The Frustration – 1 Peter 3:15
I used to find myself in discussions about the gospel with friends and acquaintances who would bring up questions I found difficult or even impossible to answer. At some point, this led to frustration, not because the questions they raised caused me to doubt, but because I was disappointed I wasn’t able to give a better answer. 1 Peter 3:15 charges us to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have”. Unfortunately, I had no idea where to find the answers to specific questions let alone a coherent way of breaking down the true underlying issues.
Finding the Answers — 2 Timothy 2:15
After an unexpected turn of events, I ended up with an iPod. I had learned that our church provided podcasts of their messages, and I went online to see what other content I could find. I was delighted to find that many of my favorite teachers also provided free podcasts. I started downloading messages from a variety of teachers such as Dr. Ravi Zacharias and Dr. William Lane Craig. I soon found there is a wealth of material, both printed and electronic, that lays out many of the questions that come up over and over again as well as biblical responses to those questions. I was thrilled! Certainly there are things that are difficult to understand, and there are things that are even more difficult to experience, but our lack of understanding is often the result of an incorrect perspective. The Christian world view is the only one to completely and coherently answer all of the questions that people ask. I was anxious to be “a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth”, so I studied the challenges and the answers from a Christian perspective.
Before (and After) the Fall — 1 Corinthians 8:1, Proverbs 16:18
Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. In spite of recommendations by all of the teachers to present the Gospel prior to engaging in any apologetic arguments, I couldn’t see how all of these arguments would fail to find their mark in the heart of any unbeliever. I was eager to engage in these discussions because I was now armed with answers to questions I had previously not even considered let alone answered. Unfortunately, this often left me in intellectual discussions which ended without a clear presentation of the gospel. In one encounter, I was prepared to unload the full weight of my carefully constructed arguments on an unsuspecting wedding party that had engaged in a discussion with us. One of the party stepped up and laid down the gauntlet and said – “I believe the world has existed forever, that man is inherently good, that the Bible is riddled with errors, and that believers only pay attention to some of the Bible and not to all of it”. I was left not knowing where to begin let alone knowing how to deal with all of those questions in a reasonable amount of time. I called a more experienced friend over to see how he would respond and he quickly discerned that they did not really care about our answers. In my eagerness to engage in debate, I had failed to assess the underlying motives behind the questions. I later shared with my friend that I was ashamed because I felt I left them feeling even more confident in their position. Even worse, I had left them with an even lower impression of Christians and their ability to defend their faith.
Continuing to Run – Hebrews 12:1-3
Though discouraged, I knew that God would help me learn from my mistakes. God showed me two important things: (1) I was relying on intellectual arguments and not the Spirit to discern the heart issues, and (2) I had taken all of their assertions as fact and had not asked them to defend a single one of their own truth claims. I remember how many times Dr. Zacharias responded to inquiries during the question and answer portions of his presentations with questions of his own to understand the true underlying issue. He said that “asking questions helps you determine the entry point to the conversation”. If you are asking these questions of others, you must also be prepared to answer questions about your own truth claims. Challenging people’s underlying assumptions reveals to them and to others listening that their own truth claims require justification as well.
As a result, I began to start asking people about their understanding of the gospel. Once I believed they had a clear understanding of the gospel, I would ask for reasons that might have kept them from trusting in Christ. This is a personal question, since you are asking the person to reveal what they are struggling with rather than acting like a Christian answer machine. The Pharisees lobbed questions at Christ on many occasions, but they didn’t have any personal interest in the answer other than as a vehicle to trap Christ in a heretical statement. By making it personal, you begin to get to the heart of the issue. Even when the questions are presented, further inquiry is often required to fully understand the motivation behind the questions.
A New Yet Old Approach – 1 Corinthians 2:3-5
Three key principles emerge in 1 Corinthians 2:3-5.
1. Present the truth humbly (vs. 3) – Paul had every reason to be confident. As a Pharisee he had a tremendous knowledge of scripture, he had a personal experience with God on the road to Damascus, and his writing shows he was able (with God’s help) to fully defend the Gospel message. Yet he approached people humbly, not arrogantly as if the work being done was of his own strength or ability. Paul wrote that “God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9), and James reminds us “God opposes the proud but gives strength to the humble” (James 4:6). Therefore, we must be humble and rely on God.
