As people who are interested in apologetics, there is a line that you are going to hear at some point. You might hear this from even your good-natured, well-meaning Christian friend. They are going to tell you that, “You can’t argue someone into the Kingdom.” I know I have said that myself, and I very well might have written it on this website before if you go back through the archives. I’m not sure.
I couldn’t help but think about this statement today though because it seems more and more like a straw man to me. It seems like it is setting up a false image of what apologists seek to do, and it then tears down that image. Let me try to explain a little bit more about this for you.
The premise that this statement is trying to establish is that apologists use arguments to try to turn people into Christians. In essence, our arguments are our evangelistic weapons. The funny thing about it though is that if you talk to just about any apologist, when you ask them to share the Gospel, they are not going to give you a long list of propositional arguments. Most likely, they are going to share the Gospel just like anyone else. After all, the good news of Jesus Christ is drawn right from Scripture, and there should not be a lot of variation.
Therefore, the first issue is that it doesn’t seem to be the case that most apologists seem to think that arguments get anybody into the Kingdom. They would rightfully say that salvation through faith in Jesus Christ is what does that powerful work. This is how we know that this is a straw man statement, and admittedly, I am going to stop using it now. It is true that you cannot argue anyone into the Kingdom, but, really, no one I really know tries to do that. They tend to be engaged in apologetics for another reason, and they put forward arguments for a more subtle purpose.
Because it is true that the Gospel is what will get people into the Kingdom, the reality is that there are many barriers that can sometimes prevent people from choosing to make that decision to follow Jesus Christ. Those barriers can come in a variety of different forms. Some of them are emotional. For instance, it is not uncommon to hear people who had a bad experience in church as a child, so that has kind of soured them on the whole thing. Other barriers are cultural. I just finished reading Something Has To Change by David Platt, and it seems clear that there are places in the world where some people out right see Christianity as a cultural threat and therefore avoid it.
Other times, though, the barriers are intellectual. Some people will come forward and say that they cannot believe in Jesus Christ because He is dead, and dead people do not rise. Other people will say that science has shown us that there is no need for any type of God, so we can just advance without that entity in our worldview. Still others will say that religion was good for primitive people, but we have evolved far beyond that in do not need that type of psychological crutch anymore.
These seem to be the types of barriers that apologists hone in on. People are making statements, and apologists are seeking to straighten wrong thinking. It is not necessarily trying to argue anyone in particular into the Kingdom. Instead, it is using logic to try to bring down barriers. It is not like breaking down these barriers will instantaneously make anyone a Christian. That is not what anyone says. Instead, breaking down these barriers will allow people to hopefully be receptive to the Gospel.
I think that sometimes people misinterpret the purpose of apologetics. Yes, it is obviously something that helps bring people to Jesus. That is 100% true. There are plenty of testimonies out there that will affirm as much. However, it is still the Gospel message and conviction through the Holy Spirit that make the change. At the end of the day, we all understand that Christianity is more than a set of propositions. It is also a relationship with a very real person. Sometimes I think that people think that apologists reduce Christianity to just an intellectual exercise, but I simply do not think that is true.
Apologetics is the exercise of breaking down intellectual barriers. As those areas are broken down, ideally people will become more receptive to the Gospel. Apologetics plays an important role in helping people realize that they do not need to commit intellectual suicide to become a Christian. It is possible, and admittedly more satisfactory, to be an intellectually fulfilled Christian. With that barrier broken down, for some people, they are more willing to consider what the implications of following Jesus might be.
This may seem kind of out of character for me to say. After all, I have studied apologetics for several years, and I have defended the field on this website and in other places many times. However, it seems to me that it just is not true to say that apologists are trying to argue people into the kingdom. Instead, from what I have seen and witnessed around me from so many talented people is that we are trying to help people break down those intellectual barriers that they use as a justification for not joining the Kingdom. The actual conviction is between that person and God. That’s not our job. But, we can prepare the soil and do our job to help people with the doubts they may have. If those barriers are intellectual, then certainly apologetics is valuable and necessary.