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14 Examples of Really Bad Apologetics

I am perfectly aware that apologetics as an intellectual enterprise does not produce faith. I am neither Pelagian nor Semi-Pelagian. I recognize the limitations of the human mind and, more importantly, the human will to understand and accept God outside of the sovereign movements of the Holy Spirit.

Having said this, I am a firm believer in the necessity of apologetics as an intellectual defense of the faith. I agree with Os Guinness who says that we don’t have any right to the culture if we cannot intellectually defend our faith. I believe that God often uses apologetics as a means to bring someone to the faith just as he uses the words of men to proclaim the Gospel. God does not really need either, but He uses both. I think it was Aquinas who said, “God has not only chosen the ends, but also the means of salvation.”

Therefore, I strongly believe that you and I are to be clear when we present the Gospel and intellectually compelling when we defend it. Apologetic sloppiness and intellectual laziness is not an option for the Christian.

Pseudo=false. When we are talking about pseudo-apologetics, we are talking about false apologetics. This type of apologetics could be called pop-apologetics, tabloid apologetics, or pseudo-apologetics. Pseudo-apologetics is a false way to defend the faith based upon naive or misleading “evidences” that only serve to take focus away from true apologetics.

Let me give some examples:

1. “I believe Christianity is true because I read this book where someone died, went to heaven, and came back.”

Read this: http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2007/08/a-near-death-experience-a-theological-evaluation-of-don-pipers-90-minutes-in-heaven

2. “I believe Christianity is true because there are secret codes found in the Scriptures.”

I used to work for a ministry that used this as a primary means of presenting the Gospel. It was very popular in the nineties and, thankfully, has run its course. The basic argument was that in the Masoretic Hebrew text of the Bible, there was a secret code that only God could have put in there. The problem is that I was a ble to produce the same results with a copy of Moby Dick! Any work could do it. This is not a good foundation for anyone’s faith.

3. “I believe Christianity is true because the lost day of Joshua has been found by NASA.”

While I don’t believe in the “God of the gaps” approach (and I don’t think such a criticism is legit in most cases), this truly is one of those in my opinion. Be very careful with this.

4. “I believe Christianity is true because we had a special speaker come to our class and show how the Gospel was written in the stars.”

As well, be very careful with this as it is possible that one can construct such a paradigm to fit any religion. It just takes some creativity.

5. “I believe Christianity is true because I have seen pictures of Noah’s Ark.”

Very interesting, but Noah’s are is not the ultimate grounding for our faith.

6. “I believe Christianity is true because I heard that this guy’s pancake was miraculously in the shape of Jesus.”

Just plain silly.

7. “I believe Christianity is true because God spoke to me and told me ______”

Was his voice base or tone? Such a subjective grounding is nearly impossible to denfend. Forgive me but I have dealt with too many who hear voices in their head. Yours may be God, but you had better have a stronger basis for your belief first.

8. “I believe Christianity is true because there are no better options and I have nothing to lose.”

This is called “Pascal’s Wager.” It is not really an apologetic, but a tatic taken for those who don’t have a defense. This could just as well be used for any other religous belief lacking verification.

9. “I believe Christianity is true because I saw a photograph of a cloud which was shaped like Jesus.”

See the pancake.

10. “I believe Christianity is true because there was a statue of Mary crying.”

This boarders on a cultish apologetic. Proves nothing either way.

11. “I believe Christianity is true because my friend was healed of cancer after praying.”

I believe that God does heal at his discression. When someone is healed, it is of God. But the medical world will account for many anamolies which include “healings” that cannot be explained. These are not limited to Christians.

12. “I believe Christianity is true because I spoke in tongues.”

How do you define tongues?

13. “I believe Christianity is true because my church says it is.”

Outsourcing your beliefs is not expedient to a responsible life. Lots of religious organizations say lots of different and contradictory things. They can’t all be right. What is your method of verifying your religious institution? Just hope they are right? A deep emotional conviction? A dime a dozen.

14. “I believe Christianity is true because my right leg grew two inches.”

Why are there so many stories of legs growing? If God was going to verify his truth through miraculous intervention, it would seem that he could choose something a little more evident (not to mention practical!).

My point here is not necessarily to discredit any of these occurrences or beliefs. You might have seen Jesus in your pancake, your friend very well might have been miraculously healed, the Gospel may be written in the stars, your church could be right, and someone might have died and gone to heaven for a short time. My point is that these are not sufficient enough for you to base your faith on. I have seen to many “miracles” in my life that turn out to be coincidences, misunderstandings, or misinterpretations. As well, I have seen many people’s faith that was founded upon this type of pseudo-apologetic fall apart when they found out that there were better and more plausible explanations for the experiences upon which their faith was based.

