Essentials of Apologetics - Lesson 19

Question Beneath the Question

In this lesson, Sean teaches that each person is an apologist and theologian. He encourages a shift from traditional views of apologetics to a more personal and relational approach. Through anecdotes, you learn about the importance of discerning the underlying questions beneath apologetics inquiries. The stories reveal that people often mask deeper concerns behind their initial queries, ranging from the pursuit of pleasure to fears of unfair consequences and struggles with acceptance. The lesson emphasizes the significance of active listening and asking probing questions to uncover the root issues individuals grapple with. By exploring these narratives, you gain a profound understanding of the multifaceted nature of apologetics, transcending intellectual debates to address the genuine needs and heartaches of individuals.

Sean McDowell
Essentials of Apologetics
Lesson 19
Watching Now
Question Beneath the Question

I. Overview of Apologetics

A. Various Approaches to Apologetics

B. Importance of Personal Engagement

C. Embracing the Role of an Apologist

II. The Question Beneath the Question

A. Understanding Motivations in Apologetics

B. Importance of Recognizing Deeper Issues

1. Story of an Atheist Student

2. Dealing with Concerns about Hell

3. Same-Sex Marriage Inquiry

4. Youth Pastor's Struggle with Faith

5. College Student Afraid to Dig Deeper

C. Strategies for Discovering the Question Beneath the Question

1. Importance of Listening

2. Asking Thoughtful Questions

3. Recognizing False Ideas

4. Balancing Apologetics and Empathy

D. Relationship Between Internal and External Evidence

1. Recognition of the Holy Spirit's Work

2. Dual Role of Scripture and Evidence

III. Addressing Specific Concerns

A. Engaging with Wealthy Individuals

1. Acknowledging Unique Challenges

2. Focusing on Humility and Pride

B. Tailoring Conversations Based on Skepticism Levels

1. Approach for Closed-Minded Skeptics

2. Approach for Curious but Unsure Skeptics

IV. Conclusion and Future Sessions

A. Emphasizing Success in Apologetics

B. Balancing Intellectual Engagement and Personal Transformation

C. Preview of Next Session: Four Questions for Spiritual Conversations

  • Gain a comprehensive understanding of apologetics, the theological discipline of defending the Christian faith, through a personal mall encounter that highlights the importance of being prepared to provide reasoned defenses, with a focus on biblical foundations, addressing objections, and fulfilling a ministry to those with questions.
  • This second lesson on apologetics, highlights the importance of understanding worldviews, using practical exercises and examples to illustrate how our minds shape beliefs, categorizing worldviews based on their answers to fundamental questions, and exploring Christianity's unique perspective on creation, the world's problem, and the solution through Jesus.
  • This lesson explores Antony Flew's shift from atheism to recognizing Christianity's uniqueness. Dr. McDowell provides four reasons why a spiritual quest ought to begin with Christianity: testability in history, free salvation, a livable worldview, and Jesus' central role beyond religious boundaries. The lesson includes a Q&A time reviewing Islam's view on Jesus and Darwin's evolution.
  • Debunking the myth of blind faith, Sean counters with a scriptural foundation, using personal encounters and anecdotes. Examining biblical narratives, especially in Exodus and the New Testament, reveals a pattern: God provides evidence, imparts knowledge, and calls for faith and action. The story of doubting Thomas underscores that belief aligns with evidence, not against it. The lesson closes by emphasizing faith's dynamic nature, which can be fortified through evidence-based study.
  • In this session, you'll delve into the speaker's exploration of truth, gaining insights into its multifaceted importance in various life aspects. The session highlights three key reasons for the significance of truth, introduces the correspondence theory, and underlines the implicit connection between Christianity and truth, offering a comprehensive understanding of the topic.
  • You gain a deep understanding of the distinction between subjective and objective claims in this lesson, illustrated through relatable examples like ice cream preferences. Sean communicates that subjective claims rely on personal beliefs, while objective claims are based on the external world. Overall, you will develop a nuanced perspective on truth, specifically in differentiating between subjective and objective claims, with a focus on moral values.
