“People Do Not Come to Faith by Arguments!” 4 Objections to Apologetics

Some time ago, I was in a meeting with pastors and other church leaders from various backgrounds discussing a potential ministry opportunity. I noted the importance that apologetics plays in the realm of collegiate ministries, especially with the mainstream attacks on Christianity from ultra-liberal voices. For instance, the collegiate ministry known as Ratio Christi has held a profound positive influence on the intellectual and spiritual lives of college students across the nation. To my surprise, one particular ministry leader said, “It’s my experience that people are not brought to faith by arguments.” The statement was shocking enough. However, I was even more bewildered by some who seemed to agree with him. I replied, “What do you say of Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, and J. Warner Wallace who were former atheists and became believers because of the evidence for the Christian faith?” The conversation quickly moved to a different topic.

I do not tell this story to demonize or demoralize anyone. The denominational worker who voiced opposition to apologetics was a good, caring individual who loves the Lord and the people he serves. However, we must engage the question he presented. Do logic and argumentation bring people to faith or are such disciplines useless endeavors? The mission statement of Bellator Christi is that it exists to take up the sword of Christian theology and the shield of classical apologetics in order to take Christian truth into the arena of ideas. But if people are not argued into the faith, this ministry would seem a bit futile, at least in the latter portion of the mission statement. So, are apologetic argumentations necessary? This article will review 4 common objections given to apologetics by the modern church. Each objection will contain an explanation and an appropriate reply.

Objection #1: Arguments do not bring people to faith.

The ministry leader I mentioned posed the first objection against the use of Christian apologetics. This objection claims that arguments do not really bring people into faith. Faith is a matter of the heart, not of the mind.

Reply:

One could provide several replies to the first objection. To keep the post brief, I will present only two. First, objection 1 is in reality a self-defeating statement. How so? Well, the objector is presenting an argument to persuade others that arguments do not persuade. The objection is much like someone claiming to be a married bachelor or saying “I cannot speak a word of English” in English.

Second, the Bible presents several examples where people came to faith or were persuaded to faith by various argumentations. For instance, the miracles and teachings of Jesus provided a case for His claim to be Messiah. The miracles served as a sign. Why were such signs offered? Signs were provided to present an argument for the Messianic claims of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus argues that “the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me” (John 5:36). In addition, Jesus challenged His adversaries to “search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39). Other examples could be offered such as Paul’s defense of the faith before various groups of people, including the Athenians. Consider Philip’s argumentation to the Ethiopian that Isaiah 53 referred to Jesus of Nazareth. All such arguments were used to bring people to faith.

Objection #2: The Holy Spirit brings people to faith, so argumentation is useless.

Some people have objected to the use of Christian intellectual arguments due to the assumption that the Holy Spirit leads people to faith. If the Holy Spirit leads people to faith, then why should one worry about intellectual argumentation.

Reply:

Let me first say, I wholeheartedly agree that the Holy Spirit leads people to faith. Jesus noted that when the Holy Spirit comes that He would “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because you do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged” (John 16:8-11). While the Holy Spirit convicts, we are told that we have a part to play in the evangelism process. Jesus also told the disciples before His ascension, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). One could argue; If the Holy Spirit brings people to faith, then why evangelize? Christians evangelize because God commanded us to do so. Through the preaching of the Word, people are convicted by the Holy Spirit to come to faith. The Holy Spirit uses our evangelistic efforts to save people. The same is true for apologetics. Intellectual argumentation is often used by the Holy Spirit to bring people to faith. While the majority of Athens did not follow Christ after hearing Paul’s intellectual defense of the faith, the Book of Acts states that “some men joined him and believed, among whom were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them” (Acts 17:34).

Another problem I have with this statement stems from the spirit of laziness that exists in some Christians today. I heard a person tell a pastor, “You don’t have to study to preach. Just follow the Holy Spirit.” While I wholeheartedly agree that a person should follow the Holy Spirit, I also accept that the Scripture tells us the “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1). How does a person test a spirit? One tests a spirit against the Word of God. Testing spirits require study. I truly believe that it is the increased biblical illiteracy and lack of study that has led the modern church into many great heresies.

Objection #3: No one has ever come to faith through argumentation.

Anti-apologetic apologists argue that no one comes to faith through intellectual argumentation. Why bother if no one comes to faith through argumentation?

Reply:

This is an easy objection to answer. The claim is false. Many have come to faith through intellectual argumentation for the faith. Among such converts include: C. S. Lewis (famed English professor and writer), Josh McDowell (author of countless Christian books), Lee Strobel (former legal editor of the Chicago Tribune, atheist turned Christian pastor and writer), Fazale Rana (Christian biologist), and J. Warner Wallace (former Los Angeles cold-case homicide detective turned Christian apologist). These individuals only scratch the surface of those who have come to Christ because of the evidence for Christianity.

Objection #4: If someone is argued into faith, then someone could be argued out of faith.

Lastly, objectors to Christian apologetics often claim that if it is by evidential argumentation that one comes to faith, then one could be easily led astray by some other persuasive argumentation.

