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Apologetics—a steppingstone, not a crutch

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Published: 24 November 2020 (GMT+10)
stepping-stones

Apologetics is a broad and deep subject. Since it has such deep spiritual ramifications, its easy to understand how the study of apologetics can become an all-consuming endeavor for some. However, this is not without its potential pitfalls. An example my pastor gave in a sermon recently really struck a chord with me, and I want to relate it for you (my own paraphrase, not my pastor’s):

A certain old man had never flown in an airplane in his life. It so happened that one day, an airshow was in town and he was offered the chance to ride in a stunt plane. He was understandably reluctant, but his family and friends all encouraged him and insisted he give it a try. When he got back from the ride, he appeared shaken up. His family asked, “Once you just relaxed and let yourself enjoy it, it was pretty fun, wasn’t it?” The old man replied, “I don’t know! I never did that.”

This is an analogy to what the Christian life, or the Christian faith, is like for some. We are always rigidly holding on for dear life, rather than being relaxed and enjoying the ride. In terms of apologetics, this means we are always inwardly trying to convince ourselves, or stay convinced, that the Bible is really true. We never let ourselves simply relax, breathe easy, and just believe.

In my own experience, I have felt a similar way when flying; when turbulence hits, I always get rigid and hold on tight to the armrests, as if the plane might start careening toward the ground at any moment. It takes faith (not sight—since we can’t really see from within the passenger cabin) to believe that the plane won’t crash just because of some turbulence! But this is important: that faith is not blind faith. You can research the matter all you want: planes are built for turbulence. Pilots are trained to know how to handle it when turbulence hits. The wings are designed to flex. You can have all this ‘head knowledge’, but still when you’re in the situation for real, it takes faith to believe it and remain relaxed. I’m not very good at that.

God wants the same from us: He wants us to stop being anxious, relax, and trust Him. That means we need to come to a place in our faith where we are no longer tightly gripping the armrests, constantly going over all the evidences and arguments to try to stay convinced. The more you adopt this attitude, the harder it will be! Using apologetics as a crutch for your faith in this way is certainly not God’s will, and it will hinder your spiritual growth.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

Note that God’s peace is supernatural—it surpasses all understanding! We can never get peace in our hearts by obsessing about arguments and evidences. These have their place: let them be a steppingstone for you, to help you overcome doubts as they arise, or to answer objections from skeptics. This is different from fideism—an irrational blind leap of faith—because we do not say that reason and evidence are irrelevant to faith. We cannot simply pick anything arbitrarily and place our faith in it. God has given us strong reasons to be confident that the Bible is true, but once we accept these, we have to move beyond this kind of thinking in order to grow.

Another example is the golf swing (for those of you who play golf). Ever tried to really hit the ball hard? You’re likely to make a terrible shot. But if you relax your arms and let the momentum of your body drive the club, the ball will go further and straighter than if you tried to hit hard using your arms.

Imagine if someone asked you how you know you have a father. First, let’s assume you had never met your father. In this case, you would appeal to evidences. You could say something like, “1) All people have fathers, otherwise they could not exist. 2) My birth certificate, which is a reliable historical testimony, lists a father. 3) My mother has told me about my father,” etc. However, this is not what our walk with God is supposed to be like! Imagine you had a close relationship with your father. You would not need to list all these proofs! You would simply respond by saying, “I know him.” This is what our life with God is supposed to be like. It is not the arguments and evidences on which our faith must ultimately rest, but rather our knowing God by relationship. This is an ongoing struggle for me, because my analytical mind gravitates toward seeking evidence and arguments. I’m sure this is also a struggle for some of you reading this as well. The solution is more simple than you think. Just stop trying to believe, and believe. Let go, and let God work in your life.

If you are struggling with faith, remember what Paul said: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17) I take this literally. That is why church fellowship is so important. We need to hear the word of God preached, and fellowship with other believers. This builds up our genuine faith. Without this, we run the risk of allowing our faith to become academic, rather than living.

