Tag Archives: Apologetics

In Defense of Apologetics

“If not you, who?”

What is apologetics, and how can it help the average Christian? Let’s work through that question today.

Apologetics is the reasoned defense of the truth of the Christian faith. The word apologetics comes from the Greek word apologia, which referred to a legal defense in court. It is used in this way by Luke in describing Paul’s defense before both the Roman Procurator Festus [Ac 25:8], and King Agrippa [Ac 26:1]. Paul himself uses the term when he asks the angry mob wanting to kill him to “hear my defense which I now offer to you” [Ac 22:1]. Festus used apologia to refer to the Roman custom of allowing the accused to defend himself against his accusers [Ac 25:16]. So, it is readily seen that this word has a legal sense of presenting compelling reasoning and/or evidence to persuade others (whether a judge or a mob).  Then Peter used that same term in his first letter to the church when he told Christians to always be “ready to make a defense [apologia] to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you” [1Pe 3:15]. This is the verse that led to the adoption of the term apologetics for this discipline of the faith.

But, that’s for preachers and seminary professors and professional speakers, right? It’s not something the average Christian needs to worry about, is it? Oh, but it is!Let’s look at how apologetics is a part of the Christian life.

  • Apologetics is part of your witness. You have to know what you believe if you want to share it with others, but you also have to know why you believe if you want to be able to answer their questions. While some may be blessed with the gift (and responsibility) of specific spiritual gifts, and some may be called to specific roles in the church, being ready to give an answer for the hope that is in you is a general duty that every Christian is expected to be able to perform.
  • Apologetics is part of both loving God “with all your mind” [Mk 12:30] and “watching your life and doctrine closely” [1Ti 4:16]. These are really two sides of the same coin: the first is filling oneself with true knowledge, while the second is protecting oneself from false knowledge. God does not ask us to check our mind at the door, but rather to use it to love Him. How do we do that? By studying what He has revealed to us in His word, contemplating it, and actively pursuing knowledge of Him. Objections often mischaracterize what Christians believe, and answering those objections has forced me to actively pursue that positive knowledge of God. But apologetics also helps protect us by discerning false doctrine, whether in the church, or sitting on some Christian bookstore shelves. That’s part of why Paul tells us to “examine everything and hold fast to that which is good” [1Th 5:21], and why Luke commended the Bereans for examining the Scriptures to check that what Paul was preaching was true [Ac 17:11].
  • Apologetics is a part of daily life. The questions that apologetics seeks to answer are questions that come up all around us. At a recent talk, some of the attendees mentioned objections or “alternative interpretations” raised when visiting family. Personally, I’ve heard objections in conversations with colleagues at work in the past. These aren’t simply abstract ivory tower questions for academics to ponder, but questions that arise in daily life for many of us as we interact with friends or family, or even deal with our own doubts.

Does it make any difference? Is it worth it?

  • Apologetics helps establish common ground between adversaries. If two people both recognize the same authority (such as the Bible), it’s easy to both agree on something because of that common ground. But where there is no common ground, there is a need to reason together & establish agreement piece by piece. Where Christianity is viewed by some as irrational or superstitious, the Bible is not even given a chance to be heard. Apologetics helps demonstrate the reasonableness of belief in God, thus putting Christianity back on the table as a viable worldview option.
  • Apologetics clears a path to the cross. While it’s true that you can’t argue people into the kingdom of God, you also can’t love someone into the kingdom either [1]. But you can remove barriers to belief, both by demonstrating deeds of love and by speaking the “truth in love” [Eph 4:15]. Sometimes, people put a lot of roadblocks across the path that leads to God, and then think they could never go down that road. While they still must choose to follow Christ, at least the path can be cleared for them.
  • Apologetics is often “pre-evangelism”. Sometimes we plant seeds to be watered by others later [1Co 3:5-9]. Other times we only till the hard soil of a stubborn friend’s heart for years on end, with seemingly nothing to show for a lifetime of loving investment. Yet this may be to make it receptive to gospel seeds that will be cast down by someone else in God’s good time. Greg Koukl likens many of his conversations with people in airports and restaurants to putting a “stone in their shoe” – asking questions about their views that will bug them and make them think about the shortcomings of their own position, arousing their own curiosity so that they are receptive to the gospel later [2].
  • Apologetics deepens your own trust in God. In working through your reasons to believe, and tackling objections to Christianity head-on, apologetics helps the Christian combat the doubts that are constantly thrown against them in today’s skeptical culture by confirming the sufficiency of our reasons to believe.
  • Apologetics is an inoculation against a virus. False religions, Christian cults, atheism, skepticism, relativism, indifference, and other views or attitudes can infect people like a virus. How do we prevent that? Before traveling to Africa several years ago, I had to get inoculated against several diseases such as typhoid and yellow fever, so that my body wouldn’t be susceptible if exposed to them during my visit. Those controlled exposures protected me far better than living in a completely sheltered, unexposed manner ever could. My body could develop antibodies against the pathogens because of that previous exposure. God is more than able to stand against the false options out there, so there is no need to isolate oneself from those false views. Rather, learn why they’re false so that you won’t fall prey to them when suddenly confronted by old, long-answered objections that are simply new to you.
  • Apologetics helps us worship God. We are called to worship God “in spirit and in truth” [Jn 4:24], and when we work through the tough questions to confirm the truth and understand it more clearly, our reverence for God is increased. Words of praise become more meaningful as we work through the implications of those words.

Is apologetics useful to the average Christian? Absolutely! But don’t think of it in isolation, as something only useful at certain times or by certain people. Rather, it is a tool to be integrated into each aspect of the Christian walk, from public evangelism to private worship.


[1] Gregory Koukl, Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), p. 36.
[2] ibid. p. 38.

Stumbling Over the Basics

As I wait another 2 months for the results from my engineering exam I took in October, I have time to reflect on the test and the last year of preparation for it, and see some applications to my Christian walk that may be of help for some of you out there, too. So let’s work through that today.

