Is apologetics based on a need to feel rational?

(SeanO) #1

I was reading an argument by an atheist claiming that Christian apologetics is actually targeted not at unbelievers, but at believers who feel the need to have rational arguments to support their beliefs. He supported his view with his own conversion story: he used to be a devout Christian until he met rational, kind people who disagreed with him and they found his apologetic arguments unconvincing. He concluded that apologetics is not intended for real unbelievers and that his faith was false.

If given the opportunity, what would your response be to this individual?

One response I thought of might go something like this:

I agree that one role of apologetics is to strengthen the faith of believers. That fact should not be surprising. Imagine a British man trying to explain to a Frenchman why Britain is the best place in the world to live. Some of his arguments may be perfectly valid, but the Frenchman is simply not interested in hearing them unless he is considering immigrating to Britain.

Following Jesus is all about changing citizenship from the kingdom of the world to God’s Kingdom. But someone who is quite happy in the world will have little interest - no matter how kind or intelligent they may happen to be - in hearing about this other Kingdom, just like the Frenchman is not actually listening to his British companion but only imagining how nice it will be to have a conversation with some rational person who understands why he loves France - its food and people and countryside and cities - so much.

You are misunderstanding the entire nature of belief. Beliefs are not purely rational but are also rooted in our emotions, our desires and the beliefs of our peers. A person who has no emotional or social investment in Jesus is not going to be the least bit convinced by merely rational arguments unless they’ve experienced something of Christ. Imagine the Frenchman goes on a visit to London and falls in love with the city - the museums and coffee shops and university atmosphere - then he will be primed and ready to hear every argument the British man has to offer. But it was the heart that opened the doors to his mind - not the other way around.

Scriptural Support

I would not include these verses in my response necessarily, but I thought they supported the idea of a prior commitment to the world or to God - to one’s own country, so to speak.

I John 2:15 - Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.

John 15:19 - If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.

(C Rhodes) #2

I would want to ask him why were the apologetics of the Christian Faith, less valid then the apologetics of Atheism? Or did not his conversion to Atheism prove that apologetics were as much for the believer as they are for the unbeliever? And finally, if being rational was the sole purpose of apologetics, what belief could we look forward too, in his next conversion?

(Jimmy Sellers) #3

I would agree with the young man apologetics is an insiders game that can find it’s way out to an unbelieving world but if a single set of truth statement could be posited and that alone was the bases for a rational decision then I would suggest that the reverse is true. In short if I can talk you into the Kingdom then somelse can talk you out of the kingdom. I believe I have heard this said by Ravi and a host of others besides.
Apologetics alone is not sufficient to save only the word of God has that power. And the word of God alone can save

(SeanO) #4

@cer7 I think that is a great point. Sometimes people do not realize that when they leave one system of belief they always step into another and this new belief system invariably has its own unanswered questions. And every belief system, including atheism, has its set of anecdotes, conversion stories and principles that act as an apologetic to affirm the beliefs of people within that system of belief. The question we must answer is not whether or not we have a belief system, but if our belief system is the right one.

(SeanO) #5

@Jimmy_Sellers That is a great point and reminds me of the old adage - ‘Beware the one hand clapping’. If we only hear one side of the story at a time, we can always be argued in to that viewpoint.

(Rob Lundberg) #6

I think that this atheist did not have an understanding of the necessity of apologetics. He only looked at just one facet of apologetics. Apologetics is not just about responding and refuting skeptical claims. In this context there is the goal of clearing the rubble and those things from giving the skeptic a clear picture of who Jesus is.

The other side of the coin is that apologetics has a discipleship arm to it that has nothing to do with refuting to skeptics, but is a discipline where it can aide us in not falling under deception of false ideas and claims that run against the Christian faith.

Do we need apologetics to support our beliefs? Not totally. It really implies on how the term apologetics is used in this skeptic’s objection. Apologetics helps, but there is also the biblical (which apologetics is biblical) as well as the experiential aspects of our faith show us the truthfulness of it over any other worldview.

My two cents for now.