God is a God of experience, no doubt. I don’t want to discourage anyone from seeing God’s activity in the world today. But I think we need to be cautious about basing their beliefs upon such things. When we do and when we encourage people to believe based upon such experiences, we set ourselves and others out on sensation seeking voyages where their beliefs and theology rest solely upon personal experience or feeling. This is not safe ground. What happens when science shows that there really was brain activity in the supposedly dead body, they just did not know how to detect it before? What happens when Islam finds Allah in the stars? What happens when your leg does not grow? What happens when you don’t speak in tongues? What happens when the heavens are brass and God’s presence cannot be felt much less his voice be heard? What happens when you discover your church’s teachings are wrong? If your faith is founded upon these type of trusts and experiences, then your loss of faith will be as well. After your sense of devastation and betrayal, you will then move on to something else.

On the other hand, if your faith is based upon apologetics that can stand the scrutiny, then it is a different matter all-together. These other “miracles,” valid or not, become window dressings to an unshakable trust.

I believe the starting point for all apologetics, personal or evangelistic, should be the resurrection of Christ. “I believe Christianity is true because Christ rose from the grave.” If Christ rose from the grave, Christianity is true—period. If Christ did not rise from the grave Christianity is false—period. All the legs growing and pancake visions in the world, while nice, will add little to your faith. As well, lack of such events will be unable to shake your faith. The resurrection of Christ is the historic foundation of the Christian faith. Paul said as much:

1 Corinthians 15:17
“If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.”

We often give ourselves and others flimsy apologetics that are easily struck down either by more information or conflicting experience. When this happens, the Christian faith is made to look comical at best and, more often, deceptive.

Not only do these type of events lack apologetic substance, they also lack definite meaning. What does it mean that Mary cried? What does Jesus’ face in a cloud mean? What does it mean that the lost day of Joshua has been found? The resurrection means something. If the resurrection truly happened it means that everything Christ said is true. God is real, holy and righteous, we are sinners in need of a substitute, God really does love you more than you can imagine, there is a future for those who have trusted in Christ, and heaven is real.

If the resurrection really happened, then all these other false apologetics become “ho-hum apologetics.” I encourage you to grab a good book on the apologetics of the resurrection and spend some time establishing this event as your primary apologetic front, personal and evangelistic. I have listed some books below.

Gary Habermas and Mike Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus

N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God

William Lane Craig, The Son Rises

38 Responses to “14 Examples of Really Bad Apologetics”

  1. ‘I believe Christianity is true because Christ rose from the grave’ is not quite data.

    ‘I believe Christianity is true because i believe Christ rose from the grave’ is data.

    ‘If Christ rose from the grave, Christianity is true—period. If Christ did not rise from the grave Christianity is false—period’ is not data. it is not even truth arrived at from data.

  2. It is substantial grounding that can be evidenced and, if true, create substantial faith.

    Hope that helps.

  3. cmp–

    if you had said ‘i believe that If Christ rose from the grave, Christianity is true—period. i believe that If Christ did not rise from the grave Christianity is false—period,’ i would treat such a statement as data.

    i treat all believers’ belief statements as data. the concept believed in- well, that may or may not be true, or may or may not be data. i treat all believers’ experience accounts as data. if you tell me that you’ve had a numinous experience of god, you will never hear me tell you it isn’t true. your experieince of it is data. (actually, you’ll hear me ask you about what such an experience was like.)

    this whole data thing in this post and your last is interesting, because in any apologetics, reasoning from any data to a truth claim effectively gives the truth claim great authority. i have no problem with your conclusions, your truth claims, reasoned from data.

    but to leap from data (‘i believe’ statements, or ‘i experienced such and such’ statements) to a truth claim without clear reasoning is to coopt the authority of reasoning apologetics without doing the heavy lifting. and that’s either clumsy, if it’s accidental, or evasive or disingenuous, if it’s deliberate.

    this whole post is about the issue what data is significant. i believe Christianity is true because my church says it is’ is data: a person’s belief statement. whether you and i find it significant is a different matter all together.

    on your side though, for you to go from ‘I believe Christianity is true because i believe Christ rose from the grave’ through a reasoned argument of other mutually perceived data (if not mutually perceived by you and i, perhaps mutually perceived by you and other confessional scholars) to the conclusion ‘If the resurrection truly happened it means that everything Christ said is true. God is real, holy and righteous, we are sinners in need of a substitute, God really does love you more than you can imagine, there is a future for those who have trusted in Christ, and heaven is real’ would give you argument the authority of data reasoned to truth. to merely state it as a presumption without such reasoning is to coopt the authority of reasoning without doing the heavy lifting.

    if you wish your authority to come from other than reasoning from data, then say so! nothing wrong with that, as long as it’s clear, and not coopted from actual reasoning from data to truth.

    peace–

    scott

  4. First, a point of clarification on #8: “I believe Christianity is true because there are no better options and I have nothing to lose.”

