Different approach to apologetics

My internet friend @Ashley_Lande just announced that she wrote a chapter in recently published book edited by friends of BioLogos Denis Alexander and Alister McGrath. It also features a chapter by @Sy_Garte .

Coming to Faith Through Dawkins: 12 Essays on the Pathway from New Atheism to Christianty

This is interesting to me for number of reasons.

If you have hung around here for a number of years, you probably know I’m usually not to impressed by what gets labeled Christian apologetics (I wrote about this in detail for BioLogos a couple years ago here, if you are interested) I have been excited to hear about Alister McGrath’s focus on the power of narrative as a vehicle for communicating truth. Summarizing Lewis and others he talks in this Language of God podcast about how Mythos cannot be reduced or converted to Logos without loss.

It appears this recent compilation of stories is putting some of these ideas he has been promoting into practice.

I’m encouraged to see this because I think Christians often tend to direct their attention and focus on arguing with “atheism” instead of dialoguing with people. I don’t believe anyone is ever argued into faith because their worldview was challenged effectively on the internet, so it seems misguided. If people really are interested in inviting other people to encounter God, it’s a much better plan to share stories of how that has happened.

I’m also interested to hear from Christians here about whether they have comparative experience trying these two different methods of “apologetics” in real life. Does anyone have stories (because they are so powerful, :wink:) of people you interact with coming to faith via arguments for God’s existence or the historicity of the Resurrection or the inerrancy of Scriptures vs coming to faith via testimony of God’s work in your own life?

I’d also be interested in hearing from atheists and agnostics if you have any friendly (please, we already know lots of Christians these days are failing at basic human decency, sorry) critiques of how Christian attempts at apologetics can be less obnoxious or more inviting. And how do people’s stories of coming to faith out of atheism hit you? Does it matter how they are told?


I do not remember a single case where arguing about interpretations or beliefs (‘apologetics’) would have changed the deeper attitudes and beliefs of someone. That is why I am a bit sceptic about ‘apologetics’ although I admit that it is sometimes needed.

What most seekers are searching is not correct interpretations, it is true life and love. You cannot show these by arguing. When you tell what has happened in your own life, that is something real that does not attack against others. Others might interpret what happened in your life in a different way but the impacts in your life are real.

If you combine a loving, humble and respecting attitude to what you tell about your own life, that is witnessing that has an effect. Potentially effective even when everything in your life does not have a happy end - it is surprising how many early Christians found faith by watching how the persecuted Christians approached their death.


Romans 14: 22?
So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God.

Taking out of the context of the chapter would seem to rule out apologetics. But, of course, keeping quiet denies any sort of evangelism or preaching, so maybe it is not so simple.
v1 gives an inkling:
Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters.
But even that can be taken too literally.
If I get into an “argument” over Christianity, be it in IRL or on line I do not really expect what i say to change the views of my protagonist. Sometimes it helps clarify my own views. Sometimes it will cause me to consider carefully what I actually believe, but arguing rarely changes anything, so why do it?
If there are onlookers they can be pursuaded by balancing both sides of an argument. This is especially true of Forums like this one. In a pulpit I try and give both (or more) sides to what I am preaching about so that the listener can make their own mind up rather than be browbeaten. Also, allowing an assertion to go unchallenged can cause all sorts of undesirable repercussions. Just the fact that something is not held a universal can be justification for discussion (or argument). It is all a case of understanding what might be termed “the rules of the game”. If you are not happy with these rules then you should not partake or get involved.
I could tell stories of conversations, arguments or other apologetics, but, often, we do not see the results of our efforts. All we can do is talk about what we believe without expectation or agenda.
Clearly some of my comments on this forum have caused the opposite effect to the one I intended.



Molly Worthen’s conversion is an example of where apologetics was used well. I wouldn’t be a Christian if I didn’t actually think it was true. From the beginning, when my coworker gave me Mere Christianity, I’ve had a thing for apologetics.

While I don’t think anyone, or it’s the rarest exception, changes their mind in the heat of an argument/debate, there are still the onlookers and the possibility that when the dust settles, the quote unquote enemy has a change of heart.

