fact, the problem isn’t that people don’t know the truth. It’s that they deny and/or suppress the truth (Romans 1:18-19).
So while I find little need for apologetics to oppose the new atheists, I do find a better purpose for it: to strengthen and equip the church. The great fruit I see coming out of apologetics is that Christians start diving into the Word of God and knowing Christ more. Gone are the days of “Everyday a Friday”. They have a hunger for truth and something more than an inch deep. I love it when apologetics and discipleship are working hand in hand, growing and teaching believers the truth and equipping them so that they can guard themselves from error.
In reality, the truth does not need to be defended from those who don’t believe it, but rather from those who try to twist it into something more (but in reality, less) believable. There is little (if any) language from the apostles telling us to defend an “attack of the Bible” from atheists. Rather, the apostles tell us time and time again to dive into truth and be watching out for people preaching a false gospel.
So in summary, my aim is not to attack people currently in the apologetic ministry. I am blessed to have several friends in apologetics who have built and strengthened my life by what they teach. Rather, my aim is to change our view on what apologetics is and what it is meant for. It is primarily used for the building up of the body in the knowledge of God, not to debate atheistic unbelievers.
In fact, Psalms says “a fool believes in their heart there is no god.” Why would we want to debate with fools? In fact, Proverbs 26:4 says:
Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.
That verse should keep all of us careful who we decide to debate anything with. Let’s not worry too much about those who hate God and hate us. When they cause us to suffer, our love and devotion for God will say more than 1,000 worthless debates.