  • In this lesson, you will gain insights into the moral argument for the existence of God. Sean draws from a personal debate experience, emphasizing that God provides a solid foundation for moral values. Three key points are highlighted: the need for a transcendent standard for right and wrong, the role of free will in moral accountability, and the requirement for divine grounding of human value. The lesson challenges naturalistic worldviews, asserting that they fail to offer a satisfactory explanation for objective morality, ultimately suggesting that living in accordance with God's design leads to true freedom and fulfillment.
  • Explore the Christian view on the soul, diving into its significance through moral law and beauty. Analyze arguments supporting its existence, like its role in free will, using analogies. Address contemporary debates on gender and transgender issues, suggesting a dual human nature. Incorporate biblical references, evaluating flawed arguments and introducing stronger ones. Discuss practical implications for personal well-being. This lesson explores the soul's concept from a Christian standpoint.
  • Gain insights into the intricate relationship between science and faith, exploring arguments for God's existence, the concept of fine-tuning in cosmology and biology, and the conclusion that the fine-tuning of the universe and DNA's information complexity point towards a fine tuner and an author of life, offering compelling evidence for the existence of God.
  • In this exploration of miracles, the lesson shifts from discussing God's existence to questioning divine revelation, challenging skeptics to reconsider their worldview and illustrating the philosophical underpinnings of miracles, ultimately emphasizing an open-minded investigation and hinting at a compelling case for theism and Christianity with overwhelming evidence for miracles.
  • You will gain a comprehensive understanding of near-death experiences (NDEs) and their potential as a compelling apologetic tool, exploring evidentiary aspects, transformative impacts, objections, and the significance of information unattainable by natural means in supporting the case for an afterlife and the soul.
  • Dr. McDowell reviews the overwhelming evidence of the resurrection and the significance of the resurrection.
  • In this lesson, you will gain insight into the historical evidence supporting the resurrection of Jesus, including the crucifixion, discovery of the empty tomb by women, early and multiple accounts of Jesus's appearances, and the transformative impact on the disciples, ultimately challenging alternative explanations and asserting the resurrection as the most reasonable conclusion based on historical facts.
  • Exploring the Bible's trustworthiness through the character and copy tests, this lesson establishes the reliability of the New Testament by highlighting the writers' honesty, the disciples' willingness to endure hardships, and the exceptional proximity and quantity of early manuscripts.
  • In this lesson, you will gain a thorough understanding of the New Testament's reliability through an exploration of its extensive manuscript evidence, addressing skeptics' concerns about variations, and highlighting corroboration from external sources such as historical records and archaeology.
  • In this lesson, you will gain an understanding of the problem of evil and suffering, exploring its intellectual and emotional dimensions, drawing on personal experiences, historical perspectives, and a philosophical approach, and laying the groundwork for a more in-depth exploration in the next session.
  • In this lesson, you will learn of the logical problem of evil, exploring the philosophical challenge to God's existence posed by the coexistence of omnipotence, omnibenevolence, and evil, while examining the limitations of God's power, the compatibility of free will, and the unique Christian perspective emphasizing the redemptive nature of the incarnation and the cross in addressing the problem of evil.
  • Gain insights into responding to objections in apologetics, including addressing conflicts between a loving God and hell, defending the Bible against contradictions, clarifying misconceptions about God's stance on homosexuality, explaining the concept of the Trinity, and attributing natural evil to the brokenness of the world due to sin.
  • Gain insights into a personal and relational approach to apologetics by understanding that everyone is an apologist and theologian, as the lesson, through anecdotes, underscores the importance of discerning underlying questions, emphasizing active listening and probing inquiries to address the genuine needs and heartaches beneath surface-level queries.
  • Gain insights into effective spiritual conversations by asking four key questions: understanding beliefs, exploring reasons behind them, finding common ground, and navigating areas of disagreement, with an emphasis on listening and fostering genuine understanding.

