Recently Peter Enns, an American Biblical Scholar and theologian, and Senior Fellow of BioLogos, wrote an article on his thoughts about Christian Apologetics. The article can be read by clicking here. I appreciate Enns’ works in theology and have read many of his blog posts on www.biologos.org. I also plan on reading some of his books in the future. I’m especially eager to dig into The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins. and Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament. However, I find his opinions on Christian Apologetics (i.e the art of defending the Christian faith) to be misguided.
Enns starts off the article by expressing his dislike of apologetics, saying “I’m not a big fan of Christian apologetics. Nothing personal, and I know some smart people who do it. It’s just not for me.” First of all, I think Enns is implicitly contradicting himself. I know that his goal, as well as everyone else at The BioLogos Foundation, is dedicated to showing the compatibility between science and The Bible/Christianity. That’s what their whole ministry is dedicated to, and Enns has contributed several articles to The BioLogos website to make the case that Darwinian Evolution and an ancient universe doesn’t undermine the Christian Worldview. All of BioLogos’ articles and blog posts have this aim in mind. I consider this to be a form of Christian Apologetics. This kind of apologetics is what I would call defensive apologetics. You see, there are two kinds of apologetics: offensive apologetics and defensive apologetics. Offensive apologetics seeks to give arguments and evidence to establish the truth of the Christian worldview. This is what I do in my book Inference To The One True God: Why I Believe In Jesus Instead Of Other Gods and what I do in articles like “The Kalam Cosmological Argument”, “The Fine Tuning Argument For God’s Existence)”, and “The Minimal Facts Case For Jesus’ Resurrection PART 1” and “The Minimal Facts Case For Jesus’ Resurrection PART 2”. All of these writings of mine seek to establish the truth of Christianity. Defensive apologetics, on the other hand, seeks to refute arguments brought up against Christianity, such as the problem of evil or the doctrine of Hell (the latter, I do in my upcoming book A Hellacious Doctrine). Peter Enns (and everyone at BioLogos) engages in defensive apologetics. How? By showing that evolution does not refute Christianity. By showing that atheists are unjustified in concluding that atheism is true by showing that Darwinian Evolution is true. By showing that The Bible hasn’t been proven wrong just because concordist interpretations have been proven wrong. By showing that Christianity doesn’t stand or fall on whether evolution is true or false.
So, even if Enns doesn’t ever engage in offensive apologetics, you can see from his writings that he has engaged in defensive apologetics, at least when it comes to the issue of faith and science’ compatibility.
Enn went on to give several reasons why he isn’t fond of Christian Apologetics. All of these reasons seem very weak to me. He said:
“But I’ve never seen an argument for why Christianity is true that can’t be met by some alternative argument.”
Pete, there are no arguments for anything at all that cannot be countered in some way or another. Any argument for any conclusion can have some kind of rebuttal brought to it. I’m not just talking about arguments for Christianity, but arguments for anything, even arguments for scientific theories like Darwinian Evolution or general relativity, or arguments for political views like gun control or abolishing abortion. All of these have counters. There’s no such thing as an argument that cannot be met by an alternative argument. People deny the holocaust, Jesus’ existence, that we walked on the moon, that the Earth is a sphere, etc. Yet I don’t see Peter saying that giving arguments for the truth of any of these things is a waste of time. There are many people who deny evolution. Is Enns going to stop defending it?
Enns’ arguments against apologetics can be countered. Indeed! That’s exactly what I’m doing in this blog post! A fellow apologist Phil Weingert pointed this out in the comment section of that article, saying that someone could say Enns is wrong because he is a dodo bird with three heads. Enns responded to him saying “Honestly, Phil. When I say that a counter-argument can be produced it is self-evident I mean a compelling counter-argument, not Dodo birds.”
Well, okay, but Pete Enns should have clarified. Phil didn’t think it was self-evident and neither did I. The problem though is that we must then give an assessment of what one regards as a “compelling counter-argument.” Jason Lisle finds the “scientific” arguments for a 6,000-year-old universe compelling. Hugh Ross finds the arguments for concordism compelling. David Irving finds the arguments that the holocaust never occurred to be compelling. Pete is simply on the wrong track here in his arguments against the use of Christian Apologetics.
In my opinion, people may find some of the counter-arguments against arguments for Christianity compelling, but I sure don’t. I haven’t found a single counter-argument against The Kalam Cosmological Argument or The Minimal Facts Case For Jesus’ Resurrection that I thought undermined the argument. And trust me, I’ve heard A LOT of objections to these arguments over the years.
