Apologetics Don’t Save

Though truth can be analyzed, discussed, and debated, Jesus consistently points us to God

“I’ve fought against believing that I have faith because God gave it to me. It seems circular. Why do you believe in God? Because of God. True salvation must be more complex than that. Shouldn’t I get some of my toughest questions answered first? Maybe once I can name five supports for the resurrection, I can commit to faith. But, no.”

 

I recently read female apologist Nancy Pearcey’s testimony in Christianity Today. It spoke to my barefooted, California-raised soul. After a crisis of faith that led her to walk away from Christianity, Pearcey ended up in L’Abri, Switzerland. There she found:

….an enclave of culturally savvy Christian hippies who understood the questions she was asking and were doing the hard work of finding answers. They identified her worldview as relativism, pointed out its logical flaws, and discussed Jackson Pollock paintings and epistemology over candlelit dinners. In the shadow of the Swiss Alps, Pearcey became open again to the intellectual tenability of faith. Within two years, she had given her life to Christ.

I love those Christians. They took time to tackle Pearcey’s doubts. But it wasn’t the worldview discussions or Pollock paintings that saved her. I imagine she would agree with Tim Keller that this form of apologetics cleared a path to the gospel. The believers she met helped sweep away the clutter so that she could see the cross.

Pearcey’s story reminds me of the importance of Christian apologetics. My time in the Gospels reminds me that apologetics has its limits:

“But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”

If I take some time to look over all the things Peter witnessed in flesh and blood, Jesus’ statement seems incredible:

Peter was called personally by Jesus (4:18-20). He saw him teach, heal, and grow in fame (4:23-25). He had a front row seat during the Sermon on the Mount (5:1-7:27) He saw Jesus cleanse a leper (8:1-4), commend the centurion’s faith (8:1-13), and heal his own mother-in-law (8:14-17). Peter witnessed Jesus fulfilling prophecy from Isaiah (8:17), calming a storm (8:23-27), casting out a legion of demons (8:28-34), and healing a paralytic man of his infirmity and sins. He saw crowds of people come to faith (9:1-8). He watched Jesus show love to tax collectors (9:9-13) and he heard the parables straight from his mouth. He was even given power to cast out demons and heal the sick (10:1-9). If anyone could credit his salvation to experience and proof, it was Peter.

But Jesus says that it wasn’t what Peter witnessed or experienced that saved him. It was God. There were others who saw the same things yet remained in disbelief (Jn. 12:37). Consider the Pharisees. In John 8, they accuse Jesus of illogic and demand more proof: You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true (v. 13). Instead of listing his miracles or bringing up John the Baptist, Jesus says: Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. You judge according to the flesh… (v. 14, 15).

Jesus does not satisfy them with the answers they want: My judgment is true for it is not I alone who judge but I and the Father (v. 15, 16). When we examine the skeptic’s questions, historical research, and scientific data, we must remember that, according to Jesus, the way to determine truth is to listen to God: If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth (v. 31, 32).

Apologists love to bring up the Bereans. And rightly so! They with great eagerness examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true (Acts 17:11). But where did they of such noble character go to find truth? Did they double-check Paul’s message with the sages or logisticians of the day? No. They pored over Scripture.

I’ve fought against believing that I have faith because God gave it to me. It seems circular. Why do you believe in God? Because of God. True salvation must be more complex than that. Shouldn’t I get some of my toughest questions answered first? Maybe once I can name five supports for the resurrection, I can commit to faith. But, no. That is not my testimony. When I explain my salvation, I have to steal John Piper’s description: The Bible tells me what happened to me, not my memory and not my experience. What happened to me is, I was raised from the dead.

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