    I don’t think this is quite Pascal’s Wager. Pascal’s Wager deals with belief in God, not belief in Christianity, and so it cannot be used for “any religious belief lacking verification.” Pascal said that if we agree that reason is useless in determining whether God exists, then we have two choices: living as if God does exist, and living as if he doesn’t exist. Now if we live as if God does exist, we have everything to gain if we’re right, and nothing to lose if we’re wrong. If we live as if he doesn’t exist, then we have nothing to gain if we’re right and everything to lose if we’re wrong. So it makes sense — again, assuming that we can’t prove or disprove God’s existence by reason — to live as if God does exist. The wager can’t work for Christianity because reason can indeed help us decide whether Christianity as a system of beliefs is true.

    Second, Scott, could you define “data”?

  5. Scot, I could be wrong, but you are being a bit nit picky. The point of my post is clear enough I think. Don’t base your faith on apologetic issues that prove nothing and don’t have any substantial power. That is it.

  6. Stephen, you are right, it is not exactly Pascal’s Wager, but a variation based on the same principles.

  7. Paul did not have the benefit of reading Craig or Habermas, so his apologetic in 1 Corinthians 15 totally forgot to include stories of women visiting the empty tomb, or even saying that there was an empty tomb, or that the disciples did not expect Jesus to be resurrected.

    ‘If the resurrection truly happened it means that everything Christ said is true. God is real….’

    So the resurrection proves the Gospels true, yet Christians do not assume the Gospels are true when trying to prove the resurrection?

    If the Gospels claim a person called Joseph of Arimathea (sic) buried Jesus, then this is not a ‘fact’ until the Gospels have been shown to be true.

    And the starting point for that is the resurrection, which shows the Gospels to have been true?

    If God is real, then we can expect him to have worked miracles like raising Jesus from the dead?

    But how do we know God is real?

    Easy. ‘If the resurrection truly happened it means that everything Christ said is true. God is real….’

  8. Thanks Steven, you are partially right, but I think your assumptions may be off some.

    The Gospel need only be shown to be generally historically reliable. They don’t have to be proven to be inspired (just making sure that is not part of your assumption.)

    As well, the Gospel are certianlly not the only evidence for the resurrection. In fact, even without the written traditions handed down through the New Testament, there would be sufficient reason to believe in the resurrection without the.

    Therefore, from a historic standpoint, the resurrection, I believe is more secure than just about any event in antiquity.

    Thanks for the good comments.

  9. ‘In fact, even without the written traditions handed down through the New Testament, there would be sufficient reason to believe in the resurrection without the….’.

    Something seemed to get truncated there?

    Are you claiming Craig can prove Paul’s claim that ‘the last Adam became a life-giving spirit’ without using the Gospels?

    Paul claims to have gone to Heaven. That is direct , personal testimony.

    How ‘secure’ is Paul’s visit to Heaven, compared with the security of the resurrection?

    ‘The Gospel need only be shown to be generally historically reliable. ‘

    In other words, we don’t have to show that there was a town called Arimathea, before we are entitled to say it is a fact that Joseph of Arimathea buried Jesus?

    We don’t even have to have the name of anybody who wrote that he had met Joseph of Arimathea, before that is a fact?

    Just as a curious aside, there was a training day on Christian apologetics recently , featuring John Lennox and Gary Habermas.

    About 400 people attended.

    A good turn out, but not quite the 500+ brethren who attended the meeting Paul alludes to.

    I wonder what the advertising budget for that meeting had been , to get so many Christians to attend.

    There must have been a huge word of mouth campaign 2000 years ago to get so many Christians to turn up.

