Apologetics (singular): The branch of theology that deals with the defense of a religious faith on the basis of reason (The World Book Encyclopedia Dictionary, ed. Clarence L. Barnhart [Chicago: Thorndike-Barnhart, 1963]).
Apologetics has crept into the church as a weapon for evangelism. Today there are many books available on Christian apologetics. At best, apologetics can be useful pre-evangelism. Several things make it difficult to use as a tool in evangelism:
1. It is defensive.
2. It is based on reason.
3. It does not create faith.
4. The gospel is not normally included in it.
5. The average person does not understand the presuppositions or the reasoning used.
6. Jesus and the apostles did not use it the way it is used today.
7. When used in discussion, it tends to turn the conversation into a debate/argument, and Christians are not to argue like that.
8. It is not declarative. It does not proclaim or preach.
9. It does not deal with sin.
10. It defends the use of the Word of God as an authority rather than using the Word of God with authority.
I have no objection to books on apologetics when used as eye-openers for the unbeliever. However, there are much better eye-openers. Apologetic books are much more helpful to Christians who feel vulnerable under attack when they are accused of being irrational (although, even there, apologetics does not necessarily increase faith in the believer).
The following is an example of not using apologetics. In the fall of 1954, I was on the staff of Commander Naval Forces, Far East in Yokosuka, Japan. While there, I got to know a young naval officer whose favorite word for others was “stupid.” One day he heard me say something positive about my boss whom he had already tagged as stupid. Of course, that made me stupid, too.
Sometime later, the two of us were having a professional conversation in the Bachelor Officers’ Quarters. Over the course of the conversation, he came to realize that I knew more than he did about the subject, both from my years of experience and from graduate school. I realized that I had gotten out of his “stupid” book. At the end of the conversation, as I was going to my room, I turned around and said, “Vic, the next time I talk to you, I will talk to you about God.”
Two days later, I took my Bible and went up to his room. He was looking in the mirror and tying his tie. I said, “I came to talk to you about God. Unless you have other plans, I will stay.”
He replied, “I had other plans, but I just changed them. Sit down.”
I sat down. Vic went to his closet and pulled out a book. He sat on the bunk and opened to a page about two-thirds of the way through the book. I could see a paragraph underlined in red on the page. Vic Jensen was an atheist with a degree in philosophy from a Jesuit university. He said, “Shoot. Prove to me there is a God.”
“Vic,” I told him, “I did not come to prove God. I came to declare Him.”
“If you do not prove God, there is no basis for conversation.”
“Suppose there is a God,” I said. “He made billions of stars, billions of raindrops, billions of buttercups, and billions of people. You stand up to Him and say, ‘Show me, and I will believe.’ He doesn’t have to show you—you are one billionth! I am His representative. I do not have to show you, and I will not show you.”
He closed his book. “What is the subject, then?”
“I thought I would start with sin.”
“Sin? There is no such thing as sin! Whose sin?”
“Since you asked, it is the sin in Vic Jensen.”
“There is no sin in me!”
“Do you mean to say that you have no conscience?”
He changed the subject. “What are you going to use for an authority?”
“I brought my Bible. I thought I would use that for an authority.”
“You can’t use that,” he said.
“For two reasons. First, the Bible is not allowed in intercollegiate debate, and second, I do not accept it as an authority.”
“First, this is not intercollegiate debate. It is war, and the rules are different. Second, I do not care that you do not accept it as an authority. Suppose I have a two-edged sword in my hand, and I say to you, ‘Jensen, I’m going to chop off your head.’ You laugh and say, ‘You can’t chop off my head because I don’t believe that’s a sword.’ Then it’s my turn to laugh. ‘I will have your head.’ If I sheath the sword because you don’t believe it is a sword, that does not prove it isn’t a sword; it only proves that I don’t believe it’s a sword. ‘The Word of God is quick and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, dividing asunder between the soul and spirit, joints and marrow, discerning the thoughts and intents of the heart.’ I’m going to have your head.”
I continued, “What do you think the Bible is? Fiction?”
“You mean like Pogo or Terry and the Piratesin the funny papers?”
“About in that category.”
“Do you read Pogo?”
“Oh, yeah, I love Pogo.”
“Terry and the Pirates?”
“Yeah, I read fiction all the time.”
I said, “Then you won’t mind if I read you a few chapters of fiction.”
Why do people not want you to read the Word of God to them? Because they do not believe in it? No: because they are afraid it might be true. I said, “If it’s fiction, you won’t mind at all,” and I read him the first eight chapters of Romans. He sat and listened—no quarrels, no arguments. A few days later he came down to my room and said, “Let’s have some more of the book.” I read him the first five chapters of Acts. That time I gave him a Bible so he could follow along as I read out loud. Later I read him the next thirteen chapters of Acts, the resurrection account in the four gospels, and 1 Corinthians 15.
*Excerpted from Weapons & Tactics. To purchase, visit ccmbooks.org/bookstore.