Is Apologetics a Waste of Time?
“Apologetics is a waste of time.”
That was the first comment I received after giving a Sunday School lesson focused on apologetics.
The sentiment is not uncommon. While apologetics—arguments and justifications in support or defense of the Christian faith—has become more mainstream in recent years, many Christians still have hesitations about it.
“God doesn’t need defending,” some say. “You can’t debate someone into heaven,” others say. Much of this criticism is driven by anti-intellectualism and a conviction that faith concerns the heart, not the mind. I once heard say, “We need to evangelize, not apologize.” Put that on a bumper sticker.
Of course, the Church does need to evangelize. But, for many people, evangelism has essentially become synonymous with sharing their personal testimony and then asking for a response.
Personal testimonies are one of the most important tools Christians have in sharing the Gospel. But they are not—and should not—be the only one. Is apologetics a waste of time? Well, that depends a great deal on what we mean by “apologetics” and how serious we are about reaching a lost world.
God is More Than Your Story
“Apologetics is a waste of time,” my disgruntled listener said. He followed this declaration by stating, “I don’t see the point. All we need to do is just tell people what Jesus has done in our life.”
To this, I responded, “Stories are powerful. But imagine that I’ve had a transformative and deeply spiritual experience with hot yoga, which has allowed me to find total peace by putting me in tune with my inner divinity. Isn’t it awesome that we’ve both found spiritual comfort?”
“That’s not true comfort.”
“Why not? What makes your testimony true but not mine?”
“Because my God is real.”
“Because the Bible was…”
What followed were several classic arguments and justifications for the validity of the biblical God as the one true God. No more than thirty seconds after declaring that apologetics is unnecessary, our conversation hit a wall that apologetics needed to break down.
Apologetics is not just valuable—it’s inevitable. Our stories are powerful, and God uses our testimonies to draw unbelievers to Himself. At the same time, if all we have is our personal testimony, there is no way to adjudicate between competing stories. Christians are left with the argument, “My God is true because my story is true, and your God is false because your story is false—regardless of what you say!”
In short, your God is false because your experiences aren’t real, and your experiences aren’t real because your God is false. Round and round the carousel we go!
Breaking Down Walls
Apologetics and evangelism are not in conflict. Both—when used properly—work together to point unbelievers toward Christ. Only God can save souls, but, for whatever divine reasons, He chooses to work through humans.
If there is no human element involved, then evangelism would be as superfluous as apologetics. Personal evangelism classes at church are a waste of everyone’s time if our words and actions are of no consequence. A pastor’s words have no power outside of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, pastors should still contemplate scripture, read biblical commentaries, and organize their sermons into a logical and flowing presentation. God’s power does not mitigate human responsibility.
Many unbelievers have built emotional or intellectual walls around their heart to resist the Truth. We might have our personal testimony well-rehearsed and ready to go, but our words will fall on deaf ears if those walls stand strong.
- “It’s cool that God has changed your life for the better, but unless you can explain how your loving God allows child trafficking to exist, I’m not interested in hearing any more about him.”
- “I’m glad your religion makes you happy, but science is clear that life originated from evolution and not creation.”
- “Sure, there’s some good teaching in the Bible, but wasn’t it written years and years after the actual events? Besides, with all the translations and scribal errors, we can’t really trust it anyways.”
- “What makes your Bible true, but not the Quran or Book of Mormon? What gave the medieval church the right to decide when the biblical canon was closed?”
What should Christians do when facing such walls? Turn tail and run? Shrug and declare the challenge too great? Or, like Joshua and the Israelites standing before the fortified city of Jericho, do we bring down the walls? God destroyed the walls that day, but the Israelites marched around the city seven times and blew the trumpets.
Unbelievers deserve thoughtful answers to their honest questions about God. Apologetics—by providing these answers—knocks down the intellectual and emotional walls, clearing the way for evangelism to bring the truth of the Gospel straight to their unguarded hearts.
By All Possible Means
The apostle Paul boldly preached the kingdom of God—but he also stood on the Areopagus and reasoned with the Greek philosophers, using their intellectual arguments, religious beliefs, and cultural artifacts to bridge the chasm of belief between them. He declared, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Cor. 9:22).
Are we willing to do the same? Our own personal story is comfortable. After all, we’re experts on ourselves. How far are we willing to go, however, when unbelievers hunger for assistance outside our comfort zone and area of expertise. Are we willing to study scientific proofs? Dig into philosophical arguments to answer difficult intellectual objections? Examine other religious worldviews to pinpoint their logical and theological inconsistencies?
The Church should be willing to “do its homework” in order to be prepared to “give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). Debate for debate’s sake is pointless. Reducing apologetics and Christianity to purely intellectual rhetoric, divorced from the heart and evangelistic foundation, is dangerous and wrong.
But we do not have to choose between extremes. Christians do not face an either/or decision between intellectual apologetics and emotional evangelism. We are simply called to spread the Good News to the ends of the earth, and the urgency of this commission should lead us to use any tools at our disposal.
Apologetics is only a waste of time if we believe reaching unbelievers by all possible means is a waste of time. For the sake of those still lost in the darkness of their unbelief, I pray that the Church decides otherwise.