Our churches do not teach us the historical evidence that our faith is based upon. When a preacher steps up to the podium the preacher is assuming that everyone is there to worship God. He or she is usually not going to start explaining why you should believe in God or try to give you a more confident faith. The church has not updated itself to face the new problems that we will be talking about momentarily which are confronting the faith. It still goes about its business as if everyone in society already believes in God and its evangelism is focused on getting those folks who believe to actually come to church. Think about evangelism programs that you know about in your church that reach out to non-attending people in the community. Are there any geared towards all of the skeptical people out there?
Unfortunately, a lot of what we now call evangelism is really an attempt to offer something better which will entice people from other congregations to switch churches. Or by being the first church in the neighborhood to reach out to someone who just moved there and needs a new church home. These types of evangelism are not necessarily bad, but they are not building up Christianity or winning disciples for Christ. Look at it this way, when using this kind of evangelism the Christian population does not grow, instead it just shifts to different places. I am interested in the kind of evangelism that grows the number of Christians, not the kind that just moves the Christians around.
Very little is done to get through to the people who have doubts about God. This passive approach is one of the reasons why Christianity is declining in certain parts of the world. People have new doubts and concerns and instead of answering them the church ignores them and keeps doing the same kinds of things that it has always done. More people are seeing the dangers of this and are trying to educate people before it is too late. This is where the field of Christian apologetics comes into play.
It is important to note that being a Christian apologist does not mean that you are apologizing for your faith! The reason why the field is called apologetics is because it comes from the Greek work “apologia” which is used 8 times in the Greek New Testament. In each instance it means a verbal defense, a speech in defense of, or a reasoned statement or argument. There is no apologizing in apologetics! The best example of this Greek word’s use comes from 1 Peter 3:15 which says, “Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence.” You can see how this does not mean that you are apologizing for your faith, but instead it means that you are defending your faith. This verse means that as Christians, if someone asks us a tough question, we should have an answer ready to give them. Do we do this well? Do you have answers for anyone who questions the legitimacy of your faith? Can you show someone in a logical way that it is intellectually viable to be a Christian? When someone you know is bragging that he is too smart and too educated to believe in a myth like Christianity do you have a loving rebuttal to give him? This is what apologetics is all about.
Let me give you an example. Say you are talking to a co-worker about your plans for the weekend. In your run through of the weekend activities you tell him that you are going to church on Sunday morning. Then, perhaps you remember that you are commanded by Jesus to evangelize, so you say, “Hey, why don’t you come with me?” The person replies, “Oh, that’s great that church makes you happy, but it’s not for me. I know the Gospels were written many decades after Jesus was killed and the resurrection story was just a legend that developed over that time. I’m not knocking you, but I just can’t have that kind of blind faith!” This person has a real objection. How do you respond to it?
You can just say, “It’s a matter of faith,” and that might be true, but that is not going to get him to come to church with you one day. Really, all that statement does is give you an easy way out of the conversation. Saying it is a matter of faith is actually admitting that you have no answer for him and you are giving up! If anything, you are simply reinforcing his belief that the resurrection was a legend! The only way to overcome this objection is to have a specific answer for it. However, not many Christians have one ready. Would you have an answer ready during the spur of the moment? Or would you be tongue-tied like most Christians and give up? What would you say to him? Stop reading for a moment and think about it. Think about what you would say to him right now if you were in this position.
Perhaps this person is just too hard to get through to. Maybe you should just move on to a person who does not have this objection and evangelize somewhere else? You could do that, but what if the person you are talking about is not just a co-worker, but what if it is your daughter coming back from college with a newfound objection. What if it is your brother? Do you still want to give up and move on to someone “easier?” This is what Peter is talking about when he says, “Always be ready to give a defense for the hope that is in you.” So what do we say to this person who thinks that the resurrection is a legend that was invented decades later? Well, what if I told you that you could prove to this person that the resurrection was really being preached by Peter and James just two years after the crucifixion? Would that persuade him to see the truth more than just telling him to have faith? Would you be interested in having that kind of knowledge at your disposal? This is the reason apologetics is so important.