There were some pretty obscure scenarios that showed up in both practice problems and the real exam, and it’s good to know where to go to find the needed information to solve those problems. But some of the problem types I was working were just about guaranteed to be on the exam. While some problems caught me off-guard, others were practically required questions because they were basic concepts that the practicing structural engineer needs to understand, even if he works in a smaller niche of the overall profession (like steel connection design for me). In fact, for a long, timed test like this, the more typical design problems need to be almost instinctive so that you can make up time on them, knowing the more complex or more obscure problems will eat up that gain.

What does any of that have to do with Christianity? Well, there are areas of Christian doctrine that need to be almost reflexive for us. We should be so prepared beforehand that a response is immediate, as thorough as it needs to be, and – most importantly – true. Christianity is not something where you can just “wing it”, making it up as you go. But while knowing those core doctrines is important, it also needs to go beyond just intellectual assent. After all, as James pointed out, the demons can recognize many of those truths, but they shudder rather than rejoice in them [Jam 2:19]. That’s why Peter told his readers facing persecution to “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” [1Pe 3:15]. Of course, this presupposes that you a) have a hope in you, and b) that it shows forth enough for people to want to know why. But then Peter says to be “ready to make a defense”, i.e. to be able to lay out solid reasons. Out of a holy heart submitted to Christ flow actions that demonstrate the redemptive work of God and cause people to ask questions. And out of a prepared mind flow the ready answers to those questions. Then head and heart come together to demonstrate the truth of Christianity in word and deed more powerfully than either alone.

That word “defense” is the Greek legal term ἀπολογία (apologia), from which we get apologetics. In fact, 3 of the other 7 uses of apologia are related to Paul having to defend himself, either before an official tribunal or an angry mob ready to kill him on the spot [Acts 22:1, 25:16, 2Tim 4:16]. Now, you wouldn’t approach a court case (or an angry mob) without preparing, would you? That would be about as foolish as me going into that engineering exam without studying and working practice problems. But have you, dear Christian, thought about the reason for your hope? What happens when you find yourself “on the spot”? Will you ready to give an answer, or will you stare dumbfounded at your questioner?

Going back to the exam, I didn’t have to know everything (as if I even could). Most questions required some amount of consultation with my reference books just because you’re not going to have those kinds of things memorized unless the question happens to be in your specialty that you maybe deal with everyday.  So you need to know where to go for the answers ahead of time. But then there’s some questions that just come out of left field, and you find yourself having to learn the material fresh (and quickly) before even being able to attempt an answer. As a Christian ambassador [2Co 5:20], I don’t have to be able to answer everything on the spot, but  I shouldn’t stumble on the basics. When the people cried out to Peter “What must we do to be saved?” [Ac 2:37], he didn’t say “Let me do some research and get back to you on that….” But many questions or objections will require some digging. Do you know where to go for answers? Do you know your way around the Bible? Have you invested in some good references and figured out how they’re organized so you know where to start tracking down an answer when the need arises? Although outside help many not have been allowed in my exam, that resource is open to you! When you get those questions out of left field, do you have knowledgeable pastors, mentors, or friends you can consult with? Don’t forget that Christians are all members of the body of Christ, each equipped to supply what is missing in another [Ro 12:4-6, 1Co 12]. Thankfully, you don’t have to try to do it all yourself (nor should you).

In hindsight, it wasn’t being unable to answer the obscure exam problems that bothered me the most; and it wasn’t the in-depth questions that I ran out of time on. Rather, it was the simple questions that I knew I should know, but still stumbled on. Don’t let that be the case when granted the opportunity to share the truth revealed to us… the hope that anchors us… the assurance and peace we are blessed with… the “words of eternal life” [Jn 6:68]. Instead, be ready!

Skipping the Easy Questions

I’ve been studying for a big engineering exam for most of 2018, and have learned a few things in the process (OK, a lot of things…). One has been the need to be familiar with the subject matter. I know, that seems more than a little obvious, but let me explain. One of the subject areas covered in the exam will be bridge design. There are plenty of areas of building design that I need to study, but bridge design is one area I have absolutely zero experience with, and never had any intention of pursuing. Don’t get me wrong; I like seeing a well-designed, aesthetically-pleasing bridge as much as anyone, but I would’ve never in my life cracked open the 1,600+ page bridge manual if it weren’t necessary for this exam. So this has been one area I’ve tended to avoid in my exam preparations. Aside from the lack of experience with that whole subject, I’ll admit that there was a bit of intimidation at the 4″ thick binder. How could I ever hope to learn enough about all the intricacies of that code to apply it correctly? But then I realized something after taking a couple of practice exams: the bridge questions I was skipping to focus on areas I was more comfortable with were actually opportunities to make up time. As I reviewed the solution keys to the practice exams, I realized that many of the bridge questions were actually relatively straightforward questions… if I knew where to look. I was only shooting myself in the foot skipping them to work out longer steel design problems that weren’t worth any more points. Now what does that have to do with Christianity? Let’s work through that today.

Too often, Christians let the objections of skeptics go unanswered because it’s unfamiliar terrain for them. And yet, I would dare say, most objections are easier to answer than people assume. It’s understandable to hear that a prominent critic of Christianity, like Sam Harris, is a neuroscientist, and be intimidated by the fact that an obviously intelligent person like him doesn’t think Christianity is true. Similarly, one might shy away from confronting a famous Oxford biologist like Richard Dawkins. Yet, if you actually look at their objections, they often are the same type of objections anyone could make; their credentials don’t really add any weight to their objections. When Dawkins, for instance, asks “Who made God?“, you don’t have to debate genetics with him to answer that. You do have to understand what Christians mean by “God” since Dawkins doesn’t. But when he leaves his specialist’s niche to discuss basic questions of metaphysics and theology, he sets aside his specialist’s credentials and proves to be just as amateur a philosopher as anyone. This is just like if an expert witness testifies in court. Suppose the leading expert in the world on forensic entomology witnesses a hit & run accident and is called to testify in court; despite his world renown as an entomologist, his credentials are meaningless when it comes to this case. He’s just another witness who may or may not have useful testimony.

So what is the Christian to do when confronted by objections to the existence of God, or the historicity of the resurrection, or other common questions?

