For instance, if you’re lying in a dark place and a strong man flashes a knife above your chest before plunging it down into your body, it makes a difference whether you are in a hospital or an alleyway.
For instance, if someone gives you a new car, it makes a difference whether they are trying to show you their love or set you up as the recipient of a bribe.
Too often, the discussion about apologetics gets the context, the motivation, and the answers themselves all jumbled up and confused. The simple word “apologetics” can refer to all three of these different components.
For instance, I’ve heard people say, ‘apologetics is useless when someone just lost their daughter in a car accident.’ Well, sure, I’m not going to bring up the teleological argument at the funeral. But then again, offering a roller coaster ride would be equally inappropriate. Should we get rid of amusement parks? No, of course not (or, actually, maybe we should – but that’s a different post). But does it make sense to take someone to Six Flags on their birthday? Likewise, if someone sincerely asks you, “so, why should I be a Christian?,” what’s better – a reasonable or an incoherent answer?
To illustrate this another way, I’ve also heard it said, ‘nobody has ever become a Christian because of arguments, only because of the Holy Spirit.’ Yes, let’s be sure to give all the credit and glory to God for His saving work. The thing is, God uses a lot of very ordinary means to bring people to salvation – does your church have a parking lot? The parking lot probably hasn’t saved anyone, but God has used it to help get people in the church building. Apologetics is like a parking lot. It helps get people in the door.
Unfortunately, some people think of apologetics as a catapult. The very same tool that is meant to gently restore our minds to a reasonable apprehension of the truth is being used to bombard people with a message about how wrong and stupid they are. How does that communicate the idea that God loves you? If your only experience of ‘an apologist’ is ‘someone who is angry, defensive, rationalistic, and uptight’ then you probably aren’t interested in seeing the church filled with more apologists! People have minds, sure, but they are also spiritual, emotional, relational, and physical beings. We all need to take into account and lovingly care for the entire person.
I once read an article critiquing a pastor who said that pacifist Christians were sissies. The article concluded by suggesting that this pastor would be going to hell. I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry. How do we critique one another in a spirit of love instead of bashing each other for our faults? The point I’m trying to make is that reason is but one of many tools that God has given us to love and serve one another. Just like our bodies need food, our minds need truth.
Sometimes apologists are poorly motivated. So challenge their motivation. Sometimes apologetics is applied in the wrong context. Gently suggest that they wait for a better opportunity. But the idea that we should give people reasonable answers to sincere questions? If done with love, in an appropriate context, that makes a lot of sense. That’s one important way we can love God with all of our minds while we love our neighbor as ourselves.