Reflections on Christian Apologetics

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The word “apologetics” comes from the Greek word apologia, used in the legal sense as a defendant’s response to the charges against him in a court of law. For instance when Socrates was accused of corrupting the youths of Athens and stirring them to sedition, he gave a speech in his own defense which is an apologia.

The word is also used in the New Testament when Paul defends himself against the charges of heresy levied against him before the authorities (Acts 26:2); in Philippians 1:17 and 1 Peter 3:15 which exhorts us to “always be prepared to give an answers to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”

Hence, Christian apologetics can be defined as a defense of the truthfulness of Christianity and its truth claims centred on the reality of the Gospel. It is vital in strengthening the faith of Christians, removing the obstacles of ignorance and/or misinformation which often impede people’s consideration of the gospel and refuting destructive heresies within the Christian fold.

My foray into Apologetics

I’ve been asked by friends time and again, to explain how I developed a passion for what I write and research and how they too can develop skills in these areas. I will do just that.

Apologetics is only a part of what I do; it’s not all I do. I have worked as part of a team at a construction site, but that doesn’t make me an expert in construction work. My field of study is the Sciences. I actually write on a wide variety of topics besides apologetics (even on secular issues) so in a strict sense, I am not an expert.

Apologetics can have its toll on one’s mental and spiritual health, so one first needs to have a genuine burden for seeing souls being rescued. Suffice it to say that no one should engage in combating errors and refuting the claims of false religions unless he/she has a motivating factor and a thick skin to hide behind.

There are professional Christian apologists; they publish books, devote all their working hours to apologetics and get paid for it. Some also delve into apologetics because they have a burden to win souls from specific religious systems they were previously involved in e.g. ex-Catholics, ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses or ex-Muslims.

In my case, certain circumstances led me into apologetics. Right from my teenage years, I had this strong desire to know about world religions and mythologies, so from time to time; I would scan through the volumes of Encyclopedia Britannica which my father had, to read about religions like Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Islam, ancient Egyptian religion etc. I also read Christian works exposing the occult.

I basically made up my mind to learn the beliefs and practices of religions and Christian cults and also studied on Christian doctrines and theology as well. I didn’t realize it then, but what I was learning was gradually changing my outlook on several issues and this reflected in my discussions with other people.

Of course, several Christians tried to discourage me from reading anything “from the other side.” They believed such things would make my faith wane, but I’ve now realized that you appreciate your own faith better and gain essential perspectives when you learn about various religions. When I tried to share some of what I was learning, I was dismissed as “weird” and “radical.”

Many Nigerian Christians are raised to believe that knowledge of religious worldviews besides Christianity is an aberration and that it’s inciting to critique beliefs of false religions or pseudo-Christian groups. Those in my circle of acquaintances would quickly duck such conversations with a rehearsed line: “Only God knows those serving him. Let’s not judge.”

In 2011, I observed how Muslims were attacking and distorting the Bible and Christianity online and I felt the need to respond to them. From there, I began to engage them in debates, quoting from the Quran and Hadiths to prove my stance. Their gutless evasion and weak responses strengthened my convictions that Islam is a religion of lies. This extended to other religious systems and these naturally propelled me to study further.

There are different situations that inspire me to write. Sometimes it’s during or after a discussion. Sometimes it’s while listening to people or reading an article or book. There are times when friends directly request I write on particular topics. And there are times when I feel a piece of information is placed in my mind (even with scripture verses), and I know I’m being led to write on it.

For example, before I wrote The Roots of Sexual Depravity, an idea of 4 popular celebs with a common background of sexual abuse first beamed into my mind one afternoon. I didn’t know how to go about it or develop it. So for 3 months, I “nursed” this part until the other pieces began to fall into place in my mind. I don’t really have a writing ritual. I just need to be focused and undisturbed in a cool environment.

Tips on effective research

(a) Before addressing a religion/cult or dialoguing with its adherents, study what they believe. Read from their side and your side. You need to have your facts about their founder, source of authority, beliefs, attractions, how they win converts, what makes converts stay in it and learn from those who have left it.

(b) Objectivity is very crucial. It means accurately understanding and representing what others believe, even if you disagree with them. Subjectivity fails to consider major differences between religions. For example, there are clear differences between Wicca and Satanism. When you lump both together without noting their distinctions, your credibility is undermined. Hinduism, Buddhism and New Age spirituality all believe in reincarnation, but they differ markedly in their understanding and explanations of it.

(c) Your quotes about the religion’s beliefs should come from a primary source or a source they regard as authentic. It’s unethical to embellish a quote or fabricate a reference. What I tell people is: if there’s anything you can’t logically or factually defend, don’t say/write it.