  1. Don’t panic. These are far from shocking new objections. They’ve been answered over and over again throughout the centuries; skeptics just don’t like the cold, hard truth.
  2. Be honest. If you don’t know how to answer, admit it. Nobody likes to feel like they’re being played, so don’t just make up something untrue or questionable to try to silence the objection. Acknowledge that it’s a question you hadn’t investigated sufficiently before, offer to get back to the person, do your homework, and then actually get back to them about it.
  3. Prepare ahead of time. How? Don’t be biblically illiterate. Sadly, there are atheists who know the Bible better than many who call themselves Christians. This simply should not be. God’s Word is supposed to be our “delight” [Ps 1:2, 119:47], and yet too often it languishes on the shelf, unopened, in Christian homes. Have you ever asked a grandmother about the grandkids she delights in? Or a rabid football fan about their favorite team? Those are some “subject matter experts” that delight in their area of expertise! Can we learn God’s Word better than a sports fan learns his team’s stats? I hope so. If that’s not the case for you, here’s some questions to consider. Are you reading the Bible daily? If so, are you thinking about what you read, or just checking it off your list? When you come across a passage you don’t understand, do you follow up with prayer, reading alternate translations, checking multiple commentaries, or talking to a more mature Christian? You don’t have to memorize the Bible (although if you can, by all means, go for it!). But understanding how it’s organized, the background of each book, the key points addressed in each book, and so on, can help immensely. Learning about church history is a valuable resource as well. The creeds and catechisms written over the centuries are especially compact summaries of the Christian faith, with great thought put into every word. There are lots of good (and typically free) resources available online, but you need to find good, theologically sound sources before you’re put on the spot.

You, Christian, may be the only “subject matter expert” on Christianity that an unbeliever ever consults. There are many who mistakenly assume that a preacher has ulterior motives for speaking to them about God, and won’t step foot in church or talk to him on a plane. You may very well find that you have better opportunities to introduce people to God than many preachers do. So don’t skip the easy questions, and don’t let answerable objections hinder your friends from recognizing the truth of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

The Right Answer… for the Right Reason

Know why you picked “A”…

If you’ve read this blog much this year, you know I’m hoping to take and pass a 16-hour engineering exam later this year. Needless to say, it’s on my mind a lot as I’ve been doing a lot of studying this year. Working through some practice problems the other day, I got the answer right, but for the wrong reason, and it got me thinking. In the actual test, I might not mind if I get an answer right in spite of a mistake in my calculations, or misreading the question. But when preparing for the test, the importance of understanding the why behind the answer is critical. If I get the answer right on the test by accident, then I may still get credit (at least in the multiple-choice morning session of the exam). But if I get the answer right by accident when I’m practicing for the test, and don’t verify my reasoning against a worked-out solution, then I’ll go into the real exam with a false confidence, thinking I know how to solve a problem type that I really don’t. Besides the potential repercussions at the test, there are consequences in my daily work, since the SE exam is, after all, a test of an engineer’s competence in actual structural design. For instance, suppose I find a clever shortcut for masonry shearwall design that will save me time on the exam, but I don’t realize that it only works for the particular scenario in the practice problem, and not for all cases. If I don’t understand why it worked there, then I may not understand why it doesn’t work on the exam, or why it doesn’t the next time I’m trying to meet a deadline and have a real-life shearwall to design. It’s all fun and games until real people’s lives are depending on your work being right. But… what does any of this have to do with the Christian faith? Let’s work through that today.

Don’t be content that you know the right answer; study to understand why it’s the right answer. Did you come to Christ because your parents were Christians and that’s what you grew up with? I’m glad for the end result of salvation, but, honestly, that’s a terrible reason for believing in Jesus. That’s no different than a Hindu in India, a Muslim in Saudi Arabia, or an atheist in China. Did you become a Christian because it makes you feel good? Again, if genuinely saved and that was your entry point, I rejoice at the end result, but believing anything because of how it makes you feel is also a terrible reason to believe it. Did you become a Christian because you’d hit rock-bottom and needed rescue? If that’s what it took for God to get your attention, then I’m thankful you turned to Him before it was too late. As Spurgeon said, “Happy storm that wrecks a man on such a rock as this! O blessed hurricane that drives a man to God and God alone!”[1] However, we all need rescue, whether we’re a homeless drug addict or a billionaire with a dozen mansions, and Christianity isn’t merely a self-help program for the down and out.

What is a good reason to become a Christian? Simply this: because Christianity is true. No amount of cultural acceptance or warm fuzzy feelings or self-improvement can make up for its falsity if it’s not true. But likewise, no amount of opposition can overcome it if it is true. But supposing it’s true, why should you repent of sin and confess Jesus as your Lord and Savior [Ro 10:9-10]? Is it because you need a little “helping hand”, a crutch, a nudge in the right direction? Hardly! That is like the pilot of a plane telling the passengers, as they hurtle earthward in a steep dive, on fire, the plane breaking apart from the speed of the descent, with seconds left to live before the inevitable crater and fireball, that they are experiencing some engine difficulties, and to make sure their seat belts are fastened and that they… “breathe normally”. The situation for them and us is far more dire!

You see, we are sinners. We tend to not like the condemnation that comes with that title, but it’s true, even if you were a “good kid” who’s grown up to be a model adult. Even on your best day, you still can’t say you’re perfect; none of us can. But it gets worse: when the Bible says we have all “fallen short of the glory of God” [Ro 3:23], it’s not just talking about what we’ve actively done against God, but what we haven’t done for Him. For instance, a child can be disobedient to his parents both by doing what they told him not to do, and by not doing what they told him to do. But God is the perfectly just judge who can’t be bribed, who won’t play favorites, and who will enforce a requirement for perfection in order to pass His exam. That’s pretty bad news for all of us. Can you see why a “little help” doesn’t cut it? This is why the Bible repeatedly explains that our good works won’t save us – can’t save us [Ep 2:8-9, Ti 3:5-7, Ro 11:5-6, Ga 2:16, 2Ti 1:9]. Salvation is a one-sided deal that has to come from God if it’s going to succeed.

