In Christian circles, the art of apologetics—providing a reasonable defence for the Christian faith—is becoming increasingly prominent, particularly as social media simplifies the process of conversation on a global scale. How then can we become more effective apologists?
A good starting point can oddly enough be found in the words of Forest Gump: “Stupid is as stupid does”. Now stay with me here. Forest makes a good point: stupidity is not defined by one’s intellect but by one’s actions. We need to keep in mind and display through our actions that we are called to reflect Jesus—and he was gentle and humble in heart (Matt 29:11, cf. 2 Cor 10:1). Anything that works against us maturing in Christ is an impediment both to our spiritual health and to that of others.
So how do we avoid stupidity and impediments and promote humility when arguing that submitting to God is the best way to live?
There is a psychological phenomena known as the Dunning-Kruger effect: individuals who have a small amount of knowledge on a topic regard themselves as having higher expertise than they actually do. In other words, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing!
To combat this, we need to climb Mount Stupid. When we begin learning we climb towards the peak of Mount Stupid, imagining that we are quickly gaining ground… until finally we reach the point of having enough knowledge to see our own ignorance clearly. Then we uncomfortably slide to the bottom of the other side of the mountain, where we can resume a realistic self-assessment and can humbly grow.
The Apostle Paul learned this the hard way. It is widely accepted that Paul’s intensive training as a Pharisee and his knowledge of Greek and Jewish literature placed him in high esteem amongst Hebrew academic circles. However, it wasn’t until his eyes were blinded before being opened by Christ, and faith altered his mindset, that his education was put to true use and enabled him to become a servant-interpreter of his master’s thoughts and purpose.
For the Christian apologist, the quicker one can ascend Mount Stupid the better. Let’s just get it out of the way! The advantage the Christian has is that Christ demands humility from us from the beginning; he asks that we descend the mountain of self-reliance and come to him with a child-like dependence: “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 18:3).
An excellent starting point in the apologist’s journey to humility would be to consider if Christianity and its understanding of God stand tall when subjected to questions of reason.
Throughout history there have been many well-reasoned arguments for the existence of God. Cosmological arguments that revolve around the need for an intelligent creator, the mind and energy behind the Big Bang and thus the birth of the universe have been discussed extensively. Moral arguments have been put forward suggesting that humanity’s sense of right and wrong must originate from an ultimate source of morality. But it is important to keep in mind that logical arguments remain unable to provide reasonable proof beyond any doubt for the existence of God. We must as apologists come to terms with the fact that many answers can only be left to faith—whether others accept this or not. Why?
And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Cor 2:13-14)
The question of whether Christianity can stand tall in the face of reason will never be answered with a resounding yes. If reason alone could explain the reality of God then faith would become obsolete. The good news for the Christian, however, is that by the ongoing and transforming work of the Holy Spirit we are able to understand the reasonableness of our faith.
And so as Christian apologists we must arrive at the point of understanding that the God-given gift of faith via the Spirit provides us with the only means of truly comprehending God’s truth. Without it we cannot connect with the truth about his existence, his nature, and his revelation and salvation plan for his people. Let us therefore seek to use our intellect in a way that is humble and driven by faith, prayerfully acknowledging that successful apologetics are completely dependent on God and his purposes. God uses us more effectively on the far side of Mount Stupid.