The combination is key. My church attempted to introduce a program of evangelism that was based on this model of being a good neighbor. I think it was a movement out of Chicago (it was Denver). The idea was that you get to know your neighbor and be their friend and have block parties. Then after a few months or years, they ask you about your faith. What stood out in the book was the absence for practically using apologetics in those conversations. If it’s evangelism you are really doing, then don’t be shy about it or a jerk… :grimacing:

One example of useful apologetics was when I was asked by a parent to go along with him to a meeting with some Mormons that he was curious about. Clearly, I wasn’t going to change their minds but it did change his.
Another, less obvious, use is to engage JWs when they come around. As I understand it they have to engage in conversation regardless of the results. By taking their time I was preventing them from influencing someone with a weaker or non-existent faith.


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Apologetics is needed. The problem is not in telling why something is true, the problem is often in the attitude. We try to ‘win battles’, often trying to show how well we know what is the truth. Such an attitude is pride and arrogance. After the ‘battle’, we may feel we won but what happens at the level of hearts?

Explaining why something is true may remove barriers from the way, which is good and often needed, but telling why my opinion is true or winning a ‘battle’ does not save.


It’s not the winning but the taking apart that counts.


Seriously, it is a case of choosing who to argue with and what the consequences might be. Remembering the teaching of Christ, I have no desire to learn to swim with a millstone.


I aim for the 1 Cor 2:1-5 approach.

I want people to meet, know and follow Jesus. Defending the incredibly varied hermeneutics of denominations defeats the purpose. The centrality of Jesus Christ and the power of the gospel is more than sufficient for His purposes.

I find endless arguments of the YEC - EVO, low - high views of scripture, and various disagreements tiresome. I have met and found life in Christboth when i was a YEC evangelical and now that I am non-denominational protestant.

Despite feeling like disunity with all the denominations, i feel that Jesus’s high priestly prayer for oneness in the church is in that relationship which leads to love, life and truth.

Otherwise how do we reconcile the various parts of church or human history?

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I spent ages devouring apologetics books in seminary and in the years after. Yet during my time in church leadership, I most often used apologetics in a pastoral care setting with other Christians struggling with their faith.

As for those of other faiths and none, I found the most effective approach was to “utterly decimate them with kindness” as one writer put it. In other words, to delight in them as people, not projects.


This seems to me to be the best use. And yes, people aren’t projects. Or prizes to be won by convincing them your religion is right.


[quote=“Christy, post:1, topic:51506”]
Does anyone have stories (because they are so powerful, :wink:) of people you interact with coming to faith via arguments for God’s existence or the historicity of the Resurrection or the inerrancy of Scriptures vs coming to faith via testimony of God’s work in your own life?
Christy…thanks for referring us to this interview. I appreciate McGrath’s views…

As for your question above…I doubt that any one particular thing is the catalyst for someone changing their religious or nonreligious views and “coming to faith” in a Christian sense. For one thing, it is a long road with anyone. BUT hearing some historical arguments – or similar – can certainly justify giving the notion of God’s existence — a sense of reasonableness…and/or the writings and claims of the Bible a rational basis.

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I guess it depends on what someone means by apologetics. For me it just means the act of fine tuning arguments and counter arguments to support your belief. Sometimes it’s used for personal growth, sometimes it’s used for helping other Christians struggling in their faith and sometimes it’s to argue why Christ is the one savior and not blah blah long list of other religions and gods.

I use it in all three. One big point for me in developing arguments is the process of developing counter arguments. Counter arguments for me is a major part of me keeping out of an echo chamber. So right now what I’m studying is conditional immortality vs universalism. Though I lean CI I’m open up to U as well. So I’ve got a few books on universalism and I’m going through them a few times. I joined some forums by universalist to talk with them and sometimes be present some pushback. I’m currently looking through some podcasts to see which one I want to go through. I’ll spend the next year or so focused primarily on this subject with my theological studying.

The other aspect is studying to share with others in the faith. I talk to many Christians in my local community that are struggling with viewing Christianity without the anger inside of them over conservatism. So I’m showing how no political movement can lay sole claim to Christianity.

But another part is studying with someone who doubts. Lots of agnostics out there that are not Christian. They don’t have faith. Their disbelief usually stems in “ isn’t Christianity just LGBT hating young earth creationism?” So I argue why I don’t believe my faith is held captive by those beliefs.

I’m not a spiritual Unitarian hiding behind Christian jargon. I do believe Islam is wrong. Buddhism is wrong. Shintoism is wrong. Atheism is wrong. Wicca is wrong and so on. At the very least, I think even if God accommodated people with those beliefs, that Christ is needed to truly fulfill it. Perhaps God used Krishna to share love and justice to ancient Indians. But I think that Christ is still needed to reinterpret Hinduism through and fulfill it .