In this day and age, it is critical that followers of Jesus know how to think clearly and biblically about their faith and how it intersects with and often contrasts with how the world thinks. These areas include one's worldview, the fact that faith is not blind, why the truth matters, why seeing design in creation points to a designer, and evidence for the soul, resurrection, and the Bible. How can God allow evil, and how do we talk with skeptics? Dr. McDowell discusses these topics and others in this easy-to-understand course on apologetics.

Question Beneath the Question

Sean McDowell
Lesson 19
Essentials of Apologetics

We're at the final two sessions where we start to talk about, where do we go from here? Now, there's a lot of ways to do apologetics today. You can teach a class. You can do apologetics online. You can start a YouTube channel. You can go out and share your faith. We don't have time to walk through all of those. My hope is to encourage you in your interpersonal relationships how to do apologetics more effectively. So, there's onstage apologetics, there's online apologetics. All of those are important. I'm not downplaying the importance of that, but sometimes what happens is we go, that speaker, that author, he or she is an apologist, not me.

The reason I went this route at the end is I want you to think of yourself as an apologist. Every single one of you here is an apologist. You are a theologian, and you are an apologist. As C.S. Lewis indicated, it's not really if you're an apologist. The question is, how effective of an apologist are you?

One of the things I want to impress upon you is that we have far more opportunities in our daily life, if we will just open up our eyes and see it. Separate from this, I wrote a book on parenting a couple of years ago with a friend of mine, and I thought, if we come up with some new plan for parents, they'll do it two weeks, and then they'll stop and feel guilty that they're not doing it. That's not helpful. Our whole approach was to say, how can we help parents more effectively see opportunities that arise naturally throughout parenting with kids, and use those more strategically and effectively to disciple your kids?

One of the things I've prayed, and want to pray even more, is, God, help me see the hurt that's around me. Help me see the opportunities that around me to minister to those in my family, in my workplace, in my neighborhood, etc. That's the kind of apologetics that we're talking about. So, in this theme, I want to focus on just something what I call the question beneath the question. What are people really asking when they ask apologetics questions?

Now, before I go any further, oftentimes when people ask something like, how can Jesus be the only way? They're actually just asking, how can Jesus be the only way? But sometimes people say, "Can a Christian believe in evolution?" Sometimes they're just asking, can a Christian believe in evolution? So, I don't want to suggest that there's always this deeper hidden motivation that somebody has, but on the flip side, Proverbs 20 verse 5 says, the purpose in a man or a human's heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.

Now, what's interesting is we start to think of other people and go, they have deep motivations, I want to draw it out, but this is true for us, too, isn't it? In some ways, all of us have motivations that we may not fully understand and appreciate. Well, this is true for other people. The more I do apologetics, and the more I do evangelism, and the older I get in my engagements with people, I pray to God. I go, God, what is this person's real issue? Where is their deeper hurt? What really is the barrier to faith? Give me eyes to see what it is, so I can at least try to minister to and address the real hurt and the real issue. As I said earlier, I spent too much time in my life answering questions that people aren't even asking.

So, how do we discover the question beneath the question? Well, I thought it might be helpful if I just share some stories of ways through conversation that I've discovered the question beneath the question, and then really one principle to do it well. I was speaking at a Christian student conference maybe four or five years ago, and the student came up after me, because I was doing my atheist role play, and the student came up, and he said, he goes, "Hey, that was really interesting." He goes, "Would you be willing to skip out on the next session with me and talk?" I was about say no. He goes, "And by the way, I'm an atheist." I thought, an atheist wants to talk. Yeah, let's have a conversation.

So, we went outside this conference. Somebody else was speaking. I didn't quit giving my talk, just for clarification. I didn't bail on everybody else, and I said, "Hey, tell me your story." He goes, "Well, I grew up in a Christian home," he goes, "but I don't believe this stuff anymore, and my parents sent me to this conference as a last-ditch effort that maybe I would believe." I said, "Okay, tell me your questions, your thoughts. Maybe we can have a conversation."

