Why Do So Many Christians Dismiss Apologetics?

I love apologetics. It’s fun to teach apologetics, discuss apologetics, and offer reasons for what I believe to non-Christians who ask. Yet, quite clearly, not all Christians share my enthusiasm. Why not? Below are five common reasons why many Christians dismiss apologetics (thanks to my Twitter friends, acknowledged below).

Apologists have often failed to model gracious apologetics. Rather than blaming others, we apologists might do well to start by examining ourselves. Let’s be honest, we could probably all share a story where we failed to model the kind of evangelism and apologetics we see in Jesus, Paul, and the early church fathers. If you can’t think of a story, then you’re probably not even aware of your own blind spot! As I emphasize in A New Kind of Apologist, many Christians dismiss apologetics because they have seen apologists being arrogant, dismissive, and uncharitable to others. Many dismiss apologetics because of a bad experience.

Faulty understanding of faith and reason. Some time ago my father and I were speaking at a student conference in the southeast. Noticeably upset, a young female youth worker approached us afterwards and (essentially) said, “I wish you guys had a more biblical view of faith. We don’t need evidence. Real faith involves believing something without proof.” And then she stormed away. Sadly, this young lady had bought the idea that faith involves believing something blindly without evidence. If she were right, then apologetics wouldbe frivolous. But the Bible both teaches and models a different view of faith. Simply put, evidence is offered to give people a confident faith (E.g., Exodus 14:31; John 20:30-31; Acts 1:1-3).

Mistaken view of apologetics. A couple years ago I spoke with an influential youth leader about the present state of youth culture. When I inquired about his views on apologetics, he quickly dismissed it, even though his own research showed that many kids were leaving the faith because they had unanswered questions. As I probed further, it became clear that he equated apologetics with a cage-match where people defend their hot-button issue without relationship or gentleness. If that is what apologetics is, then I would dismiss it too! What should apologetics be about? Dallas Willard Perhaps said it best:

Like Jesus, we are reaching out in love in a humble spirit with no coercion. The only way to accomplish that is to present our defense gently, as help offered in love in the manner of Jesus.[1]

Not being engaged in evangelism. Motivated by my friend Brett Kunkle, I have been taking high school students on apologetics mission trips for the past few years. Inevitably, whenever we meet up with atheists, Mormons, student freethinking groups, Unitarian Universalists or people of other faiths, students become highly motivated to study apologetics. Students often study theology and apologetics late into the evening getting prepared for the next day! In my experience, nothing motivates Christians to care about apologetics more than evangelism and spiritual conversations. After all, once you start sharing your faith, people will inevitably have questions about the Bible, evil, evolution, and more.

Apologetics is often motivated by fear. Something stood out to me a few years ago at an apologetics conference—virtually every speaker used the hook of “fear” to motivate people. We were told to fear changing sexual mores, the growth of atheism, the tactics of various “cults,” certain theological movements within the church, and more. While there is undoubtedly a place for healthy fear, apologetics should not simply be a reactive discipline to changing cultural mores. Rather, we ought to provide positive answers and reasons for the supremacy of the Christian faith. Insofar as we are primarily negative, apologists will fail to inspire people to stand up for the faith.

There are certainly other reasons many Christians dismiss the value of apologetics. If you want to see a few more, which were suggested by my friends on Twitter, check out this interesting Twitter exchange. Here are a few samples of their insightful feedback:

@rickwade55: Apologists focusing on true conclusions rather than on the individual they’re talking to and coming to believe.

@triciascribner: Some believe that apologetics undermines the gospel’s supremacy, diminishing the authority of the Word and of Christ.

@smlabonte: I’ve heard people say that Jesus doesn’t need us to defend him. (Not exactly what apologetics is)

@DynAggelos: some Christians think it is unnecessary since the Holy Spirit and the Word of God ultimately do the transforming of the mind.

@prashanthdaniel: I’ve been told that its pointless nitpicking, argumentative and therefore divisive, Sean. Naturally, I disagree.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 15 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.

[1] Dallas Willard, The Allure of Gentleness (New York, NY: Harper One, 2015), 4.

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2 replies
  1. Jason says:

    An experience this morning that I think gives us something important to think about…

    This morning, while in line outside of the DMV, an atheist walks up into the line wearing a t-shirt that reads, “I’m going to hell in every religion.” A lady who said she was Catholic sees his shirt, chuckles at him and his shirt, and as she points to his shirt, she says,”oh really?” chuckles again and in a dismissive and somewhat condescending tone says, “I’ll pray for you.” Then she proceeded to ignore him and pretends he doesn’t exist. It would have been better if she just kept her mouth shut. Any chance I had to approach him with any Apologetic conversation at that point was not happening. She ruined it for me… and for him. He wasn’t having or hearing any of it after that. Why would this young guy want to talk to us Christians if and when we act the way this lady does? We Christians who often say, “I’ll pray for you” to everybody at every turn comes across as a way to dismiss people. It almost never seems sincere, and non-believers are at least intuitive enough to pick up on this.

  2. Michael Babbitt says:

    I came to Christ/Messiah through apologetics and I use apologetics to support my faith when questions arise. I have always been in search of the Truth and if my mind is not involved then I am not involved. I grew up in a mostly secular Jewish home and was Bar Mitzvahed (to Isaiah 51:12 -17). I became an atheist in my teens, and became a New Ager later on. Then I became involved in Tibetan Buddhism, and later Zen Buddhism. Later still, while again in New Age mode , I got into Hindu Bhakti – devotionalism – with Hindu gurus. I avoided real Christianity (had been A Course in Miracles enthusiast) because of my Jewish heritage and because my view of the Christian life was tainted by the many scandals in the Church. I went on to get my MA in Comparative Religion from the University of Washington and then just drifted along. I came to Christ after a friend turned me on to Greg Koukl, his Tactics, and his arguments (over the radio show) helped me let down my guard and consider Christ. Dr. Michael Brown helped me overcome my Jewish heritage resistance to Yeshua/Jesus, and I came to love so many of the apologist like Dr. William Lane Craig, Ravi Zacharias, and Gary Habermas, to name just a few. The Holy Spirit guided me to seek answers to my questions and guided me to find the apologists. And the writings of C.S. Lewis also helped. When I read or hear the apologists, the Holy Spirit fills me with a great mental and emotional brightness. When I battle a depression spike, It goes away when I hear apologetics. God uses apologetics to call many of us back to Him. People who are against apologetics seem to have a small view of how the Holy Spirit works. I love God with all my mind (in addition to my heart, my soul, and strength) and apologetics lets me worship God so much more fully.


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