Apologetics Is Not For Convincing Atheists

A rodeo mentality hinders apologetics. But that is exactly what I had during my battle with skepticism.

When confronting skeptics, I thought there must be an answer so faultless that it would give all opposing arguments whiplash on the takedown. If my brain was sufficiently developed, brute intellectual muscle could hogtie and drag screaming atheists to salvation. The Holy Spirit does need a sidekick, right?

No. He doesn’t. I was missing the whole point of apologetics

The Purpose of Apologetics

Faith is not a product of intellectual strength on the inside or coercive persuasion from the outside. It is a gift from God from start to finish.

Thus the purpose of making a reasoned defense of our beliefs –  apologetics – is not to create faith in someone by arguing them to God. Apologetics is not a trump card, a cowboy’s lasso, or a checkmate move.  No man comes to the Son unless he is drawn by the Father (John 6:44).

The purpose of apologetics is to present a map that ultimately points the doubter toward Jesus Christ. There are two parts to this purpose…

1. Strengthen Believers in Their Faith

Acts 18:24-28 tells a short story of Apollos. He was eloquent, competent in the Scriptures, and instructed in the way of the Lord. He was an accurate and fervent teacher. When he showed up on the scene in Achaia, “he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.” That is Christ-centered apologetics in action, a means God uses to channel His grace to believers in need of strength.

2. Present the Gospel to the Unbeliever

In Acts 17:16-34, we find Paul reasoning with the Stoic philosophers. But Paul wasn’t there just to argue endlessly in the name of apologetics. His mission was to present the gospel, and once that was done, he left.

How to Respond to Those Who Reject the Truth

Why did Paul walk away from the stoics who mocked the gospel? Why didn’t he stay to convince them? Because that is not the goal of apologetics. Apologetics can’t convert people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

“The heart must be kept tender and pliable; otherwise agnosticism converts to skepticism. In such a case the value of apologetics is voided, for apologetics is aimed at persuading doubters, not at refuting the defiant. He who demands a kind of proof that the nature of the case renders impossible, is determined that no possible evidence shall convince him.”

The Case for Orthodox Theology, Edward John Carnell

That is not to say that we should just blurt out the gospel and then walk away if no one responds. We are to be gentle and merciful to those who doubt or are blinded to the truth (Jude 22, 2 Timothy 2:23-26), and that might take the form of a long-term discussion with an unbeliever.

Know When to Walk Away

However, when someone is openly hostile to even hearing the truth – which is often evidenced by mockery – apologetics is not the answer. Only the Holy Spirit’s work can enlightened their minds and open their hearts to the truth. It is ok to walk away and seek another opportunity to speak to the truth to a ready heart.

As C.H. Spurgeon put it,

“How many hours in a day ought a man to give to [becoming acquainted with all the phases of modern doubt]? Twenty-five out of the twenty-four would hardly be sufficient…Am I to spend my time in going about to knock his cardhouses over?

“Not I! I have something else to do; and so has every Christian minister. He has real doubts to deal with, which vex true hearts; he has anxieties to relieve in converted souls, and in minds that are pining after the truth and the right; he has these to meet, without everlastingly tilting at windmills, and running all over the country to put down every scarecrow which learned simpletons may set up.”

The Weaned Child, sermon by CH Spurgeon

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My Battle with Skepticism

I left a lot of skid marks across Spring 2009. I denied it as long as I could, but eventually had to face it…

My faith was crumbling under a barrage of rapid-fire attacks hurled by quick-witted skeptics.

A Philosophy Course…for Fun

My struggle started with a college introduction to philosophy course. I was a front-row student, and my hand logged more hours of air time than the average Blue Angel pilot. As I faced swarms of questions without answers, doubts bred and populated my mind like rats.

All of my neatly packaged Sunday school answers were deflected and shredded like Nerf darts by skeptics. With an exhausted quiver and splintered bow, I turned to a familiar face: research.

Attempting to Research My Way Out

As a nationally ranked high school debater, I believed all answers could be found through research. I was raised to think critically and study rigorously. Why shouldn’t I prevail over the skeptics? (20/20 Hindsight Note: Because if prevailing was so easy, brute rational force and cunning logic would have banished skepticism into extinction long ago) So I kept a list of questions and slowly researched them at night after school.