As far as I remember, he started launching into contradictions in the Bible, how Hinduism is older than Christianity, and I don't know, maybe 12, 15 minutes, I'm listening to this, and I'm just thinking, I don't know. I've done this long enough to think that this is not really the heart of the issue for 19 or 20-year-old young man. So, I said to him, again, as best as I could remember, I said, "Hey, you're asking all important questions. I could be off base here, and I apologize in advance if I am, but I'm just under the impression that this is not really the issue that's at its heart for you." I said, "What's really going on? What's driving you away from this faith?"

He owns it. He goes, "Yeah." He goes, "You're right." He goes, "I just graduated from high school, and I'm going to university in the fall, and I signed up for a fraternity, and I just want to have fun for a season in my life." At that point, the conversation radically changed. I said, "First off, thanks for your honesty. It feels like now we can have a real conversation, can't we? Tell me why you think Christianity is no fun. Tell me why you think what we might call the ways of the world is more fulfilling." At the end, I said, "You know what? I can't stop you. Your parents can't stop you." I said, "You have free will. Realize a couple of things. Number one, if you ever come to the point where you are broken and recognize your sin, all you got to do is turn around, and Jesus is always there to forgive you, but you also get to live with the consequences of your choices."

I'm not trying to scare the kid, but I'm trying to make them think through, our choices have consequences, but that was eyeopening. It wasn't about contradictions in the Bible. It wasn't about Hinduism versus Christianity. That was a smokescreen. Now, I've shared this story before and atheists have contacted me and said, "All you Christians always think there's a moral issue in rebellion." I said, "I'm not saying that's always the case. I'm just saying in this case, and many times it's the issue or the question beneath the question."

Let's consider another one. I was speaking in a conference, and a college student came up to me afterwards, and he was profoundly bothered by the issue of hell. If I remember, we talked for probably 45 minutes, and I pulled out every conceivable apologetic response and passage I could, and it was just making no headway. Then, finally at the end, I started to realize that he had a lot of loved ones in his life, and the idea that his loved ones could be there just struck him as profoundly unfair. That was a piece of it.

I also pressed him a little bit, and he really was under the impression that human beings are essentially good. Humans are good. Yeah, maybe I've stolen something and lied, but the biblical description of human nature is off base. Now, how you convince somebody that they're a sinner is a separate issue. I'm not sure you can talk somebody into that, but at its root for this young man, hell just struck him as profoundly unfair. Eternity because I stole a pencil? Now, whether that's accurate or not, that was the question beneath the question for him. Christianity means my loved ones are separated for eternity, and this seems profoundly unfair, was the root of the issue for him.

I was speaking at another conference, and a young man, I was giving a talk on same-sex marriage. A young man came up to me afterwards, and he asked me this question. He said, "So, is homosexuality like the worst sin?" I thought, that's an interesting question. So, I said, "Hey, let's talk about this a little bit more." Actually, it was a different conference, but I suspected something was going on. I said, "Hey, look. Let's step outside so there's not people here, and I want to hear more."

I said, "So, tell me why you asked that question." "Well, the Bible says this." He kept pointing back to the Bible and was asking more and more questions. I discovered, and I don't remember what the final question was that got there is ... I think I asked him, I said, "I could be off base, but this just doesn't feel like an academic question for you," and he came out to me. He had never told anybody, he was 17 years old, that he had same-sex attraction. I just looked at him. I said, "Thank you for trusting me." I said, "God loves you, and I care about you. I'm glad we started this conversation," and he threw his arms around me, started to cry for probably three minutes, which is a long time.

I remember looking over his shoulder, and I saw some other staffs and students looking at like, what's going on? I thought, you know what? It's a little bit uncomfortable. I thought, I'm not going to let go until this kid does. As I asked him some more questions, you know one of the things that he said? He said, "I've heard my parents say homophobic things about gays," and his question was, will I be accepted? Will I be loved if I come out to my parents?

He was afraid for a long time until I finally said, "My wife and I will drive up there with you with your parents, because if there's somebody else there, the parents are likely to not say things they might otherwise." Eventually he told them, and he moved on, but at the root of the question that he asked, is homosexuality like the worst sin was not really theological. It's not really biblical. It was relational, wasn't it?