What I think is different is being a prick. The way some places carry out apologetics seems to be hateful and focused on things like “ well Tom made 15 disciples last year and Tim only baptized 4 “ type of stuff. But making disciples is not about winning of prizes in my opinion and apologetics is part of the process of presenting the gospel in my opinion.


I think one thing everyone has to realize is that we are all different. What works for you may not work for me. What works for us may not work for them.

I think one of Christy’s questions was about the power of stories and does anyone have stories around apologetics vs testimony of God’s work in their life. For me, every story I have is about presenting arguments on why I believe Christ is logically safe to place our faith in. There is no amazing testimony in my life. There is no God turned me from that to this. There is some I guess about how by looking at the life of Christ my heart was softened and so I begin to make more loving choices but that change was not magical and supernatural. It was taking to counselors, it was reading books on emotional intelligence, it was changing my diet to one built off of the best form of compassion I felt possible and so on. But it was not just Christ doing that. I was also reading fictional books and seeing goodness in made up characters. Even now, when I am feeling just anger continually growing from just daily stress and trying to ah fake situations in a way that is socially acceptable and Christ like, where someone just does not care if you go out of their way to avoid them, or you choose to be polite, they just keep going on being a prick. It’s not just Christ that burns that anger away. It’s hiking, it’s going to the gym, it’s going to the MMA club and in a safe and regulated environment being body slammed, kicked, choked and dishing it out that just erases everything and makes me feel better . So for me I don’t have some transformation tale really. Neither does transformation tales work on me. I’ve never been a drug addict and can’t imagine I every will be because I grew up surrounded by them and hated it. But I often meet people who say they used to be these big party monsters who ODed several times and they suddenly had a vision, read the Bible and never picked up a needle again. They seem like decent people now and they have a transformation story. Happy for them. But it does not move me emotionally at all or provide any psychological relief. What helps me is people presenting in depth, logical arguments for their faith even if I know that means it’s faith, and not pure evidence.


This is deceptive. Being friendly to your neighbor is just something you do, it’s not a tool to recruit members.

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You do have your providential co-instances account though.

Not as dramatic as Maggie’s, but still… :slightly_smiling_face: (More dramatic than mine, though, me, who doesn’t know when he became a Christian, not that drama is necessary. ; - )

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For sure. There are 2-3 things that border what seems supernatural. But that just helps me. It almost helps no one I’ve ever shared the gospel with that was not a believer. It solely helps me because I’ve experienced it myself. But when I hear similar stories, they just don’t help me at all. I’ll take it at like face value, but I’ve even a bit cynical at myself thinking it’s also possibly to just be coincidences and I’m telling myself it’s true because I want it to have been supernatural. So when I hear similar stories from others, it’s basically just me politely listening, and believing you believe it, and that’s where it stops for me.

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Accounts of God’s providential interventions into his children’s lives, whether they be conversion stories or other guidance or needs fulfilled are meant to be and should be encouraging. We are told to remember and recount them in at least the Psalms and in the Epistles, and even in Lamentations, as I posted earlier today. God is not just an abstract entity or idea to be talked about.    


We have plenty of evidence that accounts of God’s providence don’t penetrate resolute denialists, but for those whom the Holy Spirit has softened their hearts and opened their spiritual eyes and ears, they can be enormously encouraging and reassuring.    

I look forward to hearing more specifics from Tim Keller’s parishioner:

Sure. But there are also Christians that just are not really moved in that way. Which is why I was pointing out that we should remember not everyone is encouraged or strengthened in the same way.

For example my friend Jennifer benefits tremendously from singing worship songs. When she’s stressed, she turns on her radio and just sings worship songs and hymns for like an hour. She goes to one congregation that has a hour long worship service , just hymns and singing at one church. Then drives 10 minutes to our church and goes to our service and really enjoys the few hymns we sing.

I get nothing out of singing. Worshipping in that way is exhausting to me. I prefer long, in depth commentary services. I don’t relate to services where the preacher uses a few verses and then talks a lot about life experiences around it.

Same goes for apologetics and sharing the gospel with others. It’s not an issue of hardness of heart always. It can also just be that it’s not the thing that motivates you.