How to Defend the Christian Faith: Four Principles to Get Started

Joel Settecase | January 16, 2018

Photo Credit: Steve Halama

Photo Credit: Steve Halama

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“But there just isn’t any evidence!”

These were the words of Chris, my self-proclaimed atheist friend, as we sat together at an establishment on the North Side of Chicago. Chris and I had been meeting for several months to discuss the intellectual viability of the Christian faith.

His statement about missing evidence was frustrating. For the last hour or so, not to mention for the hours spent in discussion online and in person, I had presented him with exactly what he had been asking for: evidence from history, science, cosmology, and philosophy. I have been studying this exact question of evidence for years, and I had what I thought were irrefutable arguments, certain to destroy every possible objection and answer nearly every question about the Christian faith. I brought all these to bear in my conversation with Chris only to be told that I had not presented any evidence at all.

Simply winning the argument was never my goal; more than anything, I wanted my friend to know the hope I have in Christ. I wanted him to become a follower of Jesus and experience God’s forgiveness and new life. Yet for all my finely-crafted argumentation, he wouldn’t budge. What was going on?

That day, I learned first-hand that it takes more than evidence and facts to make someone a follower of Jesus. It takes total life transformation. And that transformation can only come from God – never through mere human effort or reasoning. Unbelief is just as much a matter of the heart as it is a matter of the head, and all the evidence in the world by itself can’t do a thing to change a heart.  

If you are a follower of Jesus, then you have experienced heart and life transformation from God. The Bible calls every transformed Christian to, “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). Part of that growth is learning to share the Christian message and the reason for our hope (1 Peter 3:15).

When we share the Christian message with the intent to persuade, we are evangelizing.

Often when we evangelize, our discussion partners will respond with questions and objections that challenge the Christian message. The discipline of answering those questions and objections — defending the truth of the Christian message — is called apologetics.

A person could spend a lifetime studying evidence and arguments in support of Christian truth. With the arrival of social media and video sharing platforms, Christians, skeptics and seekers have more access to new ideas than ever before. As a result, Christian apologetics has seen a recent surge in popularity over the last few decades, and there have been many excellent books written on the subject, which is wonderful.

But for the follower of Jesus with lots of desire but limited time, I want to recommend four basic principles that will help immensely without you needing to devote hours to becoming an expert in theology and philosophy.

Principle 1: Commit to believing the Bible.

The Bible is the foundation of the Christian worldview. In it we learn the story of the universe – that the Triune God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) created the world good and created man in His own image. In the Bible we learn that man sinned, and we have all earned death. In the Bible we learn that God sent His own son, Jesus, to become a man, live the perfect life, and die on behalf of sinners.

In the Bible we learn that everyone who confesses the Lord Jesus and believes that God raised him from the dead will be saved (Romans 10:9-10). The Bible provides not only the basis of our faith but the foundation for knowledge itself (more on this another time). A follower of Jesus must enter every apologetics discussion from the presupposition that the Bible is true.

Principle 2: Know the Gospel.

The heart of what you want to communicate is the Gospel — the good news about Jesus. It is the Gospel that is the “power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). Every Christian should be able to articulate the story of Jesus’s life, death, resurrection and reign, as well as the need to trust in Him for salvation. Even if you flub every other argument, you will have shared the power of the God if you’ve gotten the Gospel across.

Principle 3: Ask questions.

Learn to make fewer statements and ask more questions. How many times have you been frustrated by a conversation partner who only seems to care about hearing the sound of their own voice? Certainly you give them grace, but you don’t want to be that person yourself. Asking questions is vital to being a good conversation partner. It helps you create favor with the person you’re talking with and understand what they actually believe.

This is incredibly important when engaging in apologetics, because you want to make sure you are addressing what the person actually thinks — not what you think they think. As the Bible says, “The one who gives an answer before he listens — this is foolishness and disgrace for him” (Proverbs 18:13). Asking questions also helps you get to your discussion partner’s presuppositions, which brings me to the final principle.

Principle 4: Look for presuppositions.

Presuppositions are those beliefs we assume before we even begin to think about something. For example, before I look for evidence to determine whether a claim is true or false, I am already presupposing that my mind is rational and capable of examining evidence. I am presupposing there is such a thing as truth. And there are a host of other presuppositions I have to make before I even look at the evidence.

When you are engaging with an unbeliever, ask questions to draw out their presuppositions. What you will often find is that their conclusions do not follow from their presuppositions. As an example: someone who claims that the God of the Bible is “immoral” is presupposing an absolute standard of morality, that is actually impossible without the God of the Bible. Their conclusion cannot follow from their presupposition.

We will be looking at each of these principles (especially Principle 4) more in depth in the coming weeks.

Apologetics isn’t always easy, but it’s important. And it’s fun! Seeing how God has written His truth into the very fabric of creation (Psalm 19; Romans 1:18-20) is an awe-inspiring thing. And the more you learn it, the easier it gets.

Back to my friend Chris. I left that discussion exasperated, and he and I did not meet many times after that. He and his wife eventually moved to another city. I’ve continued to study apologetics, but he and I don’t have the chance to talk much anymore. If I could do it again, I would do a better job of listening and uncovering his presuppositions. And I would have asked a lot more questions. I continue to pray that the Lord will bring the Gospel to his mind and heart, and that he will meet another follower of Jesus to continue the conversation.

apologeticsJoel Settecase