I sometimes encounter those inside Christianity that do not believe that Christianity should be defended. I was once told by a minister at Rice University that using apologetics was not only wrong, but hurtful to the cause of Christ. Leaders of churches have told me that they did not believe faith should be defended, but that if we merely study the Bible, we will adequately prepare people spiritually for anything they will encounter outside the church. I respectfully disagree for the following reasons.
The Bible Commands Us to Defend Christianity
- Jude 3 tells us to “earnestly contend for the faith,” with the word contend meaning to fight vigorously. The context is clear, since the remainder of the small book speaks about false teachers who have crept into the church and done much damage.
- 2 Timothy 2:23-26 tells us to not argue about foolish things, but to gently “correct those who are in opposition” which is then defined as non-Christians who are in need of salvation (v.25-26). We are commanded to correct lost people who oppose us.
- Colossians 4:5-6, speaking of those outside the church, tells us we must always be ready to answer each person.
- 1 Peter 3:15 tells us to always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks us about the hope that is within us.
- Acts 18:27-28 tell us that Apollos “powerfully refuted the Jews in public” which encouraged the Christians there.
Therefore not only are we commanded several times to defend the faith, we are given examples in the New Testament that clearly defend Christianity against those who attack it. In this context, not defending Christianity is direct disobedience.
We Know the Harmful Results of Not Defending Christianity
We have clear evidence of what happens when we do not defend Christianity. First, those who feel that Bible study alone will guard Christians against attack will rarely teach the whole counsel of God. Church leaders often teach the parts of the Bible which deal with practical living skills, but ignore the key theological concepts that protect their flock from the lure of the cults. For example, in the first 300 years of the church, there were more than a dozen heresies about how the two natures of Christ relate to each other and salvation. Many of these false teachings are still around today in various heretical groups. Are we to ignore these teachings, hoping that our church members do not have to deal with these issues?
Second, while the arguments of the modern atheists are not logical, their rhetoric is quite effective. For example, here are some definitions that are commonly used by atheists to explain the term faith. Here are a couple that are taken from online atheist discussion boards, and are representative:
Faith is simply belief without evidence. No matter who you are or how you word it, that’s what it is.
Faith is essentially a gut instinct that something is true in the absence of evidence. I would expand upon it by saying that faith often appears to include belief in things for which there is directly contradictory evidence.
Such statements are mirrors of the concepts found in best-selling atheist books such as Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. So, if we inoculate our children with Bible memory verses and Bible study, will they be immune from such attacks?
Jesse Kilgore was not. Jesse grew up in a Christian home and went to a church that was likely similar to yours. Yet when he was challenged by a professor to read The God Delusion, he lost all his confidence in Christianity. Just before he committed suicide, he was calling around to friends and family members, telling them of his disillusionment. Upon learning of Jesse’s losing all hope in Christianity, one family member responded to him by saying this:
I told him it was my relationship with God, not my knowledge of
Him that brought me back to my faith. No one convinced me with facts. … it was a matter of the heart. (see article here)
So when this young person hears the atheists, whose books are more often rhetoric and opinion than anything else, he does not recognize the logical fallacies and feels lost. He believes Dawkins’ arguments that Christianity is built upon blind faith that is contrary to facts. Then when he reaches out, Christians answer him by saying that faith is not a matter of fact, but an emotional response of the heart. Such answers confirm Dawkins’ rhetoric, and he falls under the atheist spell.
I am not saying suicide is common, for it is not, and I do not pretend to give simplistic answers. Most do not commit suicide, but merely walk away from the church.
I understand the desire by church leaders to instill a deep walk with the Lord and Bible literacy in their congregations, which are lofty and necessary goals. But our leaders are very incorrect when they think that somehow their church will be different, that through studying only certain parts of the Bible, and those only as a personal interpretation, their members will somehow grow so much that they will be immune to the siren song of false teachers and social immorality. Why could not someone tell Jesse Kilgore to read one of the many responses to Dawkins? Alister McGrath has written a couple of excellent responses to Dawkins, one of which is The Dawkins Delusion. Many more exist. Why is it that no one around Jesse seemed to know these responses existed?
I fail to understand why church leaders deny the obvious, that under the guise of piety we are failing to teach the next generation to think critically. We build the walls of our churches thicker, put more locks on the door, then send our young out as lambs before wolves, and they are being destroyed before our eyes. I fail to see how our leaders could have missed the clear commands of scripture to put our minds in gear and defend the faith.
The atheist arguments are hollow and shallow, but are expressed with bluster and force, and deceive many. By contrast, we have the solid ground of truth on our side, and have no reason to shy away from the most difficult public discussions. C. S. Lewis described it well:
If all the world were Christian it might not matter if all the world were uneducated. But, as it is, a cultural life will exist outside the Church whether it exists inside or not. To be ignorant and simple now—not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground—would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defence but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.