I was speaking at a ... I get in great conversations at conferences. I was invited to speak at a conference with my father. There's probably about 900 people at this event, and I was told ahead of time that there was a young man who is a youth pastor who was from a big church in the area, had recently stepped down, and was in the process of abandoning his faith, and he was coming to the conference and willing to hear out the McDowells. I said, "Well, that's great he's coming." The pastor emailed me. I said, "Why don't you ask him if he'd be willing to have lunch with me over the conference?" I said, "I'm not trying to debate with him. I just want to hear his story, and maybe I could be helpful to a degree." He goes, "Sure."

So, we spoke all morning, had an hour for lunch, spoke all afternoon, and we sat down. I said, "Hey, what's going on? Is there any way I can help you?" He had all these apologetics questions, but he started with this one. He said, "When I look in the Bible, it seems like God is present and active, but I don't feel God in my life. I've had no experience of God." I'm like, "Well, God does miracles today and near death experiences." I'm trying everything, and I'm thinking, through 45 minutes, I'm literally thinking, why didn't I invite my dad to this lunch? Where's Greg Koukl? I felt like, man, I'm just not helping this kid out, even though he's in his 20s.

Get to the very end, and he said to me something to the effect of, he said, "You have any other last words of encouragement for me?" Which is a humble, thoughtful question. I said, "In my experience, I'm less interested when somebody leaves the faith as when they came into it. Tell me about that moment where you knew you were a sinner, and you cried out to God for his grace." It was like a deer in the headlights.

He looked at me, and he said, "I didn't become a Christian because I was a sinner in need of grace. I became a Christian because I was hurting and told that Jesus would make me feel better." That is a false gospel. That is a false gospel. I said, "Then, what's holding you back? Because, ironically, we started this about you wanting to experience God. Why should God do miracles or anything supernatural until you take the first step of humbling yourself and experiencing his grace?" He said, "I'm afraid of what I will find if I go deeper." He asked me apologetics questions for 45 minutes, and at the root of it was a false understanding of the gospel and an unwillingness to enter into experience God's grace.

One more is, not long ago at a camp conference I was speaking at, had a young man who had left his faith came up to me. He wanted to talk. College-aged student. We're talking for a while, and he had objections, and he had questions, and I'm always thinking, what's the root of this? So, it takes a while to get there. At one point, he made an offhand comment. He said something to the effect of, "Well, we all know that substitutionary atonement is just morally bankrupt," and I stopped him. I said, "We do?" I said, "How old are you?" 19. I said, "So, the church has been thinking about this for 2,000 years, and you've got it all figured out at 19?"

I said, "Have you read this book?" He said, "No." I said, "Have you read that book?" He said, "No." I said, "Then, you don't know that. Sounds to me like your issue is a little bit of overconfidence." I should have just gone for the jugular and said hubris and pride, because that's really what it was. But I tried to gently push back and say, "All these other issues you're raising, you think you've got it figured out at 19. Until you humble yourself, none of this is going to make sense. At the end of the day, maybe you conclude that substitutionary atonement is immoral, but not at 19 before you've rest with this, and thought about this, and read the best defenses, and considered what has to be said. For him, at its root is he had not humbled himself.

One of the things I've learned in conversation with people is I want to answer questions about contradictions. I want to explain the moral law for God, but I also have learned to try to figure out, what's the key issue keeping somebody back? Is it moral? Is it pride? Is it relational? You take a Muslim and a Mormon, they don't just change their religion and go on with their life as normal. That changes everything for them.

So, how do we discover the question beneath the question? It's actually simple. Listen, listen, listen, and ask good questions. That's it. Now, sometimes apologists, and I find myself falling into this camp, and there's a time for this, ask questions to surface false ideas, ask questions to advance an argument. There's a time and a place for that.

