Sometimes I wonder why I, or anyone else for that matter, should be interested in apologetics. To whom or against what are we providing this defense?
At the moment, I’m not involved in a specific teaching ministry. In fact, I’m in between churches. After leaving a church where I was involved extensively in teaching apologetics, especially to young people, I am in a limbo of sorts. I haven’t continued to teach apologetics in an official capacity but I continue to be passionate about apologetics per se.
In this no mans land where I have found myself, I have had some time to search my motives, especially as they pertain to apologetics. Bear in mind, introspection is often complicated (at least my introspection) and most answers are a sign of my depravity. Hopefully though, there is a beneficial sliver of truth that is hidden somewhere in the messiness of my mind.
If you are involved in apologetics, I think it may be helpful to periodically spend some time examining your motives as well. If we would take the time to pray that God reveal our motives to us and seek the truth of who we are in the Scriptures, we would often be disturbed at just how rotten we are. We want affirmation and power and are extremely interested in promoting our selves rather than Christ. There are a few ministries in the Church that breed such a haughty spirit and a proud heart. I’d list the top three to be pastor, singer, and apologist, probably in that order.
On the other hand, when we get to the nitty gritty of what drives us, we also find a glimmer of hope. Placed in us by the Spirit of a gracious God is a new desire, another motive that is different and greater than the wickedness that seems to permeate our being. Our old man is being pushed aside by a new one and this newness of heart given to us by God (not self generated) frees us to become effective followers of Christ. It is not our motive but God’s will being played out in us.
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1, ESV)
Even at our best though, it’s often difficult to discern whether our motives are Biblical. Sometimes our bad motives can be conflated with righteous motives and the mix can be hard to separate.
Unfortunately, I have found that this mixture between good and bad paralyzes otherwise well-meaning Christians because they are afraid that their bad motives are more prevalent than any righteous desires and that the ends won’t justify the means.
While its true that good ends don’t justify ungodly means, its also true that the illumination of the extensiveness of our depravity does not eliminate our responsibility to obey God. In other words, when we discover that our good acts are often riddled with bad motives we remain responsible to act good.
If you go to church for the wrong reason, you should still go to church.
If you read your Bible to gain academic knowledge, you should still read your Bible.
If you pray to get stuff, you should still pray.
Do you see what I mean? If God has told you to do something, it doesn’t matter that your motives are not fully righteous. Do it anyway!
Now, how does this apply to apologetics? Let me list some all too familiar motives for apologists…
Self-affirmation, pride, academic respectability, anger, revenge, power, religious laziness, false piety, fear mongering, self-promotion, etc. (I’m sure you can add to the list)
I’m just going to say that everyone who reads this is guilty of most of these while doing ministry. I know I am.
Nothing in the whole nature of man, no power or faculty of the soul, is fallen under greater disorder and depravation by the entrance of sin than our affections are.¹-John Owen
On the other hand, some misunderstood motives that lie underneath all of our filth become, well, misunderstood because of our guilty consciences. Defense of the Gospel, defense of doctrine, argumentative process, logical defense, defense of the Church, defense of the Word, and even evangelism are ends to our means. The fact is that even though it is obvious to us that we are to provide these defenses, preach the Gospel, and make disciples; many Christians are frozen by bad motives. One reason for that is that we do not perceive apologetics as a means but rather an end.
Apologetics is a means to an end, not the other way around.
We don’t defend the deity of Christ for the sake of the defense. We do it for the sake of Christ.
We don’t defend the Church against wolves posing as preachers or teachers to do hits on narcissists. We do it for the sake of the Church.
To bear with the vices of the ministers is to promote the ruin of the church. For what speedier way is there for the depraving and undoing of the people, than the depravity of their guides?²
We don’t remove stumbling blocks to the Gospel because its fun to make a cumulative case. We do it to get to the Gospel.
We don’t give reasons for God’s existence as first cause of the Universe to display our prowess as cosmologists or philosophers. We do it to display the glory of God as Creator and Sovereign of all that is.
Apologetics is a means. The beauty and holiness of the Church is an end. The Gospel of Jesus is an end. The glory of God is an end. We should never confuse them.
God uses means to achieve his ends. He is not handicapped by our sinful motives. He knows us better than we know ourselves, yet he chooses to use us to give a reason for the hope he has given us. Realizing that is truly freeing. Living it despite ourselves is true freedom.
It really all boils down to this. Our hearts are desperately wicked. God chooses to use us anyway. He places in us a new man and commands us to go and make disciples (Mat 28: 18-20), be ready to give reasons for the hope we have (1 Peter 3:15), keep the faith we have been taught (Titus 1:9), and do it all for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). We are to do it all with a sound mind and a pure heart (Titus 2:2).
It would be easy to say “Good luck” and leave it at that, but we don’t need luck. We only need to be obedient to what God has already said. He provides the means and the ends.
Its good to take some time, probably daily, and do some self-examination. That’s part of our sanctification and it definitely gives us something to pray about. When we pray Father, not my will but yours, we are actively seeking to change our motives.
After that though, we should stay the course of apologetics because we are commanded to do so. We are the ordinary tools God uses for his extraordinary defense. His Word, His Gospel, His Bride, and His glory are at stake. Those are the ends. Apologetics are the means to an end.
¹Owen, J. (n.d.). The works of John Owen. (W. H. Goold, Ed.) (Vol. 7, p. 411). Edinburgh: T&T Clark.
²Ritzema, E. (Ed.). (2012). 300 Quotations for Preachers. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.