Is it necessary to defend the Christian faith against its attackers?
Some think the Christian faith needs no intellectual defense, seeing as Paul wrote that man would never find God through human wisdom. The unspoken thesis of this belief seems to be, “Man won’t find God through any intellectual means; therefore, intellect has no place in evangelism.” The Gospel is foolishness to the “wise” — thus, there is no use in trying to reason with them.
Some believe in the vigorous defense of the faith. These are the fighters — the ones who roar challenges and accept any that are yelled back to them. They fight brutally, believing the spiritual war-gear was given for such a purpose. These “apologists” are sometimes downright scary — when observing them, one gets the feeling that they might at any moment produce a gun from their coat and eliminate their opponent for the sake of “preserving the truth.” Stepping on as many toes as they can for the “sake of the Gospel,” they speak the hard truth in an ungraceful way, doing it “out of love so that people might see the truth.”
Still others linger somewhere between the two poles, wondering about the whole thing. Are we to defend our faith? Does it even need defending? What does it mean to defend the faith?
It’s strange how so often we treat the Christian faith like a wobbly lean-to, as though it will fall if we do not save it. When we see anyone coming on the horizon, we nervously fumble for our sword, clutching it so tightly that it’s a wonder that the hilt does not spontaneously explode under the immense pressure of our desperation. “Get away!” we growl, afraid of what might happen if they come any closer. We fight violently. We call names, and we throw stones. We act as though the whole of Christendom will implode upon our very heads if we fail!
In most cases, those who see the confrontational manner of such Christians simply laugh and turn away. Others are hurt. Many weary travelers on the road of life have come looking for living water, only to receive a scar from a sword wielded by desperate hands. They are not fooled. They see the fear in the “defender’s” eyes—they can sense his ignorance. So much for the Word of the Lord being a strong tower into which the righteous can run. These people have turned it into a condemned house into which they would run, but for the fact that they would fall through the rotting floorboards.
The fact of the matter is that truth stands—with or without our help. If the thing that we are defending does not stand independent of our defense, then it is not truth. It is probably some idea that we have concocted in our own heads. Truth is an anchor—it is a rock. However, people have questions. And things in our world are going amiss. Society’s ship has long been safe in the harbor, but a few well-meaning men have gleefully cut the chain that holds us to our anchor. We are drifting away from that anchor, terribly unaware of the thrashing violence of the storm that we are entering. The waves are getting dangerously high.
What should we do? Point back to the anchor? The responses are usually along the lines of, “But that’s so old fashioned! We’re not in the 1800s anymore, you know. That anchor is where we were before—can’t you see how we’re advancing, how we are moving? We thought it was holding us, but all this time it was only holding us back! All we had to do was cut the chain! And you want to go back? What’s wrong with you?”
Answering questions like that is hard. And quite frankly, we can’t do it alone. With the intellectual climate of the postmodern world in the condition that it’s in, it is Spirit and Spirit alone that will lead people to the truth. However, this Spirit is inside of us. He will probably want to use us, as He often does. So it is that we will probably find ourselves in the position of “defending the faith.”
We must not be confrontational. We must be conversational—carrying on a rational conversation in which we speak our views while at the same time listen to the opinions of the person or people talking to us. We have to lose the mentality that we have the truth and therefore don’t need to listen to anything else. In reality, the truth has us and therefore we should genuinely listen to others. When people see that we are not afraid of what they believe, a door could open up. When they see that we care enough to listen, then they will listen. When they see that the thing that we are defending really does not need our vigorous defense, they will wonder.
The conversational method opens up doors, whereas the confrontational method simply puts up walls over which catapults fling insults and negativity. You can discuss things with non-Christians. You can share with each other. You can learn from each other. You can even joke around with each other. We must not think that just because we are Christians we can’t learn from people that are not. Nothing could be further from the truth. God spoke through a donkey—surely He can use an atheist. We underestimate our God if we think otherwise.
Instead of putting ourselves in front of the truth and “fighting for it,” perhaps we should put the truth in front of us. Maybe we should run into the strong tower. Let people take their best swing at it. If it’s really the truth, it won’t wear down. It won’t collapse; they will. Stone is hard, and flesh is not. When they finally collapse from exhaustion, we can offer them water—water that comes from the Stream of Life and eternally satisfies thirst.
In the end, we’ll probably see that it wasn’t the intellectual arguments that we presented that mattered, but rather the way in which we presented them. Live your arguments. Prove your point with the way you live your life—with the love and grace you show to others. Such evidence is undeniable—it transcends intellect, reason and any argument. It penetrates deep into the human heart. Don’t settle for feebly defending a run-down shack that will fall regardless of whether you defend it or not. Let the real thing defend you by living in the truth that you believe in. Show people grace. Show them you believe in something, for faith truly is the evidence of things unseen.
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