The Place of Evidence in Apologetics (Part 2)


By Caleb Hilbert. Read Part 1.

(Evidence in the NT, continued)

The apostles also used evidence to defend the faith throughout the book of Acts. One of many examples is Peter and John in the account of the healing of a lame beggar (Acts 3-4). His healing was not a sign of their own power or piety (3:12) but a demonstration of God’s confirmation of Jesus as the Messiah. The healed man served as evidence of the power of Jesus Christ. Peter and John also pointed to the prophets and their predictions of Jesus Christ’s suffering (3:18). Later, Peter and John were called to stand trial before the council—the same men who had killed Jesus. In Acts 4:9, Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, once again uses the healed man as evidence of God’s power. This demonstrates that Peter and John are spokespersons for God and should be listened to because God healed this man.

In fact, it is interesting how Luke characterizes this exchange in verses 13-17. First, they realized that the sign was proof of God’s power. Second, they noted that Peter and John were uneducated but bold followers of Jesus. Third, they had nothing to say in opposition. The implication was that the evidence was so overwhelming that they could not deny the claims. However, it should be noted that even though the evidence was overwhelming and true, and silenced their opposition, it did not overcome their unbelief. Though evidence is useful, it should be recognized as limited.

We must be cautioned that while God uses evidence to help validate His Word and assists us in trusting it, evidence alone, apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, is not enough to bring us to saving faith. It may be important and helpful, but the work of the Holy Spirit in a believer’s salvation is essential. Thus, we must understand the place and use of evidence while simultaneously avoiding relying on our own abilities to convince others of this great salvation. Therefore, it is crucial to maintain the correct perspective and balance. We must exercise the right level of discernment in using evidence appropriately.

The Limits of Evidence

This is a great struggle for some Christians: evidence, which can appear overwhelmingly true and obvious, can be ignored and suppressed by sinful individuals. In foolishness, we can sometimes tend to view apologetics as an epic battle of “my evidence versus your evidence,” thinking that if we could just out-argue our opponent, we would win some spiritual Waterloo. However, if we have taken this attitude, we may have found ourselves only frustrated, humiliated, or further entrenching others in their views, all while stroking our own pride by saying, “I told them the truth, and because I told them the truth, it means I love them.”

Thus, evidence should not be seen as the be-all and end-all of apologetics. We are not engaged in an evidence battle, merely trying to win an argument. Instead, we should aim to lovingly help people see the truth, especially when ensnared by their captor who keeps them blinded to the truth. Evidence alone cannot bridge this gap. However, God can use evidence in conjunction with His Word and Spirit so that when they hear the gospel, He can open their eyes to the truth, and they can believe (Ro 10:17).

Another limitation of evidence is the possibility of using something that is fabricated to give weight to the truth claims of Christianity. Using fabricated information or so-called facts is essentially spreading a lie. While we might not be the ones who originated a lie, if we knowingly use it, we are perpetuating falsehood. Believers can sometimes encounter information that aligns with a particular point and use it as “evidence,” even when it is not true but helps us prove our point. We should avoid being a part of this type of deception because in the end, it is sin, negatively affects our testimony, and brings dishonor to our Savior.

Another issue is what I call “curated evidence.” I learned about this type of evidence during my high school debate days. It involves selectively using certain parts of evidence while conveniently leaving out parts that don’t support our argument. I’ve heard believers do this many times, presenting a curated view of information in their defense without considering all the relevant information. This is especially common when discussing topics like the Crusades.

We should not shy away from acknowledging aspects of Christian history in which those who claimed to be followers of Jesus have committed sinful acts. Instead, an honest and straightforward evaluation of these events, coupled with an open examination of the Bible, is essential to recognizing sin for what it is and promoting God’s incredible redemption through Jesus Christ.

So, what is the proper use of evidence, and how should we employ evidence to defend our faith?

  • Listen to the other person, and then use evidence.
  • Avoid arguing over good evidence, which can disrupt the true goal of sharing the gospel in truth and love.
  • Be discerning and flexible when discussing evidence.
  • Keep in mind the goal: to defend the faith in truth and love, not just the vindication of a particular viewpoint.
  • Remember that culture and world-view matter in interpreting evidence, so gather various evidence(s).
  • Confirm the credibility of your evidence. If you use it, you are responsible for verifying its veracity.
  • Talk to God about people more than you talk to people about God.
  • Maintain your purity. Personal holiness matters when you share Jesus’ message with anyone.

While I might desire for apologetics and evidence to be like an old Perry Mason episode, where we could argue and debate people into heaven, that is not how God has ordained it. If I may muse theologically for a moment, I think the reason I cannot argue a person into heaven is because if I did so, their faith would not be based on faith in God alone (1Pe 1:21). While evidence has its place, it is not everything…but it is something. So, passionately appeal and implore as you engage in the ministry of reconciliation. Use evidence and plead so that our loved ones who may suffer from spiritual Stockholm syndrome may hear the gospel, to the end that God would bring about His glorious salvation.

Caleb Hilbert is pastor of Lewis and Clark Bible Church in Astoria, OR. He and his wife, Krista, have three children: Ezra, AJ, and Sophia.