Spiritual Warfare: What You Didn’t Hear at Bible Study

What’s apologetics got to do with sharing your faith?

A lot. As a former missionary, I’ve seen the role apologetics plays on the mission field first-hand. But even if you’ve never been overseas, you’ve probably seen it while talking to your skeptical friends right here at home. Nowadays, most Christians feel like if they get an immediate response while sharing their faith, it’s often full of challenges and tough questions.

This semester, I’m teaching a class on practicing apologetics and evangelism at Western Seminary. And I’m taking a cue from the Apostle Paul by setting the task of proclaiming and defending the faith within the context of spiritual warfare.

In this post, you’ll see how apologetics isn’t just stuffy academics. It’s a very spiritual thing that’s part of our strategic offensive as Christians in a spiritual battle. Take a look at Paul’s words:

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Cor. 10:3-5 NIV).

► Just as an aside: In the early 90s, I memorized the King James Version of this passage while listening to the Weapons of our Warfare CD by a metal band called Deliverance!

What You Didn’t Hear at Bible Study

Maybe you’ve talked about this one during a Bible study on spiritual warfare. After all, it’s a really famous spiritual warfare passage.  But many people tend to miss something here. I’ll admit that the first time I ever read this, I thought, “Weapons? Oh, yeah. That’s prayer.” Of course, prayer is a very important part of spiritual warfare. No doubt about it.

But even though Paul was into immersing everything in prayer, he’s not directly talking about prayer in this passage. He’s saying that we don’t fight spiritual battles with swords or machine guns or nuclear bombs.

The original Greek goes like this: “We have weaponry that has power through God for the destruction of fortresses.” Wow! Sounds like some powerful stuff. What’s this really all about?

Know Your Weapon

During my graduate studies in the Christian Apologetics program at Biola University, Dr. Craig Hazen explained that:

The interpretation of this passage really has to do with the fortresses that are being destroyed. Because it’s from that that we learn what the weaponry is.

So what are these weapons? We can find out by asking what these metaphorical fortresses are. What’s he actually tearing down? Paul said, “We demolish arguments.” That’s right—arguments! So doing battle against the forces of darkness means to defeat arguments, expose their lies and remove whatever gets in the way of people getting to know God. Turns out, apologetics isn’t just a bunch of stuffy academics. This is very a spiritual thing.

Apologetics, Missions and Evangelism

For Paul, apologetics was a very important part of missions and evangelism. You’d find him out there in the town square, making a historical case for the truth of Christianity. He boldly shared his first-hand experience of the risen Jesus out in public where people could debate him and engage with him intellectually.

So God’s given us an arsenal that can obliterate false ideas that keep people from submitting to God. But here’s the thing. We can’t just whip out these weapons and go crazy. No wild, gunslinger stuff. We need to use these powerful weapons with love, with gentleness and with respect for people. Remember, faithful Christian apologists blow away invalid arguments—not other people!

Friends Don’t Let Friends…

“Friends don’t let friends drive drunk,” right? Well, imagine your friend’s addicted to alcohol and just got a DUI. You’re trying to get her to quit drinking before it kills her.

As you try to talk some sense into her, you know this isn’t a challenge you’ve taken up as a hobby. It’s not an academic game or a battle of wits to make you look all smart. We’re talking about someone you care about. We’re talking about someone you love.

This is the same kind of attitude we’ve got to have as we talk with our skeptical friends and use the weapons God’s given us. For more on this, see my post on what I learned directly from Dr. William Lane Craig about speaking the truth in love.

License to Carry

So you’re packing some heat, spiritually speaking. But how well can you use these weapons in everyday life? Can you maneuver skillfully in conversations about the faith? Can you spot faulty thinking and pinpoint error like an expert marksman? Or do you end up shooting yourself in the foot?

The IVP New Testament Commentary on this passage says:

We live at a time when the mind is deemphasized and the needs of the individual elevated–so much so that our generation has been dubbed “the me generation.” By contrast, Paul affirms that the mind matters. Indeed, it is so crucial that he focuses all his efforts on taking every thought captive and making it obey Christ.

If we’re reading Paul right, we can’t pretend like apologetics isn’t important to missions or evangelism. Being a defender of the faith is a serious spiritual calling and we’d do well to learn how to use our weapons and train for a variety of situations.

9 Responses to “Spiritual Warfare: What You Didn’t Hear at Bible Study”

  1. Scott Smith August 24, 2011 7:28 AM
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    Excellent post, Mikel. I’ve heard this passage used every which way except contextually. Add it to the list, I guess. Not only does this reading make more sense, but it removes the “mystique” and brings back the original meaning which is something we can actually apply.

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Lisa August 27, 2011 2:07 PM
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    “We need to use these powerful weapons with love, with gentleness and with respect for people. Remember, faithful Christian apologists blow away invalid arguments—not other people!”

    Amen! Let others see Christ’s love within us in order to speak words of life into them so they may be won for God’s Kingdom!!!

