Sometimes when a person discovers I teach apologetics, they say, “You can’t argue someone into the Kingdom.” They’re aware of the arguments for God’s existence, the trustworthiness of the Bible, and the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. These arguments, they claim, address the head, but not the heart. That’s why they can’t lead anyone to a saving faith in Jesus.
As a professional apologist who makes arguments and teaches others how to argue... I wholeheartedly agree. That’s right, you can’t argue someone into the Kingdom. Guess what? You can’t love someone into the Kingdom either. You can’t serve enough, preach enough, or pray enough to get someone into the Kingdom. That’s because whether or not someone trusts Christ is not dependent upon us. It’s up to God. The Holy Spirit is the One who draws people to Himself. God is the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:2).
Can God use acts of love towards an unbeliever to reach them? Yes. Can God use our prayers to bring someone to faith? Sure. Can God use our service to others to save them? Absolutely. God can use any means to save people. Therefore, He can even use arguments—yes, arguments—to bring someone into the Kingdom.
He’s done that a lot, in fact. The Apostle Paul routinely argued with people in the hall of Tyrannus, at Mars Hill, and in the marketplace. He “reasoned with them... giving evidence that Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead... and some of them were persuaded” (Acts. 17:2-4).
God still uses arguments to draw people to Himself today. In a recent trip to Missouri, I was the main speaker for two one-week-long camps. During that time, I spoke to over 800 junior high, high school, and college students, many who were not Christian. The leadership—believe it or not—wanted an apologetics theme—a week devoted to teaching and training youth how to love God with their minds. At the beginning, I taught foundational issues like our identity as ambassadors and how to properly interpret Scripture. As the week progressed, I shifted towards more apologetic issues like understanding relativism, tactics in defending the faith, and reasons why we can trust the Bible. There were also question and answer sessions each day for students to formally ask questions as well as informal fireside-chat type meetings.
Thursday night, the evening before the students return home, is often the “altar call” night for many camps. The speaker usually delivers a passionate and emotional sermon-like presentation combined with a formal invitation to follow Christ.
That’s not what happened, though. Since this was an apologetics camp and I’m an apologist, I decided to end the week with a case for the resurrection of Christ. I wanted to explain to students that we have powerful evidence that Jesus rose bodily from the grave. My goal was to make the week crescendo to this climactic presentation of the case for the resurrection—the crux of Christianity.
As always, I asked the Holy Spirit to help me convey the significance of the resurrection. I told students that if Jesus rose from the grave, that’s the most important event in history. It proves Jesus is who He said He was, that Christianity is true, that you will be resurrected and brought before God to account for your crimes against Him. Was I passionate? Of course. Was I emotional? Yes, but it wasn’t mere emotion. I presented the plain facts, the evidence for the resurrection, and allowed students to ponder the implications.
Here’s what happened. Although I didn’t invite people to make a decision, people still made decisions. Dozens of students committed to follow Christ that night. A youth pastor even showed me a picture of one of his students getting baptized in the lake at midnight.
Students responded the same way the following Thursday when I gave the same presentation to the next group. Except this time, after my presentation, students came up to the stage to publicly display their commitment to follow Christ. It was a powerful demonstration of God’s power to draw people to Himself.
Can you argue someone into the Kingdom? Yes, but it’s not the arguments alone that are sufficient. It’s the Holy Spirit who draws people to Himself. God, though, uses arguments (and/or love, service, prayer, etc.) as a means to an end—His end of saving souls.