Rob Bell, pastor of the influential Mars Hill Church in Michigan, wrote a book entitled Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith.  In one section of the book Bell writes:

It is important to remember that we rarely find these first christians trying to prove that the resurrection actually occurred.  To try to prove there was an empty tomb wouldn’t have gotten very far with the average citizen of the roman empire; they had heard it all before. This is why so many passages about the early church deal with possessions and meals and generosity. They understood that people are rarely persuaded by arguments, but more often by experiences. Living, breathing, flesh-and-blood experiences of the resurrection community. They saw it as their responsibility to put Jesus’ message on display. To the outside world, it was less about proving and more about inviting people to experience this community of Jesus followers for themselves.

Mark Oestreicher (who quoted the above passage on his personal blog), president of Youth Specialties, added his own two cents in support of Bell’s comments:

People today could care less about the “proof” of our arguments, the “logic” of our evidence that demands a verdict, or our “cases” for faith, christ, easter, christmas or whatever else. The only evidence demanding a verdict people care about these days is how i live my life. The only case for christ people give a rip about is the case made by commitment to love and justice, or lack thereof.”

It is unfortunate that such high-profile, youth-focused Christian leaders would make such remarks.  While it is true that people are interested in seeing our Christianity lived out in real life—and not just hearing our arguments for Christianity—that does not mean they are unconcerned about our arguments.  Every human being is concerned with the truth because we are made in the image of the one who is Truth.  Knowledge of the truth requires epistemic justification of some sort, and to some degree, and hence arguments are beneficial.

For those who assert that rational arguments are not effective in turning people toward Christ I have one question: Why are arguments so effective, then, in turning so many people away from Christ? If people truly could not “give a rip” about the rational reasons to believe Christianity is true, why do they give a rip about the intellectual challenges leveled against Christianity in the public square?  Why do some of them abandon their Christian faith in light of such challenges?  Clearly they respect the priority of reason in epistemic justification.  The fact of the matter is that humans are persuaded by reasons.  We change our minds on all sorts of things when we are rationally compelled to do so.  Why should it be any different when it comes to Christian truth?  If people think belief in God or Christ is no more intellectually defensible than belief in Santa Clause, they will not believe.  But if they are persuaded that belief in God is intellectually credible, they will believe.

It is true, of course, that some people will still choose to reject Christianity, even if they do believe it is true.  But it is also true that many choose to accept it only after having been persuaded that it is true.  Think of those who have come to faith in Christ as a direct result of being presented with the evidence for Christianity: Lee Strobel, Greg Koukl, Norm Geisler, and C.S. Lewis.  All of these men have become extremely influential for the kingdom after their conversion.  How many Strobel’s are there out there who may never be reached because all the Christians they encounter have adopted Bell and Oestreicher’s ridiculous notion that people don’t care about the rational foundation of Christianity?  The fact of the matter is that arguments are effective in winning people to Christ, and effective in keeping believers from being seduced by bad reasons for rejecting Him.

Not only is the idea that apologetics are useless in evangelism refuted on an empirical level, but it is also refuted by Scripture.  Apparently Paul did not believe giving reasons to believe was a useless endeavor.  In Acts 17:2-4 we read: “And according to Paul’s custom he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead….” (See also 17:17; 18:19)  Again in Acts 19:8 we read that Paul went into the synagogue of the Jews and “spoke boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God.”  Again in Acts 18:4 we find Paul “reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.” (See also 19:8-9; 20:7, 9;  24:12, 25;  28:23)

Paul himself wrote, “For the weapons of our warfare are not human weapons, but are made powerful by God for tearing down strongholds.  We tear down arguments and every arrogant obstacle that is raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to make it obey Christ. (II Cor 10:4, NET Bible)  He saw himself as “appointed for the defense of the Gospel” (Phil 1:17).

Peter told us to “sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” (I Pet 3:15, NET Bible).

Need I go on?  While Bell and Oestreicher think people could give a rip about rational arguments for the truth of Christianity, Peter and Paul beg to differ.  I’m putting my money on Peter and Paul!