Reply:

This objection holds two problems in my estimation. 1) The objector does not understand the power of the Holy Spirit. If Christianity is true and a person comes to faith in Christ, then the Scripture states that the Holy Spirit will abide with the repentant person (John 14:15-16). Jesus notes that the Holy Spirit would lead a believer in truth (John 15:26-27). Thus, it would appear that the objector places less value on the power of the Holy Spirit than the advocate of Christian apologetics.

2) In addition, the objector must consider the following point. If Christianity is true, then it will always remain true. The truthfulness of Christianity will never change. Truth is unchangeable. Thus, if a person is truly convicted of the claims of Christianity and truth does not change, then the person (although doubts may come) will not leave the faith due to the truth claims.

Conclusion:

While I respect the objections made and the people who make them, it cannot be said that such objections hold any merit or value. Christianity is true. Period. If Christianity is true, then it is worth defending. If Christianity is true, eternity is at stake. Some people do come to faith when they are met with the evidences for Christianity. It may be true that some people do not require the same level of evidence that other people require. But, refusing apologetics to the one who needs it is like refusing insulin to a diabetic because not everyone needs insulin. It is, to a degree, a categorical mistake. Remember, Peter tells us, as has been noted several times before, that we must “honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

Check out this video by Brett Kunkle of Stand to Reason as he engages this issue: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0cS2xGUj5KQ

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

© August 30, 2016. Brian Chilton.

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10 Questions about Evil Answered by the Bible

We have been discussing over the past few weeks the documentary hosted by Morgan Freeman titled The Story of God: The Story of Us as aired on the National Geographic Channel. On Sunday, May 1st, 2016, Freeman presented the fifth episode of the series. This episode dealt with the problem of evil. I originally thought that the episode would deal with the issue that is popularly known as theodicy: that is, how can a loving and all-powerful God co-exist with a world full of evil? Rather, the episode dealt more with evil in the human sphere. How do we understand evil? Where does evil originate? This article will present 10 questions that were raised over the course of the episode. The answers to these questions are found in the pages of the Bible.

  1. Is a person wired to do evil?

We will discuss the concept of original sin and its influence on our lives (see question 2). However, we must ask, “Are some people wired to do evil?” Morgan Freeman interviewed a psychopath at a federal imprisonment facility. The psychopath had raped several women killing many of them. Let me pause and say that I have to give serious props to Freeman and the show for not publicizing the prisoner’s name and for refusing to show his face. They did not want to glorify the man or his actions.

Dr. Kent Kiehl, a neuroscientist, claimed that the prisoner lacked emotions and the ability to control his impulses, something that the prisoner confessed as true. However, it is interesting that the prisoner admitted that what he did was wrong. He said that if he were released that he would probably do the same, admitting the evil of his deeds. While I admit that there are psychopathic tendencies in individuals which may stem from physical abnormalities, one still has the choice to act on one’s impulses. Later, a theologian named Kutter Calloway admitted that each of us have a little of that psychopath in us. Each of us holds the ability to do great good or great evil. The Bible gives a great point on this issue. Joshua tells the people of Israel, “choose for yourselves today whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15).[1] Each day, we also have that decision.

  1. What is original sin?

Charles Hodge defines original sin as “The effects of Adam’s sin upon his posterity are declared in our standards to be, (1.) The guilt of his first sin. (2.) The loss of original righteousness. (3.) The corruption of our whole nature, which (i.e., which corruption), is commonly called original sin.”[2] Paul notes that “if by the transgression of the one (meaning Adam, mine), death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17). Paul notes in verse 18 that all are condemned as guilty because of the sin of Adam. A sin nature is passed from one generation unto the next.

  1. Are humans inherently good or inherently evil?

Freeman interviewed Kutter Calloway, a Baptist minister and theologian. Calloway said quite accurately that there is “something in us that bends itself towards death and evil.”[3] This is true. The Bible illustrates the dichotomy that exists in each human being. Humans are made in the image of God, or imagio dei (Genesis 1:27). Thus, humans have the potential to do good because of bearing the imprint of God’s image. However, humans have been incapacitated to do complete good due to the entrance of sin into the human equation. Goodness comes from God. So it stands to reason that ultimate good can be brought from those who have been regenerated by the grace of God. To answer the question, humans were made to do good, however bearing a sin nature, humans are swayed to do great evil.

  1. Is the devil real?

Calloway noted that the devil is a real being, but yet the devil is a metaphor for the inner demonic influences of a person’s life. So, to answer the question, the devil is a real entity. The devil tempted Adam and Eve to eat the apple in the garden (Genesis 3:4-5). The devil tested God in the instance of Job’s life (Job 1:13-22). The devil also tempted Jesus on three occasions at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (Matthew 4:1-11). The devil is also shown to be defeated at the end of days (Revelation 20:1-15). So yes, the devil is real.

