What do sin and apologetics have to do with one another? The relationship between these two concepts may not be immediately obvious. But it is important for Christians engaging in apologetics to have a good understanding and awareness of sin for three reasons: (i) the concept of sin plays an important role in some apologetic arguments and counterarguments, (ii) sin can pervert the intentions of the apologist, and (iii) sin is a key component in the Gospel of Jesus.
1. Apologetic Arguments
The concept of sin plays an important role in apologetic arguments and counter-arguments. Consider two popular arguments leveled against Christianity. First is the general Argument from Evil. While there are several forms of this argument, the idea is that we should not expect a good God to exist when there is so much evil in the world. A proper understanding of the biblical concept of sin provides the apologist with a potential theodicy (or theodicies). Understanding how evil is often the result of free decisions by morally responsible creatures, directly or indirectly, can help diffuse or weaken the argument.
A second common objection to Christianity is an appeal to hypocrisy; Christians claim access to special revelation of moral truth and yet they commit terrible atrocities. This is true historically with the visible Church, as well as with many individual Christians today. Again, a proper understanding of the biblical view of sin can deflect this.
Romans 3:10 says that “There is no one righteous, no, not one.” Christians are no exception here. Paul the Apostle, author of the letter to the Romans, also wrote in 1 Timothy 1:15: “Jesus Christ came to save sinners—and I am the worst of them!” Under Christianity, we should expect that even those in the church will do wrong. As Jesus said in Mark 2:17, “Those who are healthy don’t need a physician, but those who are sick do. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Rather than condemning Christianity, this accurate reflection of human nature should be a point in its favor (even atheist philosopher Keith Parsons thinks so).
2. Motivation and Intention
Without proper awareness and humility, sin can pervert the intentions of the apologist. In Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, Cornelius Plantinga argues that sin is a parasitic imitator of goodness. “To prevail, evil must leech not only power and intelligence from goodness but also its credibility.” (p. 98).
Sin takes what God has made good, and perverts it toward an unwholesome purpose. For example, sexual sin (pornography, sex out of wedlock, etc) takes a good gift from God and puts it to use for the unwholesome purposes of self-seeking pleasure and gratification. But even in this unwholesome purpose, it often cloaks itself in righteousness, making it even more insidious.
So how is this relevant to apologetics? Apologetics is a good thing. Its practitioners seek to create an environment where Christianity is seen as intellectually viable. The rightly oriented apologist is motivated by a love of God and his neighbor. He sees the Gospel for what it is—good news – and feels compelled to convince others of its truth out of obedience to God and love of those who do not know Him.
But the seed of sin exists in all of us, waiting to pervert what is good and try to claim its mantle of righteousness. If the apologist is not careful, his motives can easily become twisted. Instead of being compelled by love, he can instead become motivated by vanity, pride, power, and influence. Rather than desiring to offer Living Water to a man dying of spiritual thirst, he can seek to intellectually dominate his opponent and win the argument.
If the apologist is not careful, his motives can easily become twisted. Instead of being compelled by love, he can instead become motivated by vanity, pride, power, and influence.
The antidote to this is a strong sense of humility motivated by the constant reminder of our place with respect to God. Like the non-believer, there was a time when we also did not know God. Like the non-believer, we also are sinners. Our salvation is a result of God’s mercy and grace, not our own intelligence and cleverness. “For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast.”
To conclude this point, let’s consider another quote from Plantinga:
3. Sin and the Gospel
Sin is a key component of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and that Gospel is the end goal of apologetics. Apologetics, when rightly practiced, serves for no other purpose than the glory of God, through the sharing of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The entire point of apologetics is to convince the non-believer of his state before God, and his need to accept Jesus Christ as savior.
In its most simple form, the Gospel says the following:
- God created us in love to glorify and enjoy Him.
- We (that is, both humanity in general, and humans in particular) rejected God by sinning against Him.
- God loves us so much, that he provided a means for reconciliation through His incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection.
As you can see, the Gospel presupposes sin. If you do not have sin, you do not have the Gospel. And if you do not have the Gospel, apologetics is a thoroughly pointless endeavor.
After a little thought, the connection between sin and apologetics could not be clearer. The apologist who understands sin has an important response to certain objections to Christianity. The apologist who is aware of sin and its insidious affects can be a part of advancing God’s kingdom without slipping into self-righteousness and hypocrisy. Most importantly, the apologist who understands sin can skillfully navigate toward and articulate the proper end of apologetics: The Gospel of Jesus Christ.