2. Don’t rely on persuasive words but on the Spirit’s power (vs. 4) – Paul was speaking to a Corinthian audience familiar with debates by skilled orators. Presenting a skilled argument using persuasive words might bring glory to the orator when the glory belongs to God. Paul had written just prior to this that he preached the gospel “not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (1 Corinthians 1:17). The temptation is to dress up the gospel and the arguments, thinking that they will have more power, when a simple presentation actually has more. The focus needs to be on the message and not on the delivery. The Spirit takes the message and convicts the heart. It has little to do with your ability to deliver the message.
3. Have faith in God’s power, not on man’s wisdom (vs. 5) – If you can construct a cunning and persuasive set of arguments to talk someone into something, then Satan can construct a cunning and persuasive set of arguments to convince them of the opposite. People require less ‘proof’ to believe things that agree with their way of thinking, and substantially more ‘proof’ when those things oppose their current thinking. In the end, Christianity is rejected not on the basis of proofs but on an unwillingness of the recipient to view himself or herself as a sinner in need of a savior and/or a preference for choosing to view himself or herself as anything other than the same. If you can’t outline the strong evidence and arguments for the validity of biblical Christianity, you give the unbeliever further confidence in the strength of their arguments. By showing that the evidence and arguments for Christianity are at least as strong or stronger than those for any other world view, you show that Christianity has much to support it and is not just blind faith by unreasoning fools as it has been portrayed by some.
Pruning the Hedges – 1 Corinthians 1:18-24
Dr. Zacharias has said that apologetics is there to ‘clear the bushes’. These bushes are often very tall and wide but only an inch deep. People seldom have reasoned arguments for the things they say they believe (Christians and non-Christians alike, unfortunately). Presenting an argument opposing a popular belief can shows the individual’s opposition to Christianity is unfounded. Even people very familiar with atheistic arguments have seldom had their truth claims challenged by biblical responses to the same. I was about to leave a prenuptial gathering for a co-worker when a new guest arrived. The gentleman proceeded to start questioning the authenticity of any historical document and proceeded to challenge the accuracy of the Bible itself. In the ensuing discussion, he brought up a great number of atheistic challenges to Christianity and I provided him with reasoning which demonstrated the plausibility of Christianity and the problems with his own statements. In the process of sharing – not arguing – the support for the accuracy of the biblical account and the reasonableness of the Christian message, most of the people attending were drawn into the discussion. Rather than hearing just atheistic arguments, they were able to hear the strength of the arguments for Christianity as well. Even the person who was arguing the atheistic position was surprised to find there were answers to so many of his challenges. Through the study I had done and the guiding of the Spirit, I was able to make a clear presentation of the gospel while challenging his atheistic assumptions and arguments.
What Should I Do? – Matthew 10:16, 1 Corinthians 9:22-23
Christ charges his disciples to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). We are not born knowing everything we need to know, so we go to school and are taught things that will be helpful to us. As adults, we read books on our own or learn through other forms of media and teaching. Apologetic arguments are helpful tools. When you have studied them, you will be far ahead of most people you will meet who echo arguments they have heard but have not carefully considered. Though the arguments are not your reason for confidence, they demonstrate that your faith is not blind and that Christianity is not without strong evidence for its own truth claims. If you are interested in evangelism or in discipleship, then you will want to know the questions people struggle with and a biblical response to each question. While it might not be necessary for your own faith, and your faith should not rest on these arguments, your ability to share them might clear the bushes allowing a non-believer to see the gospel clearly, or it might provide relief to a believer who was struggling with the same question. In this way, you can better “become all things to all people” so that you can be used by God to save some.
Resources For Defending Your Faith
Dr. Ravi Zacharias – http://www.rzim.org
Comments: There are two regular podcasted radio shows.
- Just Thinking – Includes messages and open forum Q&A where Ravi and his team answer questions and challenges leveled against Christianity.
- Let My People Think – presents biblical teaching with Christian apologetics
Dr. William Lane Craig – http://www.reasonablefaith.org
Comments: There are two regular podcasts that are very helpful.
- Defenders – Dr. Craig’s Sunday school class on Christian doctrine and apologetics.
- Reasonable Faith – a conversational program dealing with the most important apologetic questions of our day.
Dr. Frank Turek – http://www.crossexamined.org
Comments: Dr. Turek co-authored “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist” with Dr. Norman Geisler. This book and the methods it presents provide an excellent framework for presenting a defense of your faith.
Dr. Josh McDowell – http://www.Josh.org
Comments: Author of excellent books such as “Evidence that Demands a Verdict” and “New Evidence that Demands a Verdict”.
Lee Strobel – http://www.LeeStrobel.com
Comments: Author of several excellent books such as “The Case for Christ”.