“People Do Not Come to Faith from Arguments!” 4 Objections to Apologetics

By Brian Chilton

Some time ago, I was in a meeting with pastors and other church leaders from various backgrounds discussing a potential ministry opportunity. I noted the importance that apologetics plays in the realm of collegiate ministries, especially with the mainstream attacks on Christianity from ultra-liberal voices. For instance, the collegiate ministry known as Ratio Christi has held a profound positive influence on the intellectual and spiritual lives of college students across the nation. To my surprise, one particular ministry leader said, “It’s my experience that people are not brought to faith by arguments.” The statement was shocking enough. However, I was even more bewildered by some who seemed to agree with him. I replied, “What do you say of Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, and J. Warner Wallace who were former atheists and became believers because of the evidence for the Christian faith?” The conversation quickly moved to a different topic.

I do not tell this story to demonize or demoralize anyone. The person who voiced opposition to apologetics was a good, caring individual who loves the Lord and the people he serves. However, we must engage the question he presented. Do logic and argumentation bring people to faith or are such disciplines useless endeavors? The mission statement of Bellator Christi is that it exists to take up the sword of Christian theology and the shield of classical apologetics in order to take Christian truth into the arena of ideas. But if people are not argued into the faith, this ministry would seem a bit futile, at least in the latter portion of the mission statement. So, are apologetic argumentations necessary? This article will review 4 common objections given to apologetics by the modern church. Each objection will contain an explanation and an appropriate reply.

Objection #1: Arguments do not bring people to faith.

The ministry leader I mentioned posed the first objection against the use of Christian apologetics. This objection claims that arguments do not really bring people into faith. Faith is a matter of the heart, not of the mind.

Reply:

One could provide several replies to the first objection. To keep the post brief, I will present only two. First, objection 1 is in reality a self-defeating statement. How so? Well, the objector is presenting an argument to persuade others that arguments do not persuade. The objection is much like someone claiming to be a married bachelor or saying “I cannot speak a word of English” in English.

Second, the Bible presents several examples where people came to faith or were persuaded to faith by various argumentations. For instance, the miracles and teachings of Jesus provided a case for His claim to be Messiah. The miracles served as a sign. Why were such signs offered? Signs were provided to present an argument for the Messianic claims of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus argues that “the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me” (John 5:36). In addition, Jesus challenged His adversaries to “search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39). Other examples could be offered such as Paul’s defense of the faith before various groups of people, including the Athenians. Consider Philip’s argumentation to the Ethiopian that Isaiah 53 referred to Jesus of Nazareth. All such arguments were used to bring people to faith.

Objection #2: The Holy Spirit brings people to faith, so argumentation is useless.

Some people have objected to the use of Christian intellectual arguments due to the assumption that the Holy Spirit leads people to faith. If the Holy Spirit leads people to faith, then why should one worry about intellectual argumentation.

Reply:

Let me first say, I wholeheartedly agree that the Holy Spirit leads people to faith. Jesus noted that when the Holy Spirit comes that He would “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because you do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged” (John 16:8-11). While the Holy Spirit convicts, we are told that we have a part to play in the evangelism process. Jesus also told the disciples before His ascension, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). One could argue; If the Holy Spirit brings people to faith, then why evangelize? Christians evangelize because God commanded us to do so. Through the preaching of the Word, people are convicted by the Holy Spirit to come to faith. The Holy Spirit uses our evangelistic efforts to save people. The same is true for apologetics. Intellectual argumentation is often used by the Holy Spirit to bring people to faith. While the majority of Athens did not follow Christ after hearing Paul’s intellectual defense of the faith, the Book of Acts states that “some men joined him and believed, among whom were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them” (Acts 17:34).

Another problem I have with this statement stems from the spirit of laziness that exists in some Christians today. I heard a person tell a pastor, “You don’t have to study to preach. Just follow the Holy Spirit.” While I wholeheartedly agree that a person should follow the Holy Spirit, I also accept that the Scripture tells us the “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1). How does a person test a spirit? One tests a spirit against the Word of God. Testing spirits require study. I truly believe that it is the increased biblical illiteracy and lack of study that has led the modern church into many great heresies.