“I am not interested in trying to establish whether Christianity is ‘reasonable’—a lot of things are reasonable and I don’t center my life around them.”
C.S Lewis once said “Christianity, if false, is of no importance. But if true, it is of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” 1 If d
If Christianity seems more reasonable than other worldviews, we should believe it. If Christianity is more reasonable than other worldviews, we should indeed center our life around it. This is because Christianity is not like “a lot of things that are reasonable”. Christianity teaches that we’ve all sinned (Romans 3:23, Psalm 14:2-3), and that God is holy just (Psalm 9:7-8, Psalm 9:16, Psalm 10, Psalm 11:16, Psalm 103:6) and therefore fall under His wrath. But because God loves us (1 John 4:8, John 3:16), He became a human being (John 1:4, Philippians 2:5-8) and died on the cross to take the punishment on our behalf (Matthew 27, 1 Peter 3:18), and if we repent of our sins and ask Christ to be our personal Lord and Savior, we will be born again and forgiven of our sins (John 3:3, 1 John 1:9), but if we don’t repent, we’ll be lost to Hell (John 3:18, John 3:36).
Given that a person will experience eternal bliss if He’s right about Christianity being true (Revelation 21:1-4), and eternal torment if he’s wrong (Revelation 14:11), it would seem that one should be very concerned with whether Christianity is true. One should make it their number 1 goal in life to figuring out whether or not it’s true, and if it is true, to place their faith in Jesus Christ.
“A lot of things are reasonable” but “a lot of things” don’t have eternal implications.
“The notion of ‘Christian apologetics’ presumes that the intellect—weighing evidence, sifting through pros and cons, rigorous analysis—is the primary arena for engaging the truth of Christianity.”
This is just false. Christian apologetics does not make such a presumption. My experience suggests apologetics is of great value. William Lane Craig and Michael Licona have said that they have both seen many people become Christians after watching their debates. I heard Licona say that his friend David Wood tells him that he receives average two messages a day from people who converted to Christianity out of Islam. The reason they did this was that they watched his videos.
Apologetics is one tool out of many for assessing the truth of Christianity. Arguments and evidence are one way to come to a knowledge of the truth, but that isn’t to say that it’s the only way. People all over the world have come to know Christ by personally experiencing Him in their lives, and seeing their lives radically transformed by submitting to Him. For example, former Korn member Brian “Head” Welch became a Christian, and God miraculously freed him from his drug addiction. He didn’t go to rehab or anything, the urge to do drugs was just gone. Brian had reasons to believe Christianity was true: (1) He has a powerful, personal encounter with God, and (2) He had experienced a miracle in his own body.
But some people just aren’t moved by personal testimonies, and others are skeptical of religious experiences. For such people, arguments and evidence can be of tremendous value. Lee Strobel and J. Warner Wallace probably heard people witness to them of “the night they met Jesus” but were unmoved. What made the difference was the historical evidence for the divine self-understanding and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Let me steal an analogy from Michael Licona to help you see the point. I got this from a Facebook comment he made. Dr. Licona wrote “One having back pain has a few options before them: (1) See a physician; (2) See a chiropractor; (3) Get a message; (4) Lay in bed. If a person chooses (2), that does not mean the other options are ineffective or that chiropractors think the other options are ineffective and should not be considered.”
Likewise, just because one may appeal to apologetics (arguments and evidence) for epistemological justification for their beliefs, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll discount religious experiences. Some might of course, but I know of Christian Apologists who ardently give arguments for why Christianity is true, yet consider belief in Christianity “a properly basic belief”. These apologists are Dr. William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga. Craig and Plantinga note that there’s a difference between knowing that Christianity is true, and showing Christianity is true. You might be able to know Christianity is true through some non-evidential, non-argument route, but that won’t help you when someone asks “Why should I believe Christianity is true?”
Furthermore, Enns’ contention that Apologetics only works among people already convinced is demonstrably false. As already stated, Lee Strobel and J. Warner Wallace became Christians through the evidence for the Jesus’ resurrection. Josh McDowell likewise went from being an agnostic to being a Christian because he found the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection so compelling. C.S Lewis is another name I could mention. Francis Collins, in his book The Language Of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence For Belief talks about how he became a theist through The Big Bang (Cosmological Argument), The Cosmic Fine Tuning Argument, The Moral Argument, and The Argument From Desire. The list could go on and on.
