When we are equipped to defend the faith, we are a tool for bringing the lost to Christ and a help for the saints around us. But there's another kind of person we may meet.
Some unbelievers honestly ask questions wanting to understand why we believe what we believe and perhaps join us in the family of God. Other unbelievers, though, are not just non-Christians, they’re anti-Christians. These people are convinced that Christianity is synonymous with brain-death. They find every aspect of our faith absurd and think it is their responsibility to make everyone else see the light.
When Christians encounter these people out in the world, a battle of sorts should occur – a loving, grace-filled battle, but a battle no less. We should show them and all bystanders that Christianity is based on solid truth and that the skeptic is the one who has built himself a house of cards. Typically, however, Christians run for the hills or, worse, get trounced. Everyone sees that the Christian – and therefore Christianity – is intellectually inferior. The world sees these encounters and comes away convinced that Christianity is for the weak and the stupid. Lots of these encounters occur at the water cooler at work, but many of them occur in full public view.
One of the most infamous was the so called “Scopes Monkey Trial” where the teaching of evolution in schools was debated. The prosecution was Williams Jennings Bryant, a good man by all accounts and a believer. In comparing Darwinian evolution to the biblical view of creation, Bryant could have called theologians, apologists, and scientists. Instead, he called himself. He made a fool of himself, lost the case, and cemented in the minds of the other side the notion that anyone who dares question their pet theory is an ignorant rube that only just developed opposable thumbs.
We are at a point where society as a whole is starting to look at Christians – especially the evangelical variety – as mindless dolts. This is bad because it is untrue, but worse than that, it keeps people from coming to Christ because they either don’t want that association or they reject the gospel out of hand – because we are, after all, mindless dolts.
Being able to skillfully defend the faith is necessary to be the salt and light we are supposed to be in this society. We cannot affect this world positively if this world rejects everything we say out of hand. It is also necessary because we lose the ability to reach some people with the gospel as long as we have the unfortunate reputation we have.
People need to know that we have a thoughtful faith. If they examine the faith and can’t believe, it’s sad but their choice. If they don’t believe because we’ve let them think faith is unreasonable, though, that’s a tragedy of our making.
You may be thinking, “We need a practical religion, not theology and philosophy.” I want you to realize that this is very practical stuff. When a young mother wants to know why her baby died, that’s terribly practical theology. When your cousin is flirting with joining the Mormons, theology suddenly becomes very practical. When your friend doesn’t want to hear the gospel because he “doesn’t believe in anything he can’t see,” apologetics just jumped from philosophical conversation to deadly serious pre-evangelism. When you’re questioning why God is allowing unpleasant things in your life, a little theology – that God is sovereign, that God is all-powerful, and that God is good – becomes very practical.
You may be thinking that you’ll bring those people to church with you or give them a good book. But the odds are that most of them will not want to come to church with you – and if they did, would they necessarily find the answers they need in that week’s sermon? And while some will, many will not read the book – they’ll be polite and take it from you, but what are the odds that they’ll read it? Pretty slim. They’re going to be dependent on you to be their resource. And you need to have it readily available – on the top of your head if at all possible – because you never know what kind of opportunities you’re going to get.
You may be thinking that you’re not smart enough or educated enough to study this stuff. If so, that is patently untrue. More than that, you have to realize that the average person you’re going to talk to will know less that you. You don’t have to have a Ph.D. in philosophy or theology or anything else to study or use this kind of information. The average unbeliever doesn’t have one. He has some basic ideas regarding moral relativism, has been told that evolution removes the need for God, and may have seen a Jesus Seminar TV special or magazine article. Average believers can, with a little effort, equip themselves to deal with these issues and lead the unbeliever toward, if not to, Christ. You might at some point in your life find someone who has made attacking Christianity a hobby or even a career – let someone else deal with that one. But the vast majority of the people in your life will not be like that, and you can help them.
In all of this, remember that you cannot argue someone into the Kingdom. Only God can work on a person’s heart and bring them to Him. But we can help overcome their objections, questions, and fears and clear the way for them to come to faith.
I’ve tried to convince you of the need to study theology and apologetics. Here’s my last attempt … today. The unbelievers out there are watching us to learn whether or not our faith is real. They are watching our lives first and foremost, but then they will have questions. How we handle those questions may well determine how they will decide the most important decision they can make – the fate of their souls. No pressure.