  1. Can our ancestors influence evil behavior?

Some cultures believe that a person’s ancestors can influence a person’s behavior. In a manner of speaking, this could be true to a degree. For instance, Moses understood that a person’s sin could influence several generations in the future (i.e., Numbers 15:18). In many ways, the sins of today can lead to the problems of tomorrow. Therefore, in some degree, we are influenced by the evil of previous generations, but maybe not in the way that it was presented on the show.

  1. Can evil be purified?

Yes! Evil is purified by the Messiah. See question 8.

  1. Should we blame spiritual entities for our behavior?

While we have all heard people use the excuse, “The devil made me do it.” In reality, each person must answer for their own actions. Spiritual entities can tempt and try to persuade a person to do a particular thing. However, no one can blame the entities for their decisions. For instance, the devil tempted Adam and Eve. Yet, Adam and Eve had to face the consequences of their actions.

  1. Does the purging of evil require a Messiah?

Yes! Sin stains a person thoroughly and completely. The writer of Hebrews notes that “all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). Thus, a perfect sacrifice was required to rid the world of evil. That perfect sacrifice was found in Christ. As Jesus himself noted, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).

  1. Can faith lead us to redemption?

Absolutely! A person is made into a new creation because of the work of Christ. The old ways, attitudes, and behaviors are transformed. A person can be forgiven, learning how to forgive, and can be molded into a much better person due to the work of Christ. The resounding truth that rings through the ages is that “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

  1. Can people change?

Some people hold the assumption that people cannot change. Such beliefs stem from an ultra-determinist ideology that would lend the ideas of law and morality as invalid. It makes little sense to have laws and ethics if people cannot choose to do good rather than evil. In the end, one must note that there are certain things that a person cannot change. Personality traits and tendencies may follow a person for a lifetime. However, behaviors and attitudes can change! Christianity is built upon the idea that people can change. That was the purpose for which Jesus came. Jesus came to set people free. Jesus came to bring forth change! As Paul notes, a person can choose not to be “conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good an acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). People cannot change themselves necessarily, but God can change people.

Error Alert:   Did the idea of the devil originate with Zoroastrianism?

The fifth episode presented what I believe to be an error. The show seemed to picture Zoroastrianism as the father of the Judeo-Christian and Islamic belief in the devil and the fight between good and evil. Zoroastrianism is pinpointed to be around 3,500 years old stemming from the teacher Zoroaster. However, it does not appear that the monotheistic religions may have adopted the concept from Zoroastrianism. Rather, Zoroastrianism may have adopted said concepts from Judaism. The book of Job may be the oldest book of the Bible. Elwell and Beitzel note that “The language of the book may also point to an early date. Certain linguistic elements indicate more archaic forms of Hebrew, as preserved in the epic material from Ugarit. It may be that Job himself lived in the 2nd millennium b.c.”[4] If it is true that Moses wrote the majority of the Torah, or Pentateuch, (and remember Genesis mentions the devil), then the latest that the earliest form of these writings would have appeared would been the 13th century BC. Many scholars, and rightly so, argue for an older date for the Exodus. If so, Genesis would have appeared in the 15th century BC. This would have been much earlier than Zoroaster.

In addition, studies indicate that the writings of the Bible may be much older than previously thought. The Associated Press reports,

“Israeli mathematicians and archaeologists say they have found evidence to suggest that key biblical texts may have been composed earlier than what some scholars think. Using handwriting analysis technology similar to that employed by intelligence agencies and banks to analyze signatures, a Tel Aviv University team determined that a famous hoard of ancient Hebrew inscriptions, dated to around 600 BC, were written by at least six different authors. Although the inscriptions are not from the Hebrew Bible, their discovery suggests there was widespread literacy in ancient Judah at the time that would support the composition of biblical works…The inscriptions themselves are not biblical texts. Instead, they detail troop movements and expenses for provisions, indicating that people throughout the military chain of command down to the fort’s deputy quartermaster were able to write. The tone of the inscriptions, which suggest they were not written by professional scribes, combined with the fortress’ remote location, indicate a wide spread of literacy at the time, according to the study. A high level of literacy would support the idea that some biblical texts had already been authored by this time. The Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest known collection of certain biblical texts, are believed to date several centuries later.”[5]

With this in mind, it is safe to assume that Zoroastrianism was probably influenced by ancient Judaism rather than the other. This is not to say that Zoroastrianism could not have influenced Judaism during the Babylonian captivity especially with the influence of apocalyptic literature. However, I do not think that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam adopted as much from Zoroastrianism as was presented in the documentary.
 

© May 2, 2016. Brian Chilton.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the New American Standard Bible (La Habra, CA: Lockman Foundation, 1995).

[2] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 2 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 227.

[3] Kent Calloway, interviewed by Morgan Freeman, “Why Does Evil Exist?, The Story of God: The Story of Us, aired on the National Geographic Channel, Revelations Entertainment (May 1, 2016), retrieved May 1, 2016.

[4] Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 1169.

[5] Associated Press, “Handwriting Study Finds Clues On When Biblical Texts Written,” DailyMail (April 12, 2016), retrieved May 2, 2016, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/ap/article-3535745/Handwriting-study-finds-clues-biblical-texts-written.html.