Helpful Resources

Christianity for Skeptics
by Drs Steve Kumar, Jonathan D Sarfati
US $17.00
Soft Cover
Does God exist?
by Drs Don Batten, Jonathan Sarfati
US $0.75
Soft Cover
The Creation Survival Guide
by Paul Price and Gary Bates
US $3.50
Soft Cover

Readers’ comments

John P.
A fantastic article, Paul. The chap Bruno seems to have a faith in science-to me this is a blind faith. To believe nothing created something-life oozed out of nonlife-takes blind faith in the extreme. You throw away logic and understanding and while professing to be wise you become a fool. To believe as well people were scientifically illiterate and knew nothing is intellectual snobbery. People were intelligent from the beginning and were not immune to discoveries via trial and error. In any case before the flood and the onset of genetic mutations they had superior intelligence and their civilization would have been initially blessed by God until they began to fall away. Science making this a better world?? Haven't seen it yet and I'm not holding my breath.I guess Bruno would say when you die that's it, but what if he's wrong? What then? I couldn't care less if I'm wrong because I know for a fact God's Word is true and my eternal inheritance awaits me
Albie D.
Bruno, if you are correct, the level of your intelligence and weight of your reasoning are based on pondscum molecules that accidentally rearranged themselves, which formed when nothing exploded with energy that came from nowhere.
Christians, with reason, trust the only proven indestructable historical account which withstood the test of time, costing the lives in many cases of the eyewitnesses to base their logical conclusion that the 44 writers, confirming over 60 centuries the active involvement of creating the Universe and powerful intervention on behalf of humans who acknowledge Him, by the Person of Jesus the Christ, Son of God the Father and Ruah, the Holy Spirit.
What have you to base your assumption on that this is not true and did not happen? Any eyewitnesses that testified that it is not so?
Of course not, only "we know" and "i think", the result of random electrons firing in a rearranged pondscum accident ( conclusion from your reasoning). Of course you can believe that if you want to, logical reasoning have me to conclude that you and i are much more than that.
Every product, based on scientific reasoning, portrays the level of sophistication, intelligence and effort by the creator of such product. There is more intelligence required to make a single grain of wheat produce a crop than in the whole NASA space program. Humans are infinitely more sophisticated than wheat. The logical, scientifically sound conclusion is that an ultra sophisticated product is the result of ultra sophisticated design by an Ultra Competent Designer, the Proven Designer and Owner of all Life.
I cannot commit intellectual suicide by ignoring the logic of Logos(Gods Word). Faith is the nett result of logical reasoning, the way we love Him back also with our intellect.
Albie
Mark E.
Joseph J. I for one would love to hear more about specifically what it was in the article that you found so helpful to you as a self-declared theistic evolutionist. I'm sure other bloggers would appreciate hearing more from you too. Bless you, Mark
Michael B.
To know and understand Him through prayer, the Scriptures, and through His wonderful works by which He has made Himself known.
To rest in His sovereignty was the most freeing thing that ever happened to me... that not only did He speak all things into existence but has spoken the end from the beginning.
His purpose from day one was/is to create man in His image (Genesis 1) and that all things continue to work to conform us to the image of His Son (Romans 8) and His work will be completed on the day of His return when we look upon Him "Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is" 1 John 3:2
Thank you for your faithfulness to the Word and building the faith of the Saints.
Your Brother in Christ,
Michael
Cameron G.
I was a paratrooper and rode to jumps in a C-139 often in the back of the formation of other planes. The ride was rough beyond belief. I learned to trust the Lord in those type situations. Now when I fly in a rough ride with a Commercial flight I almost have to laugh when I see people clinging to their arm rest thinking they are really going through something, I can tell you that is nothing. You have to realize that God is in control and the worst would thing that could happen would turn out to be the best, knowing He is not going to take you home before your time. I think apologetics is more of a hobby for me while studying the Word is my main job. I know faith comes from the Word but apologetics help to take away doubts and that also helps me a lot.
Paul Price
Thanks for sharing!
Bruno M.
Response to Paul Price

