Sharing Your Faith Without Losing It
Apologetics can be a funny thing: ostensibly about giving a defence of the faith, there are real risks. Spending a great deal of time answering objections to Christianity can actually produce a counter-intuitive result. Apologists can often experience doubt, despair and in some cases, disbelief. Why is this so?
Christians find themselves in a delicate position: on the one hand, we confess the faith that was “once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3); indeed, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). The faith is unchanging in its witness to the life, death, and resurrection of the Son of God. Yet on the other hand, we acknowledge that we don’t “know it all” nor do we in a comprehensive sense “have all the answers”, and so have something to learn from folks that we converse with.
This interplay can sometimes create an instability in the apologetic endeavour: what if someone levies a substantial challenge to the faith that I don’t have an answer to? And maybe more seriously, what if I find myself agreeing with their point—does that mean my faith is in vain?
1. Apologetics can come before a crisis of faith.
While by no means always the case, many Christians first encounter the discipline of apologetics when they run up against a significant challenge to their faith. Whether it’s a difficult question that we need an answer to, or perhaps a situation where we’d like to share our faith, apologetics doesn’t just feature in the regular intellectual life of the Christian. The result can be that we leave our faith unexamined until a crucial juncture—and find ourselves unprepared for the challenge.
Could we be more proactive in our approach to apologetics? Might this be a class we could offer in addition to our programs at church, or in small groups? Normalizing questions (and considered responses to those questions) in church, and in our communities might go a long way in creating a sustained engagement with our concerns, and the concerns of others, and hopefully in a way that doesn’t further weaken an already compromised theological immune system.
2. Apologetics isn’t for you alone.
Scholars (and critics) of religion are quick to point out the tendency Evangelical Christians have towards individualism. This is a fair, and often warranted critique. To be sure, on the one hand individualism can be unhealthy: there are no “lone ranger” Christians, just as there can be no part of the body isolated from the whole. But on the other hand, there are obvious advantages, including a personal (individual) appropriation of faith in Christ—a vital aspect of the normative means of salvation.
The danger that can accompany apologetics is that it can sometimes be pursued in an individualistic way in the negative sense described above. Isolated and anxious Christians, trying to puzzle out apologetic problems in the confines of their own minds, or worse, the wasteland called the internet. As Christians, we have been given a community to sojourn with, and a body to participate in. This entails two realities: first, and in accordance with the above, we should ask our questions in and with our communities. Pastors, elders, friends, and acquaintances in our ecclesial communities are there to help us grow in our faith.
Second, the worship life of the individual in community cannot be neglected in the apologetic enterprise. It is a perilous venture to isolate the spiritual disciplines of fasting, prayer, and corporate worship from the apologetic pursuit. Yet often, Christians engaged in apologetics can see the two avenues as distinct, and not as a united effort to seek the Truth in Christ through both mind and heart.
3. Your faith can change, and that’s OK.
Sometimes I encounter students who attend college with the express notion that their theology should look the same in year 1 as it will in year 4. This plays into the tension expressed above concerning knowing the truth and learning more, but it underscores a fundamental misunderstanding. Sometimes, we can think that the entirety of our faith must remain the same—even beliefs on negotiables such as church governance, the mode and administration of baptism, or even beliefs about the nature of the Scriptures.
However, maintaining such a rigid posture on all matters of faith and belief can result in a brittle, dead faith. One that does not grow, change, or nurture the faith of others. When engaging in apologetics, it is a worthwhile exercise to consider matters of “first importance.” For the Apostle Paul this was “Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2, 1 Cor 15:3-8). This doesn’t mean that we don’t discuss other matters, and even some of the finer points of doctrine as apologetic arguments.
What it does mean, is that all matters are placed at the feet of Christ. Christ is Lord of our apologetics, and all apologetics are in service of him, not our intellectual constructs or empires of theology. When our faith is challenged in apologetics, we would do well to consider if it is a challenge to Christ, or to our understanding that is at play.
Towards a Healthy Apologetic
Far from a destabilizing exercise, the discipline of apologetics has a manifestly life-giving dimension. Yet to reap the rewards of apologetics well-done, we must remember that apologetics can’t be engaged in as a “late in life only” exercise, and nor should we undertake apologetics on our own, separated from the life of the church in both spirit and practice. Most importantly, however, we must recall that we have much to learn—that the person we are debating with, be it someone else or just our own mind, is not our enemy, but our neighbour. That our pursuit of truth is not to reinforce our previously held beliefs, but rather, to point us to the glory of Christ as the way, the life, and the Truth.