Pitfalls to Avoid

  • The peacock syndrome

Just as a peacock’s world revolves around showing off its beautiful feathers, when an apologist’s primary motive is to impress his audience for fame and applause, he is suffering from this syndrome. Pride is one of the easiest pits for an apologist to fall into because “knowledge puffs up” (1 Cor. 8:1)

When you are more burdened in defending yourself or refuting what others are saying about your person than defending the truth of the Gospel or refuting false teachings, you are becoming a soldier of glory rather than a soldier of the cross.

Last year, I watched as two eminent Christian apologists tore into each other with post after post on social media. Their fans took sides and attacked one another as well, with one party trolling and blocking the other. They became a cheap source of entertainment to the Muslims they were supposed to be engaging. At a point, I began to think both apologists knew too much for their own good.

Most of my serious debates (some of which are published here) are often done in private messaging, because I believe the best way to reach non-Christians is through a one-on-one dialogue. This doesn’t allow for sideshows or cheers from people but makes us focus on the issue at hand.

I’ve had several Muslims plead and even try to bully me into having free-for-all debates on my Facebook wall but when I insist on my private policy, they slink into the night. That even exposes their motives; they are not ready to learn anything but to get some cheap thrill. We need to watch out for arrogant attitudes and carnal motives and seek “the honour that comes from God alone” (Jn. 5:44).

  • The mirror image syndrome

This is an anomaly whereby a Christian slowly takes up the negative tactics, attitude and mindsets of his cult opponents. A person can become a mirror image of the very falsehood, hate and delusion he is contending against. Like Pogo, the cartoon character said, “We have seen the enemy and he is us.” I have cited one example of this pitfall.

Another example is the Shoebats. On the surface, they oppose Islam, but when you look deeper, you will find the same warped Islamic approach to the Bible and Christianity permeating their arguments. Those who soak in their writings can also develop such toxic mindsets as well.

I used to be in an online Christian group in 2013, and I observed that most of its members were always arguing over trivial matters and were impervious to any Biblical correction. It didn’t take me long to find out why: most of them were Christian apologists against Islam. They had apparently picked up the negative spirit of closed-mindedness from their regular Muslim opponents.

The dark side of the social media (and this is a global epidemic) is how it has butchered basic civility by an anonymous collective. The Internet already has the tendency to bring out negative traits in people, but the social media has eroded the last vestiges of verbal filters and restrain.

The moment some people are online, they are completely unshackled from their morals and are quick to descend into primitiveness. Once there’s a disagreement, the tenor and quality of most online conversations (even between Christians) readily take a downward turn; they become demeaning, rhetorically violent and lacking in basic conversational decorum.

This is why we constantly need to examine ourselves so we don’t lose our spiritual bearing and forget the eternal worth of souls all in the name of presenting the truth. The Bible enjoins us to be salt and light and this should always be at the back of our minds. When we stoop to the same level as the unregenerate, we undermine our message.

  • Debate addiction

Debates are good, but not all of them are fruitful, or necessary. Some Christians get into apologetics because they love to argue with others, but the fact is, much of apologetics is teaching. Most of the time people you will be engaging are ignorant (or have a distorted view) about what we believe, so you would need to educate them.

A person can get to a stage where he finds fighting pleasurable. Such a person would daily stroll through various fora to stir up fights; the hotter the debate, the bigger the excitement. Such folks are lonely or in despair and they get “high” on debate Adrenalin rush. They need help.

In apologetics, there is a time to be silent; a time to respond; a time to fight hard and a time to ignore. We must carefully pick our battles with wisdom. We are not to fight “like a boxer beating around the air” (1 Cor. 9:26).

There are times friends invite me over to help “vanquish” an opponent so that he/she would see his/her errors and become a Christian. I usually decline such invitations because they are laced with an unrealistic expectation. Even if some people see the dead rise to proclaim the truth, they will still not believe. Embracing truth usually takes time, personal study and a willingness to believe.

We can learn from Nehemiah who refused to waste his time in fruitless discussions with his opponents but instead channelled his energy into building the Temple. Our personal spiritual lives are also important and we must not jeopardize it.

Finally, apologetics shouldn’t rob us of fun and tenderness. I was recently chatting with a friend after he read one or two of my blog articles and he asked, “Victor, do you still celebrate birthdays?” I knew where he was going with that question because we’ve been friends since 2007.

