By Dr. Richard Land,
Recently I read an article titled “Apologetics: Preaching to the Choir” by a former evangelical, Neil Carter. Neil begins his article with the claim that “Apologetics isn’t for the lost; it’s for the already saved.” He goes on to state,
“The only people who are ever impressed with the arguments therein are people who are already ‘within the fold’. . . . On the other hand, I know of three people in a single town who deconverted reading Lee Strobel’s Case for Christ.” – Neil Carter
Neil goes on to criticize apologists Greg Koukl’s and Tim Keller’s arguments for the Christian faith.
Is Neil correct? Are apologetics only effective in keeping people in the pews? No, and yes.
I hope the following summary helps people understand the nature of apologetics and why it is not merely for the edification of the saved, nor is it merely for evangelism and missions. While Neil’s article’s initial premise is fallacious, it would be insensitive to engage Neil’s claims solely on the basis of logic, without considering the challenges of his own personal experience with the church. In summary, Neil’s claims about apologetics are indefensible for the following reasons: (1) The Great Commission, as lived out by the earliest Christians, does not afford us the option of using apologetics with Christians alone. (2) Not all apologetics are the same; there are various methods—Classical, Evidential, and Presuppositional. Some are more effective with believers, and others are more effective with non-believers. (3) His claim is refuted by the verifiable testimony of believers such as Lee Strobel and Dr. Francis Collins, the head of the Human Genome Project, who became a believer in Christ after reading C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. (4) While there are methods that favor those “within the fold” versus those outside the flock, the Classical method is a means to serve the believer and unbeliever by providing evidence for the faith that can convince the skeptic and assure the disciple. As Southern Evangelical Seminary’s co-founder Dr. Norman Geisler said,
“One should heed the Socratic dictum that the unexamined life is not worth living by insisting that the unexamined faith is not worth believing” (Geisler, Twelve Points that Show Christianity is True, Loc. 110).
By itself the Great Commission does not explicitly state that one is to use apologetics in evangelism. Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Imagine for a moment that this was where the New Testament writings concluded. Christians and non-Christians alike would be left with a significant amount of speculation as to the role apologetics plays in evangelism. Thankfully, we were not left with an abrupt end to the story of the Christian church and its expansion. For example, the Apostle Paul, in Acts 17:16-34, not only reasoned in the synagogues, but also in the marketplace. Furthermore, Paul is also found preaching to the “Men of Athens” and quotes from Aratus’s poem “Phainomena” (Acts 17:28). Paul is not talking to believers only, but to “all people” who God “commands . . . to repent” (Acts 17:30). Now former Christians may not accept the Bible as true, but they at least have to accept that Christians believe it to be true, and thus a proper understanding of apologetics is intended not only for the disciple but also for the believer. I would argue that the Apostle Paul is showing us by example that apologetics is a necessary tool for the fulfillment of the Great Commission. Additionally, according to the text, apologetics worked:
“Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, ‘We will hear you again about this.’…But some men joined him and believed…” (Acts 17:32-34).
All forms of apologetics are useful for discipleship, but not all forms are effective in evangelism. For example, apologetic methods that presuppose the veracity of the Bible rather than seeking to demonstrate its historical reliability will be effective with those who already accept the Bible as authoritative, but will often be insufficient in their ability to reach those who have been raised in a culture that denies Biblical truth. However, if you already accept the Bible as authoritative for your life, then there is a good chance that you are already a Christian. Relative to evangelism, these Presuppositional methods fall short because they fail to consider sufficiently the reality of the non-believer’s previous knowledge and experience, which stand as obstacles in the first place. Southern Evangelical Seminary exists “to evangelize the world and to defend the historic Christian Faith.” As such, we are not only committed to proclaiming the message of the Gospel, but also to defending its historical reliability; if Jesus did not exist or did not rise from the dead, then our faith is in vain (1 Cor. 15:12-19). In other words, our faith is grounded on the historical event known as the resurrection.
Of the options surrounding the world of apologetics, is there a method that answers the honest questions of the lost and the saved? There is, and it’s the method developed by our co-founder Norman Geisler. The Classical method of apologetics, according to Geisler, is a 12-step process that allows an evangelist to engage a person in any stage of doubt. How do we define truth? That is a question all human beings, Christian or non-Christian, must answer, for it is the foundation for any cogent conversation between two rational beings. Or maybe someone does not struggle with his definition of truth. Instead, he struggles with the existence of God, and therefore believes that miracles are impossible. Then the Christian can present his or her arguments for the existence of God and establish that this divine being is actively involved in the day-to-day of man. Finally, the 12-step method also addresses the concerns of fellow believers. Many Christians may have no problem believing that Jesus is the Son of God, that he died on the Cross for their sins, and that he was resurrected, ascended to heaven, and will return one day. Instead, they struggle to believe that the Bible is the inerrant and infallible Word of God. Is the Bible the actual Word of God, or was it merely a collection of sayings by some wandering nomads? Geisler’s 12-step method brings clarity to this question without having to begin with “What is truth and is it knowable?” At the end of this article there is a full listing of the 12-Steps, and you can learn them all in the book Twelve Points that Show Christianity is True: A Handbook on Defending the Christian Faith.
At its core, apologetics is giving people reasons for their belief. This means that while Christians are commanded to do this, apologetics per se is not solely a Christian enterprise—it is an exercise of the human mind and thought processes. However, the command to answer questions in 1 Peter 3:15 is not merely the answering of riddles and trivia. For Christians, it is giving a reason for their hope. This implies two things: (1) you must be hopeful of the day “when your faith shall be made sight,” and (2) you must be ready to give a reasonable answer to those who ask you for a reason for your hope.
This method is the DNA of Southern Evangelical Seminary. Our degrees are infused with the Geislerian method of apologetics, ensuring that all who graduate from Southern Evangelical Seminary are equipped to not only evangelize the lost, but also to care for the flock. That is the call for all believers who desire to follow the examples of the Apostles and other heroes of the faith fulfilling the Great Commission. Does this mean you must be an academic in order to serve God? Of course not. But, in order to reach the lost, you need to seek the Truth with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. If you become apathetic in your pursuit of Gospel Truth, you will inevitably become insensitive to opportunities to share the Gospel with others.
This pursuit of God’s Truth can at times be both demanding and grueling, but at other times the experience is euphoric, as the result of Truth realized transforms your heart and mind (Rom. 12:1-2).
I encourage you prayerfully to consider Southern Evangelical Seminary as you continue your journey to deepen your faith.
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