Affective Apologetics: Getting to the Heart of the Matter

The goal of this post is to introduce and illustrate a different way of doing apologetics. Often we think of apologetics in terms of intellectual arguments, syllogisms, defenses of premises, and so on. Instead, this post will focus on apologetics that aims at the affections. We will focus on the person’s heart. After explaining what is meant by affective apologetics, a number of examples will be given.

Pascal’s Heart

“The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know.” This famous line from Blaise Pascal’s Pensées is part of a larger discourse on the role of the intellect and the heart. Recognizing that faith is a gift of God, Pascal argues that the heart has a certain role in the Christian life and apologetics. It is the heart which experiences God. Faith is felt by the heart, not by reason. As Pascal states, “The knowledge of God is very far from the love of Him.”

It is therefore right to recognize the roles of both the heart and the intellect. Pascal is not saying that the intellect has no role, but that there is also a place for the heart and the affections. The intellect is important for persuading those to believe while waiting for God to impart faith to them. The intellect, however, only goes so far. Since God works through the heart, we must attend to the heart and not look down upon those who do not go through the intellect.

Since God’s work through the heart has its own order, it is therefore right to think of apologetics in an affective key. How can we give a defense of the faith that is attendant to God’s work in the heart? How can we demonstrate Christianity in line with the affections? This is not a path contrary to the intellect or somehow inferior, for God made the whole of us. However, if our apologetic is made up solely of premises, syllogisms, and analyzed terms, then we are only witnessing to a part of who God made us to be. As Pascal says in another place, “People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.”

So apologetics also includes speaking to people’s hearts, their affections. This is not a lesser form of apologetics or some sort of logical fallacy; it is recognizing people as holistic beings that are created by God. So what does this look like?

Blaise Pascal

While Pascal’s Pensées is incomplete, it seems that he was attempting to unite the intellect and heart in his own work. One famous line considers the misery of man and redemption found in Jesus:

The knowledge of God without that of man’s misery causes pride. The knowledge of man’s misery without that of God causes despair. The knowledge of Jesus Christ constitutes the middle course, because in Him we find both God and our misery.

In a striking image, Pascal reflects on death by imagining men in chains all condemned to death. Some of them are killed each day in the sight of others. The ones that remain see their own fate in those that are killed. They wait their turn for death to come. “It is an image of the condition of men,” he says. Pascal’s point in his discussion of the misery of man is to hold two images in tension: the greatness and misery of man. These two find their resolution in Jesus.

Perhaps Pascal would develop the argument in strictly intellectual terms. With everything, though, one can try to escape in various ways. He certainly gives reasons for believing in both the greatness and misery of man, but any argument can simply be shifted in order to deny the conclusion. Instead, Pascal was tapping deep into the heart of man. You are dust and to dust you will return. We all are stamped with one word: mortal.

Yet man has a greatness to him. Pascal sees this principally in the fact that we are thinking reeds. We are frail, but we are thinking. Although we will die from various causes, we can think of our death.

These two work against one another. We are at once both miserable and great. We are thinking beings. We can comprehend that we will die. But we will die, and everything that we have accomplished will be washed away. Vanity of vanities. We tend to focus on one or the other, so Pascal has a prescription: “If he exalts himself, I humble him; if he humbles himself, I exalt him; and I always contradict him, till he understands that he is an incomprehensible monster.” We are called to greatness, but we have clearly fallen from our place. This is at the heart of every person. The solution is found in the one who showed his greatness in misery: the crucified God.

G. K. Chesterton

It is also here that I think of Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. He refers to the book as a “slovenly autobiography.” He produces no clear syllogisms. He does not go through the fine points of analytical precision. Yet he speaks to the human condition. He paints a different picture. It is a picture he believes is true to the world and has only found a solution in the orthodox faith, but it is a painting nonetheless. He whimsically talks about the sun rising because our Father is younger than us and rejoices in seeing it happen all again. He pictures us seeking for a homeland that is greater than any place we have ever been. All of our longings and desires, all of our heart’s affection, everything that we know is true about fairytales find their resolution in the Christian faith.

Alexander Pruss

Alexander Pruss gives another example in more syllogistic form based on hope. The central point is that there is no hope apart from Jesus Christ. In defending that premise, he comments, “Clichéd as that sounds, premise (1) really is something that I come to realize more and more deeply the longer I live.” He reflects on similar themes we have been exploring in talking about the premise that affirms hope, “I suspect that accepting (2) in the relevant deep existential sense of ‘There is hope’ usually, perhaps always, is a fruit of grace. There is darkness, but one sees that there is light shining in it even if one cannot identify the light.”

Holy Scripture

Finally, affective apologetics has a place in speaking Scripture to others. Although I have listened to very little, it seems that this is one of the main draws of Jordan Peterson. He can take a story like Cain and Abel and talk about how it speaks into our deepest desires, our heart affections. If Peterson can do this with a story he does not fully grasp, how much more should Christians be able to use Scripture affectively.

We should see Jesus in the Psalms. In Psalm 3, when the Psalmist lays down to sleep and awakes again, here is Jesus’ death and resurrection. As Saul persecutes David because he is fearful, we learn of a different Saul that is changed through the better David. In Esther, a book that never names God, we learn of what it means to be honored by King Jesus: to be crucified with him. And in the Song of Solomon, a book we would probably rather not read in church, we see the glorious Bride.

Here one should think of all of the countless testimonies of being arrested by the personality of Jesus in reading the gospel. Here is a man that is almost airy, as if he is from another world. Yet he takes this world more seriously than we ever could. He weeps over the loss of his friends, rebukes over disallowing the children to come to him, and warns of perdition to the self-righteous.

He tells us to pluck out our eyes and cut off our hands if they cause us to sin. Yet he tells his followers that their righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. Their righteousness is even compared to crops that yield a hundredfold.

He speaks in parables, short stories about common pictures. He speaks of weeds, mustard seeds, labor, and the nitty gritty. But the stories are arresting. The cares of the world will choke away the seed. Give away money in order to have friends and much more in this life. The lilies and birds are taken care of, so do not worry about silly items like clothing and food.

Here is a man who sums up the human condition. We are stopped in our tracks. We must take note. He speaks to our deepest heart. It is a strange glory that he shows us, one that is both the same and different from our own. Do you want to know what it means to be human? Behold the man!


This post argued that our apologetics need to be expanded. I am drawn to syllogisms, defending premises, delving into philosophy, and more. However, apologetics that focuses only on the head fails to take the whole God-created person seriously. This was explained by looking at some of Pascal’s thought. We then saw what this form of apologetics looks like in a number of works and areas. So practice affective apologetics. Point people to God’s beauty in the whole world and Scripture. Affective apologetics helps people’s eyes see the King in his beauty (Isa. 33:17).

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Avinash Poojary

Nice article. I think in this area, Ravi Zacharias does a pretty good job in connecting the head to the heart. Just my opinion.


“This post argued that our apologetics need to be expanded.”

Now you just have to expand the apologetics to include actually demonstrating the claims being made are true. Coming up with philosophical arguments where you can’t demonstrate the premises are true just doesn’t cut it.