Fuel for the Fire

By mid-semester, I ran into a Christian blogger named Demian Farnworth who was running a series of interviews with atheists at his blog. My close interaction with online skeptics in the blog’s comment section was fuel for the fire. As the atheists out gunned me in every exchange, I started losing sleep over a surging riptide of questions. I had amassed a file of nearly 400 articles – all written by skeptics – that I intended to refute.


But I couldn’t do it. 25 out of 24 hours a day would not have been sufficient to craft refutations to the skeptics. They spun me around in their technical lingo and smeared my face into questions I couldn’t swallow.

I wasn’t willing to say there was not a God, but…how do you figure out how to stand up when everything you used to stand on was pulled out from under you?

Broken But Not Without Hope

I was finally broken. I had no hope that I could hold my faith together by my own strength. Nor could I create the faith in my heart that I needed. I wasn’t hopeless, I just gave up hope in me.

God, in His great faithfulness, graciously crossed my path with Al Hartman. Al made noteworthy appearances in the comment section at Demian’s blog and always spoke truth with God-given clarity. That was what I needed.

Jude 22: “Have mercy on those who doubt…”

Al was patient, and brought the Truth to bear on many of my questions. One key statement by Al marked the turning point in my crisis of faith.

I wrote,

“Assuming a God exists, how do we figure out which one does without contradicting ourselves?” [Because the logic I was using to “prove” God exists was the same logic every other religion uses to argue for their gods. And if I reject their gods and logic but accept my God by the same logic, isn’t that a contradiction?]

Al responded:

“’Assuming, Brother?  Figure out, Daniel?  Contradicting ourselves? Have you come to such a crossroads, where you must decide today who you will follow? …But I ask you, whose reputation is at stake– yours or God’s?  For we walk by faith, not by sight [i.e. not by assumption, calculation, contradiction, etc.].  Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

I prayed long and hard that night after reading that email from Al. I’ve never prayed so hard in my life. It was a desperate prayer if ever there was one. I cried out to the Living God to preserve my feeble faith. That’s all I wanted. Preservation. Just get me out of the wasteland alive and don’t let me lose my God. Mark 9:24 summed up my plea: “I believe, help my unbelief.”

Things began to turn quickly after I stopping pretending reason and logic were sufficient supports for faith. I knew my faith wasn’t a result of academic knowledge or natural aptitude. Faith is a God-given gift from start to finish. It was a gift God poured out on me generously from that day forward, causing all of the arguments from skeptics to disintegrate.

“The mind is never so enlightened that there are no misgivings. With these evils of our nature, faith maintains a perpetual conflict, in which conflict it is often sorely shaken and put to great stress; but still it conquers, so that believers may be said to be [in spite of their own weakness, most secure].” – John Calvin

The Aftermath

My resolution was simple. Since I can’t know everything in order to refute everything, I will know the one thing that matters: Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). That’s it. I want to know Jesus Christ, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.


Plowing into Romans

In the following months, I plowed into Romans. The gospel of Jesus Christ shone brightly. Prayer also became an even greater delight, a blessing that resulted from God granting me clearer eyes of faith to see how real He is. Prayer and being struck by God’s reality go hand in hand.

My writing has reflected these recent events. My passion is to see God’s people walk by faith and not by sight, with confident hope and conviction to live life in light of His unseen reality.

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Worry is a Symptom, Not a Sickness


The profit of worry does not increase with the size and significance of the trouble. A weighty trouble is no more worthy of worry than a petty one. Worry itself is never of any profit.

If anything, worry is increasingly destructive when the load is large, for then the yoke is even more cruel on our fractured backs.

Worry is a Symptom of a Heart Condition

Worry signals that we bought into the lie of self-sufficiency during easier times, and then trouble awakened us to our own limitations without causing us to reflect upon God’s perfect power and good grace toward those who are weak and desperate. We do not worry, however, when trouble awakens us to our limitations but drives us to God, who has no such limitations.

Worry is a symptom of the sickness of unbelief. It shows that we are becoming increasingly aware of our weakness, but still lack knowledge of and faith in God’s character. This leads us to respond wrongly to trouble by trying to push farther in our weakness to do the things we know we cannot do in our own power.