“But our arguments are constructed after the fact, after we believe, not in order to believe. Belief is first. Intellect follows. The problem I have with apologetics is that that order is reversed.”
This may be true for whoever crafted the Natural Theology arguments, or the case for the resurrection. But as already stated, people have heard these arguments and have come to faith through them. Here’s the thing: a person who already believes A is true crafts an argument that A is true. He then meets a person skeptical of A. Person 1 then proceeds to give the argument that A is true to person 2. Person 2 is convinced and gives intellectual assent to A. He is no longer skeptical that A is true. Even though it is true that the argument was constructed after belief was already present, this is only true for person 1. This is not at all true of person 2. Moreover, the fact that person 1 formulated an argument for A while he already believed A does nothing to undermine the argument for A. Lest one says it does, they are guilty of the genetic fallacy.
“We are the apologetic, and that is much harder than crafting arguments”
Peter Enns’ argument here is that we should live our lives in such a good and upright way that people take notice of it, and as a result, want to become Christians too. Enns’ is absolutely right. Certainly, there’s plenty of Bible passages that correspond to this view of letting your life be a witness. For example, Jesus said “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-15). And in 1 Peter 2:12, we read “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” (ESV) In John 13:35, Jesus said: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (ESV)
However, the conclusion Enns draws from this is a non-sequitur. Yes, we should let our life be an apologetic. We should be salt and light, we should put our lamps on a stand. However, it doesn’t follow that we, therefore, shouldn’t give reasons for why Christianity is true when people ask us. Enns is guilty here of the Black and White fallacy. He’s implying that we must either A) let our lives be a witness, or B) give reasons to believe the Christian worldview is true. But I don’t see why it can’t be both. Indeed. The Bible seems to support both.
We have plenty of examples of apologetics in The Bible. Now, granted, the arguments the apostles gave weren’t the same as the ones we give today (e.g Paul never gave The Fine Tuning Argument), but they did defend the truth of Christianity nevertheless.
”Jesus said: ‘believe on the evidence of the miracles’ (John 14:11) • When John the Baptist questioned if Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus likewise appealed to the evidence of his works (cf. Matthew 11:4–6) • Paul wrote of ‘defending and confirming the gospel’ (Philippians 1:7) • Paul ‘reasoned . . . explaining and proving’ (Acts 17:2–3) • ‘Every Sabbath [Paul] reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks . . . Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus’ (Acts 18:4; 19:8–9) • Paul urges Christians to ‘stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults’ (1 Corinthians 14:20) • Paul advises Christians: ‘Choose your words carefully and be ready to give answers to anyone who asks questions’ (Colossians 4:6 CEV) • Peter commands Christians to ‘always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have . . . with gentleness and respect’ (1 Peter 3:15) The Greek translated as ‘give an answer’ in 1 Peter 3:15 is apologia – from which we get the word ‘apologetics.’ Apologetics isn’t apologizing in the sense of saying sorry! An apologia is literally ‘a word back’, but the term means a ‘defence’ or ‘vindication.”2
Peter Enns’ arguments against Christian Apologetics are fallacious. In fact, I find them to be downright terrible. I can’t help but get a little annoyed when someone attacks Christian Apologetics. Do you want to know why? Several years ago, I was plagued by doubts. I had no idea why I should accept Christianity instead of any other religion. Sure, I had a personal experience with God, but when I shared these experiences with atheists I tried to witness to, they would explain them away with neuroscientific arguments that made me doubt their veridicality. I prayed to God that if He was real, to help me to believe because I knew that if I disbelieved and Christianity was true, I would end up in Hell. If The Bible really is the word of God, I knew that that’s something God wouldn’t want (1 Timothy 2:4), so if He were real, He would help me know it. To make a long story short, months after I prayed that prayer, I found Lee Strobel’s “Case For” series. I devoured the content of those books and my faith was restored. I soon found books written by other apologists and read them. I used these arguments in my encounters with skeptics and seeing their inability to refute the arguments just made me even more confident in their soundness. Were it not for the work of people like William Lane Craig, Lee Strobel, Gary Habermas, Michael Licona, Frank Turek, etc. I probably would be an agnostic today, if not a full blown atheist. One of the reasons it annoys me when Christians diss apologetics is not only because that’s an unbiblical stance to take, but they’re attacking a tool God used to keep me from apostatizing.
1: C. S. Lewis. (n.d.). BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved July 24, 2017, from BrainyQuote.com Web site: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/c/cslewis164517.html
2: See “A Faithful Guide To Philosophy” by Peter Williams.