Alister McGrath: True apologetics engages not only the mind but also the heart and the imagination


“The apologetic task cannot be limited to developing arguments. In some way we must realize that apologetics involves enabling people to glimpse something of the glory and beauty of God. It is these, not slick arguments, that will ultimately convert and hold people. True apologetics engages not only the mind but also the heart and the imagination, and we impoverish the gospel if we neglect the impact it has on all of our God-given faculties.

The great eighteenth-century American Puritan theologian Jonathan Edwards(1703-1758) remains one of the most significant critics of a purely rationalist approach. He believed rational argument has a valuable and important place in Christian apologetics, but it is not the sole and perhaps not even the chief resource of the apologist. [As Edwards said,]

Great use may be made of external arguments, they are not to be neglected, but highly prized and valued; for they may be greatly serviceable to awaken unbelievers, and bring them to serious consideration, and to confirm the faith of true saints . . . [Yet] there is no spiritual conviction of the judgment, but what arises from an apprehension of the spiritual beauty and glory of divine things.

Arguments do not convert. They may remove obstacles to conversion and support the faith of believers, but in and of themselves they do not possess the capacity to transform humanity. For Edwards true conversion rests on an encounter with a glorious and gracious God. This insight is liberating in that it reaffirms that apologetics is not about developing manipulative human techniques but about recognizing and coming to rely on the grace and glory of God.”

– Alister McGrath, The Passionate Intellect: Christian Faith and the Discipleship of the Mind, p. 88-89.


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