I recently stumbled upon the YouTube channel of a popular Christian apologist. Before watching any of his videos I scrolled down to see what the traffic numbers were and the general reception of the content to his viewers. I was slightly taken back when most of the comments from viewers were slurs, insults, and derogatory remarks. For a moment I felt sympathetic for the producer. I operate a YouTube channel and am quite familiar enough with the occasional insult, usually by someone who never even took the time to watch your video but just wants an excuse to put down a Christian.
This sympathy didn’t last for long since the next thing I noticed was that his replies were equally disingenuous, insulting, and personally degrading. I proceeded to watch several of his videos which described non-Christians as “stupid”, “brainless”, and “dumb.” The sole focus of his videos, where he caricatured people like Bart Ehrman or Richard Dawkins in ways reminiscent of the villains in Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons, was to show how apologetics succeeds in making non-believers look stupid. If you didn’t believe that Jesus rose from the dead, you were “retarded.”
I wrote a personal e-mail to him noting that I was unimpressed with the approach he took towards non-believers. Yes, apologetics is commanded of us (1 Pet 3.15), but the model by which it represents true Christianity is if it’s done through gentleness and respect. Telling atheists to “get a brain and stop being so stupid” seemed to go against this. I was not really surprised when he responded back the following: “Spare me the foolishness; living by example as a form of evangelism is a modern contrivance, not found in the NT,”. He then advised me to get out of his way since “Those of us doing the job your kind missed have work to do.”
I am aware that apologetics has gotten a bad wrap in the minds of many. People have unfortunately seen approaches like the one presented above. I know this because I’ve talked to a lot of Christians about apologetics; many, who are quite learned themselves, see it as almost un-Christian: “Apologetics only pushes people further away from Christianity,” I have been told repeatedly. For many non-Christians apologetics has left kamikaze like memories. Boom! All of a sudden you’re found in an argument by a “trained” apologist. I was once approached by a girl about an apologetics group based out of Charlotte:
“We have new people come every week, but every time our leader asks a question everybody’s afraid to answer. If they answer wrong, they’ll get shut down immediately. They’re surprised and don’t see it coming! They’re embarrassed and then they won’t return.”
Because of instances like these, it’s an unfortunate fact of contemporary Christianity that so many people see a reasoned defense of the faith as anti-Christian. But the Bible does not expect us to live blindly, just accepting its claims about reality because it says them. A pastor I once heard remarked that if atheists don’t believe the Bible “they just need to read it again until they believe it.” But this seems to me to be almost a docetic approach towards the faith as if things like science or history or philosophy are anti-Christian and are of this world and Christians are of another one.
But Christianity is anything but docetic. It’s central core doctrines affirm historical, scientific, and philosophical realities. Christ rose from the dead, not just in faith, but in history! God created the universe out of nothing and by nothing and created life out of non-life. These are scientific propositions. And our moral claims for living ethical lives do not just come from scripture but from a philosophically justified position that God is necessary for morality.
Why is it important that we understand this?
Because some people, like myself, have a strong need for evidence. Indeed, as a teenager I needed to see this wall come down before I could allow Christ to come in. And it did. The skeptic inside me was appeased and I suddenly became open to allow the gospel to penetrate my heart. Many people are like me in this. And the more skeptical portraits of reality are promoted in books, movies, television, and music the more people will need to see a ready intellectual defense.
But it is extremely important that we exhibit an incarnational defense of our faith: one which isn’t strictly of this world but one which is not absent from it either. In other words, we cannot make the mistake of suggesting that Christianity is only a proposition based upon empirical evidence, as many unfortunately do, but equally we cannot suggest that Christianity is outside the bounds of intellectual inquiry.