  3. Jonathan Sherwin February 3, 2012 4:47 PM
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    I appreciated the post! I think part of the battle has to be our targeting of the arguments. So often we target people with arguments, yet most arguments are adopted, borrowed or pinched from somewhere else. Knowing where ideas come from, how arguments are sold into cultures and people groups, will give us clues about where need to engage.

    Appreciate all your work bro.

  4. Eric Burton February 5, 2012 12:22 PM
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    Good post, Mikel. If I may, I’d like to add a little advice from “the other side.”

    If you have someone in your life that doesn’t believe (likely you do) and you have been witnessing to them, please don’t insult them by telling them (usually after they refuse to be convinced by your arguments) that they don’t believe for any reason other than a simple lack of reasons to believe.

    I have been told that “most atheists don’t believe due to sin in their lives.” Whether it’s true or not, it sounds absolutely ridiculous to the unbeliever, especially when that unbeliever used to believe as fervently as anyone else.

    I know you believe there are spiritual forces at work that are to blame or be credited when people don’t believe or finally do believe, respectively. But you will do well to not insult the unbeliever by insinuating that these spiritual forces are the “actual” reason they hold the position they do.

    Also, when talking to someone like me, who used to be a christian (for 20 years), and decided it was not true, don’t tell them that they must have not really believed it or been a “real” christian in the first place.

    I understand the desire to explain away someone’s lack of belief, as I myself was always troubled by people that didn’t believe after hearing the same evidence I had (how could they not believe after hearing that air-tight argument?). Now I see why that is, and how it applies in the opposite way. But I also learned that explaining to someone who holds a different position that you that the “real” reason they feel differently than you is not because of intellectual reasons, but spiritual ones is disrespectful and detrimental to them listening to you at a later date.

    Hopefully none of you who read this blog would do these things, but I recommend paying attention on how you witness to unbelievers regardless (atheists especially).

    :-D

    • Apologetics Guy February 5, 2012 12:59 PM
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      Hi Eric,

      Thanks for your comment. It’s great for Christians to hear this kind of thing. I also appreciate your tone, by the way. I especially appreciate my Christian friends who are former atheists chiming in about stuff like this. I also appreciate my atheist friends reminding believers about how they feel when Christians say certain things.

      Part of what I try to do in my training is to get Christians to imagine what it’s like to be their unbelieving friend. Doing this helps us get some perspective. I also think that some Christians just need to actually start caring about people, loving people and being real with their skeptical friends. Like, “I’m you’re friend no matter what.”

      One of my atheist friends once told me that after studying Christianity and going to church for over 5 years, that he actually found satisfactory answers to his questions. The big thing for him was, “Do I want to give control of my life to God?” At that point, I actually think he became a theist (especially since he was honestly struggling with that question), but I really appreciated his being real with me. As far as I know he is not a Christian today, but I still really value him.

      Thanks again for taking the time to chime in. I hope you enjoy your day, Eric.

      -Mikel

  5. Eric Burton February 5, 2012 2:36 PM
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    While at this point I cannot really imagine myself becoming a theist again, I know that I definitely could. I am the first to admit that I can’t (and wouldn’t) say for sure, “there is definitely no god.” However, I am as certain as one can be about that question, so my agnosticism is really just a technicality.

    I am glad to say, and know in my heart, that my lack of belief in god has nothing to do with any sort of resistance to adjust my life in any way. In fact, the changing of my mind from christianity to less-specific theism to deism and finally to atheism was a big adjustment in my life. No more comforting belief in a god, who cares about me and has a plan for my life, will dispense ultimate justice when this life is over, and watch over all mankind. No more church friends, social activities, etc. Luckily I had other friends, and my faith had been dwindling gradually, so it was not as much a shock as it could have been.

    Even if I didn’t “want” to believe in god for whatever reason, I couldn’t really control whether I did or not. I either believe it or I don’t. Unless I am plugging my ears and running from any good reasons to believe, I have no control over the issue.

    I agree with you that it is important for christians to be able to put themselves in other’s shoes, and I hope I can help a little bit. While I don’t want there to be more religious in the world, I think general empathy and specific understanding will still make the world a better place. I have been a believer, and I still remember what that is like. That allows me to empathize and see where they are coming from. I value that.

    So, super bowl time?

    • Apologetics Guy February 5, 2012 4:43 PM
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      Thanks for sharing that, Eric. Tough for me to imagine what you’ve been through. If atheism is true, there are huge implications to objective values, duties and meaning in life. But I do think empathy is key if we’re going to have authentic relationships and real conversations about the most important things in life.

      One thing Christians and atheists agree on is that the facts about reality are true independent of any human opinion, wishful thinking, sincerely held beliefs or assertions. And it’s not automatically arrogant just to say you think a certain worldview is true. As William Lane Craig says about Christian Theism, “What can I do? I think it’s true!”

      And yes, it’s Super Bowl time!

  6. Eric Burton February 5, 2012 8:02 PM
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    I agree with that! I would also like to say that in addition to empathy, intellectual honesty is key to having authentic relationships and real conversations about these things. If someone is unable to admit that they could be wrong about what they believe, then there is no conversation to be had with that person.

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