Recently someone asked me how you can know if you have had a successful apologetics encounter. My immediate answer was that defending the faith (Greek: apologia) is never easy and one must trust in God’s grace for the results. Ultimately, I believe that only God by his extraordinary grace can instill a desire for himself in a human being.
Yet I do think there are important goals to strive for in apologetics interactions. So whether it’s a television or radio interview, a formal debate, or a personal discussion with someone, I generally have three goals in mind when engaging in the enterprise of apologetics. If I can work toward accomplishing these goals, then I think my time of defending the faith has been well served.
3 Broad Goals of Christian Apologetics Interactions
First, I try to present clear, careful, and cogent arguments for my faith. Whether presenting arguments for God’s existence, a defense of the Christian worldview, or an explanation of Christian truth claims like Jesus’s incarnation, atonement, or resurrection—I endeavor to convey what I believe as a historic Christian and why I think it is indeed true. I want people to know that they can embrace Christianity because it is true.
Second, I attempt to demonstrate an intellectual code of conduct by striving to treat other people and their beliefs the way I want mine treated. That means I try to engage with other people’s beliefs and arguments with respect and in a fair-minded manner. I work to discipline myself to carefully listen to others in order to understand their beliefs, arguments, and objections. My desire, especially in debate, is to render an honest and fair assessment of my opponent’s position.
Third, I look to build bridges with others when I can do so without compromising my beliefs and values. Because all people are made in God’s image and everyone benefits from general revelation and common grace, there are inevitably important places where I can find common ground with others. I want to have meaningful connections with other people, and finding places of agreement often provides further opportunities for authentic dialogue.
Of course, I’m not always able to accomplish these three lofty goals. There have been times when my apologetics efforts have been weak, argumentative, and excessively confrontational. Becoming a skillful Christian apologist takes deliberate intellectual preparation, practice, and growth in character. As an apologist, I have learned from my rocky encounters. But no matter how much I learn, I still humbly ask the Triune God to use my modest efforts in communicating and defending the great truths of historic Christianity.
Reflections: Your Turn
Of the three goals, which is the most important? Which is hardest to achieve?
Here is a link to an apologetics dialogue-debate I had with a Hindu scholar: https://www.premierchristianradio.com/Shows/Saturday/Unbelievable/Episodes/Unbelievable-Krishna-Christ-and-Hinduism-debate-Ken-Samples-and-Dipen-Rajyaguru
Here is a link to an apologetics dialogue-debate I had with a Buddhist scholar: https://www.premierchristianradio.com/Shows/Saturday/Unbelievable/Episodes/Unbelievable-Buddhism-Christianity-Nirvana-Salvation-Alex-Crowe-Ken-Samples
For further study in Christian apologetics, I hope you’ll consider four of my books: Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004); A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test(Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007); 7 Truths That Changed the World (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2012); God among Sages: Why Jesus Isn’t Just Another Religious Leader (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2017).