AP 0817Apologetics tends to be both over-rated and under-rated. It is true that no one is ever converted through apologetics. We can easily end out on a pseudo-intellectual merry-go-round where we are “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:7).

Not all questioners deserve an answer. The chief priests and elders once came to Jesus with the question: “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus responded by asking them where John the Baptist’s authority to baptise came from. They felt unable to reply, because to say “From heaven” would raise the issue of why they had not believed John, and to say “From man” would be risky for the crowd viewed John as a prophet. They took refuge in evasion, as we do in awkward situations. Their dishonesty and hypocrisy, however, meant that Jesus refused to answer their questions (Matt. 21:23-27).

To those who are genuinely struggling with questions, Jesus was tender. When John was imprisoned, he wondered how if Jesus was the Messianic king, things were not better than they were for His followers. Jesus responded by pointing to His own miraculous deeds and to the Old Testament prophecies (Matt. 11:1-6; e.g. Isa. 35:5-6).

Apologetics can clear the decks for unbelievers or for confused believers.

At times the Bible is rather startling in its approach. When Job has questions about his suffering as a righteous man, God simply tells him that he was not there at the creation and is not running the universe (Job 38). When someone wants to question the doctrine of election, Paul responds that we have no right to answer back to God (Rom. 9:20).

Apologetics has its place. Like John the Baptist himself, it can point people to Christ, clarify issues, and repudiate error. Yet it cannot do the work of the Holy Spirit, and we should recognise both its strengths and its weaknesses. In the end, as Blaise Pascal said of God’s revelation: “There is enough light for those to see who only desire to see, and enough obscurity for those who have a contrary disposition.”

Peter Barnes

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