There are many reasons to have a confident faith. The first reason is doubt. You may have a really strong faith right now, but most people will go through a time in their lives when something bad happens and they start to question their faith. It is only natural. Most people do not go to church every year from birth to death. There are times when things happen that cause us to doubt. Even some of the most famous, biblical characters had doubts from time to time. It could happen years from now, but statistically, it is likely to happen. If you have a firm intellectual foundation for your faith, it will be easier to make it through those tough times when they come. This material will give you a firm, logical foundation to fall back on during those times.
The second reason to know this material is your family and friends. You want to hear a scary statistic? William Lane Craig reports this: “A Christian minister at Stanford University recently told me that 40 percent of Christian high school students in church youth groups will quit church involvement altogether after graduation. Forty percent! It’s not just that they lose their faith in a hostile university environment. Rather, many have already abandoned faith while still in the youth group but continue to go through the motions until they’re out from under their parent’s authority.”(1) We do everything that we are supposed to do. We take our kids to vacation Bible school, they sing in the children’s choir, we make sure that they go to youth meetings, and then after all of that what happens when they go off to college? They are thrown into a university setting where they sit down for their first philosophy class and are asked to read something like “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins. After four years of this should we be surprised when many of these kids come back home as non-believing adults? As pastors and parents we are doing the spiritual things with them. We do the nice little devotionals, the worship, make them go to Sunday school, but we are not preparing them intellectually! We are not teaching them how to love God with their minds and not just their hearts.
This next statistic should cause you to drop your coffee cup! In a recent survey, 53 percent of college professors admitted that they were hostile towards evangelical Christianity. (2) Yes, you read that correctly, 53 percent! Can you imagine if 53 percent of professors were hostile against african-americans, or homosexuals, or women! There would be an outrage! There would be riots on campuses! But a statistic like that does not even make the news when it is about Christians. Christians are becoming the easiest demographic to slap around. When you know that over half of the professors are hostile against Christianity you can see why a large percentage of Christians will never enter a church again once they leave for college. It is extremely sad.
These statistics get even more alarming when we see that it is not just one or two studies showing this. Many studies are finding that college professors are trying to destroy faith. Recently, the Barna Group reported on how young people were not attending church after college. They reported that only 20 percent of students who attended church as teens remain spiritually active by the age of 29. (3) The ones who do go back to church are sometimes only there to make family members happy or to teach their kids good morals even though they do not have confidence in the faith itself.
Think for a moment about your church. Do you see a segment of the population missing around a certain age? Many churches have lots of kids and lots of people 30 and older, but not too many people in their twenties. Many large churches cannot even sustain one Sunday school class for people in this age range because there is so little interest. Do you see the effect that these universities are having? What will happen after another decade of this, then another? It is time to start fighting back intellectually.
Apologist, Michael Licona says this, “I Personally have had numerous students from all over North America inform me that professors, on the first day of class, said their objective was to rid Christian students of their faith by the end of the semester. That’s right. The professor openly stated in class that his or her objective was to rid Christian students of their faith within the next hundred days. Can you imagine what would happen if those same professors had instead asked how many of his or her students were Muslims … or Jews? They would have been labeled “Islamaphobe” or “anti-Semite” and would soon have joined a number of others in the job market. But faculty members often get a pass if they’re a “Christophobe.” (4)
So what do we do about this? Well, this might surprise you, but in my opinion the real problem is not the atheist professors. The real problem is that we do not prepare our children for this when they leave for school. Churches should be doing everything in their power to intellectually equip their youth groups before they leave for college. If churches want members in their twenties they need to intellectually prepare them when they are youths.
Another problem is when these kids come home with these newfound objections we need to know how to answer them. When we do not have answers for their new objections and instead just tell them to have faith, this in turn reinforces their new beliefs that you must have a blind faith to be a Christian! Instead of helping, we are reinforcing what they have just learned! We are playing right into the atheist professor’s hands! Parents cannot answer their objections, grandparents cannot answer them, and even worse, many pastors cannot even answer them. Seminaries do not train pastors on how to intellectually show someone that Christianity is the truth. They teach pastors to preach to people who already believe. So our kids come home, do not find any answers to their objections, and go on not believing.
