“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution… Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone.”
1 Peter 2:13, 16-17
One of my favorite courses as a philosophy student was called The Creation/Evolution Debate. It was a debate style course that examined the three main positions on the issue – creation, evolution, and intelligent design. It was taught by a wonderfully intelligent professor who happened to be dyed-in-the-wool atheist. The first few weeks in class we explored the theory of creation. Our professor took this opportunity to criticize Christian faith and to express all of his frustrations with it. He was relatively well informed, having read more Bible than most believers. I was the only Christian in the course, and maybe it’s just me, but I found it to be an incredibly exhilarating experience sitting under his teaching.
During the length of the course the good doctor and I formed a friendship and we continue to have a line of communication to this day. He recently filled out a reference for my seminary application. We had many conversations outside of class where I had opportunity to put forth a defense of Christian faith. We even went out on a double date with our wives. Though I never changed the doctor’s mind about Christian faith, I hopefully changed his mind about Christians. I consider our relationship to be successful from an apologetic standpoint. Above all else, it was an understanding of the gospel that most helped me navigate through this situation. What does the gospel teach us to do in situations like these? Here are a few takeaways:
Thank God for these people. You actually need these people. If no one ever challenges your beliefs then how can you know whether or not you truly believe them, understand them, or are able to articulate them? It’s only when you’re forced to defend your beliefs that you discover whether or not you truly understand them. According to the gospel, God uses all experiences in our life to conform us to the image of Christ. This includes the experience of our faith being challenged.
Don’t take offense
Defend your faith. Don’t defend yourself. Apologetics often goes poorly because we’re defending ourselves rather than our faith. When our faith is criticized we feel that we are being criticized. If Christian faith is simple minded then we are simple minded. But according to the gospel, we are radically weak, simple, foolish, and ignorant. But we are also radically loved and accepted by God in spite of this. A right gospel understanding of ourselves will guard us from taking offense.
Martin Luther, upon seeing someone living in unbelief, would often say: “there, but for the grace of God, go I.” His meaning was that he would be an unbeliever and an opponent of God if it weren’t for the saving grace that God had shown him. In your apologetic situations remember that the only reason that you’re in a position of belief and not in a position of opposition is because of the work of God’s grace in your life. If it weren’t for God’s hand reaching into your life to give you understanding you would be arguing against Christian faith too.
Remember Christ our example. “When he was reviled he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten.” (1 Peter 2:23). Why is this? Because he entrusted his case to God, the Father. He knew that even if he didn’t have the respect or understanding of men he had the love and acceptance of God. In Christ, so do we.