Objection #3: No one has ever come to faith through argumentation.

Anti-apologetic apologists argue that no one comes to faith through intellectual argumentation. Why bother if no one comes to faith through argumentation?

Reply:

This is an easy objection to answer. The claim is false. Many have come to faith through intellectual argumentation for the faith. Among such converts include: C. S. Lewis (famed English professor and writer), Josh McDowell (author of countless Christian books), Lee Strobel (former legal editor of theChicago Tribune, atheist turned Christian pastor and writer), Fazale Rana (Christian biologist), and J. Warner Wallace (former Los Angeles cold-case homicide detective turned Christian apologist). These individuals only scratch the surface of those who have come to Christ because of the evidence for Christianity.

Objection #4: If someone is argued into faith, then someone could be argued out of faith.

Lastly, objectors to Christian apologetics often claim that if it is by evidential argumentation that one comes to faith, then one could be easily led astray by some other persuasive argumentation.

Reply:

This objection holds two problems in my estimation. 1) The objector does not understand the power of the Holy Spirit. If Christianity is true and a person comes to faith in Christ, then the Scripture states that the Holy Spirit will abide with the repentant person (John 14:15-16). Jesus notes that the Holy Spirit would lead a believer in truth (John 15:26-27). Thus, it would appear that the objector places less value on the power of the Holy Spirit than the advocate of Christian apologetics.

2) In addition, the objector must consider the following point. If Christianity is true, then it will always remain true. The truthfulness of Christianity will never change. Truth is unchangeable. Thus, if a person is truly convicted of the claims of Christianity and truth does not change, then the person (although doubts may come) will not leave the faith due to the truth claims.

Conclusion:

While I respect the objections made and the people who make them, it cannot be said that such objections hold any merit or value. Christianity is true. Period. If Christianity is true, then it is worth defending. If Christianity is true, eternity is at stake. Some people do come to faith when they are met with the evidences for Christianity. It may be true that some people do not require the same level of evidence that other people require. But, refusing apologetics to the one who needs it is like refusing insulin to a diabetic because not everyone needs insulin. It is, to a degree, a categorical mistake. Remember, Peter tells us, as has been noted several times before, that we must “honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

Check out this video by Brett Kunkle of Stand to Reason as he engages this issue: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0cS2xGUj5KQ

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from theEnglish Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

Visit Brian’s website at BellatorChristi.com © August 30, 2016. Brian Chilton.


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13 replies
  1. Kyle says:

    Taking arguments 1, 3, and 4 basically add up to saying arguments work but only to bring people to the faith. Looking at argument 2 and 4 the Holy Spirit is only powerful enough to keep people, but can’t be counted on to bring people to the religion. All this flies in the face of the continuing decline of religiously affiliated people in the United States and the rise of the non-religious which starkly counters argument 4. Reply 2 to argument 4 is close. Truth does not change. The truthfulness of Christianity will not change. It will always be not truthful. You can misrepresent it, use fallacious arguments, and whatever else you have at your disposal, but it will not change that fact which statistics show more and more people are understanding.

    Reply
    • Brian says:

      Kyle, when you say that you believe arguments 1,3, and 4 add up to saying arguments work but only to bring people to faith, what do mean by “only”? Where do you get that from the arguments presented?

      Your second point is incorrect. Please re-read the very first sentence of Mr. Chilton’s reply to objection 2. He writes: “Let me first say, I wholeheartedly agree that the Holy Spirit leads people to faith.”

      Also, remember the famous saying: “there are lies, damn lies, and statistics.” If one understands statistics, one knows that statistics say nothing. It is up to the user to interpret the correlations, probabilities, and frequency distributions produced through statistical procedures. However, for arguments’ sake, let’s agree that the fraction of religious people in the United States is declining. Your argument regarding the truthfulness of Christianity does not follow from that fact. Truthfulness is not subjective. That is, it does not depend on how many people believe it or not. Moreover, the number of Christians is growing in Asia and Africa. So using the reasoning you seem to be using above, this would argue in favor of the truth of Christianity.

