By A. Joubert
While Christian objections to apologetics are rarer today than they would have been a few decades ago, it is not amiss to say that a negative attitude toward apologetics is still present to some extent among “evangelical” Christians. It is sometimes represented by the statement, “You can’t argue people into heaven.” This can be perfectly reasonable, depending on what it is thought to imply. If it means that one shouldn’t expect one’s arguments to always convert people, and that openness to the gospel is determined by the Holy Spirit, once a rigorous case for Christianity has been made, then it is reasonable. If the non-Christian remains unconvinced, this does not always imply that the intellectual case made was mediocre. Those who want to be unconvinced (and are not open at all to Christianity, both intellectually and existentially) will always be unconvinced.
However, if this slogan is meant to imply that apologetics is a futile enterprise, then it is unreasonable. We might well ask by what process people are supposed to accept the gospel, if reason is not given a role in the process. This is not to denigrate people who have converted to Christianity based on a mere presentation of the gospel (although I don’t think reason is absent from these conversions, even if they don’t involve arguments for God’s existence.) But for others, especially for people within a mostly secular culture (which increasingly describes our own), Christianity will often seem just too “other” or strange, without some foundation from which to understand it. Or, as William James would have put it, it is just not a “live” option to them.
Tim Keller explains this well, when he remarks that for a long time in American (and perhaps North American) culture, people had the basic “furniture” for Christianity such as traditional values and maybe some sort of belief in the supernatural. In fact, people were basically Christian, and if they were not devout Christians, they were “cultural” Christians or “Christ-haunted.” This is not the case anymore, and much more so in Canada than America. To people who have the basic “furniture,” Christianity will seem like a solution to their questions of meaning and purpose and their sense of the absurdity of life, but to those who don’t, Christianity just goes over their heads. A robust apologetic is arguably the best way to evangelize people who not only have little knowledge of Christianity, but also have been conditioned to accept a worldview that has sometimes obvious and sometimes subtle anti-theistic and anti-Christian components. This doesn’t mean that more traditional evangelism tools are now obsolete, but they must supplemented by apologetics.
The concern that many Christians will have is whether or not apologetics is biblical. The verse always used to biblically justify apologetics is 1 Peter 3:15: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (NKJV). If you type this verse and “apologetics” into Google, you will quickly find people who challenge the idea that this verse refers to apologetics. My answer is that it’s irrelevant whether or not the verse specifically refers to apologetics. What the verse clearly does seem to endorse is being able to justify or explain or bolster your faith to a non-Christian. This might not always happen in the form of apologetics, but it seems to me that apologetics is one way in which to do what Peter is exhorting his readership to practice. Whether Peter had modern apologetics in mind when he wrote this is really not important for our purposes.
However, I really wouldn’t turn to Peter to justify apologetics scripturally. I would rather turn to the book of Acts. Paul engages in what we might call “cultural apologetics.” He appeals to cultural aspects of his audience in order to make Christianity seem reasonable to them. He situates the gospel in the cultural framework of his audience. In one particular case, he does this to such an extent that he almost seems to be verging on blasphemy. He essentially identifies the Christian God with a pagan idol (the “Unknown God”) as a segue into his gospel presentation (Acts 17:22-24). In the ancient Near Eastern world, there was no problem with belief in the supernatural, as there is today, and so arguments for the existence of God would have been somewhat redundant. However, it was important to determine the identity of that supernatural force.
Among other things, the apostles do this by appealing to Jesus’ Resurrection and the witnesses for his Resurrection (for example, Acts 2:32; 13:30-31). Peter and Paul both appeal to prophecies in the Hebrew Bible to justify Christianity to the Jews (Acts 2:14-36; 13:33-41). Apologetics often involves defending Christianity against charges that it is false or immoral. This, of course, is exactly what Peter does when he defends the legitimacy of Pentecost against the claim that the disciples, who were speaking in tongues, were simply drunk. He implies that it is unlikely that people who adhere to a Jewish sect would drink so early (Acts 2:15). The Jews had strict laws about alcohol consumption.
And even if there were no biblical material on apologetics, it doesn’t seem that this would invalidate its goodness as a ministry. Does defending Christianity against cultural onslaughts seem like something that God would disapprove of? For churches and Christian laypeople it comes down to the question of evangelism. God commands his church to play a role in the process of evangelism, which means that the church must play that role to the best of its ability, and using all the resources at its disposal. If apologetics represents something that shows success in opening people’s hearts to orthodox Christianity, then it is probably impious to oppose it.
 Tim Keller, “The Supremacy of Christ and the Gospel in a Postmodern World,” Desiring God, September 30, 2006, accessed September 8, 2015, http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/the-supremacy-of-christ-and-the-gospel-in-a-postmodern-world.