In order to cease worrying without ceasing to care, we must know who God is and believe.

Trouble’s Value: Weakness Clarifies Our Need to Go Before God in Prayer

The trouble has value only inasmuch as it drives us to our knees in prayer to look to God our Strong Tower, bringing us to desire His good will and to thoughtfully dwell on perfect strength above our own.

“Whatever it is that presses thee, go tell the Father; put the whole matter over into His hand, and so shalt thou be freed from that dividing, perplexing care that the world is full of. When thou art either to do or suffer anything, when thou art about any purpose or business, go tell God of it, and acquaint Him with it; yes, burden Him with it, and thou hast done for matter of caring; no more care, but quiet, sweet, diligence in thy duty, and dependence on Him for the carriage of thy matters. Roll thy cares, and thyself with them, as one burden, all on thy God.” –R. Leighton

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Pondering faith: 3 questions

The following questions have been on my mind as God has continued to work in my heart to deepen my faith.

1. If faith was stripped out of your life tomorrow, what specifically would change? List them.

2. Do you do anything that requires you to walk by faith (all of life ought to be a walk by faith, but is there any specific action(s) that requires a strong faith in God)? List them.

3. How many times have you been moved by breath-taking stories Christians living by faith to God’s glory, but still have yet to do anything yourself?

Making the lists revealed my heart, intensifying my cry for God’s  Spirit to strengthen my faith. It also intensified my prayerful search for ways to exercise my faith.

How do those questions strike you?

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Diabetes is God’s best


“Cancer drugs halt type 1 diabetes in mice.” My heart jumped at the article headline. But even after 11 years have passed since I was first diagnosed as a near-death seven year old diabetic, I still forget if I am type 1 or type 2. I rushed upstairs to my laptop to google diabetes and confirm that I am, in fact, type 1. Turns out, there are a couple of drugs that have shown to send diabetes into remission in 80% of mice with type 1 diabetes. I hope you never know how much lab tests on mice can make your heart rush and eyes tear up when you stare at a potential cure that could change your life.

Diabetes was my Valentine’s Day gift in 1997. I do believe it was a gift, because it has made me who I am. It has been a physical and spiritual battle often, and I think it has deepened my faith in a way I would have likely missed otherwise. It is a physical struggle when for the ten-thousandth time, my blood sugar is whacked out and I feel horrible and would give the world to have a day to be “normal” again and not deal with diabetes. It is a spiritual struggle when I wonder what in the world God is doing, because whatever He’s doing, it is just hurting now.

But I see the positives. I think diabetes has taken away my fear of death. My blood sugar has crashed in the middle of the night so many times, and the only way I’d live to see the morning is if God sends an angel to wake me so I can bring my blood sugar up. I know my days are numbered, and evidently God doesn’t want me dead yet. I can see He is in control of life and death, so I have no fear.

Diabetes has also given me a passion to live the life I do have. Multiple times a day I have a reminder of how fragile my life is as I test my blood sugar and calculate my insulin dosage. When life’s fragility is so plainly held before your eyes, it would seem foolish to waste the life you do have. I don’t want to waste mine.

Diabetes’s weakness has brought humility when I would have otherwise boasted, and its demands have forced self-discipline on me when I would have been lazy. God touched my life and gave me His best for me when He gave me diabetes. My Father knew that the very best He could give me to make me more like His Son and glorify His name was diabetes.

Do I want a cure? Yeah. In all honesty, yes. I can’t deny it, I want out. It is His best for me, but if He gave us the cure for it I’d gladly move on to something else and let Him sanctify me some other way. Maybe that experiment with the mice will work out. Maybe, like every other article that has made my heart jump, this latest mouse test will fail. Regardless of the outcome, I want one thing to be clear: God is faithful. This much He has shown me. His plan is bigger than mine, His will is better than mine. I’ll rest peacefully in that, and let the presence of peace declare faith in the realness of God and His faithfulness.


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Father, in Your faithfulness, teach me Your statues. Expand my narrow horizons so that I can filled with the all the fullness of God. Please give me a faith that is deeper, stronger, and battle tested. I ask that you bless me with a mind that constantly has an unanswered question, causing me to seek a deeper understanding when I would have otherwise settled for less.

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