In his article on the use of apologetics, “What’s it all for?”, the author holds the view – confusing to many – that “I am definitely an apologist and in the same breath say that there can be no objective proof for the existence of God.” Some hold the view that apologetics is useful, others the view that there is no objective proof of God’s existence, but very few would hold to both views. The author writes:
“Apologetics was never really or initially about proving God to someone who did not believe in God to begin with. It simply wasn’t. It has evolved into that kind of thing, and along with it, it has become an cyclical exercise nearing futility. Rather, apologetics is about the process of critical thinking about the way we already make sense of reality and the universe. It is the process of checking ourselves (as theists) to make sure that we are thinking about our understanding of God correctly and accurately. And it works most of the time. It actually does provide a logical framework based on our existing worldview that demonstrates our beliefs about God and religious truth are accurate.”
So, the author maintains, you are not going to convince an atheist that God exists, definitely not that a personal God exists, and certainly not that the being of this personal God is a trinity of persons. Apologetics is of most use in a theist-to-theist discussion. As Greg Koukl puts it, all he is doing in his “Stand to Reason” ministry is putting a stone in someone’s shoe. Make that a burning cinder, and I’ll agree.
However, continues the author, that does not mean “I think apologetic conversations between a theist and an atheist is entirely useless. But the point cannot be to show that the atheist ought to believe the theist is right. That simply will not work. Rather, the point ultimately is to apply a critical analysis of the argument itself. The atheist will point out logical errors in the arguments because they cannot have any kind of confirmation bias to disregard them. However, the theist has to keep in mind that the atheist will also point out perceived errors based on the assumptions the theist does not share. That’s where the theist has to be able to recognize where the atheist are coming from so he/she can discern which objections are valid and which ones are not, because from the atheist’s perspective, they are simply not going to be able to tell the difference.”
What can be very useful for theists in discussion with atheists is to get atheists to think about their thinking, which, in a nutshell, is what philosophy is all about. Towards the end of the Backpack Radio episode “Thinking about thinking,” the presenter slips in the most significant remark of the whole episode: Christianity is foolishness to the natural man (1 Corinthians 1 and 2), and that without regeneration (being born again – John 3) – no matter how clear your presentation – no one can come to believe in Christ.
Having said that, logical argumentation, as the writer of “What’s it all for?” said above, can be very useful in showing atheists the inconsistencies they hold. For example, in Backpack Radio’s subsequent episode, James Anderson discusses “worldview.” He relates an anecdote about someone who used his book What’s Your Worldview?: An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions, in his apologetics class. The book is written in the form of a flow chart. The first question Anderson asks is “Do you believe in absolute truth?” If you say yes, you are directed to a specific section of the book; if you answer no, you are sent to another section. Anderson tells of someone who went through the book with non theology students In answer to the question “Do you believe in absolute truth?” about 90% said no. This answer led to a related track of the book. At the end of their journey, most wanted to change their minds.
Thinking about thinking, that is, philosophy, will definitely not save you, but it can certainly get your unbelieving knickers in a knot. And if you’re riding furiously towards Damascus, that knot might be the (unguaranteed) means that God uses to pluck you off your high horse. As Anderson said, world views seldom change, but this change may occur under a crisis (death-beds generally excluded). Ultimately it is a work of the Holy Spirit – who, of course, never fails in what He wants to do. The fact that God never fails in what he wants to do is something the Calvinists on this page, if not most Christians, believe?
God uses different means for different people. One of these may be apologetics. What it ultimately comes down to is that “No one can know God without His voluntary condescension”(Westminister Confession of faith), in a word his grace, which by itself is sufficient to save – through faith, both divinely generated that turns a sow into a cat:
“Try and teach a sow to wash itself, and see how little success you would gain. It would be a great sanitary improvement if swine would be clean. Teach them to wash and clean themselves as the cat has been doing! Useless task. You may by force wash that sow, but it hastens to the mire, and is soon as foul as ever. The only way in which you can get a sow to wash itself is to transform it into a cat; then it will wash and be clean, but not till then! Suppose that transformation to be accomplished, and then what was difficult or impossible is easy enough; the swine will henceforth be fit for your parlor and your hearth-rug. So it is with an ungodly man; you cannot force him to do what a renewed man does most willingly; you may teach him, and set him a good example, but he cannot learn the art of holiness, for he has no mind to it; his nature leads him another way. When the Lord makes a new man of him, then all things wear a different aspect. So great is this change, that I once heard a convert say, “Either all the world is changed, or else I am.”(Charles Spurgeon, “All of grace”)