The limits of apologetics

(Cource:’s admonition for us to be ready to give a reason for our faith in 1 Peter 3:15 also shows us an inherent limitation of the use of apologetics. In a previous post it was mentioned that ‘apologetics’ is basically a courtroom style defense of the faith, giving logical and consistent arguments from solid premises.  In a criminal or civil courtroom trial the judge and sometimes a jury would then take those arguments, compare them to the standards of the law and make a decision.  As one of those presenting arguments before the court sometimes the decision is in our favor, sometimes not.  That decision is not in our hands, it is in the hands of the judge and jury.

Often we go into a debate with a person about some theological matter, present our premises and arguments, answering every objection in what seems to us to be a winning way.  We assume at the end of the day the person we are talking with will see those arguments the same way we see them and will be persuaded to our point of view.  Sometimes we are sorely disappointed.  It is even possible that our debate partner will concede the arguments, but then will still not change their mind.  This is the limitation implicit in 1 Peter 3:15.

Peter wants us to give a reason for our faith, but those reasons are the BASIS for our faith, they are not the substance of our faith.  Simply put, we can give cohesive and logical arguments for why we believe, but our faith is a leap beyond those arguments.  No matter how good our points are, no matter how logical, God always leaves room between what we can prove and what we believe…and going from one to the other means we have to make a leap of faith, and our hearts must change.  God is the only person who can change someone’s heart.

Why am I bringing this up at the beginning of our discussion about apologetics?  Is the study of apologetics useless in the end?  No; apologetics can provide the base from which a person starts.  It gives credence and credibility to Christianity.  From that point it is possible to make the leap from intellectual assent to a changed heart through faith in Christ.  Without a logical platform, we could believe in anything and still be on equal footing.  Believing in tree spirits saving our souls for reincarnation into woodland fauna would make just as much sense (or as little sense) as believing in Jesus Christ.  Apologetics is very necessary to the life of faith.

With this knowledge of the limitations of apologetics comes consequential actions.  First, we live a life of prayer…every apologetic debate must be bathed in prayer.  We ask that not only is our debate partner persuaded by our arguments in an intellectual manner, but that the arguments might lead through the Holy Spirit’s action to a change of heart and a leap of faith.

Second, we live a life of surrender.  The outcome of our apologetics is not up to us.  We need feel no pressure or guilt in the outcome of the debate.  The outcome is in the hands of God.  It is even possible the person with whom we are speaking is not the person whose heart and life is changed, but perhaps a bystander who is listening in on the conversation.  God knows, and it is in His hands.

Third, we live a life of reflection and study.  We need to be prepared for an apologetic discussion at any time and any place.  read your Bible.  Study the Word.  Speak to God in prayer.  Live a life worthy of your calling.

22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.  

1 Cor 1:22-25 (NIV)

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