But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.
— 1 Peter 3:15
Thousands of articles have been written about Christian apologetics. The church hardly needs another layperson writing about the defense of its faith. It is perhaps the deadest of the dead horses when it comes to online Christian discussion in general. On one hand, we should write about other things, moving on to theological issues within the church. I do believe unbelievers have been intellectually confronted by the church effectively for thousands of years. On the other hand, the apologetic situation, and thus the interest in writing about it, should never end so long as Christ withholds His glorious return.
What then is the purpose of an article like this one?
Could I possibly write about anything different than what has been covered already? Perhaps not, but I think I could offer a perspective on today’s apologetic as it relates to the success of the church. Now, I’m not making the claim that the proliferation of the gospel is primarily due to the church’s apologetic. But it does seem that, with a resurgence of apologetic interest, has come a growth of the church, globally.
The Purpose of Apologetics
It’s always good to remind ourselves what the gift of apologetics is for. First, it’s important to note what Christian apologetics is not, primarily. The first and foremost purpose of apologetics is not to attract unbelievers. Apologetics, while functioning as a persuasive tool, is not primarily intended for persuasion and the attraction of the unbeliever.
Second, apologetics is not chiefly intended to argue an opponent to the ground, so to speak. Too often, this is what apologetics is used for. Though the defense of the faith is a tool to “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God (2 Cor. 10:5),” it is not necessarily the priority of apologetics. Polemics, that is, the tearing down of an opposing position, is a secondary function of the defense of the faith.
So, what is the main purpose of apologetics?
In 1 Peter 3:15, the apostle begins with, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts.” That term sanctify means to set apart, or to, recognize as holy. An apologetic that does not first glorify God in this fashion is no apologetic at all. In fact, the two secondary functions discussed above, persuasion and polemics, cannot successfully occur to the glory of God unless this chief requisite is met within the heart of the Christian apologist. We can summarize the main purpose of apologetics as simply—to glorify God.
The Current State of Affairs
We know that God has antecedently made foolish the wisdom of the world in Christ Jesus (1 Cor. 1:20). But how is this being visibly manifest in our day and age? After all, the atheist thinks he’s winning the battle against religion, and the Christian thinks atheism is as good as dead.
Who is right?
A statistical survey is probably a good place to start if I am to give an update on the success of the Christian religion, in part due to God’s means of apologetics, over against unbelief in general. The Center for the Study of Global Christianity has reported growing numbers for the Christian religion around the world. By 2050, they anticipate 3.4 billion Christians worldwide. This takes into consideration not only census reports, but denominational reports and missionary updates from countries which heavily suppress the growth of Christianity. Contrary to this report, Pew research released a figure of 2.9 billion by 2050. However, they only took into consideration census data, not denominational data. Census alone cannot account for Christians in countries that have either outlawed Christianity or have attempted to suppress its influence (See more on the Pew/Center discrepancy).
Figures for unbelief, specifically atheists and Muslims, trail far behind. Islam is the closest world religion to Christianity with a projected figure of 2.9 billion by 2050. In 2010, Islam was recorded as the fastest growing religion in the world. However, the projected data is not as optimistic. Atheism did have a significant period of growth between the years 1910 and 2000, but from the years 2000 to 2010, atheism had the lowest growth rate out of all researched religions, being only .05%. That number is expected to decrease significantly over the next few decades.
Currently, the world boasts about 136,000,000 atheists as of 2015. By 2025, that number is expected to drop to about 130,000,000; settling at a lower 125,000,000 by 2050. The same consistent decline is expected for the agnostics, going from 694,000,000 currently, to 686,000,000 by 2050 (Cf. Status of Global Christianity, 2015, in the Context of 1900–2050).
If numbers are to be the judge of success, the “nones,” as they commonly refer to themselves, are in significant decline. But this really says nothing about the intellectual success of the church’s apologetic.
How Good is Our Defense of the Faith?
Success of our apologetic cannot be measured by numbers alone. It could be true that people are not interested in the intellectual rigor of the Christian position so much as they are emotionally responsive individuals, a trait not uncommon to the 21st century.
Perhaps the atheist apologists could have us by the throat when it comes to a rational defense of our respective positions. There isn’t really a great statistical table to show who has the better arguments. The worth of an argument, no matter it’s soundness, is typically decided by an audience who are either not educated in the subject matter, or who are only somewhat up to date on the lingo from both sides.
This makes the evaluation of argumentation difficult. However, from a purely logical standpoint, the defensive and offensive arsenal of the Christian apologist appears to far outweigh the unbeliever’s. We have in our toolbox about 2,000 years of theological and philosophical development within the church. Not only do we have the evidence to back up what the Bible tells us, but the atheist runs themselves into the ditch with their removal of any reason to care.
The atheist inconsistently shows concern for truth when, on their own assumptions, the worth of truth is pretty arbitrary. There is no objective reason for an atheist to find any value in truth whatsoever. This is, ultimately, a purposeless universe. The unbeliever builds a house of cards on a leaky raft! No matter their excuses for their foundationless worldview, whether those excuses come in a form of a foundationalism, they must admit a grounding problem.