Its not because of "unrighteousness" that we atheists reject your arguments. Its because they are not rational and go against everything we know about nature. god is a contradiction a paradox he cannot exist his existence goes against the laws of nature and scientific method
The people from ancient world were illiterate non scientific superstitious gullible people. We cannot trust everything they wrote we must be skeptical. Quoting the bible does not prove a thing since we dont know who wrote it and for what intentions. I believe it was written by jews with the goal to overthrow the roman empire which they succeeded when emperor constantine declared christianity as state religion. For more information go to wikipedia.
As for humanity dying of genetic mutations, that is a fringe view not even other scientists take it seriously since creationism is pseudoscience alongside horoscope and astrology. If there is evidence for so called genetic entropy I want to see it in a peer reviewed journal not in some creationist website.
Even if genetic entropy is true, scientists will find a way to circumvent it as they have always done.
Paul Price
I suggest you ask yourself the question, "If the Bible were true, what evidence would I expect to find?" Of course, to answer this question, you must first read the Bible carefully so you'll know what evidence to look for.
Tammy S.
Amen-ing my way through this article and all the comments! Meaningful discourse among believers is so great! For myself, I came to know Jesus through an experience of His presence, after coming to the rather devastating realization and acknowledgment that I was terrible at life! Bad decisions and depression plagued me, there was nowhere to go but to God. Godly sorrow filled my heart and drove me to my knees in prayer - not to pray that Jesus would fix my problems, but that He would just take the whole operation over entirely! And He did! Never was a word of apologetics mentioned, nor was apologetics even on my radar, but I think I never really doubted that God existed to begin with, I just wanted to do things my own way. The world of apologetics became interesting to me because I found it fascinating and awesome that there are so many ways to point out the truth, even before one opens a bible. I also liked being able to "answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes." Proverbs 26:5 NKJV Reasoning is a powerful ally of truth, and another weapon in our arsenal - but it can never actually replace knowing God Himself. I agree that the person who never actually experiences the Lord through faith is possibly on the edge of falling off of the believing cliff. May those who are in that place take the next step through prayer and the word of God.
Joseph J.
Theistic evoliutionist here, so many will think that I'm some sort of heretic, but anyways, this article was exactly what I needed! Thank you!
Stephen N.
Your article makes a great point. We must not only know about God. There comes a time when a believer should come to know God- to have a personal relationship with him, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Intellectual knowledge is important, but that is not the end of the journey. As Matthew 11: 28-30 mentions, we must come to Christ and rest in him. This involves surrendering our will to him, and accepting that he is the only way to a true relationship with God. At the end of the day, our positive example propelled by Christ spiritually living in us may have as much or more effectiveness in advancing the Kingdom of God than intellectual reasoning.
Bruno M.
Christian apologetics is based on the presuposition that god exists but we know that he doesnt exist because we know that god was created on mans image and a product of human imagination. That is why christian apologetics will convince an atheist that hasnt studied enough about atheism and science but a learned atheist will not be so easily convinced.
If christian apologetics worked we would see many atheists converting to christianity but what we see is the total oposite. Modern man has realised that only science can solve all of our problems has evidenced by whats happening right now with covid-19 and the effort that scientists are doing in finding a vaccine.
We must put god and religion in the shelve and start focusing on improving this world for future generations and not hoping for a imaginary paradise. Long live humanity
Paul Price
Romans 1 answers you well enough. The fact that many atheists refuse to be convinced is not an indicator that the evidence or arguments are lacking. It is an indicator that these individuals "by their unrighteousness suppress the truth." Humanity without God will not live long. We are dying of genetic mutations. You can read more in Dr. Sanford's book Genetic Entropy.
Giancarlo B.
Honestly, I don't struggle to believe in God. What I do struggle is when in debates to argue my position. I try to be as brief as possible, but as you mentioned, my analytical, uber monograph tendencies get in the way and it consumes my time. How I solve this is what I call the Pearl Test, which is based on Matthew 7:6. If my opponent's response includes the stereotypical atheopath responses to my arguments, I drop the principle of charity and engage in pwnage and discredit his/her credibility and move on. This is to save time against people who only want to poke fun and not engage meaningfully. As for holding to my faith itself; I don't struggle. I think I am very well convinced, with good reasons, on the presuppositional case for the biblical worldview: It is indeed impossible for Christianity to be false, the fact we can have a sense of knowing and meaningful language proves the biblical worldview. Along with the circumstantial evidence surrounding the Resurrection, I see no reason to second guess. Romans 1 is pretty clear about our knowledge to God, I decided to embrace that intuitive immediate knowledge and move on. Maybe for some is hard and that's understandable, but I think those that are way too focused in looking for an infinite confirmation of evidence after evidence literally don't get it and are expected to fall away any time soon. Trust the plan and move with God and focus on your spiritual health. It's good to study the intellectual side of Christianity, but don't let it get way over you.
