By Ben Swift
In Christian circles, the art of apologetics – providing a reasonable defence for the Christian Faith – is becoming increasingly prominent, particularly as social media simplifies the process of conversation on a global scale. How can we become more effective in the area of Christian apologetics then?
I believe a good starting point can be found in the following words of Forest Gump. “Stupid is as stupid does.” Now stay with me here. Forest makes a good point. Stupidity is not defined by one’s intellect but rather by one’s actions. In the realm of apologetics, to be arrogant is to appear stupid and we need to keep in mind that we are called to reflect Christ in our conversations and Christ was gentle and humble in heart.
So how do we avoid appearing stupid when it comes to our ability to argue for our faith? Firstly, we should learn from a simple but interesting study conducted in 1999 by Dunning and Kruger in what became known as the ‘Dunning-Kruger Effect.” This study demonstrated a psychological phenomenon in which individuals foolishly believe they have enough knowledge about a subject to be vocal about it, despite not having obtained enough knowledge around the subject to engage in discussions that reflect any real wisdom on their behalf.
Perhaps the more well-known, less scientific version of the Dunning-Kruger Effect is referred to as climbing Mount Stupid. Until one reaches the peak of Mount Stupid they will continue in their delusion of expertise until finally they reach the point where they come to terms with their own ignorance. At this point they become willing to slide to the bottom of the uncomfortable slope where they can resume a realistic building of knowledge whist in a state of humility.
For the Christian apologist, the quicker one can ascend Mount Stupid the better. Let’s just get it out of the way! The advantage the Christian has, however, is that Christ demands humility from us from the beginning; He asks that we make our descent before him as we come to a child-like dependence on him from the moment we are called.
And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew: 18:3)
Having contemplated the need to avoid being stuck on the ignorant side of Mount Stupid, we need to consider what the apologist needs to immerse themselves in so as to provide reasonable arguments for their faith. Strangely, I believe we can learn here from an unlikely teacher, the fighter. If you’ve ever had a conversation with an experienced fighter, one with extensive experience in the ring, they will tell you that no training measures up to real combat. Take for instance the words of Mike Tyson: “Everyone has a plan – until they get punched in the face.” In other words, having conversations and healthy debates with people regarding the reasonableness of the Christian Faith will swiftly deliver blows to areas of our personal ignorance, helping to point us to where our knowledge needs to grow. Of course, we can also learn from those who have many years of experience answering the deepest of questions; responding with reason to the unreasonable.
Respected apologists such as Alister McGrath and Ravi Zacharias come to mind.
An excellent starting point in the apologist’s journey would be to consider: “Does Christianity and its understanding of God, stand tall when subject to questions of reason?”
Throughout history there have been several well-reasoned arguments for the existence of God.
Cosmological arguments that revolve around the need for an intelligent creator, the mind and energy behind the Big Bang and thus the birth of the universe have been discussed extensively. Moral arguments have been put forward suggesting that humanity’s sense of right and wrong must originate from an ultimate source of morality being God. It is important to keep in mind though that well-reasoned arguments in these areas remain unable to provide reasonable proof beyond any doubt for the existence of the Christian God. We must as apologists come to terms with the fact many answers can only be left to faith whether others accept this fact or not.
This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:13-14)
The question of whether Christianity can stand tall in the face of reason will never be answered with a resounding, “Yes!” For if reason alone could explain the reality of God, then faith would become obsolete. The good news for the Christian however, is that by the ongoing, transforming work of the Holy Spirit, we are able to understand the reasonableness of our faith.
And so as Christian apologists we must arrive at the point of understanding that the God given gift of faith, provides us with the only means of truly comprehending God’s truth. That is the truth about his existence, his nature and his revelation and plan for his people. Let us therefore, seek to use our intellect in a way that is humbly and spiritually driven, prayerfully acknowledging that any effective apologetics on our behalf is completely dependent on God and his purposes; apologetics beyond Mount Stupid.