(SeanO) #7

@roblundberg Thanks for that reply! Yes, part of the role of apologetics is to open peoples’ minds to consider the knowledge of God and to help believers avoid falling under the influence of false teachers. Like Peter and Paul of old, we seek to point people to the truth of the Gospel as a light shining in a dark and dying generation and remind them that there is only one true meta-narrative.

We live in a world with so many competing meta-narratives and in a culture suspicious of every meta-narrative except that of naturalism, that it is very import to remind believers to remain rooted in the story of salvation history as told in the Scriptures, witnessed by the apostles and experienced by Christians throughout history. And it is equally important to invite those outside the faith to see that the Christian meta-narrative is not a fable or a myth - it is rooted in the God who stepped into history, left foot prints and gave His life for mankind.

2 Peter 1:19-2:3 - We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2 Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. 3 In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories.

2 Corinthians 10:3-5 - For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

(Renee Yetter) #8

This has been a fascinating thread, and many excellent answers have already been provided. I would just throw this as one possible direction for conversation:

If he now filters his understanding of the world through a purely materialistic worldview, how does that impact his understanding or origin, meaning, morality, destiny? Are there questions for which materialism resolves some important questions better than theism? If so, how does it do so? Is he more comfortable or less comfortable with his new framework? Is it possible that only “real” science could potentially influence his thinking on this matter? Or does it now create more questions than it answers?

Very interesting and probably frustrating.

(SeanO) #9

@rbyetter Those are good questions. Certainly part of moving the dialogue forward would be to understand how he positions himself now - is he a skeptic? Is he purely a materialist? Is he a ‘happy atheist’? Does he claim his worldview is only influenced by the hard sciences? If he claims only science determines his beliefs, that is in fact false. There is no belief system that, in practice, can be sustained purely by empirical science in such a way that it is livable.

(Jean Daniel Slabbert) #10

Hi Sean,

Thank you for this fascinating question. Herewith my view and experience on the matter.

I have found that the use of the term “Apologetics” often creates more questions than it answers and – in my experience negative questions. Many people do a quick Google search of the meaning and immediately jump to the conclusion that Apologetics is argumentative, that your intention is to embarrass them and prove your point. People become defensive and the discussion quickly pushes them even further away.

The angle I attempt to take is to move away from the dictionary definition of Apologetics. If I feel led to, depending on the demeanour of the person I’m talking to, I would quote 1 Peter 3:15-16. I’d show what the true meaning of Apologetics is in practice and that I agree Apologetics is not just targeted on unbelievers. It starts with me, the Apologist himself. I show the importance of knowing what and why I personally believe, before I can even think of engaging with someone else on the matter. I try to show sincerity in acknowledging that I do not have all the answers and that I too have many questions. And I actively search for those answers and show how, in my experience, Jesus has always been the answer. I then try to ask for an opportunity to share views on some of the questions we both might have.

More often than not, that approach above has resulted in robust conversation and building friendships with people of different worldviews. These relationships take time and investment, but they’re so worth it…

(SeanO) #11

@Jean That is a great point - humility goes a long way in establishing a trusted channel of communication between two parties who disagree. And the relationships that are built can last many years and produce great fruit for the Kingdom.

(Niumaia M. T. Karavaki) #12

The argument by the atheist sounds quite pointed, but I feel that it’s pointiness is really just from a need to defy God. It is a little sad though, it seems (from how you described his journey) that as a devout Christian, his faith was in his apologetics arguments - and not in God. He is right then that his faith was false - because knowledge can be an idol.

Maybe he missed the parts, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord” and “do it with kindness and respect” of apologetics. These allow one to be prepared to offer an answer. Rationality on its own is being unprepared because we do not know all. We have not looked at everything, hence we know the answer, but rather we’re looking to Him who sees all, hence our confidence that the answer is (in) Him.

(SeanO) #13

@nkaravaki Yes, at the end of the day we do not have all of the answers. We can have confidence that Christianity offers the most coherent system of belief and also that we can trust the unknown to our God and Savior who loved us enough to die for us, rose from the dead and whose Spirit indwells us as we seek His Kingdom first.

