Why do I think that talking about Charles de Gaulle will help us understand the purpose of Christian apologetics? Follow me as I try to explain.
The First World War was mostly fought on French soil, meaning that the people of France bore the greatest share of the war’s death, destruction and despair. After that war the French military and the government decided that they could protect themselves from a future German invasion by building massive fortifications along the border between the two countries – the Maginot Line.
Charles de Gaulle, as a young officer, realized it would never work. He told the generals that they were preparing for the previous war, that the next time the enemy came he would not come the same way as the last time. He proposed that rather than stationary fortifications the army needed battalions of light armoured vehicles – fast moving tanks that could respond quickly wherever a threat presented itself. He even wrote a book outlining his vision. The generals didn’t take his suggestion seriously, yet recognized his ability and humoured him by forming one such battalion, promoting him to general and putting him in charge.
In 1939 German panzer divisions with overwhelming numbers of tanks swept through Holland and Belgium and into France. De Gaulle’s battalion performed valiantly, but was heavily outnumbered and had little effect. Nevertheless, it was now evident that de Gaulle had been right.
What does this have to do with Christian apologetics? Let’s consider 1 Peter 3:15: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear”. Three words, “give an answer,” are used here to translate the Greek word apologia, from which we get the word apologetics. Are we prepared to give an answer anywhere, any time, to “every man”? Not a specially prepared and rehearsed answer, but one that responds to the question that is asked?
Does it sometimes seem that Christians have a bunker mentality, somewhat like the French witth the Maginot line between the wars? We hide behind slogans and catch phrases, and avoid situations where we think we might face embarrassing questions or even ridicule. How can we prepare ourselves to face unexpected challenges? Our task in defending the Christian faith is not to stave off critics with lengthy prepared answers, or even short prepared answers.
Our task is to respond to the questions that people really have. Tom Skinner, the Harlem preacher, made this point forty years ago with a book entitled If Christ is the Answer – What are the Questions? Tom Skinner made the point that the first question someone asks is usually not the real question. We will need to ask questions in return to help uncover the real questions that people have.
This is why I have made the comparison with de Gaulle’s advocacy of a flexible defence that could move to wherever the danger was. We don’t use tanks in Christian apologetics, we use the Bible, the sword of the Lord. We should not use it as an offensive weapon, firing indiscriminately at everything that looks like it might be a threat.
Peter says to give an answer with meekness and fear. The Louis Second French translation says gentleness and respect. All these words imply humility. We are not trying to intimidate others with our superior knowledge. They will respect us more if we admit we don’t have all the answers. That could open the way to study the Bible together.
When God first promised the land of Canaan to Abraham He told him in Genesis 13:17: “Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee.” The Bible is our heritage today and we should read through the length and breadth of it; become familiar with the lay of the land so that we will be able to point out the landmarks to others.
The military analogy can’t tell the whole story. Other people are not our enemies. If they act like enemies, it is due to the influence of the powers of darkness. Those powers are the real enemy, and our calling is to help people lose confidence in those destructive spiritual forces and turn away from them. We are not engaged in a battle where there will be a winner and a loser, we are not trying to score points. The point of apologetics is to lead people to consider what the Bible has to say and then let the Word of God and the Spirit of God do the heavy work of bringing light and conviction into their hearts.
What if the French leadership had listened to de Gaulle? What if the German Panzer divisions had been met by equally numerous, well-armed and swift moving French tank battalions? The Second World War might have ended very quickly, sparing millions of lives.
What if every born again Christian today was equipped and willing to confront the forces of darkness and “give an answer” for their faith? How many lives could be saved?
[This is, more or less, the talk that I gave at Toastmasters yesterday evening.]