Is it then just “fire insurance”? A “Get Out of-Hell Free” card in this Monopoly game of life? Hardly! The situation is far better than that simplistic (and frankly, selfish) view can even recognize. You see – incredibly – God actually loves us [Jn 3:16, Ro 5:8], and desires that no one perish [Ezk 33:11, 2Pe 3:9], such that He would send His Son to pay the penalty for our sins. That God would lavish such kindness and love and mercy on me is staggering! How could I reject that? And having accepted the free gift [Ro 6:23], how then could I see His gift as something to take advantage of and move on like nothing happened? No, thankfulness and worship of God are the only legitimate responses. And in fact, He created us to glorify Him, the only one truly and self-sufficiently worthy of glory [Is 43:7, 11, 48:11]. And from that gratitude and love to Him who first loved us, we give our lives in humble service to Him as our Lord [Jn 14:15].

As Christians, we are told to share what we know with a world in dire need of the Good News we have received, but may we never share false information that steers people down the wrong path. There have been far too many cases of people rejecting Christianity in response to a mere caricature of it, and often a poor one at that! As Christians who are “ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us” [2Co 5:20], we need to take that responsibility seriously. As C.H. Spurgeon once said, “Salvation is a theme for which I would fain enlist every holy tongue. I am greedy after witnesses for the glorious gospel of the blessed God. Oh, that Christ crucified were the universal burden of men of God.”[2] May we be faithful to our calling.


[1] C.H. Spurgeon, “Morning & Evening”, Aug 31.
[2] Spurgeon, “Lectures to my Students” (Hendrickson: Peabody, MA, 2014), Vol 1, Lecture 5, p.83.

How Apologetics Builds a Tougher Faith

Question: would you rather find out the roof over your head was ready to collapse before it actually happened, or after? Afterward doesn’t really help, does it? Now, a question for the Christians out there: would you rather find out where your trust in God is weak before it gets put to the test, or afterward? Maybe for some of you, if you were honest, you might say, “I claim I trust that God is good, and that He is sovereign… but if I ever got cancer, or my child died, or something bad happened on a massive scale (like a tsunami), my trust in God would be destroyed.” Honesty is good; it’s hard to fix a problem if we ignore it or gloss over it. But would your sudden distrust in God, or even a change to disbelief in His very existence, change anything about Him? If He exists and is truly good, and omnipotent, and omniscient, and sovereign, would your changing belief about Him change anything about Him, or just about you? Just you, obviously. Someone can not believe I’m an engineer all they want, and it does nothing to my credentials or occupation. Likewise, God is independent of our changing views of Him. So the issue here isn’t really about God, but rather the frailty of our trust in Him. How do you toughen up a frail faith? Let’s work through that today.

I used to work as an engineer at a company that made steel roof joists – like what you see when you look up in any of the big box stores like Wal-Mart. One of the things we did was destructively test a sampling of our joists to make sure they behaved the way they were supposed to. The picture at the top of this post was one such test. You don’t want to design a roof for 30 pounds per square foot of snow load, and cut things so close that an extra inch of snow one year collapses the building. With that in mind, the Steel Joist Institute required us to have a factor of safety of 1.65: each joist needed to be able to handle an overload of 65% of its design capacity.  However, we didn’t want to be right at that minimum where everything had to go perfectly in production to meet it. Everyone involved in designing and building the joist are fallible, after all. So we liked to see tested joists not failing until loaded to twice what they were designed for. And those overload conditions did happen over the years. I remember a case where a roof drain got plugged on one building during a bad storm, and the roof collapsed under the weight of an unplanned rooftop swimming pool. Thankfully, it failed when nobody was in the building. As it turned out, that was several times what the roof was designed for, and even in failure, the joists performed amazingly well.

We began to look for ways to make our joists tougher – that is, able to handle more permanent deformation (i.e. overloading) without breaking. We found that highly-optimized open-web trusses tend to have common failure locations, like the 2nd web from each end that is noted in the picture. Under normal loading, that web has the highest compression load of any of the webs. Why does that matter? Have you ever stood on an empty soda can? If you stand on it carefully and evenly, you can put your full weight on the can without it flattening. But if you wiggle a little (adding some eccentricity to your compressive load), the can immediately crushes without any warning. That sudden buckling is what we wanted to avoid happening in our joists. Instead, we wanted the long, drawn-out failure mode of tensile yielding that gives lots of warning first (like how silly putty or the cheese on pizza stretches a long ways before it finally pulls apart). Getting back to our joists, since that second web will tend to fail first, strengthening that one member on each end can significantly increase the failure load, and the chance for people to evacuate an overloaded building. I personally got to repair a joist that had failed in testing at that web, and then watch the amazing performance as it was retested. Not only did it pass the test, it maxed out the test equipment! Such a small change for such dramatic results. That test convinced me of the value of thinking about how my designs react when taken outside their design envelope.

Now, what on earth does any of this have to do with Christianity or apologetics? The Bible tells us that we are in a spiritual war, whether we realize it or not. Chances are good that at some point in the Christian journey, your trust in God will be severely challenged – overloaded, so to speak. How will you react? Are there weak links in your life that look solid until they’re actually put to the test? I’ve seen too many tragic cases of people claiming to be Christians and leaving the church after exposure to some event or some unforeseen objection “destroyed their faith”. Maybe they grew up insulated from any objections, or worse, were told that asking questions was bad. Their trust in God was just a house of cards waiting to collapse the minute someone brought up some of the objections of atheists like Richard Dawkins or Dan Barker (as answerable as those are). Or maybe they grew up thinking that Christian faith was some kind of charm against bad things happening to them (in spite of the overwhelming testimony of almost every book of the Bible, many of the early church fathers, and the long bloody history of martyrdom of Christians the world over up to the present day). That’s called being set up for failure. But apologetics helps us in the following ways:

  • It strengthens those weak links by forcing us to examine ourselves [2 Cor 13:5] and reinforce our areas of distrust with true biblical knowledge, supporting evidence, and sound reasoning rather than just gloss over them. For some, that self-examination may even make them aware that their faith is just a charade and that there is no actual relationship with Jesus as Lord supporting their “Christian” life. That’s an important oversight to correct!
  • In seeking to give an answer to those who ask for the reason for the hope that we have [1Pe 3:15], apologetics forces us to look at our beliefs from an outside perspective, anticipate questions, and actively search for answers so that we might be prepared. Knowing why you believe what you believe will strengthen your trust in God even if nobody ever asks you about your beliefs.
  • Apologetics reminds us that we don’t have a “blind faith” but rather a very well-grounded faith in God. Even when we don’t know the answer to every question, we are reminded that we can trust God based on the positive answers we do have. That is the very opposite of the “blind faith” skeptics like to assume Christians rely on.

