I still remember the first day I realised how important it was to have reasons for your faith. I was doing a group assignment with some fellow university students, and one afternoon I got chatting with one of the students when I was giving them a lift to work on the assignment. We were talking generally about our lives, and it came out in the course of casual conversation that I had done Bible College the previous year. This led to a conversation about Christianity itself. I talked about some of the evidence that established the reliability of the Bible, and I remember the genuine curiosity from this student. The thing is, this student had never come across a Christian that actually had reasons for their beliefs. They told me they’d never come across a Christian that actually talked about evidence as part of their reasons for belief. This was something completely new to him. Now, it’s not like they converted there and then, but I believe our encounter helped him to become more receptive to the next Christian they come across.
The Bible seems clear on its importance as well. The book of Acts is filled with examples of the apostles using persuasive arguments to establish the truth of ‘the way’ (as Christianity was known at the time). They pointed to eyewitness testimony of Jesus’ resurrection, or showed how Jesus was the fulfilment of the Jewish scriptures. Sometimes they even used Greek philosophy, but added to it to show how Christianity was the best explanation of their philosophy. Peter encourages us to be prepared to give a ‘defence for the hope within’ (1 Peter 3:15), and states that he is placed where he is for the ‘defence of the gospel’ when writing to the church in Philippi (Philippians 1:16). Paul’s letter to Thessalonika encourages us to test all things (1 Thessalonians 5:21), and Jesus himself commands us to love God with our heart, mind, soul and strength (emphasis added, Luke 10:27).
“What is today a matter of academic speculation begins tomorrow to move armies and pull down empires.”
― J. Gresham Machen
Finally I want to point out that in a world where Christianity is increasingly becoming marginalised (particularly in the Western world) we need to learn to compete in a marketplace of ideas. Ideas are powerful, and important, and they help form the background beliefs of society and culture at large. What happens then, when the ideas at the highest echelons of academia are not influenced at all by Christian thought? Eventually that does trickle down to the general populace, and because of the authority of the scholarship it’s easy to just assume its arguments.
I was in a conversation on Facebook recently about whether God could exist with so much pain and suffering in the world, and the last comment on the thread referenced the movie Zeitgeist. Zeitgeist is a movie created to discredit Christianity by saying it was a copycat of other religions that supposedly predated Christianity. The problem: it’s riddled with historical inaccuracies, incorrect dating, manipulation of the facts, and a complete deficit in evidence from original sources – because no original sources prove what Zeitgeist is claiming. The thing is, this movie is everywhere and many people have been convinced Christianity is just an ancient copycat religion with no truth to it. If you were convinced an idea had no foundation with reality, how open would you be to considering the idea? If I started trying to convince you the world was flat, would you consider my case or just dismiss it out of hand? In the same way, if someone has watched, say, a movie like Zeitgeist, and assumed the movie is correct, how open would they be to Christanity? That’s the power of cultural influence, and Christianity’s loss in credibility (intellectually and in character!) is making this more and more difficult.
What then, do we do?
It’s going to take a bit of effort. But I am of the firm belief that you can learn enough to be able to give reasons for the hope within. I have a list of recommended resources here that give a great starting place. I’ve got podcasts from last years seminar here (and 2011’s seminar here), and this blog will also explore different aspects of apologetics (search for the apologetics tag). If you have questions you’re struggling with, I’m always happy to do coffee (any excuse for my favourite beverage!), or point you in the direction of a helpful resource to answer your questions.
Finally, never underestimate the importance of character. One of the major ‘belief blockers’ is church hypocrisy. Your character will keep you. If your life doesn’t reflect your message people will see the dissonance. Your lifestyle and behaviour should provoke questions – which you can turn into answers that lead to the cross.