Is it possible to have a strong faith without first becoming an expert in apologetics?
Published: 10 December 2016 (GMT+10)
Today’s feedback comes from C.O., a young man in the U.S., who feels a bit overwhelmed by the arguments for and against Christianity, and is looking for a solid footing for his faith.
Hi! First off, thanks for your ministry! It’s a blessing to my Christian walk. Second, I’m only 18, and while I’ve studied apologetics for a few years, it’s mostly just confused me. each time I think I’m getting somewhere with an argument (creation/evolution, worldviews, etc.) I always find that there are answers to what I would argue for. So, how can I learn enough and be confident in my position without having to get a PhD in biology or philosophy or something? It just seems there’s so much info out there that I get lost in it. However, I want to be able to stand firm and to be confident in my position as a Christian. Are there a few key points I just need to learn? I’d appreciate any insight.
CMI’s Keaton Halley responds:
I don’t think one needs to get a PhD or become an expert in apologetics to have confidence in the truth of Christianity. Here are a few pieces of advice that may help.
First, make sure you are actively involved in the Christian life. God did not want us to be isolated from one another, which is why He established the church as the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12 ff.). Note Ephesians 4:11–14:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
Also, the Bible says that we should guard ourselves against being influenced by the wrong crowd (Psalm 1:1–4; 1 Corinthians 15:33). So, don’t let non-Christians be your primary influences. Make sure you have regular fellowship with a local body of believers, worship God alongside them, use your spiritual gifts in service to others, read your Bible and pray regularly. This will help to give you accountability as well as encouragement to embrace the truth.
Second, remember that both Christians and non-Christians have biases, and interpret the facts according to their starting assumptions. Understand the presuppositions that dictate the conclusions of unbelievers, and then you will be more able to see through their arguments.
Third, keep the big picture in mind. If you focus on one particular challenge to your faith and let that grow out of proportion, it can become a stumbling block. But if you step back and look at how the Christian worldview as a whole makes the most sense of reality, then any remaining difficulties won’t cause you to waver. There will always be things that are hard to understand, but if we put them in perspective, we can continue to seek answers without having our faith shaken.
Fourth, critically analyze not just the truth claims of Christianity, but the claims of its critics as well. Often, those who become apostates fail to doubt their doubts. They only look at perceived difficulties for the Christian worldview, and ignore the greater problems with whatever worldview they adopt as a replacement. Notice how, when some of Jesus’ disciples left him on account of his hard teachings, Peter remained because, even though he also found Jesus’ words difficult, he recognized that the alternatives were bankrupt. When Jesus asked the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”, Peter answered with a rhetorical question: “Lord, to whom shall we go?” (John 6:67–68).
Fifth, don’t allow critics to force the burden of proof on you. Whoever makes a claim carries the burden. So, if they say Christianity can’t account for some feature of the world, it’s their job to prove that claim, not your job to disprove it.
Sixth, continue to disciple your mind, as this will help you to become more mature in your thinking (1 Corinthians 14:20). Although you don’t have to become the world’s foremost apologist to have a confident faith, studying can increase the strength of your faith. There is no shortcut to learning the information—it requires time and effort. So keep going!
Let us remember, when all kinds of questions are hurled at us by the sceptics, that the Bible has been saying - 1500 years before the developement of the scientific method (which never was intended to exclude God, the supernatural or the miraculous, but simply map and understand the natural and non-miraculous world), that we are spirit, soul and body (1Tess 5:23), that God also has created things "invisible" (angels, the dimension of heaven - Col 1:16) that it will be an extra hardship for the learned/scholarly (1Cor 1:20, 3:18) that we cannot please God without faith in the sense of Biblical faith (Hebrews 11:1-6)and that the importance of this faith is so high, that it is by faith we are saved.
Which means that we must not entertain the attitude of naturalism, the attitude that tries to persuade us to never accept anything beyond the scope of mere scientific testability or scholarly research. It is this attitude of naturalistic-materialism that is preached by the sceptics of academia, in order to try to get as many as possible away from The Faith. Understanding and discerning the rethorics and motives of the camp of scientism, is necessary. Seeing the link between atheism, scientism and a cultural ideology trying to assert itself as a alternative to Christianity, an umbrella-ideology, a meta-narrative of modernism and post-modernism, is necessary to see what is at stake; all the meaning and morality of Christianity has been under a perpetual attack from sceptics from the age of enlightenment up until today. It is parallel to what is called the aggressive hellenization of the inter-testamental period, where greek thought and religion and values wanted to force itself upon the people of God. The Sadduccees was influenced by this trend, which was built upon compromise.