May you be ever-growing in the knowledge of the truth of God, knowing with certainty in whom you have believed, understanding more each day how trustworthy God is, never failing to persevere through the trials that must surely come. Grace to you 🙂

Our Responsibility

Author’s personal photo.

I’m reading Dan Barker’s book “godless”, about his deconversion from a Christian preacher to a prominent atheist. It’s a rather heartbreaking tale of one person who should know better (but apparently didn’t) walking away from God for some bad reasons, and then proceeding to influence a lot of other impressionable people to do the same. If that isn’t a true tragedy, I don’t know what is. But what is worse is seeing how his friends and family couldn’t answer his questions/objections when he first “came out” as an atheist.  That deafening silence only strengthened his impression that Christianity had no answers. Sadly, Barker grew up in an environment that was  theologically, philosophically, and scientifically shallow, and mistakenly thought that represented Christianity, and no one he knew was able to correct those errant ideas. These were the people who had influence in his life and whose responses might’ve been meaningful early on before he hardened himself against any correction.

That brings up an important point. It’s not the job of your pastor or some famous evangelist/apologist/speaker/writer/blogger/etc to answer your friends’ or family members’ questions and objections. It’s yours. It’s mine. It’s every Christian’s responsibility – and a sacred one – to be able to answer those who ask us for the reason for the hope that we have [1Pe 3:15 NIV].  My pastor, according to the apostle Paul, isn’t expected to do it all, but rather is to equip me for works of ministry or service [Eph 4:11-15]. There are a lot of places I go to as an engineer that my pastor will never go to, and the same is true for every Christian. We all serve on a mission field whether we recognize that fact or not.

Maybe that thought makes you nervous.  Good! Becoming aware that you’re not as prepared as you should be is the first step. So what’s the next step after recognizing the responsibility we have? Recognizing the gift we’ve been given. Even though we may often get nervous about what kind of unexpected questions someone may ask us, as Christians, we sit on the richest resources one could ever hope for. In my office, I have a whole bookcase of books on structural steel design, connection design, finite element analysis, seismic design, and on and on. I have an overclocked powerhouse of a computer sitting on my desk, loaded with advanced and rather expensive analysis and design software from multiple companies dedicated to engineering computing, with thousands of pages of user manuals on how to use this advanced software. And I have knowledgeable colleagues in my office, and attend a ridiculous number of continuing education seminars and webinars every year on a variety of engineering issues. Plus, I have access to various restricted online resources for engineers as a member of several technical organizations, besides the plethora of (somewhat reliable) design information freely available on the internet. Being a Christian, in America, and not being able to answer basic objections, is like an engineer sitting on the wealth of resources I just described and saying, “The client wants to know whether this beam will support this additional load, and I just can’t figure out how to analyze it. Oh well, guess I’ll just let that work itself out.” As an engineer obligated to protect the public health and safety first and foremost, that’s really not an option. Whether I can answer immediately because I’m familiar with the issue, or whether I have to spend the next week researching and talking to other engineers, I have to be able to answer one way or another. If I don’t know, the correct answer is not saying “I don’t know” and forgetting about it; the correct answer is saying “I don’t know yet, but I’ll find out.”

As an engineer, people’s lives are on the line with my designs. And yet, if I’m in a building that collapses because another engineer made a mistake, I may die physically in the collapse, but I will simply be “absent from the body, present with the Lord.” [2Cor 5:8] On the other hand, when I choose to not answer someone’s questions about our eternal fate, I’m helping that person toward a fate worse than mere physical death. Of course, people like Dan Barker make their own choices and are responsible for them, but I surely don’t care to be an accomplice. So I desperately want to be prepared to explain both what I believe, and why I believe it. Opportunities to speak truth into someone’s life when they are willing to listen are often moving targets we don’t get a second shot at, so I’d rather be over-prepared than under-prepared. That said, I’ll leave you with something to chew on, regarding just what’s at stake, from performer (and atheist) Penn Jillette:

“I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward — and atheists who think people shouldn’t proselytize and who say just leave me alone and keep your religion to yourself — how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? I mean, if I believed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.”[1]


[1] “Penn Says: A Gift of a Bible”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6md638smQd8, accessed 2017-10-02.

Christian Continuing Education

The Book-Worm – Carl Spitzweg 1850

I just got back from a class that involved 24 hours of training over the course of 3 days. That’s a full schedule! That also included giving 2 presentations as a student, which makes for an exhausting schedule when you’re not much of a public speaker! 24 hours is  actually enough training to meet the requirements for my professional engineering licensure for a 2 year period in many of the states in which I’m licensed. But, none of this will count for any of my PE licenses. Why not? Because this concentrated training program wasn’t for my engineering profession. It was for my far more important profession as a Christian.

Allow me to highlight a few similarities I’ve noticed between the continuing education classes I’ve taken for my growth as an engineer and those taken for growth as a Christian. Some reason for taking these classes are:

  1. Pursuing continuing education instills a learning attitude. Formal training – whether seminars, webinars, correspondence classes, or traditional college classes – reminds us that learning is a lifetime process that we’ll incorporate into our daily lives. It develops a mindset of looking for learning opportunities, whether formal or informal. I could never learn everything there is to know about engineering – even my particular niche. But how much more vast are the depths of the knowledge of God! One thing that I find fascinating is that God can reveal Himself in such a way that a child can understand what he must do to be saved, yet one could devote a hundred lifetimes to studying the nature of God, and never exhaust that field of study.
  2. Continuing education expands our knowledge base. Last month I attended a 4 hour seminar on dynamic analysis of structures due to earthquakes, impact loads, and so forth. Some of those analysis methods were ones I’d heard about, but never used. One seminar doesn’t make me an expert by any stretch, but now I know what’s involved in those methods, and I have resources I can look back to if the need arises later to use those new methods. I’m more prepared for those possibilities now. Likewise, pursuing more training in things like theology, philosophy, science, and apologetics prepares us as Christians. It helps me to recognize the firm foundation I have in Christ, and be able to weather trials of life, “knowing whom I have believed in.” [2Tim 1:12] It also prepares me to answer questions and objections related to the truth of Christianity. It helps me to  “be ready in season and out” [2Tim 4:2] “to give an answer for the hope that I have” [1Pet3:15], that I may “know how to answer everyone.” [Col 4:6]
  3. Continuing education helps us stay current on new information/applications. While the basic forces of tension and compression and shear don’t change, our understanding of them and our ability to analyze them does.  In similar fashion, I was presenting last week on the ontological argument for the existence of God. I was using Alvin Plantinga’s reformulation of Anselm’s 900 year old line of reasoning. While God’s truth doesn’t change, our understanding of it with our finite minds can improve as we wrestle through certain tough applications or newly raised objections. Many times skeptics will mock one version of an argument, not realizing (or ignoring) that their objection has already been addressed by an improved version of that argument.

