Recently I have been having discussions regarding whether or not apologetics as a discipline is of any significant value in converting unbelievers to Christ. It seems to me that the opponents of apologetics generally see it as a work of mine that is attempted to bring people to Christ. That is patently untrue. First and foremost, no Christian apologist thinks that arguments win people to Christ at all. What we believe is that we are making a positive case for Christianity, refuting arguments raised against Christian theism. What we are essentially doing is leading people to, and uncovering, water for them. At the end of the day, we cannot force them to drink. “Salvation is of the Lord” as Jonah 2:9 says.
What I want to address briefly here is the implied misunderstanding about the Gospel, or God specifically, in saving people. The idea is that if I am involved in a work to help open the eyes of unbelievers that somehow that is all me and not of God at all. This is false. It is saying that my work of preaching, defending, or revealing Christian truths is somehow inferior to God doing the work himself. Let’s go with the book of Jonah. If God was able to save the people of Nineveh on his own, why did he use Jonah to do it? Why did God pursue Jonah and call him to go to Nineveh to preach repentance? I believe this is a matter of obedience, both for Jonah and for the people of Nineveh. So God “used” Jonah to preach repentance and bring these people back to Himself. So, at least in this example, God is not removed from the actions of men, but actively involved in the call that they issue to the world, on His behalf.
Similarly, Paul has the same story. “For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.” Galatians 1:13-14. Paul was a man who was NOT favorable to the Christians or the church at that time. However, in Acts 9 we find the conversion of Saul, and in Galatians we see that he did NOT go immediately into a full preaching ministry, but fled, only to seek counsel with the apostles before he began spreading the Gospel. The reason I bring this up is because if God wanted to convert us all to belief in His Son, why would he need to use men? Why would we have the Great Commission? It is to say that we are the tools of God’s handiwork (Ephesians 2:10). We are the medium by which is news is shared. A Bible just sitting on a shelf is fundamentally of no use to anyone unless it is opened, read and understood.
To tie this all back together, apologetics aims to give a rational justification for the Christian faith and or refute objections to the Christian faith. The cosmological argument may or may not convert someone to Christ, we don’t know. What I do know is that if someone is on the fence or a militant atheist, and this argument breaks through the wall of their hardened heart, praise God that my presentation of this argument saved one soul! As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”
Our use of apologetics arguments, and reason in general play, at most, a ministerial role. It is the handmaiden to the gospel, and it always will be. If our apologetic does not point to Christ, we have erred, and need to be corrected. The adamant nature that I have towards this discipline is due to the mass exodus of Christians from the church because we are unable, unwilling, or unconcerned with defending the faith. This is a vital and terrible error in the Christian worldview. The existence of God and the Gospel are primary. The question is how do we convey that? “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:5.