Apologetics as a Spiritual Discipline

“Apologists…recognize that every Christian harbors within himself a secret infidel.  At this point apologetics [becomes]…a dialogue between the believer and the unbeliever in the heart of the Christian himself.”

-Avery Cardinal Dulles A History of Apologetics (Ignatius Press 1999 ed), xx.

“Only those who truly doubt can truly believe” is a quote I sometimes hear attributed to Augustine.  Whether he said it or not, it contains a grain of truth.  The simple fact is we all doubt.  Even someone like me who devours apologetic books like hippies devour kale chips goes through periods of doubt.

For example, every year I read through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation and every year I think the same thing when I read through Genesis and Numbers, “What’s with the talking animals? What is this, a Disney movie?” Those passages cause me to doubt the Bible, which causes me to doubt my faith.  But then I return to reading apologetics and things that too many Christians overlook like the lack of a materialistic explanation for consciousness, the odds against life, the necessity of an intelligent, powerful being creating the universe, the disciples refusal to deny the resurrection, etc.  all brings me back to the faith.

Apologetics is often seen as nothing but an academic exercise for eggheads with no life but it is actually a spiritual discipline.  The possibly apocryphal quote from Augustine recognizes the fact that we all doubt and that the only way to truly work through this is to prayerfully work though the problem with our God-given minds and the resources our Lord has given us in grace upon grace.  If we choose not to we will do one of the following: (1) try to delude ourselves into believing the irrational because it is irrational like Myron Penner proposes (which, in my experience eventually leads to either agnosticism or to a twisting of the faith into our own image); (2) simply pushing Christianity to one of the far corners of our lives to the point that  it is no more important than a gym membership we rarely use; (3) we simply walk away from the faith altogether.

Don’t get me wrong, a person may not be able to work through every single problem to a satisfactory degree.  For example, I still haven’t truly made peace with the snake in the Garden of Eden or Balaam’s donkey giving his owner sass (Numbers 22:21-39). BTW, ever notice that Balaam doesn’t seem shocked by his donkey speaking and that he just begins arguing with it and then loses the argument!

No, we may not be able to solve EVERY problem thrown our way but we have, with the invaluable direction of the Spirit, solved so many to such a degree that it towers above all other worldviews to the point that they all fail miserably.  So, whenever I read a Christian philosopher or advocate of intelligent design, I am not just feeding my mind but quieting my soul–apologetics is a spiritual discipline for helping those who doubt more strongly believe.