Doctors terrify me. I have to get my wife to make appointments for general check-ups, or else they won't happen. I'm not afraid of pain, though I am afraid of needles. Rather, I'm afraid of getting diagnosed. If I'm feeling fine on a Tuesday, I don't want to learn that I'm deathly ill on a Wednesday, so I seek bliss in medical ignorance. Of course, this is the worst strategy imaginable for someone who wants to live a full, healthy life. Nonetheless, my fears overcome my better judgment when it comes to frequenting the physician's office. So it is for many, when it comes to apologetics. Asking whether one's beliefs are the right ones is terrifying. Moreover, I need to let you in on a secret. For as many folks as I've met who came to believe in Christianity after studying apologetic arguments, I know at least three Christian young people who left the faith, after rigorously weighing the evidence. The problem of evil, warfare in the Old Testament, apparent discrepancies between science and religion, and the difficulty of recovering an extra-biblical, account of the historical Jesus have led several young scholars I know to abandon the faith of their childhood. For instance, I've known people who claimed they bolted from the church after encountering divergent accounts of the Triumphal Entry (Mark 11, Luke 19, John 12) and contrasting statements about who told David to take a census (1 Chronicles 21, 2 Samuel 24). Others have left after being convinced by the work of the new atheists.
So what is a believer to do? Isn't it safer to whistle in the wind and ignore any evidence that one's faith might be misplaced? Yes. It is safer, if by that we mean less unsettling, or less likely to lead to a change of opinion. This is why I think so many Christians—both conservative and liberal—explicitly or secretly fear apologetics. It forces them to be open to change. And change, like divorce, getting a new job, or moving to a new town, produces high levels of stress. In the face of such threats, we back down. We lack the nerve to open our eyes and face the facts.
Where does this lack of nerve come from? A lack of trust that all will indeed be well. A little nagging voice whispers that Jesus might be little more than “Santa Claus” for big people. We've invested so much of our lives, given up good biking weather on Sundays to sit in hard pews, and banked everything on eternity. We've sunk so much cost into this wager that we can't fold now, right?
But what if all is indeed well? What if opening our eyes will lead to beautiful landscapes, clarity of vision, and ethical heroism. What, in short, if the evidence points us to goodness, truth and beauty? Even if there is only a slight chance that there is reason to hope, we have the moral obligation to hope.
Most importantly, however, a lack of nerve cannot be an excuse to avoid apologetic questions for three basic reasons.
- If you don't study the tough questions now, it is likely you will be confronted by the same concerns later in life; and if you don't have good resources at your disposal, you may just fade out of Christianity for no good reason.
- If you pretend to believe something you don't consider as true in any normal sense of the world, you are likely deceiving yourself and don't actually believe it in the first place. I'm not saying that one can't be a true Christian without apologetics; there are lots of people who believe true things without intellectual justification. Nevertheless, it’s unclear what one means by calling this phenomenon "belief" in the first place.
- I believe that the best explanation of the historical evidence is that Jesus really did rise from the dead.
This last claim is momentous, in that its truth-value has life-changing implications for a person's life. Therefore, whether you are a believer or an atheist, by exploring apologetics, you have nothing to lose but your illusions. And there's something priceless to gain...
Joy and Hope
I'm not talking about Pascal's wager here: I'm not saying you should wager that Christianity is true because it is a good value bet. I'm not saying you should wager on a belief for no good reason. Rather, I'm merely urging you to wager on investigating whether you should believe. What's the worst that could happen? So take courage fellow travelers: taste and see whether the Lord is good.