Apologetics, Theism, and Conversion

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I recently retweeted the above quote because I believe it to be true. However, it may be misleading for some, and I want to address that issue.

Clearly, conversion should be the ultimate goal of Christian apologetics. BUT, apologetics is not a zero-sum game, which is to say: Every apologetic encounter that leads to theism and not conversion is not necessarily a failure. In fact, one of the requirements of salvific faith is theism: “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6, bold emphasis added). So, although theism should not be the intended final-destination, it can be an important initial step in the process of conversion.

Conversion is a process. And by that, I don’t mean a process of religious rituals; I mean moving from unbelief to belief. For some that process may appear instantaneous. In these cases, the person typically is raised in a Christian context (whether that be a Christian family or broader Christian culture) and has no doubts about God’s existence, or likely any doubts about the person of Christ. For them, it is a matter of believing (i.e., trusting Christ, or placing their faith in Him). You might hear these converts say something like, “I don’t remember ever not knowing about Jesus, but when I was  __ years old, I trusted him as savior.”

Encountering those types of people, though, is becoming more rare. In an increasingly secular Western world, particularly with the growth of evangelistic secularism/atheism, the general assumption that everyone believes in God is no longer a safe assumption. Thus, in many cases an apologist must first lead a lost person to an active belief in the existence of God (i.e., theism) before pressing further toward the gospel. Busenitz’s overarching point is correct, though: Apologists should not be satisfied with theism, they should aim for the gospel.

I recognize that Busenitz has a specific context in mind with his Tweet, and my clarification may not be necessary for that situation. However, the reason I think it important to offer my clarification is my own context and history. I’m attempting to help those who may live under the false guilt of not “winning [enough] converts to Jesus.” I recently observed a traveling evangelist challenge a fellow minister essentially to “put up or shut up” with the challenge to “tell us how many people you have won to the Lord this past week, month, or year.” His intent, it seemed, was to say, “If you haven’t won as many people to the Lord as I have, you are not doing real ministry.” This type of critique is mistaken for at least two reasons that are intertwined: 1) it fails to recognize that conversion is a process, and 2) it fails to recognize that any convert usually has multiple influences toward conversion.

Something that has been helpful for me in being thankful for theism, though not satisfied with it, is first to recognize that conversion is a process. Thus, my responsibility as an apologist or evangelist is to take someone as far as I can toward faith in Christ. Sometimes, that means all the way to conversion. In other cases, I may only be able to convince someone that theism is reasonable, and pray for others who can add to my witness to come along and participate. No less than the apostle Paul recognized this approach: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth” (I Corinthians 3:6).

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