Why "The Final Apologetic" Still Matters
If love is our most-convincing proof, does our combative spirit actually argue people away from the truth?
The last few decades have brought about a revival of the ancient art of apologetics—the skill of case-making for the truth of Christianity. It’s partly a response to the growing presence of popular atheistic arguments across the media spectrum, especially the Internet. While the Internet is a remarkable tool for learning, it also provides greater access to more poorly formed arguments against God than ever before. As apologist C.S. Lewis wrote in his book The Weight of Glory, “Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.” Though apologetics has never really ceased to exist in the church (Paul made his case before the Aeropagus in Acts 17 and King Agrippa in Acts 26, Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century gave his five proofs of God’s existence, and G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis penned their arguments in the 20th century), the current revival includes a surge of interest in directly combating the new atheist arguments.
I rejoice and thank God that Christians are becoming increasingly interested in understanding why they believe. Yet I’ve also been saddened at witnessing some Christians use apologetics as a weapon against others, especially against fellow believers. For some, apologetics is a method by which they tear down other people, instead of a means of analyzing and making arguments for the benefit of people. It’s a good time for a sobering reminder of Christian ethics. A solid Christian witness includes well-reasoned, thoughtful arguments and a lifestyle of love. The late apologist Francis Schaeffer entreated us to such a lifestyle in what he called “the final apologetic.”
Schaeffer’s “final apologetic” was based on John 17:20-23. In this passage, Jesus prayed for his disciples and for the believers yet to come. He prayed for unity among believers and that they would demonstrate love for one another as part of the reality of God’s love at work. Through this observable love, the world would recognize that Jesus truly is the Son of God. In his 1970 work The Mark of the Christian, Schaeffer wrote:
“Now comes the sobering part. Jesus goes on in this 21st verse to say something that always causes me to cringe. If as Christians we do not cringe, it seems to me we are not very sensitive or very honest, because Jesus here gives us the final apologetic. What is the final apologetic? “That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me”(John 17:21). This is the final apologetic. … Now that is frightening.”
In our process of training and equipping Christians, we must not forget to teach them that Christian behavior and attitude cannot be separated from their knowledge of God. Any knowledge gained should first wash over, instruct and challenge individual believers as part of their own transformation and renewal in Christ. It should then affect that believer’s relationships within the body of Christ. At this point, someone might say, “Yes, but you are arguing why we need spiritual disciplines like fasting and prayer. This is not necessarily connected to arguments for God’s existence.” But Schaeffer directly connects this loving attitude to apologetics. He goes further to call it the final apologetic, or the one that really closes the case for belief in the existence of God. I agree.