There simply is no immutable basis for things like logic and morality. Of course, they would respond that such an immutable base is unnecessary. But, then, so is all their contemporary reasoning. They cannot pretend to have a meaningful, substantive, philosophy of life while at the same time admitting meaning itself is a conundrum of unintelligible flux. It makes no sense to, on one level, cling to some form of meaning; but then turn around at a deeper level, admitting that all meaning is essentially meaningless.
If Christianity, therefore, triumphs over any worldview it is the atheistic one, which is immediately diminished by a Christian-theological apologetic. To be sure, there are specific responses Christians could give to Islam, Judaism, or Hinduism (to name a few), but the most obviously defeated opponent of Christianity is that of atheism (both soft and hard types thereof) and agnosticism. The removal of a transcendent intellect, which lies back of all created material and abstract natural law is rational suicide. It completely ignores the tension between absolutely estranged facts and pantheism. Atheism, therefore, often finds itself groping for either unity or diversity. On one hand, exploration of individual facts is possible; and on the other, we are the universe experiencing itself. This paradoxical tension is conveniently ignored by the atheist at the expense of rationality.
A Personal Review of the “Nones”
I have had numerous conversations with atheists, both in person and online. It seems the tide is shifting, at least for a branch of these “nones.” Atheists have always made an appeal to emotion, whether it be in reference to the “God of the Old Testament,” or the Crusades of the Middle-Ages. However, now their emotional sales tactic has become more overt and explicit in the defense of their own system.
A resurgence of the problem of suffering has peaked its ugly head, and with it, an emphasis on the money-grabber heretics who like to earn a buck from suffering people… in the name of Jesus (this is indeed sad and unfortunate). However, this has been answered by faithful men like Justin Peters, who has spent his entire ministry combatting fools like Benny Henn, Jim Bakker, and Joel Osteen. This man is just one example of an orthodox contender for the faith. Moreover, Jesus Himself said, “For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray (Matt. 24:5).” Scripture accounts for false teachers, a fact these emotive atheists do not seem to understand.
I personally believe that a new emotional emphasis on the problem of suffering is the byproduct of years of flimsy Arminian and traditionalist-Baptist evangelicalism. These branches of “Christianity” present God as a God not in control of every aspect of creation. Believe it or not, this gives the wrong impression when it comes to suffering. Rather than seeing a God who has ordained all events for His own perfect purposes, many atheists understand God to be a God who could be in control of suffering, but chooses not to be. At least if one were to recognize the fact that Yahweh is in control of all things, then different questions must be asked by the unbeliever, questions which have answers in Scripture (Rom. 8:28). Whether those answers are desirable to those in the flesh is another issue.
Another response which could be given to this branch of the “nones” is the fact that one must make a distinction between system and action. No one identifies an employee with a business. If this were the case, a business could not fire employees without closing its doors. No, businesses remain distinct from employees and reserve the right to terminate should employees act incongruently with company policy. The same is true of the church.
Jesus said, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector (Matt. 18:17).” There are requisites in Scripture which serve as a framework for church operations. This is called the doctrine of ecclesiology. Unbelievers would do well to familiarize themselves with what the true church primarily believes before they begin to identify all of Christianity with someone like Jim Bakker or Joel Osteen. It’s simply ridiculous to fail to make such a foundational distinction, a distinction necessary for everyday life.
At first glance, with increasing vocal platforms, one may be tempted to think the “nones” are a rising force to reckon with. To be sure, they are a force to reckon with, but this must not exhaust the Christian in their desire to share the gospel. Unbelief essentially has nothing to stand on and we can take heart in the fact that it is in Jesus that all treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden. He is the foundation for our epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics. Without Him, we are like the atheists, always adapting to a moving platform which means a certain thing one day and another thing the next. For the atheist, evil is good on Monday and good is evil on Friday.
Statistical proofs demonstrate that atheism is basically a dying breed and that Christianity, in all its underground and persecuted glory, is to rise to 3.4 billion adherents by 2050. This is in comparison to a fraction of that number for unbelievers. Placing both the agnostics and atheists side by side, they add up to be less than a third of the Christian population by 2050. If a movement were founded upon the truth, and if people were basically desirous of the truth, it should follow that atheism and/or agnosticism would eventually triumph. There is simply no evidence that suggests this possibility.
Moreover, their argumentation is always built on a moving platform which is essentially adaptable to the desires of any given population. Listen, Hitler, Mao, and Stalin all had significant populations behind them, and they thought their basic ideologies were ethically correct. However, they were not recognized as correct by the rest of the world. Today’s example would be abortion, or ISIS. Proponents of either think they are doing the right thing as they suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18-20).
The rise of the “nones” is better recognized as the decline of the “has beens.” There is no reason to believe atheism and agnosticism are gaining in popularity. I grant it may be true that, in America, the “nones” have become more popular than they were in the past. This, however, is typical of ideological-sociological changes. But, globally, the world religions beat them by far, Christianity being of no exception. In fact, Christianity is growing more than it ever has under the pressure of persecution in places like North Korea and China.