Living by faith is not the same as defending faith as in getting into apologetics in academia I would say. God is not so impressed with the "wisdom" of this age that seeks to make you feel like a loser.
To get a grasp of historical movements and shifts I would check out Francis Schaeffer (How should we then live).
The evolutionary arguments are many, ironically without observational science & based on speculation, dodgy dating methods and wild claims dressed up as science and promoted as fact.
Just keep learning, taking it in & studying the relationships & dynamics (Theism vs Atheism, Diesm)(naturalism vs supernatural)(Irreducible complexity). Pray for insight & know your limits. Education takes time, learning is a process.
It is a bit like the matrix out there, many bullets that appear silver or solid. But we dont need to be super heroes or super brains.God has shown us the way & given His Word for all the ages.
I think Safarti's Refuting Evolution often points out the contrasting arguments well, relationships,short comings, voids etc.
Lateley I have been learning more about the reliability of Scripture. God has provided the church with excellent teachers & leaders that we may learn & grow in our precious & beautiful faith.It is a one of a kind.
Three additional tips :
1. Rever to Romans 1:18–23 and use some of the many Intelligent Design arguments CMI presents us.
2. Show some of the many OT texts about the coming of the Messiah that are fullfilled by Jezus of Nazareth.
3. Show some NT texts that prove that the suffering and misery in the world we see today has been predicted by God. See for instance Luke 21:25 in connection with global warming and Revelations 18 in connection with the possibility of a world wide bank crisis.
Dear C.O., Lots of good advice has been presented. I simply note what I believe comes first.
1. As noted by Keaton Halley - Pray! Pray in a worshipful and thankful heart. Pray for wisdom, knowledge and understanding. Pray that the Lord will reveal his will to you and give you the strength and courage to follow Him. Pray that He would strengthen your faith and walk with you through your doubt. He will.
2. Read the Bible daily. Read it through and through all the while seeking the Lord through prayer to reveal his truth to you. Warning – there is a LOT in there and every time I re-read a passage I see something new. This is His message to us and it contains the good, the bad and the ugly. But it’s a cohesive whole and in the long run it, along with prayer, will give you more assurance than all apologetic courses you could take in a lifetime. Note that how much you read each day is a personal thing – it is more important to do than it is to follow someone else’s recipe.
All of us are different, I needed the science first, some need healing, some need to be accepted, and some just need to hear the word. Seek and ye shall find, ask and will be given to you. If you are diligent, you will find that the Lord Himself will lead you on an adventure of discovery, one clearly covered with His fingerprints even though you may not see His face or hear His voice directly.
Are the limits of what the scientific method can study,the limits of all existence? We have no reason to conclude that.
How many times have science changed its conclusions on a subject? All the time!
Can the particulars of history be repeated experimentally? Certainly not. The particulars that make up the past, must be analyzed, and given the best explanations possible, and here no one can pretend to comin on "neutral ground"; we all take with us something when trying to figure out the past. What sources we use, and which are appropiate, plays the greatest role.
Does any mere human being know everything? No. Does scientists use faith, in the sense trust, when they believe that "peer-review" does the job? Yes.
It is then a matter of "who you make your authority" on questions. If God exists, only God should be ones´ absolute authority on a matter, because God is allknowing while humans will only know much or little, but never everything. If the Bible is the Word of God, we should trust the Bible above any human attempt to scrutinize reality; we just have to read all of it, let it interpret itself (exegesis based on a the outset of a historical-grammatical reading and the hermeneutical circle). We then will read God´s own letter to humanity, the instruction manual to life, a historical report of the past written from the future, and the future predicted from the beginning.
God proves Himself to be God through the prophetic Words, long before men can question the details. Since the Source has the prophetic weight of One allknowing, we should trust he rest of the Scriptures as absolutely reliable. This accumulates not to "blind faith" (which would believe anything whatsoever), but to the wisdom of trusting One who is actually allknowing; The Allknowing One:God
Don't let it shake your faith when you don't have the immediate answer. Draw near and know he is God and He will show you in time. He does it with me all the time, usually when I'm not even thinking about it, He'll give an answer to some question I had weeks ago.