  10. cmp—

    i have no argument with you about your conclusion you’ve reached in your post, the point you’ve made. my wrestle with you is about the methodology.

    a few posts ago, you said this:
    ‘can i take some liberties here? manipulating the data to support your belief, no matter what this belief is, is not authentic christianity and does not honor god. christians should be above this.’

    and you said:
    ‘let none of us be able to be accused of using twisted, skewed, bent, shadowed, spurious, or in any other way manipulated information to defend your faith. we don’t need this. christians are advocates of truth, not our prejudices. we must follow the truth wherever it leads, even if it takes us in places we do not want to go.’

    i took this to mean that the application of methodology to a topic, regardless of the subject of the topic itself, was on the table for discussion. (guess i’m wrong.)

    that previous post was about critical scholarship methodology—moving from data, through reason, to a truth claim. in that post you lauded this method, and i took it to mean that you felt the authority that derives from well-argued critical thinking is of great value to you.

    but in confessional scholarship, there are other methods. truth claims are authoritatively supported by faith documents (scripture says so); by traditions (2000 years of practice); by doctrines (creeds, denominational orthodoxies, and the like); by historical scholars (augustine, aquinas); by revelation (personal numinous experiences, and stories like moses and the burning bush); and by other personal experiences (in faith communities). there’s nothing wrong with these claims and these methods per se, except that they don’t carry nearly as much weight in the critical scholarship understanding of truth, as reasoning from data does.

    don’t misunderstand me. i think you do great confessional scholarship. i’ve done lots and lots of thinking from the stunning graphic models you’ve created—those posts are some of your best. i think you do very interesting things here, and for confessional scholars, i suspect your ttp program is a good place to start.

    i first ‘met’ you online a year or so ago when i read one of your fabulous posts on irenic methodology, and it gave me great hope that you valued ecumenical, inside-and-outside-belief conversation and wrestling. i often use your irenic arguments when i’m in mixed company (believers and nonbelievers engaged in conversation) to set the atmosphere of engagement.

    again, i have no argument with this posts’ conclusion. i don’t have a dog in this race. but i do have a vested interest in truth, same as you, especially truth derived from reasoning from data, which i give primacy of authority (not only authority, but primacy of authority) in determining truth claims. (when i argue or write homiletical conclusions from scripture, i often use confessional methodologies.)

    keep doing what your doing. but if you truly value critical scholarship methods, you must be as rigorous, as ‘nitpicky,’ as you can be. as craig would be. as you accuse me of being.

    peace—

    scott

  11. Thanks Scott, but that does not bring clarity to anything you have said. I still don’t see a problem with this post. You just seem to misunderstand its intent. I think you are expecting it to do more than intended. My purpose and method are humble. To help people to understand what issues are substantial and worthy of apologetic discourse and what are not. The resurrection is, pancake Jesus is not. Show the contrast, then introduce the clarity.

    Either way, this tangential discourse does not seem to be worth either of our time since you seem to agree with the post.

    God bless.

  12. Steve, I am completely lost as to what relavance anything you said has to the general historic reliability. No problem though. God bless.

  13. You are lost?

    I had asked :-

    How ’secure’ is Paul’s visit to Heaven, compared with the security of the resurrection?

    I didn’t think it was a question that was hard to understand.

    Paul said he went to the third Heaven. Is such direct testimony evidence of his really having gone to Heaven?

    And what sort of occasion could have brought 500+ Christians together in the short space of time between Easter and Ascension?

  14. Steve, please just keep on track with the post. If you think one of the other false apologetics is better than the resurrection, then that is on subject.

    A comparison of Paul’s visit to heaven with the resurrection itself is not on subject.

    And please be respectful. If I said I did not understand it, you don’t need to get offended. Miscommunication is a part of life.

    (Plus, I still don’t understand the questions!)

  15. MICHAEL
    Therefore, from a historic standpoint, the resurrection, I believe is more secure than just about any event in antiquity.

    CARR
    If you wrote that, then is it not on subject for me to see how the resurrection compares with other events in antiquity?

    I chose Paul’s visit to the 3rd Heaven as an event in antiquity and asked ‘How ’secure’ is Paul’s visit to Heaven, compared with the security of the resurrection?’

    I don’t see how such a question is off-subject, as it directly follows on from what you wrote.

    Apologies if I misunderstood.

  16. Steve, that is way too tangential and, in my opinion, irrelevant. While I don’t want threads to get off topic, I especially must discipline this norm when I am involved. Thanks for understanding.

  17. No problem.

  18. I tell you what, if God spoke to me, that would be a fantastic reason for me to believe. It might not be a reason for you, but it would be for me.

    Now in fact, the story of Paul is a story of “God spoke to me” on the Damascus road. It seems to make for good apologetic for some reason.

  19. Since much of history has passed down to us in the form of one attestation, indeed sometimes one attestation from writings dated years after the event, or from reconstruction of events by scholars examining the remains of events millennia later, the resurrection with four individual recorders and the circumstantial evidence that surrounds it as the basis of Christian belief in the first century is ahead of much of what we can know about history.

