Why Do Many Christians Dismiss Apologetics?
I love apologetics. It’s fun to teach apologetics, discuss apologetics, and offer reasons for what I believe to non-Christians who ask. Yet, quite clearly, not all Christians share my enthusiasm. Why not? Below are five common reasons why many Christians dismiss apologetics (thanks to my Twitter friends, acknowledged below).
Apologists have often failed to model gracious apologetics. Rather than blaming others, we apologists might do well to start by examining ourselves. Let’s be honest, we could probably all share a story where we failed to model the kind of evangelism and apologetics we see in Jesus, Paul, and the early church fathers. If you can’t think of a story, then you’re probably not even aware of your own blind spot! As I emphasize in A New Kind of Apologist, many Christians dismiss apologetics because they have seen apologists being arrogant, dismissive, and uncharitable to others. Many dismiss apologetics because of a bad experience.
Faulty understanding of faith and reason. Some time ago my father and I were speaking at a student conference in the southeast. Noticeably upset, a young female youth worker approached us afterwards and (essentially) said, “I wish you guys had a more biblical view of faith. We don’t need evidence. Real faith involves believing something without proof.” And then she stormed away. Sadly, this young lady had bought the idea that faith involves believing something blindly without evidence. If she were right, then apologetics would be frivolous. But the Bible both teaches and models a different view of faith. Simply put, evidence is offered to give people a confident faith (E.g., Exodus 14:31; John 20:30-31; Acts 1:1-3).
Mistaken view of apologetics. A couple years ago I spoke with an influential youth leader about the present state of youth culture. When I inquired about his views on apologetics, he quickly dismissed it, even though his own research showed that many kids were leaving the faith because they had unanswered questions. As I probed further, it became clear that he equated apologetics with a cage-match where people defend their hot-button issue without relationship or gentleness. If that is what apologetics is, then I would dismiss it too! What should apologetics be about? Dallas Willard Perhaps said it best:
Like Jesus, we are reaching out in love in a humble spirit with no coercion. The only way to accomplish that is to present our defense gently, as help offered in love in the manner of Jesus.
Not being engaged in evangelism. Motivated by my friend Brett Kunkle, I have been taking high school students on apologetics mission trips for the past few years. Inevitably, whenever we meet up with atheists, Mormons, student freethinking groups, Unitarian Universalists or people of other faiths, students become highly motivated to study apologetics. Students often study theology and apologetics late into the evening getting prepared for the next day! In my experience, nothing motivates Christians to care about apologetics more than evangelism and spiritual conversations. After all, once you start sharing your faith, people will inevitably have questions about the Bible, evil, evolution, and more.
Apologetics is often motivated by fear. Something stood out to me a few years ago at an apologetics conference—virtually every speaker used the hook of “fear” to motivate people. We were told to fear changing sexual mores, the growth of atheism, the tactics of various “cults,” certain theological movements within the church, and more. While there is undoubtedly a place for healthy fear, apologetics should not simply be a reactive discipline to changing cultural mores. Rather, we ought to provide positive answers and reasons for the supremacy of the Christian faith. Insofar as we are primarily negative, apologists will fail to inspire people to stand up for the faith.
There are certainly other reasons many Christians dismiss the value of apologetics. If you want to see a few more, which were suggested by my friends on Twitter, check out this interesting Twitter exchange. Here are a few samples of their insightful feedback:
@rickwade55: Apologists focusing on true conclusions rather than on the individual they’re talking to and coming to believe.
@triciascribner: Some believe that apologetics undermines the gospel’s supremacy, diminishing the authority of the Word and of Christ.
@smlabonte: I’ve heard people say that Jesus doesn’t need us to defend him. (Not exactly what apologetics is)
@DynAggelos: some Christians think it is unnecessary since the Holy Spirit and the Word of God ultimately do the transforming of the mind.
@prashanthdaniel: I’ve been told that its pointless nitpicking, argumentative and therefore divisive, Sean. Naturally, I disagree.
Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 15 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.
 Dallas Willard, The Allure of Gentleness (New York, NY: Harper One, 2015), 4.