The resulting benefits of this commitment to ongoing training make us:

  1. Better informed. Just as shared technical knowledge makes for a more well-informed engineer, shared knowledge of doctrine and apologetics makes for a more well-informed Christian.
  2. Less prone to error. One common format for engineering ethics classes is the case study of past mistakes. The idea is to look at where an engineer went wrong, the results of that error, and how to avoid making the same error yourself. As Christians, we can also benefit from looking at past errors (like the heresy of modalism, for instance), understanding where the proponent (Sabellius in that case) went wrong, and examining our own views to verify we are not making similar errors. A good class in church history or systematic theology can go a long way toward countering unbiblical doctrine that sometimes creeps in. Apologetics, of course, also helps in that it focuses on why we believe what we believe.
  3. More involved. A commitment to learning and growing helps protect against apathy and laziness. When you’re constantly learning and seeking out new opportunities, it’s hard to not be involved. Remember how Paul told Timothy, “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” [2Tim 2:2] That’s learning and then not just sitting on that knowledge, but passing it on to others who will pass it on. That’s getting involved instead of being content to hibernate your way through this Christian journey.

Now, after all that, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that there is a danger in “always learning and never doing.” One could draw a parallel to James’ description of that dead faith that has no signs of life made evident in good works: knowledge that never gets applied is equally dead. But, if we comprehend what we’re learning about God’s nature and His plan of redemption and of the Gospel, we will be motivated to apply what we’re learning every chance we get, for the “harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” [Matt 9:37] So, if you’re a Christian, where are you investing your time? Are you “growing in the knowledge of God” [Col 1:10] as Paul prayed the Colossians might be? Or are you stagnant? My prayer – for myself, and every reader – is that we never stop learning of that unfathomable knowledge of God, and applying that in our lives for the glory of God.

Church: The Forward Operating Base of God’s Kingdom

African Church. Image credit: Freeimages.com/John Gardiner

Is church just a social club that meets on Sundays? Or is it more of what the US Army would call a Forward Operating Base (or FOB)? Let’s work through that idea today.

If you’re unfamiliar with the military concept, a FOB is a temporary stronghold in the theater of operations, forward of your main base, from which you can quickly deploy to fight the enemy. It’s a miniature version of your main base that strengthens your foothold in the area. It can be very basic or very elaborate. It is typically built up to resist attacks, but it’s main purpose is not simply defensive, but rather advancement: extending control into disputed areas. It provides a protected staging area to prepare you, the soldier, to defend friendly territory and go out into enemy territory. It’s also a place to return to for needed resupply, rest, training, and maybe medical attention if a mission doesn’t go so well. But ultimately, the mission is outside the wall and concertina wire of the FOB.

What is our main base? Heaven [Heb 11:13]. What is this world? Enemy-controlled territory [Eph 6:12]. What is our mission? To go make disciples [Mat 28:19-20, 9:36-38]. Are our churches to be little outposts of Heaven? Consider the following passages:

  • Paul explained to the Ephesian church that God established some as pastors and teachers for the equipping of God’s people, for them to grow in maturity and the knowledge of the Son of God… no longer blown around by every wind of false doctrine. [Eph 4:11-14] The whole purpose for a preacher getting up on Sunday morning in front of a congregation isn’t to help them feel good about themselves and give them warm fuzzy feelings. And attending shouldn’t be about checking an obligation off your list, trying to earn God’s approval (which is impossible). It’s about equipping you with the armor and weapons needed to survive the very real spiritual battles going on every day.
  • In describing the qualifications of church leaders to Titus, Paul said that an elder in the church must hold firmly to the trustworthy message he’d received, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. [Ti 1:9 NIV] You can’t hold firmly to what you don’t know. Your encouragement will ring hollow if you have no reason to back it up. And you certainly can’t refute an opponent if you don’t know what and why you believe as you do.
  • The pastor of the church should “preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.” [2Tim 4:2 NIV] This is focused training with specific objectives. Take full advantage of this training “on-base” before you need it out in the fray. People don’t like correction and rebuking, but it’s better to sweat in training than to bleed on the battlefield.
  • Paul told Titus, whom he left in Crete to oversee the church there, to “speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine.” [Ti 2:1] Doctrine – simply what you believe, laid out formally – is immensely important. Being sincerely wrong won’t help you in physical or spiritual matters. How can you fight for the Kingdom of God if you don’t even know about the Kingdom?
  • Paul instructed Timothy, another young pastor, that “what you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching…” and again, “the things you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others [2Tim 1:13, 2:2 NIV]. Teaching in the church is a serious responsibility [Jam 3:1], and woe to those that lead people astray [Mat 18:6]. But it can’t just be on the pastor; it needs to be passed on.
  • Deacons “must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience.” [1Tim 3:9 NIV] Don’t stay at a shallow level. Dig deep. Grow in your knowledge of God.
  • Paul urged Timothy to devote himself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching, and to teaching [1Tim 4:13 NIV]. A church needs to keep its priorities straight. If there’s very little Scripture in your services, that should be a red flag.
  • Paul said that he was writing the Colossian church so that no one would deceive them with fine-sounding rhetoric [Col 2:4]. There’s a lot of bad ideas out there disguised as clever memes and so forth. Learn the truth so you won’t fall for the lies.
  • The recipients of the letter to the Hebrews were warned that they should’ve been teachers already, but they needed to be taught the basics again before they would even be able to chew on meatier topics. Those deeper truths were for the mature, who because of practice had their senses trained to discern good and evil [Heb 5:12-14]. If you think it’s only the pastor’s job or a Sunday school teacher’s job to teach Bible truth, think again. We should all be working toward that so that we can disciple others just we were discipled. There’s a lot of people in this world that would never step foot in a church that you may be able to help. And the words “disciple” and “discipline” aren’t similar by coincidence; a mature Christian doesn’t get that way without disciplined training, and prayer, and putting the Word into practice daily.

