Every Christian is at some point involved in the task of defending the faith. We should always be prepared to “make a defense to anyone who asks for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15). Unfortunately, sometimes we can do more harm than good while trying to defend the faith or reach out to a skeptic.
I in no way consider myself an expert apologist, but I was an atheist before converting to Christianity and I have some insight into what works and what doesn’t. The list below is filled with things that would make me roll my eyes when I was an atheist and make me cringe when I hear them employed today as a former skeptic.
1. “Just Have Faith”
That’s kind of the problem. As an atheist, I didn’t feel I had the rational explanation to warrant putting my faith in God. While faith is ultimately a choice, those who hold skeptical positions through their own rational thought processes aren’t willing to just drop their philosophy to become a Christian. It takes more than simply deciding one day to have faith. We of all people should know this. Unfortunately, “just believe!” is often a last-ditch effort when we don’t know what else to say.
We shouldn’t present a Christianity that is haphazardly entered by a blind leap. We convince no one and defend nothing when our only response to a skeptic is “you just got to believe.” Now, I am not saying that all skepticism is rational or that everyone can be convinced. But, we should at least be able to present skeptics with substantive, rational reasons to believe in the God of the Bible. If they choose to reject those reasons, that is fine, at least we did more than asking them to “just have faith.”
When Peter preached the first recorded gospel sermon at that Pentecost after Jesus’ death, his go-to line wasn’t, “Household of Israel, just have faith that Jesus was who he said he was.” Instead, the conclusion of Peter’s message was, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36). Further, this conclusion only came after reasoning from the scriptures, firsthand testimony, and even empirical evidence (Acts 2:22, 25-29, 32, 34-35).
2. Lines of Circular Reasoning
Circular reasoning can kill your faith and stop any fruitful discussion regarding apologetics. Some popular examples are: “I know the Bible is true because it is inspired, and I know the Bible is inspired because it is true (Ps. 119:160; Jn. 17:17)” and “I know God exists because the Bible tells me so, and I can trust the Bible because it is inspired by God’s word!” The Bible is inspired and God does exist, but these two statements did nothing to prove those claims.
Instead of being a peddler of circular reasoning, we should present skeptics with logically sound reasons to retire skepticism and embrace God and His Word. Instead of running in circles we should show and explain the necessary and sufficient characteristics that the Bible exhibits of supernatural origin and demonstrate the existence of the Divine through teleological, ontological, and moral means.
If you don’t know enough about these reasons for belief to present them, study them! They will enrich your faith and help you to avoid circular reasoning.
3. Unnecessary Political Dogmatism
When I was an atheist, the only thing I loathed more than Christianity was my political opponents. Politics, in a lot of ways, was my religion and Christians who argued tooth and nail with my in politics lost their gospel influence over me. Christians need to do a very serious personal inventory of what is more important to them: reaching the lost or convincing their political enemies. I am not telling you that you cannot have a political opinion, but use it wisely.
As an atheist, If I went to a recommended apologetics website and saw articles about why America shouldn’t let Syrian refugees into the country, any influence you may have had over me would be gone. The decision we sometimes make to let our political opinions spoil our influence is lamentable. If you want to take reaching skeptics seriously, there is no need for political dogma in conversations of apologetics. Further, the goal is to convert souls to Christ, not to any political platform.
4. Fringe “Conspiracy” Apologetics
Not all evidence is good evidence. NASA’s alleged confirmation of a day missing on their timeline from when God made the sun stand still, the “archeological evidence” of Nephilim, and Noah’s ark still sitting atop Mount Ararat are examples of what I refer to as “conspiracy apologetics.” These lines of evidence are dubious at their absolute best and unneeded. Pieces of evidence like these are never good to bring into a conversation with a skeptic and should be avoided.
5. Argumentum ad Nauseum
Latin for “please stop talking before I throw up.” More literally, argumentum ad nauseum refers to an argument that has continued for far too long, to the point of inducing nausea. It is a logical fallacy when it appears in the form of argument from repetition. No, God’s existence isn’t proven by the same argument stated over and over and over and over again. An argument can be made repeatedly to the point that nobody wants to discuss it anymore.
I am not saying that a hefty amount of support for the claim of God’s existence is a bad thing. But, when Christians simply repeat the same arguments to the same people, again and again, the result is a shutdown.
6. Superman Syndrome
It’s okay not to know something. Don’t feel like you always have to give an immediate answer to every question to faithfully live out 1 Peter 3:15. Sometimes somebody will ask us a question we don’t know the answer to, and that’s okay. Simply saying “That’s a good question. I don’t know the answer, but I am going to think about it and look into it and get back to you” is always better than making things up or scratching to find an answer on the fly. Nobody is Superman (or Wonder Woman) and we don’t have to act like we are. Some things we just don’t know, can’t know, or haven’t studied yet!
Again, I do not consider myself an expert apologist and am not trying to pose as such. I’m simply striving to help the faithful defend their faith. Take it from me, the six things above won’t help our effort. Seek to share the faith, but do so wisely. I pray this will help our efforts in being every day apologists.