Apologetics is the rational defense of the faith. We are called to contend for the faith once for all delivered unto the saints; and we are called to give an apologia to any who asks us about the hope we have in Christ Jesus our Savior. As is the case in any war context, it is not simply the weaponry one has at his disposal that will determine whether or not he has fought well, but also the strategy he employs against his enemy. We have the highly advanced weaponry of heaven, the spiritual weapons Paul speaks of in 2nd Corinthians 10:3-5 when he declares —
…though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…
We must use these weapons correctly, not getting sidetracked from our ultimate goal by smaller battles intended to keep us at bay.
This is something we must be reminded of especially when dealing with heretics, since they will often pride themselves on being able to “prove” their doctrine from the Scriptures, when in reality they are proof-texting passages of Scripture which only seem to support their heresy. This will often lead us into smaller battles over proof-texts, battles that are seemingly endless. This is a kind of spiritual asymmetrical warfare, in which the enemy, in essence, does whatever he can in order to stay alive and maintain the illusion that he is completely free from any authority other than his own.
The tactics such technologically underdeveloped enemies employ are —
1. Enlisting anyone, despite their abilities or lack of abilities, in order to make themselves appear to be more powerful.
2. Treating those who are enlisted to fight as completely expendable, abandoning them once they have been fatally wounded in battle.
3. Treating the enlisted as expendable, letting them violent deaths, for the sake of exhausting the will of the stronger power to fight.
4. Using the deaths of these expendable soldiers to gain some more time while the ones who truly hold power (i.e. the leaders of the enemy’s forces) are moved from one secret location to another.
If the analogy is becoming abstruse, we can translate the above into an apologetical context. Less analogically, we have the following —
1. Enemies of the faith will use any text, regardless of whether or not it bears upon the subject under debate, in order to make their evidences appear more numerous.
2. They will treat these proof-texts as completely expendable, abandoning them once they no longer are capable of being twisted to defend the heretic’s heresy.
3. The enemies of Christ will treat these proof-texts as expendable, letting them be argued against and refuted, for the sake of exhausting the will of the Christian to debate/fight.
4. They will use the time Christians spend refuting their abuses of these proof-texts to hide their underlying presuppositions, guarding them quietly behind a sprawling multiplication of logically irrelevant, fallacious, and unbiblical questions and assertions.
While Christians have the truth, we are called to apply the truth wisely. This is the case not only when dealing with personal and ecclesiastical issues, but also when dealing with unbelievers in debate.
So what does this mean?
We Don’t Have to Answer Every Claim Made by Christ’s Enemies
It’s tempting to think that a thoroughgoing response to each and every abuse of Scripture made by an enemy of Christ will be sufficient to convince him of the truth and lead him to salvation. However, Scripture doesn’t teach this….at all. Even when God himself refutes his enemies, reducing them to silence, this only inspires them to quietly conjure up another argument against him. For instance, after Jesus refutes the Sadducees and Pharisees in Matthew 22:15-33, we read the following —
…when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.
— Matt 22:34-35
You would think that these enemies of Christ would humbly submit to his divine greatness of intellect. Instead, they see this as an opportunity to gather together and conjure up another test for the Son of God. It did not matter a bit that he had just made fools of them by exposing their irrational and unbiblical argumentation. These men really thought they had a fighting chance – and so do all sinners outside of the grace of God in Christ. As the Lord Jesus declares to his enemies
“…because I tell the truth, you do not believe me….If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”
It was not the absence of the truth of God’s Word from these men’s minds that kept them in unbelief, it was the presence of the truth of God’s Word!
Consequently, not only is it not possible for us to answer every objection that can possibly be raised against the Christian faith, it is also unnecessary. Christ answers the questions of his enemies, thoroughly refuting them, and is still tested by them once they have finished licking their wounds. He flatly explains to them that their problem is not the absence of truth, it is the presence of truth. Fallen man recognizes the truth, the Word of God, and hates him for that truth. We must not fall into the error of thinking that we must answer every single objection made to the Christian faith.
Our Goal Must Be the Enemy’s Highest Authority, his Presuppositions
In the analogy above, the highest authority of the weaker military force is being protected by a seemingly infinite number of expendable soldiers. If the more powerful military force is to dismantle the enemy, it must kill their highest source of authority, the one who gives them their orders and legitimizes, at least in their minds, their kamikaze-esque rush headlong into certain demise. And so it is with apologetics: We must kill the highest source of our enemies’ heresies in order to dismantle their superficially impregnable resolve and seemingly endless supply of rebuttals, counter-rebuttals, and counter-counter-rebuttals. The source of Christ’s enemies’ authority is the set of foundational beliefs they espouse. These are the presuppositions that give their thinking its orders, and which legitimize, in their minds at least, their pepper-spray, off-the-cuff, ad hoc, scripture-twisting argumentation.
Once the highest authority is found, lurching around in the recesses of a heretic’s mind, we must bomb it dead, and dump it in the ocean of forgetfulness. This will disband the superficial unity his thoughts against the truth. And it will give us an opportunity to remind him of what he knows already: He is the image of God, responsible for bearing that image in a holy and righteous manner, but who fails to and, therefore, incurs the wrath of God.
From there, we can hope and pray that the Lord will give us opportunity to preach the message of Christ crucified for sinners under the wrath of God, and see him turn to Christ in repentant faith.
The End Goal
Ultimately, the end goal is not the humiliation of God’s enemies, but their conversion. It is to see the sinner come to grips with how absurd his fallen thinking is, and how much in need of the Savior Christ he is. If we are going to kill the highest authority over the heretic’s thoughts, we must also tell him about the true and immortal authority – the Word of God. Let us remember that this is warfare, but not according to the flesh.
Soli Deo Gloria