Christian Apologetics

I need no other argument,
I need no other plea,
It is enough that Jesus died,
And that he died for me.

One of the outstanding characteristics of the Christian scene today is a tremendous interest in apologetics. Print, Internet, and radio ministries by the thousands are falling over themselves to attempt to prove to people that Christianity is true. You might, in fact, wonder why there is so little apologetic content at House Church Central.

Well, I am not going to say that there is no value in apologetics. I can recall times when apologetic ministries helped me to break down the wall of scientific skepticism that I had built up to fend off God's Spirit. But, after one becomes a disciple of Jesus Christ, there comes a time to put apologetics aside. Yes, 1 Pet. 3:15 tells us to "always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you." But why? I think the answer is in the next verse, 1 Pet. 3:16: "but do it with gentleness and reverence." I suggest that the reason is that the arrow of apologetics belongs in the quiver of the evangelist, and there alone. If it is allowed to become the mortar that holds one's faith together--which is far too often the case today--it does no service to the gospel.

C.S. Lewis

A fascinating case study of Christian apologetics may be found in the life of C.S. Lewis. I can recall a time when his Mere Christianity, perhaps one of the most famous modern apologetic writings of the twentieth century, helped me a great deal. The book is available in handsome, hard-bound editions suitable as a gift to potential Christian proselytes2--and I am glad, because those are the people who should be reading that book. But I have little interest in re-reading it now.

A skeptic for the first three decades of his life, Lewis became a zealous Christian convert who began to use his academic position in English language and literature at Magdelen College, Oxford, as a platform for a number of books, lectures, and radio addresses. Mere Christianity was originally written for the latter media. Although it was not published in book form until 1952, it belongs among many of his other apologetic works produced in the early 1940s.

However, in 1948, Lewis' apologetic writing came to an abrupt end. John Beversluis3 traces this to a critique of his book, Miracles, by the British philosopher G. E. M. Anscombe. Lewis agreed to debate Ms. Anscombe but, in the event, he lost the contest "hands down." He later was forced to admit that there was "contrary evidence" to his Christian position, and he never wrote on Christian apologetics again. It is my interpretation that the Anscombe debate, and then the later loss of his wife in his famous "shadowlands" experience, shattered his faith. Each time, he had to regain it through a painful spiritual re-formation. I would not want to recommend this route to anyone--his was a profound and prolonged suffering.

Karl Barth

While Lewis' life gives us a biographical approach to the problem, we must turn to Karl Barth to obtain an theological view. His Church Dogmatics includes a significant study of how one comes into the Knowledge of God.4 One cames into that knowledge, said Barth, only as God chooses to reveal himself. Barth argued against any attempt at knowing God from any standpoint outside of faith. Rather, the one who has faith can then use that faith to guide the intellect into further knowledge--be that science, history, or whatever. This insight, which Barnard Ramm attributes to Anselm,5 caused Barth to reject apologetics for any purpose other than, possibly, having a role in "setting out in proper order the whole program of Christian theology."6 Put simply, apologetics puts the cart before the horse. Faith should guide intellect. Any attempt to begin with intellect can never bring one to true faith--a true knowledge of God.

Argument vs. Witness

In contemporary Christianity, apologetic ministries attempt to explain that there can be harmony between modern science and Christianity. Yes, there is harmony, but too often the apologist attempts to find it by re-telling science from a Christian point of view (and, too often, doing it so ineptly that they bring gales of laughter to scientists). If one can succeed in that, the logic goes, then one can bring the skeptic to faith. And, they tell us, it "works"--they can point to a multitude who "came to Christ" during one of thier seminars. But I have to ask how secure a faith is that is based on any kind of intellectual argument. These fragile "Christians" tend to become obscurant because they do not want to come into contact with any new scientific information that might cause their faith to unravel. They are the ones who want to legislate a Christian takeover of public schools as a first step in bringing Constantinian Christianity back to America.

Is it not far better to begin with faith? Once one knows God in an experiential way, then one never needs an apologetic or philosophical argument as a crutch to sustain faith. Why? Because experiencing the presence of a personal and loving God has far more substance than any intellectual argument. And that brings us back to 1 Pet. 3:15-16. Christian disciples should never hesitate to "make a defense," but they should always do so "with gentleness and reverence." And that is because the real place of apologetics is as a witnessing tool. The faith of the believer, as manifest through the community of faith as an outcropping of the kingdom of God, is simply more attractive than any philosophical or scientific argument designed to prove that God is real and that Jesus lives.

As C.S. Lewis learned in a very public and humiliating way, those who's faith in Christ depends on apologetics can lose it with the apologetics of the world. In the same way, those who wish to prove the existence of God with philosophical argument are doomed to fail in the attempt.


1Lidie H. Edmonds, from his hymn, "My Faith Has Found a Resting Place." Return

2 If you do not have a copy of this popular book, you may order it below:


Order Mere Christianity, hardcover.


Order Mere Christianity, paperback.

3 John Beversluis, "Beyond the Double Bolted Door," Christian History 4:3, 29. Return

4 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics (Edinburgh, T & T Clark, 1957), II, 1. Return

5 Rernard Ramm, After Fundamentalism (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 191983), 59-60. Return

6 Ibid., 61. Return