      Reply
      • Kyle says:

        Point 3 just basically restates point 1. The conclusion is that people can come to faith through arguments. Point 4 says that because Christianity is the truth no argument can sway someone away (coupled with the death grip of the Holy Spirit). The end result of those three arguments is that argument can only be used to bring people to faith and not sway them away from it.

        “Thus, if a person is truly convicted of the claims of Christianity and truth does not change, then the person (although doubts may come) will not leave the faith due to the truth claims.” Just like in point 3 where the author rightly claims it’s absurd to assert that no one has come to faith through arguments, it would be absurd to assert that people can’t leave the faith through arguments which is essentially what is going on here.

        The regions in Asia and Africa that are growing are the impoverished nations and ones ravaged by Islamic terrorism. Things like Christian mission trips to Uganda to help them implement the death penalty for homosexuals is among some of the achievements you could claim along with the rise. When national religions are Christian and coupled with dictatorial censorship of the internet, you are bound to gain a few slaves, converts, and brainwashed followers. Yes there needs to be some analysis of the statistics. For the US it has been the rapid expansion of the internet as a tool for research and communication. The farm boy from the deep south 20 years ago would never leave his town and have only ever known of Christianity. Nowadays he can hop on his phone and find all the information he needs should he accept it.

        Reply
  2. craig mayberry says:

    Great article!

    in re: “Objection #1: Arguments do not bring people to faith” it looks like this is the standard canned response from the overwhelming majority of churchgoers because it allows one to be passive and lazy. There is a tremendous wall we apologists are up against and it is the “just love ’em into the Kingdom” “Preach the Gospel…use words if necessary” ad nauseum mentality. All these excuses are to get out of doing the heavy lifting of 2 Tim 2, 2 Cor 10, and 1 Pet 3. “Just being the Church” is A tactic for those who are hurting and know they are hurting, and know something is wrong and might eventually lead them to Christ. (Grace to the humble) For a proud, arrogant, self-righteous, self sufficient, hard hearted atheist like i used to be, “just love on ’em” will get you nowhere”(Law to the proud). You will NEVER find Jesus giving the good news of the Gospel to a proud person.

    A quite common response is in church is “I just want them to see Jesus in me”. My response as an atheist (and now a born again believer as well) is “Why?” John 3 tells us that men love darkness rather than light and have no desire for God because their deeds were evil. If I acknowledge who this Jesus is, then that means I hafta put my beer down. I had absolutely no intentions of doing that. Just because you want to love on me and buy me pizza everyday and form a life long relationship is NOT going to cause me to ask about the hope that lies within you. It’ll do the exact opposite.

    A persons good behavior and conduct is NEVER going to cause anyone to ask the person about fleeing the wrath to come, let alone making/accepting the claim that there is the supreme deity who claims ownership rights to my life as well as having the audacity to say that I’ll be held morally accountable to Him the moment right after my last breath is drawn.

    Coming from a scientific, rational, logical, thinking,non Christian, non religious, moral household being brought up with principles consistent with Biblical precepts, and a very warm loving household at that, I saw no rational reason to accept your Jesus. “Great…I’m glad that works for you…(with the unspoken implication of ‘don’t try to tell me that you think I actually need what you have'”)

    It wasnt til the Law was preached to me that conviction took place, then subsequent conversion. What lead up to this conviction was the presentation of the evidence. first about the world around us, then this thing called “reality” and “truth” and no matter how much I liked, didnt like, care, believe, or feel about it, these things applied to me as well and that I have a decision to make

    Please add my name to the list up there with Strobel, Wallace, Lewis. i know I dont compare to their caliber of presentation, but just to let someone know that apologetics works just great on “the little guy” too.