Greg Koukl has written an amazing book called Tactics, which is how to defend and advance an argument. It's brilliant, every apologist needs to read it, but there's also a time and place to listen, to ask questions, to try to understand, and try to get to the root of the issue for that person, and then actually show how their deepest heart's desire is actually only fulfilled ultimately in a relationship with Jesus Christ. You don't think questions are important? As I said earlier, we have on record Jesus asking 339, Paul asking 262. That means the very God who made our brains communicates with us, one, through telling stories, the Bible's a story, and Jesus told stories, second, through asking questions. The best apologists ask the best questions.

On that note, what questions might you have for me? By the way, in the next session, I'm going to give you four questions to guide and lead for a spiritual conversation. So, we'll get a little bit more specific, but go ahead.

What do you think is the relationship between internal evidence of the Holy Spirit and external evidence that we talked about, philosophy and physical evidence for Christianity? I know so many people, including my wife, who accepted Christ like that. She recognized the truth, and it was a real conversion, and it took me a lot of work.

So, what is the relationship between external evidence and the internal evidence of the Holy Spirit? So, it's very interesting, because scripturally, it talks about through the spirit we cry out, "Abba, Father." I think we can actually know through the Holy Spirit directly that Christianity is true. I think at times that's the case.

When people ask me, "What book would you give a non-believer?" Some people are like, "You give him the Reason for God from Timothy Keller, Case for Christ, More Than a Carpenter. I say, "First, give him the Gospel of John." The Bible uniquely has authority and power, and the Spirit speaks through it. So, I think people just reading the scripture, being convicted of their sin through the Holy Spirit can have confidence that this is true.

But, we also can know by the evidence. We had a whole lecture that said these miracles were done so that you may know. I don't think it's one or the other. I think it's actually both. Now, maybe based on our experiences, maybe based on the way we're wired, I have friends who are like, "I'm an apologist, but apologetics isn't how I know it. It's how I show it to others. I have a testimony of the Holy Spirit." I have friends who apologists are like, "I don't know that I've had that testimony of the Holy Spirit, but I know it's true because of the evidence." I don't think it's better or worse. I think there's different ways we can know the same thing. That's how I look at it. It's a great question. Go ahead.

Do you know how Jesus said it was hard for a rich person to enter into heaven?


Then, how do you talk to someone that is wealthy and [inaudible 00:20:09] but how do you approach [inaudible 00:20:13]-

So, Jesus said it's hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, like a camel going through the eye of a needle. How do you talk to somebody who's rich? Well, first off, I always realize I can't convince anybody to believe. Jesus, God in human flesh, they wanted to kill him after he raised Lazarus from the dead. They did kill him, and Jesus let the rich, young ruler walk away. So, success in evangelism and apologetics is not conversion. If that's success, Jesus was a failure, and so was Paul on Mars Hill. Paul on Mars Hill had three responses. Some mocked him, a handful believed, and then some said, "We'll hear more."

So, if I'm talking to anybody, we all can have different means of pride that keep us from the kingdom. I was speaking with a businessman. He goes, "Yeah, I think we business people are uniquely proud because we really have the engine that keeps America going." I'm like, that might be the case. I don't know, but professors can be pretty proud. Doctors can be pretty proud. Teachers can be pretty proud. We all can be pretty proud.

So, money is certainly a unique barrier, but we all have ways of having pride. So, I guess if I have somebody who's rich, let me take a step back. In conversation, I'm often engaging where people are at, because there's two different kinds of skeptics. There's skeptics that don't believe, and they're not open to it. They want to argue. They want to tell me why I'm wrong.

I love a good dialogue, but that's just not a super interesting conversation to me. I would only have that conversation for the sake of other people who may be listening who might be open. Then, there's skeptics who are a little bit more open. They're not sure they can see the point. They're curious. Those are the folks I want to engage, rich or not. So, if somebody's in this category where they're not open, and they're rich, you can pray for them, you can build a relationship with them, you can try to be the kind of person that in their life, when they finally realize riches won't make you happy, that they would come to you because of a difference in the life that you're living. That's how I would approach them and essentially anybody.