Besides, for the atheist to even argue with you over the existence of God, they have to use God's logic which is metaphysical, (non-material) in nature. Atheistic evolutionists can't account for logic, imagination, feelings and all the non-physical attributes of the mind. They will say, (Richard Dawkins) those things are just chemical reactions in the brain. But how could nature control and organize those reactions into logical thoughts. If they, (naturalists) were correct in their ASSUMPTIONS we would be a world of babbling schizophrenics making no sense and wouldn't even have the mental capacity to survive much less discover God. Sorry Mr. atheist. Logic, feelings, morality, all point to the inescapable conclusion there is a creator God and you're robbing Him! Not to mention the fine tuned physical laws of the creation that could never come about by chance.
Hang in there D.O. and keep searching. The answers are out there we just need to keep asking God and you will find them, Mat 7:7!
God, in His wisdom, designed this world in such a way that no matter which worldview a person accepts it is always a matter of faith; whether it be an atheistic worldview or Christian worldview.
Charles Pfeiffer notes that "The guiding principle of the Christian life is faith." Not that we can do more or learn more than we've done in the past. Those things can be obtained and are of value but they are not the focus of our Christian walk. He goes on to say that "true faith has God as its object. We believe God and trust his word."
Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Keep learning and asking questions but always focus your life in what God has done, is doing and will do through his unique Son, Jesus Christ.
Dear C.O., if I may add some thoughts to Keaton's wonderful response, here are two I have personally found very helpful:
#1 1 Thessalonians 5:21 "but test all things, hold fast what is good".
When we obey this dual command, we investigate as part of our testing. We discover new things. GOD IS CLEARLY NOT AFRAID OF WHAT WE WILL DISCOVER--because God and the bible are true. A wonderful implication! God wants us to have enough faith in him (first), that we have the courage to obey this dual command--and look at the evidence.
We can be confident that, as more and more scientific discoveries are made--our imperfect understanding of science will come closer into accordance with the bible. (When we get to glory and "know fully", we will SEE true science perfectly match up.)
Have this optimistic mindset in you. Then one won't have the nervous stance of "Well, ok, this particular challenge from science has been successfully answered... but what about the next challenge?"
#2 Apply this dual command especially through the diagnostic question: "Where do the hard facts end; where does the speculation begin?"
WE HAVE NO OBLIGATION TO GUESSWORK. We often need to know about it, but we DON'T / MUSTN'T feel an obligation to personally commit to it. WE KEEP OUR INTEGRITY / INTELLECTUAL HONESTY while avoiding that false obligation. When we realize this, the false weights fall off us (re. Heb. 12:1)!
For example, when new samples come in from the field for radiometric-decay age-dating tests, we ONLY have an obligation to the DIRECT measurements of isotope masses within those samples--God's objective truth in nature. That's all. Excepting radiocarbon dating in the last 1000 years, all data-DERIVED 'ages' are speculations involving 3 or more assumptions. NO obligation on us!
Learning from other apologists also help which thank God we seem to have abundance of despite the increasing opposition to Christianity. One particular advise I like is from Dr. Frank Turek who suggests to always ask the following question when discussing different view:
1. What do you mean by that? - to understand their assumptions.
2. How do you come to that conclusion? - give them the burden of proof.
3. Have you ever considered ...? - this is your rebuttal to their argument.
1 Corinthians 1:19 gives promise that God will destroy any argument against Him & Paul tells us to do just that in 2 Corinthians 10:5. Also another good advise from Dr. Turek, science does not say anything, scientists do depending on their biases & worldviews.
This smells like very healthy advice, not just for 18-year-olds but 100-year-olds, with a PhD or without, who seek confidence in Christianity. This yearning for enough Christian understanding to be stable and clear headed even while living in a time-poor, stormy society swept by multiple wind gusts of ideas is a need for most westerners. May CO's desires become satisfied more and more, in order to create reasonable responses that refine over time, and as needed, on any subject.
In john 10 Jesus sets himself up in opposition to the false teachers such as the pharisees and saducees. Jesus does not enter into a dialogue about whether or not his message is true. Jesus merely asserts it, for his word is self verifying.
He gives this assurance, that those who belong to him will follow him because he is the true Shepherd who protects his sheep. Of course this does not mean we are free from error not even the best of us but we have this guarantee we will not be turned aside to follow another.
My comment is by way of addendum and I fully concur with the answer given.
Romans 1 and Colossians 2 also provide advice in relation to the question raised and lend support to the answer given.
Thanks for these thoughts. I would argue, though, that Jesus does offer evidence for the claims he makes in John 10:25, where he says, "The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me". And he appealed to the Scriptures in v. 34–36 to defend his claims as well.