Do you get the impression that church shouldn’t be about simply getting together, but rather about being prepared to go out? The Bible tells Christians in almost every book of the New Testament that they will be hated, persecuted, mocked, tortured, and killed on account of bearing the name of Christ. Would you go out into a fierce battle without body armor and lots of ammo? Has any soldier ever lamented being too prepared, or bringing too much ammo? And yet, too many Christians go about their daily tasks without the shield of faith and the sword that is God’s Word [Eph 6:10-17]. A base doesn’t do any good if everybody stays huddled inside. It’s only in the soldiers going outside the walls that they can engage the enemy, take ground, and rescue people trapped by the enemy. Likewise, a church that isn’t training and equipping Christians to go outside the walls has really forgotten (or shirked) its mission. So choose this day whom you will serve, and mount up, Christian. There’s a world dying right outside our gates, and we need to be about the King’s mission.

Intellectual Sparring

“I Am Sir Lancelot” by N.C. Wyeth, 1922

Have you ever taken part in a debate, or watched one? A question is proposed. A champion comes forward from each side to show why their answer to the question is correct. In a formal debate, they’ve prepared well in advance. The debate may be oral or a written exchange. Some debates will have the audience vote on who “won” the debate. Hopefully, this isn’t just a popularity contest, with the winner decided based on their charisma or their pithy comebacks. Rather, it should be based on who has justified their view the best, who has defended their conclusion by supporting it with true premises using clear terms. Why? A conclusion that logically follows from true premises using unequivocal terms forms an airtight case. If one side can do that, they have won the debate. But is winning the debate the end goal? With our inherent competitiveness, that tends to be the case, but it shouldn’t be. As philosopher Peter Kreeft points out, the real goal should be for both sides to come to agree on the independent truth, regardless of which one found it first.[1] If you prove your point and win the debate, but nobody changes their mind, what have you actually won? What about the debate between atheists and Christians? Is it just about winning an intellectual battle? On the contrary, this issue, above all others, is far from simply an intellectual exercise or game. There are very serious implications. As Blaise Pascal wrote in his Pensées, “It concerns all our life to know whether the soul be mortal or immortal.”[2]

One danger in debating the topics such as the existence of God, the deity of Jesus, the reliability of the Bible, and so on, is that we can be lulled into seeing it as just a game – a sort of intellectual sparring, a competition to see who can win the argument and beat their rival. But these are not simply interesting questions to ponder, or tricky propositions to show off our reasoning prowess. These are truly life and death problems (greater even than life and death, if the warnings of the Bible are true). Luke tells us in Acts 24 of the apostle Paul’s journey through the Jewish/Roman legal system. There we read of Paul’s encounter with the Governor, Felix. After hearing from Paul’s accusers, then from Paul, Felix put them off and kept Paul under house arrest. Hoping to get a bribe from Paul, Felix would send for him often to converse with him.[Acts 24:26] But of course, Paul never offered the bribe Felix was hoping for, only frightening talk of “righteousness, self-control, and the judgement to come.”[Acts 24:25] Two years passed like this, and Felix was replaced by a new governor, while Paul continued to await a fair trial. Felix had at his disposal the author of almost half the books of the New Testament, and talked to him often. And yet, there was no repentance, no change. It was only a game to him.

Is that you today? Are topics like the existence of God and the historicity of Jesus Christ simply interesting topics to discuss, idle speculations, or maybe even amusing subjects of ridicule? Understand the seriousness of the stakes. Death is a certainty for every one of us, and it may take any of us at a moment’s notice. It behooves us then to do our due diligence when it comes to determining if there is another stage to life that we should be preparing for now, for we know not how soon we may be expected to pass through that door. It’d be good to learn what’s awaiting you on the other side. While strictly speaking, atheism only claims that God does not exist, it typically coincides with a materialistic view that there is nothing supernatural (i.e. beyond nature), and that there is therefore nothing of a person that survives physical death. Under Christianity, that point of physical death is simply a point on a person’s timeline that started shortly before and continues on afterward infinitely. It is only a transition and not an ending. It is a change in container (the material body), but not in content (the immaterial soul). That completely revolutionizes how we perceive difficulties, suffering and other unfairness in life, or the perceived unfairness of an unusually short life.

On the other hand, maybe you are not opposed to God, per se, like the atheist, but are simply indifferent. You see no reason to bother with the question. Consider another observation from Blaise Pascal:

“The immortality of the soul is a matter which is of so great consequence to us, and which touches us so profoundly, that we must have lost all feeling to be indifferent as to knowing what it is. All our actions and thoughts must take such different courses, according as there are or are not eternal joys to hope for, that it is impossible to take one step with sense and judgment, unless we regulate our course by our view of this point which ought to be our ultimate end. Thus our first interest and our first duty is to enlighten ourselves on this subject, whereon depends all our conduct.” [3]

Don’t make the mistake of neglecting that “first duty”. A temporary agnosticism on any subject while you are investigating it is commendable; careful considerations generally turn out better than rash decisions, after all. But prolonged agnosticism is only the trap of apathy and indifference in disguise. You may say that you refuse to choose – that you are agnostic – but as Peter Kreeft has so deftly stated, “to every possible question, life presents three possible answers: Yes, No and Evasion. Death removes the third answer… Death turns agnosticism into atheism. For death turns ‘Tomorrow’ into ‘Never’.”[4] You may not have tomorrow; hence the biblical warning “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.”[Heb 4:7] Have you made the right choice? Not sure? Contact me and we can discuss any questions you have.