The third reason that having a confident faith is so important is in shaping culture. The Gospel is always heard based on the context that it is found in. We need more confident Christians out there explaining why it is logical to be a Christian. Let me give you an example that William Lane Craig uses, “Imagine what you would think if a Hindu devotee of the Hare Krishna movement, with his shaved head and saffron robe, approached you at the airport or shopping mall, offering you a flower and invited you to become a follower of Krishna. Such an invitation would likely strike you as bizarre, freakish, maybe even a bit funny. But think how differently someone in Delhi, India, would react if he were approached by such a person! Having been raised in a Hindu culture, he might take such an invitation very seriously.” (5) The Gospel is the same way. It is heard based on its surrounding culture.
The places where Christianity struggles the most are the “intellectual strongholds.” In some places Jesus Christ is on the same level as Santa Claus. Believe it or not, I know of groups that are starting missions to Germany. That is hard to believe, but that is what happens when nobody defends the faith, slowly, it fades. I have even heard that there are South American churches planning mission trips to the United States! Can you believe that? Talk about things going full circle. Most Christians would just assume that we are spreading the Gospel to South America, not the other way around!
Christianity is doing well in Africa. The small Christian groups in Muslim countries are getting larger. In China people are converting rapidly. In fact, Richard Spencer has reported that after millions of recent conversions, believers in China actually outnumber members of the communist party. (6) It seems like the places where Christianity is fading are places like Europe. Why is this? Because there were not enough people in those places trying to get the culture to understand the intellectual truth behind Christianity. Questioning and being “smarter than believing a myth” were the cool things to do. After years of nobody defending the faith, and schools turning out people who had been brought up against the faith, this is what happens.
Each generation of college graduates who have been programmed to reject Christianity shift the culture just a little more away from Christ. This happens so slowly that we do not even notice it until it is too late. Decades later, people in places like Stockholm look around and realize that Christians are now a small minority and ask what happened? We need people influencing the culture so it will be more open to the message of Christianity.
The fourth reason that it is important to know this material and have a more confident faith is using apologetics is biblical. Ask yourself, what did the apostles do to proclaim the Gospel where they preached? The answer is that they used the same apologetics that we can use today. Churches want us to evangelize and bring more people into the church, but they do not equip us with the apologetics that the earliest Christians used. Modern evangelists still act like America is a place where people are just sitting around, waiting to be invited to church. All we need to do is to just go to their door, knock on it, and say come with me! This is not the way that it works. In our society everyone already has an opinion on Jesus. We are not going into a new place where nobody knows who He is. We have to do more than invite them. We have to overcome their pre-existing belief system. Well, the early apostles had to do this too. We can learn from what they did.
Think about Pentecost. This was the first time the apostles preached about Jesus after His death. What did Peter do on Pentecost to convince 3,000 people to be baptized? He did not just stand up and ask the audience to have a blind faith. He did not ask all of those devout Jews who had a preconceived idea of what the Messiah was supposed to be to just come to church with him! No, he gave them evidence and reasons. He used the power of intellectual persuasion. He told them about prophecies that Jesus had fulfilled. He reminded them of the supernatural darkness and the blood-red moon that rose over Jerusalem the night that Jesus died. He gave them evidence from the miracles of Jesus and from the resurrection of Jesus the same way that we can do.
Next time you read the Gospel of Matthew count all of the times where Matthew uses fulfilled prophecy to “prove” that Jesus was the Messiah. He also gives rebuttals to what the Jewish leaders are saying to defend the Christian beliefs. In fact, you could argue that Matthew’s whole Gospel was written as a way to prove to non-believing Jews that Jesus was the Messiah. So we can add Matthew and Peter to the list of Christian apologists.
