When People Who Don’t Believe in God Give Intellectual Smokescreens
1 Peter 3:15 is the go-to verse for giving the biblical justification for Christian apologetics. Here Peter exhorts us to rationally defend Christian truth claims for anyone who asks us for a reason for why we believe them. This is indeed bona fide biblical support for apologetics. But this same passage answers one of the biggest Christian objections to apologetics as well.
Some Christians claim that, when people who don’t believe in God give intellectual objections to Christianity, or ask for intellectual support for it, often they are giving intellectual smokescreens to hide the fact that they simply don’t like God. Thus, if non-Christians utter intellectual objections to the Christian faith, and especially if they do so mockingly or with an angry tone, then it is likely that they are not really being bothered by these problems. Rather, they are giving mere intellectual smokescreens to hide the fact that they dislike God and do not want to follow him. They are rejecting God with their hearts, not their heads.
And if this is the case, why bother dealing with these intellectual smokescreens? At least in these cases, so the objection goes, we should simply preach the gospel more fervently, call out their heart issues with God, pray more, or some combination of these. But we should not waste time offering them intellectual support for Christianity, since that is not ultimately what they need.
However, if Peter were to encounter such an objection, this would be his reply: “What is it to you that their intellectual objection or inquiry may not be genuine? They asked you a question about our faith, so lovingly give them an answer!”
Why would he say that? Consider the context of 1 Peter 3. Peter’s main point in this passage is that we should be willing to suffer for the sake of righteousness rather than repay evil for evil, just as Christ suffered unjustly on our behalf in spite of the evil done to him (1 Pet. 3:9,17-18). An application of that point is verse 15: when we are reviled or slandered or made to suffer unjustly, and this is done in the form of hostile questioning or mocking of our faith, we should still nevertheless gently and respectfully defend the reasonableness of the gospel. This is what it means to suffer for the sake of Christ when someone mocks our faith; rather than responding with anger or disrespect, we should love the mocker by seriously engaging with the intellectual objections they give, even if they are disingenuous smokescreens.
What Peter does not say is that we should refuse to engage with what the non-Christian is saying. Quite the opposite: we should honor them, respect what they say, and answer the questions that they ask us. This shares the love of Christ with them much more than ignoring what they say because we think that what they say might not be genuine.
Moreover, many who give intellectual smokescreens hiding a deeper non-intellectual cause of unbelief – and even who do so in a mocking or hostile way – may well not be aware that the smokescreen is not their ultimate reason for their unbelief. So if their intellectual objections or questions are merely smokescreens, then clearing these away will help them to see the deeper issue after all. So seriously engaging intellectual smokescreens is not only loving but most practical as well.
Ultimately, when practicing apologetics with non-Christians, we should expect a wide array of reactions — some of which are negative. Paul encountered such an array in Acts 17. After rationally defending the existence of God and the resurrection of Jesus, he was met with three responses: acceptance, hesitant curiosity, and mockery (Acts 17:22-34). There is no good reason for supposing that Paul stopped seriously engaging with the mockers. There is no good reason why we should stop seriously engaging with them either.
What do you think about this objection to apologetics? Leave any thoughts or questions you have in the comments section below!