If faith is “the conviction of things not seen,” and apologetics is an attempt to show that the unseen is, to some degree, observable, then is apologetics opposed to faith?
I’ve been blessed in that both of the local churches I’ve been involved with as an adult Christian have provided some exposure to apologetics. It may not have always had as forefront a focus as I’d have preferred, but it was always addressed. After one of these lessons, however, one of the other members made this observation (paraphrased):
“Science can be helpful in confirming what God has already said. But scripture says that faith can only come from hearing the word of God. So preaching is where we get our faith from, not science.”
That proposition raises the analogy as stated at the beginning of this article. Are faith and apologetics mutually exclusive? And if not, are they still separate virtues of the Christian faith, indicating that apologetics should not (or even cannot) be the foundation of our lives as Christians?
To answer this, we must first know what exactly faith is.
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” – Hebrews 11:1-3
The context of Hebrews 11 is what we sometimes call “The Faith Hall of Fame.” After these, verses, the Hebrew writer launches into several stories of people who did great things by faith. And what exactly is meant by faith? Consider for example verse 29: “By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned.”
Why did the people do this? Did they just believe what Moses told them without any prior exposure to truth or evidence? Did Moses tell them to “just believe” or, even worse, pray for God to tell them it was true, regardless of what their senses told them?
If Moses had popped up out of the blue one day and told them to walk into the Red Sea and it will part for them, they’d have no reason to believe him. But after God through Moses turns the Nile to blood, releases pestilence, frog infestations, and storms of nature, many of which selectively targeted the Egyptians, you tend to think that maybe this guy has a point.
Faith, then, is trusting what you don’t know because of who it is that tells you it’s true. This is exactly the application of the second focal scripture of this argument:
“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” – Romans 10:17
But why would we believe the word of Christ? We believe the word of Christ because he rose from the dead. How do we know he rose from the dead?
And thus we arrive at apologetics. To state that faith and apologetics are opposed to one another would indicate that we ought not to engage in reason to see whether, in fact, Christ did rise from the dead—we just need to accept that on faith. Is that what scripture is arguing for? To accept something on faith without reason?
Obviously not. Jesus routinely appealed to his miracles as reasons he was who he said he was, as well as the testimony of John and prophecies of Scripture. Why would the need for evidence change just because we sometimes go to a different type of evidence that’s more appropriate for a different audience (Paul himself did this when he preached the sermon on Mars Hill, and didn’t quote a single scripture, because he was not speaking to a Jewish audience).
So can we come to the Christian faith with apologetics alone, lacking the word of God? No, we cannot. The Kalam Cosmological Argument can lead us to belief in God, but which one? At that point, Christianity, Islam and Judaism are all on the table. Then, you could use Gary Habermas’s Minimal Facts argument to establish that Jesus rose from the dead, but which Jesus? The Jesus the Christians believe in, the Jesus of Mormonism, the prophet Jesus (as Islam teaches he was), or the Jesus we see in the Gospel of Judas?
Ultimately, this presents a very important truth: apologetics and faith are inextricably linked when it comes to belief in God and conversion to Christianity. God does not expect us to have faith without reason, but we cannot arrive at Christianity on external evidences alone. And especially in an era that is increasingly secular, apologetics remains the single most valuable tool for bridging the gap between skepticism and theism, making it an invaluable tool for the Christian ambassador.