Friday, January 31, 2014

The Limits of Apologetics: the Difference Between "Faith That" and "Faith In"

We are taking my daughter through an apologetics book by Norman Geisler and Joseph Holden, entitled Living Out Loud: Defending Your Faith, as part of her apologetics training in our home.

Last night we were discussing what apologetics does and what apologetics does not do and talked about it from the perspective of the differences between "faith that" and "faith in."  What do I mean by these phrases?

Well not too long ago I was in a conversation with a guy who is really big on evangelism, and gave me the perception that one doesn't need to have reasons for their faith. His thinking was that you just go after the conscience, where the "faith in" resides, and leave the rest to God. The problem with that is that the mind, where the faith that rests, is omitted, forgotten or even abandoned in this approach. What is the difference and why are BOTH important?

Where does apologetics begin and stop?

The first thing we need to get straight here is that apologetics has its limits and really cannot make anyone a Christian. At the same time it can clear away obstacles that are hindering saving faith. Think of the a snow plow pushing the piles of snow that some of us are experiencing this winter. The plow pushes the snow away so that we can drive on our roads. Or think of the farmer with a plowing the field, breaking up hard ground so that the farmer can sow his seeds. Apologetics clears away the questions and the doubts, so that the gospel can burst through to the unbeliever.

Let me see if I can give you another illustration. You have heard the expression that "you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him drink?" The horse is the only one who can make the decision to drink from the trough. It is very similar in regards to salvation. Apologetics shows an unbeliever that Jesus is the Water of life, but there must be a conviction and a drawing to make the decision to drink. The unbeliever is drawn to the decision to drink.  This is difference between what I have put in the title, "faith that" and "faith in."

How does apologetics help?

Apologetics helps the unbeliever see that Jesus is the way to salvation. But it is the role of the Holy Spirit and the unbeliever as to whether he will place his faith in Jesus.  Apologetics can demonstrate that Jesus is the way to heaven by providing evidences.  Faith in Jesus can only be achieved through the conviction of the Holy Spirit drawing the person to make a decision. That decision is apart from apologetics.

To put it another way, apologetics can only go so far.  Limitations do not lessen the role of apologetics and the part it plays in this post Christian culture in bringing someone closer to Christ. The unbeliever cannot believe in God until he first believes that God exists (Hebrews 11:6).

Let me conclude with an illustration

Here is a summation of how all this fleshes out. . . 

Faith "that" God exists
Faith "in" God
Is an area of apologetics
Is an area of evangelism
Addresses the mind
Addresses the will
Uses reason and evidence
Requires the Holy Spirit
Comes before faith in
Comes after faith that
Points the person to Jesus
Places trust in Jesus

Apologetics and evangelism are not enemies. In fact this time in our history more than ever we are having to revert back to the type of evangelism done by the first century apostles by doing pre-evangelism (apologetics) with many people who do not have faith in Christ.

To omit either apologetics or evangelism in our communication is dangerous to the Christian ambassador. How so?

If we leave out the Holy Spirit in evangelism, we have only shown the unbeliever how smart we are and our brothers and sisters in the faith that we are nothing more than rational Christians. But if we leave out apologetics in our evangelism, particularly in our post Christian culture, we show the skeptic that we have our faith in Jesus with no reasons to believe that what we are believe it true. And when difficulty comes, we may need some apologetic reasons to help us believe that the God of the  Bible has given us His Word so that we can believe in, trust in, and have faith in its truthfulness.

If you do not think apologetics has any relevancy in today's culture, here's what we're left with. If we go after the mind, we have an opportunity to get to the will through the leading and work of the Holy Spirit.  The result, a faith that Christianity is truth that will bring forth conviction and faith in Christ.  IF we go just after the will, what is the result? The product is a faith that has no reasons to believe when it comes under fire. We have a faith which has no reasons to give when the questions come from professors and skeptical peers. Sure, you have a biblical faith in Jesus, why do you have a biblical faith that Jesus is worth having faith in, and not Muhammad or Buddha?  

Apologetics is not an enemy to evangelism. It is in fact the biblical handmaiden to evangelism. We need both. To not have both leads to a faith with no strong conviction. We need to be able to lovingly and humbly explain why Christianity is relevant in a day where its is losing its influence in many arenas of our culture.  To do otherwise is disobedience to Scripture, starting at the Great Commandment of Matthew 22:36-371 Peter 3:15-17 and several other passages. 

Check out these related posts from The Real Issue.

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