By Jennifer Johnson
The men at our church LOVE to study apologetics. I think it’s because they like to argue.
One reason I contacted Bob Hall after reading about the apologetics group he created was the wording of the announcement in Velocity Christian Church’s e-news: “This team has kicked off a long-term effort to understand our culture’s perceptions, assumptions, questions and issues that are barriers to faith in Jesus. We’re now assembling well-documented, thoughtful and effective responses and preparing to use them in a respectful way.”
The guys at our church aren’t at all disrespectful, but they do have a tendency, as do many people intensely interested in apologetics, to focus less on understanding the perspective of unbelievers and more on accumulating facts as weapons.
I get it; our culture is increasingly hostile, both politically and religiously (in part because we often confuse the two), and lining up the reasons we’re right and others are wrong makes us feel we’re winning a battle. The problem is no one was ever argued into the kingdom of God.
For one thing, apologetics alone is incomplete. In last November’s Christianity Today, Michael Ward wrote that even C.S. Lewis, a brilliant thinker and communicator, “realized that debate, with abstract propositions designed to demonstrate and persuade, is less adequate than story, with its characters and plots and atmospheres. . . . How can the apologist turn the holistic life of faith—prayer, fellowship, Communion, reading Scripture, service of the needy—into an argument? It is like Mozart trying to prove his musicality not by writing a symphony but by standing gagged at a blackboard using only numbers.”
The solution, Ward concludes, is to live the apologetic in our own story, while telling The Story. “If faith has to be turned into apologetic words, it is best to use . . . words that are richly resonant and connotative, like the mighty nouns of John’s gospel (word, light, life, way, water, glory, vine, bread),” he writes. “These words convey the meaningfulness of faith much better than do abstract arguments.”
This is not an excuse to avoid thinking about the hard questions. In some of their letters, both Peter and Paul tell readers to be prepared for questions about faith, and I will be the very first in line, with signage and an upraised fist, to urge the American church away from its pat answers and anti-intellectualism. I am not saying we shouldn’t study, reason, or share our thoughts. But our own life must bear witness to the truth first, and our motive must always be changing hearts instead of changing minds.
I enjoyed interviewing Bob and I appreciate what he’s doing. As they used to say on The X-Files, “The truth is out there.” But we should remember that even the author of Mere Christianity needed the Narnia books to fully tell it.