[1] Kreeft, Peter, Socratic Logic, (South Bend: St. Augustine’s Press, 2010), p. 346. “Socrates sees himself and ‘O’ [the opponent] not as a winner and a loser but as two scientists mutually seeking the truth by testing two alternative hypotheses. Whichever one finds the truth, both are winners.”
[2] Pascal, Blaise, Pascal’s Pensées, (New York: E.P. Dutton & Co, 1958),  p. 63. Kindle Edition.
[3] ibid., p. 55.
[4]Kreeft, Peter, Christianity for Modern Pagans: Pascal’s Pensées Edited, Outlined, & Explained, (San Francisco, Ignatius Press, 1993), pp.299-300.

Being Able to Answer

Moses & Aaron Speak to the People - James Tissot c.1900
Moses & Aaron Speak to the People – James Tissot, c.1900

As I left the office this past Saturday, I thought about why I was there on a beautiful fall weekend instead of working on home repairs (or this blog). I’m actually giving a presentation on delegated steel connection design to an audience of my fellow structural engineers shortly, and this was critical prep time for that seminar. This upcoming presentation and the preparations for it got me thinking about how we as Christians make our presentation of the good news of Jesus Christ to a skeptical world. I see 4 parallels to consider:

  1. Preparation
    • I’d be a fool to think I could stand up in front of 40 or 50 other engineers and explain something to them without having spent any time preparing. Even having several years of connection design experience doesn’t necessarily translate to being able to effectively communicate that knowledge to others. It takes both knowledge of what to say, and practice in how to say it.
    • Likewise, as a Christian, it is prudent for me to do my homework before I need to explain to someone what it means to be a Christian. And just sitting in a church pew listening to preachers expound on God’s Word, even for decades, doesn’t necessarily translate to me being able to do that clearly when I’m asked. Knowledge and communication are two different things. Speaking and answering questions on the spot takes practice. Have you thought through what you would say if you were asked about what you believe and why you believe it? In my case, I was asked how I could call myself a Christian and an engineer at the same time. Weren’t those mutually exclusive? I hadn’t prepared for that, and it caught me off-guard. Don’t miss an opportunity to speak truth into someone’s life merely from lack of planning.
  2. Motivation
    • In my job, I’ve been focused on structural steel connection design for several years now, but knowing I’ll be presenting on that topic, and that there will be a Q&A time afterwards, is motivating me to confirm my typical assumptions to make sure I know what I’m talking about. I’m reviewing things I haven’t dealt with in a while to refresh my memory in case they come up in the Q&A. As I build the slides for my presentation, I’m digging down into those specifics to verify I’m not saying anything inaccurate, and to deepen my knowledge in those areas that might generate more questions. Anticipating tough questions changes your attitude toward preparation.
    • In the same way, writing this blog every week the last 2 years, knowing that I’m opening myself up to any and all questions and criticisms, has forced me to prepare accordingly. If it hadn’t been for this, I probably wouldn’t own half the books I own now – books on systematic theology, church history, doctrine, apologetics, logic, science books (from outside my field of engineering), and books from atheists and skeptics diametrically opposed to my views. I probably wouldn’t be trying to learn Greek and Latin either if it weren’t for engaging in apologetics. And now, when I go to church each week, it’s not something to check off the task list; it’s a trip back to my “base” to resupply with vital life-giving insights before heading back out on patrol for the week. Are you just looking to “coast” through life, or are you “on point”?
  3. Reward
    • In college, my Metallurgy III professor had us students rotate through teaching 3 days that semester. We were each assigned 3 different alloys and had to develop a lesson, slides, and handouts for our fellow classmates for each of our teaching days. He then graded us on how well we’d researched it and presented our findings, as well as our presentation. Standing up and lecturing on the weldability of titanium alloys was far tougher work than just being tasked with reading the textbook and working out some homework problems. As far as I can recall, that was the only class I ever had where the professor had the students teach most of the class, but it forced me to learn so much more that way. And as I’m being reminded in my current presentation research, that still holds true.
    • As a Christian, being “prepared to give an answer” [1 Peter 3:15] also has some great rewards. Each week of writing blog entries and doing research for future posts has gotten me reading and learning things I never would have otherwise. And even if nobody ever challenges me on some issue I invested a bunch of research in – even if nobody ever reads this blog! – wrestling with tough questions and the whole preparation process of digging deep into God’s word and into His magnificent revelation of Himself in the world around me  has been richly rewarding. Just like training for a marathon, some rewards simply aren’t achievable without serious investment and hard work. Are you a Christian missing out on those kinds of rewards in your life? While I wish I’d started earlier, it’s not too late! Jump in!
  4. Attitude
    • Presenting always requires an attitude of humility. None of us know it all, so there’s no point acting like we do. Even if I were generally more knowledgeable in my specialty than an audience, someone in the crowd may have direct experience with a peculiar issue I haven’t dealt with or studied yet. And of course, in spite of all the preparation, you can never anticipate every question. Rather than putting up a show of nonexistent knowledge, the better response is to simply say “I don’t know, but let me dig into that and get back with you.”
    • Likewise, whether presenting the gospel message to one seeking salvation, or “contending for the faith” [Jude 3] with an aggressive skeptic, we should share the “truth in love” [Eph 4:15], answering their questions with “gentleness and respect” [1 Peter 3:15]. Speaking the truth in love means telling someone the truth, even if it’s something they don’t want to hear, but in a way that demonstrates that you value them and care about them. The truth can be brutal at times, but we are to share it with gentleness. Respect means treating them with the same courtesy we would want. That entails not being condescending or lying to them and acting like we know stuff we don’t. It means actually looking for answers to their questions we don’t know and then following-up with them. Sometimes, my own presentation style is my biggest enemy. May our attitude never be a hindrance to someone recognizing the truth of the gospel.

Jesus commanded His disciples to go and make disciples [Matt 28:19-20]. Peter tells all Christians to be able to give an answer to those who ask the reason for the hope that we have [1 Pet 3:15]. Jude tells Christians – not “special forces” Christians, just Christians – to contend for the faith [Jude 3]. All of these involve being able to communicate God’s truth to a waiting world. You and I may never be preachers or traveling evangelists, but that doesn’t mean “spectator” is a job description in God’s kingdom. So like Timothy, let’s dig in, and be diligent to be workmen not needing to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth [2 Tim 2:15].