In part III of Religious Affections, section V, Jonathan Edwards writes with penetrating insight,
“Unless men may come to a reasonable, solid persuasion and conviction of the truth of the gospel, by the internal evidences of it, in the way that has been spoken, viz., by a sight of its glory; it is impossible that those who are illiterate, and unacquainted with history, should have any thorough and effectual conviction of it at all. They may without this, see a great deal of probability of it; it may be reasonable for them to give much credit to what learned men and historians tell them; and they may tell them so much, that it may look very probable and rational to them, that the Christian religion is true; and so much that they would be very unreasonable not to entertain this opinion. But to have a conviction, so clear, and evident, and assuring, as to be sufficient to induce them, with boldness to sell all, confidently and fearlessly to run the venture of the loss of all things, and of enduring the most exquisite and long continued torments, and to trample the world under foot, and count all things but dung for Christ, the evidence they can have from history, cannot be sufficient. It is impossible that men, who have not something of a general view of the historical world, or the series of history from age to age, should come at the force of arguments for the truth of Christianity, drawn from history, to that degree, as effectually to induce them to venture their all upon it. After all that learned men have said to them, there will remain innumerable doubts on their minds; they will be ready, when pinched with some great trial of their faith, to say, “How do I know this, or that? How do I know when these histories were written? Learned men tell me these histories were so and so attested in the day of them; but how do I know that there were such attestations then? They tell me there is equal reason to believe these facts, as any whatsoever that are related at such a distance; but how do I know that other facts which are related of those ages, ever were? Those who have not something of a general view of the series of historical events, and of the state of mankind from age to age, cannot see the clear evidence from history of the truth of facts, in distant ages; but there will endless doubts and scruples remain.
But the gospel was not given only for learned men. There are at least nineteen in twenty, if not ninety-nine in a hundred, of those for whom the Scriptures were written, that are not capable of any certain or effectual conviction of the divine authority of the Scriptures, by such arguments as learned men make use of. If men who have been brought up in Heathenism, must wait for a clear and certain conviction of the truth of Christianity, until they have learning and acquaintance with the histories of politer nations, enough to see clearly the force of such kind of arguments; it will make the evidence of the gospel to them immensely cumbersome, and will render the propagation of the gospel among them infinitely difficult. Miserable is the condition of the Houssatunnuck Indians, and others, who have lately manifested a desire to be instructed in Christianity, if they can come at no evidence of the truth of Christianity, sufficient to induce them to sell all for Christ, in any other way but this.”
It certainly bears reminding that the task of Christian apologetics is at root a spiritual endeavor. If Christianity is true, then it follows that men and women live in the dire condition of which the Scriptures describe them. And what is that condition? Darkened understanding. Futility of thinking. Enmity of heart to the things of God. Blindness. Hostility. Aversion. Suppression. Deadness.
We may love philosophical arguments and be adept at expounding such ideas, but if anything is evident it is that none of these presentations carry one ounce of weight, if God is not at work in the heart of the unbeliever. Listen to a hundred debates between Christians and non-Christians. Nothing else could be plainer. Even when the unbeliever is altogether outclassed, fumbling and stuttering, having no good responses, they obstinately cling to their worldview.
It is, therefore, incumbent for us to remind ourselves that while we must be mindful of our words and take every effort to present cogent and convincing arguments in favor of the Christian worldview, we must also never stray from the gospel; it must take a front seat. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation. This is the “foolish” message God is pleased to use to convict of sin and open eyes. Consider again the words of Paul to the Corinthians in this respect,
“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor 4:6)
Note that it is God who, like at the beginning of creation, causes light to spring forth. But instead of creating that light in the dead of space, He causes it to spring forth in the darkened heart of unbelief. And what does He cause to shine forth?
But knowledge of what?
Knowledge of God’s glory.
But knowledge found where?
In the face of Jesus Christ.
It should not come as a surprise, therefore, to hear Paul say that “we preach Christ crucified…” Christ was the centerpiece of His message.
So do not lose heart. If you are unacquainted with historical or scientific or philosophical arguments, do not fear. If you know the Scriptures well and can articulate the gospel in a way that arrests attention, which is to say that it is attended with conviction and passion, God will use that to topple the greatest bulwarks of unbelief.