I am a zealous advocate for doing apologetics. While apologetics is defined as the defense of the Christian faith, the simplicity of this definition does not help one understand the complexity of the problem of defining or practicing apologetics. There is a great diversity of approaches when it comes to the task. Accordingly, I have learned and practiced apologetic techniques myself, and I have spent many years teaching them to others. For the most part, I use the evidential argument, but there are other methods as well.
While I find apologetics extremely important, the reality is that sometimes an intellectual argument is not what stops people from approaching the cross of Christ. Sometimes there are other factors, including the fact that some people may feel they are beyond redemption.
The reality is that sometimes an intellectual argument is not what stops people from approaching the cross of Christ.
In 2001, I moved our family from Lake Arrowhead, California to Carson City, Nevada. There were many good reasons for the move, but mainly we moved to be closer to family. My mother, grandmother, and great-aunt and uncle both lived in Minden, only 20 miles from our home in Carson City. Among the many great blessings that came from our move, the one that struck me the most was getting to know my Great-Uncle Al, my grandfather’s brother. My grandfather died when I was 12, and it was truly a pleasure to get to know Uncle Al better.
Uncle Al was not a Christian. He had spent years in his early life as an alcoholic, and as a result, he had destroyed his first marriage and split up his family. He had been clean and sober for many years and had remarried before I was born. He was a great man in many ways, but he also consistently dealt with the consequences of his deeply flawed past.
Over the years, we had many conversations regarding the Christian faith. I had over a decade to employ all my best apologetic arguments in response to him. From my perspective, both the gospel I preached to Al, and the apologetic techniques I used in our discussions all came to naught, falling on fallow ground.
Don’t get me wrong. Al was not opposed to Christians or Christianity. He supported me both emotionally and financially through my Ph.D. in systematic theology. I believe he loved me and did his best to lift me up as I pursued advanced degrees. Again, in many ways, he was a very good man. Toward the end of his life, I was serving part-time in a local congregation, and he would often show up and sit in the front row to hear me preach and teach.
At the ripe old age of 95, Al became very ill. I was never sure what he had but seemed that age was finally catching up to him. Many days I went to visit him in his hospital room and by his bedside at home to comfort him. He had no pastor; he only had me. And then on New Year’s Eve, I got a call from my great aunt as I was headed out to dinner with my wife. She told me Al was dying, and he wanted to see me. We adjusted our meal plans and headed over to see Al. When we arrived, I sat down next to him and started “shooting the breeze” about nothing. Al quickly grew weary of my beating around the bush and spoke up, saying, “Don’t you have something to say to me?”
Befuddled by his straightforwardness, I took a deep breath, stood up, put my hand on his head, and with a trembling voice, said, “In the name of Christ, I forgive you of all your sins.” I didn’t particularly feel I had the right to do this, but Al needed forgiveness right then and there. He looked up at me with tears in his eyes and said, “If you knew even half of what I have done in my life, you would not say that. I am beyond redemption. If you knew me, you would not even come into my house.”
I took another deep breath and sat down. I looked at Al in the eyes and said, “Al, Christ knows better than you all that you have done in your life. He has taken all of your sins on Himself, and all that is left is for you to stop diving down into the mire of all of your past sins and believe in Him.” “In fact,” I said, “He has set up the means even to give you that belief.” “Again,” I said, “Your sins are forgiven in the name of Christ.”
Tears were now streaming from his eyes and falling from his chin to his lap. He looked me dead in the eyes and said, “I believe.” In turn, I said, “And you are forgiven.”
Christ’s death is sufficient for all, even Christians.
Maybe the years of hearing the gospel had softened the soil of his dead heart. Perhaps my years of “doing apologetics” had helped some. Probably on his deathbed, he finally realized that where Christ is concerned, no one is beyond redemption. Al died in Christ six days later. I proclaimed the gospel at a private funeral for him two weeks after his death. I stood over his grave speaking the words, “ashes to ashes and dust to dust,” and declaring that we stand in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
My friends, you are not beyond redemption. You have never been. Christ’s death is sufficient for all, even Christians. You can do nothing; you will do nothing to contribute to his work on your behalf. Apart from Christ, there is no hope. In Christ, all hope will be fulfilled. “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Rom. 4:5). This is Christ for you. In Christ, there is no such thing as beyond redemption.