    Craig

    Reply
    • Louie says:

      Craig:
      That is cool to hear. I come from a situation where I always thought Christianity was the truth, but it wasn’t until I was introduced to apologetics that I was convinced Christianity was the truth. Everyone is different, so I would not expect arguments to work on everyone, just like I would not expect “lov’n on em”, to work for everyone.

      Reply
  3. David says:

    Brian, the very best evidence for your sensational claim that “Christianity is true” would be the return of Christ. How many more centuries should we expect to wait for this evidence? 10, 20, 50, 1,000? Are you surprised that people are giving up on this proposition? I’m not.

    Reply
  4. Steve says:

    ​There can be no evidence for God; a being which transcends reality, that which evidence is.

    There can be no evidence for God; a being which is imminent in reality, ordinary and indistinguishable from it.

    There are no absolutes aside from logical absolutes, which are all trivial; axioms, tautology, truism. All else are propositions which are labeled true, not via any means of assurity in knowing, but through warrant and justification; deliberation.

    Logic doesn’t entail truth in itself. Its predicate is reasonableness and it isn’t something about logic itself that leads us to accept any premise, relations of premises, flow of premises to conclusions. Logic also doesn’t prove anything in reality. It represents how people think, not how reality is.

    Sound arguments for and against the existence of God are easily had. Given their acceptance is not based on evidence, not based on logic, there is only a basis of abduction. In other words, what makes the most sense to say, given one’s experiences and impressions of the world.

    So, God and any debates about God, are merely, in all cases, assertions that “my impression is better than yours”.

    A Theist and an Atheist are best made distinct from one another by the single fact that one has an impression the other lacks.

    At the end of the pursuit of folks debating, there isn’t some truth discovered. What is owned is that God is a metaphysical proposition, and then by definition, neither true nor false (though there is a case after all, if one is not an Ignostic), but instead, only an idea that is meaningful or meaningless, worth something or worthless.

    What matters, and the only thing that can, about these senseless debates is that one leaves them having said something worth hearing.

    Sadly, few times is this ever the case.

    Reply
    • craig mayberry says:

      Ok Steve,

      lets say everything you’ve said is true. there is one undeniable fact you and i and everyone else face is that one day we will all draw our last breath. This begs the question “tell me about the hope that lies within you”

      If Christianity or any other religious worldview/belief is wrong or at best a matter of preference, please tell me you have something better to go on. Since we’re going to be dead a lot longer than we’ll be alive, it might behoove us to know with reasonable confidence what happens after you die.

      Craig

      Reply
      • Kyle says:

        Why do we need something to go on? It’s going to take billions of years of us being dead to surpass the amount of time we were not born yet. Why does it matter how life and the world plays out once we are dead? Why does the theist need to answer a question for which there is almost no evidence? How does the theist plan to support their answer with almost no evidence?

        Reply
      • Jimmy says:

        I too am confused about this need for “something to go on”. I don’t believe I’m going anywhere when I die, except to be burned into a pile of ashes. I’m really ok with that. I don’t even think I would choose to live forever if I could make such a choice.

        Perhaps more explanation from Craig is in order…

        Reply
  5. Steven says:

    I should add that at the point we realize that the idea of deity is natural and valid and not manufactured (given no thought arises in a vacuum and something about reality has given us reasons to think about gods), and the point we realize transcendent beings are beyond our experience, we realize there can be no evidence for or against God, that rational arguments for or against God are easily had, and that why we accept one of them over another has everything to do with experience and nothing to do with fine arguments.

    At that epiphanic moment, a person recognizes there are numinous experiences where our attributing them to the divine or to being human would be entirely random … were it not for the fact we are already inclined one way or another to begin with.

    Yes, there may be a God. Yes, there may not be a God. “God” only exists or fails to exist in what we attribute the source of our existential awe to.

    Reply

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  1. […] Christian blogger/speaker Brian Chilton expressed shock that a Christian leader told him, “It’s my experience that people are not brought to faith by arguments.” Then Chilton explained why that thinking, though common among evangelicals, is a persistent […]

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