    We do not need to “prove” that a town called Arimathaea existed, for the simple reason that if a historical text makes a reference to a town called Arimathaea then that is evidence that the town existed at the time the text was written. The onus is on the sceptical to prove that it did not.

    If Paul was fund to be a generally honest writer, and claimed to have been caught up to the third heaven, then I would accept his claim. He doesn’t seem to have based theology on it, or made more than a passing reference to the experience so I can’t know much more about it.

    When Jesus could teach upwards of 5000 people at one time, 500 doesn’t seem like very much. Comparison to a lecture on certain features of theology seem much like comparing apples and oranges. You might as well say that despite 50,000 people turning up for a football match, you couldn’t get a thousand people turn up for an interview with a leading forward.

  20. ‘If Paul was fund to be a generally honest writer, and claimed to have been caught up to the third heaven, then I would accept his claim.’

    Christians are so gullible. No wonder they get fleeced so often by fraudsters.

    No wonder people believe in Golden Plates without ever seeing them, and no wonder people believe in a resurrection without seeing a resurrected body.

  21. steven–

    i’d love to think about this further with you, but cmp will tag it off-topic for sure.

    can we do this somewhere else?

    scott

  22. Christians are so gullible. No wonder they get fleeced so often by fraudsters.

    No wonder people believe in Golden Plates without ever seeing them, and no wonder people believe in a resurrection without seeing a resurrected body.

    No wonder people believe that non-living chemicals spontaneously combined to form living cells, and that random copying mistakes can turn pond scum into people.

    Do you actually have an argument, or are you just engaging in your usual tactic of baseless sound bites?

    Also, as even Skeptic Magazine agrees, Christians are less gullible than atheists. How else do you explain the popularity of Zeitgeist or The God Who Wasn’t There?

    Also the golden plates are part of Mormon history, and were, if I recall correctly, eventually denied by two of the three people who were supposed to have seen them. That’s not really to be compared to the resurrection which has four recorders, over 500 witnesses, and whose testimony survived it’s first fifty years in an environment where it’s deviation from the social norm would arouse, at the very least, harsh scrutiny.

  23. Bad Apologetic #15:

    I believe Christianity is true because I read a really stupid apologetic for “that other faith.” Glad I don’t have that problem!

  24. I would word reason #3 about the lost day of Joshua much more strongly than you have. This is entirely an urban legend.

    http://www.snopes.com/religion/lostday.asp

    Rebuttals of this can be found on Christian sites as well.

  25. I love this, I learn alot from you guy’s, I would like to see some of you on Carm.org getting into Apologetic witnessing with some of the atheist there.
    I see you guy’s really discussing evidential vs presupontional apologetics, I am not sold as to wich one works best, I have noticed though lately that no matter what evidence or presupposition that you give many atheistc evolutionist to defend the faith that they call every thing you say a lie, no matter what resource you use. I am almost at the point of “shaking the dust off my feet” because it is like “casting your pearls before swine”
    The Calvinist in me is saying to just keep praying and let God open their eyes, but I know that Jude tells us to earnestly contend for the faith, even if they have no intention of listening.
    What are some of the best apologetic web sights that I could use to point people to? as well as the use of the Bible.

  26. 15. I believe Jesus is the Messiah because he fulfilled the prophecies about being a Nazarene, being born in Bethlehem, being born of a virgin, coming out of Egypt, and rising from the dead on the third day.

    I know Matthew and Luke wrote it, but that doesn’t make it valid reasoning.

  27. On that NASA missing day thing, it is fiction widely publicized by certain preachers and tracts. For more information, see an article by Ted Davis on the subject, a professor of history of science and religion at Messiah College.

  28. http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1991/PSCF12-91Davis.html

    Some info about the legendary “long day of Joshua” being confirmed by NASA is included in the Jonah story at the above website.

  29. This is a pretty poor one but all too common–I can’t believe it escaped mentioning.

    “I believe it because that’s the way I was raised” or “I was raised to believe…” or any of the variants.

    Of course, those are used in far too many situations, not just religious.

  30. Hebrews 11: 6.

    But without faith it is IMPOSSIBLE to please GOD.

    So, what I believe may not be provable or make any sense; it may even not be truth.
    But in so much as I am able to choose, I shall choose to put my FAITH in GOD.

  31. I believe the Biblical starting point of apologetics comes from Christ to the Apostles, then specifically explained by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3 & 4. Before the witnesses of the resurrection, they declare, “Christ died for our sins ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES, that He was buried and raised on the third day, ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES.” This is what Jesus taught after His resurrection, that the prophets, the types and shadows foretold Him, His death, and resurrection. This IS PART OF THE GOSPEL; built in apologetics!

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