Thursday, February 6, 2014

Rethinking Apologetics: Why I Didn’t Watch the Nye/Ham Debate

I have been reading a lot this week about the debate between Bill Nye, the “Science Guy” and Ken Ham, the YEC. I didn’t watch it and really didn’t care to. 

One reason I didn’t watch this much publicized debate was because I was preoccupied with my Perspective students, equipping them to live as World Christians. Even if I had the time, however, I wouldn’t have invested it, any longer, in watching a battle of worldviews. Nothing much is gained by doing so. Did the world see a witness for Christ’s love and grace, did any atheist watching come to Christ after the debate, or was it simply another meaningless philosophical argument, with some meaningless scientific data thrown in, but no winners? 

Scientific data will not compel anyone to think, “oh, I should become a Christian, these guys are just too smart.” I have no idea who won the debate, and don’t really care. Of course, one side will say Nye had the better argument. Others will say Ham. It doesn’t really matter. To their credit, I understand it was a respectful debate.

Such debates over creation, and scientific data, tend to miss the point - God's purpose in creation. 

The fact is, creation is a mystery and I don’t find it helpful, any longer, to be dogmatic about a mystery. What is the point, especially when the purpose of creation isn't even discussed? Hebrews 11:3 tells us that "By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible"  The mystery is the how (ex nihilo) and when but more important is to understand something of the why (Colossians 1:16). 

Notice, I have now said “any longer” twice. The reason is, I once did argue and debate over these matters and thought I could so with the best of them. First, I did so from the atheist perspective, as I was a professing atheist for several years in my late teens and early twenties. Then, coming to faith in Christ, at the age of 36, I learned the apologetic arguments about creation. I could argue endlessly, in chat rooms, blogs and other social media forums - “defending the faith.” 

The result was, I never got anywhere. No one ever changed their position. No one came to Christ. It was a futile effort amounting to nothing but mental gymnastics that gave me a sense of intellectual superiority.  In fact, I found satisfaction in tearing down my opponents arguments, belittling their position, and threatening them with hell and damnation for opposing God. I could wield Psalm 14:1 as a bloody sword. I thought I was loving God with all mind and strength but did I love my atheist "neighbor" as myself? No and it was evident to them. 

Over the past few years, I have given up this battle. First, because I find no basis for it in Scripture, Neither Jesus, Paul or any of the other New Testament writers argued apologetics with atheists, over origins, cosmology, epistemology or other philosophical position. Sure, Paul talks about the condition of the unbeliever in his Romans letter (Romans 1), but this isn’t license to use those arguments to defeat others. Rather, they should inform us of who we are apart from the grace of God in our lives (Romans 2).

I still appreciate good apologetic reasoning, I just don’t find it all that useful in dialogue with unbelievers. It is not our job to convince people we are right in what we think about "how" we came to be. 2 Corinthians 4:4 tells us that the unbeliever cannot grasp these matters due to having their understanding blinded. Their worldview simply does not allow for them to think in terms of a God who created it all. And, then to make claims that the earth is only 6,000 years old, based on an accounting record of Genesis certainly makes no sense to them. I have come to think it doesn’t make much sense to me either and I'm not alone in that assessment.

I think rather we need to rethink how we use apologetics. Let’s visit the verse in 1 Peter 3:15 from where we get this apologetics idea. 

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” 

If you have been a Christian for any length of time, you know this verse well. You know that the words “give an answer” is the Greek word ‘apologia,’ from where we get our word 'apologetics.'

Notice that this verse doesn’t give license to use apologetics as a debating tactic. It instructs us to give an answer for our hope - when we are asked. Our hope is not in our cosmological arguments, or our epistemological reasoning. But in Christ alone!  That is why Peter instructs us to set apart Christ in our hearts, to revere Jesus Christ as Lord of all. It is for that reason, Peter tells us that when we give an answer to do so with “gentleness and respect.” I have repented of not doing so, which is another reason I don’t watch these debates. 

But we also need to put this verse in context. Peter was writing to a Christian church, suffering great persecution at the hands of a pagan culture. Still he says, their hope must be communicated in “gentleness and respect.” 

In verse 14, Peter writes, “But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed." Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened." 

Too often it seems apologetics today is used as a weapon against the threats of our increasingly pagan culture, as if we really have something to fear.  In Christ, we don’t. In fact, Peter tells us that when we suffer, for the cause of Christ, we are blessed. That is certainly a counter-intuitive idea for American Christians but a high calling in Christ. 

No, I don’t want to see American Christians or any of our brothers and sisters around the world, suffering for Christ. That’s not the point. The point is are we truly setting apart Christ, revering him as Lord, bearing witness to his grace, mercy, love and truth. Or, do we simply want to see the Bill Nye’s of the world defeated intellectually? 

The greatest apologetic we can offer the world is not a battle over origins. The greatest apologetic we can offer the world is the incarnational presence of the resurrected Christ. It’s time we rethink apologetics in how we love our neighbor as ourselves.  It’s time the Church stop majoring in the minors but embrace the “most excellent way” for Living Sent Today.


  1. Well said. Unbelief will not be overcome through argument--the way we as the saints are to overcome is through the blood of the Lamb (already provided by Him) and the word of our testimony (to be given by us). Jesus promised that when He is lifted up (and I believe that not only means on the Cross but also by us), He will draw all men (generically speaking) to Himself.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Judy. Blessings to you.