The danger of apologetics - C.S. Lewis

In God in the Dock, C.S. Lewis writes:

I have found that nothing is more dangerous to one’s own faith than the work of an apologist. No doctrine of that Faith seems to me so spectral, so unreal as one that I have just successfully defended in a public debate. For a moment, you see, it has seemed to rest on oneself: as a result, when you go away from that debate, it seems no stronger than that weak pillar. That is why we apologists take our lives in our hands and can be saved only by falling back continually from the web of our own arguments, as from our intellectual counters, into the Reality—from Christian apologetics into Christ Himself. That also is why we need one another’s continual help—oremus pro invicem [let us pray for one another] (God in the Dock, 103).

This quote grabbed my attention because of my own recent experience.

After the collapse of RZIM, I saw the weakness of a web of arguments. It didn’t necessarily change our hearts or motivate us to tell the truth.

As I fell down - or back - I didn’t know where I would land. But eventually, I found that I fell into Christ Himself.

Now, Lewis is not writing about that, but rather the psychological experience of publicly defending Christianity as true, and afterward, feeling uncertain about what you had just said was quite certain.

After all, not everyone agreed with your point of view, challenging questions were asked, counter-perspectives were raised, and an intellectually curious person will want to consider all they’ve heard as much as what they’ve said.

I appreciate the insight of what he’s differentiating between - a web of arguments is very nice, and a net good on the whole. However, when we think more of our apologetics than we do of Christ himself, we have veered well off the main path of discipleship.

What do you see as some of the risks or dangers of apologetics?

What helps us grow in both our intellectual clarity about the truth of Christianity while, at the exact same time, deeply connecting our hearts to the love of Jesus?


The biggest danger in apologetics could be the idea that you hold the theo-nukem card. A card, when played, destroys the opposition’s theology, logic, and philosophy and brings them to their senses, total capitulation.
The second danger is that you believe that you actually possess it.

I think a good question to ask is why the need to apologize? Why would you feel threatened because your neighbor didn’t work every 7th day, or did not accept your invitation to break bread with you, or you found out he didn’t like BBQ pork butts, and the few time you were in his house, you noticed the lack of any idols of his god. This is the world that the Jewish people lived in circa 200 BC to 100 AD. A world dominated by Greco-Roman culture and a Jewish population that had been dispersed throughout the known world, the diaspora.
The pressure was on the Jewish community to assimilate if it wanted full access to the opportunities of this world.
It was during this time that Jewish apologetics as a genre was being formulated and applied as a defense to the cultural backlash.
I like what David Desilva says about the role of apologetics then, and I would argue that it is applicable even now.

The purpose of apologetics is often assumed to be to convince outsiders of the value of the beliefs and practices of a religion or way of life. This may be an occasional side effect, but it cannot be the primary function. Rather, works of apologetics are really written for insiders. The arguments in such books may find their way into discussions between adherents and outsiders, but the primary audience is the believing audience. Apologetic writings sustain the insider’s commitment in the face of critique, ridicule or contradiction from outside (and from questions and doubts inside).

deSilva, D. A. (2004). An introduction to the New Testament: contexts, methods and ministry formation (p. 104). InterVarsity Press.

He goes on to say that if the above is understood, then the results should look something like this. As a way of qualification, we need to remember that the early apologetic author’s intended audience was the Jewish community.

To engage in apologetic thus indicates (1) the insider group has embraced the fundamental values of the society and must now demonstrate that its way of life measures up, and (2) the insider group believes that outsiders may be open to dialogue and that misunderstanding rather than malice lies at the root of Jew-Gentile tensions.

deSilva, D. A. (2004). An introduction to the New Testament: contexts, methods and ministry formation (p. 104). InterVarsity Press.

As always, thoughts? Comments?


Hi @jimmy,

Great insights. DeSilva is an excellent scholar; thank you for sharing his work with us.

One further thought that comes to mind is that every group engages in apologetics.

As they enculturate their children or new people into their society, members of any particular group must explain how they do things and why they do them that way.

When one community encounters how another community does things, there is a complex set of interactions: Do we want to adopt their ways? Tell them to adopt our ways? How will we maintain our traditions - and identity?

These negotiations involve the relative power of each group. A variety of techniques of resistance and persuasion will be employed. And so on.

Seeing this as a shared feature of human societies helps me understand why apologetics is always necessary. It also helps me avoid thinking “Christian apologetics is a unique and special discipline!”

No, it’s to be expected. Why? Because I’m part of a community that says Jesus is Lord, and his way of life is to be our way of life, and that inevitably and regularly sets us on a different course than other communities. And this difference generates questions for our community members - and possibly curious outsiders - as to why we live the way that we do.