You may have seen the 2014 movie God’s Not Dead, in which Christian college student Josh Wheaton boldly and unashamedly stands up for his faith in less than welcoming circumstances. The story of an average young adult boldly professing faith drew in and inspired Christian moviegoers, making the film a surprise box office hit. For many young adults, though, this story is a reality. With the questions and challenges posed in universities and work environments, many find themselves in similar situations. The starting point is finding answers, and then understanding how to engage others with the truth.
The first question many may ask is why use apologetics? As the campus apologetics ministry Ratio Christi tells its members, apologetics is a necessary part of evangelism in the modern “reasoning” world.
“Apologetics is a nonnegotiable tool,” Ratio Christi president Corey Miller says. “Current evangelism in the West requires apologetics. Anyone engaging significantly in evangelism cannot help but run across the tough questions that apologetics is helpful in answering.”
On a school campus, a rational approach to discussing and questioning matters of faith is even more prominent, and thus it is crucial to develop a good basis for explaining your beliefs. This is why a ministry like Ratio Christi exists on high school and college campuses, both for the sake of students and professors. Christian or non-Christian, they come together to share and evaluate the reasons others give for what they believe. Supported by sound apologetics, a Christian can establish even greater confidence in sharing their faith through such a discussion.
“It’s very important to be settled in the truth and not carried by the wind of opinion,” says Olivia Mensah, Ratio Christi student president at the University of Michigan Dearborn. “Apologetics is the basis to say faith and reason are not mutually exclusive – you don’t need to have blind faith.”
Still, faith is not only a matter of logic or reason; it is also a matter of the heart and soul. Conversations cannot be only an exchange of intellectual ideas. So, the next question to ask is how do you use apologetics to engage with an unbeliever as part of evangelism?
Christian apologetics should not be about just winning an argument. It is more than a contest of ideas. Again, the Christian message speaks to the whole person heart and spirit, not just the head. This means an evangelistic approach does not attack or belittle what others believe, but invites them fully into the conversation and thoughtfully considers and respects what they have to say— learning along the way where they are at emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. Answering their arguments begins with understanding the questions they wrestle with.
“Probably the top question people struggle with is the problem of evil, pain, and suffering, and how that can be consistent with the goodness of God,” Miller says. “The second question would be how religion can be compatible with science. And third would probably be the historical reliability of the Bible.”
Even for the most educated, those issues, and many more besides, can be complex and intense. And non-Christians are not the only ones who deal with them. But engaging them begins not with absolute certainty that you have all the answers, but with faith that God works beyond our own lack of knowledge. Often Christians seem to fear hearing views that conflict with their own, but that is totally out of line with the confidence the Christian message should instill. Christianity is about the redemption of a broken world, even broken philosophies and hostile people. Sometimes, that means hearing them out, not to prove them wrong, but in searching to comprehend how they can be redeemed by the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“The weekly meetings typical of Ratio Christi chapters are regularly filled with nonbelievers who feel comfortable engaging in the way that we do … We seek to generate more light than heat in the process,” Miller shares.
What does that mean, though? And if that describes apologetics, is it really helpful? One can only find out by taking the principle to practice in the real world of evangelistic apologetics as Texas A&M student Andrew Robbins did through his involvement with Ratio Christi.
Evangelism should be about listening to what people believe, to their objections. Only then will an unbeliever take what I am saying seriously and consider the gospel, Robbins writes. All too often, Christians paint unbelievers as stupid, ignorant, or willfully blind to the truth of the gospel. While sin certainly does blind people to truth, we cannot ignore the questions of the unbeliever.
Understanding some of the deeply difficult questions concerning Christianity gives me better appreciation for the views of the nonbeliever. The questions of nonbelievers are often much more sophisticated than we want to believe. Many questions are difficult to answer. I have been asked several times “Why does the death of Jesus atone for our sins?” Now, most Christians can give a Sunday school answer to that question, but really giving a serious answer that makes sense can be difficult. Just giving a one-liner Sunday school answer does not do justice to the depth of the question.
So, really delving into the study of Christianity and the ideas behind it has given me a great deal of confidence in what I believe. And knowing history and having a good understanding of doctrine makes it possible for me to relate to the unbeliever who does not understand the Christian position. I know that there are answers to people’s questions, even if I don’t know the answer off of the top of my head. Ultimately, apologetics is about thinking hard and communicating well.
But first, we need to listen. Christians spend too much time talking, telling what they believe and why other people are wrong. We know less than we think. Evangelism should be about listening to what a person believes, listening to his or her objections to Christianity. Be humble; God does the work, not us.
So, the final question is where do you stand? Are you prepared to use apologetics as Robbins describes to meaningfully engage with nonbelievers and seriously treat their questions as deserving real answers, even to the point that you will wrestle with them on your own? Are you afraid to hear arguments against your faith, or do you dismiss and deride questions about your beliefs? Or perhaps you’re starting from the other side, as the one who has serious questions and objections about Christianity.
Wherever you fall on the spectrum, the appropriate response is to take questions into the light and get true answers. Why not start by considering the same question Robbins pointed out: How does the death of Jesus atone for our sins? Can you answer that question? Can you answer it in such a way that it would make sense to you if you had never heard it discussed before? Or, do you struggle with a different question about Christianity? Its time to begin that conversation, not to show that you’re right and someone else is wrong, but to find truth.
There are answers, and there are many places to begin the search. Here are a few to get started:
The Poached Egg (Ratio Christi’s blog)