In the eleventh century, a brilliant man named Anselm of Canterbury published a book called the Proslogion that proved the existence of God. It’s an interesting book that I recommend to be people (it’s not nearly as long as most medieval theological works), but I brought it up because his efforts remind me of modern day apologetics in the church and their rightful place.
Anselm did not prove God to the unbelieving. In his opening narration, Anselm insists that he wrote the book because other Christian monks found the ideas uplifting. He certainly did not bring the Proslogion to athiests or people of other religions in order to convert them.
However, he was followed by a group known as the Scholastic Theologians (depending on who you ask, Anselm was one of them or he was a precursor – I like to place him outside of that trend) who began to abuse this method. It was believed by the scholastics that every part of Catholic traditions (transubstantiation, the last rites, etc.) were things that could be proved by simple speculation (meaning that any perdon of any background would have to follow Roman Catholicism if they just thought about it a little while). This was not a good development for the church because speculative “proofs” of theology really only make sense to people who already adhere to that theology – Anselm knew this and kept his teachings within monasteries.
Medievalists like to say that “everyone believed in God until the scholastics proved Him.” Trying to force a person to believe in something is a fool’s errand, and trying to prove Christianity as true through logic has never been a successful model for spreading the Gospel.
All that’s left is to tell Trevor about Pascal’s Wager and then he will have to be a Christian. (Never mind personal conviction – you know apologetics!)
The father of modern apologetics is probably the kind and intelligent Josh McDowell who (almost literally) wrote the book on it. However, in his lectures and his books he’s always made it a point to tell people about his personal testimony and not to use apologetics as a club to beat people into submission. (Christianity Today thinks that this is a recent trend with McDowell, but they are wrong – his agenda has always been thus.) McDowell has shown remarkable wisdom in this.
I don’t know anyone who says that they became a Christian after a Creationist showed them supposed flaws in the evolutionary model, or because an apologist threw ontological arguments in their face; the believers I know are led to believe by personal conviction which cannot be orchestrated by people. We can’t force someone’s mentality into accepting a Christian worldview by violence or arguments, but we can show them Christ’s love through our actions.
(More articles at www.ThinkingThroughChristianity.com)