Still need more evidence that apologetics and defending the faith is biblical? Think about what Paul did. He went town to town preaching in the synagogues trying to convince people that Jesus was the Messiah. How did he do this? He told them that there was evidence from the testimonies of 500 people who saw the Risen Lord and told them that many of these witnesses were still around to be questioned. Therefore, he used evidence from the resurrection. He also used evidence from his own personal testimony of what happened to him that we can still use today. Acts 17:2-3 shows how Paul used apologetics, “As was Paul’s custom, he went to the synagogue service, and for three Sabbaths in a row he used the Scriptures to reason with the people. He explained the prophecies and PROVED that the Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead.” Acts 19:8 is another example of how Paul went to non-believers persuading them. “Then Paul went to the synagogue and preached boldly for the next three months, arguing persuasively about the Kingdom of God.” Let me ask you this: do you hear preachers today “argue persuasively” that Jesus is the Messiah? Or do they just preach about what we should do in our current lives and spend little time persuading people that Jesus is the Messiah?
I could go on and on. The fact of the matter is in the first century the Good News spread around the world based on showing the evidence that the message was true. We have forgotten how to do this in our society. This was not a big deal a century ago when we were still considered a strong Christian nation. When someone new rolled into town we could invite them to the local church and most of the time we would get little resistance. It was simply our culture and it was almost expected of them. Today we live in a different world. People are writing bestselling books trying to persuade others that Christianity is untrue. Atheists are all over the internet, forming websites and putting forth their propaganda. Atheist professors are indoctrinating our children. Hollywood is making movies subtly showing Christians as irrelevant and not intellectual. Popular music openly celebrates and promotes sin. Christmas is being changed to simply, “the holidays.” Workers in stores get in trouble for saying “Merry Christmas.” Political correctness has taken over and we are supposed to worship a “generic god,” instead of Jesus Christ.
Say something about God on a public message board and immediately people will attack you and laugh at you for still believing in myths. I could go on, and on. The world is changing. We cannot simply go to a new neighbor’s house and invite them to the local church and have that be the end of it. We need to learn how to once again show the world that Christianity is the truth. The good news is that the same methods that Matthew, Paul, and Peter used in the first century are still available to us today! We just need to remember how to use them. If we want to act biblically, we need to understand that apologetics is biblical.
Reason number five is that people still convert because of logic and evidence so as Christians we should have that ready. Not everyone will convert because of this evidence, but not everyone will convert because of any way of spreading the Gospel. Although we cannot reach everyone we can still reach some people that we would not have, because of evidence, and a confident faith. Many non-Christians just assume that there is no intellectual truth behind Christianity. When they see that there is evidence, and at the least, a logical reason to believe, they are amazed. When they hear intellectual atheists going on the defensive during debates, doing their best to defend their own positions, they are blown away. Since some people do convert because of evidence then that is one more reason why apologetics is important.
Let’s review the reasons that you should take having a confident faith more seriously! 1) A more confident personal faith that will persevere when times are tough. 2) You can help family and friends, especially your children, when they struggle with their faith. 3) To influence the culture that is rapidly moving away from being a Christian culture. 4) Because it is Biblical to use a confident faith. 5) Because some people, who will not convert otherwise, find this evidence convincing and eventually after taking it all in, will become Christians.
Have you bought into the reasons to have a confident faith?
1) William Lane Craig, On Guard: defending your faith with reason and precision, () 19-20.
2) Gary A. Tobin and Aryeh K. Weinberg, Profiles of the American University, Vol. 2: Religious Beliefs and Behaviors of College Faculty. Institute for Jewish and Community Research, 2007
3) George Barna, “Most Twenty Somethings Put Christianity on the Shelf Following Spiritually Active Teen Years.” Online article: http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/16-teensnext-gen/147-most-twentysomethings-put-christianity-on-the-shelf-following-spiritually-active-teen-years
4) Mike Licona “First Person: We must prepare the next generation to defend the Faith” Baptist Press website. Posted on May 18, 2011. http://www.bpnews.net/BPFirstPerson.asp?ID=35332
5) Craig 17.
6) Richard Spencer, “Millions all over China convert to Christianity,” The Washington Times, August 3, 2005, A-I, A-II.