Accepting and Enjoying the Limitations of Apologetics

Don’t be guilty of replacing the Gospel itself with the Gospel’s defense.


Despite its obvious value, Christian apologetics certainly has limitations. To try to make apologetics do something it cannot is a disservice both to it and the theology it seeks to protect.

First, apologetics is limited since it is not an end in itself. Christians do not argue for the Christian faith for the entertainment it brings or to gain the intellectual high ground. Its value lies in its ability to open a door for the Gospel – the central message that Jesus Christ saves guilty sinners through his sacrifice on the cross and resurrection from the grave. Although basic, this principle is often neglected by many who try to replace the Gospel itself with the Gospel’s defense. This is a grave blunder. Apologetics details our reasons “for the hope,” but is not the hope itself.

This means that our focus within apologetics must be to establish a channel to present Christ as Savior and Lord, not to simply prove we are right. Our purpose is to confront and expose lies so that they can be replaced by the “word of truth” (Colossians 1:5). Apologetics must be done, as with all things, “looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).

Secondly, apologetics is limited because human reasoning is limited. When dealing with the divine being, the Creator of all things, people will naturally fall short of coming to exhaustive understanding of God’s nature. We can, for example, defend the doctrine of the Trinity as logically possible, but to fully understand the nature of infinite and divine three-in-one-ness is humanly impossible. Apologists should never be so arrogant as to presume that all questions can be answered exhaustively. If this were the case, man would be God and not the other way around!

French apologist Blaise Pascal wrote the following: “If we submit everything to reason our religion will be left with nothing mysterious or supernatural.” It is the beauty of the divine to supersede man, not resemble him.

Isaiah 55:8-9 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

We do not engage in apologetics to show the world that we have made sense of God. Rather, we engage in apologetics to demonstrate that the world makes no sense without God. We must not assume we have all the answers, but we fall on our knees in humble submission to our Creator as we defend our faith in him.

The intriguing stories of Sherlock Holmes provides a great example. There is no way most people can unraveled the mystery, until Holmes spells it out at the end of the story. Yet few people lay a Holmes story aside upset about the outcome. Why? Because each story, by its nature, required an absurd explanation. There is simply no way that such plots could have been resolved within standard means, and it is the outrageous explanations, far more interesting than any standard explanation, that keeps people excitedly turning the pages.

The universe where we live is the same way, only on a much larger scale. It is so delicate in design, so infused with order, so infinitely gigantic, and so tuned to maintain life. Such a universe requires a ridiculous explanation – ridiculous to our finite minds, anyway.

Yes, the idea of some God who has always been there and decided to create for his glory can seem preposterous, but the notion that something came from nothing, that order emerged from chaos, rationality from idiocy, is infinitely more preposterous. In fact, every worldview offers a preposterous solution, and the overwhelming task of apologetics is to demonstrate the preponderance of evidence for Christianity among these alternatives.