Jack S.
One of the lager problems in the Christian community today is the lack of discernment. The pursuer of apologetic studies, even if not involved in the actual practice, will certainly increase their discernment. That alone makes the apologetic pursuit a worthwhile endeavor.
Ken B.
Thank you for writing this. I cannot recall reading something so seemingly directed at me and repeatedly saying (in my mind), “That’s ME!...that’s ME”. Wonderful analogies. This has great meaning and instructive value for me, a niggler.
Norman P.
'Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen' Heb 11:1. 'But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him' Heb 11:6. True saving faith comes from acknowledging our sin, believing that Christ died for our sins and rose again from the dead, and that all who call upon His name will, thereby, be saved. From then on, we receive the Holy Spirit, who leads us into all the truth, as per the rest of Hebrews 11, and indeed the whole Bible.
BUT, in an age when many 'respectable', powerful institutions (even churches) are echoing that original Satanic question 'Has God said?', is it not a testament to His great mercy that He has raised up apologetic ministries in our day for the benefit of His faithful people? You open the daily news, and see some new discovery that contradicts God's word, and it can all look so convincing. A cold voice assaults our minds with the question, surely scientific evidence cannot lie? But Oh! we who are trained in science know only too well how fallible men, with their proud unbelieving hearts, are all too prone to embrace their godless worldview, now such a huge intellectual construct, which has scornfully battered much of Christendom into submission. BUT GOD has won through in our hearts, bearing witness by the Spirit, the water, and the blood to his great truth in Christ (1 John 5:5-8). 'And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness' (1 John 5:19). 'And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;' Romans 1:28 as now! How many church pastors preach thus? We must all open our Bibles!
Julie M.
I so needed to hear this! I have a very logical and analytical mind. I have been following so many apologetic rabbit trails. Time to follow Jesus instead! Please pray that I would find peace, rest and joy in Him.
Yvonne R.
Hello Phil - bless you for your expression of your need, more so GOD be blessed, for HE cares for you above all you understand. There is only one truth and that is the truth of GOD. For us, as human beings, truth is ever changing because GOD alone has the ultimate truth. The influence from our families and associates in our lives have created the barriers against the door. GOD created us to be dependent upon HIM for our well being. CMI is a wonderful ministry but GOD must be placed first in your life. Place GOD first by praising HIM for providing JESUS CHRIST as the Saviour of your life. Praise GOD for the trees, the flowers, the green grass, that you have many benefits like a computer. Give praise to GOD for all that you have at every moment. Never stop showing gratefulness to GOD. Only by praising GOD for our possessions, will we be able to use our possessions effectively. Without praise to GOD we lose interest in the value of our possessions. GOD knows we have a need for possessions but HE must be recognised as the ONE who is the provider. Ask the HOLY SPIRIT to show you a way of studying the Bible - One way for me, studying the bible was indexing all the Creation verses from Genesis to Revelations -- that really was a way of growing ever deeper into the Word from GOD. I found difficulty realising the enormity of who GOD is. I give praise to GOD for HE has been waiting for this moment in time to receive you into HIS kingdom, to be in HIS service .that you know the freedom that only comes through JESUS CHRIST. GOD be praised Amen
Phil H.
Great article Paul.
My own faith journey has been heavily influenced by apologetics - and especially by the work that CMI does (thank you all so much).
Looking back now, I think it was worse than a crutch for me - it was an idol. I used it to silence my own doubts rather than bring me closer to God. Over time, the motivation changed from a battle against doubt into a battle for faith - I began searching for certainty that I could trust Him. Even now, I feel like I don't really know or trust Him, even though I might know a lot of theological and apologetic arguments.
In a recent discussion, I was trying to explain the role of apologetics (as I see it) to someone, and a crystal clear picture came to mind... It was the picture of a door with all sorts of things pushed up against it - some of which I had put there and some of which had been put there by others. The job of apologetics is to remove those barriers from in front of the door. But even then - you still have a door...
Jesus said "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me." (Rev. 3:20)
Jesus help me to open the door.
Steve H.
Too many people, who consider themselves to be Christians, know about God, yet seem not to know God. I was an atheist for the first 20 years of my life, then an agnostic for a further 10 years. When I heard the Gospel, my eyes were opened to the prospect of God’s existence. I felt a sudden urgent need to not just read the Bible, but to study the Bible, and to research the history of the Bible - how it came to us. After 6 months of study, I was convinced that the Bible was a true historical document: the Gospels recorded true history. I believed it (intellectual ascent) but that was not enough. I then got hooked on apologetics, reading heaps of books that could have gone on for ever, but that was not enough. I wanted to know God, not just know of God, so I invited him into my life. I prayed to him. I asked him to make himself known to me personally. I asked him to take away any niggling doubts that could act as a stumbling block to my faith. I asked him to walk with me for the rest of my life. And you know what? He answered that prayer. I was born again. Never looked back. He has given me all that he promised in his Word, and more. If you have doubts, invite him in! Taste that the Lord is good. You will never regret it!
Leslie S.
That was a great article. Thanks!

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