One of the main comments that Christian apologists hear from those inside the church is “You can’t argue people into the Kingdom of Heaven.” We have addressed this in a previous article by Emily, just as Alan Shlemon of Stand to Reason has in this great letter; but another rejoinder on this common phrase is good.
Is this a new argument against apologetics? Of course not! Augustine wrote in “On Christian Doctrine” that pastors should use the rhetorical arts to strengthen and save those around them. He wrote those collections of essays to essentially fight against that same argument in his day.
What does this objection mean? It means that mere words do nothing to change people. If that is what it means it is false. Of course words are very powerful but not overwhelming, they do not compel people to obey. However, stories were used by Jesus to teach and I think it is safe to say that certain parables like the prodigal son have shown people who God is. Jesus also used apologetics in his discourse – see Luke 7:18-23.
It is obvious that no special form of debate can save people or saying special words can change people’s minds. People have free will after all. Then of course in the same vein neither then can loving people, serving them, or having them attend church can make them go to heaven. In fact nothing we do can force people to accept the gift of salvation.
That’s a good thing! Imagine a world where we could force people to do anything. That would be a worse world than even Hell because even free will would not exist in that world.
What then can we do as Christians if nothing we do can ‘make’ someone follow Christ? We do what we can to remove the stumbling blocks and destroy strongholds. This is what Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:5:
“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
In the same way we can love people and serve people fully to remove barriers too. The tactic does not matter as there should be no competitiveness in this to others who also do work in the Kingdom. Paul writes about this in I Corinthians 3: 5-9:
“What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.”
Paul then continues in verses 11-15 to give a warning to make sure that what we do is profitable:
“For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.
So there is a warning as we work to influence people toward the Kingdom by building with good materials. We don’t want to be the people who do not address the intellectual needs of people just like we do not want to be the people who do not address the emotional or physical needs of them.
What we do needs to stand under fire and that means we need to use the head, hearts, and hands of the church (the intellect, the emotions, and the will) to help people.
So what good is apologetics again:
- It gives arguments to defend the Faith and to deconstruct arguments against the Faith
- It strengthens the Christians who hear it. Who has not heard the Kalam argument and felt better informed about the nature of the universe?
- It helps us when we face doubts.
- It is a way to worship God. God has given us a heart to feel, a will to act, and a mind to think. We worship God with all three.
Apologetics is a useful tool for the Kingdom!