originally posted at theresurgence.com
When the Lord Jesus called his disciples, he famously said that he was going to transform them into “fishers of men” (Mark 1:17).
He did not say, as it turns out, that he was going to send them fishing for fallacies. Similarly, the point of apologetics is to win the man, not the argument.
Now of course, arguments can (and should) play a role in this kind of public evangelism. Apologetics needs to consist of more than just smiling at people and being sweet. Argument plays a role, but argumentation is a sharp tool, and a tool is something that a craftsman should—if he wants to keep all his fingers—understand fully in order to wield it properly.
Paul makes a variation of this point in his second letter to Timothy.
“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” 2 Timothy 2:24–26
We can see that argumentation is certainly involved (“correcting his opponents” and “able to teach”), but there is great deal more involved as well. The Lord’s servant is called to have a particular demeanor, one calculated to be used by God to change people’s hearts and minds. The apologist must not be “quarrelsome.” He must be “kind,” and also patient in how he puts up with various forms of “evil.” When he argues, he must know to do it “with gentleness.” In this context, when his character and demeanor line up in debate, we may offer up the prayer that God will give his opponents the great gift of repentance. This is the end game; this is the whole point.
Stop Swinging That Club
The goal of an apologetic encounter is not to put points on an abstract scoreboard. The apologist is not to be a gunslinger, looking for another notch to put in his Bible. The point of argument is to win people or, if any spectators are already won, to encourage them. To the degree that an argument contributes to that end, then God bless it. But in the meantime, it must be frankly stated that a lot of people who are deeply interested in apologetics need to think a lot less about winning, and a lot more about being winsome.
“The truth is a wonderful thing. But because it is hard and unyielding, it makes a dandy club.
This means that there are many young bucks who need to be exhorted to stop swinging that thing around so much.
People Are the Point
I said a moment ago that the goal is win the lost and encourage those who are already won. This is another point of apologetics—to encourage believers who are perhaps unable to answer the arguments that are being pressed against them. But even here, the point is still people.
“And when [Apollos] wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.” Acts 18:27–28
In this passage, we don’t have any indication that the men in this debate were ever convinced, or won over (although Apollos would no doubt have been delighted if they had been). But we are told that the believers were encouraged by the refutation of the arguments that were being offered against the truth that Jesus was the Christ. In a similar way, when an apologist comes to a secular campus today and argues convincingly against materialistic atheism (say), he may not win the person up on stage debating with him. But if he knows his business, he will be a great encouragement to many in the audience. They have heard those arguments pressed against them in the classroom numerous times—and now they have seen them answered. But the apologist must remember that the people are the point.
“The apologist is called to win hearts, and not to score points.
All of this is to say that the arguments are made for the audience, not the audience for the arguments.
Jesus Didn’t Die for Your Arguments
And of course, when the apologist turns to consider his opponent, it must be with the realization that Jesus died for men just like him. Jesus did not die for my arguments, my research, my preparation, my witticisms, my quick comebacks, or my clear mastery of the issues in hand. He did die, however, for my pride in any of those things.