There’s a common misconception regarding Apologetics. In a sense, this blog is a continuation of my earlier “Who Is Apologetics (Good) For?” article and related to Emily’s, “Why Apologetics?” Largely, apologetics is the battleground of beliefs—one truth claim is pitted against another with the victor being the last one standing (i.e., the one with the most logic/rational support behind it). However…those ideas, beliefs, and truth claims are rooted within the heart as well as within the mind of the individual person. To win an intellectual argument at the cost of wounding the heart of a person is to suffer a needless tragedy. Thus an apologetic conversation has a two-fold focus, addressing both the intellectual facts of the topic and the personal heart of the person(s) involved. In other words, apologists should, “remember who the real enemy is.” (Eph. 6:12, 2 Cor. 10:5).
At this point, I’m sure you’re wondering, “All this is good and dandy, but what exactly does it mean that certain ideas are rooted in the heart of a person?” Well, I’m glad you asked. I’ll share with you how I have worked through this question. Somehow through all of my foolish days and wondering journey, I’ve sat under and learned from some incredibly wise people whose words still resonate within me. On many occasions, Chad Hampsch of the Kanakuk Institute has shared with me that people’s personal struggles and/or spiritual battles are rooted in lie(s) they believed about who God is and, as I would expand it, the resulting lies they then believe about their own personal identities—in other words, who am I in light of who God is? Further if these accepted lies take the form of expectations, which become unmet expectations, then the person can harbor bitterness, frustration, resentment, or anger toward the person that is perceived to have been the betrayer.
Secondly, John Coe of Biola University’s Institute for Spiritual Formation explained once that there are two main pathways by which we learn to believe or disbelieve what we do. Firstly, Coe said that people have intellectual reasons to believe as they do. In other words, there are no other factors influencing this belief other than reason alone. For example, I have absolutely zero personal investment into what constitutes the best cricket bat; so, if you present me with an argument for why one bat is logically superior to another, I would readily accept your argument is valid and true. However the other pathway to belief is that individuals have personal causes to believe the way they do. Meaning this: people believe things due to prior experiences. In other words, while I have zero personal investment into what makes the best cricket bat, I have significant personal experiences with painful dental work to believe that dentists’ chair is where nightmares become reality…..and those experiences will trump your logical argument to the contrary every time.
Now what does all this have to do with apologetics? Again, I’m glad you asked. As we have apologetic conversations with people, our statements and questions need to be formed in such a way as to help determine whether the individual believes the way that he or she does because of intellectual reasons or because of personal causes. If the latter, were those personal causes born out of painful interactions with other Christians or out of an inaccurate understanding of who God is and the resulting anger from that unmet expectation? Maybe we should toss around an analogy for each to better explain:
Intellectual Reason: For John’s 40 years of life, he neither interacted with religion or with other religious people. Sure, he knows general ideas about religion but nothing specific. He is neither personally for nor against Christianity because he has no reason for accepting or rejecting it. For John, an honest and practical apologetic conversation is perfectly suited to get him thinking about Christianity or spiritual things in a realistic way.
Personal Causes: Katie was once an active member of her church, faithfully serving in various capacities on a weekly basis. However, after a painful divorce from her “Christian” husband and after her church “family” gossiped that the divorce was the result of her own adultery, Katie wants absolutely zero connectivity to the church or to the God the church claims to follow. An honest and practical and winsome apologetic conversation with Katie is still needed. However, a barrage of truth claims would have the same effect as beating her heart-wounds like a proverbial speedbag. Rather, an apologetic conversation with Katie should be focused on those heart-wounds, addressing the unmet expectations she held about the Church and about God Himself and helping her see the lies she believed due to those unmet expectations. Only through addressing those wounds and the roots of those wounds will Katie again even allow the thought of God as relevant in her life enter her mind, let alone her heart.
Through all of this, here’s the bottom line……apologetics is largely ineffective unless we address the person directly and meet her where she is. This is the heartbeat behind Colossians 4:5-6, “Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” Apologetics should be an avenue by which broken hearts are mended and wounds are healed (Psalm 147:3).