One winter in Calgary, Alberta, a few years back, J. Warner Wallace and I each offered impromptu vignettes at a breakfast for a dozen pastors who were skeptical about the importance of apologetics.
It’s amazing to me that pastors need a tutorial on the need for defending Christianity given the obvious biblical and practical points each of us made, yet many do. I followed Jim—which is not an easy task—and gave a quick four-point mini-sermon on why making a case for our convictions is critical for Christians.
“Other than Scripture commands it,” I said, “and other than Jesus and the apostles did it,” I added, “and other than that apologetics work, being able to defend our Christian convictions will help us answer the toughest critic we will ever face.”
My “other than” phrasing was purposeful. Any one of the first three reasons should be adequate to convince any Christian, especially pastors. The last one, though, was critical, taking them into territory most have never considered.
First, the Bible commands it. Peter says, famously, that Christians should always be prepared “to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pet. 3:15). No ambiguity here. People are going to challenge our views, Peter presumes. Be ready, then, to respond intelligently and graciously. Simple.
Second, Jesus used evidence and arguments to verify his claims, and the disciples followed his example—all the time. Jesus miraculously healed a lame man to demonstrate his authority to forgive sins (Mk. 2:10–12). Jesus said that the “sign” verifying his messianic office would be his resurrection (Jn. 2:18ff; Matt. 12:38ff).
John states clearly that the principle reason he wrote his Gospel was to verify Jesus’ miraculous signs so we might “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name” (Jn. 20:30–31).
Peter’s sermon on Pentecost in Acts 2 is riddled with references to evidences confirming the gospel: fulfilled prophecy (17–21; 31, 34–35), the apostles’ eyewitness experience of the resurrected Christ (32), supernatural signs the Jews could “see and hear” (33), etc.
Paul said he was actually “appointed for the defense of the gospel” (Phil. 1:7, 16), and he took his commission seriously. Acts records that Paul, “according to his custom,” “reasoned” and gave “evidence” for the death and resurrection of Christ, and some were “persuaded” (Acts 17:2–4). Note the results. That’s my next point.
Third, apologetics work. People are, in fact, persuaded by them—in Luke’s words. God actually takes evidence and arguments, uses them to convince people the gospel is true, and they’re converted. It happens all the time.
On Pentecost, three thousand responded to Peter’s evidence-filled sermon (Acts 2:41). On Mars Hill, after Paul cited Jesus’ resurrection as “proof” of his points, some “joined him and believed” (Acts 17:30–34).
I also pointed out to the pastors at breakfast that the former atheist who’d just instructed them that morning about the importance of apologetics—J. Warner Wallace—had himself been persuaded by the facts to repent and follow Christ.
My three “other thans” were all good points, but they were building to my main takeaway, my biggest concern at this point for Christians in our culture—the final and most important reason we should take apologetics seriously.
Fourth, apologetics will help you face the toughest critic you will ever encounter: yourself. Everybody has doubts—including pastors and apologists—even under the best of conditions. But the current cultural mood regarding spiritual and ethical concerns is not the best of conditions. It’s one of the worst we’ve faced.
In the tough times we’re in now, my biggest concern is not for the world. It’s for you, to protect you from the lies in the world and from the lies of the wolves in our midst. I know that when apologetics give you confidence that Christianity is actually true—true the way gravity is true—you’ll have the courage to stand when the challenges come your way. And they will come.
What I said in my last letter is worth repeating. At the moment, we may not be able to change culture, but we can always keep the culture from changing us. That is what I’m focused on now—guarding those who have been entrusted to me, and that includes you.