Apologetics and especially apologists have frequently gotten a bad reputation in the church for being all head and no heart. I often encounter this assumption when I speak, particularly when audiences learn that I was a research astronomer at Caltech and even more so when they discover that I have Asperger’s Syndrome. Thus, it is not surprising that I get a lot of questions concerning how I go about balancing my study of apologetics with my emotional experience of Christ. Here is one such question that I recently got on Facebook, and below will follow a somewhat longer answer than the one I gave to the inquirer.
Q: Dr Ross, I would love to hear your thoughts on how you feel the world of apologetics relates to the experiential knowledge of Christ. Far more intensely than when I was busy learning to defend Christianity, I feel now that apologetics plays a huge role in removing intellectual barriers for the skeptic, but that a true knowledge of Christ comes through the experience; often through suffering. I feel like there’s a balance between explaining what we can explain, and embracing the mystery of the gospel. I would love to know how you balance those things and what great mysteries of the gospel you find yourself pondering and even embracing.
A: Great question! Good apologetics should always generate worship of God where we experience an awe of God in a new and deeper way and feel euphoria over what we have just discovered about God and his truth. This awe and euphoria needs to be transformative, an experience that causes us to change the way we live and behave. Good apologetics is where we are joyous warriors advancing the cause of Christ. A joyous Christian warrior can rejoice in his suffering and persecution because of how that suffering and persecution results in people coming to Christ and in Christians repenting of their carnality. A joyous warrior never loses sight of the latter part of 1 Peter 3:15. Our apologetics is always to be delivered with gentleness, respect, and a clear conscience. A joyous warrior consistently models James 1:2–5:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.
For me, James 1:5 is the key to being able to live out James 1:2–4. What makes it possible for me to be a joyous warrior in my evangelistic ministries is fully recognizing that I am never alone. When I walk into an auditorium filled with hostile atheists, God is with me. If I ask him, he will always give me the wisdom I need to diffuse the hostility and persuade my audience, in spite of their resistance to God and to me, to listen to the message. That consistent experience in seeing God gifting me with wisdom when I personally lack it and seeing how those gifts transform so many people in my audiences, more than anything else, helps me to integrate and balance my head knowledge of apologetics with my heart experience of my relationship with Jesus Christ, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit.
The mysteries of the gospel are many. How is it that God is able to redeem so many of us? To what degree and how are the righteous and evil angels involved? What role or roles is God preparing each of us to fulfill in the new creation? What will it really be like when God removes all the obnoxious dross from the being of every Christian? I could go on. As for passages of Scripture that are still a great mystery for me, the last eight chapters of Ezekiel are probably the most mysterious.
The mysteries of the gospel are also a blessing. God created us humans with an insatiable curiosity about everything. He also endowed us with an amazing response system to the satisfaction of our curiosity. When our curiosity is satisfied, we feel a sense of accomplishment, joy, euphoria, and an even greater desire to discover and understand things we did not know before (termed “aha moments” or “eureka moments”). Also, through the pursuit and satisfaction of our curiosity, if it is done in a God-honoring way, our relationships with God and others deepen, becoming more intimate and loving.
In other words, there are very good reasons why God doesn’t immediately resolve all of the mysteries of his creation and his gospel for us. We accrue enormous benefits from wrestling with the mysteries. Thus, while I look forward to no longer seeing “through a glass darkly” when I arrive in heaven, I expect that for the rest of eternity, God will grant me the joy of continuing to explore the infinite mysteries of God and what he has done.