(Richard Francis) #14

I echo your sentiments fully! The passage you quote in 1 Peter 3:15 emphasizes the hope we have in Christ that drives us upward and onward and gives us the assurance of our relationship with God through Jesus. I find most people will not try to discourage my hope and may even ask further why I possess such a hope for the future, especially with the prevailing political climate. Rarely have I put off someone who asked me for the reason I am hopeful. We have the answer in Jesus and someone serious about wanting answers will listen and make up their minds based upon the evidence we share - verbally and experientialy.

(Eunike Misiekaba) #15

@SeanO This my go at it (practicing)…:slight_smile:

Apologetics does not come from a place to feel rational, but from a place to defend our confession and hope we have in Christ. It comes from a place to give account to those whom would want to judge or condemn us because of our belief. Our defense is not angled towards convincing others. Instead, our defense in this dark world is meant to make our position very clear; it is meant as a statement. Our statement is that we will do right. no matter what. Right in our vocab means that we will freely and confidently obey the Lord despite what is being thrown at us, incl persecution, to get us to conform to another standard.
This may have been the case with the elect to whom Peter addressed his letter.

That’s why apologetics can only come from a heart that has a personal revelation and relationship with God. This is a heart that is ignited by God and is willing to go on a journey of total trust, even when things do not make sense.

Sadly this conformed atheist, has not revered Christ in His own heart and was seeking his own confidence from the outside.

(SeanO) #16

@Eunike Thank you for that very clear statement. Yes indeed, apologetics is a clear statement of our position as sons and daughters of the living God whose hope is rooted in Jesus. The only thing I would add is that there is a part of apologetics that involves, with the help of the Holy Spirit, an earnest desire that the unbelievers we interact with might also come to know our blessed Lord and Savior.

2 Timothy 2:24-26 - And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

(Eunike Misiekaba) #17

@SeanO Absolutely… The trust in God, love and a fierce passion and compassion is the only thing that can keep us preaching to opponents everytime. Thanks for sharing this verse.

(Joel Vaughn) #18

Sounds like someone has read a book on self-defense (with pictures!) and later after suffering a terrible defeat concluded that books on self-defense were only about making people feel safe. But I think there is a danger in learning apologetics as a way of parrying un-Christian thoughts away. And then we can be very rattled when people are not universally convinced, and later wonder why we can be so easily convinced when we didn’t necessarily think it through well enough to anticipate the unbeliever’s objections. And yes, sometimes we are looking to prove to ourselves that our faith is rational–and it can be unsettling if an unbeliever seems more unflappable than we feel inside. It can make you wonder “Who am I trying to convince?” It is good for faith to be reasonable, but New Testament faith is not a mere rational thing. It is a relational, spiritual thing. Without this, I think apologetics can have the opposite effect we intend.

(SeanO) #19

@jvaughn Yes, I think that once we’ve experienced the risen Christ by His Holy Spirit the truth is that while arguments for our faith are nice - they don’t always even seem necessary. Jesus is so real - the peace and glory He offers so much greater than the passing pleasures of this world - to truly experience Him makes all else pale in comparison. And it is in gazing upon Christ, in my experience, that I have the strongest affirmation of the truth of Christianity. I enjoy philosophy and digging into Scripture very much - but it is gazing at Christ Himself and in worship that I sense the utter emptiness of the world in comparison to the glory of the risen Savior!

(Cam Kufner) #20

While we should use apologetics to help others know how to defend their faith because we should always be ready to give a response for that hope that we have (1 Peter 3:15) I would also say that we should not feel as if our views have been proven to be irrational. David Berlinski wrote a book (The Devil’s Delusion) in response to Richard Dawkins book “The God Delusion” and answered the question “Does anything in the sciences or in their philosophy justify the claim that religious belief is irrational?” With the answer “Not even ballpark.” Apologetics is not based on a need to feel rational because nothing evidential says our belief is even irrational. Apologetics is to defend the faith when questioned about the hope that is within us. God bless!