This article first appeared in the From the Editor column of the Christian Research Journal, volume29, number5 (2006). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal go to: http://www.equip.org
Christians who have grasped the value of apologetics are well aware of the patience needed when trying to convince someone to believe or to act differently. We sometimes wonder whether we will ever reach that coworker who denies absolute truth and believes that all religions are right, that teen who thinks Christianity is boring and Wicca is cool, or that neighbor who is convinced that the Mormons who visit her are good Christians. We wonder whether we can ever be persuasive enough to reverse the destructive trends in our Western culture. Will our efforts to counter the latest popular theories thrown about in the media ever rescue the reputation of Jesus as historic and the Bible as authentic? Will our continuing public efforts succeed in saving the traditional family from erosion, the unborn from abortion, the disabled from euthanasia, and the student from Darwinism? We often present our best arguments for why a belief or action is false, wrong, or harmful, and why another is true, right, or helpful, and yet see seemingly little or no change in the persons, groups, or cultures to which we present them.
The result of our apologetic efforts is not always indifference or rejection, however. God can accomplish what is or seems to be impossible with man. Some of the Journal’s own authors, for example, were people who, though unbelieving, encountered the truth and allowed it to change their thinking and their lives profoundly. Elliot Miller embraced the truth of Christianity after having experimented with the philosophy and lifestyle of the 1960s hippie culture. Marcia Montenegro turned to the truth after being heavily involved in astrology, the New Age movement, and the occult. Lee Strobel was an obstinate atheist until his mind and heart were changed as a result of thoroughly investigating the evidence for Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Readers who are familiar with cult apologetics will recognize the names of former Mormons Jerald and Sandra Tanner, and former Jehovah’s Witnesses Bill and Joan Cetnar, who converted to Christianity after encountering the truth and became apologists to those who remain in the groups they left. Other figures throughout history, such as C.S. Lewis, Malcolm Muggeridge, and Simon Greenleaf, though uninterested in, or even opposed to, the truth, eventually turned not only to embrace it, but to become some of its staunchest defenders. There is precedent, then, that our friends and family members who are seemingly disinterested, antagonistic, or immovable may not remain so forever.
It generally takes longer to effect change in groups than in individuals, and the transformation often is incomplete, primarily because multiple wills are involved. There are examples, however, that long-time Journal readers will recall. Apologist Norman Geisler, along with a coalition of pastors, professors, and countercult ministries, convinced leaders of the Evangelical Free Church of America to reject an unorthodox view that one of its seminary professors had begun to espouse, that Jesus’ resurrection was not literal (physical). A lengthy series of exchanges regarding this essential Christian doctrine resulted in the denomination reaffirming the orthodox view. In another instance, Hank Hanegraaff opened the door wide for dialogue with leaders of the Worldwide Church of God, encouraging and counseling them as they shed their past unorthodox doctrines and embraced orthodoxy. In this instance the process took years, and not everyone in the denomination accepted the changes. These examples, however, demonstrate that patience and persistence in defending the truth with sincere but wayward groups may one day yield greater discernment within those groups.
Cultural changes, that is, changes in public opinion or public policy, are incremental and the story is still being written on most of the major issues. People are still examining the church’s reasoned responses to attacks on the historicity of Christ and the veracity of Scripture from such sources as the Jesus Seminar, The Da Vinci Code, and the newly touted Gnostic gospels. As the church continues to expose the flawed claims of such sources, a significant part of our Western culture in time may reject those sources rather than rejecting Scripture as inaccurate and untrustworthy. Regarding the holocaust of abortions, even if the U.S. Supreme Court does not overturn Roe v. Wade, apologists for the unborn still could succeed in convincing many women to reject this immoral “choice” and thereby reduce the number of abortions. Judging by the frantic tactics and tone of its advocates in recent years, Darwinism is struggling to maintain its dictatorial rule over the education institutions in America even as arguments for intelligent design are convincing many objective observers that the emperor has no clothes.
If this column sounds a bit like a halftime, locker-room pep talk, it is because it was meant to have a similar effect. Anyone who engages in apologetics can become overwhelmed by the difficulty of the task and the enormity of the need, especially when those who are in need do not recognize their need, but the examples here were given to act as a second wind to encourage you to press on. Keep studying, thinking, preparing, dialoguing, reasoning, pleading, debating, and lobbying. Continue looking for opportunities to share the truth that God providentially has led you to discover.
— Steve Bright