I wanted to know why he asked and he said, “Many Christian investigators like you fish out the origins of everything!” I quickly corrected him with a Nigerian expression: “I don’t belong to that mould; I don’t carry pagan origins on my head like a bag of cement.” He laughed. But he has a point: apologetics shouldn’t make us rigid, cynical, gruff and unnecessary combative.

We must learn to meet people “where they are” – unless their worldview or practice poses a spiritual danger. We should learn to maintain a balance, enjoy life and sometimes, even laugh at our own selves!

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Fixing Our Eyes on Jesus

A while ago, I read a post put up by a bitter feminist agnostic, titled “Why I left Christianity.” I took my time to read it carefully because most “deconversion” stories provide clues into how people reject what they never had a proper understanding of. Like Gilbert Chesterton said: “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”

Of course, it was filled with what I had expected: “An elder in my church cheated on his wife many times; a pastor in my church abandoned his indisposed children and wife. I saw many things as a child,” and some other regular rhetoric of how bad Christians are (and apparently how morally superior she and her comrades are).

All her arguments are a desperate claw at reason. Her reasons for rejecting Christianity are as strong as a limp noodle. But one fact stood out: her gaze was not (and probably never) on Jesus Christ. I say this because I have walked that path before, and it leads nowhere.

In September 2011, when I decided to quit a craving that had enslaved me, I joined a Christian recovery program on Facebook. It was a group made up of largely men and women from African American backgrounds, with similar pasts seeking healing and victory over defiling habits. We share our experiences, struggles and pain and received prayers, encouragement, Biblical instruction and accountability.

I made many friends in the group, but things weren’t as rosy after some months. I began to see the ugly reality of the sin nature rearing its head in the group: hypocrisy, arrogance, deceit, hasty condemnations, strife, manipulation, intrusion of privacy and of course, some members were not there to recover; they were there to sneak people out through the backdoor back into their old ways of sin.

My zeal waned, and since online piety can be feigned and counterfeited (in fact, anybody can be anything they want to be on social media), I began to flirt with my old pattern of living and fell flat again. I was ashamed and I felt like a failure. To make it worse, when I confided in a brother from the group, he just snubbed me as if I had online leprosy. He never spoke to me again because I sinned (I chuckle now when I reflect on that).

All the encouragement others tried to give me didn’t allay my sadness, shame and guilt. I slid into depression for weeks and lost the will to live. I decided to stop fighting. “Let me just flow with this and stop swimming,” I said to myself. And soon, the sadness went away and my heart became hardened against living the Christian life. I left the group and severed my ties with all of these Christians.

It would take a couple of years before the Lord in His glorious mercy drew me again to Himself and helped me walk in victory. That is just one of the bad experiences I’ve had.

In retrospect, I can see why I fell. I was looking up to (sinful) people; I was trusting in a formula; I was fixing my gaze on myself and my abilities, but I wasn’t looking at the Lord Jesus. I feel in my spirit that some of my readers are in this shoe. You’ve trusted in your leaders and they’ve shipwrecked your faith. You’ve trusted in a religious institution, but it has led you astray.

You’ve trusted in a rite or a format and it has left you in the gutter. You’re still being defeated by that unclean habit (hard drugs, sex, porn, vile affections, theft, occult snares, name it). There’s a piece of the puzzle you may have missed:

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).

In Greek, the word “archegon” (author) means founder or leader and “teleioten” (perfecter) means a completer and finisher. Jesus has the power to rescue you and complete your faith. He sits before the throne of God to intercede for us. No human or religious intercession can match that of Jesus Christ. Only He has the power to completely deliver you.

“Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always live to intercede for them” (Heb. 7:25).

Many people miss this crucial step. They rush to the next prophet, the next deliverance minister, the next group therapy, the next retreat centre, the next “mercy land,” but they have never surrendered their lives to Jesus Christ and directly ask Him to deliver them completely. They have never sought Jesus to cleanse them, remould them and fill them with power to live as children of God.

No, I’m not against seeking counseling, instruction and prayer ministry. But first things have to come first. We are to be “rooted and built up in him [Christ], strengthened in the faith” (Col. 2:7). That’s the key of a strong Christian life. A house that is not built on the rock cannot withstand the wind, storms and flood of life.

Your ability to stand in spite of how others fail you is directly proportional to how deep you are in Christ. The deeper your root in Christ, the more your branches extend and the stronger you become. Many of what we struggle with linger because we have not consecrated our lives to Christ and fervently seek to serve Him with all of our lives.

We are all in a race. Your church leader cannot run your race for you. Neither your friends. Don’t let the floundering of people in the church divert you from the glory ahead. Follow Jesus personally with all your heart and He will work in your life.