I like apologetics because I like the intellectual exercise. I enjoy loving God with my mind. Maybe the reason for that is that I became a Christian in the academic setting of college. I was a seeker then, and I have always been stimulated by the intellectual journey.
I have loved talking, writing, and reading about meaningful and significant matters since I emerged from an existential angst that I sought (unsuccessfully) to smother with alcohol and drugs in my teens. Once I stepped out of that haze to face the reality of life, I dove head first into the search for truth.
I had no patience for merely fanciful speculation. My keen interest and motivation became a quest to learn about and understand the nature of reality. If there was meaning to find there, I was dedicated to finding it.
My journey led me eventually to Jesus, and there my quest was fulfilled. I have found in Christ the truth for which I sought. In the Old Testament, which speaks of him and foreshadows him, and in the New Testament, which is a testament to Jesus, the Messiah, the savior of the world from all the existential angst that bears down on mankind, I have found explanations and nuance that make sense of reality.
I have found a home for my restless mind in learning to love God with my mind. The intellectual pursuit is part of loving God, but it’s easy to forget for someone like me that I also need to love God with my heart, soul, and strength. (See Luke 10:27)
I may get into what it means to love God in these various ways in another blog post, but first I am realizing it’s important to see that love is meant to be the primary object and focus of our hearts, souls, strength, and mind. Loving God is the ultimate goal of these things – not the other way around.
We engage our hearts, souls, strength and minds in order to know God. Knowing God in a Hebrew sense means much more than intellectual ascent and understanding. It means relationship because love is relational.
Knowing is also the primary focus of apologetics, but the emphasis on knowing in apologetics, especially for western-mined Christians, is often primarily intellectual. In apologetics, we talk about learning various arguments for God, like the cosmological argument, the argument from fine-tuning, and the ontological argument. Then there is the Kalaam cosmological argument, and variations on variations of arguments.
We talk sometimes about which arguments are the best arguments, which arguments are most effective and most difficult for a nonbeliever to counter. We talk as if we do apologetics like gladiators in an arena where knowledge is the ultimate weapon.
I have suspected for awhile now we are missing the boat when we view apologetics this way. Maybe I am slow to this realization, and most other people are way ahead of me, but I suspect I may be more typical than I fear.
God gave us minds as a means to love Him. After loving God, loving other people is our chief aim according to Jesus. (Mark 28-32; Luke 10:25-28) If our primary end is to love God with our hearts, souls, strength, and mind, we should employ those means to love people in the same way.
For someone like me, who loves the academic pursuit, gaining new knowledge and understanding, and wrestling through the difficulties, I can easily get out of balance. I do get out of balance. I do not love God or people nearly enough with my heart, my soul, and my strength.
Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, knew these things very well, as the people to whom he was called to share the Gospel were Greeks and Romans for whom knowledge (and might) was supreme. Paul was a Jew, but he was a Roman citizen and steeped in Greek knowledge.
I feel like Paul understood the natural orientation of “western” (Greco-Roman) people toward knowledge, learning, and understanding. He was familiar with the Greco-Roman mindset, which is the mindset that informs the modern, western world.
Yet, he was Hebrew, trained under Gamaliel, the most respected Pharisee of his day. He certainly was intimate with the Hebrew sense of knowing. His familiarity with both senses of knowing is likely what prompted him in his first letter to the Corinthians, who were mainly Gentiles, to emphasize knowledge as secondary to love
“Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that ‘we all have knowledge.’ Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone thinks he knows anything, he does not yet know it as he ought to know it. But if anyone loves God, he is known by him.”
1 Corinthians 8:1-3 CSB
The “apologetic” of one, true God versus many idols is not a hot topic in our modern age as it was in the 1st Century world. Because of the anachronism to our intellectual framework, we might be tempted to gloss over these verses in 1st Corinthians and miss a key point.
It is a point that is no less poignant today than it was 2000 years ago: ‘knowledge puffs up’. An overemphasis on the wrong kind of knowledge is error. The key is love.
A wrong emphasis on knowledge puffs up the knower. Love, on the other hand, builds up the object of that love. We know God to love Him. We use our knowledge to love people by introducing them to a personal God who desires to be known by them.
Love builds up God. Love beholds and honors God in all of His majesty and glory, ascribing to Him all the praise that He is due. Love builds up the people with whom we share. It builds them up with the knowledge and understanding of God who is the very source of love.
To love is to know God and to be known by Him. Love is relational, and the kind of knowledge we should prize as lovers of God is the intimate knowledge of loving and being loved by God.
We place too much emphasis, perhaps, on the arguments when we “do” apologetics. Not that being intimate and proficient with the arguments for God are a bad thing; but they aren’t the only thing. They aren’t the main thing. They are only secondary to knowing and being known by God.
When thinking about the best arguments, the best strategy for defending and sharing the faith, the best apologetic for the faith, nothing is greater than love!
Love is the best apologetic. If you were going to pick one apologetic approach to become proficient at, love would be it. Love for God and love for people is our best “argument”.
Personally, I find it much easier to deal with knowledge. Maybe that is why I gravitate toward the intellectual side of Christianity. I suppose I might be equally in error to emphasize my heart, my soul, or my strength. Whatever we emphasize, if we value the means of loving God and loving people over the love of God and love of people, we have gotten the formula backward.