Stand to Reason’s Amy Hall made a brilliant observation when she recently listened to an audio version of C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce. In Lewis’ allegory a group of people residing in hell receive the opportunity to go to Heaven, but they squander it by remaining stuck in their old ways. One particular dialogue between a Spirit from Heaven and a Ghost from hell got her thinking:
“I should like to paint this.”
“I shouldn’t bother about that just at present if I were you.”
“Look here; isn’t one going to be allowed to go on painting?”
“Looking comes first… At present your business is to see. Come and see. He is endless. Come and feed.”
There was a little pause. “That will be delightful,’ said the Ghost presently in a rather dull voice.
“Come, then,’ said the Spirit, offering it his arm.
“How soon do you think I could begin painting?” it asked.
The Spirit broke into laughter. “Don’t you see you’ll never paint at all if that’s what you’re thinking about?” he said.
“What do you mean?” asked the Ghost.
“Why if you are interested in the country only for the sake of painting it, you’ll never learn to see the country.”
“But that’s just how a real artist is interested in the country.”
“No. You’re forgetting,” said the Spirit. “That was not how you began. Light itself was your first love: you loved paint only as a means of telling about the light.”
“Oh, that’s ages ago,” said the Ghost. “One grows out of that. Of course, you haven’t seen my later works. One becomes more and more interested in paint for its own sake.”
“One does, indeed. I also have had to recover from that. It was all a snare. Ink and catgut and paint were necessary down there, but they are also dangerous stimulants. Every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from love of the thing he tells, to love of the telling till, down in Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about Him. For it doesn’t stop at being interested in paint, you know. They sink lower—become interested in their own personalities and then in nothing but their own reputations.” (pp. 83-85)
Amy writes, “There is, indeed, a difference between being interested in God and being interested in what we say about Him.” She is absolutely right. Is your apologetics for its own sake or is it for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17, 23)? There are a couple of indications to consider that can help you determine if you are doing apologetics for its own sake and not for the Lord. First, are you letting your study of apologetics usurp your communication with God, i.e. your prayer life? Paul says that we should devote ourselves to prayer as an unceasing action (1 Thessalonians 5:17; Ephesians 6:18; Colossians 4:2). Proper prayer also shifts our understanding of God as a logical inference to the best explanation to our Father who loves us. Jesus was very clear about this and modeled his prayers as such every time He prayed. Because God is our Father and not simply an answer to a metaphysical question, our interaction with Him (i.e. prayer) practically develops our appreciation that He is a living Person. And if we can appreciate that fact, then we can seek to please Him with our apologetics while being sensitive to how our Father expects us to act (1 Peter 3:15; 1 Corinthians 13:2-3; Colossians 4:6).
Second, are you letting your study of apologetics usurp your study of God’s word? It is of the utmost benefit to study the works of great theologians and Christian thinkers. As a matter of fact, the writings of the ante-Nicene church fathers are just as piercing and insightful as they ever were 2,000 years ago. In the same vein, the scholarship of Christian philosophers like William Lane Craig, Alvin Plantinga, and J.P. Moreland have strongly reinforced the Christian worldview in the last several decades. But what good is it to devote more time to reading those talking about theology and philosophy, which points back to the Scriptures, instead of the actual Scriptures? David said that God’s word is a light unto our path (Psalm 119:105). Paul said that it is sufficient to equip us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17). What good is your defense of the hope that is within you (1 Peter 3:15) if your hope has been developed by an incomplete view of Scripture? The apologetics that we do must be founded on an understanding of Scripture that comes from the daily study and meditation of it; or else we will not be sanctified in the truth (John 17:17) nor will we be able to be approved by God for accurately handling the word of truth (2 Timothy 3:15).
Third, when others scoff and mock you for your apologetics, are you responding in the same spirit? If you are incorporating apologetics into your ministry then you are likely smart enough to develop witty responses to those that may try to verbally wound you. It is imperative not to forget that the power of a clever retort is not of God but of pride. Remember that Paul said, “when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate” (1 Corinthians 4:12-13). This kind of response looks weak in the eyes of our interlocuters because their god is their pride, their truth is predicated on the best comeback. If you retort cleverly for the sake of being clever then you are more interested in what you say about God than God Himself.
Fellow apologists, we need to ask ourselves 3 essential questions as we pursue our ministries: 1) What are we seeking to do for God by studying apologetics? 2) What has God said that He wants us to do for Him? 3) How should that be expressed in the midst of our apologetics? If we can honestly grapple with these questions, I think we can avoid the pitfall of being more interested in what we say about God rather than God Himself.
To read Amy’s excellent post in its entirety, click here.