Request your free, three-month trial to Tabletalk magazine. You’ll receive the print issue monthly and gain immediate digital access to decades of archives. This trial is risk-free. No credit card required.Try Tabletalk Now
Already receive Tabletalk magazine every month?
Verify your email address to gain unlimited access.
After exhorting his readers to “in your hearts honor Christ as Lord as holy,” the Apostle Peter instructed them to always be prepared to “make a defense” to everyone who asks the reason for the hope within them (1 Peter 3:15). The Greek word translated “defense” is apologia, from which we get our English word apologetics, meaning the reasoned defense of the faith. Apologetics is one of the tasks of the church, and whenever God directs His people to a task, He supplies whatever is needed to fulfill that task. Thus, when Scripture directs us to give answers to those who raise critical questions about the Christian faith, we may reasonably assume that answers will be available to give.
When I first delved into Christian apologetics, it was primarily (I’m ashamed to confess) for the purpose of self-defense. I wanted respectable answers to the hard questions tossed at me like grenades by the very smart unbelievers with whom I worked, so that I wouldn’t look foolish in their eyes. But in those early years, it felt like a roller-coaster ride. Whenever I encountered a new objection to which I had no ready response, I would experience a sense of panic, as though the entire Christian faith were hanging in the balance. Every single time I did the research, however, I discovered that there were solid answers to the objection, and it wasn’t nearly the devastating blow that I had feared it to be. It took many years for me to learn the lesson: newly encountered objections should be seen not as threats to faith but as opportunities for growth, and it’s safe to assume that answers will be available if we’re willing to do the work of finding them.
I learned a second important lesson through those experiences and the studying I was prompted to do. Apologetics is not a recent innovation in the history of the church. Christians in the early centuries were confronted by a battery of objections to their claims about God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ. Yet the Lord has never left His people without answers. In every generation, God has equipped His church with gifted thinkers who have been equal to the task of defending the Christian faith against the prominent critics of the day. The objections have varied over the centuries, and the answers have sometimes changed too—mostly through critical refinement and improvement. The one constant has been the faithful provision of the Lord Jesus, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3).
Thanks to this long history of intellectual engagement, we have more resources today for defending the faith than ever before. We should be greatly encouraged that Christian apologetics is flourishing in our time. There has been a remarkable renaissance of Christian philosophy in the last sixty years, and some of the most respected and productive scholars in the field are also professing believers. Conservative biblical scholarship is very much alive and thriving. Historical research into the ancient world is increasingly confirming that the four Gospels contain exactly what they claim: firsthand eyewitness testimony of the ministry of Jesus. Meanwhile, in the natural sciences, the more we uncover about the structure of the universe and the history of life on our planet, the more we find confirmation of the biblical doctrines of divine creation and providence. To echo Francis Schaeffer: all truth is indeed God’s truth.
Nevertheless, some cautions are in order. While we can be confident that answers are “out there,” we should not assume that they will come quickly and easily or that the answers themselves will be simple and straightforward. The world is a complicated place, and if the world can be hard to understand, how much more so the Creator of the world, who “dwells in unapproachable light” (1 Tim. 6:16). Just as Jacob had to grapple all night with the angel of the Lord before receiving a blessing, so too the blessings of deeper knowledge and understanding may come only at the end of a period of hard intellectual wrestling.
What’s more, we should not imagine that once we have good responses to the objections raised by unbelievers, those answers alone will be sufficient to overcome unbelief and bring people to saving faith in Christ. Christian faith is more than intellectual assent to a set of truth claims, although it must include that. It involves a personal trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. As John Calvin put it, faith is “a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence toward us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds, and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” While answers to critical questions may neutralize many of the intellectual obstacles to faith, they cannot bring about faith itself, since faith is the fruit of a supernatural work of the Spirit. Scripture teaches that the root of unbelief is not a mind that lacks intellectual information but a heart in need of spiritual transformation (Ezek. 36:26; Rom. 1:21; Eph. 4:18). As Jesus’ own earthly ministry made clear, merely giving answers to pointed questions—even answers directly from the mouth of God—will not change a heart of stone to a heart of flesh.
Yet none of this should be cause for discouragement, let alone reason to disregard Peter’s exhortation and forgo giving answers altogether. Since Peter directs us to treat with gentleness and respect those who inquire about our hope in Christ, we ought to take their questions seriously—if they are serious questions—and seek to provide truthful, biblical, God-honoring answers. As we do so, the Holy Spirit will be pleased to work through our words to accomplish God’s purposes: either to bring His elect to saving faith or to confirm His just judgment on those who remain in stubborn unbelief. We should recognize that pursuing and providing good answers to challenging questions is a God-glorifying end in itself, no matter how those answers are received. What is true of faithful evangelism is also true of faithful apologetics (1 Cor. 3:6–7; 2 Cor. 2:15–17).
If we’re honest, there will also be occasions when our answers are not fully satisfying even to us. They may be only partial answers that lack the details we might desire. And there are some questions to which we do not yet have—and may never gain—even partial answers. This should come as no surprise, for we are called to walk by faith, not by sight. But in those cases, we should remember two things. First, unanswered questions are not refutations; the incompleteness of our knowledge is not a reason to doubt what we already know. Second, we should recognize that every worldview faces some unanswered questions and intellectual objections. The crucial issue is not whether Christians can satisfyingly answer every question and refute every challenge but whether the Christian worldview offers better answers to the most pressing ultimate questions, and better explanations of the human condition, than any competing worldview.
By way of illustration, let’s briefly apply these observations to one prominent issue. The problem of evil and suffering remains one of the leading objections wielded by skeptics against Christianity. The argument is easily stated: If there were an all-good, all-powerful God, He would be both willing and able to prevent all evil; but since evil exists, it follows that there is no all-good, all-powerful God. Christian philosophers have observed that the argument is unsound because it fails to acknowledge that God may allow (even ordain) certain evils in order to accomplish His greater good purposes (Gen. 50:20; Acts 4:27–28). Moreover, the Bible doesn’t leave us completely in the dark about God’s purposes but reveals to us at least some of the good reasons God has for allowing evil and suffering (Ps. 119:71; Luke 13:1–5; John 9:1–3; Rom. 5:3–5; 8:28–30; 9:19–24; 2 Cor. 1:5–7; 4:17; Heb. 12:5–11; James 1:2–4). At the same time, Scripture emphasizes that we should not expect to always be able to discern why God permits specific instances of evil, for we have only limited knowledge and understanding of God’s ways. Thus, the Bible supplies some answers while also explaining why we cannot have all the answers. Finally, while there will always be unanswered questions about evil, we can be reassured that Christianity, when compared with alternative worldviews such as Darwinian materialism and Eastern pantheism, still offers the most satisfying answers to the most crucial questions. What accounts for the distinction between good and evil? How did evil and suffering originate? Why are humans capable of such heinous evils? Do our sufferings have any meaning or purpose? Will evil be finally defeated, and if so, how? How can we experience real hope and joy even in the midst of painful trials?
The same principles can be applied to other issues. In the end, the Bible not only assures us that God will provide sufficient answers to the most pressing objections to the Christian faith but also explains why we do not have an answer to every question we might want answered, at least while we “see in a mirror dimly” (1 Cor. 13:12).