Living in a secular age means living with our faith being contested. We are surrounded by people who believe and act differently from us. Our faith feels intellectually vulnerable. We must not take for granted the faith handed down by our parents. In fact, statistics show that those who merely have a faith that is passed down to them end up losing it if they never come to accept the faith’s claims for themselves. We need to think critically about how our hearts and minds are being shaped by the world around us, not only intellectually but in what we believe is good and beautiful. This takes virtue and wisdom.
In his classic work, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote that Christ “told us to be not only ‘as harmless as doves,’ but also ‘as wise as serpents.'” Jesus really wants “a child’s heart, but a grown-up’s head.” We need the wisdom of a serpent and the virtue of a dove. This is true for all of us. We need to be more discerning in our day and to know our faith better. Here are three reasons apologetics can help us withstand intellectual assaults upon our faith in our secular age along with some resources to get you started:
1. Apologetics unpacks the truth claims of Christianity to a modern world.
What is believable is different today. What is conceivable about what is good, just, true, and beautiful is different. “Faith is fraught; confession is haunted by an inescapable sense of its contestability. We don’t believe instead of doubting; we believe while doubting. We’re all [Doubting] Thomas now,” James K. A. Smith writes (How Not to Be Secular, 4). The very way we have faith has been challenged, because the social conditions of church, life, and family have been radically altered. This is where apologetics can be very helpful.
Apologetics seeks to unpack the claims of the Christian faith in light of its historical evidence and give a reason for the hope within us (1 Pet. 3:15). Modern arguments against religion must be answered if Christians are to have a clear conscience concerning what they believe and why they believe it. It has benefits for unbelievers. The Holy Spirit uses historical arguments and evidences for Christianity in real discussions to bring people to faith in Christ (Acts 17:22–31).
Christians should answer the many objections, misconceptions, distortion of facts, and excuses as part of their witness, as the apostles did in the first century. Believers should become informed in doctrine, the history of their faith, philosophy, logic, and other disciplines as they relate to Christianity broadly and the gospel specifically. These tools must be used wisely and graciously so that the way to faith in Jesus can become clear for every generation (Eph. 4:29).
2. Apologetics exposes the unbelief in human hearts.
No one wants to be told that they are sinners or that they actively seek ways to distort the truth of God that is seen all around them (Rom. 1:18–32). Yet, our self-centered hearts seek to create elaborate systems and worldviews that try to make sense of reality, so that our minds aren’t confronted with a terrible truth: we are sinners who have rebelled against God and deserve his judgment. We doubt God’s existence or we question his goodness. This unbelief affects us all—believers and unbelievers alike.
Growing up in the modern world, many of us are left desensitized to sin and disbelief, and yet we are also yearning for something more. This tension in culture has created a people searching for transcendence—people looking for eternal love and life. The “expressive individualism” of our culture leaves us alone because it is alone. The fear of boredom becomes the fear of life itself. This is where the church can become a living apologetic for the truth, a social demonstration of God's goodness and love.
We need to know the facts, arguments, and theology of the faith to undermine the lies we easily believe in order to create such communities of faith and love. We need to understand how to employ good arguments and sacrificial lives in a way that will effectively engage the culture with charity and grace, while still speaking to the unbelief in our hearts. Without thriving cultures of grace, we will not be able to teach human hearts and minds about the gospel of grace. We won't be able to keep our kids, let alone teach them.
3. Apologetics worships Christ as Lord.
By removing the intellectual arguments against Christianity, the credibility and reasonableness of Christianity can be established. If we can winsomely show the faith’s plausibility, we will make great gains with those around us. The goal should be to remove any hindrance before us, so that our hearts and minds might come before the cross of Christ, where every knee may bow and tongue confess that Jesus is Lord (Phil. 2:10–11). The goal of intellectual arguments and apologetics is worshipping the triune God.
Being able to explain a biblical vision of the world and what Christ came to do removes the assumptions and hindrances others might have but that is never an end in itself. If we are to confess Jesus’ name before others, we must understand what the faith means and how it speaks to our doubts so we can be overcome with reverence and awe before our God.
For believers, the credibility of Christianity nurtures their faith and should lead us to worship. By calling people to love their Lord with their minds as well as their hearts, we are called to devotion and worship by leading all men, women, and children into a knowledge of Christ (Matt. 22:37). Apologetics is ultimately then about worship.
Apologetic Posts To Get You Started:
For a helpful introduction to Christian apologetics see Doug Powell, Holman Quicksource Guide to Christian Apologetics (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2006) and Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan 2011).
Something has happened in history and we cannot wish it away.