By Jennifer Pinch
Apologetics is the discipline of providing justification for our conclusions. Let us begin with a brutally honest confession. There are some really bad apologetics out there. There are sincere, gospel motivated Christians who fail to recognize basic rules of logical argumentation and are ill-equipped to identify unbiased, evidence-based research. This kind of defense of the faith raises red flags in the minds of seekers and skeptics, and rightfully so. We need to begin by holding our Christian defense to the exact same standard we would require of any other religious apologetic. This transparency is essential to sharing the reasons for the hope that we have with integrity.
What does this have to do with apologetics “saving people”? Paradoxically, both everything and not much. Allow me to explain. Dubious apologetics have the very real potential of becoming a barrier for some to trust Christian truth claims. Careful apologetics can help to resolve questions and provoke doubt in the intellectual and emotional objections to faith. At the very same time, we must always recognize that God is sovereign. He can and does use our failures for His glory. In fact, one of my Christian mentors is a man who was led toward Christianity through a false prophesy. I also know several former Mormons who came to a genuine saving faith in Christ while members of a false church.
The reasons for becoming a Christian are complex. It may be that the testimony of a changed life through Christ was utterly undeniable and persuasive. It may be the hearing of God’s testimony about Himself through the reading of Scripture that is recognized as truth and is embraced. For some, God intervenes in a supernatural way to bring people to belief in Christ. There are many reports of these occurrences happening, particularly amongst Muslim people in the Middle East in the last few years. I would also argue that many who claim to be Christians have simply inherited the faith of their parents and when push comes to shove, their faith is extremely fragile. I had the privilege of attending a friend’s baptism just yesterday, who realized this painful truth a few years ago. Her crisis of faith was an intense journey. In her baptismal testimony she explained how apologetics rescued her faith. Her studies and God’s faithfulness provided her with confidence that it is reasonable to believe and there is good evidence for Christianity.
What is important to recognize is that if the depth of our Christianity is only as deep as being impressed by another person’s testimony or a desire for community, and is not also anchored by good reasons to believe, we are at risk of being like those who fell away described in the parable of the sower and the seeds. Jesus describes a sower accidentally scattering seeds along a path (Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23). Some of the seeds were immediately eaten by birds. (The birds might be representative of quick-witted Internet rhetoric against God’s word.) Some of the seeds sprang up immediately but because they were on rocky ground and had no root, they withered away. (These seeds are representative of people who are persuaded to believe on a subjective, emotional appeal alone, and lack intellectual reasons for their faith.) Some seeds were sown amongst thorns and thistles and were choked out eventually. (Proverbs speaks to this when it says, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” [Proverbs 13:20 ESV].) Lastly, Jesus tells of the seeds that fall on good soil and produced grain. Not only did those seeds grow into plants, but they multiplied. (They fulfilled the great commission, to go out and make disciples.)
Bart Campolo, son of influential evangelical leader Tony Campolo, is an unfortunate example of a seed sown on rocky ground. In an interview for WORLD News Group, he said, “The truth of the matter is that, for me, all the supernatural dogma, the eternal life, the heaven and hell, Jesus rising from the dead—all the fantastic things that you have to believe to be a Christian—that wasn’t the attraction for me… I wanted to be part of this wonderful community, and so, for me, the dogma was the price of admission, not the attraction.” His faith was only as deep as his emotional and social desires. When he was given reason to think his faith might negatively influence his friendships—as Jesus promised it would—rather than standing firm, his shallow rooted, pragmatic faith was revealed.
When the assertion is made that “apologetics can’t save people,” it reveals a dismissive attitude, often by those who are actually very passionate about sharing the gospel through evangelism. However, if one wants to argue that apologetics can’t save people, it stands to reason that neither can evangelism. Salvation is from the Lord (Jonah 2:9). When sharing the gospel, the disputes over methodology are primarily a matter of Christian unity. We all ought to agree that it is the saving work of the Holy Spirit that brings the lost to repentance and faith. The question of how that saving miracle occurs, is unique to the individual. There are Christian believers who bear witness of the fact that they were convinced primarily by evidence. These include brothers and sisters like C. S. Lewis, Holly Ordway, and J. Warner Wallace. On the other hand, there are many examples of Christians who came to faith by hearing the Word of God preached and simply recognizing the truth being spoken, like Charles Spurgeon and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 6. At the same time, salvation is a spiritual rebirth, a transformation that goes far beyond what we can reduce to a sequence of events.
Our desire ought to be faithfulness to the task we have been called to as followers of Jesus Christ. We are to set apart Christ as Lord, always be prepared to give a rational defense for the hope we have (1 Peter 3:15), and go out into all the nations making disciples (Matthew 28:19). Evangelism and apologetics are necessarily interconnected. We are the body—one body. Let us not become divided as we seek to boldly share the good news of our risen Saviour!
 Warren Cole Smith, “Bart Campolo on Life After Faith,” WORLD, October 17, 2015, accessed October 19, 2015, http://www.worldmag.com/2015/10/bart_campolo_on_life_after_faith.