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.

Alister McGrath on Atheism: An Opiate For the Masses?


“The atheist’s argument goes like this: you want there to be a God.  So you invent him.  Your religious views are invented to correspond to what you want.  But this line of argument works just as well against atheism.  Imagine an extermination camp commandant during the Second World War.  Would there not be excellent reasons for supposing that he might hope that God does not exist, given what might await him on the day of judgment?  And might not his atheism itself be a wish-fulfillment? This is a devastating point.  As cultural historians have pointed out for many years…people often reject the idea of God because they long for autonomy – the right to do what they please, without any interference from God.  They don’t need to worry about divine judgment; they reject belief in God because it suits them.  That’s what they want, but that doesn’t mean that this is the way things really are.”

“This point was made superbly by the Polish philosopher and writer Czeslaw Milosz, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1980.  Parodying the old Marxist idea that religion was the ‘opium of the people,’ he remarks in “The Discreet Charm of Nihilism” that a new opium has taken its place: rejection of belief in God on account of its implications for our ultimate accountability.  ‘A true opium of the people is a belief in nothingness after death – the huge solace of thinking that for our betrayals, greed, cowardice, [and] murders we are not going to be judged.”

“Atheism thus depends on a core belief that it cannot verify [namely, that there is no God].  Do you see the importance of this point?  Atheists live out their lives on the basis of the belief that there is no God, believing that this is right but not being able to prove it conclusively.”

– Alister McGrath, Doubting: Growing Through the Uncertainties of Faith, p. 37-38