My brother-in-law went to school with an atheist who excelled in virtually every subject he studied. This particular atheist was a sharp thinker. He was also firm in his atheistic convictions. But he liked to drink. A lot. One night he had a bit too much. By the end of the night he was weeping and crying out about how there has to be a God. Plenty of his friends witnessed the event. They brought it up later. His response was to grumpily tell them not to talk about it.
My old Sunday School teacher had a friend who came to Christ through The Exorcist. The friend watched the film as a young adult. His thoughts turned to the supernatural. He grew terrified of demonic power. When the movie ended, he repented of his sins and trusted Jesus Christ as his Savior.
A former student of mine experienced a great deal of pain in her life. She thought she could no longer bear the memories of the terrible things she had gone through. She took out a pair of scissors. She went into her living room. She intended to end her life. The television was on. Joyce Meyer was “preaching.” Rather than taking her own life, my former student gave it to Christ.
An old acquaintance of mine did illegal drugs. He got high. He rode with a friend. The night ended. The two returned to his apartment. They were almost hit by a conversion van. Their headlights shone on the front of the van. The license plate said “Jesus” on it. He panicked. He felt guilty. He went to church that Sunday. He repented of his sinful lifestyle and came to Christ.
People claim to believe in God and even come to faith in Jesus Christ for some exceedingly strange reasons. Not always. But sometimes. This phenomenon is no different when it comes to philosophical proofs, evidences, and other argumentation unbelievers find persuasive. As anyone who has studied logic should know, unsound arguments can still have true conclusions. A person can find the truth without having explicitly arrived there by way of sound argument. Likewise, a person can come to faith in Christ without having arrived there by the most biblical and God-honoring of evangelistic and apologetic methodologies.
It is probably not a good idea to get atheists drunk off hard liquor in hopes of getting them to affirm the existence of God. It not likely a good idea to replace Gospel tracts with copies of The Exorcist either. Joyce Meyer is not really going to be the best choice when it comes to solid preaching. And whether they ever become legal in all of the states or not, dealing drugs to unbelievers in hopes of waking them up to their sin and Christ’s forgiveness is not recognized as an approved form of evangelism in the vast majority of churches.
I always thought it would be cool to offer an unbeliever a ride. When he gets in, I lock the doors and take off. I explain that I will continue to increase my speed until a conversion takes place. Imagine cruising along at 120mph on a windy road. I look over and shout the classic question, “If you were to die tonight, where would you go?!”
What do these stories have to do with covenantal apologetics? Simply put, those who reject covenantal apologetics often do so upon the basis of their alleged evidentialist experience in coming to faith in Christ. Or, they do so upon the basis of how many others have come to faith in Christ through supposedly non-covenantal apologetic methodology. The questions of whether or not a method is biblical, ethical, God-honoring and philosophically sound are cast by the wayside to make room for a discussion about “practical applications” and the “effectiveness” of a particular apologetic methodology.
Evidentialists - the term being used here in its broadest sense – frequently attempt to support their apologetic through the alleged effectiveness of the method in bringing either them or others they know of to the Christian faith. So for example, I was struck by the following:
I am a Christian today, because I took an evidential approach to my faith. I’m not a Mormon today, because I took an evidential approach to my faith. I’m grateful for my evidential detective inclinations because they guided me to the truth. God moved first, I responded with the evidence God provided. I’m at home with evidentialism because the evidence brought me home.
Of course, alcohol, drugs, Joyce Meyer, and The Exorcist brought others home (imagine the effectiveness of all four of them at the same time!), but these means are not thereby vindicated as methods or examples of appropriate evangelism and apologetics. Certainly our apologetic must be persuasive. We must strive to appeal to the unbeliever as the dying man he is. But persuasion differs from proof. We can have one without the other. Some people are persuaded by some really bad arguments. Others hear sound philosophical reasoning and remain unmoved.
God can use some strange – problematic, even – means to bring people to Him. Evidentialism may be one of them. We would need to evaluate evidentialism biblically, ethically, and philosophically in order to see. Most do not want to put forth the work required to make such a determination. They are content with taking the occasional potshot at presuppositionalists, citing the alleged effectiveness of the evidentialist method, and retreating with the excuse that debating apologetic methodology is unimportant and impractical.
Mere effectiveness couched solely in terms of personal experience and conversions is not enough to vindicate a particular methodology, and sheer pragmatism is not a Christian-like response to any disagreement at the level of methodological theory.