Give Them Shelter: Why We Can Never Separate Apologetics from the Gospel

There is certainly a place for a public defense of the Christian faith. We should be always ready to engage unbelief with solid, biblical arguments and willing to tear down the strongholds of deception with the weapons of truth. For this reason it is useful for Christians to gain some handle on the most common objections to biblical Christianity and equip themselves with substantive answers. The ability to expose self-refuting arguments and point out inconsistencies in the unbeliever’s worldview is an important tool in the apologist’s tool box, and some knowledge of issues related to science and history can prove helpful.

But all of this effort at defending the faith does little good for the unbeliever unless it is wrapped, at all times, in the gospel.

Hiding From God
Ever since Adam and Eve’s first sin in the Garden, man has been hiding from God, and for good reason. Because he now stands before his Creator with the guilt of original and personal sin, man faces the prospect of eternal punishment for his rebellion; and deep down, he knows it (see Heb 2:15; 9:27).

The first and most natural response of the human heart when faced with potential destruction is to find refuge from it. Adam sought refuge among the trees, and man now seeks refuge in sophisticated arguments against the truth of the Bible. Our work as apologists is to tear down the unbeliever’s refuge so that he no longer rests his conscience upon such flimsy protection. But is that all we should be doing?

If man is hiding from God, he is doing so because he doesn’t want to be destroyed. This response to judgment is entirely legitimate. But when we are successful at dismantling an argument or exposing an obvious logical problem in an unbeliever’s worldview, we’ve done nothing but help move the unbeliever from one refuge of unbelief to another.

But the storm of judgment is still brewing, and the unbeliever knows it. If we level his bunker of a fossil record by noting the current lack of transitional fossils, the neo-Darwinist will simply run to the shelter of punctuated equilibrium to keep God out of the picture. If we upend the plausibility of pleasing God with our good works, the religionist will just hunker down in her rituals. Wouldn’t you?

Christ Our Refuge
It is no coincidence that God is often referred to as a refuge throughout the Old Testament (see, for example, Ps 16:1; 17:7; 31:2-4; 73:28). The One from whom we hide is the One in whom we hide. God has given us ultimate protection from judgment in his Son Jesus Christ by pouring upon him the punishment our sins deserve. As the tempest of judgment swells, there’s no need to hide in the rickety shed of philosophical argument or religious exercise. You can–and must–hide in Christ by faith alone (Col 3:1-2).

When we are, therefore, engaged in an apologetic conversation with an unbeliever, we cannot content ourselves merely to refute arguments or note logical fallacies. There are plenty of places in which the condemned conscience is willing to hide if there is the promise of protection from judgment. If we withhold the gospel in our apologetic endeavors, we will be forever chasing people from one fortification to the next because they are constantly looking for anything to give them shelter. Let’s show them where they were always meant to find it: in the good news of Jesus Christ.

As for God, His way is blameless; The word of the LORD is tried; He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him (Ps 18:30).

Photo: Rich Savage

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