I am a Christian apologist.
No, that doesn’t mean that I apologize for Christianity. Quite the opposite. I endorse it. Christian apologetics is the branch of theology that defends the truth of historic Christian belief.
Can I prove to you that Christianity is true? No. Not like I can prove that two plus two equals four. I can provide strong evidence for Jesus Christ and his claims. But in the end, Christianity must be accepted by faith. And that’s the way God wants it, for he is blessed when we take him at his word. In fact, without faith it is impossible to please him.
How do I know that? God himself says so — in the Bible (Hebrews 11:6).
But how do I know that the Bible is true? How do I know that it is a reliable record of the actual words with which God inspired its human authors?
When I’m lecturing on this subject, I cite eight separate lines of evidence. One line is what I call thematic congruence, which marks the work of all 35-40 Bible writers. No other sacred literature in the world includes a common story line that runs through source manuscripts spanning 1,500 years and penned by multiple authors.
Additionally, I can cite rational solutions to the many so-called Bible contradictions raised by critics. I can produce intellectually credible refutations to the charges of Bart Ehrman, The Jesus Seminar and Dan Brown. And many of liberal theology’s attacks on the integrity of the Bible have long since run aground themselves.
Nevertheless, no one can absolutely, empirically prove that the Bible is the reliable word of God. An element of faith is still required. Not blind faith. But faith nevertheless. Which is why faith pleases God.
International evangelist Billy Graham may be the most famous preacher of all time. But in August 1949, his name was relatively unknown. He was just 30 years old, and his faith in the Bible was being tested severely.
Billy Graham’s personal friend and fellow evangelist, Charles Templeton, was also a dynamic speaker who professed hope in Christ. But by 1949, he had begun to doubt the Bible was trustworthy. Soon Templeton was pressing Billy Graham with many tough questions. At the time, Graham was in Southern California. What follows is his own account of what happened:
“I had to have an answer. If I could not trust the Bible, I could not go on … I would have to leave pulpit evangelism … I got up and took a walk. The moon was out. The shadows were long in the San Bernardino Mountains … Dropping to my knees there in the woods, I opened the Bible at random on a tree stump. … The exact wording of my prayer is beyond recall, but it must have echoed my thoughts: ‘O God! There are many things in this book I do not understand. There are many problems with it for which I have no solution. There are many seeming contradictions. There are some areas in it that do not seem to correlate with modern science. I can’t answer some of the philosophical and psychological questions Chuck [Templeton] and others are raising.’”
Graham goes on: “I was trying to be on the level with God, but something remained unspoken. At last the Holy Spirit freed me to say it. ‘Father, I am going to accept this as Thy Word — by faith! I’m going to allow faith to go beyond my intellectual questions and doubts, and I will believe this to be Your inspired Word.’”
Then he concludes: “When I got up from my knees … that August night, my eyes stung with tears. I sensed the presence and power of God as I had not sensed it in months. Not all my questions were answered, but a major bridge had been crossed. In my heart and mind, I knew a spiritual battle in my soul had been fought and won.” (Excerpts from “Just As I Am,” 2007 HarperOne).
It was a critical moment in history. God was pleased by this young man who had decided to invest faith in the Bible — not against the evidence, but beyond what he could know by evidence alone.
One month after this pivotal event, Billy Graham preached his famous Los Angeles revival series. Instantly he became known across the nation and around the world. Since that time, his life and message have inspired millions of people.
Charles Templeton became an agnostic. Apart from his family, I know of no one ever claiming to have drawn encouragement from his life or message. We can only wonder how differently things might have turned out had Charles chosen to walk down the road of reasonable faith with his friend Billy.
The Rev. Daryl E. Witmer is founder and director of the AIIA Institute, a national apologetics ministry, and pastor emeritus at the Monson Community Church. He may be reached on the Web at AIIAInstitute.org or by e-mail at AIIAInstitute@aol.com. Voices is a weekly commentary by Maine people who explore issues affecting spirituality and religious life.